Come Unto Me [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Samuel and Mary make their living stealing from others because as young orphans, they have no one to turn to.  However, while on the run from the Romans one day, they are sheltered by a woman they have never seen before.  After talking with her and her carpenter son, Samuel and Mary are intrigued by them and want to know more about them.  Yet little do they know that the woman’s son, Jesus, is about to embark on the ministry work of His Father in order to change the world.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Come Unto Me is the best production yet in this short film series, including high video quality and audio quality, along with great camera work and soundtrack work.  There is still a concerted commitment in this series to use realistic and high quality outdoor locations and props, which is a huge plus.  This is mainly what sets these films apart from your average Bible play movie.  There are really no concerns to point out here except for some small editing concerns pertaining to scenes that overstay their welcome.  Yet on the whole, this is another great production effort that continually shows needed improvement.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, the plot takes a small step back in this film as the cumbersome dialogue returns and Jesus is still portrayed as a lofty and inaccessible individual.  There is also too much talk about off-screen events without showing them.  Indeed, a majority of this film is sitting around talking without developing the characters well enough.  Nevertheless, despite the someone boring progression of the film, there are a lot of interesting ideas here that need further development.  It’s possible that this could only be done in a series format, because the short film series has likely run its course at this point.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The acting remains relatively stable in this third installment as the same positives and negatives as before are present.  Costuming is good, and the cast members are still not completely culturally authentic.  Though there are still some moments of unnecessary drama, this cast is less theatrical than the others, which shows coaching improvements.  Thus, in the end, Come Unto Me rounds out another average film.

Conclusion

The good thing about John Lyde and his team is that they are focused on quality Bible films rather than churning out a bunch of cheap Bible plays.  Thus, they are definitely on the right track here.  Yet it still seems like No Ordinary Shepherd, He Knows My Name, and Come Unto Me are already set up to be a miniseries.  There are already three episodes made—now others just need to be filled in to create continuity.  Series’ and miniseries’ are likely the future of Christian entertainment, so we’re still waiting for someone to step up and show what they can do.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

He Knows My Name (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ever since Rebekah’s father died tragically, Rebekah’s mother has not let her do much of anything.  Rebekah wants to go with her neighbor Isaac to see the miracle-working man named Jesus, but Rebekah’s mother doesn’t trust anyone.  Rebekah is only left to listen to her blind grandfather’s stories about being an innkeeper with no room for a young pregnant couple from Bethlehem.  One day, Rebekah finally gets her chance to meet Jesus and her life is changed forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

He Knows My Name demonstrates production improvement over No Ordinary Shepherd.  There is still some odd lighting in some scenes, the sets, locations, and props are all very high quality, especially the realistic locations.  Likewise, video quality and camera work also demonstrate high quality, along with the audio quality and soundtrack.  There are really only some minor production errors to address here which typically pertain to some editing concerns.  The presence of one too many lagging scenes raises some small issues, but it’s not enough to derail this production.  Improvement is what we look for across time, and this film shows it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Again, we wonder if the plots of No Ordinary Shepherd and He Knows My Name could have been combined somehow, yet this film clearly has a good message and effort behind it.  This second installment is more well-thought-out than the first as the characters are slightly more accessible and less lofty than before.  However, the portrayal of Jesus has still not improved as he seems like a character on another plain of thought from the others.  The dialogue, especially Jesus’, still tends to be a bit archaic and isolating, but there are better attempts here.  Overall, this seems like a more true-to-life story than the first, and it shows a continued effort to improve, which is all we can ask for.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The acting also shows improvement, even though the cast members are still completely culturally authentic.  Yet the realistic costuming is still present and the cast members appear to be more well-coached than before.  There are some small trip ups pertaining to theatrics, but on the whole, this upward trend is encouraging to see.

Conclusion

In many ways, this unofficial short film series plays out more like a miniseries should.  This why I have to wonder if it would do better in a miniseries format rather than a short film format.  Miniseries’ certainly receive more attention than short films.  Besides, we really don’t have a notable Bible miniseries on the market.  With the advent of more streaming service options, there is really no reason why we don’t have more series’ like this.  Perhaps one day we will.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

No Ordinary Shepherd (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Saul is a crippled shepherd boy who longs to meet the mysterious, miracle-working man all of Judea talks about.  Saul remembers the stories his father told him about being a shepherd and witnessing the heavenly host of angels tell him and his friends about the coming of the Messiah.  Saul’s father saw the baby Who was called the Messiah, and wondering if he could be the same miracle-working man everyone talks about.  Little does Saul know that he will be given an opportunity to see Him face to face.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though a lot of good effort was put into this short film, most notably the historically realistic props and locations, there are still some issues that keep it from being all that it could be.  There is too much soft light throughout, as well as one too many dark scenes.  The sets are also somewhat limited.  However, video and audio quality are fine, as well as the camera work and the soundtrack.  Also, the editing is surprisingly good, even though this is almost too short of a film.  In the end, this production shows good effort and is at least average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Sometimes it is better to just make one short idea to get started with film making.  An extended and protracted film can waste a lot of time and resources.  However, since this is such a focused movie with limited time, the characters need to be given a lot more intense attention.  They need to be more accessible rather than a collection of lofty Bible figures that use too much archaic dialogue.  Also, the use of narration should never be used as a crutch in a short film.  In the end, it is clear that this film means well and carries a good message, so the effort is definitely applaudable.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This cast starts out tending to be too theatrical in their delivery and not natural enough in their emotions.  However, there is some improvement throughout, even though the case members are not culturally authentic.  But perhaps this was all they had to work with.  The good thing is that the costuming is realistic and avoids looking like a Bible play.  Thus, this rounds out another average section that demonstrates good effort.

Conclusion

With three installments in this short film series, it seems like they could have been synthesized into one film.  Yet one can understand why a responsible film maker would begin their work with a short film—indeed, there are many films that should also be in the short film category.  Therefore, in the end, this is a commendable film that shows great potential for the future.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Just Let Go [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Chris Williams loves his family, but when they are all either tragically killed or injured in a senseless drunk driving wreck, he struggles with why God would allow such a thing to happen to him and his family.  He and his two sons wrestle with grief, anger, and survivor’s guilt as they try to navigate the new and ugly life they have been given.  Will Chris ever be able to let go and forgive the privileged young man who took his family from him?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Unfortunately, it’s rare you see a production this high quality in the Christian realm.  Video quality, audio quality, and camera work are all what they should be.  The car wreck scenes are constructed excellently, even though this is likely very difficult to pull off properly.  Other sets, locations, and props are also well-created.  The soundtrack is very creative and appropriate.  The only small issue to point out here is a minor editing concern pertaining to some scenes lagging too long.  But in the end, this is a highly respectable production that other films should be modeled after.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

This film is based off of a powerful true story, yet you have to make it all the way to end to make things worthwhile.  The body of the film contains too much heavy-handed narration, as well as a heavy dose of melodrama that is hard to take in.  It’s difficult for the middle of the movie to hold the attention as it is too brooding and contains too many repeated sequences.  Though there is not quite enough dialogue throughout, there are a lot of interesting artistic elements, as well as a realistic portrayal grief, trauma, and mental health.  There are also good psychological and legal elements, but we would have liked to get to know the characters a little better without so much extreme emotion.  Even though the Christian message is unnecessarily muted and vague, the ending is definitely worth waiting for and makes this film what it is.  In the end, this is a great story with a lot of great elements, yet it could have been presented a little bit better.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Much like the production of this film, this cast is quite professional and well-coached.  Though they have some brief moments of being underwhelming and one too many dramatic touches, this is a very wall-cast and well-acted film.  This caps off a respectable and commendable effort.

Conclusion

These types of movies are very frustrating because they have almost everything going for them, yet there are some small issues that keep them from being all that they could be.  There are so many good things that can be learned from a movie like this, and it is definitely something to build off of for the future.  Many audiences will still enjoy this film, and it’s definitely worth your time.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Changing Hearts [2012] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

James Reed is a successful consultant in the big city, glad that he left his rural life behind. However, his old life starts calling him back when his father begins to have health problems, prompting James’ mother, brother, and sister to call on him to come help them run the family business: a rural bed and breakfast.  James returns home, saying he will stay for a week.  When he arrives, he finds his family’s business is not as good as they portrayed it.  But he also finds that he still has feelings for one of the employees there.  Even though James does not want to be home and his brother doesn’t want him there either, the Reed family will have to band together and work hard in order to combat a business rival who wants to buy out the bed and breakfast.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Starting off, Changing Hearts is the typical story of a cheap Christian movie.  The video quality and camera work is the strongest point of the production, giving this movie and good surface feel.  However, as we usually say, there isn’t much past the surface.  The sets are limited to the bed and breakfast building and property and some random ‘big city’ scenes.  There’s nothing creative about the soundtrack and at times, there is loud background noise that overpowers the scene.  There is really nothing to say about the editing—the movie just drags on and until it’s finally done.  Perhaps the worst element of the production is a scene at the end in which a large crowd of people is supposed to be depicted, yet it’s an obvious production blunder, with a handful of people copied over and over again to make it look like a large crowd.  Beyond this, there is nothing obviously wrong with the production of Changing Hearts, but there is nothing dynamic enough to cause it to stand out.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Leading off the previous comments, the plot of Changing Hearts is extremely linear, with no twists or turns or creativity.  It’s a simplistic prodigal son plot done quite poorly.  The characters fit nicely into their predetermined molds: the prodigal character, the angry brother, the parents, the love interest, and the optional villain (in this case, I can sympathize, since it disturbingly reminds me of a real life person).  Little is done to deepen these characters beyond their stereotypes.  Dialogue is not utilized properly and is very vanilla.  Characters are swept along by the inevitable plot that concludes abruptly and predictably.  Life lessons are obviously taught throughout, but not in a way that causes the audience to connect with the real life events.  The plot comes off in such a way that it seems like it takes place in a location outside of real life.  But if it’s meant to be an allegory, it’s not indicated.  In summary, this would have been fine for a first time film if more thought was put into it.  From the get-go, the plot is very limited in scope and potential, so the most needs to be made of every element.  This did not occur, thus warranting zero points.

Acting Quality (1.5 point)

In a strange twist, the acting is the strongest element of this film.  It’s rare that the acting overshadows the other elements; usually acting goes hand in hand with the others.  In this case, the acting is only better because it’s average and the rest of the film is sub-par.  There is nothing glaringly horrible from this cast.  Line delivery is pretty good.  Emotions sometimes seem plastic, but sometimes they are not.  This cast seems like it has a lot of potential, but it only comes out as average.

Conclusion

As time goes on, Christian films like this will unfortunately be forgotten and lost amidst a sea of cheap movies on thrift store shelves and yard sale tables.  It frustrates us to see this sort of potential do to waste.  Despite the uncreative plot, the tools were there to make this movie stand out, at least as a freshman creation.  But unfortunately, Changing Hearts is just another one of those movies that will fade away.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points