Beyond the Farthest Star (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Anne Wells hates that her family has been forced to move to a podunk Texas town. Her father is a pastor who demands perfection from his family, and she hates him for it. Anne always does her best to get into trouble and to do whatever she wants because she wants to know if God really cares about her and what the actual purpose of life is. She escapes into her music, and her father escapes into his work as he runs from the ghosts of his past. When their family is faced with several life-changing decisions, which way will they go?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s clear that this film has a professional production that was given a lot of care and effort, which is evidenced by good video and audio qualities, as well as skilled camera work. Sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized, even if there are a few unnecessarily dark scenes. Further, the soundtrack is highly effective and engaging. The only drawback to point out here is some choppy editing, but this is also due to the large amount of story content. As a whole, this is a very respectable production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

As Beyond the Farthest Star is based on good source material, it demonstrates a very profound understanding of the real problems facing real people, especially the struggles of people whose personalities are not appreciated by the church. This plot has an exquisite use of flashbacks to develop character motive and backstory, and the content of the flashbacks is extremely believable. Through the flashbacks and dialogue, there are excellent efforts to develop the characters and to develop the interactions between teenagers and adults. However, this plot is almost schizophrenic with its presentation because one minute, the dialogue is great, only to have it undermined with an out-of-left-field scene that makes no sense. There is a strange lack of understanding of certain aspects of reality, such as the acquiring of confidential documents. There is also a highly unnecessary religious freedom\persecution subplot to contend with that wastes tons of time and puts a damper on everything. Further, there is narration present throughout the story in the form of journaling, and sometimes it is tolerable because of its philosophical nature, but other times, it gets in the way and takes up valuable time. Thus, even though there is a large amount of content in this complex storyline, not every scene is used very well as some are unnecessary and contain some edgy content. Even still, there is tons of potential in this plot and in the people who wrote it because it’s not afraid to expose hidden ministry problems and to use unashamed small town satire. The message therein is excellent and very worthwhile, but there are too many dramatic scenes with no break, and the cheesy ending tends to fix everything, even if the climax scene is effective. Basically, Beyond the Farthest Star is a giant mixed bag of potential, some of which panned out, so it’s likely worth your time.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

For the most part, the acting of this film is sharp and adept as each cast member appears to comfortably assume their respective character roles. Emotions are believable, and line delivery is on point. There are only a few minor issues throughout that pertain to some overdone drama and seriousness, but this section rounds out a very respectable film.

Conclusion

Movies like Beyond the Farthest Star are both engaging and difficult to watch because it’s clear that there is a massive amount of potential with this type of idea. A movie about rebels from Christian families combined with hidden ministry problems is exactly what we need now, but there is too much confusion in this film that holds it back from reaching its highest possibilities. Even so, this movie is worth a watch this holiday season, and it bodes well for any future projects from this creative team.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

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3 Blind Saints (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Sam, Jamal, and Frankie are usually up to no good as they wander around the country, hopping from one money-making scheme to another.  However, they end up stuck in a small town in the Midwest when they get on the wrong side of the local law enforcement.  When they are about to be sentenced by the local judge, the local powerful businessman steps in to save them—in exchange for their services as his puppet pastors of the local church.  All they have to do is please the congregation and collect enough money for a month, and then they can be on their way.  However, things never really work out that simply in forced comedy films.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Surprisingly, 3 Blind Saints has a considerably good production, especially for a film with a digit in the title.  It checks all the right boxes, including video quality, camera work, lighting, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is as goofy as can be expected, and sets, locations, and props are mostly standard.  The editing is minorly choppy, but on the whole, this is a high quality production on paper, which garners a substantial amount of points.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

Talk abut checking all the boxes—3 Blind Saints fulfills basically every criterion of a cheesy and predictable comedy premise that involves a collection of troubled non-Christian characters who are forced to lead a church, even though they have no idea what they are doing.  There is nothing new or creative about this idea, and this story rushes by so quickly that it seems like the writers are trolling.  The comedy therein is very forced and zany, including off-the-wall jokes, dialogue, and displays of idiocy.  As previously mentioned, the plot progression is so steep that it sometimes makes fun of itself as it hits all of the typical plot points, including a cheesy romantic subplot, an inclusion of goofy locals, and a quick turnaround of the troubled protagonists.  This goes without mentioning the generally childish feel to the film, as well as the shallow Christianity and the bizarre portrayal of God.  Some sequences come off like Mel Gibson’s acid trips, thus warranting some negative points for this section.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This cast seems to be in on the trolling as they act over the top and try way too hard to be funny.  There is, however, untapped potential with some of the cast members, and there are also a handful of good moments that keep this section from being useless.  However, for the most part, emotions and behaviors are overplayed and mostly annoying.

Conclusion

3 Blind Saints feels like a cheap attempt to get some attention from the Christian audience.  It can almost be passed off as a big joke, but it bears too close of a resemblance to some Christian movies that are supposed to be serious.  Whatever the creators of this film were going for, they mostly failed—perhaps on purpose.  Either way, it’s really quite pointless.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Redemption: For Robbing the Dead (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jean Baptiste is a French immigrant who secretly robs dead bodies of their clothes.  Once he is finally caught, the judge sentences him to exile on a local salt island.  Sheriff Henry Heath is tasked with keeping up the with prisoners on the island and making sure they have what they need as they work.  However, he takes special interest in Jean Baptiste as he seems different from the others.  Together, this unlikely friendship teaches the two of them that God even offers redemption to those considered to be the worst of sinners.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Redemption begins with very odd lighting, which is the most noticeable production elements.  The presentation comes off as very dark, drab, and depressing, perhaps by design.  Though most production elements are fine, including video quality and audio quality, and though there are lighting improvements throughout, this beginning is significant and may deter people from going any further.  There are also a lot of boring, lagging scenes and sequences in the first half of the film that don’t hold the attention.  On the upside, sets, locations, and props are all very realistic and well-constructed.  There are also a lot of realistic gritty elements throughout.  Basically, this unique production is a mixed bag, thus warranting the average score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Though there is an interesting idea someone lost in this confusion, the plot lacks clear direction and purpose.  This is evidenced by the number of confusing and seemingly useless subplots and characters that are never fully explored.  At the same time, however, the story is also very limited in scope and based off of a very isolating concept.  Hardly anything happens as the same two or three characters just go back and forth doing the same things, combined with too many cheesy Western clichés.  Much like the production, there is a dark and brooding feel to this story, as well as some misguided artistry.  There is probably one interesting scene in this film that tries to explain some things, but it’s really too little too late.  This story needed a lot of vetting and consultation before it was released.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Besides some of the obviously fake accents of the cast members, there are a lot of bland and vanilla performances here to go along with the dark nature of the film.  However, this small cast has some good, honest moments as they tend to improve their performances throughout.  They become more human in the end and less of Western clichés, so that is enough to warrant an average score here as well.

Conclusion

This plot had the potential to be a different, interesting, and creative character-based epic showcasing second chances for flawed people, but this idea was unfortunately wasted.  Given Rance Howard’s presence in this film, it’s not very surprising that it is a dark one, yet even this element could have been interesting had it been used properly.  Alas, Redemption: For Robbing the Dead joins the growing list of Christian movies that desperately need a remake.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

New Life: Nouvelle Vie (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Ben and Ava first met as kids and next door neighbors, they never thought they would one day be married and be trying to start a family of their own.  But it happened and just when they can’t believe that things could get better—they get worse.  Not only does Ava miscarry, but she also receives devastating news that changes her life forever: cancer.  Will their relationship be able to survive the roller coaster disease?  Will Ava’s dreams ever be fulfilled?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a newer production, it is clear that New Life is professional on pretty much every front.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all top-notch.  The soundtrack is actually creative and enhances the film.  Sets, locations, and props are well-funded and diverse.  The only minor issue to raise here, as usual, pertains to some small editing problems, such as choppiness and lack of clarity.  But in the end, this is a nearly model production that we will hopefully see more and more of in the coming years.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

So Erin Bethea wrote a cancer movie.  It’s actually not as bad as it may sound on its face, despite the forced awkward comedy from Erin Bethea and Jonathan Patrick Moore.  There is also way too much heavy-handed narration from Moore’s character and way too many montage sequences.  Yet despite these issues, New Life is actually a fairly realistic portrayal of life events encapsulated in a somewhat interesting storyline.  Though the characters and their dialogue need to be deepened, there is a lot of potential here.  The massive time jumps are also a drag, but the realistic ending is worth the wait.  Though this movie’s message is not explicitly Christian, it is still meaningful.  In the end, there are definitely a lot worse stories than this one, so you might find it to be worth your time.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

What could go wrong when you put Erin Bethea and Jonathan Patrick Moore in co-starring roles?  A lot, actually, as they exhibit very over the top emotions and forced, awkward line delivery.  However, the rest of the cast is actually pretty good despite their antics.  If pretty much anyone else was put in the co-starring roles (except for maybe the Whites or the Camerons or anything involving Tommy Blaze or Matthew Florida), this cast could have been perfect.

Conclusion

Had Erin Bethea not starred in this film (and probably not Moore either), this could have been a Hall of Famer.  There is a lot of good here, more than I expected there to be, but it needed to be written for someone else to act in.  Regardless of her past mistakes, it’s possible that Erin Bethea did learn a thing or two from the Kendricks, so it will be interesting to see if she has any plans for future film projects.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

All Saints [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Michael Spurlock leaves the sales world under less than honest circumstances, he decides the most natural thing for him to do is become a pastor so he can have more time for his family and so he can give back to the world rather than take from it.  Thus, he is assigned by the parish to head up a dying church in small town Tennessee as a training ground under the church closes up.  Then Michael is promised to move on to better things.  However, the longer he is at the small church, the more Michael sees that there is purpose for it, especially since it is serving hundreds of Burmese refugees who have no one to turn to.  With God’s intervention, they begin to see miracles happen right before their eyes.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

In keeping with the traditions of Affirm Films, All Saints is a good production on the surface and has no obvious errors.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all on the professional standards they should be on.  The soundtrack is effective and is culturally relevant.  The sets, locations, and props are all well-constructed and realistic.  However, this film needs some serious editing work.  Time is spent on all the wrong things and the plot overall lacks flow and continuity.  However, Affirm has likely done enough to meet minimum market standards.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this is a very intriguing true story that had a lot of potential, this potential is not reached.  There are so many things that could have gone into this film that did not finish developing.  The story is too dominated by the whining, unsure main character.  Unfortunately, there is very little focus or purpose to this plot, even though there were plenty of opportunities to have this.  There are a lot of disjointed and unrelated sequences that fill up the runtime and stunt character development by crowding out any scenes of meaningful dialogue, of which there are few.  In the end, it’s sad to see how this story turned out because it had so much going for it.

Acting Quality (2 points)

John Corbett really puts a damper on this cast since he comes off as very fake and unsure of himself at the same time.  Yet if you can look past him, the other cast members post some good performances.  There is especially good multicultural casting and acting, even if we don’t get to see enough of them.  Overall, this is a good section and makes this movie at least palatable.

Conclusion

Most people will probably be fine with this film, but it’s still a very disappointing experience.  Why can’t we at least see some flashbacks of the Karen people in Burma?  Their subplots are barely developed or explored as John Corbett dominates the runtime with his awkwardness.  In short, though there was a chance for some interesting stories here, it barely materializes and wastes an amazing opportunity.  We believe it’s time for Affirm Films to step out in faith and take a chance on a new genre of Christian film rather than churning out run-of-the-mill films like this one.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Hidden Places [2006] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Eliza Wyatt, a young frontier widow, is still trying to pick up the pieces after her husband died and left her and her two children with an apple farm to run.  She has no one to turn to except her wise friend Aunt Batty, that is, until a mysterious hobo named Gabe Harper suddenly appears on her land.  Thanks to Aunt Batty, Gabe begins working on the tree farm despite Eliza’s suspicions of him.  But little by little, she begins to open up her heart to both Gabe and God as time starts to run out for her farm.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Hallmark has rarely shirked their responsibility to craft quality productions, but Hidden Places is a step above the norm for them.  Video quality and camera work are flawless.  Audio quality is great, although the soundtrack is stock.  Most importantly, outdoor scenes are filmed well in authentically historical sets and locations.  Props are also authentic.  Really the only complaint to raise here pertains to editing, as there are too many useless scenes while some seems are cut too short.  Otherwise, this is a respectable production that should be the norm in Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Lynn Austin is clearly one of the best Christian authors in the field, yet Hidden Places is not her best book.  While this film correctly captures her undeniable character development and great dialogue it’s still a stereotypical save-the-farm plot combined with a frontier romance story involving a young widow.  However, the viewer can appreciate the struggles of the characters and their deep back stories, as well as this film’s strong Christian message.  Yet the plot is still based on too many coincidences.  There is some missing off-screen content as the story rushes through some parts while lagging at others.  Finally, the end is too predictable and simplistic compared to the rest of the plot.  In short, while this is a mostly enjoyable movie, it seems like it could have been more.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is a professional cast compared to other Hallmark frontier casts, mostly because costuming is kept realistic and low-key.  Emotions are believable and line delivery is on point.  The child actors and actresses are better than usual.  However, this cast is held back from being all that it could be by too much mediocrity.  In the end, it is a great effort, but once again, it seems like there could have been more.

Conclusion

Cramming the depth of Lynn Austin characters and storylines into ninety minutes for the sake of a TV movie simply does not work.  Though she is clearly a talented writer, she needs to be unleashed from the confines of Hallmark and her plots need to be allowed to unfold progressively rather than forcefully to stay within the allotted runtime.  However, there’s no denying that Hidden Places is an enjoyable film and many will find it so.  But next time, please please please choose a different Lynn Austin novel (see our Box Office Wish List column 😉 to bring to the big screen and let it be all that it’s meant to be without confining it.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points