Beautifully Broken [2018] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The Hartley Family appears to have it all on the outside; they are a seemingly successful American family.  However, little do they know that their lives are about to become far more complicated than before.  They inadvertently cross paths with William Mwizerwa, a Rwandan refugee who moved from Kenya to America to try to make a new life for his family, whom he had to flee the Rwandan genocide with.  These lives also intersect with another Rwandan family who has been forever changed by the genocide.  Little do they know that collectively, they will experience both brokenness and God’s redemption after brokenness in ways they never before dreamed.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Beautifully Broken is an independent film that has finally come to fruition after being in the works for a while, and it bears some key hallmarks of an indie production.  Though the production begins in a fairly rough manner, including wild camera work, weird light filters, and dizzying flashbacks, this is mainly only the first third of the film.  It seems like this part of the film was produced separately from the rest of the movie since the remainder of the film has a significant quality increase.  This is evident as the camera work, video quality, and audio quality all make marked improvements.  The soundtrack is effective and culturally appropriate; however, sometimes sets and locations do not fully live up to the hype.  Nevertheless, this production does enough in the latter two-thirds to make this section overall above average.  It seems like time was spent to improve this part of the film, and they likely did the best they could with the budget they had.  The one drawback is that the editing does not improve throughout the film, but this is is mainly due to the large amount of plot content.  As a whole, this is a great first-time production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

It’s an excellent idea to begin your movie career with a complex true story rather than to use original content, especially since we have a deficit of creative screenwriters in Christian film.  However, one of the main pitfalls of using a true story is trying to include too much content.  In some ways, it seems like the writing team of Beautifully Broken bit off more than they could chew, but this does not diminish the great message this powerfully true story has to offer.  The downside is that there are one too many ‘filler’ scenes that waste precious time; the sheer amount of content in this plot does not allow space to develop the characters as much as they could have been, and narration and expository dialogue is used too often as a shortcut for full character and story development.  However, despite its rough beginning and inconsistency in the middle, the final third of the plot are definitely worth the wait, and they keep this section higher than it would have normally been.  This writing team definitely has more potential in the future once they master organization and character development.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

It’s possible that the uneven and inconsistent acting is the main thing that derailed Beautifully Broken from a possible Hall of Fame run. While some cast members, like Benjamin Onyango, are very good in their performances, other cast members, like Scott William Winters, cancel out any good that is done.  Once again, Onyango is not given the space he needs to fully show his potential as an actor.  However, for the most part, emotional performances are believable and effective.  Costuming is culturally appropriate, and great efforts were taken to cast culturally authentic cast members.  Overall, this rounds out a great first effort.

Conclusion

A lot of work has clearly been put into making Beautifully Broken happen after a fairly long period of time has passed, and the finished product is both better than most films and not as good as it could have been.  There is plenty of positive in this film, and it is likely worth your time to see when it releases.  There is a great message to learn, and this story is definitely worth being told.  In summary, this film is a great start to a promising career, so it will be interesting to see what they have to offer next.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Advertisements

Like Arrows: The Art of Parenting (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Charlie and Alice began their parenting journey sooner than they expected, but they quickly adapted to their new life as a family, even as their family continued to grow.  They encountered many different struggles and challenges as their family dynamic changed and expanded, but they always did their best to rely on wisdom from God in their parenting.  However, when they reached a breaking point one day, their wise friends invited them to a church conference that helped them fix all of their mistakes and begin building a lasting legacy!

 

Production Quality (2 points)

On the surface, Like Arrows has a decent enough production, which is no doubt due to the consultation of the Kendrick Brothers.  This is evident in good camera work, crisp video quality, and mostly fine sets, locations, and props.  Unfortunately, audio quality is quite up to par as many lines are difficult to discern; however, the soundtrack is mostly fine.  While most scenes are well-lit, there are some head-scratching moments of poor lighting with little to no explanation.  Further, it goes without saying that the major detractor of this production is the atrocious editing, which can mostly be blamed on the ridiculous amount of content that is shoved into this film.  On the whole, this production is fine and passable, but the issues with Like Arrows go much deeper.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

This ‘movie’ was originally a collection of skit clips to accompany FamilyLife’s new curriculum called The Art of Parenting.  It’s painfully obvious that this choppy and rough presentation of random ideas was borne out of these beginnings.  What begins as a semi-interesting storyline quickly descends into a roller coaster of content that takes the viewer from one high point to the next at breakneck pace.  The audience is dropped into a moment in time to look at one spoon-fed issue that needs to be highlighted, and just as soon as the sequence began, it comes to a predictable conclusion as the audience is prepared to zoom forward in time to another ‘important’ tidbit from FamilyLife’s outdated worldview that needs to be included.  This wild ride wreaks havoc on any hope of character development as dialogue is stilted and programmed based on what the ministry needed to push to whoever may watch this mess.  This section is only saved from nothingness by a semi-effective final scene that has absolutely no build-up or justification due to the fact that nobody knows who the characters even are at that point even as more characters are constantly introduced.  Also, it goes without saying that the FamilyLife product placements are vomit-inducing.  Essentially, Kevin Peeples was saddled with the impossible task of trying to force a collection of worldview-heavy curriculum skits to be a continuous and understandable screenplay.  No one should have been expected to pull this off since, based on the content provided, the task was a losing one to begin with.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The acting of this ‘film’ is very uneven.  Alan Powell has had better performances, and a lot of the cast members seem lost and unsupported by coaching.  However, it’s not like they had any good lines to work with in the first place.  Also, the sheet number of cast members required for the constantly changing ages (with the exception of the parents) causes a lot of confusion and extra work for directing.  Once the parent cast members are finally changed (there is a point when they seem like the same age as their adult children) and once other professional cast members are brought on (Alex Kendrick, Garry Nation, etc.), the acting actually improves for the final sequence.  However, it’s simply not enough to save this film from itself.

Conclusion

Space does not permit a full discussion on the myriad issues actually present in this film, including the mindless and patronizing treatment of women (what do you expect?), the trippy ‘futuristic’ elements in the final sequence, and the general lack of regard for understanding the struggles of real people.  This film claims to show real people doing real things, but it actually demonstrates just how far out of touch FamilyLife really is.  Did I mention how horrible their product placements are?  Implying that a family is totally fixed by going to your conference and buying your merchandise is the height of arrogance and is extremely tone-deaf.  Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that this film will make any lasting impact.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Movie Renovation: Where Hope Grows

See original review here.

 

Production Improvements

For starters, like most films that need remakes, Where Hope Grows has a poor budget allocation.  The camera work needs a total rework, and the presence of a substantial soundtrack would have also helped things along.  Post-production elements, such as editing, also need to be renovated, as the way the plot is presented is a bit disorienting at times.  Overall, this film had a very indie feel to it, which is not always bad, but the lack of proper funding crippled this film’s full potential.

Plot and Storyline Improvements

The plot of Where Hope Grows also has some work to do.  There is a disproportionate amount of time spent on the woes of troubled characters.  Although this is a realistic approach, it’s not always done in a tasteful way.  This is billed as a family film, but the audience therein will likely be disappointed by the slightly overdone amount of edgy content that lacks a proper amount of redemption to help things.  Also, even though the characters are realistic in many ways, their dialogue needs deepening in order to assist the audience in relating to them better as people.  For example, some flashbacks could have aided us in understanding the motivations of the characters rather than having another scene of the main character acting drunk.  Also, as previously mentioned, the disorganization of this plot is a drag on the experience and blunts the full impact of the otherwise good ending.  Essentially, a total rewrite of this plot by the right person could have put this film on the Hall of Fame.

Acting Improvements

This film’s important message regarding special needs people is reinforced by the excellent casting of a special needs actor.  Though there are some overly heated emotional moments that could use some toning down, this section is overall the most reliable section of the movie.

Conclusion

Where Hope Grows was closer to greatness than a lot of films with twice its budget.  This level of commitment to raw, imperfect characters is hard to come by in the plastic Christian market.  However, there is a balance to find between extremely fake and extremely realistic.  Perhaps a future Christian film maker can use this film as a model for how to walk the line between the two in order to make a truly dynamic film.

 

Caged No More (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Aggie never thought it would turn out this way.  She had always cared for Elle and Skye, the daughters of the family whose house she cleaned.  But when they disappear along with their father, Aggie feels like she has to care for the distraught mother left behind.  However, when the mother commits suicide, a string of events are set into motion that alert Aggie to sinister activity that Elle and Skye might be caught up in.  Therefore, she takes a leap of faith to get the help she needs in order to get her girls back.  As the journey takes her across two continents, Aggie clings to faith in God and to the hope that she will find her girls again.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

It seems like the creators of Caged No More had good intentions, but not the resources to pull it off properly.  They likely bit off a larger portion than they could chew.  At least the video quality is clear, which is something most new Christian movies are finally getting right.  The audio quality is passable.  The camera work is okay; sometimes it tries to be too ‘dramatic’ and it comes off wrong.  However, the lighting is very inconsistent.  Some scenes are very dark, seemingly on purpose, but it doesn’t make any sense.  What’s more, the sets are too limited for this scope of a plot.  The surroundings are fairly realistic but sometimes seem empty.  Speaking of scope, the editing of this film is deplorable.  As will be discussed next, Caged No More is a collection of spliced together sequences forced to fit together.  In short, while the effort is applaudable, the delivery is frustrating to watch.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Caged No More is built on a very choppy plot that is patched together with constant narration that either reminds us what just happened or explains something that happened off screen.  There is no coherence between subplots, and the one interesting subplot is wasted and underdeveloped.  The storyline contains too many leaps in logic and is based far too much on coincidences and happenchance.  The characters are thin and empty, crafted with stiff and cardboard dialogue.  It’s really a shame that this review has to be so negative, because the genre this film is trying to break into is interesting.  The idea behind this film is quite interesting, but it is very much wasted potential.  Between the vague ending and the rushed plot, this film felt like it was just speeding to the sequel, but it gave us nothing to be interested in for in the sequel.  At this rate, there is little purpose in creating a sequel; money would be better spent on a remake.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

These cast members seem like they mean well, but they have been thrown into the mix with little to no coaching at all.  Emotions are very overdone and not believable.  Line delivery is forced and awkward.  Kevin Sorbo playing two different characters just doesn’t work at all.  Christian ‘celebrities’ are shoehorned into the cast only for the sake of having their name on it.  In short, there is some potential here, but it is not tapped.

Conclusion

Caged No More is a sad production in many ways.  It really could have been a great genre-breaking work based on an important topic, but it fell very short of the mark.  It pretends to be something bigger than it is.  Buried inside of it are good ideas, but they will likely be wasted as this movie is forgotten over time.  We desperately need different genres of Christian\inspirational films, but this is not the way to go about it.  Human trafficking is a highly important topic that needs to be exposed, but this isn’t the way.  I hope a lesson can be learned here that will make a difference.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

Where Hope Grows (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Calvin is a down on his luck ex-pro baseball player who has been struggling to get his career back on track ever since he blew it in a big game.  He’s addicted to alcohol and has a strained relationship with his daughter.  He’s aimless in life until he randomly meets a young man with Downs syndrome working at a local grocery store.  Named Produce, he immediately forms an unlikely bond with Calvin and begins to unknowingly challenge him to live better.  In talking with Produce, Calvin begins to have a whole new outlook on life—one that doesn’t revolve around himself.  But as the challenges and struggles facing them get tougher, they will each have to choose how they are going to respond in order to determine where they will end up in life.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Where Hope Grows is severely under-funded.  It’s painfully obvious that one main camera is used and that it is not stationary or mechanically movable, as the shots frequently shake around.  The video quality is also B-grade, but not as bad as it could be.  The sound is inconsistent, but mostly stays good.  Perhaps one of the biggest production issues is the painful absence of a soundtrack.  If this film had a musical score, it would be greatly improved.  On the upside, the sets and locations are good; the crew demonstrates a commitment to making everything look realistic rather than getting stuck in a few cheesy sets.  However, the editing is unfortunately very confusing, making the storyline hard to follow.  Overall, the production shows that this film was not a throw together and it feels like the crew did the best they could with what they had.  We only wish they had more funds to work with.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

There is a lot of great content in this plot that doesn’t seem to live up to its full potential.  The concept of this film is very ingenious in an inspirational market that is flooded with pedestrian movies.  It accurately and realistically (sometimes too realistically) portrays real issues facing ordinary people, whether special needs people or ex-professional athletes and their families.  However, it is sometimes too hard to connect with the characters because the plot is too choppy to create an environment conducive to character development.  Dialogue is too inconsistent—sometimes profound and other times understated and isolating.  There are too many portions of the plot that are either too short or not explained well enough.  There are also too many points where the audience is tempted to turn off the movie because it’s too confusing or too raw.  But if you do make it to the end, there is actually a very creative intersection of the characters that partially makes it all worth it.  This portion of the film is the best because it is well thought out but it is also frustrating to watch, knowing how much better it could be.  Elsewhere, as previously mentioned, there is too much raw and sometimes crude content in this film—even though this definitely realistic, it should be presented in a more palatable way.  In summary, there are many ways in which Where Hope Grows could have been a better film and we really wish a remake would be made.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Surprisingly, the acting is the strongest point of this movie.  It is so rare to cast a special needs person in a film, so the casting of David DeSanctis is both groundbreaking and highly appropriate.  The remainder of the cast sometimes lives up the acting genius of DeSanctis and sometimes they do not.  Emotional delivery is pretty good throughout, but sometimes it is over the top.  Therefore, the acting quality is overall above average.

Conclusion

In Christian and inspirational film, there is a list of movies that are frustrating to watch because they exhibit far more potential than they produce.  These films should all be up for remakes, and Where Hope Grows is one of those.  Special needs people need to be portrayed properly in movies; this is one way that this film breaks barriers.  If it had more money behind it and less crude content, we can’t help but think that it would have been Hall of Fame worthy and extremely successful in inspirational circles.  But alas, we are left with another film that could have been.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

The Song [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

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

Acting Quality (2 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points