Laughing at the Moon (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Natalie McClay is a selfish businesswoman who wants what she wants when she wants it. However, when her high-dollar lifestyle demands that she get a roommate to share her rent, she has no idea what to expect. When Iris walks into her apartment, Natalie’s whole world is turned upside down. Natalie tries to do everything she can to discredit the eccentric new optimist in her life, the harder she tries, the more her friends like Iris. However, when Natalie goes too far with her mistreatment of her quirky roommate, there are far-reaching consequences, more than Natalie could have imagined.

Production Quality (2 points)

It’s clear that Laughing at the Moon had an adequate budget since the production is quite good, including great video quality and professional camera work with an artistic touch. Similarly, the audio quality and soundtrack are fine, and sets, locations, and props are well-used and well-constructed. At times, the editing is passable, but other times, it’s a bit choppy as some scenes cut off without warning, which suggests that there was a lot more content than they had space for. Also, there are some slight continuity errors between some scene, which seems like an unforced error. However, in the end, this is an above-average production that lays a good foundation for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Laughing at the Moon makes some good attempts at comedy that’s actually funny at times, but sometimes, it’s awkwardly forced, and there tends to be a bit too much quirkiness in some scenes. One of the best thing about this plot is its focus on the human tendency to convince oneself of one’s own superiority over others, especially those who do not fit into societal molds, and this is definitely a story that needs to be told, even if this version is a little (purposely) offbeat at times. The characters are pretty good, but they are hampered by mentions of off-screen content, which lends further credence to the possibility of a quick editing job that chopped out important scenes due to too much original content. Even still, the use of flashbacks throughout the narrative is very effective to establish one of the main characters’ traumatic memories, yet sometimes, it feels like a lot of the scenes are randomly strung together and loosely connected with musical montages that tend to waste time. However, the dialogue in the middle of the plot is pretty good at establishing some believable characters, and there are some very timely themes explored, such as being fake vs being authentic. None of the characters are perfect and each has their own unique flaws. One other weakness of the storyline is the somewhat steep character arcs that occur due to the slightly rushed ending, but there’s a very good point at the end that is worth watching. In the end, Laughing at the Moon is a mixed bag that is pretty good in and of itself; it also shows great potential for future projects.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, the cast members of Laughing at the Moon naturally and easily assume their respective roles. While emotions can be a bit overstated at times, they are mostly fine, and line delivery as a whole is on point. As a side note, this is one of Erin Bethea’s best roles to date. In summary, this is an above-average acting job that rounds out an above-average film.

Conclusion

This movie boasts a very good idea that’s presented in a fresh way, and the main thing holding it back from the Hall of Fame is its choppy presentation. Thus, Laughing at the Moon deserves some level of remake whether it be a new film about similar concepts or a series format for the original film because this creative team may be better at making Christian series. Either way, it should be interesting to see what this team produces next.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Coffee Shop [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Donovan has always loved her dream job as the owner of a local coffee shop, but she fears that her mortgage is about to cause her dream to end prematurely.  What’s worse is a hotshot playwright comes to town and starts off completely on the wrong foot with her, all the while Donovan’s sister is trying to get her to run back to the boyfriend who left Donovan for a big time Chicago job.  Will Donovan be able to sort out all the confusion in time to save her dreams?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Up Entertainment has perfected the Hallmark model of putting out a consistent amount of films with fairly professional production quality in each one.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is a bit too generic, however, which fits this genre to a T.  What also typically comes with this sort of made for television movie is relatively good sets, locations, and props, yet some minor editing issues that plague it, all in the name of making the runtime trim.  All of these typical elements are present in Coffee Shop, making it seem like it was made on an assembly line.  Overall, though the production is great, there are plenty of other predictable elements to point.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this story is trying a bit harder than most made for TV romantic comedies, Coffee Shop is still an extremely typical story about a jilted girlfriend who has to save her ______ and then both her old boyfriend and a new well-groomed man whom she doesn’t like at first but grows to like show up in the small town she lives in with other quirky characters.  Though some of the characters demonstrate attempts to be creative, probably mostly the influence of the Erwin brothers, there are just too many predictable elements for this section to warrant any more points.  The entire plot follows a predictable progression and the end can be seen from the beginning.  In the end, it’s hard to see the justification for yet another one of these sorts of films.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Despite all of other issues, the Erwin brothers still do their thing and win out when it comes to casting and acting coaching.  There are virtually no errors in this section as line delivery is on point and emotions are very natural.  UP and Hallmark should consider hiring the Erwins as permanent casting help.

Conclusion

We realize the machine of cable television demands certain movies that fit into certain molds, so perhaps there is really no solution to this problem until cable is no longer relied upon as a source of entertainment revenue.  Creative Christian film makers need a better outlet for their films so that they can showcase their talent outside of the confines of a revenue-seeking machine.  Perhaps one day we will see more of these sorts of films on streaming services such as PureFlix.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Altar Egos (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Pastor John Bridges inherits his father’s church, he is given huge expectations by the congregation, who is led by his suspicious and controlling stepmother, Mary Margaret.  John’s wife Betsy wants him to look for a better opportunity, but John wants to follow in his father’s footsteps.  However, when Mary Margaret leads a church revolt against John, he decides to take matters into his own hands and enlists the help of his theatre-guru son to help him create an alter ego to convince his stepmother to reconcile.

Production Quality (3 points)

For the obviously low budget that was provided here and other limited resources, this is a highly impressive production.  This is a key example of what we want first-time film makers to do: use everything you have to the fullest potential, even if it’s small.  Every aspect of the production of Altar Egos is highly professional and there are no errors here.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all flawless, even though there are both indoor and outdoor scenes.  The soundtrack is a little goofy but it works for the comedy genre.  Sets, locations, and props are all realistic and authentic and demonstrate care.  Finally, the editing is good, although there is only a small amount of plot content to work with.  In the end, this production could have easily been another Flywheel, but it wasn’t.  New film makers are raising the standard for the market.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

As with most church comedies (and Christmas comedies for that matter), the plot of Altar Egos is fairly limited in scope.  It follows a predictable progression and isn’t really all that creative.  However, the characters are highly believable since the dialogue is well-written.  The comedy is subtle instead of obvious and is actually truly funny as it pokes fun of realistic church situations that many can relate to.  Though the message presented in this film is good, this movie tends to overstay its welcome with one too many extended sequences and montages.  As previously mentioned, you can see the ending from the beginning, but nevertheless, like all comedies, the characters make this movie what it is, thus making it worth your time.

Acting Quality (3 points)

You can hardly ask for a better casting and acting job than this for a first-time film maker.  Robert Amaya assume his first lead role very well, and even Erin Bethea is good as a quirky side character.  Victoria Jackson is always hilarious when she’s cast as an unserious and goofy character.  The new cast members also add a lot to this film as each of them assume their characters very well.  Basically, comedy is made or broken by the acting, and this cast passed the test.

Conclusion

Once listed in the Box Office Revolution Movie Purgatory, Altar Egos has made a comeback and has risen to the top of the market, leaving behind other 2017 films that were better funded and marketed.  This just goes to show you what can happen when a film maker really cares about the movie they are making and takes time and effort to make it happen the right way rather than just any way.  Altar Egos demonstrates top-notch production, despite low funding, as well as superb casting and acting.  Though the plot is a little thin at times, effort is put into dialogue and character development.  All of this spells a bright future for Sean Morgan and his team—so far, he’s the best Liberty University has to offer in the writing and directing department.  They should consider using him for their future projects.  Regardless, this film is certainly worth your time.

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

I Am Potential (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Patrick Henry Hughes was born blind and disabled, and even though his parents were discouraged by this, he never let it get him down.  Though sometimes it was one medical procedure after the next, Patrick always kept his head up and did what he could to spread the love of Christ to those around him.  His father constantly wrestled with the reality of his son’s condition, but ultimately, it was instrumental in bringing the family closer together and closer to God.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As is the typical practice of American Family Studios, the production of I Am Potential is highly professional.  Video quality and camera work are excellent.  Audio quality is flawless and the soundtrack is engaging.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and appropriate.  The only real nitpick to raise here is some choppy editing due to the large amount of content presented here.  But besides this, American Family Studios is continually setting the standard for how Christian films should be produced.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As I Am Potential is based on true events, the plot has a built-in advantage over your run-of-the-mill inspirational plot.  This is a really good story to depict, but there is a large amount of content to cover in a short amount of time.  It’s very difficult to deal with this sort of plot.  There is a tendency to skip through time too rapidly, and this causes the story to skate on top of everything.  This in turn makes everything shallow, including the characters.  While the dialogue therein is good, there is not enough time focused on developing the characters, even though they are real people.  It’s a real shame that this story could not be deeper, because it carries an important and meaningful message.  It could have been Hall of Fame had more attention been given to deepening the story and the characters instead of trying to cover tons of content.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Much like the productions of American Family Studios, the casting and acting of I Am Potential is highly professional.  Each cast member fits their character well.  Emotions are believable and line delivery is effective.  The only small issue to highlight here is some underwhelming acting, but it’s not enough to keep this portion from being high quality.

Conclusion

It’s refreshing when a studio like AFS consistently rolls out quality films.  We need every Christian film distributor and creator to have this mentality because things will not change for the Christian film industry until this happens.  Professional production is an absolute must, and AFS has perfected this.  Acting and casting must also be professional, as their films demonstrate.  As the overall quality of productions and casts improve, the final frontier for Christian films is the plot.  Once plots become more creative and deep, Christian movies will finally take the culture by storm.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Pieces of Easter {Backroads and Lillies} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

While high-power executive Alza Bennet is on her way to see her parents, her sister, and her niece and nephew for Easter, who car breaks down, which leads to a serious of disastrous events, including her being stuck with a reclusive country farmer as her only option for transport.  Since she has not seen her family in over a year, Alza is desperate to get there on time, but things keep happening that delay their trip, not to mention the fact that she and her driver cannot get along at all.  But slowly, Alza begins to see the joy of simplicity away from her fast-paced life, even though she hates to be inconvenienced.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Over the years, Kelly’s Filmworks has certainly improved their production quality.  In Pieces of Easter, video quality and audio quality are what they should be.  There are still some trademark Jefferson Moore artistic camera angles, but that’s his brand at this point.  The soundtrack is also random and cheesy and is seemingly made up of free music.  However, sets, locations, and props, are authentic and more diverse than usual.  Finally, the poor editing mostly holds this production back from being better.  Thus, it must be rated as average.  Though this is an improvement from the past, we still feel that they can do better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Pieces of Easter is a better version of the typical Jefferson Moore two-character conversation plot because things actually happen outside of the drawn-out conversations, and they are actually less drawn out than usual and are broken up by some attempts at comedy.  However, not all of the comedy is funny and some of it is quite forced.  Though this storyline is a stereotypical fish-out-of-water plot, it is presented better and is likely as good as this type of limited story is going to get.  This is likely because attempts were made to develop the characters through dialogue, although they could be deeper.  The biggest drawbacks to this plot are the overly-plentiful dead scenes and goofy montages.  There are too many slow parts that don’t hold the attention and too many references to off-screen content.  Overall, though this is a nice try, it really doesn’t make it far enough.

Acting Quality (2 points)

With some slightly different than usual cast members, the acting is the strongest portion of this film.  However, some lines are still mumbled and some emotions are still over the top.  However, most cast members are placed in appropriate roles.  This overall rounds off a decent performance.

Conclusion

The Moores and the Kelly’s Filmworks team certainly never gives up.  They have been on a steady upward trend throughout their career.  Pieces of Easter is a far cry from low-quality productions like The Perfect Stranger saga and Clancy.  It demonstrates real effort to improve, which is encouraging.  With just a little but more work done on production, some continued casting quality, and more creative plots, this team will finally make their mark on Christian entertainment.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Clancy [2009] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Nick Best is a down on his luck veteran of the military who has chosen to live on the streets due to his drinking habits and his emotional issues.  But he is given a so-called second chance when the corrupt mayor of the city he hangs around tells the chief of police to offer a substantial amount of money to Nick for him to keep, Clancy, a runaway abused girl for a week so that the mayor, who is losing his reelection campaign, can have a media field day.  Skeptical of this elaborate scheme, Nick decides to take the girl under his wing to protect her, but he soon finds that she is changing his outlook on life.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Why do Kelly’s Filmworks productions always look so drab?  It’s like they were all filmed in cloudy weather.  Though the video quality of Clancy is fine, the camera work is atrocious, including very tight shots and shaky camera work that looks like it was literally filmed in an alley with a camcorder.  Thus, the lighting is very inconsistent and there are constant loud outside sounds.  There is no soundtrack to speak of—just background silence.  Sets and locations are very cheap—no thought was given to making them look interesting.  Finally, there is absolutely no editing as all content is included—and we mean all content.  Every Jefferson Moore silent staring scene is here.  In short, the continual creation of Kelly’s Filmworks productions is baffling to us.  They obviously aren’t spending much money on these, but what is the real point if it’s going to look this bad?

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Clancy includes perhaps the most trumped up scheme possible.  Who really believes that a corrupt mayor (aka the most cheesy villain available besides Goliath from Timothy Chey’s David and Goliath) would pay off a random homeless guy to keep an abused girl ‘safe’ for a week in order to boost reelection chances?  In what universe would that work?  Most importantly, why do we need a movie about this?  Why do we need to be forced to see long sequences of characters (mostly Jefferson Moore) wandering around and staring into the distance?  There is no way this is going to hold anyone’s attention, especially when the dialogue is extremely void and lackadaisical.  The story is based on far too many coincidences to keep it going and there is so little content here that we can hardly believe the runtime lasted as long as it did.  All we can say is that we were glad when it was over.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Recycling the same old cast members from Kelly’s Filmworks (they weren’t that good in the first place), Clancy is much like the others from this company.  Makeup is bad, costuming is laughable.  The only emotions present are either deadpan or over the top.  The line delivery is beyond lazy.  One would think these cast members would get better with experience.

Conclusion

Jefferson Moore and company are experts at thinking up the most mundane movie ideas and then following through with them.  How have they made so many feature length films?  One thing you can say for them is that they save money—in all the wrong ways.  These movies are definitely easy and cheap to make, but why do we need them?  They are utterly pointless and contribute nothing.  Maybe they won’t make as many in the future.  But wait…there’s a sequel to this film????

 

Final Rating: .5 out of 10 points

 

Summer Snow [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Dan Benson’s wife dies, he and his three kids are left trying to pick up the pieces and figure out how they are going to move on.  Julie is getting married soon and has big plans with her fiancé.  David is trying to find his way through teenage-hood without his father around.  Hallie is a young girl who touches everyone she meets in special ways.  Little do they know that their lives will soon be changed forever.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

In Summer Snow, American Family Studios and team have shown a dedication to professional production quality.  Video quality and audio quality are clear and the soundtrack is fairly good.  Camera work is effective and sets and locations are realistic and down to earth.  The only issues to raise here are some minor editing problems due to some missing plot pieces, but it’s not enough to totally derail this otherwise superb production.  We expect more greatness in the future from this team.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Summer Snow is a raw character-driven plot about real people doing real things.  The dialogue is excellent and helps the viewer to really appreciate the struggles of the characters.  The plot is artistic and engaging and a good mix of comedy and hurt.  While we would have expected American Family Studios to awkwardly handle the social issues portrayed in this film, this was not the case.  The social issues are handled very well and framed in very interesting ways that make one think.  The biggest things holding this plot back are some minor plot holes and some parts that need to be expanded upon.  The end is also neat and tidy but still ambiguous at the same time.  In short, Jeremy and Kendra White need to be utilized more in writing inspirational plots because they have true talent that can be expanded upon.

Acting Quality (3 points)

This is a flawless casting job with no errors.  Each person is cast exquisitely.  Line delivery and emotional delivery are excellent.  Rachel Eggleston is possibly the best child actress in a Christian film to date.  This is a job to be proud of.

Conclusion

Films like Summer Snow should be the standard for Christian movies.  It takes on family values and social issues in realistic ways without creating strawmen or making Christianity offensive.  It depicts real people in real life so that all audiences can access what they are going through.  While it’s not the most complex plot in the world, it gets the job done and deserves recognition for that.  We can’t wait to see more from Jeremy and Kendra White and American Family Studios.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

 

Vanished: Left Behind Next Generation (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In one instant, millions around the globe disappear, leaving everyone else to wonder what just happened.  Four friends find that all they have in the world is each other as they embark into the wilderness to search for one of their own.  As they journey into the new landscape, they are forced to take refuge at a survivalist compound that seem safe on the outside, but is it really all it appears to be?  In this new world, can anyone be trusted?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

EchoLight has always had a commitment to quality productions, but in Vanished, the quality slips slightly.  Video quality, audio quality, and camera work are all professional except for some dizzying action shots.  The soundtrack is pretty good but is sometimes used to fill time.  Sets and locations are on par.  However, there are some cheap-looking special effects, as well as weird ‘dramatic’ sound effects.  There are also too many bouts of silence and too much slow-mo.  Finally, there is tons of wasted time as this film is designed to set up for the inevitable next one.  In short, EchoLight knows how to make an above-average production, but with Vanished, one has to wonder if it was worth it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

After an opening sequence that dumps all kinds of information on the audience, things start happening at a rapid pace for the first twenty minutes before you can even catch your breath.  After throwing a bunch of random characters together and trying to force you to get to know them too quickly, the plot soars off on a predictable apocalyptic progression that’s been done before and tries to hurriedly construct an isolating dystopian premise.  Then when everything is set, things slow way down to let you be immersed in a half-hearted teenage love triangle.  As previously mentioned, there’s not enough dialogue as one-dimensional characters wander around and make apocalyptic references and things happen because they need to.  The entire storyline is based on coincidences and trumped up conflict as time progresses vaguely towards a cheesy climax and uninspiring end that is supposed to make you want another movie, but fails epicly.  In short, there is little justification for this movie being made.

Acting Quality (2 points)

While it’s clear that this film was professionally cast and the cast members therein know what they’re doing, there’s still a handful of problems.  Some emotions are too forceful and some line delivery is half-hearted.  It also goes without saying that there is little chance the mainstream actors and actresses used in Vanished will come back for a supposed sequel.

Conclusion

Do we really need to re-hash this same old apocalyptic plot sequence over and over again?  How many more times do we need to repackage and reboot the same worn out Left Behind concepts and characters?  This time, it’s clear the creators were pandering to young adult audiences.  Maybe it’s time to stop constantly trying to redo Left Behind, because this movie would have been better if it had just created its own dystopian premise and abandoned Left Behind altogether.  Had the survivalist concept been expanded and the apocalyptic landscape been made a little more creative and mysterious and less copied, we could be looking at the start of a truly great saga.  But instead we are left wondering what could have been.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points