China Cry (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Sung Neng Yee was glad when the Chinese Communists rose to power in her homeland to drive out the occupying Japanese, but she never anticipated the ultimate consequences this would cause. First, it cost her father his wealth and respect as a successful doctor, and then, the Communists began to tighten their grip on every aspect of Chinese life. However, she and her fellow people adjusted and went forward. Moreover, after beginning a family of her own, Sung Yeng Nee was accused of consorting with Westernizers and Christians. In the darkest moment of her life, she reached out to the God she had always shunned for the help only He could give her.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As an early 1990s production, China Cry has a handful of concerns with it, such as a loud, outdated soundtrack and odd soft lighting at times. Video quality is also sometimes blurry even though the camera work is overall fine, including good establishing shots. For the most part, audio quality is average, and the sets, locations, and props are very realistic, culturally accurate, and historically appropriate. Although the film overall seems outdated and has a lot of quick cuts and awkward transitions due to time jumps in the plot, the production does enough to achieve an average rating, especially considering the time period it was made in.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Right out of the gate, unnecessary narration tends to hurt the plot development, but once it ceases, things begin to unfold naturally without hindrances even though the narration does pop up here and there afterward. Had more substantial and qualitative flashbacks been employed to replace the narration, this plot would have been even better. This would have better helped to bridge the large time jumps throughout the story (non-linear plot structure is the only way to effectively handle lots of content), yet on its face, this narrative is still engaging and very intriguing due to the obscurely interesting portions of history it explores. Key themes are subtly introduced in order to let the character feel more authentic and real than they otherwise would be; the writers definitely did a good job at presenting people at face value rather than trying to push messages via strawmen. Even still, there are some lagging scenes that could have been better re-purposed to improve character growth even more, especially since the second half of the story tends to rush through a lot of content that would have been better explored slowly. This is why a non-linear plot style centered around the weak explanation for the narration would have been appropriate. In the end, China Cry still packs a very powerful message that’s still relevant for all Christians today. It’s too bad that’s is hidden behind poorly designed storytelling, but this true account is nonetheless engaging for all audiences.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Although many of the cast members tend to be dramatically stiff, the lead actress and lead actor are standouts for their comfortably real line delivery and believable emotions. Others tend to lack natural flair for acting, but it’s refreshing to see a culturally authentic cast. Costuming also reflects this commitment to cultural accuracy. In the end, the acting improves enough by the second half of the movie, and the lead acting carries it most of the way.

Conclusion

China Cry definitely deserves a remake, possibly in a miniseries form to further explore alternate subplots and to present the story in a more comprehensive and non-linear fashion. In the end, this film was made very early on in Christian entertainment, but it was onto something we don’t see in many newer movies: a poignant message about relying on God during difficult times and witnessing His miraculous intervention. Thus, many audiences will enjoy this movie, and maybe, new film makers will be inspired to try something outside the norm.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

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Bonhoeffer, Agent of Grace (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Dietrich Bonhoeffer didn’t want to get involved as the Nazis rose to power in Germany and demanded absolute submission from all institutions, including churches. However, after taking time away in America, he sensed God calling him back to his homeland. Then, the Nazi regime hit home as his twin sister and her Jewish husband had to escape Germany for fear of Nazi nationalism. Thus, when a close friend invited him to get involved in the underground working against Nazi power, Bonhoeffer felt he had to do something to stand against tyranny. Nonetheless, he never anticipated how far he would have to go and what he would experience as a result.

Production Quality (2 points)

For an early 2000s production, it’s clear that a lot of effort was put into Agent of Grace to make it historically authentic, which is evidenced by a great use of realistic-looking sets, props, and locations. Also, the video quality is mostly good except for some outdated-looking portions, and the camera work is standard. Audio quality is on the mark, but it would be nice if there was a more substantial soundtrack to enhance the emotional experience. At the beginning of the movie, the editing is commendable as it uses an overlaying style with effective out-of-order storytelling, yet this is discarded in the last two-thirds of the film and replaced with a very standard linear style. There are also some abruptly awkward cuts that put a damper on things, but overall, this is a respectable production, especially for the time period, and is good enough to be above-average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

There’s no doubt that the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is an excellent and worthwhile one to tell, and in this endeavor, this storyline makes good attempts at character development via adequate dialogue. Where the beginning and the end are interesting, the middle of the story tends to sag a bit as it’s not very engaging and merely presents a collection of isolated and disconnected scenes where things sometimes happen without much lead-up. The good thing is that narration, while it would have been easy to lean on, is entirely avoided, and the conversations between characters are realistic enough. The quick passage of time in the narrative is often difficult to deal with, so it might have been better to frame the entire story as a flashback from the ending sequence since bridging large time gaps while also keeping audience isn’t an easy feat at all. Even still, many sequences are quite good and make the movie worth your time although the amount of off-screen content shows there’s too much in this story to cover in one film. In the end, Agent of Grace is a great effort and is one that was rarely seen in the early 2000s, so at the very least, it makes for a good historical experience.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The best part of this movie is the culturally correct acting and the culturally authentic casting. The costuming is also historically accurate. Besides this, the actual acting quality is very professional, including line delivery and emotional expression. There are very few errors to note here…there are just a few lapses, but this may be due to other elements. Overall, this strong section is enough to push the film past the halfway mark.

Conclusion

This historical account would definitely work better as a miniseries, especially since there are many side plots that didn’t have a chance for exploration in Agent of Grace. There’s a lot of interest and intrigue surrounding this period of history, so more time would have been good. Unfortunately, this film was made before Christian series were even considered outside the children’s entertainment realm; thus, a remake of Bonhoeffer’s narrative and the related elements would be pertinent. Nevertheless, this movie is still worth your time as it portrays a highly important tale that’s still relevant for us today.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Dawn [2018] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Carrie Saunders just wants to live her normal life as a businesswoman, but her recurring nightmares about a missing girl continue to haunt her night after night. Her visions cloud her judgment and cause her to begin to suspect her husband of wrongdoing. Police refuse to believe her tales, so she decides to investigate the matter on her own. Little does she know that the wild ride she’s about to experience will change her life forever.

Production Quality (2 points)

At first, the production of Dawn begins in a rocky manner as evidenced by inconsistent camera work and lighting and some slight background sounds. However, the video quality is stable throughout, and the sets, locations, and props are mostly fine. The camera work does seem to improve as the film proceeds, and it becomes quite professional in the end. Another inconsistent area is the soundtrack since it’s generic in some parts yet quite good in others. Further, one other drawback is somewhat dizzying and repetitive nature of some of the psychological sequences, but this is also sometimes an asset. In the end, the editing is good, and the production is a mixed bag that’s overall above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Dawn dares to try something extremely different in Christian film as it takes on a very unique plot that’s often hard to quantify yet intriguing at the same time. The attempts at extreme creativity are well-noted, even if they can get a bit head-scratching at times. Although some may not like it, it’s good that the Christian elements of Dawn aren’t too in-your-face as it tries to primarily rely on good mystery plot content. However, the storyline does have a few flaws in that the characters could be a bit more developed than they are, which means the time could have been better spent on this venture rather than on repetition of key elements the audience is shown over and over again. Still, the characters are fairly good as they are, even if the villain characters are slight strawmen. The psychological elements of the plot are interesting, but they could use a bit more explanation as to why they are occurring. However, the ending isn’t quite expected, and Dawn is an overall very creative attempt at a complex mystery plot culminating with an actually effective climax that’s built throughout the entirety of the film. This is finally a real suspense plot worth watching, but it would be even better as a remake or a similar replication.

Acting Quality (2 points)

On the whole, the acting of Dawn is fine with only a few minor errors to contend with. There were definitely some opportunities for improved emotional delivery and more dynamic line delivery. However, the cast does enough to make this an above average performance, which rounds out an overall above average film that’s worth your time.

Conclusion

The potential that this creative team showed is very encouraging because it could be the start of something great for them. It’s highly possible that streaming series are in their future if they are allowed to collaborate with larger budgets and tighter writing. What we need is more psychological suspense and mystery stories, and seeing these in the context of Christian series would be awesome, so we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

The Least Among You (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Richard Kelly was one of the first African-American students admitted to a traditionally all-white and all-male seminary and California, and in the the beginning, the seminary president says he’s on his side to break down racial barriers among Christians. Though Richard had no interest in going to seminary, he does have an interest in racial justice, but the further he goes with his miniature revolution, the strangers things become as former enemies become friends while former friends become enemies. Nothing is at it seems, and Richard will have to decide if he will trust in God more than he trusts in people.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a whole, The Least Among You comes off as well-funded and well-orchestrated on the production side of things. This is evident in the authentic sets, locations, and props that reflect historical accuracy and attention to detail. There is also a lot of good artistic and creative camera work that seeks to establish things, and the audio quality and soundtrack are adequate as well. The only drawbacks to this production are some poorly lit scenes and some slightly choppy editing, but they aren’t enough to keep this production from being all that it can be, which is dynamic and respectable.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The story behind this film is somewhat obscure, but this doesn’t make it any less necessary or poignant. It’s actually a very relevant tale that explores uncomfortable racial problems within the church that many Christians would like to easily forget. The Least Among You portrays and very realistic and gritty look at a hidden history of American Christianity that needs full exploration if we are to learn anything in our present era. This is coupled with great attempts at character development through effective dialogue and flashbacks that demonstrate real character motive and help us to understand where they are really coming from. All of this is done without narration, and there are no ‘villain’ characters as some characters are two-faced and are crafted very well accordingly. While each character actually feels like a real person with a real backstory, there are a handful of seemingly unnecessary scenes, especially ones containing realistic but distasteful language; it really feels like the film would have been fine without these inclusions. Further, the climax scene is somewhat cheesy and not well explained, and it leads to a rushed ending where many things are patched up. As such, the middle of the plot is the best portion as it presents very important and excellent messages and themes that are still highly relevant for the church today, which makes it worth your time.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, The Least Among You demonstrates culturally authentic casting except for some cast members that demonstrate slightly fake accents that are a bit outside of their realms of expertise. Otherwise, there is a lot of great cast work to see here, including professional acting and great acting coaching. While some emotions are a bit forced and overdone, they are overall fine, along with line delivery. As a whole, this film is so close to the Hall of Fame, but it’s still enjoyable as it is.

Conclusion

As we’ve said many times before and will likely say again, films like The Least Among You should be the norm in Christian entertainment. Plenty of care, time, and funding was put into it, and the story is enjoyable, realistic, and poignant. While the ending may fall a bit flat and while other portions leave something to be desired, there is still plenty of good to note here that many audiences will enjoy, which makes this film worth your time.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Silent Night [2012] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

In 1818, Joseph Mohr was transferred to the small Austrian town of Oberndorf to be the assistant priest at the parish there.  He wants to make a difference wherever he goes, but he feels like the leaders of the Catholic Church don’t allow him to fully minister to the common people of the town.  The powerful people in the parish want everyone in the congregation to look nice on the outside, but Joseph has a heart for the poor and the outcast.  As he ministers to people against the will of his superiors, God inspires Joseph to write a Christmas song to encapsulate the season.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

When working with the Mainstay Productions team, the Covenant Communications team always showed a consistent commitment to high-quality productions, so this is also evident in Silent Night.  Besides the good video quality and camera work, this film demonstrates great attention to historical and cultural detail through realistic and accurate sets, locations, and props.  There is also a very effective cultural soundtrack; the only errors in this production pertain to some very poor lip-syncing and obvious overdubs when the the cast members are supposed to be singing, but this is the only real error in this production, which is otherwise quite good.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The story behind the Christmas carol Silent Night is a great true story to base a film on, and this one does a very good job of honestly portraying the two sides of the Catholic Church.  The other good thing is that Silent Night avoids falling into the trap of only basing the film on the idea behind it rather than developing characters through dialogue.  For the most part, the characters in this story are accessible and can be related to due to the dialogue that reveals their personalities and motivations.  However, there are quite a few slow parts throughout that detract from the movie’s dynamic value.  Since the film is mostly dialogue-based, it might have been better to include a few more engaging conversations and to develop the ancillary characters a bit better.  Even so, there are several very good scenes near the end that help us understand the characters better, even if the very end of the film (the predictable singing of the title song) falls a bit flat and is anti-climatic.  In the end, this is a great story model to follow and is one that can be built off of for future work.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

As a whole, this case has great authentic accents and cultural costuming, which keeps with the earlier themes of production quality in this film.  For the most part, line delivery and emotional delivery are fine, but some parts are too dramatic or seem a bit unnatural.  However, there is plenty of good here, and this rounds out a very well-done film.

Conclusion

On paper, Silent Night is a great film, but it just doesn’t have that final push it needed to make it a dynamic Hall of Fame film, which is unfortunate because it has plenty of good going for it.  Even still, this is a movie that many will enjoy because it is well-made and well-funded, and it has a great story to tell.  Thus, this is a good one to add to your holiday list.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

If You’re Gone (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Brad and Lillian believed that they were meant to be together forever.  When Brad graduates from high school, Lillian believes this will not affect their relationship as she has one more year to go.  However, on the night of the graduation, Lillian’s life is changed forever when Brad disappears for days without contacting anyone.  The town searches for him and holds vigils for him, but nothing ever comes of it all as the months go by with no word about Brad’s whereabouts.  Lillian’s emotions collapse as she can think of nothing else besides the future life she thought she had.  Will she be able to pick herself back up and remember the faith she claims to have had?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

After several years of trial and error, the production efforts of husband-and-wife movie team John and Brittany Goodwin have paid off.  Though If You’re Gone had a modest budget, it was allocated very well.  This is evident in the professional video quality and camera work.  The soundtrack is a very good original creation, and the audio quality is spot-on.  Sets, locations, and props, though somewhat limited, are utilized very well.  The only minor issues to point out here that keep this production from being perfect are some inconsistent lighting and some slight editing issues, but as a whole, this is a very professional production that gives great hope for the future of Every New Day Pictures.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Based on the original novel from the Goodwins, If You’re Gone delivers a unique plot and a compelling message.  Though the story can be a bit slow at times, there are some great conversations and dialogue throughout that seek to build characters.  However, there were still some missed opportunities to use dialogue to deepen characters just a tad more since this is a character-based story with only a handful of characters.  These missed opportunities are most evident in the middle of the film as it appears to only serve to fill time with montages and somewhat repeated scenes in order to get to the ending.  Though some audiences may not hold on for the end, the conclusion is definitely worth the wait as it contains an unexpected twist combined with a very unique and empowering message that one does not see very often in Christian film.  This ending is very much worth your time, but it would have been even better to see some flashbacks in the middle of the film that helped us to further understand why the characters did what they did and that expanded upon the family of origin issues that were touched on.  This story was clearly written for the excellent ending, so it would have likely been Hall of Fame if the lead-up was more engaging.  Even still, some will find this movie to be worthwhile and interesting.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, the cast of If You’re Gone appears to be well-coached as each cast member does a good job assuming his or her respective role quite well.  Masey McLain is always a great lead, but it might have helped for her to have further support since some cast members come off as a bit weak and detracting from the overall score.  However, emotions and line delivery are above average as a whole, which rounds out this film very well.

Conclusion

The Goodwins have persevered for several years in pursuit of the greatest film, and they have a unique opportunity to create their own source material by writing it before making their own films out of it.  They have always been close to the mark, and with If You’re Gone, they have come even closer.  Production is in a good spot for them, and acting is nearly perfect.  The next step forward for their team is to ensure stronger plots to accompany their great messaging.  Writing stories can be difficult, so it may be a good opportunity to adapt other source material as well since the Christian fiction world is replete with options.  In summary, If You’re Gone is definitely a good film, and the Goodwins are one step away from true greatness.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Tortured for Christ (Movie Review)

 

Plot Summary

Pastor Richard Wurmbrand and his wife Sabina were active in Lutheran ministry in Romania during the 1970s Communist takeover of Eastern Europe.  The Communist regme sought to corrupt the church by ‘uniting’ the denominations as a political body rather than as a ministry.  Richard and Sabina dared to stand up against the tyranny both by speaking against it and by illegally proselytizing their faith to Romanians who struggled under the heavy yoke of the Communist government.  Because of these infractions and because they helped harbor wanted Christians, Richard was arrested and tortured for his faith.  He languished for fourteen years in a cruel Communist prison, but he did not give up his faith in Christ.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though this production was somewhat low-budget, there is still a very clear commitment to making it as authentic and gritty as possible.  Video quality and audio quality are among these good production elements.  Although there are some moments of oddly poor lighting, the sets, locations, and props are very realistic and demonstrate great attention to detail and great care to make the surroundings as realistic as possible.  This is definitely the best that could have been done with the funding available, which is all we ask of productions.  Though there is some choppy editing throughout, it’s obvious that this creative did all they could with this production, which is all a film maker needs to do.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Another thing film makers can do to ensure a mostly successful effort is to use good source material.  The story of Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand is a very poignant and unfortunately true narrative that definitely deserved to be made into a movie.  However, one has to question whether the high amount of heavy-handed narration was necessary since it greatly stunts character growth and plot development.  Even still, the serious commitment to have each character speak in the original Romanian dialect is very intriguing to say the least as it further shows care for realism and attention to detail that we rarely find in Christian film.  Moreover, because of the narration that punctuates and explains a majority of the scenes, the movie comes off as too much of a random collection of loosely connected scenes rather than an engaging story about real people we can relate to.  There are also a few too many docu-drama elements.  Nevertheless, the strong content of this story keeps the plot from being worse than it could have been as the tragic realities of religious persecution at the hands of tyrannical regimes is brought to the big screen.  Thus, many audiences will find this movie to be worthwhile.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Although most of the cast members are not allowed to fully act due to the high amount of narration that only allows for rare moments of dialogue, the portions they do act in are definitely great.  The culturally authentic casting and the good use of the original language is also a huge plus.  Emotions are mostly good with only a few instances of being slightly overdone, but on the whole, this is the best area of the film, and it rounds out a job well done.

Conclusion

Christian films are still getting better by using source material and by being committed to great productions.  This creative team is off to a great start in their movie-making careers, so it will be very interesting to see what they come up with next.  Until then, Tortured for Christ is an above-average film that carries a great message and a stirring theme packaged in a realistic production that will make a lasting impression on many who watch it.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Faith Like Potatoes (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Angus Buchan has never had an easy life.  He and his family were forced to flee from Zambia to South Africa due to racism, and now, their new farm land isn’t what they expected.  Angus feels like he works all day and all week to no avail.  However, one day, when he finally comes to the end of himself, he decides to listen to a local pastor and to the testimonies of other struggling farmers who came to know Jesus Christ when they had nothing else to turn to.  Angus decides to put aside his pride and follow suit, and little does he know the huge ways God will use him to change the surrounding areas.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Global Creative Studios struggled in other international films they made in this same era, but they went all out for Faith Like Potatoes.  The end result was a very professional production with great video quality and camera work, along with fine audio quality and an effective cultural soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props give off a very realistic and gritty feel that adds to the overall authenticity of the film.  It’s obvious that a lot of time and effort were spent on crafting and constructing scenes that were difficult to film, and there was a high commitment to making the film look as real as possible.  Though there is some choppy editing, this is still a top-notch production that Affirm Films has become known to distribute.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The story of Angus Buchan and his family is a great true story that is based on realistic and accessible characters that are able to be related to as real people despite the time jumps that tend to hold their character growth back from being all it could be.  Fairly good dialogue helps characters to remain personable and build personality and motive despite the large amount of content that is covered, even if narration hurts character development at times by trying to create a crutch to cover the time gaps.  Even still, there is a good use of flashbacks to build character motive and personality that make it easier to connect with characters as real people, but the film may have still benefited from more flashbacks to replace the portions of narration.  More flashbacks would also help the story flow better and avoid just hashing out one important life event after another.  The plot walks the line between just being a collection of scenes and events and being a great story with a lot of content that actually holds the attention.  Finally, there are many good themes and messages in Faith Like Potatoes, even if it might have been better to only focus on a handful of them.  Overall, this is a poignant and believable historical account that is likely worth your time.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

One of the biggest positives of this film is the great commitment to culturally authentic casting, which was likely not an easy feat.  It was also likely not easy to have almost half of the dialogue take place in an obscure African dialect.  Besides these pluses, emotions are fairly realistic, and line delivery is almost always on point.  Though there are some moments of forced emotions and unnecessary yelling and screaming, cast members usually own roles well and appear to be comfortable in their acting, which is important.  As a whole, Faith Like Potatoes is a top-rated film, even if a few minor issues hold it back from the Hall of Fame.

Conclusion

Despite falling short of the Hall of Fame, Faith Like Potatoes is still worth a watch because of its wonderfully true stories and life lessons.  This is definitely Global Creative Studios’ finest work, and movies like this one is why Affirm Films originally gained ground in the Christian entertainment world.  We absolutely need more movies like this one that depict real life events and inspiring historical accounts with the proper production packaging and the adequate acting support.  Unfortunately, this sort of quality is hard to come by, but hopefully, we will begin to see more and more of this in the future.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

God’s Not Dead 3: A Light in Darkness (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Pastor Dave is released from prison for not turning over his sermon notes to the local government, he is immediately hit with a new persecution angle.  His father’s church, which he has pastored for years, sits on the property of a public university, so protests build on campus based on an argument that questions the necessity of the church being on public property.  Dave begins to feel pressure from the university leadership, but things hit a breaking point when the church appears to be attacked and when his close friend Jude is killed in the attack.  Dave decides to reach out to his long-lost brother for legal help as chaos reigns around him.  Will he ever be able to live in peace?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

With the third installment and possible end to the God’s Not Dead trilogy, they have not backed off on their recently attained practice of high-quality productions.  On most production fronts, A Light in Darkness is a very professional production, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is even better than the previous two installments as it is mostly void of the title track and thankfully leaves us without another Newsboys concert to wrap things up.  Sets, locations, and props are also very well-utilized and well-constructed.  The only two caveats in this production are the presence of some cheesy special effects and the somewhat sloppy editing job, but on the whole, God’s Not Dead 3 is top-notch production work.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

In a shocking turn of events, after making us muddle through that horrible second film, the third of the trilogy has one of the best plots.  The first film’s plot had good elements due to its many fractured subplots, but A Light in Darkness has the best central and focused idea of them all.  Though it takes forever to get to the point and though there are plenty of persecution-complex pitfalls along the way, the ending of this film is very significant because it takes the franchise in a totally different direction than the other ones were going in.  Unfortunately, there are still plenty of issues with this storyline, including a lack of adequate character development due to poorly-constructed dialogue and a sloppy story construction that tends to jump from one thing to the next and include too many issues.  However, someone got ahold of the plot and decided to insert some truth about why young people don’t like the church, which was a breath of fresh air, however brief it may have been.  As a whole, this story was a good idea in the end, but it was probably too little too late.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

In spite of the usual awkwardness of David A. R. White as a ‘serious’ lead, other cast members are more natural and believable in their roles, even John Corbett.  Benjamin Onyango was hardly ever afforded a fair opportunity to show his full potential in this trilogy, but his parts are still great.  The reality is that there are actually few acting errors in this film; even the emotional performances are mostly believable.  As a whole, PureFlix has made a lot of strides over the past few years, so if they will just direct their resources in a more responsible direction, who knows what good could be done.

Conclusion

The unfortunate part is that PureFlix managed to isolate everybody throughout the course of the GND franchise.  The first film was a big hit because it filled a void in the market and was basically at the right place at the right time.  It had good qualities, such as better production than usual, but it was still mostly standard and pedestrian.  The second GND film was nothing short of a total trainwreck, and this where the trilogy lost its reasonable audience.  However, A Light in Darkness isolated anyone faithful who were left by taking the narrative in a different and non-persecutory direction.  In short, it pays to know who your audience is, but it also pays to strive for high-quality Christian films that aren’t based entirely on pandering to a specific base.  PureFlix has the resources to truly blow open the Christian industry if they really want to, but will they seize the opportunity before it’s too late?

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Burden of Proof by DiAnn Mills

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (3 points)

DiAnn Mills’ new novel is a breath of fresh air in the romantic suspense genre. In Burden of Proof, she takes a step forward from past novels by deepening the complexity of her storyline and adding a couple of unexpected, yet well-crafted plot twists. Mills has always had great potential as a writer, but in this novel she really shines. Burden of Proof tells the story of April Ramos and Jason Snyder, two people who are drawn together by a tragic web of intersecting circumstances in Jason’s hometown. April Ramos, a special agent in the FBI, has always struggled with letting her personal feelings enter a case, and tonight was no different. After failing to talk a former businessman out of committing suicide, April feels guilty and depressed. However, she has no time to dwell on this perceived failure, because she’s about to be thrown into the middle of a small-town feud. When an frazzled woman hands her a crying baby in a coffee shop and doesn’t return, April prepares to call the authorities, only to be escorted out of the building at gunpoint by a man claiming to be the child’s father….Jason Snyder. Jason Snyder has just been accused of murdering his good friend Russell, a deed he did not do, and has been searching for his daughter Isabella, who was recently kidnapped. When he finds her in April’s arms, and learns she is an FBI agent, he sees an opportunity to clear his name. Jason decides to tell April his story, and hope for the best. At first April finds his story incredulous, and is less than cooperative…but as evidence starts turning up, she begins to see the truth in his words. When April and Jason reach his hometown and she begins investigating, she finds that solving the case is nearly impossible as her plans are continually thwarted by the town’s sinister sheriff. Will April solve the case before anything else happens? To answer this question, read the book!;) Small-town corruption is very accurately portrayed in this story. Furthermore, the plot holds the attention from beginning to end, and the outcome is mostly unpredictable. There are some predictable elements, but not enough to mar the plot quality. Finally, I only have two flaws to point out. First, the story is a tiny bit choppy at times, and second, sometimes it seems like April is able to go against FBI procedure without having to face consequences. However, on the whole Mills’ has created an enticing story that is well worth a read.

Character Development (2 points)

April and Jason are both well-developed and relatable characters who evolve through their experiences. Yet, first person could have developed their characters even more. In addition, I feel that the eventual romance between them, while downplayed, is unnecessary. On a positive note, I appreciate Mills’ attempt to include more diverse characters, for many Christian romance novels use only white people or portray other races as a stereotype. Mills does neither and her diverse list of characters is refreshing. The only other flaw to point out is that Willis (the sheriff) is pretty much a strawman. Overall, Mills has produced mostly strong characters who drive the plot and make the story all that it is.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Mills earns a half point in originality by portraying all ethnic groups as equal and important, and a half point in creativity for crafting a great storyline that was obviously well researched. She has obviously grown through experience, and the passion that was once a bit misguided is maturing into something admirable. There is no going back from here. This is why I believe this book could make an excellent Christian miniseries. With a good screenwriter (perhaps Ms. Mills!), and a great casting job, this suspense story could reach a lot of people who would not otherwise seek out Christian films/series. To conclude, well done Ms. Mills! Your books have the potential to make a huge difference in the world of Christian filmmaking!

Wish List Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Freedom [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Samuel Woodward and his family escape a cruel Virginia plantation one night, they are aided by Christians on the Underground Railroad.  However, they are also pursued by cruel slave bounty hunters.  When Samuel wants to give up on his faith because of what they are going through, his mother tells him the story of his great grandfather, who was a boy on board one of John Newton’s slave ships.  The two lives parallel as they each face their own struggle for freedom and discover faith in God.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

With a hefty budget and cable television backing, Freedom had many positives going for it from the get go.  For the most part, the money is well-spent, including great video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  Obviously, the standout feature of this film is supposed to be its historical live soundtrack sung by the characters like a musical, but this is an area that needs some further refinement.  There are also some lingering small issues in this production pertaining to some fake backgrounds and some slightly rushed editing, yet on the whole, this is a very respectable production that was helped by the money behind it.  The one caveat to point out is that with this kind of money, Freedom *should* have been flawless and likely would have been in the right hands.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Freedom is an attempt at a historical musical epic, and it succeeds on some fronts, even though it fails on other fronts.  For one, there is a lot of unnecessary narration throughout that hurts natural character growth.  Characters are also not helped out by the fact that there are so many of them.  Also, the parallel subplots from two different historical time periods is an interesting touch, yet it is not handled very well as time tends to jump all around.  The sheet amount of content that is being handled here may just be too much for one film, and the dialogue is not substantial enough for the epic style this movie is trying to adopt.  However, this is a mostly realistic and touching story that has a lot of historical backing and interest.  It is extremely important for more Christian movies to be made about history, especially the Underground Railroad.  However, Timothy Chey makes a mistake in portraying most, if not all, the pro-slavery characters as atheists, which is not entirely accurate.  Nonetheless, the second half of Freedom does show improvement, even if the better parts tend to be squeezed out by the wasted time at the beginning.  In summary, Freedom is a good film, but it is frustrating to see the higher potential that it did not reach.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

With professional cast members and fairly good coaching, Freedom had a successful acting run.  Line delivery is on point, and emotions are effective, except for some minor moments of unnecessary drama.  Also, the costuming is very authentic and historically accurate.  There is some odd makeup work in some parts, but as a whole, this is a job well done.

Conclusion

As a side note, John Newton died almost 70 years before the hymn “It is Well” was ever written, so there’s no way his fiancée was able to sing it in church.  Also, it’s also highly unlikely John Newton sang “Amazing Grace” at his own wedding since he wrote it almost 15 years after he got married.  This isn’t the first time Timothy Chey has disregarded historical facts in his films, but his ambition to create a Christian historical epic\musical is noted, even if it is misguided in the beginning.  Nonetheless, there are a lot of positive elements in this film, likely because Chey had assistance from other sources.  However, there were definitely areas it could have been improved in, especially since this was a rare chance for a film with a Christian worldview to show that it was a great historical epic on a cable television channel apart from it being a Christian movie.  There was so much going for this film, especially the budget, so it really should have achieved a higher rating.  Even so, many audiences will still find enjoyment and meaning in it.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Set Apart [2009] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Pastor John Gunn and his wife, who run an inner city kids ministry together, see a need for some teenagers to escape the gang life for the summer, they call upon John’s brother Randy and his wife Heidi to take the teenagers to their ranch out west for the summer.  The teenagers reluctantly agree to go, yet find it hard to change their ways.  However, they soon discover that there is more to life than what the streets are offering them and that God has a specific plan for each of them.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Set Apart is a surprisingly professional production from the studio that brought us Angels Love Donuts.  There are virtually no glaring errors here as video quality, camera work, and audio quality are excellent.  The soundtrack is a bit generic, and there are some montages, but the sets, locations, and props are excellent.  There are also some abrupt and unnecessary cuts, but these small issues are not enough to derail this professional effort.  This film just goes to show what a studio can do if they put their best foot forward, yet it does not explain why production quality decreased in Angels Love Donuts.  Nevertheless, Set Apart is a well-done film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As this story is based on true events and involves the real people, there are clearly a lot of positives here.  There are good attempts to develop the characters through dialogue, but they still need a bit more development, so they are less one-dimensional and are not just stand-ins for issues that need to be covered in this film.  Nonetheless, there are great ideas and messages in this film, even if the conversations of characters tend to be a bit too surface.  It would be nice if there was more substantial content here rather than all of the ‘silly’ scenes and montages.  A little more conflict and character flashbacks\backstories might have been in order as well.  Also, the forced and rushed climax could have been eliminated.  However, on the whole, this is an enjoyable story many audiences will like.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

With a combination of professional cast members and real people playing themselves, this is a well-crafted cast.  It was a great move to have the real characters cast as themselves, and other cast members are equally well-coached.  Emotions and line delivery are great with only a few errors to note.  All in all, this rounds out a very respectable effort.

Conclusion

Films of this rating and caliber should be the norm of Christian film rather than the exception.  Even though this film is somewhat pedestrian, we should have a field of films filled with ones like this one rather than the sea of low-quality nonsense we have to constantly contend with.  Perhaps one day this will be the case.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Brother’s Keeper [2015] (Movie Review)

 

Plot Summary

Andy and Pete Goodwynn are twin brothers and always have each other’s back, even when they do not see eye to eye on things.  However, when one of them is falsely accused by a powerful man in town who can have whatever he wants, neither twin brother knows what to do.  Though it seems like there will never be justice, little do they know that they will be challenged to grow closer to God as a result of the adversity they face.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It is clear that a lot of work was done in Brother’s Keeper to have a professional production.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is very engaging and interesting.  Sets, locations, and props are all appropriate and realistic for the time period.  There are really no glaring errors to point out here.  The only caveat to raise pertains to some minor editing issues, since a large amount of content is being handled here.  But on the whole, this is nearly a model production and one we should see more of in the days to come.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The storyline of Brother’s Keeper is one of the most interesting yet most frustrating plots to witness.  It depicts an unfortunately realistic corrupt small-town premise filled with believable characters that each have their own flaws.  The plot writers were not afraid to be real in their depiction of people and thus have crafted some good dialogue here.  However, despite this plot’s many positives, it is hamstrung by a very disjointed structure that includes large and seemingly unnecessary plot holes and time jumps.  The portions that are chosen to be time jumps really make no sense as to why they couldn’t have been included.  Due to the other plot elements, one would think that the story could have more continuity.  Yet nonetheless, this is an interesting story that is at least worth a watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is a relatively professional cast, and it even has an excellent villain cast for Ray Wise.  There are only minor errors to speak of here, mostly pertaining to some overdone emotions.  However, there are plenty of good moments to highlight, and line delivery is on point.  Though there are some small areas for improvement, this is a great example of good casting and coaching.

Conclusion

Due to the scope of this idea, the movie either needed to be split into two parts or it needed to be made into a miniseries.  There is enough content and character development here to sustain at least a two-part miniseries or movie.  Even though this film falls short of the Hall of Fame, there are plenty of positive elements in it that can be applied to other films, such as a non-typical, complex storyline, as well as professional production, casting, and coaching.  It will be interesting to see if this creative team makes anything else in the future.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Come the Morning (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Constance Gibson decides to take her three children to the growing city of Los Angeles in search of her absent husband in the hopes that he has been able to start a new life for them all.  However, as they arrive in the strange new city, they find that not all is as they expected, and they will have to make some hard decisions in order to face the future.  Through it all, will they be able to press into their faith in God to get through the dark times?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For a production created in 1993, Come the Morning is excellent.  Worldwide Pictures has always been a standout company for their commitment to production quality.  Video quality, audio quality, soundtrack, and camera work are all what they should be in this film.  There was obviously great care given to the historical authenticity of this film’s sets, locations, and props.  The only small issues to point out here pertain to some slightly low-quality lighting in some scenes, as well as some quick cuts and transitions in the editing.  However, in the end, this is an excellent effort and is one that can serve as an example for future films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Unlike other Christian films newer than it, Come the Morning exhibits Worldwide Pictures’ ability to capture the real-life struggles of accessible characters.  This story is not afraid to portray gritty circumstances and contains a lot of good ideas.  The characters are very believable, yet they could use a little more personality through more complex dialogue.  They have a tendency to be swept along by circumstances.  It also seems like this story could be longer than it is, since it leaves a lot of potential on the proverbial playing field.  But regardless of this, Come the Morning is an accessible story that depicts a realistic story that many audiences will enjoy.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The acting is the strongest section of this film since there are no real errors to point out here.  This is a very encouraging acting job to witness, as emotions are all believable and line delivery is very much on point.  The costuming is also authentic, which show great effort.  This rounds out a very respectable creation.

Conclusion

We desperately need more Christian film making groups and creative teams who are consistently committed to rolling out movies that are quality on all fronts.  Five- and six-point ratings should be the norm in Christian film, as Worldwide Pictures always did.  If this were the case in Christian entertainment, we would be looking at a completely new field filled with greater opportunities and successes.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Masterless (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As Kane Madison works as a successful architect and lives his seemingly perfect life with his wife, in the spiritual dimension, a battle rages for his soul.  Little does he know that while Satan and his demons want Kane to continue fighting on his own, another Master, Whom Kane does not know, wants Kane to surrender to His power so that Kane can win the battles at hand.  When tragedy suddenly strikes, where will Kane turn?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

This unique and creative film concept is difficult to pull off production-wise, but it is executed relatively well.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all up to industry standard.  The soundtrack is also excellently constructed.  Sets, locations, and props are diverse, realistic, and appropriate.  Outside of some minor editing concerns, the biggest production error to point out here is the odd use of sepia tones in the fantasy scape, but it’s not enough to keep this production from being nearly excellent.  This is a model production that should be replicated.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

A lot of spiritual\psychological plots are hard to pull off, but Masterless is based on a very creative idea that is relatively well-presented.  Though it is sometimes too simplistic, the spiritual warfare component makes this story what it is.  However, it could be improved through better explanation, because as it is, the fantasy scape is slightly isolating and vague.  Granted, this is a difficult feat to accomplish.  The characters in this story are mostly believable, but they could use some further deepening through more meaningful dialogue.  This would in turn make the plot more dynamic.  Moreover, the ending is certainly not predictable and is very thought-provoking.  The entire concept behind this film is very creative and deserves further exploration, perhaps in an improved follow-up.  In short, this is one of the better and more original plot ideas crafted in recent memory, so it’s a shame that it didn’t go all the way.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this is a semi-professional cast, they are in no ways below average.  They are actually quite good, even though they are a small cast.  At times they can be underwhelming and exhibit unnatural emotions, but with better coaching, the deeper potential could be brought out.  Even so, this is a respectable effort.

Conclusion

Masterless joins the growing list of Christian films that really deserves and needs a remake.  The idea behind this plot is enough to drive a trilogy concept, if executed properly.  There are so many directions that this story concept could take; it seems like the surface has only been scratched.  With slightly improved production and acting, along with better plot explanation and character deepening, this idea could be Hall of Fame worthy.  Thus, it will be interesting see what this creative team has planned next.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Just Let Go [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Chris Williams loves his family, but when they are all either tragically killed or injured in a senseless drunk driving wreck, he struggles with why God would allow such a thing to happen to him and his family.  He and his two sons wrestle with grief, anger, and survivor’s guilt as they try to navigate the new and ugly life they have been given.  Will Chris ever be able to let go and forgive the privileged young man who took his family from him?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Unfortunately, it’s rare you see a production this high quality in the Christian realm.  Video quality, audio quality, and camera work are all what they should be.  The car wreck scenes are constructed excellently, even though this is likely very difficult to pull off properly.  Other sets, locations, and props are also well-created.  The soundtrack is very creative and appropriate.  The only small issue to point out here is a minor editing concern pertaining to some scenes lagging too long.  But in the end, this is a highly respectable production that other films should be modeled after.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

This film is based off of a powerful true story, yet you have to make it all the way to end to make things worthwhile.  The body of the film contains too much heavy-handed narration, as well as a heavy dose of melodrama that is hard to take in.  It’s difficult for the middle of the movie to hold the attention as it is too brooding and contains too many repeated sequences.  Though there is not quite enough dialogue throughout, there are a lot of interesting artistic elements, as well as a realistic portrayal grief, trauma, and mental health.  There are also good psychological and legal elements, but we would have liked to get to know the characters a little better without so much extreme emotion.  Even though the Christian message is unnecessarily muted and vague, the ending is definitely worth waiting for and makes this film what it is.  In the end, this is a great story with a lot of great elements, yet it could have been presented a little bit better.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Much like the production of this film, this cast is quite professional and well-coached.  Though they have some brief moments of being underwhelming and one too many dramatic touches, this is a very wall-cast and well-acted film.  This caps off a respectable and commendable effort.

Conclusion

These types of movies are very frustrating because they have almost everything going for them, yet there are some small issues that keep them from being all that they could be.  There are so many good things that can be learned from a movie like this, and it is definitely something to build off of for the future.  Many audiences will still enjoy this film, and it’s definitely worth your time.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Coffee Shop [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Donovan has always loved her dream job as the owner of a local coffee shop, but she fears that her mortgage is about to cause her dream to end prematurely.  What’s worse is a hotshot playwright comes to town and starts off completely on the wrong foot with her, all the while Donovan’s sister is trying to get her to run back to the boyfriend who left Donovan for a big time Chicago job.  Will Donovan be able to sort out all the confusion in time to save her dreams?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Up Entertainment has perfected the Hallmark model of putting out a consistent amount of films with fairly professional production quality in each one.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is a bit too generic, however, which fits this genre to a T.  What also typically comes with this sort of made for television movie is relatively good sets, locations, and props, yet some minor editing issues that plague it, all in the name of making the runtime trim.  All of these typical elements are present in Coffee Shop, making it seem like it was made on an assembly line.  Overall, though the production is great, there are plenty of other predictable elements to point.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this story is trying a bit harder than most made for TV romantic comedies, Coffee Shop is still an extremely typical story about a jilted girlfriend who has to save her ______ and then both her old boyfriend and a new well-groomed man whom she doesn’t like at first but grows to like show up in the small town she lives in with other quirky characters.  Though some of the characters demonstrate attempts to be creative, probably mostly the influence of the Erwin brothers, there are just too many predictable elements for this section to warrant any more points.  The entire plot follows a predictable progression and the end can be seen from the beginning.  In the end, it’s hard to see the justification for yet another one of these sorts of films.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Despite all of other issues, the Erwin brothers still do their thing and win out when it comes to casting and acting coaching.  There are virtually no errors in this section as line delivery is on point and emotions are very natural.  UP and Hallmark should consider hiring the Erwins as permanent casting help.

Conclusion

We realize the machine of cable television demands certain movies that fit into certain molds, so perhaps there is really no solution to this problem until cable is no longer relied upon as a source of entertainment revenue.  Creative Christian film makers need a better outlet for their films so that they can showcase their talent outside of the confines of a revenue-seeking machine.  Perhaps one day we will see more of these sorts of films on streaming services such as PureFlix.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Generational Sins (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As Sarah is dying of cancer, she makes her oldest son, Drew, promise to take his younger brother back to the hometown they had once escaped from.  Drew reluctantly agrees and is forced to reconnect with the brother he doesn’t know very well in order to return and find what his mother wanted him to look for: redemption.  The problem is, once he’s back home, Drew begins to remember everything he wanted to forget—especially the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father.  Will he be able to grapple with his past in order to find hope for the future?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As production newcomers on the Christian film scene, Spencer T. Folmar and the Third Brother Films team are already making waves.  In Generational Sins, they have demonstrated that they definitely know what they are doing.  Video quality is crisp and camera work is creative.  Audio quality has no issues and the soundtrack is very intriguing and thought-provoking.  Sets, locations, and props are well-invested in and well-constructed.  The only errors in this production pertain to some small editing issues, but on the whole, this is a top-notch effort that should continually yield great results in the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

It’s clear that the Third Brother team wanted to do something different with this movie, and it’s completely fine to create ‘edgy’ content in Christian movies for the purpose of demonstrating true redemption.  However, it’s another matter to jump head-long into a typical secular film script and completely overuse profanity and expletives.  While it’s true that this is realistic for the people portrayed, it doesn’t exactly convey the message that I think the writers are trying to convey here.  The characters are definitely realistic—maybe too realistic—yet the dialogue suffers for creativity.  The circumstances portrayed in this film can definitely be related to by an unfortunate amount of people, yet they are not entirely handled well.  There is too much brooding darkness in this movie with very little redemption.  Even the redemption that is offered seems cheap and just for the sake of tacking it on at the end.  On the whole, this plot is somewhat predictable, and it’s not helped by the free-flowing expletives, yet there is a ton of potential here if it’s honed properly.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Though this cast is made of people not well known in most circles, they do a fine job with what they have been given.  Most of them assume their roles appropriately and deliver their lines adequately.  The only issues to point out here pertain to some extreme emotions that seem to be overplaying a lot.  However, this section contributes to a respectable effort.

Conclusion

The last thing we needed was a cheap Christian movie about happy plastic white people, so at least Folmar and crew steered clear of that mold.  But perhaps in reaction to this caricature, they have gone too far in the opposite direction.  Yet despite this movie’s too-honest raw nature, there is still a lot of potential here that, if used in a healthy and redemptive way, could take the Christian movie field by storm.  If we have honest, raw, edgy films like this one that have a palatable amount of ‘realistic’ content, then Christian film makers can change the world.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Closure [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Cyrus grew up in an affluent Iranian household, yet because his parents were secretly Christians, they eventually were found out by secret government agents seeking to shut down the Christian house churches of the country.  Cyrus’ father was taken away and executed for his faith, which left a profound effect on Cyrus as he grew up.  Now with a family of his own, he finds that God wants him to face the pain of his past in order to move forward in God’s will for the future.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Though this is a little know production team with somewhat limited funding, Closure exhibits high production quality and demonstrates a lot of care for professionalism.  Video quality is excellent; the only error to point out in this production is some unprofessional camera work and angles.  Audio quality is excellent and the soundtrack is appropriate.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and culturally accurate.  Finally, editing is good and presents the story well.  In the end, it’s clear that those associated with Voice of the Martyrs care about making high quality films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though this is an intriguing realistic story, it relies too much on narration and contains a lot of large time jumps.  Thus, these two elements stunt character development and keep dialogue from being all that it could be.  The plotline is somewhat simplistic and linear with not enough complexity.  It tends to hop from one high point to the next and fill the gaps with narration.  Yet the story is good nonetheless and many will find it to be enjoyable.  It carries a powerful message and has an effective ending that is worth waiting for.  In the end, these writers have a lot of potential that needs some refining.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

It’s extremely difficult to cast a film about Iran due to a likely shortage of culturally authentic cast members, yet this cast is chosen excellently.  Not only this, but they are also good at acting, including line delivery and emotional delivery.  The only nitpick to point out here is the fact that making some of these cast members look older with makeup and hair color is not effective.  But in the end, this is a respectable and professional effort that should be applauded.

Conclusion

With this film, Voice of the Martyrs has shown that they know how to put together a professional film that carries an effective message that many audiences will enjoy.  They demonstrate more care in making their films than a majority of Christian film makers.  Only minor errors hold this film back from being Hall of Fame.  It should be interesting to see if they make any more films in the future, because they have a lot of promise.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Waiting for Butterflies (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

While she is dying on her deathbed, Carolynn Archer begs her family to promise to resolve their differences and to put their bitterness and unforgiveness aside.  All of it stems backs to a tragedy that Carolynn’s daughter blames her nephew John for.  However, when John returns to town due to his grandmother’s ailing state, encouraged by his girlfriend, he decides to heed his grandmother’s advice and begin to set things right, if possible.  What he discovers in his quest makes him view life in an entirely new way.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though this is a little known production team, Waiting for Butterflies demonstrates a mostly professional effort.  Video quality and camera work are what they should be.  Though there are some seemingly unnecessary yet minor audio issues, the soundtrack is very intriguing.  Sets, locations, and props are authentic and appropriate.  Finally, though there are also some minor issues with editing, mostly pertaining to some lagging scenes and time fillers, this is a respectable production that definitely deserves recognition.  This shows a lot of promise for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Though this story begins somewhat slow and confusing, it’s a slow burn that you have to stick with until the end.  As the plot unfolds fairly well, characters are pretty well-developed through complex dialogue.  Though there are some dangling subplots that need some tidying up, this is actually a tragedy plot that avoids being too melodramatic and carries a very profound message.  The realistic struggles and circumstances of believable people are portrayed throughout.  However, there are one too many dead sequences that cause there to be too much potential left on the field.  There are also some quick fixes that are introduced near the end to fit within the runtime.  However, this is a very respectable plot that is hard to come by these days, so it gives great hope for future films from this creative team.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The acting is probably the strongest point of this film, as this is Jason Burkey’s best performance outside of an Erwin Brothers film.  Other cast members also post good performances.  The only errors to point out here are some over the top emotions.  Otherwise, this is another professional section of this film.

Conclusion

It’s disappointing that Waiting for Butterflies has a collection of minor errors that keeps it from landing a spot on the Hall of Fame, but it is still an interesting movie that is likely worth your time.  There is a lot of good here and certainly of lot of potential for the future.  With some tidied-up production and a more seamless plot, this creative will be making waves in Christian film.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

My Name is Paul [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

What if the story of the Apostle Paul took place in the near future, when the government cracks down on religious freedom and forces the true Christians underground?  Paul seeks out Christians to bring into custody to further his status among the government, but a profound experience causes him to turn around and change his ways by joined the very people he once tried to stamp out.  Now he is on the run from his former employers and the Christians are wary about trusting him.  Will the Way be able to prevail in the face of grave opposition?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

It is clear that many attempts were made in this film to craft a very professional action-based production, which is something we rarely see in Christian film these days.  Video quality is what it should be and camera work is great, especially in the action scenes.  Audio quality is mostly good and the soundtrack is intriguing.  However, sometimes there are some oddly lit scenes, as if the producers are trying to be too artistic, and the indoor sets sometimes suffer from lack of creativity.  Yet the outdoor locations are very well-constructed.  The editing sometimes leaves something to be desired, as some scenes lag too long while others are cut short.  But in the end, this is a commendable effort and one that will hopefully yield even better fruit in the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

It’s definitely not easy to take on such a large Bible-story-set-in-the-future concept, especially with all of the characters that are involved.  Sometimes it’s too awkward for the writers to try to force parallels; it might have been better to keep the associations looser.  However, there is still lots of good plot content—perhaps too much content for a film less than two hours long.  This is a highly complex story that sometimes gets lost in itself and may have been better suited for a miniseries, since there are a lot of ideas crammed into such a short time frame.  This is a good problem to have, yet it leaves too many disjointed subplots in its wake.  The characters are pretty good, even if they are limited in scope.  The biggest red flag to raise here is the very confusing and isolating ending that is hard to explain or understand.  In the end, this story desperately needed to be a series in order to be truly effective.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The casting and acting is clearly the strongest point of this film, as there are no errors to speak of.  This is a very large cast, yet they are all very talented and cast very appropriately.  Emotions are believable and line delivery is on target.  The cast members make this film as good as it is.

Conclusion

We realize it’s hard to make an independent series or miniseries, but with the PureFlix on Demand platform, things have been made easier.  More budding film makers need to take advantage of this resource to boost their brand so that we can see some actually worthwhile Christian series come to light.  Regardless, with some production tweaks, more funding, and continued casting success, this creative team is going to go big places.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

The Lost and Found Family (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Ester’s husband dies, she discovers that their estate is not as wealthy as she thought it was.  All she is left with after the debts are paid is a small house that’s being rented out to a foster family, so she sets out with the hopes of kicking them out, but what she finds instead gives her a whole new perspective on life.  Though she began trying to get rid of them, Ester soon discovers how she can help them and puts her mind to doing just that, if they will have her.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Affirm Films have always been faithful in their production quality, no matter the time period.  The Lost and Found Family is no exception.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality reflect this professionalism, even if the soundtrack leaves something to be desired.  Though sets, locations, and props are slightly limited, they are utilized well and are realistic.  The main issues to point out here are some typical problems with editing, such as abrupt cuts and transitions.  It seems like some content was cut out in post-production that causes there to be odd stops and starts.  But in the end, this is a high-quality production that should be a mainstay in Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As previously mentioned, this plot seems like it was originally longer, because the final draft is slightly rushed.  Regardless of this, the plot progression is too predictable and includes of a lot of stereotypical rural plot elements.  Though the characters are believable and authentic due to their dialogue and although their struggles are realistic and accessible, The Lost and Found Family is still based on the stereotypical premise of a save-the-house-from-the-evil-businessman story using a historical discovery to do so.  The beginning of the story is creative and interesting, but it ends up a very typical plot and fixes too many conflicts in unrealistic ways by the time it’s over.  This story and its characters had so much potential, but it needed more twists and turns in order to work.  It might have been better to make this a two-part story, but funding was obviously a constraint in doing this.  In the end, it’s unfortunate that more couldn’t have come from this movie.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Affirm has also built their reputation on professional casting and acting coaching, and this film is no exception.  Each character is cast very well.  Emotions are very effective throughout and line delivery is on point.  The only nitpick to raise here are some slightly over-practiced performances, but this is only a small issue.  In the end, this is a professional film that many will enjoy.

Conclusion

Truly character-based plots like this one are hard to come by, so it’s refreshing to see one, even if the premise and plot progression are very formulaic and predictable.  A longer format would help this sort of story greatly because it would give more room for character exploration and would lend opportunity for more twists and turns.  Yet as it is, The Lost and Found Family will be enjoyed by many audiences, so it’s likely worth your time.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

90 Minutes in Heaven (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Don Piper was driving home from a church conference one rainy day, he was blindsided by a rogue eighteen-wheeler semi-truck, which crushed his car and killed him on the spot.  When he passed into the afterlife, he entered Heaven and saw people who has gone before him.  However, due to the prayers of a man at the crash site, Don was pulled back to earth, full of injuries.  For months, he was confined to a hospital bed and his wife and children went through many trials due to Don’s uncertain medical condition.  However, through it all, God showed Himself to be faithful.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

90 Minutes in Heaven is one of those mainstream films about Christian concepts that puts many Christian films to shame due to its commitment to a high production quality.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what it should be.  The soundtrack is very creative and engaging.  Sets, locations, and props are highly authentic and realistic, especially for the time frame.  Finally, the editing is relatively good considering the large amount of content that is taken on in this film.  In the end, this is the standard production quality we should see with each movie that comes out.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though this is a very interesting and realistic true story that definitely warrants a movie of its own, it’s hard to think that it was handled very well in this particular film.  For one, unnecessary and heavy-handed narration forces the plot along and explains things that should be allowed to develop on their own.  The narration stunts character development and subverts the use of effective flashbacks.  There are plenty of characters in this film, but it’s hard to get to know any of them very well due to the constant voiceover.  Besides this, the presentation of this otherwise good story is very slow and boring, perhaps in attempts to be overly dramatic.  Nonetheless, it doesn’t come off right as there are too many stop and start scenes and dead sequences before all of the important information is shoved at the end.  In the end, this movie carries an important message that is not handled very well.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This movie clearly has a professional cast with plenty of recognizable names, yet sometimes the cast members appear to be overconfident in their abilities.  There’s no question that they have talent, but they underwhelm in their performances, like they are just phoning it in.  But for the most part, this section does reflect a professional effort.

Conclusion

Movies like this one, that are made by ‘Hollywood’ for Christians are usually a mixed bag.  Professional production and casting is rarely shirked on, but there always seem to be those lingering problems that drag it down.  The story behind 90 Minutes in Heaven is worthy of the Hall of Fame, yet this film is not due to a handful of small issues that hold it back.  Yet regardless, many will find this film to be enjoyable and it’s certainly worth your time.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

I Am Potential (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Patrick Henry Hughes was born blind and disabled, and even though his parents were discouraged by this, he never let it get him down.  Though sometimes it was one medical procedure after the next, Patrick always kept his head up and did what he could to spread the love of Christ to those around him.  His father constantly wrestled with the reality of his son’s condition, but ultimately, it was instrumental in bringing the family closer together and closer to God.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As is the typical practice of American Family Studios, the production of I Am Potential is highly professional.  Video quality and camera work are excellent.  Audio quality is flawless and the soundtrack is engaging.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and appropriate.  The only real nitpick to raise here is some choppy editing due to the large amount of content presented here.  But besides this, American Family Studios is continually setting the standard for how Christian films should be produced.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As I Am Potential is based on true events, the plot has a built-in advantage over your run-of-the-mill inspirational plot.  This is a really good story to depict, but there is a large amount of content to cover in a short amount of time.  It’s very difficult to deal with this sort of plot.  There is a tendency to skip through time too rapidly, and this causes the story to skate on top of everything.  This in turn makes everything shallow, including the characters.  While the dialogue therein is good, there is not enough time focused on developing the characters, even though they are real people.  It’s a real shame that this story could not be deeper, because it carries an important and meaningful message.  It could have been Hall of Fame had more attention been given to deepening the story and the characters instead of trying to cover tons of content.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Much like the productions of American Family Studios, the casting and acting of I Am Potential is highly professional.  Each cast member fits their character well.  Emotions are believable and line delivery is effective.  The only small issue to highlight here is some underwhelming acting, but it’s not enough to keep this portion from being high quality.

Conclusion

It’s refreshing when a studio like AFS consistently rolls out quality films.  We need every Christian film distributor and creator to have this mentality because things will not change for the Christian film industry until this happens.  Professional production is an absolute must, and AFS has perfected this.  Acting and casting must also be professional, as their films demonstrate.  As the overall quality of productions and casts improve, the final frontier for Christian films is the plot.  Once plots become more creative and deep, Christian movies will finally take the culture by storm.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Badge of Faith (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Bryan Lawrence was a well-respected police officer who was caught in an unfortunately violent situation that ended with him becoming paralyzed.  However, through this very difficult situation, he fought to keep his optimism up as his family came around him and supported him.  Though it was deemed impossible, Bryan sought to walk again with the goal of walking his future daughter-in-law down the aisle.  Times were hard and sometimes he and his family felt like giving up, but his faith in God always kept him grounded.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Badge of Faith is clearly a well-funded production with professional caliber video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is somewhat generic but is respectable.  Sets, locations, and props are highly realistic and appropriate.  There is little negative to speak about here, except for the fact that the editing seems unfinished in that some scenes seem abruptly cut off before they’re done.  However, despite this issue, this is a nearly perfect production that the creators should be proud of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

This story is a very inspiring real-life story, but one has to question how it is presented in this film.  As it is, the storyline is fairly boring and somewhat flat, even though there is a lot of potentially interesting content here.  For instance, there are too many montages that stunt character development.  Even though there are some good attempts at developing the characters through realistic dialogue, since there are not many characters and since this is a character-driven plot, we would have liked to see further development.  Though there are many pertinent and accessible issues explored in this film, the storyline overall lacks the necessary continuity and driving purpose that would make this movie dynamic.  Though the struggles of the characters can be appreciated, it feels like this is just a string of random sequences.  In the end, Stone Table Films knows how to find a realistic story and make a movie out of, but like Touched by Grace, the plot of Badge of Faith leaves something to be desired.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The acting is definitely the strongest point of this film.  The cast is highly professional and well-coached.  Each member is case highly appropriately.  Emotions are very realistic and line delivery is on point.  There are no errors to point out here.

Conclusion

It is certainly enjoyable and refreshing to watch the movies produced by the Stone Table team, but it is also frustrating to see the potential they left behind.  If Touched by Grace and Badge of Faith had slightly better plot improvement, each of these films would be on the Hall of Fame.  Yet the Stone Table team is continually improving, so there is great hope for their future.  We firmly believe they will keep trying until they finally get that blockbuster release.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Champion [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Sean Weathers is an up and coming dirt track racer who is obsessed with becoming the best and doing whatever it takes to do that.  He feels like he is close to becoming the top dirt track racer, but when one rival stands in his way, Sean does the unthinkable to secure his position.  However, tragedy sends Sean spiraling out of control as he begins to lose his sanity and everything he holds dear.  The only path forward is to face the pain he is trying to avoid and to seek forgiveness in the hardest places.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a student of the Kendrick film model, Judd Brannon and his team have mastered professional productions skills early on in their careers, which will be a major advantage for them down the road.  All aspects of Champion’s production are excellent—video quality is superb and camera work is very good as difficult action shots and outside scenes are executed nicely.  Audio quality is also on par and the soundtrack is reminiscent of a Kendrick soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are highly professional and appropriate, thus enhancing the film’s overall quality.  The only minor issues to raise here are some editing mistakes that cause for a small amount of viewing confusion, but this is something that will be rectified with more experience.  Overall, you can’t ask for a better production start than this.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Judd Brannon and his team have also taken a page from the Kendrick playbook when it comes to plots, as they used a non-linear plot structure with interlocking subplots.  This is mostly a good thing, yet there are a few too many unnecessary tangents that hamper with the storyline’s focus.  The characters therein are realistic and the circumstances they encounter are also believable.  However, they could use a little bit more deepening through better dialogue and more complexity.  It is clear that a lot of thought and effort was put into this plot, and there is certainly great messaging that many audiences will enjoy.  Yet this story is held back by its predictable progression and reliance on coincidences.  But in the end, like the Kendricks, Judd Brannon and his team are making the most of the inspirational genre plot structure and have great potential for the future.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is a professional cast, and for the most part, each cast member is appropriately placed in their roles.  Andrew Cheney and Robert Amaya clearly know what they are doing.  Yet some other cast members are not very convincing in their roles and sometimes come off as disingenuous.  But overall, emotions are believable and line delivery is on point.  This is a great cast to begin with.

Conclusion

The good news for Christian film is that the bar is being raised by new film makers entering the field.  Although hardly anyone can make a freshman blockbuster like October Baby or Priceless, films like Champion certainly make for a great start in the field.  You can’t argue with this type of beginning, especially since most viewers will enjoy it.  We firmly believe this team has the ability and the resources to take that next step, as long as they add a little more complexity and creativity to their plots and make sure to avoid pesky acting errors.  Regardless, Brannon and company are well on their way to greatness and will find great success in this debut, as it is certainly worth your time to see.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Until Forever {Undying Faith} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Michael Boyum was full of life and joy when Michelle first met him.  They grew to love each other and then the unthinkable happened: Michael began having health problems and was diagnosed with leukemia.  But they vowed to walk the journey together and to pray for God’s healing.  However, the longer it went and as the cancer kept coming back, they began to wonder what God’s real plan was.  Was God really listening or was there something they were missing?  Ultimately, they found that God’s plans were much higher than their own.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s very clear that much thought and care were put into this meaningful film that is based on true events.  This is evident in the wisely-spent production budget that yielded big results.  Camera work and video quality are flawless.  Audio quality is professional and the original soundtrack is creative and engaging.  Sets, locations, and props are extremely realistic.  It’s sad to say, but there are some minor editing issues that keep this production from being all that it could be.  But otherwise, Until Forever is a model production for independent film makers—you can hardly get any better than this.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Based on true events—you probably already know that we prefer this sort of plot because of realism—Until Forever demonstrates honesty and authenticity.  The struggles of the characters can be appreciated and connected with, yet they are not as deep as they could be.  This is likely due to under-developed dialogue, an overuse of narration, and too much silent dialogue that is covered over with musical montages.  There are also some peripheral characters and subplots that needed more exploration instead of that extra musical montage.  However, this film still demonstrates a great exploration of tough issues, including a fair and balanced philosophical conversation with the opposing point of view.  Even though the storyline follows a vague progression of time, the messaging is highly effective, as is the ending.  This is a touching story and is definitely worth a watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast clearly means well, they begin in a very awkward fashion—we are unsure as to how purposeful this is.  Nonetheless, it doesn’t really come off right, but they are saved by the fact that their performances do improve as the movie goes on, which is possibly due to improved coaching.  Emotions are realistic and easy to connect with.  On the whole, this is an above-average performance.

Conclusion

Until Forever should be a standard film in Christian entertainment, not an exception to the rule.  The market should be flooded with films like this, not the usual Christian-labeled garbage you stumble upon on video streaming services.  This film tells a real story in the most honest and meaningful way possible and spends time, effort, and money in doing so.  All we can ever ask from film makers is that they do the best they can with what God has given them, and the Linn family did this with Until Forever.  We can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Rumors of Wars (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As Roxy, a college student, witnesses the slow but sure takeover of a one world government, she chronicles her thoughts, beliefs, and discoveries in a detailed journal that is eventually discovered by agents of the new world order.  Shaw 408, the agent who discovers the journal, is unsure of his role in the takeover regime and finds himself intrigued by the journal’s contents.  As Zurn, the leader of the new regime, tightens his grip on the world by ordering everyone to receive a microchip inserted under their skin, the world descends into chaos.  Who will survive?

 

Production Quality (3 points)

It’s clear that the Bearfruit Films team has a commitment to high quality productions, as their effort on Rumors of Wars shows in every production element.  Video and audio quality are error-free.  The original soundtrack is effective and appropriate.  The apocalyptic sets, locations and props are excellent.  The action-based camera work, which is often difficult to execute, is done quite well.  Finally, there are no obvious editing errors, thus making this a perfect production job.  This is rarely found, so we greatly anticipate Bearfruit’s future work.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Rumors of Wars is a unique brand of apocalyptic storyline that actually doesn’t bite off more than it can chew by trying to cover tons of apocalyptic high points.  Instead, the story stays in a controlled atmosphere to build a good dystopian premise without jumping through time too quickly or zooming all over the world.  The mixing of the past and present subplots is interesting and is done fairly well.  However, this overall concept needs a little more explaining and development.  The characters are most okay, but some of the villains are cheesy.  Surprisingly, the antichrist character is actually different and creative.  Finally, Rumors of Wars does commit a key apocalyptic error in creating a passive-aggressive this-might-be-continued-someday ending.  But otherwise, there is a lot of potential here and room to grow.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Full of recognizable actors and actresses, this cast is a mixed bag.  Sometimes they are over the top and other times they are very much on point.  For example, this is not T. C. Stallings’ best performance, but Ben Davies is better than usual.  It’s different from cast member to cast member, thus making this an overall average performance.

Conclusion

This whole idea would work so much better either as a series of films or as a miniseries.  There are a lot of creative ideas and concepts hidden in here that require further development, which necessitates more time and money to do this.  We hope that one day this movie concept can be continued or remade in some fashion.  Regardless, Bearfruit Films has a talented team, so it will be interesting to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Miracles from Heaven (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Anna Beam is diagnosed with a rare digestive disorder, her parents, especially her mother, are thrown for a loop.  They question their faith as they are swept up in the chaos of medical treatments and tests.  In the face of adversity, the Beam family must pull together and dig deep to discover what they truly believe, because a miracle from heaven could be just around the corner.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

With top level production budgeting and resources, Miracles from Heaven is clearly a high quality production.  Everything looks great—camera work, video quality, sets, props, and locations.  Audio quality is professional, but the soundtrack is standard.  The only flaw to point out here is some lazy editing—there are a lot of montages and footage scenes that seem to pad the runtime.  But otherwise, this is the kind of production that should be the norm in Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

It’s undeniable that this true story touched the Beam family in more ways we can imagine, and it’s always great to portray real life on the big screen.  This is obviously an amazing story, but we can’t help but feel that it could have been portrayed in a better way.  For one, though these are real people in the story, they don’t feel real, which is probably due to the fact that time speeds by in this plot.  There’s obviously a lot of ground to cover, but the pace of the storyline leaves little room for meaningful dialogue or character development.  This is a collection of snapshots—good snapshots, mind you—but snippets nonetheless.  In the end, many will find this movie enjoyable, but we just would have liked to get to know the characters a little better.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

This is clearly a professional and quality cast, as lines are mostly delivered well.  The main drawback to raise here are some over the top emotional deliveries.  But otherwise, each character is cast well and each cast member delivers professionally.

Conclusion

Stories like the Beam family’s story are powerful and deserve recognition in Christian entertainment.  They are meaningful and can be very powerful for those who watch.  Movies like Miracles from Heaven will have a lot of impact with a lot of audiences.  However, we would have liked to see the characters of this movie deepened so that its impact would have been maximized.  But as it is, many people will enjoy this film and it’s certainly something worth watching.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

The Screenwriters [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When the great movie producer Chester Mayer threatens the famous screenwriter Stewart Harvey to give him a script or else, aspiring intern Chip Leninskovich steps in to help Stewart, whom he has always looked up to.  Together, they begrudgingly agree to write a script in 24 hours in order to satisfy the hard-nosed producer.  But in the midst of their furious writing, the two men discover they have more in common than they thought.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s clear that the Advent Film Group team put their fullest effort into crafting historically authentic surroundings for this film.  Props and the few sets that there are speak to a commitment to being very authentic.  Even the black and white video is effective.  The soundtrack is also reminiscent of the era that is portrayed.  Camera work is professional as well.  There are very few errors to point out here, and they only pertain to editing, as some scenes are too long, while others are too short.  There are also too many montages that try to fill time.  But in the end, this production effort is a job well done—we can’t wait to see it applied to a bigger scale.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, the simplistic plot structure of The Screenwriters holds it back from being all that it could be.  The scope of the story is too limited to one room with a handful of people coming and going from it and talking about the past and what they want to do.  Flashbacks would have been helpful to get outside of that room.  Besides this, the plot follows a predictable progression—we actually like the plot the characters were writing better than the actual plot.  We would have loved to see it replicated alongside the main storyline.  Finally, some of the characters in this film are intriguing while some are cheesy.  Effort is put into developing their backstories, but we would have liked to see more.  In short, this plot needed to be more dynamic so that this movie could be all that it could have been.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

This casting job is surprisingly respectable, considering who the cast includes.  This is perhaps Richard Swingle’s best acting performance to date.  Jason Burkey is better than usual, and Jenn Gotzon is just herself.  The only issues to raise here is some silly emotional delivery and ‘goofy’ elements.  But in the end, this casting is a breath of fresh air.

Conclusion

Advent Film Group is on the verge of something great.  They have assembled the necessary tools to craft a high quality production.  They know how to cast a film and coach the cast members.  All that’s missing now is a dynamic plot.  Like many other almost-there film makers, once Advent solves the plot puzzle, they will be a force to be reckoned with.  We anticipate their next release.

 

Final Rating: 6 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

 

Hidden Places [2006] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Eliza Wyatt, a young frontier widow, is still trying to pick up the pieces after her husband died and left her and her two children with an apple farm to run.  She has no one to turn to except her wise friend Aunt Batty, that is, until a mysterious hobo named Gabe Harper suddenly appears on her land.  Thanks to Aunt Batty, Gabe begins working on the tree farm despite Eliza’s suspicions of him.  But little by little, she begins to open up her heart to both Gabe and God as time starts to run out for her farm.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Hallmark has rarely shirked their responsibility to craft quality productions, but Hidden Places is a step above the norm for them.  Video quality and camera work are flawless.  Audio quality is great, although the soundtrack is stock.  Most importantly, outdoor scenes are filmed well in authentically historical sets and locations.  Props are also authentic.  Really the only complaint to raise here pertains to editing, as there are too many useless scenes while some seems are cut too short.  Otherwise, this is a respectable production that should be the norm in Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Lynn Austin is clearly one of the best Christian authors in the field, yet Hidden Places is not her best book.  While this film correctly captures her undeniable character development and great dialogue it’s still a stereotypical save-the-farm plot combined with a frontier romance story involving a young widow.  However, the viewer can appreciate the struggles of the characters and their deep back stories, as well as this film’s strong Christian message.  Yet the plot is still based on too many coincidences.  There is some missing off-screen content as the story rushes through some parts while lagging at others.  Finally, the end is too predictable and simplistic compared to the rest of the plot.  In short, while this is a mostly enjoyable movie, it seems like it could have been more.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is a professional cast compared to other Hallmark frontier casts, mostly because costuming is kept realistic and low-key.  Emotions are believable and line delivery is on point.  The child actors and actresses are better than usual.  However, this cast is held back from being all that it could be by too much mediocrity.  In the end, it is a great effort, but once again, it seems like there could have been more.

Conclusion

Cramming the depth of Lynn Austin characters and storylines into ninety minutes for the sake of a TV movie simply does not work.  Though she is clearly a talented writer, she needs to be unleashed from the confines of Hallmark and her plots need to be allowed to unfold progressively rather than forcefully to stay within the allotted runtime.  However, there’s no denying that Hidden Places is an enjoyable film and many will find it so.  But next time, please please please choose a different Lynn Austin novel (see our Box Office Wish List column 😉 to bring to the big screen and let it be all that it’s meant to be without confining it.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

The Trial [2010] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Kent “Mac” McClain’s wife and sons are tragically killed in a car accident, he just wants to end it all.  However, he is interrupted by a phone call and is given a new purpose by the person on the other end: to revive his law practice by taking on a special capital punishment case.  So he assembles a team and begins investigating, but the deeper he digs, the more fishy and complicated things become.  Mac soon finds himself not only fighting for the life of his defendant, but for his very own.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The good thing is that Robert Whitlow does not settle for low to average quality productions when it comes to bringing his books to the big screen.  Video quality and camera work are very professional.  Sets and locations are realistic.  Audio quality is good, although the soundtrack is pedestrian.  Finally, the editing is sometimes effective in being suspenseful, but other times it is too choppy and exposes some missing time.  It seems like there is content missing that was cut from the original take due to length.  However, this is not done very well, as will be highlighted next.  But in the end, Whitlow, Gary Wheeler, and crew know how to put together a respectable production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Whitlow clearly knows legal procedure and is the right person to be writing legal suspense.  The premise of this plot is therefore realistic and is filled with fairly believable, down-to-earth characters and pretty good dialogue.  However, as previously mentioned, there needs to be more useful content included and few melancholy scenes.  Also, Whitlow has a tendency towards overdone drama, which is also present in The Trial.  Finally, there are a few too many coincidences in this plot and a rushed cheesy end that happens because it needed to.  The cheesy villain is given too much time to monologue about their evil plan, although it’s unclear why they did what they did.  All in all, this is once again a respectable effort, but perhaps not the best Whitlow book to choose for a movie.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Acting is this film’s strongest suit as each cast member fits his or her character perfectly.  There is also a presence of clear acting coaching, which is likely the influence of Gary Wheeler, a student of the Kendrick brothers.  Although there are some minor errors that keep this section from being perfect, this casting job shows how it’s done.

Conclusion

The saddest part about this film is that, based on the market availability of Christian movies, films like The Trial seem really good.  In reality, this should be the baseline of quality, not the improvement.  While it is not good enough to be Hall of Fame, The Trial is good enough to be interesting, although it may not capture the attention of many audiences.  Gary Wheeler has a lot of potential as a creator and needs to keep trying until he makes that breakthrough to greatness.  He has great hope for the future.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

By God’s Grace [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Chris Taylor’s parents and sister die in a car accident, he inherits his father’s business.  However, he is bitter, confused, and angry by the happenings and takes it out on his employees.  He is on the verge of destroying the company when his sister visits him in a dream and shows him the past, the present, and the possible future if he continues on his dangerous path.  Chris will have to decide if he’s going to return to what his parents taught him or keep going his own way.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Surprisingly, By God’s Grace is a very respectable production effort.  Though there is an amateurish opening sequence, the video quality is clear throughout and the camera work is quite professional.  Audio quality is also good, including an interesting non-typical soundtrack.  The sets and locations are realistic and believable—they also don’t overflow with Christmas decorations like some.  As for the editing, there are some unnecessary scenes and sequences, but it is overall above average.  In short, this production puts a lot of others to shame.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

By God’s Grace is based on a typical A Christmas Carol premise, which has been done before, though not necessarily in this fashion.  While there are some slightly interesting psychological elements, the storyline tends to be little bit too magical.  There is also too much narration, although flashbacks are used very well.  As previously mentioned, there are bit too many slow scenes and some of the messaging is too obvious.  The obvious nature of the plot is also evident in some of the characters, although there are interesting character arcs.  Some dialogue is also too convenient, while other dialogue is good.  Overall, while the ending is predictable, the story finds a way to be meaningful.  It’s a mixed bag and is little bit too juvenile to reach Hall of Fame levels.

Acting Quality (2 points)

There are also some juvenile elements present in the casting.  Some line delivery is forced and some lines are too loud while others are too soft.  However, there are plenty of bright spots regardless.  Despite the errors, this is an overall above average cast.  Many cast members appear to be coached well.  This rounds out an overall above average effort in this film.

Conclusion

By God’s Grace definitely could have gone further than this.  Had the idea been slightly more creative, some of the dialogue rewritten, and some of the cast members coached better, this could have been Hall of Fame.  It’s a shame when movies fall short of greatness, but perhaps this creative team will learn from it and improve in the future.  They have great potential that needs to be cultivated.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Captive [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As a struggling meth addict, Ashley Smith is trying to get her life together so that she can regain custody of her young daughter.  She is intent on starting a new life for herself, but she is still wrestling with the demons of her past.  Her life is turned upside down one night when she is taken hostage by a madman who has been making his way across the state of Georgia, leaving murder victims in his wake.  Ashley is sure her life is over, until she begins to see a new side to the killer.  In the span of a tense 12 hours, Ashley finds she has more in common with him than she previously thought and tries to teach him (while teaching herself) that his life has more meaning than just crime.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Plenty of money was dedicated to this ‘pop-up’ film, and it mostly pays off.  The sets, locations, and props are very realistic and capture the true story well.  The soundtrack is highly effective for the suspense genre and is not typical of Christian film.  However, there are some minor issues that keep this movie from being all that it could be.  For one, the use of the suspenseful shaky cam idea is a bit overused.  While the video quality and lighting are mostly good, there are some scenes where it is not.  Finally, there are too many dead scenes where nothing is accomplished except for staring.  Overall, this is a pretty good production that puts a lot of bad movies to shame, but with the money and backing it had, it should have been better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

When in doubt about writing a plot, use a true story.  It’s almost always better to portray real events than fictional ones, unless you’re really good at writing complex plots.  Real life is far more complex than fiction.  Captive meaningfully portrays real events and real struggles people go through.  Uncomfortable realities such as drug addiction and recidivism are handled properly.  The characters are developed fairly well through above-average dialogue, but we would have liked to see more here.  Some of the characters need more obvious backstories that perhaps could have been portrayed through flashbacks.  The idea behind this plot seems stretched out a little too long and but the end, the storyline has overstayed its welcome.  For this story to be as long as it was and fully interesting the entire time, it needed deeper content.  But as it is, this is an enjoyable plot that is sure to leave its mark.

Acting Quality (3 points)

In a change from most Christian films, the acting is easily this film’s strongest aspect.  Emotions are portrayed extremely well.  Cast members showcase diverse acting skills such as effectively pretending to be high.  Mental illness is portrayed poignantly.  Intense and suspenseful scenes are played professionally.  This is a casting and acting job to be proud of and one that can serve as a textbook example of how to act.

Conclusion

Like it’s always good to see real life portrayed in film, it’s also great when a Christian movie finally breaks into a new genre.  Suspense is underused in Christian movies and is hardly done well.  Captive makes a statement and will always serve as an example to follow, but we always think of what could have been.  This creation was so close to the Hall of Fame and we hate to see potential go to waste.  But still, many will find enjoyment in this film as it effectively delivers its intended message.  We are intrigued to see if this team will produce anything else in the future.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Taken by Grace [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

While Shawn and Carrie Everett are trying to reconnect as a couple on a camping trip, they are suddenly approached by a mysterious man who talks cryptically to them before pulling out a gun and threatening them to take him where he wants to go.  As Shawn and Carrie agree to help him and as the man continues to babble on about various topics, they begin to get a picture of what this man is all about.  They eventually see him as a desperate man, not a criminal, and concoct a plan to try to intervene in his path of destruction.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

How is it possible that certain PureFlix movies have better production than others?  In Taken by Grace, there are few production problems to mention.  The camera work is good, and the video quality is clear.  Audio quality passes the test of authenticity.  The suspenseful musical score is highly effective.  Even though there are few sets, they are used well.  The only major production issue is, of course, editing.  Too many scenes feel cut short and unfinished.  Overall, while this film would have greatly improved with better editing, it’s still a production effort to be proud of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

In this highly dialogue-driven psychological mystery, Bradley Dorsey does not disappoint when it comes to creativity.  Most creators could not handle writing long dialogue scenes for just a handful of characters sitting around in vehicles talking, but the philosophical and psychological elements win out.  While the characters could have been developed better, they are adequate enough.  Unfortunately, there are some typical mystery pitfalls, such as easy coincidences and ‘leads’ that are stumbled upon.  Another major problem is that there is too much wasted time and jumping back and forth.  The minor subplots are underdeveloped and almost seem forced.  Even though the creative concept behind this plot is great, it’s not enough by itself; there needs to be something added to it.  Basically, though it has many great strengths, Taken by Grace is an incomplete idea that needs a remake.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Mental health problems are actually portrayed very well through some of the acting in this film, and are not completely overdone like you would expect from a PureFlix film.  However, sometimes emotions are forced and unbelievable.  We have to question whether or not Bradley Dorsey should star in all of his films, as he seems to always underperform his potential.  But overall, this cast isn’t half bad.

Conclusion

In typical Bradley Dorsey fashion, Taken by Grace walks the line between brilliant creativity and amateurish mistakes.  All the films he’s involved are rooted in a deep and profound concept that challenges Christian movie conventions and genres.  He always employs psychological elements that should be found in many more Christian films.  But little mistakes always hold back his ideas from being all that they could be.  As is the case with Meant to Be, Taken by Grace could have been an awesome Hall of Fame film with just a few things changed and with a deeper storyline.  We hope in the future that Bradley Dorsey and company will take that next step to greatness, because Christian film desperately needs it.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

What Would Jesus Do? The Woodcarver (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Matthew Stevenson vandalizes a church out of anger over his parents’ pending divorce, some are ready to press charges against him.  But when the woodcarver, Ernest Otto, whose work he damaged learns about the boy, he decides to take a different route.  Otto invites Matthew to come help him in his wood working business as payment for what he did.  Though reluctant at first, Matthew is glad to finally have someone to talk over about his family’s struggles.  As their relationship grows, things begin to change for Matthew.  He must learn that Christianity is more than just words, and that those who claim the name of Christ must ask themselves ‘What would Jesus do?’

 

Production Quality (2 points)

What a difference a third movie makes (sometimes).  Gone are shaky camera work, dark scenes, and inconsistent audio quality.  Instead, The Woodcarver offers a more palatable production experience, one we wish every independent Christian film would at least try to offer.  The sets and locations are down to earth and realistic, albeit slightly limited.  The surroundings are mostly realistic.  The soundtrack isn’t much to get excited about, but this is a minor issue.  There are a handful of minor errors that keep this production from being all that it could be, but above average production is a huge accomplishment for this odd film franchise.  We always wish it were better, but sometimes we can’t ask for much more than this.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

In a complete detour from the previous installments in this trilogy, The Woodcarver introduces a completely new cast of characters and finally dispenses with ‘the drifter’.  The same underlying concept of ‘What would Jesus do?’ is still present, yet it is ten times more meaningful than before.  Rather than multiple meandering and meaningless subplots, this film focuses on one meaningful subplot about a struggling family, something many viewers can relate with.  The characters are more relatable than the other characters in this trilogy, even though the plot is little bit simplistic.  It’s a shame that the characters are not deeper than they are since there are few of them, but effort was certainly put into this plot.  The dialogue is pretty average, but in the Christian movie world, when there’s no glaring errors, that’s great.  Overall, we would have liked to see a deeper, more meaningful plot, but sometimes sticking with the safe route of avoiding huge mistakes in the way to go.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Trading John Schneider for John Ratzenberger paid off.  Though it’s small, this cast really isn’t half bad.  Sometimes emotional delivery is a little off, but it is better more than not.  Line delivery is solid throughout.  There is an obvious presence of acting coaching here, which is a huge change from the rest of the trilogy.  Overall, this is a much better job.

Conclusion

As we mentioned before, wouldn’t it have been much better to save the resources spent on the first two films and put them toward this one film to make it the best it could be?  Couldn’t have one of two of the better subplots from the previous two films joined this film’s plot to create a potential Hall of Fame work?  Which is better, two terrible movies and one average one or one great movie?  We maintain that quality is always better than quantity.  Sure, we need lots of Christian movies on the market, but just think of a world where movies like The Woodcarver were the norm, not movies like the first two WWJD debacles.  That would be truly something to behold.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Revelation Road 3: The Black Rider

Plot Summary

Two years after the Rapture, the enigmatic Josh McManus has a mission to do good and to right wrongs, even when it seems like evil is winning.  His latest mission takes him to a strict and legalistic settlement that tolerates no crime in order to gain medical attention for an injured girl.  In exchange for both of their lives, Josh must carry out a dangerous mission: search for a mysterious and troublemaking vagrant known as the Shepherd and bring him back so the settlement leader, Drake, can exchange him to his superiors for more life saving supplies.  In route to searching for the Shepherd, Josh and his unwanted tagalong, Sofia, must battle multiple villains and come to grips with what they truly believe about Jesus and His plan for the world.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Despite previous production struggles, Bradley Dorsey and Gabriel Sabloff have greatly improved this franchise.  The camera work improves dramatically in The Black Rider, as does the sound quality.  The surroundings and sets are innovative and creative.  Gone are ridiculous special effects, including that weird lightning!  This would have been a stellar production were in not for a collection of small issues—no doubt White influences.  For example, the CGI that is used is very amateurish.  Action scenes are overall not produced well, and there are too many of them, which is an editing problem.  The scope of the plot is so vast that precious time does not need to be wasted on silly fight scenes.  Yet these such portions squeezed out the deepening of plot creativity.  Nonetheless, this is the type of production that Pureflix has been trying to stab in the dark for years.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The abysmal non-plot of The Beginning of the End seems like a distant memory after viewing The Black Rider.  There is a unique psychological edge to this plot and creative concepts that give the film deeper meaning beyond car chases and gunfights.  An entire new cast of characters is introduced, and it actually works.  A new world is introduced two years after The Sea of Glass and Fire, and it’s better than before.  But this new world is a double-edged sword—it’s too big for the scope of this film.  If more of this world had been explained in The Sea of Glass and Fire, we would have a framework to understand, but this did not happen.  Foreign plot devices such as the ominous ULC are forced upon viewers without explanation.  However, the city-state government system works well in this apocalyptic setting and gives the movie that epic backdrop David A. R. White has been searching for.  Moreover, there are other speculative concepts that are introduced and not fully explained.  Yet the gospel message is philosophically communicated far better than ever before in a Pureflix movie, and all without forcing the message down the audience’s throats.  There is unfortunately still wasted time on childish fighting scenes.  The escapades of Josh McManus, a surprisingly good character, border on unrealistic and sometimes coincidental.  Some of the many villains in this movie are laughable, while others are believable.  Each character is crafted through mostly effective dialogue.  The ending of this plot is also a double-edged sword: it both introduces a key psychological element and confuses the audience.  It both isolates the viewer and makes them want more.  Any further discussion is beyond the scope of this review, but the bottom line is Dorsey and Sabloff really have something going here, something that needs to be continued.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Hands down, The Black Rider is David A. R. White’s best acting work to date.  Bradley Dorsey also contributes an excellent role to the film, perhaps his best.  Unfortunately, there is still some cheesy acting from certain cast members.  Kevin Sorbo in a thrift store disaster getup and sporting a fake insert-ethnicity-here accent is just too much to bear.  Action acting is still B-grade.  Other small issues plague an otherwise great casting job, such as that dumb sheet the Shepherd wears.  Otherwise, costuming is fairly responsible.  Line delivery is sometimes effective and sometimes forced.  Emotions are mostly believable.  In short, everything about this film is give and take: for every cheesy element, there is an excellent element, and vice versa.

Conclusion

The Revelation Road saga is a cinematic freak of nature—a film franchise with a redemption arc of its own that closely mirrors the rise of Josh McManus, the surprising crowning achievement of David A. R. White’s acting career.  Nonetheless, The Black Rider is a constant tug of war between the C-grade action of The Beginning of the End and the psychological creativity of The Sea of Glass and Fire.  The third installment suffers from the wasted time of the first two installments, where this time could have been used to build a better backstory instead of shoving in all into one movie, intending to fix a broken series in one stroke.  But The Black Rider is proof that broken sagas can be fixed.  Therefore, we are surprisingly anticipating the release of Revelation Road 4.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Love Finds You in Charm {Amish Abduction} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Emma Miller is given the choice to leave her small Amish community in order to help her recently widowed aunt in Charm, Ohio, she jumps at the chance to try something new in her life.  She longs to see the world beyond the confines of her Amish life, and even though her aunt is also Amish, she sees the small Ohio town as an opportunity to experience the world she has never lived in.  But as soon as she steps foot in Charm, she meets a quiet Amish man named Noah, who is also helping her aunt in her time of need.  Emma is both intrigued by Noah but also intent on exploring the English world.  Little does she know that she will soon be faced with a choice that will determine her very future.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

This movie saga based on Love Inspired novels has demonstrated an ability to create quality productions.  Love Finds You in Charm follows closely in the footsteps of Love Finds You in Sugar Creek in many ways, including production quality.  The camera work is very professional, including angles and the filming of outside scenes.  The sets and locations are considerably diverse for a small town plot.  There is an overall authentic feel to the surroundings.  However, the soundtrack is pretty typical for this sort of movie.  The biggest production error is choppy editing; this film was obviously forced to be made for television when the plot scope is actually larger than ninety minutes.  But this aside, Charm’s production is something to be proud of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

In the same vein of Sugar Creek, Charm has a down-to-earth, average romance plot that is neither Hallmark-horrible nor Rik Swartzwelder-good.  Once again, Amish characters are portrayed in a realistic light without even a hint of shunnings.  Yet unlike Sugar Creek, Charm has a deep well of potential that was not drawn out.  Charm is loosely based on the plot structure of the classic romance Pride and Prejudice, yet it lacks the depth of this tale.  Emma is a pretty good character, yet she needed fleshing out.  Unfortunately, most of the supporting characters are a bit stereotypical and\or too black and white.  The dialogue is believable, yet once again not taken to its fullest potential.  The biggest arching issue is that, as mentioned previously, there is too much content crammed into a ninety minute runtime.  The plot and the characters had the potential to sustain at least a two hour feature film.  The end is too abrupt and does not fully appreciate the characters crafted.  In the end, Charm has a fine plot, but it is such a shame to see this sort of potential go to waste.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For a cast of relatively little-known and small time actors and actresses, the Charm cast pulls of the job quite well.  Line delivery is professional and there are no truly glaring errors.  The biggest issue here is that emotions are not felt as much as they should be felt.  Overall, the acting is above average, but it is not dynamic.  But in the end, it is a step above most romances.

Conclusion

It is highly likely that Charm was limited by both budget and the pressure to create a TV movie.  Were the creators given more space, it is highly likely that this would have been a Hall of Fame movie.  Regardless, despite our low expectations from the beginning of this Love Inspired saga, the series appears to be improving as it goes along.  This is a great accomplishment and we are intrigued to see what will happen next.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Road to Redemption (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

When Amanda decides to steal a bag of money from her boss, she and her boyfriend elect to bet it on a racehorse so that they can not only give the money back, but also keep a big portion for themselves.  What they didn’t anticipate was losing all of it at the races and suddenly finding themselves on the run from mafia hitmen.  Then Amanda has an idea—sweet talk her elderly grandfather into giving her the money she needs to pay back her boss.  But her grandfather has another idea: in order for Amanda to get the money, she has to go fishing with him at his childhood favorite location in Redemption, Montana.  Along the way, Amanda discovers something about herself and her family that she never anticipated—something more important than money.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For a little known independent project, the production quality of Road to Redemption is overall pretty good.  The money is obviously spent well, with great video and sound quality throughout.  The camera work is above average, including great action sequences.  Some of the sets and locations seem cheaply limited, but others are quite good.  There are some cheesy special effects, but the editing is fairly good.  Overall, there are a few minor production errors, but it is quite good in all, especially considering the age of the film and the limited budget.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Road to Redemption is a rare type of Christian movie—an action comedy.  There is plenty of real humor and satire throughout, as the story pokes fun of many overused suspense antidotes.  There are some cheesy elements throughout that could be passed as satire, but some of it is hard to discern.  While the plot has a slightly improbable premise, there is pretty good dialogue that builds the flawed characters.  Some character behavior is a bit silly, but when viewed through the lens of satire, it makes sense.  Worldwide Pictures always demonstrated a commitment to a clear gospel presentation in their stories, and they do so here.  The plot’s biggest tarnish is its predictable and unrealistic end that patches everything up too well and leaves more questions than answers.  Because of this, the plot comes out as just average, but it still provides comic relief.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This cast is mostly professional, and they appear to be coached well, which is something Worldwide Pictures did to set themselves apart.  There are some slightly forced attempts at comedy and some over the top emotions that keep the cast from being all that they could be.  But despite these missteps, the acting in Road to Redemption surpasses the average mark.

Conclusion

Worldwide Pictures found a way, in the earlier days of Christian films, to present a Gospel message to their audiences packaged in a quality Christian movie that is enjoyable and watchable.  No one was doing what they were doing with movies in the late 90s and early 2000s.  It’s a shame that they no longer are actively making films, but their work can serve as a model to follow today.  It’s also a shame that Road to Redemption didn’t make it to the Hall of Fame—it was so close.  But it still is a great comedy movie that we would recommend.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

 

Hoovey (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jeff and Ruth Elliot are living their ideal life on a Midwestern farm with two great teenagers before everything starts to change for them.  Their lives are forever altered when their son Eric “Hoovey” collapses during basketball practice, thus leading to a medical examination revealing a brain tumor.  Hoovey is not given long to live at first, but he is given a second chance by having the tumor removed, leaving him a fraction of what he used to be.  Unable to play basketball anymore due to danger and having to relearn motor skills, Hoovey and his family are also suddenly faced with possibly losing their dream farm to the bank.  As a family, they will have to pull together in order to face the challenges ahead.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Echolight Studios has a commitment to producing quality Christian films, and Hoovey is no exception.  The camera work is clearly professional, along with the video and sound quality.  Disability plots are difficult to pull off because they require unique props, but Hoovey does it with ease.  The only negative points to raise here are slightly isolating editing and some generally inauthentic surroundings.  For the most part, the editing is good, but there are some parts that are confusing.  The same goes for the surroundings—sometimes it seems like this film is taking place in a realistic Midwestern setting, while other times it does not.  But in the end, there are only minor issues and Hoovey passes the production bar.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Stories based on true events are almost always more complex than an average inspirational plot.  Hoovey proves this.  Believable events happen to the characters and unexpected twists occur.  Not everything turns out neat and tidy.  However, since this is a character-based plot, the deepening of the characters throughout the film is important.  Unfortunately, this does not occur to the extent it needed to.  Dialogue is pretty good, but it rarely delves below surface conventions into deeper character development.  The plot uses narration as a crutch far too often.  Also, the Christian message is not very clear—in the end, the audience is just left with a feel good story rather than a life-changing message.  In summary, the plot of Hoovey is average—it started out with a lot of potential on its side, but it only found part of all it could have been.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is clearly a professional cast and they are coached fairly well.  Emotions, for the most part, are believable.  However, sometimes line delivery is slightly lackadaisical.  Some of the casting choices don’t seem to fit very well.  But these are just small issues—the important thing is that Echolight followed through on their commitment to produce quality Christian films.

Conclusion

Every Christian studio should be committed to rolling out quality movies on a very regular basis.  Some are willing but not able, while others are able but not seemingly not willing.  Hoovey broke into mainstream markets, which makes it even more of a shame that it did not carry with it a stronger Christian message.  Had it delivered a meaningfully obvious but not preachy Christian message, Hoovey likely would have made it in the Hall of Fame.  But regardless, it is still an enjoyable film and is worth a watch.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Jimmy [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jimmy Mitchell is a special boy.  Though he is afraid of water, he is able to see angelic beings known he calls ‘Watchers’ all over his small mountain town.  His father is a defense attorney and his mother is a clerk at the local courthouse, so Jimmy is not unfamiliar with the legal process.  But he is still unsure of what to do when he overhears one of his father’s clients planning to commit a crime, even though he has been recently acquitted.  Jimmy must determine whether or not he is going to overcome his fear to do the right thing no matter what.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As is the custom for Whitlow Films, the production quality of Jimmy is above average.  The camera work is solid and the camera work is mostly good.  The video quality and sound quality are good, but not great.  The sets, locations, and props are authentic.  Overall, there is not much else to be said here—the production of Jimmy is neither extremely negative nor game-changing.  However, it is a step above most Christian films and is likely the best they could have done with the resources available.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from another Robert Whitlow book, the plot of Jimmy is solid for a down to earth small town story.  The characters are true to life and their emotional struggles are real.  Unfortunately, the book’s plot is more dynamic than that of the movie’s.  The adaptation is not fully complete and the movie seems subdued and muted.  There is nothing glaringly wrong with the plot of Jimmy, but it just doesn’t make it past the average mark.  In addition to this, to no one’s surprise, Whitlow elected to use the alternate ending of the novel for the movie.  We felt that the alternate ending is what makes the book as creative as it is.  Without it, the storyline seems incomplete.  Therefore, as is reflected by the score, Jimmy is reduced to an average plot.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The acting is the strongest point of this film.  The film is well-cast and the actors and actresses are well coached.  The only thing that keeps this portion from being perfect is its lack of excellent quality.  The acting is great, but not excellent.

Conclusion

Jimmy is a heartwarming film that portrays special needs people in a very good way.  Though Robert Whitlow sometimes tends to be too sensational, Jimmy avoids this pitfall.  It contains creative conceptions of what special needs people may experience.  The bottom line is that the important message of this film should not be missed: all people deserved to be treated as humans created by God.  Thankfully, this message is not marred by awful production like many Christian films.  It is only too bad that Jimmy was not dynamic enough to make the Hall of Fame.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Alone Yet Not Alone (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Recent immigrants from Germany to colonial America in order to find religious freedom, Barbara Leninger, her parents, and her siblings did not expect to come face to face with the violence between the Native Americans and the settlers.  In a shocking raid, Barbara and her sister Regina are separated from their mother after witnessing the deaths of their brother and father.  Barbara and Regina are forced to become Native American girls in every way, including attire and behavior.  They band together with other captive children, keeping each other morally afloat by singing the Leninger family hymn, Alone Yet Not Alone.  But when Barbara and Regina are separated, their true faith in God is tested to the limits as they risk their lives by attempting to escape in order to find each other again.

Production Quality (2 points)

For a first time filmmaker, Alone Yet Not Alone has above average production quality.  The camera work is good, as multiple complex action scenes are filmed relatively well.  The editing is okay, considering the large amount of content and the passage of time in this movie.  One drawback is that some of the makeup work and costuming show indie qualities, but this does not cause irreparable harm.  In short, this is a good start for production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

This movie is based off of true events, so realism in the plot cannot be argued with.  There are realistic twists, turns, and disappointments throughout.  As previously mentioned, a lot of time is covered, and this is pulled off fairly well.  However, the characters are not developed as well as they should be as the dialogue is just average. Additionally, some cast members do not appear to be culturally authentic. Regardless, inaugural film projects should tend to be based on real events, and this criteria is met.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

For a cast of allegedly inexperienced actors, there are not too many glaring errors.  Some movie-makers commit grave errors with casts of allegedly professional actors.  Sometimes it is difficult to cast multiple actors for the same character in a plot that requires age differences, but Alone Yet Not Alone does not make this a problem.  Some negative elements should be examined however, such as the poor acting of some of the supporting actors and the fact that not all of the Native American characters were played by true Native Americans.  Box Office Revolution realizes that it is difficult to acquire so many Native Americans for a movie, so this may be a moot point.  In summary, more is made out of this little-know cast than is made out of casts that are supposedly star-studded.

Conclusion

Alone Yet Not Alone is a good start for the team behind it; it is definitely something to build off of.  It contains a believable plot that can relate to most audiences, highlighting a little known historical period well.  In short, if more Christian movies were of this caliber instead of so many unwatchable movies in the Christian genre, the movement as a whole would have a greater reputation than it currently does.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

God’s Not Dead (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Josh Wheaton didn’t ask to be put in the philosophy class of the infamous Professor Radisson.  He also didn’t anticipate having to sign a piece of paper stating that God is dead in order to achieve a high grade in the class.  But prompted by the help of a local pastor, Wheaton decides to not only refuse to sign the paper but also to prove God’s existence in front of the class in addition to his other class assignments.  It’s something that those closest to him do not understand or agree with, but it brings him closer to God and to other people.  Little does he know that Professor Radisson and even those connected to him are being profoundly impacted in ways he never expected.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

This is perhaps the strongest area of the movie.  God’s Not Dead has better production than a majority of PureFlix movies, which shows great progress.  The camera work is great, and the editing is pretty good considering the many interconnected story lines.  The sets are authentic and varied and the lighting is good.  The soundtrack is effective.  The only real error to consider here is the fact that there may be too much content included.  In short, the money used for the movie is mostly put to good use.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Unfortunately, the plot is a bit weak, mostly due to the large number of story lines.  There is nothing inherently wrong with a movie about the interconnected lives of people, and for the most part, God’s Not Dead does a fairly good job managing the content.  However, it seems like there are one too many subplots and one too many characters.  If one or two of these were eliminated and that time used to develop other more interesting characters, this movie would greatly improve.  As it is, the dialogue is pretty good considering the number of characters.  There are some interesting twists and not everything turns out as expected in the end.  Most of the characters are believable, but some seem to be caricatures.  In summary, the plot is a mixed bag with a lot of untapped potential.

Acting Quality (2 points)

When compared to older PureFlix movies, the acting in God’s Not Dead is superb, for most of the actors.  This is David A. R. White’s best acting job to date.  Shane Harper is great in his major debut.  However, Dean Cain and Trisha LaFache are uninspiring.  But still, one could argue that they did not have much to work with.  All in all, the acting is another mixed bag.

Conclusion

God’s Not Dead is the best PureFlix-created movie in their existence.  Improved acting, improved production quality, and improved plot development all contributed to this rise.  However, they still have not hit their ceiling.  There is a lot of potential in this movie, and on its face, it is still an above average movie.  What is most important is that the core message of God’s Not Dead is driven home without being overly preachy or unwatchable.  This is success in and of itself.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points