Redeeming Love (Spring 2021)

Coming spring 2021 from Pureflix and Paradigm and Link Entertainment

Writer(s): Francine Rivers

Director(s): D. J. Caruso

Producer(s): Cindy Bond, Simon Swart, Wayne Fitzjohn, Michael Scott, David A.R. White, Brittany Yost, Roma Downey, Francine Rivers

Cast: Logan Marshall-Green, Abigail Cowen, Nina Dobrev, Famke Janssen, Tom Lewis, Eric Dane, more TBA

Plot summary: Based on Rivers’ bestselling novel, the story takes place against the romantic backdrop of the California Gold Rush of 1850. The story centers on Angel, who was sold into prostitution as a child. She has survived through hatred and self-loathing until she meets Michael Hosea and discovers there is no brokenness that love can’t heal.

Sweet Inspirations (Movie Review)

Image result for sweet inspirations movie

Plot Summary

When four women who feel like they aren’t making a difference through the church events they attend are inspired to somehow help a struggling women’s shelter, they begin an unanticipated journey that takes them to the unlikeliest of places. Their church has recently acquired a dilapidated restaurant, so the four friends take it upon themselves to renovate the establishment in order to use it to raise money for the domestic violence ministry that’s in financial straits. However, things don’t go as they planned, and they must each learn unique lessons about trusting God and not living in their own strength.

Production Quality (2 points)

Although there are some random moments of inadequate production in Sweet Inspirations, such as some instances of shaky camera work and some inconsistent lighting in certain scenes, the movie’s production quality does overall improve as the film progresses. The sets, locations, and props are mostly well-constructed throughout, and the video and audio qualities are up to industry standards. While the soundtrack is a bit generic and the editing sometimes uneven, this is a passable production albeit one that could have gone a bit further than it did.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Sweet Inspirations tries to do a lot in a limited amount of time, and it’s not all bad. It tries to present an interestingly complex storyline about relevant, real-life topics, but the many characters who are used to pull this off tend to crowd each other out and make the narrative go in many different directions at once. Some characters are downright unnecessary while others have relatable personalities and characteristics; the same critiques can be applied to the conversations among the characters as some of them are really meaningful and worthwhile while others are completely pointless and fruitless. Similarly, there are some great messages to embrace in Sweet Inspirations, such as no longer wasting time on useless church activities, waiting on God, not trying to do everything in your own strength, and doing too much ministry work to the point of exhaustion, but some of these are pushed too hard on the audience, and at times, they are undermined by illogical coincidences and unjustifiable character actions that seem condoned by the writers. In the end, the high number of romantic subplots, the desire to cover too many things in one story, and the generally wasted scenes overshadow the otherwise interesting and realistic ending that could have capped off a very good effort. There was a lot going for this movie, but there may have been too many proverbial cooks in the kitchen and not enough trimming before the project moved forward.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

For the most part, the acting of Sweet Inspirations is its strongest point as many of the cast members are comfortable in their roles and realistic in their performances. Though there are some who are trying a bit too hard, they are not as prominent as the better actors and actresses. Also, the emotions are a mixed bag but are overall acceptable. Thus, this rounds out a slightly above-average effort that could have been a bit better.

Conclusion

In the end, Sweet Inspirations would have benefited from taking its own advice that it gave to one of its main characters about not trying to do everything “good” at once and not attempting to accomplish things in their own strength. It’s clear the creators had a lot of intriguing ideas along with meaningful messages, but trying to include all of them alongside too much pedestrian content was this movie’s ultimate downfall. Nonetheless, there is enough positive here to keep many viewers interested, and some audiences will find it to be worth their while.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

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

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

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

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Samson [2018] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Samson was chosen to be a judge of Israel by Yahweh, but he did not always do as he was supposed to do.  He was anointed by God with superhuman strength when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, but when he disobeyed, there were serious consequences.  God used Samson to deliver His people from the oppressive Philistines, and He used an imperfect man to accomplish His will in the most extraordinary ways.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

PureFlix has clearly come a long way since the abysmal production days of The Book of Esther and the half-hearted production of movies like Apostle Peter and the Last Supper.  This newer rendition of Samson boasts a surprisingly high production quality, which is manifested in gritty and realistic elements that are not afraid to make the characters get dirty.  Action scenes are filmed very well with good camera work.  Video quality is crisp, and sets, locations, and props are very well-constructed and culturally authentic.  The editing is also good, but this production is held back from being all that it could be by weird cuts and dramatic zooms that are reminiscent of Revelation Road and by very obvious CGI architectural shots.  However, on the whole, Samson is a huge step forward for PureFlix Bible productions.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Right off the bat, the plot of Samson is hamstrung by immediate and unwanted narration.  Accompanying this story crutch is a typically PureFlix ‘creative license’ that they give themselves to do whatever they want with historical narrative.  As this film was shamelessly pushed as a ‘Christian superhero’ flick, it is full of mostly mindless action scenes and is actually quite violent for a Bible film–even rivaling The Bible miniseries for gory content.  With so many battle scenes and bodies flying around, there is no room for character development as dialogue is instead used to fill time, dump information, and force the story along in the direction the writers wanted it to go in.  In molding the story however they wanted, the PureFlix collective whitewashed the obvious mistakes of Samson the historical figure and made this movie into some kind of romance-revenge plot.  However, in some ways, they made some interesting connections between the true events of Samson’s life, which keeps this section from being zero, but they took too much ‘creative license’ with historical fact to be acceptable.  Regardless, we have no idea who Samson is as a character due to massive time jumps, and the recurring villain character is beyond cheesy.  In the end, plot was basically tossed by the wayside in the making of this pandering film.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Somewhere out there, there is a Christian movie consultant who constantly advises film makers to cast BRITISH people as Middle Eastern characters.  Sure, Middle Eastern cast members can be somewhat difficult to find, but what is the idea behind casting people with such obviously culturally inauthentic accents?  I’m sure with this budget PureFlix could have found some authentic cast members.  This consistent problem aside, the acting of this film is mostly fine except for the overly dramatic moments and forced emotions that are apparent here.  Also, it goes without saying that PureFlix consulted with Timothy Chey on how to give PhilistIne characters the worst possible makeup jobs.  On the whole, this section is average.

Conclusion

What to do with another Bible film?  Samson fulfills the gritty category, and the production is fine, but the other categories are greatly lacking in what is needed.  With a budget this big, better cast members could have been employed and better screenwriters could have been retained.  Then again, it’s doubtful that PureFlix actually cares about making a truly quality film.  Samson was just another attempt at a cash grab–PureFlix adapts with the times as needed to do the bare minimum to get enough audiences to pay for a ticket.  Now most people have forgotten this film even happened.  Oh well.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Silver Bells [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Bruce Dalt is obsessed with his job as a local sports anchor.  He is also obsessed with his son getting a good basketball scholarship.  However, he lets his emotions get the best of him when he gets angry at a referee who made a call on his son, Bruce finds himself in the middle of a public relations nightmare.  His media employer determines that he needs to complete community service before he can come back to his job.  Thus, Bruce is stuck ringing a Christmas bell for the Salvation Army.  Will he be able to learn the true meaning of Christmas?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Silver Bells is a typically professional PureFlix and UP production collaboration.  As such, there are few errors to note here.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is a bit too holiday-ish, but it’s fine.  Sets, locations, and props are also fine, albeit filled with Christmas stuff.  There are also a lot of Salvation Army ‘product placements,’ but at least this is a good ministry to promote.  Finally, there are some small editing issues to note, but on the whole, this is a model production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, despite the influence of Andrea Nasfell, this plot suffers from a bout of forced comedy and cardboard cutout characters, including a stereotypical over the top holiday-hating character that is forced to like Christmas throughout the course of the film.  Also, the holiday-hating character constantly reminds the audience of his unexplained cold attitude towards Christmas.  Thus, the Christian message is quite cheap.  There is unfortunately nothing truly creative in this plot as it seems like it was manufactured in a Christmas plot factory.  Any issues raised are too easily resolved, and even though the Salvation Army has some great causes, it’s not enough to save this story from itself.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Mostly, the lead cast members trying too hard to convince the audience of who their characters are, much like many PureFlix movies.  In doing so, they come off as very disingenuous and plastic.  However, there are plenty of good moments from the supporting cast members that help this section from being nothing.  Emotions are overall average throughout, thus rounding out a nearly-average film.

Conclusion

Films like this one can’t help but be seen as just one made on the assembly line of holiday inspirational films.  If you’re going to reuse an old plot concept, at least make it was accessible and believable characters that audiences can relate to.  As it is, Silver Bells just seems like it’s trying to check the boxes so it can be a packaged made-for-television film.  We need more creativity than this, but the good thing is that Andrea Nasfell has shown that she has the ability to do this when she is supported properly.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

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