Grace of God {The Takers} [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

First Church has been robbed by an unknown culprit!  $20,000 is missing!  However, the pastor wants to keep it all under wraps, so he can control the investigation without going to the police.  That’s why he decides to hire a private investigator who’s an atheist to track down the criminal by interviewing everybody in the church.  Though this investigator is skeptical of the faith, he decides he needs to make himself the personal bodyguard of the church secretary, who is having her own family struggles.  Will everyone be able to learn the lesson of stealing?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Kevan Otto’s production models are fairly standardized, and Grace of God is another example of this.  Video quality and camera work are fine, even if lighting is a bit inconsistent at times.  Audio quality is mostly acceptable, even if the soundtrack is sometimes too loud; there are also some unnecessary background\outside noises that come through.  Sets, locations, and props are passable, but they are fairly limited.  Further, the editing is average at best as many scenes drag on far too long and do not hold the attention well.  Overall, this is just another average production with nothing special to write home about.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

In conjunction with In the Name of GodGrace of God was intended to be a part of a series about the Ten Commandments.  Undoubtedly, we would have been gifted with awkward iterations and proclamations from John Ratzenberger at the beginning of each film.  Grace of God is shockingly about ‘You Shall Not Steal’ (notice the creative original title), and it’s also somehow supposed to be about Easter (there is no way to derive this concept from the plot at all).  Regardless, this plot is as awful as can be expected from such a limited idea.  Characters are totally blank, and most of the film is filled up with them awkwardly standing around and talking without saying anything substantial.  Dialogue is mostly empty and mindless since it is so full of message-pushing and forceful ideas.  A lot of the plot points and story arcs really lack basis in reality and feel very manufactured.  In the end, the storyline lacks any real impact and falls flat on its face.  It’s doubtful that many audiences will make it through the second half of the film–even though that stand-up-in-church scene is pretty hilarious.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Though there is slight potential in this acting, most of the cast members therein seem lost and struggling without any assistance.  Line delivery is choppy, and emotions come off as forced.  There is no clear presence of acting coaching, and Erin Bethea actually exhibits some of the best acting skills, if you can believe it.  Overall, most acting performances are just too robotic and unnatural to warrant any higher ratings.

Conclusion

Thank heavens there weren’t more of these films made.  I can just imagine the halting, sermonizing grunts of John Ratzenberger on keeping the Sabbath day and not coveting.  Hardly any Christian film makers make ten films period, so beginning with this sort of plan was certainly ambitious.  By now, Kevan Otto has made about ten films, so he could have forced them all to be in this ‘series.’  Online fits perfectly with the adultery commandment.  Lukewarm or Decision could be about honoring your parents or something.  A Question of Faith could reference…organ donation?  Regardless, movies that force messages down your throat in the form of sermons rarely have any real impact, so it’s best that this method is avoided altogether.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Movie Renovation: Left Behind 3-World at War

See original review here.

 

Production Improvements

We will be hard-pressed to find a more impressive internal suspense and action-based production in Christian entertainment than the last installment of the first attempt at bringing the Left Behind trilogy to the big screen.  The production of World at War is not only actually well-funded, but it is also well-utilized.  We analyzed that the only main issues with this production were some editing problems, which are to be expected.  Otherwise, there is little else that can be improved in this portion.

Plot and Storyline Improvements

World at War completely departs from the original Left Behind novel narrative, which is a fact that is its greatest asset.  Actually, the fact that this movie is stuck in the Left Behind saga basically holds it back from being Hall of Fame.  Were this film transported outside of the Left Behind universe, it would suddenly become an epic suspense action film worthy of a high rating.  The concepts in this film, such as the intrigue surrounding the pandemic spread, are more creative than Left Behind ever was.  Also, the complex and non-typical characters who do not appear in the original book series, such as the President character and the character who leads the resistance, are better than the original Left Behind characters.  However, these more creative characters and subplots have little to no buildup from the first two movies, which is a fact that hurts their full impact.  This even more speaks to the necessity of having this movie exist outside of the Left Behind universe.  Also, the ending of this film is very creative, epic, and shocking, but it has no follow-up.  However, perhaps this idea can be extrapolated into a better film in the future.

Acting Improvements

The original cast of this film was mostly professional and well-cast.  There are few errors here, but a cast would always be better without Kirk Cameron.  Otherwise, there aren’t many major improvements to be made here—only small issues that add up.  This rounds out a very close effort.

Conclusion

It’s possible that World at War is actually the film that made it the closest to the Hall of Fame without actually making it on the list.  In reality, only one single thing needed to be done to push it over the edge, but that thing (isolating it from the Left Behind saga) could have possibly caused it to cease to exist.  Nonetheless, the concepts and ideas presented in this film can and should be used in later films to boost a suffering action\suspense genre in Christian entertainment.

 

Deceived [2002] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a secret space observatory in Nevada picks up a mysterious and erratic signal from outer space, a powerful billionaire who owns the observatory forms a team made up of his spiritual guide, two investigative reporters, and his company’s computer technician to fly out to the observatory to find out what happened.  Some of them believe they have been contacted by intelligent beings from outer space, while others believe something more sinister is going on.  The signal also draws the attention of a specialized squadron of troops, some of whom have questionable abilities.  As they all meet up at the observatory, who will prevail?  Will they ever discover the truth of what is really out there?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As an early 2000s Cloud Ten production, Deceived is mostly average in its production quality.  the biggest detractors are the grainy video quality and poor lighting in most scenes.  There are also too many cheesy special effects that are used in an attempt to be different and sci-fi.  However, the sets, locations, and props seem realistic enough.  Audio quality is also fine and the soundtrack is intriguing.  Finally, the editing job is decent and overall rounds out an average production.  It certainly could have been better, but it could have also been worse.  However, there is not much we can say for the plot.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

With a cheesy sci-fi premise that’s full of technological mumbo-jumbo and empty dialogue, Deceived tries to be creative and different, yet misses the mark badly.  There is far too much time wasted on petty conflicts and not enough time spent on character development.  While some of the characters could be interesting, we barely get to know them in the midst information dump dialogue and monologuing.  The Christian characters are too perfect while the non-Christian characters are too flawed.  There are also too many spiritual elements that come off as a bizarre in an attempt to bridge the horror genre.  The ending is quite confusing and seems like the writers just ran out of ideas.  In the end, this is a very disappointing story that could have been interesting.

Acting Quality (1 point)

With a cast made up of semi-professionals, these cast members have their good moments, but unfortunately, the bad moments outweigh the good.  There are too many overly dramatic and theatrical performances.  Emotions are hard to connect with.  In the end, they do not live up to their full potential.

Conclusion

The early 2000s era of Christian film had some noble attempts to bridge different genres Christian film had never bridged before, and John Patus and Cloud Ten Pictures were on the forefront of this attempt.  However, for the most part, these attempts did not fulfill their fullest potential and settled for half-measures, probably because the market was so thin then.  Much has happened since these films came out, but they can certainly serve as an example of how and how not to expand Christian film into unique genres.  Yesterday’s disappointments can certainly be remedied in the future.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Apocalypse 4: Judgment (Movie Review)

Everything else has happened in this series, so let’s throw Mr. T in here too

Plot Summary

As the ONE has tightened its grip on the world, Christianity is outlawed and everyone must take the Mark of world leader Franco Macalousso, or they will be arrested and possibly executed.  The world must worship Macalousso or be doomed.  But when the world leader feels that excitement about hating Christians is wearing thin, he decides to stage a televised trial for infamous Christian Helen Hannah to get people interested again.  Enigmatic defense lawyer Mitch Kendrick is recruited to ‘defend’ her, even though it’s all staged.  But no one knows that Mitch is searching for the truth himself—will he be able to find it?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

As this stupid series finally grinds to a halt, we can say affirmatively that production quality barely changed throughout it.  While camera work and video quality have improved in this final installment, nothing else has.  The audio quality is inconsistent and the soundtrack is quite loud at times.  Sets, locations, and props, in an attempt to look ‘futuristic’, only come off as cheesy.  Finally, like the rest of the series, editing is quite poor.  On the bright side, there’s no more product placements, but it’s unacceptable to have a series this long with such bad production quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Was there really a justification for a fourth installment in this series that doesn’t include anything about the subplots that were supposedly continued at the end of Tribulation?  Helen Hannah remains to be the central Christian character of the series for some reason, but otherwise we are introduced to even more characters we’ve never seen before, including Mr. T.  The same ridiculous concepts this series has always pushed are present in this final film as well, but this time transposed on top of a staged legal battle.  Dialogue does nothing for character development as a lot of time the is filled exploring vague and isolating concepts.  It seems like the writers are constantly inventing ways to kill time without actually helping us to get to know all these characters they shove at us.  Finally, though the end is slightly interesting and has some potential, it cuts off with an abrupt transition to the nonexistent fifth film they obviously wanted to make.  Thankfully, their funding was finally cut.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

As Corbin Bernsen and Mr. T join this crowded cast, things really do not improve.  There are too many over the top emotions and shouting sequences.  There is some potential with line delivery, and this cast seems professional on the surface, but it’s just not good enough.  This is another disappointing effort.

Conclusion

Well, it’s finally over.  What did we learn?  When you can’t even create an average production, don’t make four movies.  When you don’t have any plot or character development to speak of, don’t make four movies.  When you can’t focus on a central story or character arc in your series and instead constantly come up with new characters and subplots with each installment, don’t make four movies.  When you cast all kinds of ‘big names’ but don’t bother to coach them, don’t make four movies.  Are you seeing a theme here?  The Apocalypse series is just another blight on Christian film and will hopefully be forgotten one day, but at least we can learn something from it…I hope…

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Apocalypse 3: Tribulation (Movie Review)

Creepers…

Plot Summary

Tom Canboro doesn’t believe in God or the supernatural, but his sister does and insists that he should before it’s too late.  However, one day, his brother-in-law begins to go insane, along with other people around the world.  Then Tom falls into a coma and wakes up to an entirely different world.  Everyone is following a world leader and receiving his required mark.  Will Tom turn to God before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Not much about production changes throughout this agonizing series.  Though video quality has finally improved, the film is filled with unwatchable and dizzying action scenes.  Audio quality is fine, but the soundtrack is cheesy.  Sets and locations are somewhat limited and there is some poor lighting in certain scenes.  In keeping with the theme of this series, Tribulation is full of more product placements from Jack Van Impe, John Hagee, and even T. D. Jakes for some reason.  Finally, the editing is all over the place and causes a confusing plot development.  In short, though tiny improvements are being made, it’s just not enough.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

This installment is perhaps the most bizarre and sensational as it includes a lot of horror and creepy spiritual elements.  There are a lot of strange and bizarre sequences of violence, including sensationalized demonic activity.  The occult is portrayed in a childish manner yet there is still an obsession with the satanic.  All of this is combined with the forceful and ridiculous apocalyptic worldview that is being propagated in the midst of this madness.  The storyline is very incoherent as it jumps all over the place and fills time with information dump dialogue.  Most of the characters, especially the antichrist, are extreme strawmen and really have no potential.  In short, it feels like this movie was only made for the sensational appeal rather than anything meaningful, and it’s still horrible.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

In keeping with the theme of sensationalism, emotions are over the top and obnoxious.  Line delivery is mostly forced.  While there are some good factors, this cast seems overall disingenuous, especially when one finds out that a handful of these cast members didn’t even know they were in a Christian movie when they agreed to this lunacy.  I guess they should have known that a movie this bad would be labeled as Christian.

Conclusion

Besides everything else, how does this installment fit into the series?  There are some connecting elements, but this ridiculous series as a whole really has no continuity or sense whatsoever.  If PureFlix had been named as a contributor to this mess, I would have believed it.  Constantly pushing TV preacher talking points and products transposed on top of a C-grade horror film is only a recipe for disaster.  Once again, scaring people into Christianity is a failing strategy and only serves to feed someone’s obsession with the sensational.  But don’t worry, there’s only one more of these…

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

Apocalypse 2: Revelation (Movie Review)

Bluriness…

Plot Summary

After the Rapture rocks the world and leaves millions of people searching for answers as to what happened, agent Thorold Stone is left searching for his family and wondering why the entire world has suddenly turned against Christians.  The world is also following the bidding of a rising world leader who promises peace to all if the Christians are eliminated.  With chaos ensuing around him, will Stone be able to find the truth he needs?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

The second installment of this unfortunate series is much like the first.  There is barely any difference in the production quality of Caught in the Eye of the Storm and Revelation.  Camera work is still shaky and video quality is still blurry.  Special effects are very cheap and out of place.  Audio quality is average, but the soundtrack is loud and annoying.  There is some improvement with the sets, locations, and props, however.  But this film is still replete with Jack Van Impe product placements.  The editing is also poor.  In short, while there is some slight improvement here, it’s not significant.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

The Apocalypse series is very thin on plot content and heavy on agenda-pushing.  Much of this film is dedicated to sequences of cheesy and stereotypical sitting around talking with robotic dialogue that is designed to force the plot along.  There’s also a lot of technological mumbo jumbo lingo and a weird obsession with virtual reality devices.  The plot has a predictable apocalyptic\suspense progression and is based on lots of coincidences.  Also, it’s worth nothing that it’s extremely hard to follow the cast of characters that is supposed to be portrayed in this so-called series.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s still difficult to find a justification for this series.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Made in 1999, this cast is far too theatrical.  Jeff Fahey is always a head-scratching cast, since he basically whispers all the time.  Emotions are either flat or overblown and line delivery is stiff.  Unfortunately, nothing good to say here.

Conclusion

Once again I ask, who’s going to watch this movie?  It has nothing going for it whatsoever.  There is no plot and certainly no notable production quality.  The casting is horrible.  Most Christians are and should be offended by this nonsense.  Once again, the world is laughing.  This kind of junk reaches no one and only adds to the caricature of Christian film.  But wait…there’s still more of these…

 

Final Rating: .5 out of 10 points

Left Behind 3: World at War (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

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

Acting Quality (2 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

In the Name of God {Name in Vain} [2013] (Movie Review)

Eric Roberts trying to conduct group counseling without screening clients

Plot Summary

When Mason, a troubled foster teen, comes to live with the Lewis family, he thinks that it will be just like all the other foster families he has stayed with.  But unlike the families before them, the Lewis are committed to setting him on the straight and narrow and teaching him RESPECT at all costs.  Even when he vandalizes a hardware store and is sentenced to ‘group’, the Lewis family sticks by him.  In the end, Mason will have to learn about RESPECT in order to move forward in life.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

If KKO Productions have anything going for them, at least they have figured out how to have clear video quality.  Otherwise, there is little else we can say positive for this film.  Camera work is inconsistent and some scenes are darker than others.  Audio quality is also a tossup, as some lines are indistinguishable while others are too loud.  The soundtrack is cheesy, as usual.  KKO appears to be severely limited in sets and locations, as there are really only three main sets used in this film.  This causes the editing to suffer as well, since many events take place off screen in places where they obviously could not acquire a set.  In short, old news is new news for KKO when it comes to cheaply produced Christian films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Framing an entire film as a sermon illustration is hardly ever a good idea.  It gives the writers a springboard to shove an obvious message down the viewer’s throat and is generally lazy.  Thus, In the Name of God overuses theological concepts and oversimplifies them by having characters repeat them over and over again.  Rather than showing and demonstrating Christian virtues lived out, they are talked about and impressed upon the audience with no meaningful actions to back them up.  Coupled with this overreach are empty and mindless characters, who are driven by petty and silly dialogue.  None of them seem like real people, just players in an obvious church play designed to teach second graders the Ten Commandments.  The subplots therein are very random and lack continuity, not the mention the fact that they contain highly unrealistic occurrences, such as a small church pastor placing children in foster care and a ‘counselor’ sharing confidential information with random people.  If you want to include such things in your films, please research them first.  As it is, In the Name of God makes a mockery of important issues that could have been presented in a meaningful fashion.  But alas, we can find no real potential with this movie, thus warranting no points for the plot.

Acting Quality (0 points)

As is the usual custom of KKO, otherwise talented actors and actresses are fed lines without any real coaching or guidance.  Most of the scenes in this film seem like they were one-take only.  John Ratzenberger has certainly had much better acting jobs than this one.  Eric Roberts always plays the same weird character, but that’s beside the point.  It seems like the ‘no-name’ cast members have potential that is not being brought out.  Thus, no points can be awarded here.

Conclusion

So apparently this was intended to be a movie series about the Ten Commandments.  Can you imagine ten movies like this one?  If this was supposed to be about the fourth Commandment, it completely went over our heads.  Basically, In the Name of God, or whatever it’s called, is another embarrassing low budget production that carries an in-your-face theological message that is unlikely to convert or inspire anyone.  We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: before making a Christian movie, please make sure you have the funding for what you want to do.  Then please make sure you actually have a plot.  These two things can make such a difference when your movie is completed.  Because seriously, who’s going to watch this garbage?

 

Final Rating: .5 out of 10 points