The World We Make (Movie Review)

Image result for the world we make movie

Plot Summary

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

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

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

Acting Quality (3 points)

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

Conclusion

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

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

Christmas Princess (Movie Review)

Image result for christmas princess up movie

Plot Summary

Donaly Marquez is glad her foster family adopted her and her siblings, but she will carries inside of her the stigma of being a foster kid, and she still can’t shake the painful memories of her drug-addicted mother that continually make her feel inadequate. However, she’s always wanted to try out to be a Rose Bowl Parade Princess, so when she gets the opportunity, she jumps at the chance. Will she be able to overcome the past that wasn’t her fault or will she not allow herself to shine?

Production Quality (3 points)

In keeping with most UP Entertainment films, Christmas Princess exhibits a highly professional production, starting with great video quality and camera work. The audio quality is also on-point, and the soundtrack is effectively composed. Also, the sets, locations, and props are very much well-constructed and well-utilized, which contributes further to the professional of the film. Further, the editing is flawless, which rounds out a basically perfect production that should be the standard for made-for-TV inspirational films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

It’s always clear that using source material from true stories that allow the audience to connect with believable and realistic characters is the key to having a good plot. Christmas Princess, though the title suggests otherwise, is a great example of what can be done when real-life events are depicted in the context of a movie that seeks to build accessible characters through great dialogue and an exquisite use of flashbacks and other psychological elements. The conversations do a lot to build character motive and personality, which in turn makes them feel like actual people that audiences can relate to. It’s rare to see such a consistent use of flashbacks to build the storyline in this type of film, but it’s extremely refreshing, especially in a Christmas film about a topic that could potentially be very sappy. Instead of this, however, the writers took the professional and realistic route that allows many different people to relate to this true story, so it’s definitely worth your time. The only drawbacks to mention here relate to some slow parts and montages, but as a whole, this is the best that could have been done with this story, which is all we ever ask.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Though this is not a ‘blockbuster’ cast, each cast member does a great job assuming his or her respective character role, and the cultural authenticity is refreshing. For the most part, line delivery is on point, and emotions are believable, even though there are a few weak moments. Even so, this acting and casting work is very professional and rounds out a very surprisingly worthwhile Christmas film.

Conclusion

Sometimes good films come from the most unexpected of places, but it still remains that true stories make some of the best films. When the writing is left to a talented writer or to real life, the production team can focus on maximizing the other elements of the film, and it’s clear the UP TV is outpacing other inspirational channels with quality content like this film. As this Christmas season comes to a close, this is another movie to add to your collection.

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

The Horse Dreams Series by Stephen Bly

Image result for horse dreams series stephen bly
Image result for horse dreams series stephen bly
Image result for wish i'd known you tears ago stephen bly

Author’s Note: We were provided with free copies of the books in this series in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Stephen Bly’s distinctive writing style really comes to life in this eccentric, yet charming series. While it is not perfect, it is above average, and as always it is not your typical Western novel. In all three books Bly demonstrates a keen understanding of everyday people and an openness to other cultures that is rarely seen in his generation. The first novel, Memories of a Dirt Road Town, is a little bit slow to get started, and the first half will likely leave the reader scratching their head. However, it all comes together in the end to create a unique and humorous beginning to the story of Develyn Worrell. Develyn, or Dev as she prefers, is a middle-aged divorcee/schoolteacher who is unhappy with her life. She is weary of trying to mend fences with her daughter, and still upset with her husband for having an affair with a high school student. Dev is desperate for a change, which is why she decides to clear her summer calendar and travel to the Wyoming back-country – namely, her hometown. Leaving her best friend in charge of her home and spoiled cats, she packs everything she thinks she’ll need in the back of her Jeep Cherokee and sets off. Several noisy hotels and one midnight heart-to-heart in a diner later, Dev arrives in Wyoming to find that she is much more of a city girl than when she left. She makes friends with a rather unlikely candidate, a multiracial woman named Cree-Ryder who claims to have at least four different cultures in her family heritage. It takes Dev a little while to get used to Cree-Ryder’s rough and tumble ways, but not quite as long to get used to a gaggle of cowboys drooling over her at every turn. As one thing leads to another, Dev finds herself questioning her life choices in the silence of the open country, and gaining friendships she never expected. The plot in the first book is a bit slow to develop, but the well-placed humor and wit found in the second half, along with the simple yet well-crafted plotline, make up for this minor flaw. The second book starts a bit abruptly, but is quicker to gain the reader’s attention than the first novel. Furthermore, Bly delves into deeper and more meaningful content in this one. This novel is arguably the best in the series. Finally, the third book is equally predictable and unpredictable, but has good character arcs. All of this rounds out to a book series that is above average and worth reading. The Horse Dreams Series has been and will be loved by fans of Western fiction for years to come.

Character Development (3.5 points)

Stephen Bly was always known for his unique and multifaceted character models. This series is no different. His ability to portray male and female leads with equal pathos is a rare quality indeed to find in an author of Western action plots. Dev is well-developed through the creation of a raw and well-made backstory. Quint (her eventual love interest) is also realistic, however, in the end the reader is left wanting a little more from his character. Additionally, Dev’s daughter is well-crafted and relatable, however, she is barely existent in the first novel. Finally, Cree-Ryder is tied with Dev for the best character of the series. Her brutal honesty and natural humor add much to all three of the books, and her backstory is quite good. As always, Bly’s strength is character development. For this reason, he earns an almost perfect score in this section.

Creativity & Originality (1 points)

Finally, Bly earns a full point in originality for proving that all Westerns do not have to follow the same template. He manages to establish a sub-genre, so to speak, within Western fiction. Not only does he find subtle ways to include the message of the Gospel, but he also proves that female leads have a place in this genre. For this reason and others, I believe this book series would make a great TV series. The characters need no altering, the screenwriter should stick with what is there. The plot could use a few twists and smoke screens, but this is optional depending on what direction the filmmakers want to take. I feel that these characters could be brought to life on the big screen, and that the message of the story could be better communicated through this tool. To conclude, this was another job well done by Stephen Bly.

Wish List Rating: 7 out of 10 points

Write caption…

Indivisible [2018] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Army Chaplain Darren Turner and his wife Heather feel that they are called to the life they live as they each minister to those who are connected to the military in different ways.  They are committed to each other and to their family, and they firmly believe God is always supporting them.  However, the months-long separation with Darren’s deployment takes a toll on their marriage and their family as they are apart for months on end with oceans between them.  When tragedy strikes close to home, they will have to decide if they will weather the storm and press into their faith or if they will let it all fall apart.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s very clear that Indivisible was a well-funded and well-organized production.  This is evident in the flawless video quality and the great action camera work.  The sets, locations, and props are also excellent and appropriate for the situations portrayed, and it was smart for the creative team to stay within their budget and to not film too many complicated scenes.  There is a very realistic feel to the film, even if there are some slight audio issues.  However, there is a relatable soundtrack, although some of the editing tends to be a bit choppy.  Nevertheless, this production is still top-notch and demonstrates very wise use of funding.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

In keeping with the growing trends of using better source material in Christian films, Indivisible seeks to tell a very engaging and poignant true story that explores realistic everyday issues that need to be discussed in the context of film.  There is a very real-life feel to the film as the day to day struggles of military families are portrayed very accurately and in a way that many can relate to.  Although there are plenty of opportunities to develop true-to-life characters based on the real people of the true story, it feels like there were missed opportunities to take them a step further beyond the typical and into the dynamic.  An example of these missed opportunities appears to manifest in the middle of the plot as this part of the movie comes off as just a collection of loosely connected scenes en route to a conclusion it wants to get to.  Time moves too quickly at times, which is never helpful for character growth.  However, even though some chances for dynamic storytelling were left on the proverbial playing field, this movie still presents a very effective and accessible view of PTSD and its psychological and emotional effects on the victim and those around him.  As a whole, this plot is definitely good on paper even though there was the greater potential to go further.  Despite this fact, many audiences will still enjoy this film for its realism.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

It’s evident that Sarah Drew drew on her past acting experience and on her experience with the Erwin Brothers in Mom’s Night Out to both deliver a great performance and to assist the rest of the cast in this same endeavor.  As such, the casting and acting are both very professional.  For the most part, line delivery is on point, and emotions are mostly realistic.  There are some slight issues at times when emotional delivery can come off as a bit forced and over the top, but overall, each cast member appears comfortable in his or her respective roles.  Though there are a few nitpicks in the various areas of this film, Indivisible still has the potential to reach many different audiences.

Conclusion

One can easily see why this great true story was chosen for a film.  There are many important messages in Indivisible that many people will relate to, especially those with close connections to the branches of the military.  The military life has never been easy for anyone, but for too long, this has been kept quiet.  Thanks to the courage of the Turner family, a great story is now being told that reaches out to families who may feel like they are alone.  While there is always room for improvement, there is still plenty of good about Indivisible due to a lot of hard work put into it.  Thus, it earns a rightful spot on the Hall of Fame.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

Shelter of the Most High by Connilyn Cossette

Image result for shelter of the most high connilyn cossette

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (3 points)

Connilyn Cossette’s sequel to A Light on the Hill is well-written, with a character-driven plot that drives home several important life lessons. Shelter of the Most High is engaging, consistent, and has just enough historical detail to make it believable. Cossette weaves fact with fiction to create a novel that many readers will love, and could make a great movie. The novel tells the story of Sofea and Eitan, two people who have been hurt by their pasts. Sofea grew up on a island and spent much of her time with her cousin Prezi. The two girls often turned to the comforting embrace of the ocean to escape the wrath of Sofea’s father; to shut out reality and for just a moment be children. One day while Sofea and Prezi and diving for lobsters, they are suddenly captured by pirates. When they return to the beach for their clothing, they discover that the pirates have killed everyone in their village, leaving behind only carnage and burning huts. Sofea tries to protect Prezi from the cruelty they experience on-board ship, but in the end it is Prezi who saves both their lives. Both girls wash ashore and are found by a band of men who live in Kedesh – a city of refuge for murderers. The girls quickly find a home with Moriyah (the main character in the previous novel) and begin to learn her Hebrew ways. After being taught to worship and serve many gods, Sofea is not sure if she believes in only one God, but is willing to serve Him in return for Eitan. Eitan has shackled himself to being a Nazarite. He believes that living this way is adequate penance for his past, and the only way to set his mother free. When he meets Sofea and observes the wholehearted way in which she embraces life and others, he dares to believe that God has forgiven him for his sin. However, a plot against them both will cause him to question everything he believes in, and force Sofea to make a decision about Yahweh. Will they survive? Will they turn to the only One who can make them whole again? To answer this question, read the book! Overall, the plot is well-written and holds the attention from cover to cover. What seems to be a calm story in the beginning escalates towards the end with an unexpected and well-crafted plot twist that really sells the conclusion. The main flaws to mention here are some cheesy romantic elements that mature somewhat as the novel continues, and the author’s sometimes too vivid descriptions. While these flaws keep the storyline from perfection, Cossette’s obvious strength is her storylines.

Character Development (3 points)

Eitan and Sofea are well-developed through the use of first person. This writing style helped the reader to connect to their struggles and joys, and made both more believable on the whole. Both have extremely relevant and realistic backstories, and Cossette demonstrates a keen understanding of real people through her character development. Eitan has a realistic struggle with guilt and the burden of his past, while Sofea’s struggle to believe in a God who cares about her is raw and poignant. (spoiler) Furthermore, the villian character is mostly above average and adds a new twist to the historical romance theme. In comparison, Prezi is arguably the weakest character. She has little involvement in the plot and needed more depth and meaning. Additionally, the minor characters are a mixture of good and average, therefore, they needed further development or omission from the story. On the whole, Cossette’s characters show great promise for the future.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Cossette earns a full point in originality for fulfilling our Biblical fiction dream for someone to write about Kedesh and it’s inhabitants. Shelter of the Most High stands out from other Biblical fiction novels because of it’s fearless, honest look at raw topics. For this reason, I believe that this book series would make a great TV series. The character development is above average and the filmmakers have plenty of creativity to work with in the storyline. Once again, we hope that Christian filmmakers will recognize the quality content they already have in many Christian books instead of producing more filler content.

Wish List Rating: 7 out of 10 points

Things I Never Told You by Beth Vogt

Image result for things i never told you beth vogt

 

Plot & Storyline Quality (3 points)

Beth Vogt, a popular author of both fiction and non-fiction, wrote a new work of fiction this year titled Things I Never Told You. The novel introduces the reader to the Thatcher sisters, Johanna, Jillian, Payton, and Pepper. As it is the beginning of a series, I am sure that Vogt will write a book focused on each sister, or something similar. This first novel focuses mainly on Payton, with a prominent sub-plot about Jillian. Things I Never Told You asks the hard questions about two of life’s most difficult experiences, the unexpected death of a loved one, and a cancer diagnosis. Payton has a good life on the surface – a supportive family, a successful small business, and a  close friend who is also her business partner. However, when her parents ask her to be the featured speaker for an event at her former high school that honors the life of her late sister Pepper…her mental and physical health take a nosedive. Payton starts having vivid dreams about Pepper that find their roots in real-life occurrences. The suppressed secrets and pain she carries surrounding Pepper’s sudden death rear their ugly heads, and she soon finds herself sleep-deprived and on the verge of a mental breakdown. In the midst of Payton’s personal crisis, Jillian announces to the family that she has breast cancer. This tragic news only expedites Payton’s downward spiral, and she soon finds herself breaking up with her boyfriend, losing momentum at work, fighting more than usual with Johanna, and isolating herself from everyone. As she continues to lose sleep and begins to have panic attacks in response to triggers –  including the sudden appearance of a high school friend who was there the night Pepper died –  Payton realizes that she will have to face her demons once and for all. Will she finally confess the secret that has haunted her for years? Will she find freedom and healing? To answer these questions, read the book!;) Overall, Vogt did a great job with this plot. She uses flashbacks very effectively, and shines a raw and realistic light on grief, family dysfunction, and broken relationships. Plus, there is a excellent plot twist towards the end of the novel. The only issue here is a minor one; I felt that Jillian’s story was a bit rushed and had some missing pieces. I wonder if it would have been better for Vogt to create a separate novel just about her, and make this one solely about Payton. However, Jillian’s perspective kept Johanna from being a straw-man, so she does serve a necessary purpose.

Character Development (3 points)

Vogt has crafted very real and relatable characters in this novel. Her everyday style of writing is unique and makes the reader feel like they are in the story. If I had to compare Vogt to a writer, it would be Karen Kingsbury, for what both women lack in plot, they make up for in character development. Each member of the Thatcher family is well-crafted and nearly perfect. Vogt’s realistic portrayal of the pairing-off that often occurs in a family with twins was vital to the plot, and she certainly did not mince words about the reality of family dysfunction. Therefore, the only things holding her back from a perfect score are the underdeveloped secondary characters, and a tendency towards the information-dump style of writing.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Vogt earns a full point in originality for two reasons. She did not dramatize/sensationalize cancer, but rather portrayed it as a difficult part of life, not something that should hold you back from enjoying it. She portrayed broken relationships between siblings and suppressed memories better than nearly any author I have seen thus far. With a little honing, Vogt will be a force to be reckoned with in the writing world. For this reason, and others, I feel that this novel would make an excellent Christian film. The screenwriter would only have to do a little editing and honing, no adding. The character development is there, the plot is pretty much there, and the flashbacks and other movie-friendly elements are there. Why wouldn’t someone make this into a film? Great job Ms. Vogt! I look forward to reading the rest of this series!

Wish List Rating: 7 out of 10 points

An Interview With God (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Paul is a journalist who recently returned from Afghanistan, where he was reporting on the war effort there.  What he saw there changed him forever, and it sent him down a dark path as he began searching for the true meaning of life.  He began to question his childhood faith, and he asked God if He was even real.  However, Paul received an unexpected answer one day when he received a tip to interview God Himself.  Skeptical, Paul decides to follow the lead even though he is on paid leave.  What he discovers is unexpected and is destined to change his life forever.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The Astute Films team is fresh on the scene, and they have put together a quality first-time production, which is a great way to start out.  It is clear that they put a lot of effort into making a high-quality production in An Interview With God.  This is evident in great video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is creative, and the film has an overall artistic touch as a lot of work is put into establishing things without being too obvious.  Further, the sets, locations, and props are authentic and appropriate.  Finally, the editing is professional, which rounds out a basically perfect production effort.  With this film, the Astute team has sown great seeds for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

On the surface, An Interview With God seems like another version of The Encounter or The Perfect Stranger, but upon closer look, this new film is much more.  Though the plot mostly centers around lengthy conversations, the dialogue is well-constructed and holds up the plot well.  The characters explore some great topics relating to the nature of reality and the work of God.  These philosophical conversations actually hold the attention because they seek to develop the characters as people rather than to throw worldviews at the audience.  The writers were not afraid to go deep with the characters by making them flawed and accessible.  The portrayal of God is also appropriate and intriguing.  Throughout the storyline, there are creative psychological elements that appear to be building towards a possible plot twist, but unfortunately, this seeming creativity never materializes, which leaves the ending to be a bit flat and disappointing.  The story tends to limp to a conclusion with too many unanswered questions after it had so much potential going for it, but even still, the remainder of the plot is good enough to lift this film to an overall good rating.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Though the cast of this film is very small, they carry the film strongly.  Each cast member portrays emotions effectively and carries his or her role very well.  Line delivery is on point, and it appears as though each cast member fits comfortably into his or her respective roles.  There are no flaws in this section, which is enough to lift An Interview With God to Hall of Fame status.

Conclusion

An Interview With God is one of 2018’s surprise breakout films, and it comes from a creative team who is not afraid to get their name out there.  When a film maker crafts a project they are proud of and one that they are not afraid to share, this immediately shows a great mentality as a creator.  It is clear that great production and acting effort were put into this movie, even if the plot department was a little lacking.  Nevertheless, the effort was enough to breach the seven point threshold, and An Interview With God is a great start to a promising career that demonstrates great potential for the future.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

The Solace of Water by Elizabeth Byler-Younts

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

Elizabeth Byler-Younts, a fairly new face in the world of Christian fiction, has just written a breakaway novel that departs from the themes of her previous books. This new book, titled The Solace of Water, is rather daring and raw compared to her previous style. In this novel Byler-Younts takes on several challenging topics, these include segregation in the northern states, family dysfunction, trauma, alcoholism, unforgiveness, and hidden sin in the church. All of these are complex singularly, but all together they are almost impossible to portray. Byler-Younts does an admirable job of tying all of these issues together to create a unique storyline, however, it could use a little fine-tuning. The Solace of Water tells the story of three people, Delilah Evans, her daughter Sparrow, and Emma Mullet. Delilah Evans leaves her son Carver’s grave, and a part of her heart behind when her husband decides to move their hurting family back to his hometown of Sinking Creek, Pennsylvania. She decides to hide from this reality by lashing out at the last person who saw Carver alive…Sparrow. Sparrow blames herself for the traumatic death of her little brother Carver. Her act of disobedience haunts her night and day, and she doesn’t know how to escape her dark thoughts. Emma Mullet is tired of her life, tired of the secrets, the constant lies, and the pain. She’s tired of hiding her husband’s dirty secret. He’s an alcoholic tasked with the responsibility of brewing the communities’ Communion wine. The problem is, this responsibility only created a new opportunity to get a fix. As these three women face increasing crises, they will have to break down their walls to find a way forward. To find out what happens to Delilah, Sparrow, and Emma, read the book!;) Dysfunctional family systems are accurately portrayed in this novel, and the darkness of secret sin is not whitewashed, rather, the raw way that Byler-Younts writes is both refreshing and a bit sensational. However, her style could use a little honing, for not everything that is here said should be. Furthermore, the story is a bit choppy and rushed. All in all, The Solace of Water rounds out to an average score.

Character Development (2 points)

Delilah, Sparrow, and Emma are mostly well developed through the use of first person. They are also relatable and realistic. In addition, the secondary characters have a clear purpose throughout the story. The reader is able to feel the emotions and struggles of each character and sympathize with each of their choices and reactions. The main flaw to point out here is that their plights are a bit overdramatic at times and the characters are left unfinished. In addition, I personally feel that the story contained too little hope and too many mentally distracting sequences. It took a bit too long to point all the suffering back to Christ. While the story ends well, there is little hope given in the in-between. Therefore, Byler-Younts earns an average score here as well.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Byler-Younts earns a full point in creativity for spearheading the absurdity of most Amish fiction by creating IMPERFECT Amish characters. Furthermore, she points out how the tight confines of religion often lead to secret sin. The important truth that forcing someone to believe in God leads to a desire to rebel against anything to do with Him is clearly stated and well-portrayed. Therefore, I believe that this novel has plenty of potential to be a revolutionary Christian film in the hands of a skilled creator. In the hands of someone like the writers of Priceless and talented director Ben Smallbone, this average novel could be a life-changing film. These filmmakers have already proven that they can handle a gritty topic tastefully, so they would be my first choice.

Wish List rating: 5 out of 10 points

What Blooms From Dust by James Markert

Image result for what blooms from dust james markert

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)

To start things off, What Blooms From Dust is one of the most unique novels I have ever read. True to form, Markert combines elements from the historical and speculative genres to create another thought-provoking novel that is worth a read. While his type of writing is not my favorite, I found myself becoming caught up in the lives of his characters…becoming…lost in the story. This is something that only a person who truly loves to read will understand. In short, Markert stands out from his genre simply by being himself. In the opening chapters of the novel, the reader is introduced to a man named Jeremiah Goodbye. Jeremiah has just escaped from prison thanks to the hand of Providence that directed a tornado to take out the side of the jail. He was in the electric chair when the tornado hit, and had already been given the first jolt. However, Jeremiah lived and is now unsure of how to proceed. The jolt of electricity seems to have freed him from the recurring nightmare he has had since childhood, along with many dark memories of the past. However, without these ever-present companions, he feels blank. So, the Coin-Flip Killer lets the flip of a coin decide for him. Should he go home, or start a new life elsewhere (no pun intended)? The coin says to go home, so he does….back to Nowhere. Along the way home Jeremiah saves an autistic boy and his typewriter companion from being sold to a suspicious character named Boo, and it doesn’t take long for the boy to latch on to him as a father figure. Upon his arrival home Jeremiah is met with distrust and death threats from his twin brother Josiah. After flipping his trusty coin, Jeremiah shoots Josiah in the foot and settles down to stay awhile. Nowhere is in the middle of the Dust Bowl, and the endless dust is starting to not only wound the town’s morale, but muddle their minds. When Jeremiah returns, Ellen, Josiah’s wife and Jeremiah’s childhood sweetheart, is confronted with all sorts of emotions and memories she thought were long-buried. She is faced with her lifelong question, to whom does her heart belong? Jeremiah is also faced with questions, is he really a murderer, and how are his nightmares and lifelong ability read people so thoroughly, to see their past and present in such a clear light, related? Both of these characters, and the townspeople, must answer many painful questions if they are to survive the Dust Bowl. What Blooms From Dust has a strong and engaging story line, and the plot is nearly perfect. The only flaw to point out here is the confusing ending. The author initially ends the plot very well, and then goes on to inform the reader of the future happenings of each character. This is an unnecessary action that keeps the novel from scoring higher on the Wish List scale.

Character Development (3 points)

In comparison, the character development is equally strong. Markert crafts engaging and relatable characters who are very imperfect and yet find common ground in being so. Jeremiah is well crafted as a broken man haunted by unanswered questions surrounding his mental struggles. (Spoiler) I especially liked that Markert pointed out to the reader how Jeremiah’s mother’s choices affected his entire life. Ellen is also a great character because she grows through her realization of how her past choices have influenced her present condition. In summary, Markert does a great job of developing the main and secondary characters to create a plot that is sure to delight fans and new readers alike. The only flaw to point out here is his use of third person. If he had used first person, this area of the novel would have been flawless.

Creativity and Originality (1 point)

Finally, the novel earns a full point for creativity and originality. If this novel is anything, it is creative. One could safely say that the entire novel is driven by Markert’s vivid imagination. the only thing holding him back from an x-factor point is his predictable ending. In conclusion, unlike many other novels, this one has many strengths and only two weaknesses. The plot and storyline quality is above average, as is the character development, and Markert is certainly not suffering in the area of creativity. What does this novel lack? A good ending. This brings me to another baffling revelation. The good ending is already in the story. All Markert had to do was shed the last six pages of the manuscript and this book would have been perfect. We don’t need to know what happens in the future lives of all the characters, that takes away the thrill of using one’s imagination to complete the novel. This is the biggest and virtually the only flaw to point out in the novel, however, this could easily be remedied on the big screen. A Christian filmmaker can and should use this novel to create a great Christian movie. The film would have to have a strong cast and a flair for the unusual, but it can be done. Markert would be the best choice for the screenwriter because he has experience in the area, and hey, it’s his story! All in all, a job well done, we look forward to Markert’s next novel with anticipation!

Wish List rating: 7 out of 10 points

Voiceless [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jesse has been recently discharged from the military, so his wife Julia pulls strings at an inner-city Philadelphia church, where she grew up, to get him a job as an outreach pastor.  Once there, Jesse desperately wants to make a difference everywhere he goes, but he and Julia are haunted by their own secrets from the past.  Jesse is plagued by constantly seeing young women enter an abortion clinic right across the street from where he wants to have an outreach center for the inner-city youth, and he is determined to do something about it.  However, he takes matters into his own hands and makes things worse by inviting his church’s criticism and making himself a target with law enforcement.  Will he and his wife be able to resolve their differences and make a real difference in a dark place?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though Voiceless had a fairly limited budget, the production of this film is quite good.  This includes good video quality and fine audio quality, although there are some moments of shaky camera work.  There is also some odd filtering throughout that might have helped outdoor lighting.  The soundtrack is very good, and sets, locations, and props are very realistic, appropriate, and authentic.  Further, there are a few editing issues due to a large amount of content, but on the whole, this is a respectable effort that accompanies a very worthwhile film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

It’s rare to find a ‘cause’ movie that actually portrays real people living real lives, especially in the pro-life genre.  However, Voiceless stands out among the rest by developing flawed, gray, and accessible characters through rich dialogue, well-explained motives, and deep back stories.  The authentic struggles of real people are depicted in this plot and help to amend the common black and white perception of pro-life issues.  There are no heroes or villains here—only real people who make mistakes and try to rectify them.  Further, subtlety is employed very well without the use of narration.  The only issues to raise here pertain to a large amount of content that could not be fully included and to the lagging finish that tries to patch things up a bit too neatly.  Nonetheless, this is not enough to keep this plot from placing this film on the Hall of Fame.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The acting is the strongest point of this film as there are no errors to highlight here.  A little-known cast of people is very well-coached and well-utilized for this film.  Line delivery is nearly perfect, and emotions are very authentic.  This is a superb acting accomplishment and a great finish to a job well done.

Conclusion

Voiceless is a rare pro-life movie that will actually make a real difference.  Many people will be able to find their own stories in the stories of these characters.  There are no strawman portrayals of pro-life people or pro-abortion people here.  This is a real story that could happen anywhere and is one that shows the only way we can end abortion is not through heroics or fighting, but through prayer and community culture change.  Films like this one can also promote culture change, which is exactly what we are looking for.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

Altar Egos (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Pastor John Bridges inherits his father’s church, he is given huge expectations by the congregation, who is led by his suspicious and controlling stepmother, Mary Margaret.  John’s wife Betsy wants him to look for a better opportunity, but John wants to follow in his father’s footsteps.  However, when Mary Margaret leads a church revolt against John, he decides to take matters into his own hands and enlists the help of his theatre-guru son to help him create an alter ego to convince his stepmother to reconcile.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

For the obviously low budget that was provided here and other limited resources, this is a highly impressive production.  This is a key example of what we want first-time film makers to do: use everything you have to the fullest potential, even if it’s small.  Every aspect of the production of Altar Egos is highly professional and there are no errors here.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all flawless, even though there are both indoor and outdoor scenes.  The soundtrack is a little goofy but it works for the comedy genre.  Sets, locations, and props are all realistic and authentic and demonstrate care.  Finally, the editing is good, although there is only a small amount of plot content to work with.  In the end, this production could have easily been another Flywheel, but it wasn’t.  New film makers are raising the standard for the market.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As with most church comedies (and Christmas comedies for that matter), the plot of Altar Egos is fairly limited in scope.  It follows a predictable progression and isn’t really all that creative.  However, the characters are highly believable since the dialogue is well-written.  The comedy is subtle instead of obvious and is actually truly funny.  Yet the comedy does run its course.  Though the message presented in this film is good, this movie tends to overstay its welcome with one too many extended sequences and montages.  As previously mentioned, you can see the ending from the beginning, but nevertheless, like all comedies, the characters make this movie what it is, thus making it worth your time.

Acting Quality (3 points)

You can hardly ask for a better casting and acting job than this for a first-time film maker.  Robert Amaya assume his first lead role very well, and even Erin Bethea is good as a quirky side character.  Victoria Jackson is always hilarious when she’s cast as an unserious and goofy character.  The new cast members also add a lot to this film as each of them assume their characters very well.  Basically, comedy is made or broken by the acting, and this cast passed the test.

Conclusion

Once listed in the Box Office Revolution Movie Purgatory, Altar Egos has made a comeback and has risen to the top of the market, leaving behind other 2017 films that were better funded and marketed.  This just goes to show you what can happen when a film maker really cares about the movie they are making and takes time and effort to make it happen the right way rather than just any way.  Altar Egos demonstrates top-notch production, despite low funding, as well as superb casting and acting.  Though the plot is a little thin at times, effort is put into dialogue and character development.  All of this spells a bright future for Sean Morgan and his team—so far, he’s the best Liberty University has to offer in the writing and directing department.  They should consider using him for their future projects.  Regardless, this film is certainly worth your time.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

Because of Gracia (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Chase Morgan is going to be a senior in high school, but he never feels like he’s been able to make a difference in life.  He is content to just hang out with his best friend OB and not really be noticed by anyone, but when a new girl, Gracia, comes to school, she turns his world upside down and he feels like he has to get to know her, even though he is terrified.  But as they grow closer and become friends, they discover that they have the ability, through their faith in God, to change their world together.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The collaboration of Film Incito, Check the Gate Productions, and Five Stones Films is a lethal combination in crafting a flawless production.  Because of Gracia demonstrates exactly what a modern Christian production should be, from excellent video quality to professional camera work to seamless audio quality.  The soundtrack is also very well-constructed and appropriate for the genre.  Sets, locations, and props are also without flaw.  The editing is nearly perfect as well as the story is presented in an inviting fashion.  In the end, Lisa Arnold and her production team have finally struck gold with this film, and the sky is the limit from here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

New screenwriter Tom Simes has debuted his skills with a worthwhile plot.  Though the story is somewhat limited and tends to be a stereotypical high school romance, the characters carry the story very well and make it enjoyable.  Dialogue is mostly creative and complex, thus serving to build the characters.  The biggest issues to point out here are a lot of unnecessary heavy-handed narration and quite a few ‘silly’ sequences that keep some characters and subplots from being further explored.  It’s great that we know the main characters well and that they are not black-and-white in their construction, but we would like to get to know the supporting characters just as well.  Also, the epilogue that is tacked onto the end of this film really puts a damper on an otherwise excellent point that is shared at the end.  Nonetheless, Because of Gracia isn’t afraid to deal with some very real and serious topics in a realistic fashion, so the creative team must be applauded for this.  In the end, this is definitely a good plot to start out with since it shows further potential for the future, and it is still enjoyable as it is.

Acting Quality (3 points)

You can hardly ask for a better cast than this.  Moriah Peters and Chris Massoglia are excellent in their roles, as are Ben Davis, Masey McClain, and the rest.  The collective minds behind this film really hit a home run with this cast, as each cast member assumes their character flawlessly and even improves upon what is written for them.  Emotions are very believable and line delivery is excellent, which demonstrate the presence of acting coaching.  In the end, this section punctuates a very worthwhile film.

Conclusion

We should be seeing movies like Because of Gracia come out every month from Christian film makers.  This proves that with time, adequate funding, effort, and care, any film can be Hall of Fame.  With the right combination of producers, directors, and writers, greatness can happen.  Movie making, more often than not, should be a team approach, and hopefully Christian film makers are learning this now.  When it releases to the public, this film is definitely worth everyone seeing.  It lends great encouragement to the slow but sure turnaround and upward trend of Christian film.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Gavin Stone, a washed-up child star, is trying to find his next big break when he gets himself in big trouble with the law.  As a settlement, the judge offers him a deal that includes required community service hours at a local church.  Gavin accepts the deal and returns to his hometown to stay with his father, whom he has not spoken to in years.  While working at the local church, Gavin stumbles upon a church play they are planning for Easter and decides to audition for it.  However, in order to get the part of Jesus, he has to pretend that he is a Christian.  But the longer he pretends, the more he becomes interested in what his new friends have to offer.  He will have to decide how long he’s going to keep up the charade and whether or not he wants the real thing.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

With an adequate budget, wise spending, and clear talent, the production team of The Resurrection of Gavin Stone proves that churches can make high quality productions.  There are no errors to point out here—camera work is professional and video quality is crisp.  Audio quality is flawless and the soundtrack is adequate.  The sets and locations are realistic and down to earth.  There are also no editing problems; everything flows perfectly.  In short, Vertical Church and the rest of this team set their minds to making a top-notch production, and it paid off.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Throughout her writing career, Andrea Gyertson Nasfell has always shown that she has a knack for writing real-life comedy, especially church satire—Gavin Stone is no exception.  Though this passed-around plot is formulaic and predictable, Nasfell takes it to its furthest potential, which is all we really ask of a writer.  Though this appears to be a stereotypical small town setup, it’s really not of the Hallmark brand (which actually gets a subtle jab at one point).  The characters are not plastic and cheesy, but instead are realistic and believable.  Dialogue is highly effective and drives the plot, as it must in a predictable comedy.  While the plot follows a stereotypical progression and this fact keeps it from being a higher score, this is the best anyone can do with this sort of idea.  Nasfell has always had a lot of writing talent, and Gavin Stone showcases this once again.  We can’t wait to see her break out into greatness one day.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Like the production team, the casting team went all out to make this portion quality.  One character even says “Acting is about being yourself through the character.”  This acting philosophy is reminiscent of the Kendrick\Erwin school of thought and is desperately needed in all of Christian film.  Actors and actresses do not need to be who they are not, but instead need to act naturally and professionally in their character.  Anjelah Johnson-Reyes demonstrates this extremely well in her first headlining role—she might be one of the best Christian actresses of our time.  All other cast members also demonstrate poise and professionalism in all ways, thus warranting a perfect score.

Conclusion

Dallas Jenkins, Andrea Nasfell, and the rest of the team demonstrate in this film that it really isn’t that difficult to make a quality Christian film.  With the right funding, a wise allocation of funds, a plot taken to its fullest potential, and a professional cast, anyone can make a Hall of Fame movie if they put their mind to it.  With creators like these, there is hope for the tide of Christian entertainment to continue to turn.  Now we ask Jenkins, Nasfell, Vertical Church, and everyone else involved in to use Gavin Stone as a springboard to even greater entertainment.  They are on the verge of the upper echelon and we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 7 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

Abel’s Field (Movie Review)

 

Plot Summary

Seth McArdle didn’t ask for his mother to die or his no-account father to leave him to take care of his two younger sisters.  Despite his pleas, Seth’s brother refuses to help him or have anything to do with him.  Therefore, Seth must attempt to successfully complete high school instead of drop out like his father did, and hold down two jobs in order to barely support him and his sisters.  What’s more, the football coach and his quarterback son both hate Seth’s family, prompting Seth into a fight that lands him with a third unpaid job working under an eccentric maintenance worker named Abel.  With the bank calling to collect on the overdue house payments, Seth feels like his whole world is crashing down around him.  He must either choose to ask for help or resort to desperate measures.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

For a little known production, Abel’s Field puts many independent Christian films to shame.  The video quality is professional, and the camera work is also good, including great sports action scenes.  The sets, locations, and props are also well-placed and well-utilized.  It seems like a lot of time and effort was put into this slightly obscure film, even though the budget was not as much as some films that are much worse than it.  The editing is effective and artistic, and this production is overall a surprisingly error-free one, which is something we definitely need to see more of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Abel’s Field is a very unique character-driven biopic that conceals key twists and character motives until the right moments.  While many portions of it are fairly slow and may not hold the attention very well, the storyline patiently unfolds through subtlety and good dialogue.  It’s actually rare to see this type of dialogue in a film like this one, even though some efforts could have been made to hold audience attention slightly better.  However, the characters are still accessible as people, and their struggles can be related to.  The latter half of the film is better than the first, and the ending has several interesting twists and turns that make for an enjoyable experience, even if the plot is not as good as it could have been.  It’s a nice, simple film with a good message.

Acting Quality (3 points)

This movie is both cast well and acted well.  Kevin Sorbo manifests arguably his best role in playing a character that suits his acting strengths.  Samuel Davis is excellent, as are the supporting actors.  It would have been easy for the acting to have been bland and wooden, but this is not the case.  Emotions are realistic, and line delivery is on point.  Thus, there are no negative acting elements.

Conclusion

With a better budget and a smidgen more time spent on the plot, Abel’s Field could have been higher rated than this.  However, this movie is a testament to the fact that it is possible to make a quality film with only a limited budget.  The plot is does just enough to be interesting, and it is filled with realistic characters living out realistic lives.  Abel’s Field fulfills the formula of great production and great acting combined with a plot that does just enough, so it will be interesting to see what this creative team produces next.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

Facing the Giants (Movie Review)

bbl

bgn

Plot Summary

Nothing ever seems to work out for Grant Taylor, high school coach of the Shiloh Eagles football team.  His team is the laughingstock of the conference, his job is perpetually on the hot seat, his income is sub-par, and he and his wife cannot seem to have any children.  What’s worse, the allegedly Christian football players have horrible attitudes toward the game and toward life, thus causing their new season to go from bad to worse.  Everything comes to a head one day when Coach Taylor overhears the top men of the private school discussing his potential exit with one of his trusted assistant coaches.  This causes Grant to cry out to God for help, and He answers, telling him to disciple his players and to foster a new attitude on the team.  This is all confirmed by a faithful praying man who refuses to give up on the spiritual state of the school.  When Grant gives everything over to God, he is shocked at the results that are produced not only at his job but also in his personal life.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

Giants was a landmark work in the Christian movie industry.  It upped the standard of Christian movie production quality, something that was long overdue.  The Kendrick Brothers invested in better equipment, and it paid off.  Gone are the days of poor Flywheel production.  The camera work, which could have easily been poorly done due to difficult football game scenes, is flawless.  There is no more grainy video or medieval sound; the lighting in Giants is excellent.  The soundtrack and audio quality are professional.  Box Office Revolution sees little to nothing negative about the Giants production quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

This is perhaps the weakest area of Facing the Giants.  The plot is fairly predictable, but it is done in the best way possible.  The characters are believable and the Christian message is meaningful without being preachy.  Dialogue is meaningful and real life events play out that the viewers can relate to.  There are no real surprises or plot twists, but after all, this was the Kendricks’ second movie on a relatively small budget.  One breath of fresh air is their continued commitment to well-thought-out comedy scenes, something that makes average movies great.  Overall, this is not a creative plot, but it is done well.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Who needs ‘professional’ actors when the Kendricks are the acting coaches?  ‘Amateur’ actors are made great in this movie.  They make their characters believable rather than stereotypical.  Dialogue is delivered well.  BOR sees no real errors here.

Conclusion

In short, while Giants is not the best movie, it is certainly an above average movie.  This is due to superb leadership and a commitment to a meaningful Christian message.  Production is top-notch and the acting is excellent.  This movie’s only weak area is its average plot, but this is only a small issue when compared to other Christian movies.  The most important thing is that the Kendrick Brothers were not done yet.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points