Christmas Manger (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Jessica ran away from home as a teenager after she did something she would regret forever, but now, after living with an abusive boyfriend for several years, she finds herself running back home for help. However, when she arrives on the farm she once lived on, she finds that all is not well nor how she left it. As she struggles to begin a new life, she discovers that she will need to return to her childhood faith in order to move forward.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As should be the case for all recently-made Christian films, Christmas Manger demonstrates high production quality, as evidenced by good video quality and camera work. Though the audio can be quiet at times due to not having enough soundtrack, the sets, locations, and props are adequately used and well-constructed. Besides a few one-off lighting issues in some scenes, which may be by design, the editing is good, which rounds out a great production that we should see become more and more commonplace as we move into a new year of Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Andrea Gyertson Nasfell has always been good at writing plots that portray real and accessible characters in believable life situations. This is paired with dialogue that is mostly good at building character personality and motive, but we really needed to see a bit more from the conversations among the characters in order to develop them a bit further since this is a highly character-based plot. While there are some great character back stories, flashbacks would have been helpful to enhance them. However, this return-to-hometown for Christmas plot does a great job with avoiding most of the cliches that come with this genre, and it’s a more meaningful Christmas movie than usual, even if the story is a bit simplistic. As a whole, this is an enjoyable story with no glaring errors but nothing truly dynamic either.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

This film also has surprisingly good acting, including Andrea Logan White’s arguably best performance to date as she excels at playing herself. Other cast members are also effective and comfortable in their roles, even if a few random cast members tend to put a damper on things to keep this section from being perfect. In the end, however, this is a professional acting job to round out a professional and adequate film.

Conclusion

Films like Christmas Manger should be the norm and the baselines in Christian film (especially Christmas movies) rather than the exception. Hopefully, as we close out another year of Christian entertainment, we are beginning to see more of this, which will presumably lead to more dynamic and groundbreaking films from Christian creators. Movies like this one was a good launching pad to begin with, so it will be good to see Andrea Nasfell continue to release quality content that is memorable and culture-changing.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

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The Prayer Box (Series Review)

The Prayer Box, DVD -

Plot Summary

Welsey wants to do the right thing even as his sister lays in a hospital bed struggling in her battle with cancer.  Wesley faithfully attends church, even though his mother has forsaken the faith for now, and he fervently prays at the altar every week.  However, he is hurt when he sees that his pastor is throwing away the prayer requests people put in the prayer box at the altar.  Thus, Wesley launches a plan to redeem the prayer box and convince God with his deeds that his sister deserves to survive the battle with cancer.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s clear that although the budget for this miniseries was somewhat limited, Kevan Otto used his funds responsibly and maximized the potential from them.  This is evidenced by clear video quality, good camera work, and professional audio quality.  The soundtrack is somewhat generic, but it gets better as the series progresses.  The sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized as they appear to be realistic for the situations.  The main drawback here is the slight need for refined editing in order to avoid including as much B-roll footage for filler scenes as it did.  However, this is a very good production, which signals that Kevan Otto has finally turned over a new leaf in his career.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The Prayer Box is a testament that even Kevan Otto can create good entertainment when he has a good team and when he actually uses employs a talented screenwriter.  Using an actual screenwriter in a series rather than having the director double as the screenwriter is rare, but it great assists in the proper development of story and characters.  This definitely an advantage to this miniseries as a majority of the dialogue is well-crafted and serves to develop character personalities and character motivations without having them fall into stereotypes or pre-determined molds.  Also, the conversations among the characters drive the plot forward rather than having them tossed along by random circumstances.  The premise of the story is also realistic and believable, including the portrayal of churches.  There is also quite a bit accomplished in the story without narration, and the Christian messaging is very poignant and on point.  However, there are a few drawbacks to this plot, including some slightly boring elements in the first episode and some scenes that feel like they’re just kicking the can down the road instead of developing the characters deeper like a series should be able to due to having more time to do so.  One example of this is one too many off-screen characters that are only talked about rather than seen, but this could be due to budget constraints.  There are also other opportunities for content enhancement, and while the ending is effective, it’s somewhat vague, but it definitely does its job.  As a whole, this is easily the best Christian series to date and a great opportunity for Kevan Otto to start afresh in his entertainment ambitions.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The acting of The Prayer Box is definitely one of its strongest points.  This includes surprisingly good child and teenager acting and arguably the best performances to date from Carey Scott and Reginald VelJohnson.  The only drawbacks here are some slightly overdone makeup from some cast members and some slightly under-performed scenes, but it’s nothing too major.

Continuity Quality (2 points)

One big question with The Prayer Box is whether or not it really needed to be a series since it only has two total hours of runtime.  While it’s great to create a miniseries out of a book to release it directly to PureFlix on Demand rather than making a half-baked direct-to-DVD film no one will ever see since this is something we absolutely need to see more of, it’s hard to see why a two-hour series was needed.  If the funding allowed, more runtime would have been good to further develop the characters if at all possible.  However, despite these minor nitpicks, the flow of this series is mostly good except for a few abrupt episode endings.  As a whole, it’s refreshing to see a series, albeit a short one, that is committed to above average continuity and flow between episodes.

Conclusion

Even though The Prayer Box is a very basic and generic storyline, this is just the tip of the iceberg of what can be done when streaming series employ true screenwriters to create content.  Trisha Mammen definitely has a lot of talent as a screenwriter, and Kevan Otto has definitely found a new stride in his career that needs to continue; it’s highly possible that this film could have made the Hall of Fame as a film.  Though we’ve criticized Otto in the past for his poorly created films like A Question of FaithGrace of GodIn the Name of GodOnline, Lukewarm, Decision, and WWJD 1 and 2, after The Prayer Box, it’s possible that his future entertainment ventures could be transformed with a second wind of much better source material and more well-funded productions.  It just goes to show that anyone can make a turnaround with better resources and that we are always willing to recognize improvement and success – no matter who it comes from.

Final Rating: 9 out of 14 points

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