Love in a Broken Vessel by Mesu Andrews

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Plot & Storyline Quality (3.5 points)

Love in a Broken Vessel is Mesu Andrews’ unique take on the Biblical story of Hosea. The novel has been around for several years, and is well-loved by fans of Biblical fiction. Andrews’ talent for telling a raw story with an important lesson really shines in this novel, and although her plot is imperfect, the flaws are few and far between. Gomer is a woman with a hard exterior who is actually quite fragile on the inside. She has been a prostitute since a young age, and knows no other way to survive. Her view of the followers of Yahweh is cynical…to say the least. From Gomer’s perspective, the religious leaders demand much and do little. While this is mostly true, this reason for avoiding God’s love is simply a cover-up for her deeper issues. Hosea is a passionate prophet of God who has lived a somewhat sheltered life under the tutelage of the old prophet Jonah. When God calls him to marry a prostitute and have children with that same woman, he questions God’s sanity…but soon recognizes His divine plan when the prostitute in question turns out to be a childhood friend. Gomer is trying to entice a customer on the temple grounds when she spots Hosea and his homely friend the “fish prophet”. Her shock is quickly forgotten when she witnesses a horrific scene play out before her eyes. Gomer’s response to this scene earns her the worst beating of her life, and when she opens her eyes again, there are two people speaking. The physician is saying she may not survive, and Hosea is asking for her hand in marriage. Gomer quickly learns that Hosea intends to see his promises through, and is not sure how to respond. She soon finds that life in the prophet’s camp is not what she expected, and that most women in the camp are not exactly open and friendly. Gomer continually retreats to the safety of what she knows, and Hosea keeps chasing after her. Will Gomer surrender to the One who loves her completely? Will Hosea trust in God’s seemingly crazy plan? To answer these questions, read the book! Overall, this novel is very well-written and holds the attention from cover to cover. The only flaws are a few continuity errors, and the somewhat predictable conclusion.

Character Development (4 points)

Andrews characters are, as always, masterfully done in this novel. Gomer is real, raw, and the reader can connect to her emotionally. Hosea is imperfectly perfect, and has realistic personal and spiritual struggles. Furthermore, the secondary characters are very effective, and there is a great little plot twist towards the end of the novel with one of these. Authors of Biblical fiction who are trying to improve their character development should look no further than Mesu Andrews for inspiration. Although at the time she was somewhat of a new author, her talent was clear. For these reasons, Andrews earns a perfect score in this section.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Andrews earns a full point in creativity for crafting a novel about Hosea that was distinctly different than the famous Redeeming Love. These two novels are written for two different audiences, and yet, they complement one another beautifully. Unfortunately, when compared to Andrews’ other novels, there is not much original content here. However, this is still one of the best books I have ever had the privilege to read. It is for this reason, and others, that I believe Love In a Broken Vessel would make an excellent Christian series. The character development is perfect as is, the plot would need only minuscule alteration, and the creativity is on point (no pun intended). If a filmmaker feels so inclined, I must insist that Andrews be a big part of the filmmaking process, especially when it comes to casting. After all, they’re her characters. To conclude, great job Ms. Andrews! You continue to be an inspiration to writers of Biblical fiction everywhere!

Wish List Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

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Paul, Apostle of Christ (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Paul had completed many full years of missionary work across the continents of Asia and Europe and after carrying the Gospel of Jesus Christ to thousands of people, both Jews and Gentiles, he appealed to stand trial in Rome before Caesar, but this decision only caused him to suffer further for the cause of Christ at the hands of cruel Romans.  With the church in Rome on the brink of total annihilation, Priscilla and Aquila house many wanted Christians in their home, and Luke is sent to tend to Paul in prison.  As many Christians begin to question the words of Christ, Luke begs Paul for a fresh word to strengthen the church in her dark times, yet Paul is plagued by his thorn in the flesh–namely the lives of all he killed while he was a religious zealot.  With darkness seeming to close in on Christ’s people, the story of Paul’s life carries the same message that saved all followers of the Way: where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Gone are the days when ‘Bible plays’ like The Book of Esther are socially acceptable as Christian films.  We are in a new era of Christian productions, and Paul, Apostle of Christ is another hallmark of this era.  Similar to recent Biblical depictions, such as Risen, this new look at Paul’s life is gritty and authentic and has no fear of being painfully realistic.  This is evident in the excellent and historically authentic sets, locations, and props.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are also what a professional production should be.  The soundtrack is very engaging and thought-provoking, and the editing is quite creative and effective in presenting the story.  The only drawback to this production is a collection of very dark scenes that may be realistic but do not make for great viewing.  Nevertheless, this is a top-notch production that we should see over and over again in Christian films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

While most standard Biblical plot fare is very flat, face-value, and vanilla, Paul, Apostle of Christ rejects this mold and upends the Biblical genre once and for all.  By inserting extremely creative and well-crafted psychological elements into the core of this storyline, Andrew Hyatt and his team have created a point of no return for films based on Biblical events.  Much like their work in Full of Grace, which showed the potential they have always had, their portrayal of Paul’s thorn in the flesh and the trauma he went through in his life is revolutionary in this genre.  This is exactly what needs to be done to show the humanness of Biblical characters through the exquisite use of effective flashbacks and through processes that demonstrate real motive.  Elsewhere, dialogue is rich and meaningful, and the other subplots are intertwined very well as each character is very well-developed.  Care is given to demonstrate great historical accuracy, and while there are some slightly slow scenes and areas that could have been fleshed out with further dialogue and flashbacks, this storyline is a breath of fresh air in a world of very poor Biblical screenwriting.  To top things off, the ending sequence completes the film excellently and is well worth the wait.  In short, this film is a job well done in nearly every area.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

While there were a few missteps with cast members that are not entirely culturally authentic, they are trained to appear culturally authentic, which is leagues better than having a fully BRITISH cast.  Elsewhere, there is plenty of culturally authentic casting to make this section great, and there is clearly a presence of professional acting coaching.  There are very few errors to point out here, and costuming and makeup are also extremely realistic.  In summary, there are many positive elements to point out in this breakout effort.

Conclusion

This film receives a full x-factor point for its effective use of poignant psychological elements as Paul, Apostle of Christ takes its rightful place among the greatest Christian films of our time.  Andrew Hyatt and his team are clearly going places, and even though their sophomore effort was somewhat muted by the blockbuster release of I Can Only ImaginePaul is a signal that a new force to be reckoned has finally arrived in Biblical films.  It will be exciting to see what this team puts together next, but for now, we can enjoy this great movie.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

 

The Case for Christ [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Lee Strobel was an acclaimed newspaper reporter who had seemingly reached a new level in his career with his in-depth research pieces.  Everything in his life seemed perfect, until his wife Leslie began talking to a Christian nurse who saved the life of their daughter and became a Christian herself.  Lee’s staunch atheism was immediately challenged by his wife’s beliefs, even though she had become a better person as a result.  Thus, Lee set out to disprove the faith of his wife by attacking the core tenets of Christianity and skeptically investigating the truth behind them.  However, the deeper he went into his investigation, the less faith he had in atheism.  He would eventually have to come to grips with what he really believed and make a decision that would change his life forever.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

After years of wandering in the proverbial wilderness, Jon Gunn and his team, aided by the new standards of PureFlix, have finally found the promised land.  The Case for Christ is a flawless production in every aspect and is an example of what we should see in every film.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are error free.  The soundtrack is highly authentic and appropriate for the time.  Sets, locations, and props are exquisite and demonstrate great care for historical accuracy.  Finally, editing is excellent as montages are kept to a minimum and each scene transitions seamlessly.  Basically, this is your textbook perfect production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

What better plot to use than a real-life story that many audiences can relate to for multiple different reasons?  Not only is this film about real people, but they are actually portrayed as real people through meaningful dialogue and realistic circumstances.  This film could have easily descended into an information-saturated and message-heavy dump that tried too hard to push its point, but that is not the case here.  Both the atheist and the Christian characters are portrayed extremely well and the highly relevant message is presented in such a way that it is both clearly understood and easily received without being pushed in your face.  In the hands of a different writer, this idea could have gone south very easily.  Yet it did not, and Brian Bird proves that with good content, he can go great things.  The only nitpick to raise here is some slight choppiness, but it’s not a big deal.  The bottom line is that this is an excellent plot and one well worth your time.

Acting Quality (3 points)

You can hardly ask for a better cast than this, as each member fits their character excellently.  There are zero acting errors to point out as every performance is executed with near perfection.  Emotions are highly believable and line delivery is on point.  This rounds out an excellent film.

Conclusion

In conjunction with Brian Bird, Jon Gunn has finally discovered his true talent and has struck gold.  He put previous disappointments behind him and found a way to become a great film maker.  All we ask of film makers is to show steady and consistent improvement, and Jon Gunn has done just that.  He was also afforded a great opportunity to tell the amazing true story of Lee Strobel and to have better funding due to the better decisions made by the PureFlix leadership.  This film gives Jon Gunn, Brian Bird, and the rest a platform to build off of to do even greater things.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

 

The Christmas Candle (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The people of Gladbury have always looked forward the Christmas when an angel comes and blesses a candle at Haddington Candlery.  The tradition of the Haddington family has always been to give the blessed candle to someone in need, since the candle has special powers to give that person what they needed.  This Christmas, with a skeptical new pastor in town and more requests than ever for the fabled Christmas Candle, the Haddingtons feel like they’re in over their head.  This only gets worse when Edward Haddington trips the night the angel blesses a candle and causes all of his candles to scramble in a mess on the floor.  Now, with no way of knowing which candle is the blessed one, Edward and his wife Bea decide to give a candle to everyone on the request list and hope for the best.  But little do they know that there is far more in store for them this Christmas than they could have ever imagined.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

Echolight Studios has always put together top-notch productions, and The Christmas Candle is no exception.  The video quality is very clean and the camera work is extremely professional.  Audio quality is excellent, including an epic original soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and historical props are very realistic and appropriate.  The editing is flawless and presents the plot seamlessly.  In short, Echolight has always thrived with productions, but this is perhaps their crowning achievement.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Adapted from a beloved Max Lucado novel, this plot is far better than one might expect from a Christmas storyline involving angels touching candles.  It is extremely character based and driven by excellent dialogue.  Though there are numerous characters and subplots, they are handled extremely well and are threaded together wonderfully.  There are some excellent points raised throughout, including a balanced view of miracles versus good works.  The issue of the angel blessing the candle is actually presented in a palatable and even believable way.  The only problems to highlight here are some convenient plot coincidences and one too many silly magical elements.  Otherwise, this is a masterpiece storyline and stands as an example of how non-Biblical Christmas plots should be written.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The Christmas Candle utilizes a very professional cast, yet their ‘big names’ do not give excuse for lackluster acting.  There are virtually no acting errors here, as each member of this very well-rounded cast is coached well and delivers their lines and emotions superbly and effectively.  As a side note, each actor and actress is also cast appropriately for their characters, which is a rare feat to accomplish.  In summary, this rounds out a job well done.

Conclusion

With The Christmas Candle, Echolight has finally found their way home.  For years they have searched for a great plot to combine with their excellent production quality, and they have finally achieved this.  Max Lucado has also taken his career to a new level, as this film actually improves upon his original work of fiction.  It’s refreshing to know that there are quality Christmas movies in the Christian field instead of all the usual garbage that is forced upon us.  As we come around to Christmas Day, let’s just enjoy the fact that there is still hope for Christmas films.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

The Passion of the Christ (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

In this landmark Biblical epic, the suffering of Christ is depicted on the big screen.  Beginning in the Garden of Gethsemane, continuing to the various trials and through brutal torture, the final hours of Jesus are shown as He struggles up the Via Delarosa to the final reckoning at the Place of the Skull.  Complete with flashbacks to Jesus’ previous ministry and windows into the spiritual battle surrounding the crucifixion, The Passion of the Christ was a game-changer in Christian-based film that opened up a whole new world by refusing to fall into the trap of cute and clean Bible movies.  The real passion of Jesus Christ was horrible and wonderful, and something that we as Christians should never take for granted.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

As a professional and talented director and screenwriter, Mel Gibson puts his gift to a greater good in The Passion.  The camera work is epic, including great angles and clear video quality.  Sound quality is exquisite and the sets and locations are diversely realistic.  Of course, the main element of the production—the gore—may seem excessive to some and may frighten young children, but it is necessary to show Christ’s suffering in this way because any other way would minimize His sacrifice for us.  First century Judea was violent and Jesus’ persecution was intensely awful, and The Passion captures this unfortunate reality.  Finally, the musical score greatly enhances the film.  In short, while Mel Gibson is not an exclusively Christian director by any means, he has shown Christians how to make a great production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

All Christians are familiar with the basic Biblical account of Jesus in the Garden, before the Sanhedrin, before Herod and Pilate, and on the cross.  But before this movie, we believe that many western Christians did not fully appreciate the depth of Christ’s suffering.  Some may consider The Passion to embellish and sensationalize the torture, but we believe otherwise.  A majority of this film is violent and gory, but for good reason.  The purpose of Christ’s suffering is clearly communicated.  The Biblical characters are realistic and are enhanced by flashbacks.  From the beginning to the end, The Passion highlights an important and too-often forgotten aspect to every Biblical narrative: the spiritual battle that takes place away from human eyes.  Jesus’ interactions with Satan are epic and make this movie all that it is.  Of course, there are slightly too many unnecessary elements to this plot, including unusual personal beliefs of Gibson, overly sensationalized subplots, and a slight deification of Mary.  These keep it from being all that it could be.  But nevertheless, the plot, though it covers a short period of time, is very deep and profound.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The decision to use Aramaic and Latin instead of modern English was a success.  Though some of the actors and actresses are American, most are actually Middle Eastern and Jewish, which is a huge step.  The cast is obviously coached well and perform well, though most of them are not blockbuster actors and actresses.  Emotional delivery makes this movie what it is.  In short, this cast proves that ‘big names’ aren’t always needed to make a great film.

Conclusion

The Passion of the Christ was an early indicator of Christian audiences’ hunger for quality Christian films.  Some churches were criticized for publicizing a ‘secular’ film, but Mel Gibson simply did something no one else would do—he shattered Bible movie stereotypes by crafting a gritty and terribly realistic screenplay on the ultimate act of love and suffering in human history.  As mostly sheltered Christians who sometimes take for granted the gross realities in the Bible, we all need to be reminded of how real and painful Jesus’ crucifixion was, lest we forget how monumental His sacrifice for us was.  It’s only a shame that The Passion was not a perfect film, yet it still lands on the Hall of Fame as one to be remembered and one that made a difference for Christian film forever.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

 

The Ultimate Gift (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jason Stevens has always had everything he ever wanted—at least everything that money could buy.  Growing up in a successful oil dynasty, he has never seen anything but money, fakeness, and broken relationships.  So when his patriarchal grandfather dies and the family gossip turns to who will get the largest share of the family fortune, Jason is uninterested and aimless in life.  However, his world takes a unexpected turn when his father’s lawyer informs him that he is the one who is to inherit the largest portion of the fortune—if he can pass a series of seemingly eccentric tests designed to help Jason learn what is most important in life.  As a result, Jason is forced to look at who he really is and what God really wants from him.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The production crew of The Ultimate Gift showed true talent in this film.  The camera work is excellent, including video quality and angles.  The sets and locations are quite varied.  The story is supposed to take place in at least two different countries, and this feat is pulled of well.  The editing is great considering the fact that there is a lot of content in this film that could have cheesily been strung together.  The series of gifts is not choppy and comes off naturally.  In short, there are no production errors.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

As previously mentioned, it must have been hard to weave this type of content together into a clean plot line.  Screenwriter Cheryl McKay actually improved Jim Stovall’s book in this adaptation, building on the characters and the storyline and making it more palatable.  Dialogue is not forgotten in this miniature epic, even though it is concise.  There are several interesting plot twists and things do not turn out as most inspirational plots would.  Comedy and realistic drama are mixed well throughout.  The only concerns to raise here are that some of the characters are slightly shallow and stereotypical.  Otherwise, the plot content is very strong.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The Ultimate Gift cast is made up of mostly mainstream and professional actors, but they do the job well.  They have obviously been coached well.  Each one is appropriate in their roles and does the best with what they have.  In short, there are once again no errors here.

Conclusion

While The Ultimate Gift is not a perfect film, it is certainly high on the list.  It deals with a very unique topic in a very unique way.  It would have been easy for the movie format to come off as amateurish, but this does not happen.  One caveat is that there is not an explicit Christian message, but there are plenty of Christian values displayed.  In short, this film is not only an enjoyable view, but it should also serve as a great example to anyone who wants to create an independent Christian film in the future.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points