If You’re Gone (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Brad and Lillian believed that they were meant to be together forever.  When Brad graduates from high school, Lillian believes this will not affect their relationship as she has one more year to go.  However, on the night of the graduation, Lillian’s life is changed forever when Brad disappears for days without contacting anyone.  The town searches for him and holds vigils for him, but nothing ever comes of it all as the months go by with no word about Brad’s whereabouts.  Lillian’s emotions collapse as she can think of nothing else besides the future life she thought she had.  Will she be able to pick herself back up and remember the faith she claims to have had?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

After several years of trial and error, the production efforts of husband-and-wife movie team John and Brittany Goodwin have paid off.  Though If You’re Gone had a modest budget, it was allocated very well.  This is evident in the professional video quality and camera work.  The soundtrack is a very good original creation, and the audio quality is spot-on.  Sets, locations, and props, though somewhat limited, are utilized very well.  The only minor issues to point out here that keep this production from being perfect are some inconsistent lighting and some slight editing issues, but as a whole, this is a very professional production that gives great hope for the future of Every New Day Pictures.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Based on the original novel from the Goodwins, If You’re Gone delivers a unique plot and a compelling message.  Though the story can be a bit slow at times, there are some great conversations and dialogue throughout that seek to build characters.  However, there were still some missed opportunities to use dialogue to deepen characters just a tad more since this is a character-based story with only a handful of characters.  These missed opportunities are most evident in the middle of the film as it appears to only serve to fill time with montages and somewhat repeated scenes in order to get to the ending.  Though some audiences may not hold on for the end, the conclusion is definitely worth the wait as it contains an unexpected twist combined with a very unique and empowering message that one does not see very often in Christian film.  This ending is very much worth your time, but it would have been even better to see some flashbacks in the middle of the film that helped us to further understand why the characters did what they did and that expanded upon the family of origin issues that were touched on.  This story was clearly written for the excellent ending, so it would have likely been Hall of Fame if the lead-up was more engaging.  Even still, some will find this movie to be worthwhile and interesting.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, the cast of If You’re Gone appears to be well-coached as each cast member does a good job assuming his or her respective role quite well.  Masey McLain is always a great lead, but it might have helped for her to have further support since some cast members come off as a bit weak and detracting from the overall score.  However, emotions and line delivery are above average as a whole, which rounds out this film very well.

Conclusion

The Goodwins have persevered for several years in pursuit of the greatest film, and they have a unique opportunity to create their own source material by writing it before making their own films out of it.  They have always been close to the mark, and with If You’re Gone, they have come even closer.  Production is in a good spot for them, and acting is nearly perfect.  The next step forward for their team is to ensure stronger plots to accompany their great messaging.  Writing stories can be difficult, so it may be a good opportunity to adapt other source material as well since the Christian fiction world is replete with options.  In summary, If You’re Gone is definitely a good film, and the Goodwins are one step away from true greatness.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

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Wesley [2009] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In 1732, John Wesley had fully embraced the religious piety of English Christianity, but his life was changed forever when he was assigned to be a missionary to the American Natives in the colony of Georgia.  He always strived to be what he considered to be a perfect Christian, but his world was transformed when he encountered real people and was forced to come face to face with God’s grace and love for all humanity.  Only then did John Wesley become the spiritual giant he is known as today.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The production of Wesley is very rough at the beginning, including a lot of dark scenes and an obvious use of poorly disguised fake background, as well as some cheap special effects.  Also, there are some moments of odd video quality.  However, regardless of these struggles, there is a concerted effort in this film to demonstrate historical authenticity, especially through the use of realistic sets, locations, and props.  Also, audio quality is fine throughout the film.  Though there are some awkward cuts and transitions, this is at least an average production and is likely good for the limited funding.  With a little more honing, this creative team could be exemplary.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Since this is based on an engaging true story, this plot already has a lot going for it.  This historical account was definitely worth portraying in film, and there are many attempts even in the story to preserve authenticity.  The use of flashbacks is also effective.  While dialogue is good, it could be better and more meaningful.  As it is, it tends to make the characters too stuffy.  Yet the characters tend to improve as they go on, and the characters definitely experience realistic circumstances.  In the end, this plot is actually better than a lot of plots out there and is certainly worth your time.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The strongest point of this section is likely the historically realistic costuming.  At first, the cast members tend to be too theatrical in their performances, including some forced emotions and lines.  However, there is definite improvement throughout in the acting, which makes for an overall average performance.  In short, there are plenty of good points in the film, yet it tends to be tripped up by little things.

Conclusion

We definitely need more engaging historical Christian films, and this creative team is definitely on the right track with films like Wesley and Newton’s Grace.  With a little bit of tweaking in some parts, along with better funding and acting coaching, this team could soon be going places.  Even so, their movies are at least worth a watch and tend to bring a different perspective to Christian film.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Find a Way [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a locally popular high school football player and role model is taken to the hospital with sudden medical complications, the entire small town finds themselves lost and confused.  The head coach’s family is having hidden problems and other families are suffering from hidden secrets and sins.  The school counselor tries to help wherever anyone will let him, but most people will not let him into their world.  However, slowly but surely, walls begin to come down so that healing can start.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For the most part, Find a Way is a professional production.  Camera work is mostly good, even though there are some random moments of shakiness.  Audio quality is in the same boat, with some inconsistency and a stock soundtrack.  Yet sets, locations, and props are highly professional and well-constructed.  Editing is also fairly good, which is a change from the norm in independent inspirational films like this one.  Overall, this is a respectable effort that could be a stepping stone to greater things.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, Find a Way does fall into the typical pitfalls of independent film making when it comes to its plot.  This story is somewhat limited from the start, but it contains interesting ideas and realistic circumstances that need further development.  It sometimes has a one-track mind and wastes a lot of time on trite asides, which stunts character development and makes them one-dimensional.  Sometimes it is difficult to discern what this story is supposed to be about due to the multiple under-developed subplots presented here.  There are important issues explored here pertaining to broken families, but they are not handled very well due to lack of real focus.  Also, all the problems are basically solved in unrealistic fashions, which teaches the audience nothing.  It’s sad to see reality cheapened because this story could have been really interesting.  But once again, we are left wondering what could have been.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though sometimes lines are mumbled and some actors and actresses are awkward, this cast posts mostly professional performances.  Emotions are believable and each cast member seems to fit their character well.  This is another respectable effort that could be a sign of greater things to come.

Conclusion

Find a Way is one of those frustrating movies that contain s creative and realistic ideas that will likely never really be seen by a wide audience because it will be lost in the endless swirl of independent Christian films that are constantly being produced.  It is not bad enough to be remembered for its badness and it’s not good enough to truly make a difference.  But perhaps this is only the beginning of good things still to come from this creative team.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 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

 

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

 

Movies That Are So Bad They’re Not Even Worth Our Time, Christmas Edition (MTASBTNEWOT Christmas)

In our vast Christian entertainment viewing experience, we sometimes come upon films that we can hardly justify writing a full review for.  Therefore, for your convenience, so you don’t have to go watch those free films that invade your suggested watch list in on-demand video services, we’ve provided a quick overview here.  For now, here’s a collection of Christmas films that fall into this category.

 

It’s very hard to explain

Beverly Hills Christmas

This is barely a Christmas movie at all except that it’s based on the typically bizarre magic premise you find in many knockoff holiday films.  Dean Cain and a Meryl Streep lookalike star in this movie that’s filled with wacko works-based theology and abstract vague fantasy lingo and concepts.  Apparently some dead woman has to get into heaven by making her spoiled brat daughter act good, so she decides to bring a nice kid back to life by shooting lightning into his skull even though Dean Cain told her not to touch people.  It’s a shame this off-the-wall movie wasted a decent character arc and a remotely interesting idea.

 

Look, a rose!

Natalie’s Rose

Also barely a Christmas film (or a Christian one), this time about a horse named—guess what—Rose.  Basically, this movie wastes an hour of your time on farm footage and sitting around talking before coming to the shocking conclusion: the horse is a “special” horse that turns into a rose.  [ENTER GIANT FACEPALM HERE].  No joke.  The production is terrible and most people won’t even make through the entire slogfest to see the main character having hallucinations about glowing horseback riders at night.  How this garbage gets made is beyond us.

 

DAX!

The Heart of Christmas

When you use kids with cancer as props and parade vain Christian actors and actresses in front of the camera in some kind of lame attempt to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in a shameless commercial soliciting you for money, we don’t have much respect for you.  Sure, St’ Jude’s does some great things and helps families in need, but can’t we just have a normal movie without all the advertising, drama, and pageantry?  They didn’t even try to make this true story a realistic plot.  It’s really shameful when you have characters telling you to make donations.

The Shunning [2011] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Katie Lapp’s life is about to change.  As a young Amish woman, she is coming of age and has been chosen by Hickory Hollow’s bishop to be his wife in order to raise his two children following the death of his wife.  But Katie is struggling with her Amish identity and wonders if there is another life for her outside of Lancaster County, as she secretly plays non-Amish music on her worldly guitar.  She also misses her true love, Daniel Fisher, after his tragic death.  What’s more, a mysterious Englisher woman has been asking around Lancaster County for Katie by name.  Everything comes to a head as Katie finally must choose between the life she has grown up in and the life she wants to find outside of Hickory Hollow.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The Shunning has all the typical marks of a Michael Landon Jr.\Brian Bird production: good video quality, professional camera work, vanilla editing, a clichéd setting and surroundings, and unrealistic costuming.  Landon Jr. and Bird have always known how to invest in quality camera work and video quality, but they unfortunately let too many other things fall by the wayside.  This plot is sleepy enough as it is, but the editing does nothing to help this fact.  Slow transitions between scenes and long fadeouts tempt the viewer to fast forward.  There are also too many scenery sequences that could have been used instead to build characters.  Also, it’s really hard to know if the portrayal of the Amish in this film is realistic or if it’s embellished.  Yet there are enough positive elements to lift this production about average status, but we await the day when the Landon Jr.\Bird team finally goes all the way, as they clearly have the means to do.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from Beverly Lewis’ popular novel by the same name, The Shunning just carries the entire identity of a stereotypical Amish plot.  As previously mentioned, some of the elements are likely realistic, but we can’t help but think that some real Amish people would feel offended by some of the portrayals.  There is little meaningful plot content as this film is obviously just setting up for the second installment of the trilogy.  Character development is shallow and dialogue is vanilla.  If so much time was going to be spent on preparing for the next film, it was an absolute must for characters to be deep and meaningful by the time the credits rolled.  Unfortunately, this did not happen.  On the brighter side, the use of flashbacks in this film are effective and creative.  The subplot overlay is intriguing and breathes new life into the film about halfway through.  Overall, while there are some interesting points, this plot really doesn’t hold the attention and it’s difficult to know what audience this movie would draw interest from.  As we’ve mentioned in the past, Landon Jr. specializes in bringing Christian novels to the big screen, but too often, the books are better than the movies.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

With obviously practiced ‘Amish’ accents, dialogue from the cast members is often hard to understand without captioning.  Yet the acting is not terrible and is sometimes quite good.  Emotions are sometimes over the top and other times realistic.  It’s not that this movie was cast wrong—they are not coached good enough.  Therefore, this is just another average contribution to the movie.

Conclusion

The Shunning is one of those movies that, when analyzed, is really not that bad, but it carries an intangible air to it that makes it extremely forgettable.  Landon Jr. and Bird have the ability and potential to make a huge difference in the Christian\inspirational movie field, but they constantly settle for second best.  There are plenty of other more meaningful, creative, and complex Christian novels that desperately need to be made into screenplays, and Landon Jr. and company have demonstrated the willingness and ability to do this.  What Christian film needs is game changers, not the status quo keepers.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Jimmy [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jimmy Mitchell is a special boy.  Though he is afraid of water, he is able to see angelic beings known he calls ‘Watchers’ all over his small mountain town.  His father is a defense attorney and his mother is a clerk at the local courthouse, so Jimmy is not unfamiliar with the legal process.  But he is still unsure of what to do when he overhears one of his father’s clients planning to commit a crime, even though he has been recently acquitted.  Jimmy must determine whether or not he is going to overcome his fear to do the right thing no matter what.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As is the custom for Whitlow Films, the production quality of Jimmy is above average.  The camera work is solid and the camera work is mostly good.  The video quality and sound quality are good, but not great.  The sets, locations, and props are authentic.  Overall, there is not much else to be said here—the production of Jimmy is neither extremely negative nor game-changing.  However, it is a step above most Christian films and is likely the best they could have done with the resources available.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from another Robert Whitlow book, the plot of Jimmy is solid for a down to earth small town story.  The characters are true to life and their emotional struggles are real.  Unfortunately, the book’s plot is more dynamic than that of the movie’s.  The adaptation is not fully complete and the movie seems subdued and muted.  There is nothing glaringly wrong with the plot of Jimmy, but it just doesn’t make it past the average mark.  In addition to this, to no one’s surprise, Whitlow elected to use the alternate ending of the novel for the movie.  We felt that the alternate ending is what makes the book as creative as it is.  Without it, the storyline seems incomplete.  Therefore, as is reflected by the score, Jimmy is reduced to an average plot.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The acting is the strongest point of this film.  The film is well-cast and the actors and actresses are well coached.  The only thing that keeps this portion from being perfect is its lack of excellent quality.  The acting is great, but not excellent.

Conclusion

Jimmy is a heartwarming film that portrays special needs people in a very good way.  Though Robert Whitlow sometimes tends to be too sensational, Jimmy avoids this pitfall.  It contains creative conceptions of what special needs people may experience.  The bottom line is that the important message of this film should not be missed: all people deserved to be treated as humans created by God.  Thankfully, this message is not marred by awful production like many Christian films.  It is only too bad that Jimmy was not dynamic enough to make the Hall of Fame.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points