The Case for Christ [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Lee Strobel was an acclaimed newspaper reporter who had seemingly reached a new level in his career with his in-depth research pieces.  Everything in his life seemed perfect, until his wife Leslie began talking to a Christian nurse who saved the life of their daughter and became a Christian herself.  Lee’s staunch atheism was immediately challenged by his wife’s beliefs, even though she had become a better person as a result.  Thus, Lee set out to disprove the faith of his wife by attacking the core tenets of Christianity and skeptically investigating the truth behind them.  However, the deeper he went into his investigation, the less faith he had in atheism.  He would eventually have to come to grips with what he really believed and make a decision that would change his life forever.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

After years of wandering in the proverbial wilderness, Jon Gunn and his team, aided by the new standards of PureFlix, have finally found the promised land.  The Case for Christ is a flawless production in every aspect and is an example of what we should see in every film.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are error free.  The soundtrack is highly authentic and appropriate for the time.  Sets, locations, and props are exquisite and demonstrate great care for historical accuracy.  Finally, editing is excellent as montages are kept to a minimum and each scene transitions seamlessly.  Basically, this is your textbook perfect production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

What better plot to use than a real-life story that many audiences can relate to for multiple different reasons?  Not only is this film about real people, but they are actually portrayed as real people through meaningful dialogue and realistic circumstances.  This film could have easily descended into an information-saturated and message-heavy dump that tried too hard to push its point, but that is not the case here.  Both the atheist and the Christian characters are portrayed extremely well and the highly relevant message is presented in such a way that it is both clearly understood and easily received without being pushed in your face.  In the hands of a different writer, this idea could have gone south very easily.  Yet it did not, and Brian Bird proves that with good content, he can go great things.  The only nitpick to raise here is some slight choppiness, but it’s not a big deal.  The bottom line is that this is an excellent plot and one well worth your time.

Acting Quality (3 points)

You can hardly ask for a better cast than this, as each member fits their character excellently.  There are zero acting errors to point out as every performance is executed with near perfection.  Emotions are highly believable and line delivery is on point.  This rounds out an excellent film.

Conclusion

In conjunction with Brian Bird, Jon Gunn has finally discovered his true talent and has struck gold.  He put previous disappointments behind him and found a way to become a great film maker.  All we ask of film makers is to show steady and consistent improvement, and Jon Gunn has done just that.  He was also afforded a great opportunity to tell the amazing true story of Lee Strobel and to have better funding due to the better decisions made by the PureFlix leadership.  This film gives Jon Gunn, Brian Bird, and the rest a platform to build off of to do even greater things.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

 

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Like Dandelion Dust (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When the Campbells adopted little Joey from the struggling Porters, they thought it was forever.  But when the Porters get back on their feet after Joey’s father gets out of jail, they file to regain custody of their son.  Heartbroken, the Campbells do everything they can do to keep their only son, but they cannot prevail.  Therefore, they resort to a drastic measure that could land them in prison, but they are committed to protecting their son from evil.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

As a pilot production from Jon Gunn and company, this production quality is not what it could be.  But on a shoestring budget, it is not that bad.  Camera work is sometimes shaky and video quality and lighting are sometimes poor.  The standard soundtrack is sometimes loud enough to cover up dialogue, but audio quality is mostly fine.  For a first-time effort, the sets and locations are quite realistic, even the international ones.  The editing is a pretty good effort considering what they had to work with.  In the end, every movie maker has to start somewhere, regardless of the budget or resources.  When put in that perspective, Like Dandelion Dust is an applaudable effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Based on a novel by Karen Kingsbury, this plot is somewhat slow to develop and has one too many flat scenes and dead spots.  Yet the story is true to the book and depicts unfortunately realistic happenings.  Too much time tends to be spent on trashy elements, although what happens therein is believable.  This film is a fair portrayal of real people and their struggles and highlights important issues with child welfare.  Dialogue is mostly accessible and helps to build the characters.  Unfortunately, the first three-fourths of the film may not hold the attention of most audiences.  However, once it gets to the point at the end, it suddenly becomes really good and is worth the wait.  Overall, Like Dandelion Dust improves at the end and shows great potential for the future.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This cast is semi-professional and mostly knows what they are doing.  Through they are small, they have some bright spots, such as well-played and believable emotions.  Their line delivery can be wooden at times, but overall, this is a good effort that shows talent in casting.

Conclusion

It is always good to choose a book plot for your first film, but we have to wonder if this was the best Karen Kingsbury book to choose.  The story is intriguing as a book, but it doesn’t translate very well to the big screen.  Yet nonetheless, it is a good effort and something to build off of for the future.  There is great potential in this team and we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Letters to God [2010] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Tyler Doherty is fighting for his life against the cancer inside of him.  But rather than feel sorry for himself, he seeks to reach others for God by writing letters to God and sharing them with other people, especially his new mail carrier, who has a troubled past he is running from.  As Tyler’s family wrestles with what is happening to him, little do they know that God has great things in store for all of them.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a more ‘mainstream’ Christian film, Letters to God has good production quality, demonstrating that time and money were spent on it.  Video quality is clear and camera work is professional.  The opening sequence is interesting and grabs the attention well.  Audio quality is standard, but the soundtrack is slightly generic.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and appropriate.  The biggest drawback to this film’s production is the choppy editing that tends to only hit the high points of the storyline.  But overall, this is a respectable effort and one that should be commonplace in Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As another cancer film based on a true story, Letters to God does better that most in its genre at being realistic.  Though the plot is simplistic, it has a meaningful message that it presented by believable characters that endure realistic struggles.  However, there is some information dump dialogue and there seem to be one too many silly\filler scenes that tend to waste time.  Thus, the plot is somewhat incomplete.  Though the characters can also tend to be heartwarming, we wish we could get to know them a little better through deeper dialogue.  As it is, some of their arcs are too steep and simplified to be appreciated.  However, on the bright side of things, flashbacks are utilized well.  In the end, this plot left a lot on the proverbial playing field that could have made it far better, yet many viewers will enjoy this story and its message.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As a semi-professional cast, these cast members are mostly good when it comes to line delivery and emotions.  There are a few head-scratching moments and awkward displays that detract from the overall score, yet there is not much to complain about here.  This is a demonstration of mostly good casting and coaching.

Conclusion

Letters to God checks the necessary boxes for being marginally successful in the Christian entertainment world: spend time and money to make your production look good and make sure you have a professional cast that makes minimal or not too noticeable errors.  If you can accomplish these two feats in a Christian movie, you are unfortunately far ahead of the game.  Being average is great, based on the low standards that have been set by and myriad of basement-dwelling films on the market.  But we still want movies to take that next step into greatness rather than hover around the middle.  When high quality becomes more widespread in Christian film, then the entire movie industry will never be the same.

 

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

 

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

 

The Ultimate Life (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jason Stevens has inherited his grandfather’s massive fortune, but he has lost his way in life.  He is successful at putting the money to good use helping others, but he seems to never have any time for his longtime girlfriend Alexia, who he does not realize has plans of her own.  On top of this, Jason’s family is suing him for the family fortune.  When he wakes up one day and suddenly finds Alexia has left the country, he doesn’t know what to do.  Therefore, he goes to his old friend Hamilton, who produces the diary of Jason’s grandfather so Jason can learn from his grandfather’s mistakes before he repeats them.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

The video quality is clear, but unfortunately, that’s all that can be said for the production of The Ultimate Life.  The sound quality varies depending on the type of scene.  The camera work is also very random—sometimes good and sometimes shaky.  The sets and locations are pretty good and fairly historically accurate, but some of them are unprofessionally presented.  Perhaps the worst part is the editing.  It is already difficult enough to transpose a past plotline onto a present day plotline, but The Ultimate Life comes off as very choppy and hard to follow.  The scenes are all over the place, sometimes depicting a vague World War II battle and sometimes depicting an awkward 1940s high school (the actors seem too old for high school though) dance.  The bottom line is that where the resources were available to make this a successful movie, they were not utilized.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

This plot is meant to be another book adaptation, but it is nothing like the book that bears the same name.  However, there wasn’t really much to work with in the book anyway.  In this film, the life of Red Stevens is displayed at breakneck speed, thus not allowing any time for character development.  While this could have been a very interesting tale of success, decline, and corruption, the story sputters along like an old car.  It seems like multiple different movie ideas were spliced together into one, since the story hops along through time, only hitting the highlights and those moments that can be easily connected to the first installment in the series.  The dialogue is mindless, and thus, the characters are empty.  The only good thing to highlight here is that this plot had potential—the story of Red Stevens is not necessarily a happy one, but it could have been used as an example of how to handle success and how to put family first.  But beyond this, there is nothing to say except that it seems like, rather than actually craft a meaningful plot to showcase an interesting topic, the crew thought up a whole bunch of tongue in cheek references to the more successful Ultimate Gift and transposed it on a post-Depression era backdrop.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

The actors and actresses are given no help.  Therefore, the line delivery is very forced and no emotional expression is authentic.  It seems like this cast could have been better than they are in this film, but nothing materializes.  As a side note, it is difficult to cast multiple actors for one character across a timespan, but The Ultimate Life handles this pretty well.  But unfortunately, that is the only good thing to mention.

Conclusion

The Ultimate Gift was a great film, and it is understandable why a prequel was requested.  There was a lot of good content that could have been covered.  Red Stevens’ character arc could have been showcased.  The Ultimate Life could have been a great film, but ‘could have’ is not a winning phrase.  After the success of Gift, Life had no excuses to be so poor, but it did.  This is unfortunate, and The Ultimate Life joins a long line of Christian films that could have been.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

The Ultimate Gift (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jason Stevens has always had everything he ever wanted—at least everything that money could buy.  Growing up in a successful oil dynasty, he has never seen anything but money, fakeness, and broken relationships.  So when his patriarchal grandfather dies and the family gossip turns to who will get the largest share of the family fortune, Jason is uninterested and aimless in life.  However, his world takes a unexpected turn when his father’s lawyer informs him that he is the one who is to inherit the largest portion of the fortune—if he can pass a series of seemingly eccentric tests designed to help Jason learn what is most important in life.  As a result, Jason is forced to look at who he really is and what God really wants from him.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The production crew of The Ultimate Gift showed true talent in this film.  The camera work is excellent, including video quality and angles.  The sets and locations are quite varied.  The story is supposed to take place in at least two different countries, and this feat is pulled of well.  The editing is great considering the fact that there is a lot of content in this film that could have cheesily been strung together.  The series of gifts is not choppy and comes off naturally.  In short, there are no production errors.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

As previously mentioned, it must have been hard to weave this type of content together into a clean plot line.  Screenwriter Cheryl McKay actually improved Jim Stovall’s book in this adaptation, building on the characters and the storyline and making it more palatable.  Dialogue is not forgotten in this miniature epic, even though it is concise.  There are several interesting plot twists and things do not turn out as most inspirational plots would.  Comedy and realistic drama are mixed well throughout.  The only concerns to raise here are that some of the characters are slightly shallow and stereotypical.  Otherwise, the plot content is very strong.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The Ultimate Gift cast is made up of mostly mainstream and professional actors, but they do the job well.  They have obviously been coached well.  Each one is appropriate in their roles and does the best with what they have.  In short, there are once again no errors here.

Conclusion

While The Ultimate Gift is not a perfect film, it is certainly high on the list.  It deals with a very unique topic in a very unique way.  It would have been easy for the movie format to come off as amateurish, but this does not happen.  One caveat is that there is not an explicit Christian message, but there are plenty of Christian values displayed.  In short, this film is not only an enjoyable view, but it should also serve as a great example to anyone who wants to create an independent Christian film in the future.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

Woodlawn (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Coach Tandy Geralds only believes in what he sees in front of him.  All he sees is a broken high school in Alabama forced to integrate two racial groups who desperately do not want to associate with each.  Coach Geralds, also the assistant principle, is overworked, is unpopular with the school board, and is failing as a husband and father.  His players are frustrated with integration and racial tensions flare easily.  Tony Nathan, an underappreciated African-American athlete, is among them, yet he has been raised to treat people, regardless of skin color, the way Christ treated them.  Everything changes for the team one day when Hank, an itinerant and seemingly offbeat sports chaplain, convinces Coach Geralds to let him talk to the team.  At the end of his rope, Tandy reluctantly agrees.  What ensues from there is a miracle that transforms the football team, the high school, and the city.  One thing leads to another in a miracle season for the Woodlawn Colonels, but everything grinds to a halt one day when they are faced with adversity after adversity.  But in the grand scheme of things, each character learns in one way or another that there is one Way, one Truth, and one Life—Jesus.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The Erwin team went all out for this blockbuster production that was designed to reach outside of the Christian movie circles.  The camera work is phenomenal, ranging from difficult football scenes to character canvasing.  As an epic, the story covers a lot of time, but the editing is seamless.  It is very difficult to make an epic without being too long or without letting important plot elements fall by the wayside.  The editing team walked this tightrope flawlessly.  The inclusion of alternate and historical footage throughout the movie is an artistic flair that was pulled off nicely.  This is not a cheap production, and it shows.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)

As previously mentioned, epic plots are very hard to craft.  Too long, and the audience is lost.  Too quick, and no points are driven home.  Too often in potential epics, character development is discarded and scenes are wasted.  Neither of these mistakes occurred in Woodlawn.  Despite the large amount of plot and character content in this movie, nothing is missing.  The dialogue is concise yet profound.  There are no wasted scenes.  As a side note, Box Office Revolution maintains that movies based on real events are among some of the best on the market.  Nothing could be more true regarding Woodlawn.  The plot twists and turns just as real life does and the historical characters are adapted well.

Acting Quality (3 points)

BOR has long called the Erwin brothers the Masters of Casting.  There has never been a character in their movies that was not cast in the absolutely appropriate role.  Veterans Sean Astin, Nic Bishop, Sherri Shepherd, and Jon Voight are excellent in their roles, along with newcomers Caleb Castille and Joy Brunson.  All actors are coached well.

Conclusion

BOR can find no flaws in Woodlawn.  It also can be awarded the x-factor point for delivering an important topic packaged in a masterful epic.  The Erwin brothers have reached the pinnacle of their career, and there is no turning back now.  The Christian movie industry is at their fingertips, and BOR expects nothing less than the best.

 

Final Rating: 10 out of 10 points

Mom’s Night Out (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Sarah Fields just wants to know that she is doing a good job in her occupation as a full time homeschool mom to her three young kids.  But a lot of the time, she feels like she does not measure up.  She’s also a struggling blogger.  She looks up to her pastor’s wife, who seems to have everything put together.  On a whim, Sarah decides to plan an impulse night out with her pastor’s wife and her best friend Izzy, also a young mother.  Sarah’s husband Sean gets on board and agrees to help watch the kids, but none of them are prepared for the crazy night ahead.  Together, along with a cast of offbeat characters, they are thrust into an impromptu search for a missing baby and discover along the way that the things they are all looking for are right under their noses.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

As expected, the Erwin brothers have put together another top-notch production, from camera work to special effects to editing to creative overlays.  Several difficult scenes are filmed with professional flair.  The camera angles are well done.  Special effects and creative overlays are used appropriately.  The soundtrack brings the movie to life exquisitely.  Finally, the movie is edited to perfection.  There are no wasted scenes and no plot holes.  To put it plainly, the Erwin brothers continue to set themselves apart in the area of production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The scope of this plot is limited, but the Erwin brothers make the best of it.  The comedy is not overdone and is actually quite funny, contrary to most attempted comedy in Christian movies.  It is driven by excellent and witty dialogue, which also supports the accessible characters.  The thing that makes the comedy truly humorous is the fact the real-life predicaments are shown in hilarious and sometimes satirical lights, such that we could easily see ourselves in these situations.  The film contains no real plot twists, but the events are realistic and true to life, as previously mentioned.  Besides the limited plot scope, the one error of this section is the overuse of narration throughout.  However, it is still a highly enjoyable storyline that provokes the thinking.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The Erwin brothers continue to make average actors great.  Each character is cast into an appropriate role, as is to be expected.  Kevin Downes and Andrea Logan White play perhaps their best roles to date.  In a comedy, the acting is the anchor that determines the quality.  The excellent acting coaching of the Erwin brothers crew hit another slam dunk.

Conclusion

In short, the Erwin brothers have defied typical Christian movie genres by creating a successful and truly funny comedy, proving that vulgarity and cheesiness are not necessary to produce laughs.  October Baby and Mom’s Night Out could not be any more opposite in genre, yet they are both executed wonderfully.  Great things can be expected from this crew in the future.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points