A Week Away (coming in 2020)

Coming to theaters in 2020

Writer(s): TBA

Director(s): Roman White

Producer(s): Alan Powell, Steve Barnett, Gabriel Vasquez

Cast: Sherri Shepherd, Bailee Madison, Kevin Quinn, David Koechner, Jahbril Cook, Iain Tucker, Kat Conner Sterling, more TBA

Plot summary: Troubled teenager Will Hawkin’s recent run-in with the law puts him at an important crossroads: go to juvenile hall or attend a Christian summer camp. At first, a fish-out-of-water, Will eventually opens his heart and discovers a love and sense of belonging in the last place he expected to find it.

25 Hill (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Trey Caldwell’s father is tragically killed overseas while serving in the military, Trey feels like he will never fulfill the dream his father gave him—the dream of racing their soapbox car in the derby.  But then, Trey’s kind school principal introduces him to Roy Gibbs, a troubled fireman who would like to forget the death of his son.  The two of them find that they have something in common: a passion for soapbox derby racing.  As Roy trains Trey, they develop a unique bond and inadvertently find healing from their wounds.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As Corbin Bernsen’s first foray into the inspirational market, 25 Hill demonstrates his typical high production quality that he likely learned in the mainstream sector and is unfortunately not commonplace in the Christian field.  Beginning with an effective opening sequence that tells the story without narration, this film checks all the necessary boxes for production quality.  Video quality, camera work, audio quality, and soundtrack are all professional and effective.  Sets, locations, and props are also above standard.  The only complaint to raise here is the high number of sports montages, which are too typical of this genre.  Otherwise, this is a very respectable production that many Christian film makers can model after.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Before Bersen decided to develop his own zany brand of satire, he decided to create a grief plot that has a commitment to taking jabs are stereotypical plot elements.  His take on this predictable plot structure is enjoyable, yet like Bernsen’s other films, 25 Hill still includes too many formulaic elements that are commonly found in sports\grief plots.  Yet his continual pointing out and exposing of typical movie clichés is a fun experience nonetheless, as is his satire on product placements.  With good dialogue and character development, this story demonstrates a better version of the Bernsen brand, which later devolved into silliness and insanity in Christian Mingle, 3 Day Test, and In-lawfully Yours.  The biggest thing that holds 25 Hill back is its predictability, as Bernsen does his typical flirting with creativity but doesn’t really follow through.  Yet in the end, this will be an enjoyable story for most and is certainly worth a watch.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Bernsen and his team completely nailed their casting work.  Each actor and actress fits their characters comfortably as they deliver their lines and inflections flawlessly.  Emotional performances are highly effective, thus making this a perfect score.

Conclusion

We definitely understand where Bernsen is coming from—sometimes.  He wants to make quality inspirational films while at the same time exposing where many films in the genre go wrong.  He always thinks about doing something different with his storylines, but in the end goes back to the typical, safe ending.  Nonetheless, 25 Hill will be liked by most audiences, and it is certainly worth a watch.  Perhaps eventually, Bernsen will finally hit the home run he has been searching for all these years.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Letters to God [2010] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Tyler Doherty is fighting for his life against the cancer inside of him.  But rather than feel sorry for himself, he seeks to reach others for God by writing letters to God and sharing them with other people, especially his new mail carrier, who has a troubled past he is running from.  As Tyler’s family wrestles with what is happening to him, little do they know that God has great things in store for all of them.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a more ‘mainstream’ Christian film, Letters to God has good production quality, demonstrating that time and money were spent on it.  Video quality is clear and camera work is professional.  The opening sequence is interesting and grabs the attention well.  Audio quality is standard, but the soundtrack is slightly generic.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and appropriate.  The biggest drawback to this film’s production is the choppy editing that tends to only hit the high points of the storyline.  But overall, this is a respectable effort and one that should be commonplace in Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As another cancer film based on a true story, Letters to God does better that most in its genre at being realistic.  Though the plot is simplistic, it has a meaningful message that it presented by believable characters that endure realistic struggles.  However, there is some information dump dialogue and there seem to be one too many silly\filler scenes that tend to waste time.  Thus, the plot is somewhat incomplete.  Though the characters can also tend to be heartwarming, we wish we could get to know them a little better through deeper dialogue.  As it is, some of their arcs are too steep and simplified to be appreciated.  However, on the bright side of things, flashbacks are utilized well.  In the end, this plot left a lot on the proverbial playing field that could have made it far better, yet many viewers will enjoy this story and its message.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As a semi-professional cast, these cast members are mostly good when it comes to line delivery and emotions.  There are a few head-scratching moments and awkward displays that detract from the overall score, yet there is not much to complain about here.  This is a demonstration of mostly good casting and coaching.

Conclusion

Letters to God checks the necessary boxes for being marginally successful in the Christian entertainment world: spend time and money to make your production look good and make sure you have a professional cast that makes minimal or not too noticeable errors.  If you can accomplish these two feats in a Christian movie, you are unfortunately far ahead of the game.  Being average is great, based on the low standards that have been set by and myriad of basement-dwelling films on the market.  But we still want movies to take that next step into greatness rather than hover around the middle.  When high quality becomes more widespread in Christian film, then the entire movie industry will never be the same.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Saving Sarah Cain (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Sarah Cain used to be a successful column writer, but lately she’s been experiencing writer’s block.  To make matters worse, her Amish sister, whom she hasn’t spoken to in years, suddenly dies, leaving Sarah as the legal guardian of her five Amish nieces and nephews.  In a moment of desperation, Sarah writes a column about the children and accidentally stumbles upon success.  Therefore, she agrees to take the kids to her Chicago apartment in order to secretly continue writing about them.  The five children discover that they are in the midst of culture shock when they must assimilate into big city life on a steep learning curve.  In the end, they will all have to be honest with themselves and each other in order to find the lives they were meant for.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a part of the Fox Faith era of Christian film, Saving Sarah Cain enjoyed increased production success compared to movies before it.  The camera work is good, but the video quality could be better.  The sound quality is a little above average while the use of music throughout is actually really good.  This is something more Christian films need to do effectively.  The set and locations are believable and diverse.  The editing is pretty good, though there are some parts that leave you scratching your head as to what is actually going on.  Overall, there is really not much else to say regarding Sarah Cain’s production; it all comes out as just average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from the innovative Amish novel The Redemption of Sarah Cain by Beverly Lewis, this film almost captures the original purpose of the book, but not entirely.  The elements are there, but there just isn’t much feeling in this movie.  The characters are portrayed as very one-dimensional, not putting forth the depth they should in this highly character-driven plot.  Since the storyline is so linear, the characters have to take up the slack, but they do not go as far as they need to.  This is likely because the dialogue is very pedestrian and safe.  Safe is actually a good word to use to describe this film.  No risks are taken and no rewards are reaped.  While it is an interesting fish-out-of-water tale, it’s not dynamic enough or deep enough to warrant a higher score.  While there are some interesting psychological elements and backstory throughout, the ending is enough to put a damper on anything creative in the rest of the movie, as it leaves viewers wondering what they were supposed to learn from it.  This film is basically a nice try, but not good enough.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, the acting really drags down the characters.  Most of the characters are cast very poorly; some seem like they are forced into roles not suited for them.  There is the usual touch of Michael Landon Jr. evident in over-costuming the cast members, including those playing Amish characters.  Emotions are overplayed throughout and line delivery is forced most of the time.  While there are some funny moments, the acting is overall a disappointment.

Conclusion

Honestly, this is an instance when the book is better than the movie.  The movie removes meaningful elements from the novel, which is probably why they ended up with the paint-yourself-in-a-corner ending they did.  In addition to being safe, Saving Sarah Cain is also forgettable.  Were it not for its creative use of music (it’s sad that other better movies are not doing this), we probably wouldn’t even remember this film.  While it has plenty of potential, it is a very forced screenplay that unfortunately had little to no impact on Christian films.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points