Overcomer [2019] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

A random small town is apparently falling apart due to the local factory closing down, and this decimates a Christian private school’s basketball team and sends the coach spiraling. When he already doesn’t even know what he’s going to do about a team, his superior, the principal, forces him to coach a one-girl cross-country team even though she has asthma! Along the way, he stumbles into a random hospital room containing someone who has surprising connections to the plot! Will he ever learn who he really is in Christ beyond just being a coach?

Production Quality (2 points)

Okay, so, what exactly was this $5 million budget spent on? Much of the production is fairly uninspiring. As usual for the Kendricks, it’s fine and mostly professional-looking, but for reals…all we get from this dollar amount is a bunch of vanilla sets, props, and locations mostly pertaining to people’s houses, a school campus, and lots of running\training footage? The decade-plus career of the brothers who brought Christian film out of the dark ages culminates with this? Besides the overall blah-ness of the layout, tons of time is wasted on nothing special in this film, and the editing seems very disjointed and disorganized. However, much of this could be due to the lack of any substantial plot content…

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

…which makes us wonder what the story actually is here. What are we supposed to focus on? The less than half-an-hour treatise on small towns falling apart? Five minutes of basketball footage? Alex Kendrick getting angry and throwing things? A runner with asthma? A random guy in a hospital? In all actuality, the blind man in the hospital bed is the most worthwhile subplot of the entire film, and it keeps this section from being abysmal, yet we only hear this part of the story through spoken word rather than via effective flashbacks. The only way to fix this film would be the focus entirely on this part of the story (the past and present narratives of the blind man and his interactions with other side characters) through a non-linear plot style. However, we don’t get this in Overcomer as we’re instead left with a very disjointed and disorganized storyline that gives us no opportunity to get to know the characters except that Alex Kendrick’s character is an almost-perfect white guy who has to save a non-white girl. Therein, there are many disturbing themes, such as the white family being overly good as they help the ‘bad’ African American girl; it goes without saying that a very disturbing plot point involves the school principal telling the coach to aid said minority minor in going around and lying to her legal guardian in basically illegal fashions. These actions are painted as good and never receive any consequences because the white characters can do no wrong. It’s too bad that the cross-country athlete character never stood a chance with the poor dialogue written for her character…she’s essentially programmed to respond to the prompts of her Caucasian helpers with little thought of her own. Elsewhere, old Kendrick humor is dying a slow and painful death as cringe-worthy attempts at comedy litter the already-confusing landscape of this storyline. In the end, it’s very difficult to think this plot had any other goals besides pushing propaganda and some kind of weird suburban version of Christianity.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The Kendricks can choose literally anyone to be in their films; some cast members would do it for free, yet Alex insists on continually casting himself in lead roles he can’t pull off. He and Shari Rigby crowd out the runtime of Overcomer with bland and forgettable performances that drown out better skills from supporting (non-white) cast members who are barely given a chance to do anything. For instance, Priscilla Shirer and Cameron Arnett have plenty of acting skills, but we don’t see them as often as we see awkward white people. Aryn Wright-Thompson probably has something to offer if she was ever given a shot to do something besides robotically repeat stale lines. In the end, this section is fine, but it punctuates a surprisingly bad effort from the Kendricks.

Conclusion

Minus the unusual racial undertones and the bizarre condoning of illegal actions, Overcomer is basically a run-of-the-mill church film with a sports twist. Even without the glaring issues, however, this still wouldn’t be acceptable based on where the Kendricks are in the careers. They are basically at the pinnacle of success, coming off their most successful film (War Room), so their budget and advertising resources are clearly vast. They can hire and cast whoever they wish, including actual screenwriters, yet they decided to settle for a well-produced version of Flywheel combined with the worst racial stereotypes found in Courageous to create a blandly vague idea that focuses on forcing messages down the audience’s throats. In the end, it appears as though their refusal to reach out and try different collaborations is causing them to fade into the background of an industry they helped save from the brink.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

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Overcomer (August 2019)

Coming to theaters August 23, 2019

Writer(s): Alex Kendrick, Stephen Kendrick

Director(s): Alex Kendrick

Producer(s): Stephen Kendrick

Starring: Priscilla Shirer, Alex Kendrick, Cameron Arnett, Aryn Wright-Thompson, Shari Rigby, Ben Davies, Elizabeth Becka, Joseph Curtis Callender, Cameron Arnett, Jared Stanley, Christian Gabriel Anderson, Dave Blamy, Jack Sterner, Scotty Curlee, Denise Armstrong, Jessie Gunn, Sam Beman

Plot Synopsis: Life changes overnight for coach John Harrison when his high school basketball team and state championship dreams are crushed under the weight of unexpected news. When the largest manufacturing plant shuts down and hundreds of families leave their town, John questions how he and his family will face an uncertain future. After reluctantly agreeing to coach cross-country, John and his wife, Amy, meet an aspiring athlete who’s pushing her limits on a journey toward discovery. Inspired by the words and prayers of a new-found friend, John becomes the least likely coach helping the least likely runner attempt the impossible in the biggest race of the year.

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

 

Mandie and the Forgotten Christmas (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When she’s sent with her friends to boarding school to become ‘proper ladies and gentlemen’, Mandie Shaw and crew stumble upon an attic full of Christmas secrets of years gone by.  But another girl is determined to get them in trouble for snooping around.  Yet Mandie is equally determined to find out the important information behind a room full of Christmas junk.

 

Production Quality (0 points)

Though there was some effort put in here, Mandie and the Forgotten Christmas embraces its childish identity too much.  The entire production has an overall plastic feel to it, as the video quality looks like it’s been adjusted in post-production.  The lighting is all wrong and camera work is very amateurish.  Some of the audio sounds like it’s been over-dubbed while other parts are very echoed.  The soundtrack is very cheesy and the audience is forced to listen to all kinds of stupid Christmas sound effects throughout.  There is virtually no editing present as the story meanders around aimlessly.  Essentially, the Mandie trilogy has digressed as it has gone on.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

As previously mentioned, there is little to no focus in this plot as the viewer is forced to sit through one choppy scene after another.  The dialogue is very stilted and over-practiced, like a bad church play.  The characters are quite plastic and scream ‘children’s book characters’ with every line and action.  We realize this was adapted from a children’s book, but it doesn’t have to be like this.  The events that happen are not terribly realistic and seem to exist in a magical alternate world.  Also, the ending is as cheesy as can be expected.  Essentially, there’s really nothing good to say here.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Really, what’s the point of casting David Blamy as a different character in this installment than he was in the first two installments?  It’s extremely confusing and gives off the impression that they can’t find anybody else to cast in these films.  Besides this, changing lead actresses in the midst of a trilogy\saga is never a good idea.  In other respects, this cast is really not any good at acting and acting coaching is absent.  As previously mentioned, this is just a bad church play.

Conclusion

As the Mandie series comes to a pathetic conclusion (maybe?), we have to reflect on what was truly accomplished in this saga.  There was some potential early on, but it quickly faded away.  We have to wonder if there was any justification for bringing this books to film, as the movies likely hurt the reputation of the children’s series.  We’re sure that the creators meant well, but maybe some advice seeking was in order.  Ambition is great, but delivering well is even better.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

 

Mandie and the Cherokee Treasure (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Against the wishes of her Uncle John, Mandie Shaw and her friends decide to ‘assist’ him in his quest to find a hidden cave containing lost Cherokee treasure.  But when they stow away on a train for their adventure, Mandie and her friends soon discover that they are not the only ones after the coveted goods.  A mysterious mountain man (?) and two troublemakers are also searching for the cave for their own purposes.  If they are ever going to keep the treasure from falling into the wrong hands, Mandie and her friends will need to procure a scrubber (?) and brave bats and low oxygen levels in the secret mine shaft, using only memorized poetry from some old map to guide them.  Will they be able to get the treasure for themselves or will it fall into the wrong hands?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

It must be noted that Mandie and the Cherokee Treasure is worse than the first installment, Mandie and the Secret Tunnel.  This isn’t good at all for the production team, considering Secret Tunnel wasn’t that great to begin with.  More corners are cut in Cherokee Treasure and the strained budget is painfully obvious.  With such low funding, was this movie even worth making?  The only positive about the production is the diverse sets.  The camera work is amateurish, the video quality is sub-par, and the sound quality is inconsistent.  Background noises litter the landscape, especially in outside scenes.  The soundtrack is hideous and there are obvious continuity errors, such as characters doing one thing before a cut and then doing something different after the cut.  There is an overall unrealistic feel to the movie, including poorly constructed scenes.  The editing is hard to follow, making the storyline confusing.  In short, it’s really hard to even justify the existence of this film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The original novels of Lois Gladys Leppard have been marred by the movie adaptations.  The only shred of positive in the plot is the slightly interesting twist at the end of this film.  Otherwise, it’s unbearable.  Characters are more ridiculous than ever, with childish dialogue and stupid portrayals.  The characters are obvious, exaggerated, and stereotypical.  The storyline is nonsensical and is historically and technologically questionable.  There is no real driving purpose to this movie; the Christian message is either watered down or made to look clownish.  As previously mentioned, the story is hard to follow, defies logic, and isolates the audience into either boredom or light comic relief.  Whatever the writers were going for is unclear; this plot should have never left the storyboarding stage, if they had one.

Acting Quality (0 points)

This film ranks among the worst casting\coaching jobs in Christian film making, flirting with the possibility of negative points.  Line delivery is either lazy or completely overdone.  Emotions are exaggerated to the point of making the viewer believe this is a satire.  Perhaps the most ridiculous element to the acting is the fact that the audience is supposed to believe at first that one of the characters is a man, when they are obviously a woman with terrible acting skills.  It is ‘shockingly’ revealed later that this character was just pretending, but only after everyone has figure it out.

Conclusion

If the creators of this movie were going for a clown show to make fun of the original books, it worked.  If they were not intentionally making a satire, then the creative team needs to seriously reconsider their calling in life and think about how their film making comes off.  It would have been better for movies like this to have never been made, because such films only further contribute to the laughingstock of independent Christian films.  Quality always, always, always matters more than quantity.  Were half of all Christian films never made, we would all be very grateful, especially if we missed out on gems like this one.

 

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

Mandie and the Secret Tunnel (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When her father dies, Mandie Shaw is forced to live with her mother who doesn’t like her.  Therefore, she decides to run away and try to find her elusive Uncle John.  With the help of her Cherokee native friends, she discovers his estate and is taken in by his staff.  However, she receives the devastating news that her uncle is also dead.  After more emotional turmoil, Mandie decides to join in the search for her uncle’s mysterious will in order to determine who is the heir to the estate.  As they do so, however, more and more unusual characters begin appearing, obviously in search of the will for their own gain.  Mandie and her new friends must band together and discover the will before it’s too late.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Mandie and the Secret Tunnel is obviously a low budget production.  Thankfully, the money was at least spent on cameras, for the video quality and camera work are the best production elements.  Otherwise, it’s pretty raw.  There is some potential, however, if you can endure the grating soundtrack, the inconsistent sound quality, the limited surroundings, and the sloppy editing.  When it comes to production, Secret Tunnel is not the worst of the worst, but it really doesn’t have much going for it either.  Yet for a low budget production, it’s definitely commendable.  Were this the weakest area of the film, it would be understandable.  But alas, it’s not.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Adapted from books by Christian children’s author Lois Gladys Sheppard, this should have been an interesting plot.  The premise of the books is unique and definitely deserved a movie.  However, Secret Tunnel just doesn’t cut it.  From start to finish, the plot is confusing and key elements are understated.  Character development is very inconsistent and dialogue ranges from slightly comedic to downright childish.  Every character has a lot of potential that needs deepening.  This could have been a really well-done character-driven plot with witty dialogue, but that ship never sails.  This ‘treasure hunt’ plot sputters and wastes time before jumping to a slightly interesting conclusion.  On its face, this plot should be way better than it is.  Low budget production can be excused, but bungling an above average plot like this one is inexcusable.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Probably the worst element of this film, the acting is very poorly coached, if at all.  It seems like this cast has potential and could even be funny, but they have no clear direction and just say things awkwardly.  A handful of them are quite professional on their own, the rest really drag down the score.  Emotional delivery is inconsistent and at times, the delivery of lines if very forced.  Overall, casting needed a rework.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, Secret Tunnel is forced to join the ranks of movies that wasted good ideas.  Christian novels should be adapted to more movies than they are, but it must be done so properly.  For a first film, we are likely to excuse production errors that pertain to poor funding, but bungling a plot and poorly coaching a cast are fundamental errors are all levels of movie-making, no matter how much money is sunk into the project.  If you are a Christian film maker or an aspiring one, please heed this advice: before charging ahead for the sake of making another Christian movie, take time to work on your plot, making the characters deep and believable and the plot as realistically complex as possible.  For a virgin voyage, cheap production can be excused; just make sure your plot is sound and your cast doesn’t ruin your film.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

A Long Way Off [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jake Abraham feels stifled in his life.  Even though he has a guaranteed job working for his father’s successful farming business, he never has enough.  His conflicts with his brother and desire to experience the world drive him to quit his job and ask his father for his inheritance.  His father gives him what he wants, thus sending Jake on a quest to acquire all the pleasure he can get and to use his money to make a name for himself in ‘important’ circles.  But no matter how many perks he buys for himself and how many rich people he hangs out with, nothing ever satisfies the hole in his soul.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

For starters, the most positive element of this movie’s production is the clear video quality.  This make the movie look good on the surface.  However, the beauty is only skin deep, so to speak.  The camera angles are confusing at times and the editing is isolating.  There are many unnecessary scenes of characters walking around and staring.  Some scenes seem like they were not properly cut for the final draft.  The sound quality is inconsistent; some scenes are substantially quieter than others.  In addition, there is an unprecedented number of eccentric product placements that are no doubt funding this low quality production.  In short, it’s just the same song, different verse for an independent Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

There are interesting nuggets of quality mired in this cheap plot.  The integration of a famous parable into a semi-believable real world situation is noble.  However, it gets washed away in a river of wasted time.  In an attempt to be realistic, there are too many suggestive elements that could have been presented in a more tasteful manner without tarnishing the movie.  The characters are very shallow and wooden, prodded by cheap and cheesy dialogue that was obviously not edited or proofread.  The end is very rushed, leaving some characters and subplots in awkward positions.

Acting Quality (0 points)

A majority of the actors are very awkward.  Their lines seem very forced and intended comedy falls flat.  Some lines are downright perplexing and seem impromptu.  Jason Burkey has been better in other movies, which reflects the lack of acting coaching in A Long Way Off.  Robert Amaya is a fine actor, but he only has two scenes.  Some alleged fight scenes have a Three Stooges feel to them.  Unfortunately, there is nothing good to say here.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, this type of movie is becoming the norm in Christian movie circles.  Creators have seeming good ideas and intentions and decide to rush a direct-to-DVD release, funded by quasi-Christian product placements.  No time or thought are given to developing a quality plot with realistic characters, and no care is taken to coach the actors.  The production is sloppy en route to forcing another Christian movie into the market.  These ill-advised actions only further hurt the cause of Christian movies, lowering overall quality and causing people to laugh at whatever Christians make.  It’s time for someone to stand up and end this assembly line production and replace it with truly quality Christian movies that can be upheld rather than shunned.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

War Room (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Elizabeth Jordan, on the surface, has an ideal life—a good job, an expensive house, a husband with a high salary, and a nice daughter.  However, something isn’t right, something is just missing.  She can’t really seem to get along with her husband anymore, he seems distant and preoccupied with other women, and she barely knows her daughter anymore.  Everything changes for Elizabeth when she meets her new realty client, Miss Clara.  Miss Clara subtlety pricks into Elizabeth’s personal life just enough to make Elizabeth interested in finding out what Miss Clara’s secret to happiness is.  After talking long enough, Elizabeth discovers that her life is not alright and that Miss Clara’s secret weapon is worth a try.  The secret weapon?  A war room, or a prayer closet.  Miss Clara teaches Elizabeth to fight for herself and for her family on her knees so that God can fight for her rather than her fighting for herself.  Little did they know that the battle had only begun.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

In the same vein as Courageous, the production quality of War Room is high.  Despite this being the first Kendrick movie away from Sherwood Baptist Church, nothing in the area of production quality changed between Courageous and War Room.  While there are no real action scenes in War Room, the diversity of sets is still present.  The soundtrack fits into the film neatly.  The editing and the production give the movie a close to home feel, which seems to be what the creators were going for.  In short, this is business as usual for the Kendricks.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The plot of War Room follows a typical non-linear Kendrick plot with minor twists and turns—one that defies conventional plot structure.  In the beginning, the plot depicts realistic struggles of accessible characters paired with a clear Christian message, which is a hallmark of the Kendrick brand.  Dialogue is mostly effective in building character motive and driving character arcs, and the message is obviously a powerful one, but there is a point where the storyline of this film overstays its welcome through multiple moments that seem like the end and through stop-and-start sequences that lag on a bit too long with the purpose of driving home how the characters have become seemingly perfect.  Thus, while there is plenty of good in this plot and while there is no doubt of the film’s success, we needed a bit more realism in the arcs of the characters.  However, the message of War Room is still worthwhile.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

In the first movie away from the Sherwood acting pool, there are no concerns here.  The actors behave just as all actors do under the tutelage of a Kendrick movie crew.  The delivery of lines is solid and the emotions are believable.  This type of movie is heavily dependent on the acting quality, and they did not disappoint.  A continued under-appreciated aspect of Kendrick films is their commitment to diversity of casting.  This is huge, since Christian movies should be better than mainstream movies.

Conclusion

The Kendricks have a brand, and they are sticking with it.  War Room feels like a redux of Fireproof with better cast members and a less textbook message, but the up-and-down career of the Kendricks continues in this rendition.  They know their audience, they have the marketing skills down, and they have the name recognition to basically do whatever they want from here on out and still have box office success.  War Room takes another spot on the Hall of Fame, but we have to wonder if the Kendricks will branch out in their post-Sherwood career or if they will continue to churn out more high-quality but safe films.  We are banking on the latter, but we will be looking for them to do something more creative in their next film.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points