Only God Can {Heaven’s Grace} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Sara, Coley, Patrice, Glen, and Gracie were close college sorority sisters, but now that they have grown into their middle ages, they have each taken different paths in life.  Sara is weary of going to the annual get-together of the girls because of her newfound faith, but her pastor encourages her to go to witness to her friends.  However, the weekend getaway does not turn out as plan as each woman is hiding their own secrets, which lead to intense conflicts between them.  To cap things off, tragedy strikes the group of friends in a way they never expected.  Will they be able to pick up the pieces and change their ways?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though on the surface Only God Can seems like a good production, there are a handful of hiden problems that keep it from being all that it could be.  For example, the audio is strangely quiet except for the blaring and generic soundtrack.  Video quality and camera work are standard caliber, but the sets, locations, and props, though they are professional-looking, are fairly limited and underused.  Further, the editing is very disorienting and choppy, but this is likely primarily due to the poor plot structure.  However, as a whole, this production is good enough to be average, even though it could have been more.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Only God Can follows a story-telling style similar to that of Do You Believe? as it juggles many under-developed and hard-to-fully-grasp subplots and tries to make nearly every scene a dramatic climax.  The presentation of the many subplots is dizzying for this reason, and flashbacks are used very poorly.  Each character is developed as a representation of an issue rather than a real person, and this is done through very forced and stilted dialogue that is designed to push a certain agenda rather than to create relatable characters.  The back stories of the characters are therefore flat and empty, and scenes that could have been used to develop them better are instead used for empty and mindless montages.  Sometimes it’s hard to understand what’s happening from scene to scene, but it all comes down to a predictable and forced conclusion that fixes everything.  In short, this plot unfortunately had no potential from the get-go.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, many of the cast members in this film appear to be overly made-up and overly fake.  Emotional delivery comes off as plastic and unrealistic as many cast members don’t appear comfortable with their lines or their respective roles.  However, there are a handful of cast members that are okay and thus prevent this section from being null.  Nevertheless, this film is overall a disappointment and doesn’t really have much to offer.

Conclusion

Overall, Only God Can is another moderately-funded, partially-marketed inspirational film from PureFlix that falls flat and doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.  On the surface, it has good production qualities, but there are hidden issues that undermine this.  The plot is very empty and wanting as it tries to push typical agendas, and the acting missed the mark as well.  It’s very predictable and formulaic, yet this is the type of Christian film that no longer needs to be seen in the market.  The reputation of Christian movies is bad enough as it is, so we don’t need anymore examples of ineptitude.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

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Waiting for Butterflies (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

While she is dying on her deathbed, Carolynn Archer begs her family to promise to resolve their differences and to put their bitterness and unforgiveness aside.  All of it stems backs to a tragedy that Carolynn’s daughter blames her nephew John for.  However, when John returns to town due to his grandmother’s ailing state, encouraged by his girlfriend, he decides to heed his grandmother’s advice and begin to set things right, if possible.  What he discovers in his quest makes him view life in an entirely new way.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though this is a little known production team, Waiting for Butterflies demonstrates a mostly professional effort.  Video quality and camera work are what they should be.  Though there are some seemingly unnecessary yet minor audio issues, the soundtrack is very intriguing.  Sets, locations, and props are authentic and appropriate.  Finally, though there are also some minor issues with editing, mostly pertaining to some lagging scenes and time fillers, this is a respectable production that definitely deserves recognition.  This shows a lot of promise for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Though this story begins somewhat slow and confusing, it’s a slow burn that you have to stick with until the end.  As the plot unfolds fairly well, characters are pretty well-developed through complex dialogue.  Though there are some dangling subplots that need some tidying up, this is actually a tragedy plot that avoids being too melodramatic and carries a very profound message.  The realistic struggles and circumstances of believable people are portrayed throughout.  However, there are one too many dead sequences that cause there to be too much potential left on the field.  There are also some quick fixes that are introduced near the end to fit within the runtime.  However, this is a very respectable plot that is hard to come by these days, so it gives great hope for future films from this creative team.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The acting is probably the strongest point of this film, as this is Jason Burkey’s best performance outside of an Erwin Brothers film.  Other cast members also post good performances.  The only errors to point out here are some over the top emotions.  Otherwise, this is another professional section of this film.

Conclusion

It’s disappointing that Waiting for Butterflies has a collection of minor errors that keeps it from landing a spot on the Hall of Fame, but it is still an interesting movie that is likely worth your time.  There is a lot of good here and certainly of lot of potential for the future.  With some tidied-up production and a more seamless plot, this creative will be making waves in Christian film.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Pray. [2007] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After a group of friends goes to a Christian rock concert, they return to their hotel and experience some creepy goings-on, thus they decide to abandon their trip early and return home.  However, even when she returns home, one them feels herself being stalked by an unknown entity.  Elsewhere, a new mother of a baby feels herself being watched by someone, but she can’t put her finger on it.  Will any of them be able to trust in God to overcome the evil?

 

Production Quality (-2 points)

So you want to make a Christian horror movie, huh?  How about you examine the ones already made (like this one) and do everything the opposite way of how they did it.  The production of each of these Pray movies couldn’t be worse.  From dizzying camera zooms to weird camera angles to generally shaky footage, it’s a harrowing experience for all the wrong reasons.  Video quality is mostly poor and lighting is very inconsistent.  The soundtrack is far too loud and the audio is better at picking up the background sounds than the actual dialogue.  Sets and locations are severely limited and there is no editing whatsoever to speak of.  In the end, this production is definitely among the worst.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

A ‘Dove-Approved’ ‘Horror’ film can’t actually exist, right?  This means anything ‘horror-like’ has been stripped from it, thus we are left with activities of daily living, local news sequences, television preaching sequences, and most laughable jump scares rivaled only by other films made by these people and the new Left Behind.  There is barely enough dialogue in this film, and what dialogue exists is mostly confusing crosstalk conversations.  With so many sequences of ‘regular life’, there is not enough real suspense.  Any suspense therein is bizarre and manufactured.  Finally, the ending of this film is one of the most laughable and head-scratching experiences ever.  We let asking whether or not it can get any worse than this.

Acting Quality (-1 points)

As if the rest of the movie wasn’t bad enough, let’s add an extremely amateur and awkward cast to this mess.  The performances therein are goofy and unsure.  There is far too much yelling and screaming.  It’s so sad that this many people were roped into this nonsense.

Conclusion

The Christian horror genre is among the worst of Christian film, and this should not be.  It’s inexcusable to have so many basement-dwelling films in one genre, especially when this genre offers such a great opportunity to reach outside the walls of the church.  Yet it’s a very difficult genre to pull off, so it would be better to not even attempt it unless you absolutely know what you’re doing.  But wait…there’s two MORE of these films?!?

 

Final Rating: -4 out of 10 points

 

My Name is Paul [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

What if the story of the Apostle Paul took place in the near future, when the government cracks down on religious freedom and forces the true Christians underground?  Paul seeks out Christians to bring into custody to further his status among the government, but a profound experience causes him to turn around and change his ways by joined the very people he once tried to stamp out.  Now he is on the run from his former employers and the Christians are wary about trusting him.  Will the Way be able to prevail in the face of grave opposition?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

It is clear that many attempts were made in this film to craft a very professional action-based production, which is something we rarely see in Christian film these days.  Video quality is what it should be and camera work is great, especially in the action scenes.  Audio quality is mostly good and the soundtrack is intriguing.  However, sometimes there are some oddly lit scenes, as if the producers are trying to be too artistic, and the indoor sets sometimes suffer from lack of creativity.  Yet the outdoor locations are very well-constructed.  The editing sometimes leaves something to be desired, as some scenes lag too long while others are cut short.  But in the end, this is a commendable effort and one that will hopefully yield even better fruit in the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

It’s definitely not easy to take on such a large Bible-story-set-in-the-future concept, especially with all of the characters that are involved.  Sometimes it’s too awkward for the writers to try to force parallels; it might have been better to keep the associations looser.  However, there is still lots of good plot content—perhaps too much content for a film less than two hours long.  This is a highly complex story that sometimes gets lost in itself and may have been better suited for a miniseries, since there are a lot of ideas crammed into such a short time frame.  This is a good problem to have, yet it leaves too many disjointed subplots in its wake.  The characters are pretty good, even if they are limited in scope.  The biggest red flag to raise here is the very confusing and isolating ending that is hard to explain or understand.  In the end, this story desperately needed to be a series in order to be truly effective.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The casting and acting is clearly the strongest point of this film, as there are no errors to speak of.  This is a very large cast, yet they are all very talented and cast very appropriately.  Emotions are believable and line delivery is on target.  The cast members make this film as good as it is.

Conclusion

We realize it’s hard to make an independent series or miniseries, but with the PureFlix on Demand platform, things have been made easier.  More budding film makers need to take advantage of this resource to boost their brand so that we can see some actually worthwhile Christian series come to light.  Regardless, with some production tweaks, more funding, and continued casting success, this creative team is going to go big places.

 

Final Rating: 6 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

 

Virtuous [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Simone Burner is attacked by the grandson of a powerful man, she is arrested for the grandson’s murder and mostly everybody in the city turns against her for no particular reason.  Therefore, she has to seek out the help of an estranged attorney who doesn’t really like her as her last resort.  Meanwhile, there are tons of others subplots are all going on at the same time as other random characters are briefly introduced who have very loose connections to the original point.  With so much going on, the question is not what will happen, but will anyone understand what is happening?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Virtuous has a professional and adequate production, as evidenced by clear video quality, good camera work, acceptable audio quality, and an intriguing soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are professionally chosen and presented.  On the surface, it seems like Virtuous checked all the necessary boxes to receive a passing score.  However, the major detractor here is the horrific editing.  Somewhere in post-production, someone needed to sit down and have a serious talk with the JC Films team about whether or not it’s justified to have a 150 minute film that has next to no continuity.  This was the editor’s job; however, this was not done, and thus, it leaves a gaping hole in this film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

As previously mentioned, this perhaps the most convoluted and non-continuous plot in all of our viewing days.  With hundreds of subplots that have very little connection to one another, there is no way to make sense of what is going on as the story hops from one random thing to the next.  There’s all kinds of intrigue with this local judicial and law enforcement system and how corrupt businessmen are trying to control stuff, plus some stereotypical down-on-his-luck who takes on a seemingly impossible case that has some ties to a non-profit involving Erin Bethea, and this doesn’t even cover the random guy in the hospital and the nurse who takes care of him who also has a questionable position on the jury of the original trial.  This previous run-on sentence doesn’t even cover all the points Virtuous tries to expand on.  It’s like twelve different people all had ideas and decided to shove them all together into one bloated film.  With so much going on, there is no hope for character development as dialogue is stunted and all over the place.  The only characters that stand out are strawmen villains, unfortunately.  Yet despite all of this massive blending of concepts, there is a really interesting idea somewhere lost in the fray that would be better served in a miniseries format.  It’s disappointing to see good ideas go to such waste, especially when it’s like this.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

With so many cast members, it’s really hard to keep up.  This is an unusually large cast for a Christian film, thus making the performances inconsistent and random.  Sometimes line delivery and emotional delivery are good, while other times they are not.  Overall, it comes out as fairly average.

Conclusion

When you’re in the process of making a film that is over two and a half hours and you actually have the budget to make a film this long, perhaps you need to stop and consider: with so much content, I should make this a series!  People love series: just look at the unexplainable success of When Calls the Heart.  Why not, instead of making a cumbersome film like this one, try something different and create an interesting genre-busting Christian series.  It would be a huge hit.  Yet once again, we are left wondering what could have been.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Heaven Bound [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ted is a successful dog food marketer until one fateful day when he accidentally kills his company’s iconic mascot and becomes the town laughingstock.  Underemployed and in debt, Ted and his wife Josie are doing their best to make ends meet, but it’s not enough.  Josie is unhappy, so she concocts a plan to swipe her elderly boss’ valuables in order to pay their debts.  Accompanied by her lazy little brother, Ted and Josie attempt to pull off a caper but soon find that their intended victim has more in store for them than they thought.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

Heaven Bound is a measuring rod for films with limited sets.  It uses each location to its fullest potential through effective and witty camera work and crisp video quality.  Audio quality is also exquisite, including a memorable original soundtrack.  The editing is highly effective in driving the comedy home.  In short, there are no production errors, thus giving this area a perfect score.  Adam Drake and Torry Martin show true talent with productions and great potential for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

You can always count on Marshal Younger, Torry Martin, and Rene Gutteridge to deliver an eccentrically funny storyline filled with true comedy.  This plot is a masterful mix of humor and meaning.  They demonstrate how to write a plot with only a handful of characters: though they are few in number, each character is very deep and believable.  The biggest drawback to raise here is that the plot is mostly formulaic and predictable, but it is still highly enjoyable.  This team took the storyline to its fullest potential, and that’s all we ever want to see.  They have true talent and should be utilized in more movies in the future.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Though a small cast, this group carries the film well with highly professional acting.  Each character is cast appropriately and delivers their lines effectively.  A wide range of believable emotions are also displayed.  With no errors, this is a job well done.

Conclusion

With Drake and Martin handling production and Younger, Martin, and Gutteridge handling the writing, Heaven Bound is a true work of art—a lethal combination of comic genius, thus warranting a spot on the Hall of Fame.  This film had a limited budget—imagine what they could do with more resources!  This team has true talent and they will be getting bigger and better as time goes on; we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.  In the meantime, Heaven Bound is definitely a movie you want to make time to see.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

https://vimeo.com/199484564



Full disclosure: We were provided by the creator with a copy of this film in exchange for a fair and honest review

The Trial [2010] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Kent “Mac” McClain’s wife and sons are tragically killed in a car accident, he just wants to end it all.  However, he is interrupted by a phone call and is given a new purpose by the person on the other end: to revive his law practice by taking on a special capital punishment case.  So he assembles a team and begins investigating, but the deeper he digs, the more fishy and complicated things become.  Mac soon finds himself not only fighting for the life of his defendant, but for his very own.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The good thing is that Robert Whitlow does not settle for low to average quality productions when it comes to bringing his books to the big screen.  Video quality and camera work are very professional.  Sets and locations are realistic.  Audio quality is good, although the soundtrack is pedestrian.  Finally, the editing is sometimes effective in being suspenseful, but other times it is too choppy and exposes some missing time.  It seems like there is content missing that was cut from the original take due to length.  However, this is not done very well, as will be highlighted next.  But in the end, Whitlow, Gary Wheeler, and crew know how to put together a respectable production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Whitlow clearly knows legal procedure and is the right person to be writing legal suspense.  The premise of this plot is therefore realistic and is filled with fairly believable, down-to-earth characters and pretty good dialogue.  However, as previously mentioned, there needs to be more useful content included and few melancholy scenes.  Also, Whitlow has a tendency towards overdone drama, which is also present in The Trial.  Finally, there are a few too many coincidences in this plot and a rushed cheesy end that happens because it needed to.  The cheesy villain is given too much time to monologue about their evil plan, although it’s unclear why they did what they did.  All in all, this is once again a respectable effort, but perhaps not the best Whitlow book to choose for a movie.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Acting is this film’s strongest suit as each cast member fits his or her character perfectly.  There is also a presence of clear acting coaching, which is likely the influence of Gary Wheeler, a student of the Kendrick brothers.  Although there are some minor errors that keep this section from being perfect, this casting job shows how it’s done.

Conclusion

The saddest part about this film is that, based on the market availability of Christian movies, films like The Trial seem really good.  In reality, this should be the baseline of quality, not the improvement.  While it is not good enough to be Hall of Fame, The Trial is good enough to be interesting, although it may not capture the attention of many audiences.  Gary Wheeler has a lot of potential as a creator and needs to keep trying until he makes that breakthrough to greatness.  He has great hope for the future.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Heart of the Country [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Faith left her rural North Carolina home to pursue her musical dreams in New York City, she never expected to meet the man of her dreams—or so she thought.  After a whirlwind romance and marriage to Luke Carraday, they are horrified to discover that the investment firm he worked for came under audit by the federal government, landing all employees in jail, including Luke.  Dazed and confused and with no one to turn to, Faith returns home and finds her ailing father the same as he always was.  Though Faith’s sister is not excited about her coming back, Faith’s whole family supports her no matter what happens.  However, none of them foresee the events that about to unfold—events that have the potential to change the direction of their lives forever.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

With a modest budget, Heart of the Country did pretty much all they could do with the money they had.  The video quality is excellent and the camera work is professional.  Sound quality is consistent throughout, and the soundtrack is fairly good, even though it’s dominated by Jana Kramer, the lead actress.  The sets and locations are relatively diverse—jumping back and forth from New York City to rural North Carolina works very well.  There is an overall authentic feel to the surroundings.  The only caveats to raise with this film are some minor editing issues.  Though flashbacks are utilized wonderfully, there are some choppy elements of the production that derail its pursuit of perfection.  But these minor issues aside, this is a formidable production model to be proud of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

From the beginning, the plot of Heart of the Country is unique and outside of the norm.  Few movies ever attempt to depict a newlywed couple’s struggles—most movies retreat after the wedding vows are said and we never hear from them again.  The premise of this film is a brave idea that deserve resounding applause.  As previously mentioned, flashbacks enhance this film and make it what it is.  The characters are fairly believable, though they could use a little more development in this character-based plot.  For the most part, this plot avoids the usual return-to-your-hometown clichés.  Unfortunately, the Christian message is quite muted and needed to be a little more meaningful.  Another problem is a number of wasted scenes that could have been used to develop characters and deepen the storyline.  Some elements are understated while others are overstated.  The end is meaningful even though it is slightly expected.  Overall, this is an above average plot that had the potential to be even better.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is a formidable cast made up of B-grade cast members.  They seem to be coached fairly well.  Line delivery is above average, as are emotions.  One big drawback here is that most of the cast members make excessive use of makeup and costuming.  In the end, this is a respectable acting job.

Conclusion

We’ve said it before, but we really wish that films like Heart of the Country were the baseline of inspirational film.  It includes a unique idea, professional production, believable characters, and commendable acting.  We also wish films like this one would go all the way and achieve Hall of Fame status.  But nonetheless, films like this one are still enjoyable and definitely worth your while.  It’s unfortunately still a rare find in the industry.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Mandie and the Secret Tunnel (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When her father dies, Mandie Shaw is forced to live with her mother who doesn’t like her.  Therefore, she decides to run away and try to find her elusive Uncle John.  With the help of her Cherokee native friends, she discovers his estate and is taken in by his staff.  However, she receives the devastating news that her uncle is also dead.  After more emotional turmoil, Mandie decides to join in the search for her uncle’s mysterious will in order to determine who is the heir to the estate.  As they do so, however, more and more unusual characters begin appearing, obviously in search of the will for their own gain.  Mandie and her new friends must band together and discover the will before it’s too late.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Mandie and the Secret Tunnel is obviously a low budget production.  Thankfully, the money was at least spent on cameras, for the video quality and camera work are the best production elements.  Otherwise, it’s pretty raw.  There is some potential, however, if you can endure the grating soundtrack, the inconsistent sound quality, the limited surroundings, and the sloppy editing.  When it comes to production, Secret Tunnel is not the worst of the worst, but it really doesn’t have much going for it either.  Yet for a low budget production, it’s definitely commendable.  Were this the weakest area of the film, it would be understandable.  But alas, it’s not.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Adapted from books by Christian children’s author Lois Gladys Sheppard, this should have been an interesting plot.  The premise of the books is unique and definitely deserved a movie.  However, Secret Tunnel just doesn’t cut it.  From start to finish, the plot is confusing and key elements are understated.  Character development is very inconsistent and dialogue ranges from slightly comedic to downright childish.  Every character has a lot of potential that needs deepening.  This could have been a really well-done character-driven plot with witty dialogue, but that ship never sails.  This ‘treasure hunt’ plot sputters and wastes time before jumping to a slightly interesting conclusion.  On its face, this plot should be way better than it is.  Low budget production can be excused, but bungling an above average plot like this one is inexcusable.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Probably the worst element of this film, the acting is very poorly coached, if at all.  It seems like this cast has potential and could even be funny, but they have no clear direction and just say things awkwardly.  A handful of them are quite professional on their own, the rest really drag down the score.  Emotional delivery is inconsistent and at times, the delivery of lines if very forced.  Overall, casting needed a rework.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, Secret Tunnel is forced to join the ranks of movies that wasted good ideas.  Christian novels should be adapted to more movies than they are, but it must be done so properly.  For a first film, we are likely to excuse production errors that pertain to poor funding, but bungling a plot and poorly coaching a cast are fundamental errors are all levels of movie-making, no matter how much money is sunk into the project.  If you are a Christian film maker or an aspiring one, please heed this advice: before charging ahead for the sake of making another Christian movie, take time to work on your plot, making the characters deep and believable and the plot as realistically complex as possible.  For a virgin voyage, cheap production can be excused; just make sure your plot is sound and your cast doesn’t ruin your film.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points