Palau: The Movie (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Luis Palau, a world-renowned missionary, had meager beginnings in his life, but this did not hold him back from being all he could be for God. Under the mentorship of key people God placed in his life, Palau brought the Gospel to the countries and locations God laid on his heart and set an example for evangelism. Even today, the impact of his work is still being felt.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

While this is obviously a good idea on paper for a Christian film, it seems like the execution was only partial due to budget constraints. This fact is evident in the limited sets, locations, and props, even though they still demonstrate great attempts at historical and cultural accuracy. The lighting of the scenes is back and forth with indoor scenes mostly poorly lit while outside scenes are fine. The camera work is also acceptable, along with the audio quality. At times, there are background noises, however, and the soundtrack, while culturally authentic, seems forced at times. Further, the editing is somewhat choppy, but on the whole, this production is basically average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As previously mentioned, the story of Luis Palau is a great true story to base a film upon, but the way it was conducted with this rendition wasn’t adequate in fully communicating the important messages therein. From the beginning, the attention of the audience isn’t effectively held due to an overall feel of the film being a sort of docu-drama. This attitude is demonstrated by collections of boring scenes that simply depict characters sitting around or standing while reciting lines. As such, the dialogue isn’t enough to drive the character development to where we can relate to them; we don’t know character motivations well enough even though there are some backstories portrayed. It’s a nice authentic touch to use the original language, but it tends to cloud things when it the whole film already comes off like a collection of Bible study skits. Because of this dynamic, it’s hard to see the characters as anything but representations of ideas, which is a real shame since the movie could have been a true epic story. The time jumps are a disservice both to continuity and proper development of concepts, and it ruins any chance of having central themes or concepts to center the movie around. In the end, this film is mostly benign, which also means it’s not ground-breaking.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While the acting mostly means well, it tends to fall flat due to its vanilla nature. The attempts at cultural authenticity are definitely commendable, but each cast member would benefit from improved coaching. However, it has to be considered that the lack of good written lines puts a damper on their ability to deliver them well. Nonetheless, the smaller cast tends to amplify the errors, and in the end, this is basically an average performance overall.

Conclusion

In summary, it can’t be discounted that commendable effort was made to craft a film depicting an important true story that has impacted thousands of people around the world. Since it’s such an important account, we would have liked to see a much more substantial approach that did it justice and sought to produce a dynamic experience for the viewer. However, the film makers definitely meant well, so it will be interesting to see what they put out next.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

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Dead Man Rising (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Daniel is a death-row inmate awaiting the lethal injection, but he will be one of the first prisoners to receive the new experimental injection drugs. Desperate for an out, he convinces his lawyer to lobby for him to have limited and monitored internet access in order to research the drug in his last days. He is granted this privilege, but a fellow inmate keeps provoking him to research arguments for and against Christianity, and Daniel keeps taking him up on the challenge, even though he has never believed in God. before he knows it, something is changing inside of him, but is it too late?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a more recent film, Dead Man Rising lives up to the expectation of higher production quality, which is evident in the professional camera work and video quality. Audio is also good, even if the soundtrack is a bit generic at times. It’s noted that the sets, locations, and props are relatively limited by the design of the plot, but the props are nonetheless realistic. It’s definitely a better idea to live within your means as far as the production goes rather than to over-extend and look silly. This is really the only issue with this production since the editing is good. Moreover, this limited production design definitely puts more pressure on the plot and characters to deliver…

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

…which they unfortunately do not do as much as they could have. While the plot is a unique idea, it too easily devolves into a boring philosophical conversation between two characters that appears to push a pre-determined agenda a bit too strongly rather than to let things develop naturally. There are also some slightly unrealistic plot circumstances that are designed to make the story happen, even if there are portions of intriguing dialogue that make attempts at character development. However, since there are so few characters, they needed to be developed deeper than they were with more effective flashbacks and clearer character motivations. While there are some attempts at flashbacks, we needed to see more in this area and less in the area of apologetic information dumps that sacrifice precious time that could have been used to increase character growth. We needed a story that tells us about actual people, but we only got half-measured. Nevertheless, the ending is very interesting and effective if you make it that far, but after the wearing apologetic dumps in the middle, many people won’t get to the meaning in the end. Basically, this movie, like most other films, was made or broken by the plot, which didn’t deliver as much as it could have.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, this small cast demonstrates good acting skills even if there are some forced lines and emotions that seem out of context for their situations. Although each cast member assumes his or her respective role well, due to the small size of the cast, each error is more pronounced. There are also some unnecessary yelling scenes that can become wearing. However, as a whole, this is an average performance that rounds out an average film that could have been more.

Conclusion

A common theme in Christian film that few Christian movie-makers have discovered and remedied is that audiences want characters they can relate to as real people. This is done through effective flashbacks and conversations that reveal to us what the character wants, why he does what he does, and how he got to where he is. Filling time with worn-out Christian debate talking points only implies that a film maker doesn’t know how to relate to real people on this level. However, when this trend changes in Christian film and when Christian movie creators begin depicting real characters we can relate to on these levels, that’s when the Christian entertainment field will finally take the culture by storm, which is good food for thought as we begin a new year.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Let There Be Light [2017] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Dr. Solomon Harkins is the rising atheist star bent on destroying the faith of many because of a personal tragedy he endured that tore his family apart.  However, one night while driving drunk, he wrecks his car and has a near-death experience that rocks his worldview and alters his life’s course.  Will he be able to grapple with the new reality he has experienced or will he turn his back on God forever?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Because Sean Hannity has put his money behind this film, its production quality is almost automatically professional.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all flawless.  However, the original soundtrack is a bit much at times.  Nonetheless, sets, locations, and props are all realistic, adequate, and appropriate.  Everything demonstrates great funding and execution—the only nitpicks to raise here pertain to some minor editing concerns, as the film is presented in a choppy fashion.  But in the end, this film goes to show what funding can do to even the worst of Christian films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, big money from a Fox News personality means big message-pushing from that personality’s unusual worldview.  Though there is a tiny amount of potential in this film, it is quickly squashed by Sean Hannity’s ego and his attempts to combat ISIS with a cellphone app.  Dialogue is mostly absurd as characters are required to make a certain number of ISIS references, not to mention advertise Sean Hannity’s ratings.  Besides this, there is too much of a strawman-atheist-has-a-conversion feel to this film and the character arcs are way too steep for reality.  Though there could have been something to this, it just boils down to a hair-brained idea thought up in the Fox News echo chamber.  This is pandering at its finest.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though this cast is mostly professional, it is hurt by over the top theatrics and forced emotional sequences, especially Kevin Sorbo doing his best David A. R. White as an atheist impression.  Granted, some of these lines leave the cast members hamstrung with no hope of making anything good out of it (“Like a selfie for God”).  Overall, the Sorbos do a decent job with this, and it’s great to see them star opposite each other for once.

Conclusion

What is one to do with Sean Hannity?  Struggling film makers need his money to make their films great again, but with money comes long strings attached.  We believe that the original idea of this film meant well—before Fox News product-placed it to death.  This is the age-old dilemma of Christian films (and ministries for that matter).  But money or no money, an idea as absurd as a cellphone app that hijacks your phone’s flashlight feature in order to combat ISIS (even in North Korea!) should never, ever be placed on the big screen.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points