Heavenly Deposit (Movie Review)

Image result for heavenly deposit movie

Plot Summary

Peter Ranos has always tried to make the big break in Hollywood, but lately, nothing seems to be working out for him and his wife. They’ve hit every financial bump possible, and no one wants to cut them a break. When they just about exhaust all of their options and almost get by, something else hits them from the blind side. Peter is eventually brought to his knees as he realizes he can’t do it on his own anymore, which forces him to return to his childhood faith that he abandoned when his father suddenly died.

Production Quality (2 points)

For a first-time, low-funded production, Heavenly Deposit is able to at least breach the average line, which is something we’re seeing more of in more modern Christian entertainment. Though it begins a little rough with some roving camera work and abrupt cuts, it overall improves as the film progresses. The soundtrack is a bit inconsistent at times, and the sets, props, and locations are somewhat limited in the beginning, but it becomes clear by the middle of the movie that the creators did have something better in mind. They do the best with what they have, and the video quality is stable throughout as well as the audio quality. The camera work and the editing calms down, and the sets become better utilized in the second half. Though it does begin a bit rough, it’s encouraging to see that this production team can improve as the film goes on, which shows good potential for future projects. In the end, this production makes enough improvements to warrant an above-average rating, and this isn’t bad considering the budget and experience of the creators.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

From the get-go, the protagonist forces unnecessary narration on the audience, but it thankfully subsides until the epilogue. It’s great that the writers were able to base this story off of true events because, for the most part, it does feel like realistic circumstances everyday people would experience. This gives the plot a non-linear and non-typical feel, and the premise is down-to-earth. However, in the first half of the film, the dialogue comes off as a bit generic as it doesn’t do quite enough to deepen the characters beyond stereotypical roles. Since this is a character-based story with a handful of characters, we needed deeper personalities and motives for them rather than run-of-the-mill placeholders that feel swept along by the plot. Granted, we do see more authenticity from the characters in the second half of the film as the creators’ true intentions are revealed, but it’s difficult for most viewers to stick with it that long without something substantial to hold onto. Because the first 30-45 minutes tends to meander without major themes, the good messages and understanding of real struggles depicted in the remainder of the runtime may be lost to many people. In a similar vein, though the story does become more focused as it goes, there are a few too many slightly silly coincidences and head-scratching magical elements that tend to put a damper on things. Also, the last 10 minutes rush through a lot of content with the aim of fixing things, but as a whole, this story is good enough to make the film average.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Like other elements in the film, the acting does get better with time. It does feel like this cast really cares about doing their best, and they are willing to be coached in some ways. There’s nothing dynamic happening here, but it’s refreshing to see a cast that’s not trying to flaunt something. The main drawback to highlight here is some weird hair and makeup work in the beginning, but as usual, this gets better later in the movie. As a whole, Heavenly Deposit is a good place to start for film makers who have potential to do even better.

Conclusion

Some entertainment creators are better with series than movies (see Dallas Jenkins and company). It’s highly possible that George Vincent and his crew fit into this category as well, and with the growth of Christian streaming services like PureFlix and VidAngel, creative teams have a lot more options than they once did. Thus, with more time and better budgeting, we have high hopes for what Vincent and his team can produce next.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Advertisements

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

 

God’s Not Dead 3: A Light in Darkness (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Pastor Dave is released from prison for not turning over his sermon notes to the local government, he is immediately hit with a new persecution angle.  His father’s church, which he has pastored for years, sits on the property of a public university, so protests build on campus based on an argument that questions the necessity of the church being on public property.  Dave begins to feel pressure from the university leadership, but things hit a breaking point when the church appears to be attacked and when his close friend Jude is killed in the attack.  Dave decides to reach out to his long-lost brother for legal help as chaos reigns around him.  Will he ever be able to live in peace?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

With the third installment and possible end to the God’s Not Dead trilogy, they have not backed off on their recently attained practice of high-quality productions.  On most production fronts, A Light in Darkness is a very professional production, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is even better than the previous two installments as it is mostly void of the title track and thankfully leaves us without another Newsboys concert to wrap things up.  Sets, locations, and props are also very well-utilized and well-constructed.  The only two caveats in this production are the presence of some cheesy special effects and the somewhat sloppy editing job, but on the whole, God’s Not Dead 3 is top-notch production work.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

In a shocking turn of events, after making us muddle through that horrible second film, the third of the trilogy has one of the best plots.  The first film’s plot had good elements due to its many fractured subplots, but A Light in Darkness has the best central and focused idea of them all.  Though it takes forever to get to the point and though there are plenty of persecution-complex pitfalls along the way, the ending of this film is very significant because it takes the franchise in a totally different direction than the other ones were going in.  Unfortunately, there are still plenty of issues with this storyline, including a lack of adequate character development due to poorly-constructed dialogue and a sloppy story construction that tends to jump from one thing to the next and include too many issues.  However, someone got ahold of the plot and decided to insert some truth about why young people don’t like the church, which was a breath of fresh air, however brief it may have been.  As a whole, this story was a good idea in the end, but it was probably too little too late.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

In spite of the usual awkwardness of David A. R. White as a ‘serious’ lead, other cast members are more natural and believable in their roles, even John Corbett.  Benjamin Onyango was hardly ever afforded a fair opportunity to show his full potential in this trilogy, but his parts are still great.  The reality is that there are actually few acting errors in this film; even the emotional performances are mostly believable.  As a whole, PureFlix has made a lot of strides over the past few years, so if they will just direct their resources in a more responsible direction, who knows what good could be done.

Conclusion

The unfortunate part is that PureFlix managed to isolate everybody throughout the course of the GND franchise.  The first film was a big hit because it filled a void in the market and was basically at the right place at the right time.  It had good qualities, such as better production than usual, but it was still mostly standard and pedestrian.  The second GND film was nothing short of a total trainwreck, and this where the trilogy lost its reasonable audience.  However, A Light in Darkness isolated anyone faithful who were left by taking the narrative in a different and non-persecutory direction.  In short, it pays to know who your audience is, but it also pays to strive for high-quality Christian films that aren’t based entirely on pandering to a specific base.  PureFlix has the resources to truly blow open the Christian industry if they really want to, but will they seize the opportunity before it’s too late?

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Movie Renovation: God’s Not Dead

See original review here.

 

Production Improvements

There are really few production errors to note in the first God’s Not Dead film.  The primary issue with this production is, of course, the editing, due to the large and complex amount of content that is attempted to be used in this film.  Thus, if the plot categories were improved, the editing issue would likely also improve.

Plot and Storyline Improvements

The plot of God’s Not Dead needs some serious work.  For one, there are too many ideas shoved into one two-hour film.  A lot of these ideas really need to be movies of their own, such as the Muslim family subplot and the Chinese student subplot.  The blogger character and all of her connections (Dean Cain, the Robertsons, etc.) need to be deleted completely.  The woman with dementia is an interesting aside, but it needs better development.  Pastor Dave and his connections really wouldn’t be missed either; this area might be better if it was altered.  Finally, the portrayal of the atheist professor is noteworthy and better than most, but it still could be better and less over the top.  The “character who is an atheist because their mother died of cancer” trope is a bit thin.  Also, there are obviously instances of anti-Christian bias in academia, but this story could have been a bit more down to earth.  Thus, with a lot of separation, editing, organization, and focus, this plot could have pushed the film into the Hall of Fame.

Acting Improvements

While the acting of the original God’s Not Dead is actually a major improvement over most PureFlix casts, it still isn’t perfect.  For one, David A. R. White and Tommy Blaze rarely need to be acting.  Trisha LaFache is average at best and needs serious coaching.  Dean Cain should probably never be cast again.  Kevin Sorbo has his place, but not as a raging professor.  Otherwise, this cast is fine.

Conclusion

There was a reason the beginning of the God’s Not Dead saga was so popular, and it wasn’t because of its portrayal of atheists.  It has a lot of intriguing content and a lot of ideas that need further exploration in different venues.  Trying to lump all of it together in one film was a disappointment.  However, it was the first time PureFlix actually proved they could be at least somewhat responsible with their budget, including a high-quality production.  Perhaps one day someone will use some of the half-baked ideas of God’s Not Dead for greater purposes.

God’s Not Dead 2 (Movie Review)

Is this thing over yet?
Is this thing over yet?

Plot Summary

When Christian teacher Grace Wesley is sued by a student’s parents for daring to mention the name of Jesus in her classroom, she is confused as to what is even happening to her. Yet, inspired by the wisdom of her ailing father whom she takes care of, Grace refuses to back down and begins working with her union-appointed lawyer to fight back in court. With her faith under fire, Grace’s case draws the attention of many from the town of Hope Springs, including Pastor James White David Hill, who serves on the jury. As Grace’s beliefs are attacked and tested over and over again, she must dig deep to withstand the world’s onslaught so that Christianity is not snuffed out forever.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

In the new era of PureFlix, video quality and camera work are no longer in question.  The sets, locations, and surroundings are respectable.  The musical score is average.  On the surface, God’s Not Dead 2 looks like a professional film, but there are many hidden issues therein.  Of the high profile Christian movies we have reviewed, this is possibly the worst edited one to date.  The many-subplots addiction from God’s Not Dead and Do You Believe? is back, and this time, they are more empty than ever.  As will be discussed next, there long sections of this movie that consist of characters staring into space and attempting to sing.  Essentially, this was just a lazy production effort that looks good on the outside but not on the inside.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

In this plot, Christian characters are very perfect in every way while atheist characters are hopelessly evil.  What’s more, atheists are borderline ridiculed, giving an embarrassing feel to the film.  Subplots jump all over the place, confusing the viewer.  The premise and other plot happenings are unrealistic and cannot be reconciled with reality.  The storyline is saturated with legal rhetoric that is either only half-true or isolating to the audience.  Besides these glaringly obvious issues, the plot does not hold the attention and is very drab.  There are many slow and melancholy scenes that seem to be designed only to pad the runtime.  Large portions of the film are dedicated to advertising apologetic books and other Christian ‘celebrities’.  While there is a lot of good information in these product placements, it flies over the audience’s heads and is not remembered.  With all this wasted time, there is zero character development, therefore we cannot even appreciate the struggles that are portrayed.  In addition, the dialogue is chock-full of swipes at atheists and ‘worldly’ people.  The ending is very empty and anticlimactic (despite desperate attempts) and even includes an off-the-wall post-credits scene.  Basically, David A. R. White and company just phoned this one in, hoping that the title name recognition would garner them some more cash.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

While this section is not all bad, there is a lot of monotone acting in this film.  In another attempt to create buzz by trotting out C-grade ‘big name’ actors and actresses (in addition to the typical PureFlix clowns), this attempt basically flops.  Most of the characters carry a Hallmark-ish look to them, with far too much makeup and costuming.  Other cast members are just blank—even though they show potential, there’s no one to draw it out.  In the end, there is really nothing new here.

Conclusion

In our experience, the world portrayed in this film has never existed.  This is not to diminish the plights of some, but the realm PureFlix constructs in many of their films is over the top and outside of reality.  Rather than preaching to the choir with a juvenile us-against-the-world narrative that further divides Christians and atheists, the money spent on these types of films would be better spent on films that actually strengthen the church as a whole and tastefully address how American Christian behavior can improve.  No one will be saved as a result of God’s Not Dead 2.  Christians will not be inspired to grow closer to God as a result of viewing this movie.  I would never recommend this movie to a non-believer because the creators give no concern to opposing points of view.  Since we as Christians have the truth, we have no need to force it down people’s throats with no regard for their feelings.  Delegitimizing someone else’s beliefs has no place in the gospel message.  Yet with an awkwardly placed post-credits scene, we are all but promised more of the same nonsense from PureFlix.  This is not the direction Christian film needs to go in and now more than ever we need someone who will stand up and combat the image movies like this one project.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

God’s Not Dead (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Josh Wheaton didn’t ask to be put in the philosophy class of the infamous Professor Radisson.  He also didn’t anticipate having to sign a piece of paper stating that God is dead in order to achieve a high grade in the class.  But prompted by the help of a local pastor, Wheaton decides to not only refuse to sign the paper but also to prove God’s existence in front of the class in addition to his other class assignments.  It’s something that those closest to him do not understand or agree with, but it brings him closer to God and to other people.  Little does he know that Professor Radisson and even those connected to him are being profoundly impacted in ways he never expected.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

This is perhaps the strongest area of the movie.  God’s Not Dead has better production than a majority of PureFlix movies, which shows great progress.  The camera work is great, and the editing is pretty good considering the many interconnected story lines.  The sets are authentic and varied and the lighting is good.  The soundtrack is effective.  The only real error to consider here is the fact that there may be too much content included.  In short, the money used for the movie is mostly put to good use.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Unfortunately, the plot is a bit weak, mostly due to the large number of story lines.  There is nothing inherently wrong with a movie about the interconnected lives of people, and for the most part, God’s Not Dead does a fairly good job managing the content.  However, it seems like there are one too many subplots and one too many characters.  If one or two of these were eliminated and that time used to develop other more interesting characters, this movie would greatly improve.  As it is, the dialogue is pretty good considering the number of characters.  There are some interesting twists and not everything turns out as expected in the end.  Most of the characters are believable, but some seem to be caricatures.  In summary, the plot is a mixed bag with a lot of untapped potential.

Acting Quality (2 points)

When compared to older PureFlix movies, the acting in God’s Not Dead is superb, for most of the actors.  This is David A. R. White’s best acting job to date.  Shane Harper is great in his major debut.  However, Dean Cain and Trisha LaFache are uninspiring.  But still, one could argue that they did not have much to work with.  All in all, the acting is another mixed bag.

Conclusion

God’s Not Dead is the best PureFlix-created movie in their existence.  Improved acting, improved production quality, and improved plot development all contributed to this rise.  However, they still have not hit their ceiling.  There is a lot of potential in this movie, and on its face, it is still an above average movie.  What is most important is that the core message of God’s Not Dead is driven home without being overly preachy or unwatchable.  This is success in and of itself.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points