Shifting Gears [2018] (Movie Review)

Image result for shifting gears christian movie

Plot Summary

Tom has worked hard to become a regional manager, which is why he’s so disappointed when his self-absorbed boss lets him know that he needs a four-year college degree to achieve this position. Frustrated, Tom quits on the spot and decides to look into the property he inherited from his recently deceased father. His wife convinces him to take on his father’s old gas station business as their new source of income. Will they be able to handle the new business while patching up hidden family issues?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

One thing that can be said for newer Christian films, especially those in the last few years: no matter how forgettable or lame the plot is, the productions are absolutely getting better. Shifting Gears has a fine production without many issues, as evidenced by good video quality and camera work. For the most part, audio quality is fine, even though there are some loud portions of the soundtrack and some annoying sound effects, but these are the only issues with the production. It’s clear that time is spent on all aspects of the production, especially the sets, props, and locations that make this movie better than it would be without it. Overall, since the editing is also respectable, this is a high-quality production that unfortunately went wasted.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

As such, it’s very hard to understand the actual purpose of this plot as it meanders around peppered with head-scratching cliches and under-developed characters. It borrows a lot of elements from a typical sports underdog plot combined with a return to hometown plot, which implies that there’s nothing creative going on here. The forced and cringe-worthy comedy elements and asides waste valuable time that could have been used to craft better dialogue, but we are only left with cheesy half-measures. The story is based on too many coincidences, and the Christian message comes off as plastic and manufactured. As many of the scenes are downright eye-rolling and funny for all the wrong reasons, it goes without saying that there is little to no point in making this movie with a plot this bad.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While some cast members are fairly over the top with their performances, they aren’t all bad since some of them are somewhat professional and seasoned in their work. However, some of the cast members are trying way too hard to be funny most of the time, and many emotions come off as painfully forced. Even so, despite the awkward and unsure moments, there are also plenty of good moments that make up for these, and this overall makes this an average section, which rounds out a below-average film.

Conclusion

It’s difficult to see all this good production go to waste when films that have better plots have worse productions. This is the plague of independent Christian film: if one thing works, another thing doesn’t. The cause of this is obviously a lack of proper collaboration. The writers need to be the writers, and the directors need to be the directors. Until creative-minded Christians lay down their differences and begin working together more, nothing much will change, unfortunately.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

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The Genesis Code (Movie Review)

The Cosmic Clock is ticking

Plot Summary

Blake Truman is a hockey star at his small school, Madison College, but he is an agnostic who doubts parts of the Bible, such as the Creation Account, because his mother lies in the hospital in a cancer coma.  However, Kerry Wells, a journalism student whose adviser keeps pestering her about joining the New World order, has been assigned to write a human interest piece on the star hockey player, which forces them to have awkward conversations about their beliefs and stuff they’ve done in life.  Kerry’s brother Marc, a spastic Physics major, also has his doubts about the Bible because he has trouble believing the literal Six-Day Creation theory.  Nevertheless, when Kerry’s father (the local pastor) tells her to read a random verse at dinner time (beef casserole night), she gets an idea of how Marc can use Quantum Physics theories to prove the essential doctrine of the literal Six-Day Creation.  Along the way, a whole bunch of other stuff happens, but you can see where this plot is obviously going.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

With $5 million spent on this glorified docu-drama, it’s no wonder the production was at least above average.  Camera work and video quality are on par with what they need to be, even if there is some poor audio throughout.  The soundtrack is fairly pedestrian, but sets, locations, and props are on industry standards.  There is some cheesy animation in some parts, and the editing is very choppy and disjointed, but it was likely very difficult to handle this large amount of unrelated content.  Overall, this production is fine, but there are plenty of other problems to discuss.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

Where to begin?  For one thing, it was very ill-advised to attempt to make this confusing conglomerate of scientific theories and message-pushing into a film.  The movie begins with lengthy sports montages and awkward conversations that showcase a total lack of proper dialogue.  This stilted dialogue causes the characters to be very mindless, and it goes without saying that this ‘story’ is extremely disorganized and schizophrenic in its presentation.  Trying to bundle Christmas, sports, stupid college stuff, the cancer plot, and the Christian-needs-to-use-arguments-to-convert-skeptic-characters storyline all into one film is just cutting yourself off at the knees before you even start.  Besides this, the “woe-is-us-we-have-first-world-persecution” complex that is evident throughout the film is grating and obnoxious.  The characters ride a ridiculous string of coincidences to lead them to “solve” the non-essential doctrine of Young-Earth Creationism by using deceptive theories masked as fact to attempt to reconcile the alleged divide between science and the Bible.  In doing so, a large portion of the movie is spent on quantum physics lectures that utilize flimsy comparisons and childish object lessons to drive home a questionable theory that does not need to be presented as scientific fact.  If this wasn’t bad enough, the cast of characters is replete with strawman non-Christian characters that possess the most absurd and ridiculous worldview-pushing lines.  It goes without saying that the predictable romantic and disease subplots run their expected course as they are padded with forced-humor filler scenes and useless flashbacks to things that just happened in the movie.  It all crashes to a predictable yet head-scratching conclusion that does very little to accomplish its goals of converting more people.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Logan Bartholomew and Kelsey Sanders post very weak lead performances, and a majority of the acting is very very dry, empty, mindless, awkward, and forced.  Line delivery is disjointed, and emotions are overly practiced.  Humor is extremely forced and annoying.  Overall, there is very little good to say about this disaster of a film.

Conclusion

The Genesis Code gets the honor of received a -1 X Factor Point just for being especially ridiculous.  This is a lesson that it is better to shy away from movie titles involving the word “code” coupled with the name of a book of the Bible (or a Bible-ish concept like The Omega Code).  Also, the important lesson that can be learned from this train wreck is that the God’s Not Dead-style of preaching to the choir and pretending to want to convert people with arguments is a dead end road.  Movies like Genesis Code expose the deeper problem among most Christian circles: a lack of understanding about real people.  People matter more than scientific theories, well-crafted arguments, or polished theology, no matter how true they may be.  Thus, it is extremely important to give audiences real and relatable characters that have realistic and accessible lives, choices, and motivations.  Until this happens on a consistent basis, Christian film (and Christian culture as a whole) will still be stuck in neutral.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

 

A Question of Faith [2017] (Movie Review)

Have you donated your organs today?

Plot Summary

When David Newman’s son dies tragically from a texting and driving accident, the doctors come around looking for his son’s organs to harvest so they can save a dying white girl who has a budding musical career ahead of her.  David is trying to take over head pastor duties from his Scripture-reading-robot father, but the pressure is too much, especially when his wife fully embraces advocating for organ donation in the schools.  Kate Hernandez feels like she has no hope left when her daughter is thrown into jail for texting and driving, but somehow, all of these characters come together in the end in an underserved church sing-off so they can feel good about themselves again.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Despite past production snafus, Kevan Otto has found himself more financially successful in A Question of Faith due to PureFlix’s assistance.  This newfound funding has paid off, as there are very few errors in this production.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all professional.  The soundtrack leaves something to be desired, but it’s not that significant.  Sets, locations, and props are all appropriate and well-constructed.  The biggest issues to point out here are some small editing issues due to the confusing plot presentation.  Yet when you compare this great production with the plot that accompanies it, it’s like daylight and dark.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

Kevan Otto has not lost his unusual storylines of old, yet A Question of Faith manages to somehow be worse than WWJD, Lukewarm, Online, and Decision.  Even though it seems like on its face that this movie is going to be a ninety-minute public service announcement on the dangers of texting and driving, the plot actually has a very sick and twisted obsession with organ donation.  Don’t get me wrong—organ donation is fine if you want to do that, but trying to force the issue like this is downright strange and off-putting.  Combine that with the plastic and empty portrayal of Christians (as usual) and basically no substantial dialogue, this plot is a real doozy.  Time is wasted on meandering ideas that have no real purpose or focus except to be threaded together by that annoying guy who’s always slapping Bible verses on everyone’s problems.  Tragedies are treated very lightly and callously, thus warranting some of the characters to ask other characters if they even care, which is a valid point.  In the end, the only purpose to this film is to push public service announcements and strange causes and culminates in a ridiculously endless sermonizing concert sequences that rivals God’s Not Dead.  Needless to say, Kevan Otto still hasn’t learned anything.

Acting Quality (1 point)

A lot of these cast members are fearfully lifeless, but then again, they really don’t have much to work with in the line department.  Emotions are bland and most performances are very stock.  T. C. Stallings always posts above average performances, but everyone else seems lost and confused.  It seems like the idea here was to paste a bunch of ‘big name’ cast members into this movie and hope it stuck.  It didn’t work.

Conclusion

These days, all you have to do to get a large budget signed off on your film is a random cause, some recognizable cast members, and maybe a big musical number.  Don’t get us wrong—it’s extremely important to promote great causes in films—but this isn’t the way.  Even if this was a palatable cause, it’s not presented well at all.  None of these characters are able to be related to as people; they’re just pawns in an obvious money-making game.  Any opening weekend hype surrounding this film is sure to die away as Christian audiences once again quietly wonder where all the good Christian movies are.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Escape [2012] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Following a tragedy in their lives, doctors Paul and Kim Jordan decide that it’s time for a change of scenery.  Therefore, they accept an opportunity to leave their American comfort behind in order to serve a struggling medical clinic on the streets of Thailand.  All seems well until Paul follows a mysterious local boy in order to help a patient unable to come to clinic, only to find himself captured by local traffickers in need of his medical expertise.  Separated from his wife, who begins to beg the local authorities for help, Paul seeks moral from his fellow captor, who brings him face to face with the God he has been running from all his life.  Together, they must not only plan to escape with their lives, but they must contend with the problem of suffering and how God works in the world.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For a modest budget, Escape boasts plenty of positive qualities.  The camera work is above average, as is the video and sound quality.  Though the sets are slightly limited, they are authentic and the crew did good with what they had.  The action scenes are well-produced and do not give the appearance of a cheap production.  The only caveat here is some indie-ish elements that are very minor and easy to pass over.  In short, there is nothing flashy here, but the production quality is solid.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Escape explores a genre that is unfortunately often unique to Christian films: suspense adventure.  It would have been easy for the plot to come off as shallow and cheesy due to reliance on action sequences, but this did not happen.  The plot is simple yet profound; the plot twists are straightforward and while it does not necessarily make waves, it does not crash and burn.  The dialogue is solid, which leads to good character development.  With the small amount of characters in a limited area, their success is key.  They pass the test.  The only issues to bring up here are the small scope of the plot and the overall simple feel of the movie.  Some parts at the beginning could have been better explored.  In the end, the plot is refreshing and the end somewhat unexpected.  The crew delivered with limited resources, which is a win.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The acting quality is overall professional, with only some minor errors.  The cast is small, but they do not commit errors that completely derail the movie.  They carry the movie well as they have obviously been coached well.  Some of them seem slightly inexperienced, but it is not a big deal.  The good thing is that real Asian actors are used rather than forcing white people to seem Asian, as some low cost productions do.  Overall, Escape is well-acted.

Conclusion

Escape receives half an x-factor point for dealing with the problem of pain in a very appropriate and poignant manner.  This philosophical issue is explored through dialogue and is not shoved down the viewers’ throats.  The bottom line is that while Escape is a very simple movie, it is also very deep.  Rather than exploring a broad scope, the writers chose quality over quantity.  The action elements make for a unique Christian movie and do not detract.  In short, Escape is an underrated Christian film that deserves applause.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 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