Movie Renovation: God’s Not Dead

See original review here.

 

Production Improvements

There are really few production errors to note in the first God’s Not Dead film.  The primary issue with this production is, of course, the editing, due to the large and complex amount of content that is attempted to be used in this film.  Thus, if the plot categories were improved, the editing issue would likely also improve.

Plot and Storyline Improvements

The plot of God’s Not Dead needs some serious work.  For one, there are too many ideas shoved into one two-hour film.  A lot of these ideas really need to be movies of their own, such as the Muslim family subplot and the Chinese student subplot.  The blogger character and all of her connections (Dean Cain, the Robertsons, etc.) need to be deleted completely.  The woman with dementia is an interesting aside, but it needs better development.  Pastor Dave and his connections really wouldn’t be missed either; this area might be better if it was altered.  Finally, the portrayal of the atheist professor is noteworthy and better than most, but it still could be better and less over the top.  The “character who is an atheist because their mother died of cancer” trope is a bit thin.  Also, there are obviously instances of anti-Christian bias in academia, but this story could have been a bit more down to earth.  Thus, with a lot of separation, editing, organization, and focus, this plot could have pushed the film into the Hall of Fame.

Acting Improvements

While the acting of the original God’s Not Dead is actually a major improvement over most PureFlix casts, it still isn’t perfect.  For one, David A. R. White and Tommy Blaze rarely need to be acting.  Trisha LaFache is average at best and needs serious coaching.  Dean Cain should probably never be cast again.  Kevin Sorbo has his place, but not as a raging professor.  Otherwise, this cast is fine.

Conclusion

There was a reason the beginning of the God’s Not Dead saga was so popular, and it wasn’t because of its portrayal of atheists.  It has a lot of intriguing content and a lot of ideas that need further exploration in different venues.  Trying to lump all of it together in one film was a disappointment.  However, it was the first time PureFlix actually proved they could be at least somewhat responsible with their budget, including a high-quality production.  Perhaps one day someone will use some of the half-baked ideas of God’s Not Dead for greater purposes.

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Lucky’s Treasure (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

May Landis knows there’s a coin hidden somewhere on her property, and she spends her life looking for it, much to the chagrin of her husband, Henry.  However, one day, May is sure she has found it, but she pays for it dearly.  Henry is sent into depression and drinking following his wife’s untimely death and is reluctant to take in his granddaughter Emily when she comes to live with him to go to college, but he agrees if she will take care of May’s horse Lucky.  Then Emily starts searching for the coin, even though there are also ‘bad guys’ searching for it.  Will they ever be able to find it in time?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

When compared to his past projects, Saving Winston and Camp Harlow, Shane Hawks’ production quality has somewhat increased.  However, the production of this film is still not up to industry standard.  Video quality and camera work are professional, but audio quality is lacking, especially in outside scenes.  The soundtrack is also very stock.  There are too many musical montages that waste time.  However, sets and locations are clearly given thought.  Yet editing is almost nonexistent as lots of useless content is included.  In the end, though Lucky’s Treasure looks better than past films, it’s still not there yet.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

If you could think of the most stereotypical and juvenile plot premise that involves a horse, a girl, a ranch hand, a treasure, and some ridiculous villains, then it would be Lucky’s Treasure.  Though it is Shane Hawks’ most complex plot (not saying much), its presentation is very disingenuous and lackadaisical.  Time is spent on the most childish things, like the cheesiest high school college romance since Barbie and Ken.  Every character fits into the most plastic mold you can think of—dialogue (the parts you can understand) sounds like it’s been bought from a stock dialogue company.  Things happen because they need to as time is filled with montages, romance stuff, activities of daily living, vague treasure hunt concepts, and lectures on French history.  With no real direction or purpose, Lucky’s Treasure (the horse is actually fairly insignificant) meanders along a predictable progression until time runs out.  Basically, this storyline is so stereotypical and stock that it in no way warrants creation.

Acting Quality (0 points)

With perhaps the most thrown-together cast ever, Lucky’s Treasure just keeps getting better and better.  The cast members post very awkward and unsure performances.  Some lines are mumbled while others seem phoned in.  Some are overplayed while others are underplayed.  The costuming is also atrocious.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to believe that any time was spent on this portion.

Conclusion

It’s noble that Shane Hawks and his team want to keep making movies.  They have the rare opportunity to do something great with the resources and platform they have been provided.  But they are utterly wasting it.  Our advice at this point for Hawks and company would be to stop trying to write plots and focus on directing and producing.  Find a better writer and get some help with your casting and coaching.  At the very least, do the best you can with what you have, because this is by far not the best you can do.

 

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

 

The Encounter, Season 1 [2016] (Series Review)

With this creepy look, who doesn’t want an encounter?

Plot Summary

When someone is going about their everyday activities, they never know what is about to happen or who they are about to meet.  They all have struggles and secrets that they don’t want anyone to know, but they would be free if they just knew someone they could trust them with.  But people never know when they are about to meet Someone Who will change their life forever.  They never know until they have their own Encounter with Jesus.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The Encounter series follows a typical production formula that PureFlix has been using for years.  They check the boxes for making the production look good on the surface, including video quality, audio quality, sets, props, and locations.  The soundtrack is sometimes engaging but mostly standard.  Sometimes there is too much shaky camera work, especially in the poorly shot actions scenes.  The biggest issue here is that large amount of wasted time throughout the series.  Most episodes are 25-28 minutes long, but the plots are usually so thin that this is too much time.  The exception to this is of episodes one and four, which will be discussed later.  But in the end, this series demonstrates an overall typical and average production effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

For eight episodes, The Encounter rehashes the same types of ideas, concepts, and conversations over and over again, just with different characters.  Outside of episodes one and four, there is no creativity here, as the opening sequence tells you what’s going to happen in each episode.  Besides being predictable, these stories are also very quick and punctuated, like they’ve been made in a quick plot factory.  While there are some good issues raised in the series, there are too many quick fixes and easy solutions based on creepy and plastic Jesus dialogue.  Thus, the messaging is quite shallow.  However, there is some potential here, as the first episode is very interesting and should have been the focus of the whole series so we could have gotten to know these characters better.  Also, the fourth episode would have made an interesting movie, if done properly.  But overall, this series just hops from high point to high point and discards substance and realism along the way.  It’s a good idea done very poorly.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While there are bright spots in this large scale cast, there are also plenty of issues.  For one, it seems like Bruce Marchiano, who has done well portraying Jesus in the past, has lost his touch. Other cast members are typical PureFlix standbys and rejects who seem to be lazy and phoning in their performances.  But as it is, it just comes out as average.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

When the same ideas repeat over and over again in each episode and new characters are constantly being introduced, there is no chance or hope for continuity in this season.  There are no story arcs or character arcs.  We need to see what happens to these characters after their initial encounters, which is why it would have been great to have the characters from the first episode be the main focus of this series.  Yet the way it has been done is shallow and lazy, thus warranting no points here.

Conclusion

There’s nothing wrong with having Jesus intervene in everyday situations, but spitting out a whole bunch of episodes that are all basically the same doesn’t accomplish anything.  It’s easy to create a bunch of surface characters and then leave them; it takes true skill to craft meaningful characters that we can connect with.  It’s also a great idea to create a Christian series, but we need something better than this.  We need sustainable ideas that make people want to follow a set of characters across an arc.  PureFlix has the resources to do this, but will they?

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 14 points

 

Dancer and the Dame (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Demoted from his detective position because he took a conspiracy theory too far, Rick Dancer feels like an outcast in most people’s eyes.  But then he stumbles onto something new about his theory regarding the city’s richest philanthropist, whom he believes is corrupt.  Yet this only serves him orders for a psychological evaluation, which leads to him taking on a new partner—a traumatized police dog.  Rick will have to learn to work with her while trying to regain the trust of his boss all while he still chases leads regarding his theory.  In the end, he will have to decide if he is going to let himself care again in order to succeed.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

In a break from the typical PureFlix model, most production element of Dancer and the Dame are okay.  Video quality is clear and camera work is pretty good; they’re getting better with action shots.  Audio quality is fine, but the soundtrack is annoying.  Prop usage is as cheesy as can be expected from a PureFlix action film attempt.  The sets and locations are fairly realistic but are also stereotypical.  As for the editing, there’s basically none of it.  The entire film is face value: what they filmed is what you get.  Every scene is run as long as it possibly can be and there’s really nothing else there.  But the rundown is that Dancer is pretty average on production, which is actually a step up from the norm.  This fact alone is disturbing.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

So essentially, this story is about a washed up cop doing office work at the precinct because his conspiracy theory about a local rich guy blew up in his face.  But he gets a second chance in his career when his theories start to be ‘proven’ true.  Then he’s sentenced to a suspect mental evaluation which consists of the psychologist pushing her opinions on him and then forcing him to take her dog off of his hands.  From there, doggish ‘comedy’ ensues as Dancer stumbles upon ‘clues’ like a children’s mystery (or maybe a Hallmark mystery).  The characters are flat and comedy is typical Tommy Blaze style.  Once again, another horrible portrayal of counseling\psychology in a Christian film.  The odd thing about this Blaze creation is that it’s not entirely committed to crass and cartoonish ‘jokes’, but instead tries to insert inspirational themes into the movie, such as the typical feel-good pet storyline.  This is not to mention the Christian-sounding messages awkwardly forced into key parts of the plot.  And what’s with the constant cheesy references to dog breeds ‘hidden’ in people’s names?  In short, this film is a usual Blaze train wreck—a little less zany than usual, but still a mess.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

The sad state of Christian casting is that ‘secular’ actor Billy Gardell is substantially better at acting than most PureFlix actors and actresses.  David A. R. White, Tommy Blaze, Brad Heller, Carey Scott, and Anna Zielinski are all their typical selves.  There is really no regard for any professionalism, yet line delivery is not terrible, just awkward.  Basically, nice try, but not good enough.

Conclusion

Year after year PureFlix rolls out laughable films in the name of Christianity.  They are rarely received well and seem to accomplish little for the Kingdom.  We’ll never understand where they constantly get their money from or how they convince more popular actors and actresses to appear in their films.  If you’ve seen one dumb PureFlix movie, you’ve definitely seen Dancer and the Dame.  It’s better to not waste your time on another one.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

God’s Not Dead (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Josh Wheaton didn’t ask to be put in the philosophy class of the infamous Professor Radisson.  He also didn’t anticipate having to sign a piece of paper stating that God is dead in order to achieve a high grade in the class.  But prompted by the help of a local pastor, Wheaton decides to not only refuse to sign the paper but also to prove God’s existence in front of the class in addition to his other class assignments.  It’s something that those closest to him do not understand or agree with, but it brings him closer to God and to other people.  Little does he know that Professor Radisson and even those connected to him are being profoundly impacted in ways he never expected.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

This is perhaps the strongest area of the movie.  God’s Not Dead has better production than a majority of PureFlix movies, which shows great progress.  The camera work is great, and the editing is pretty good considering the many interconnected story lines.  The sets are authentic and varied and the lighting is good.  The soundtrack is effective.  The only real error to consider here is the fact that there may be too much content included.  In short, the money used for the movie is mostly put to good use.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Unfortunately, the plot is a bit weak, mostly due to the large number of story lines.  There is nothing inherently wrong with a movie about the interconnected lives of people, and for the most part, God’s Not Dead does a fairly good job managing the content.  However, it seems like there are one too many subplots and one too many characters.  If one or two of these were eliminated and that time used to develop other more interesting characters, this movie would greatly improve.  As it is, the dialogue is pretty good considering the number of characters.  There are some interesting twists and not everything turns out as expected in the end.  Most of the characters are believable, but some seem to be caricatures.  In summary, the plot is a mixed bag with a lot of untapped potential.

Acting Quality (2 points)

When compared to older PureFlix movies, the acting in God’s Not Dead is superb, for most of the actors.  This is David A. R. White’s best acting job to date.  Shane Harper is great in his major debut.  However, Dean Cain and Trisha LaFache are uninspiring.  But still, one could argue that they did not have much to work with.  All in all, the acting is another mixed bag.

Conclusion

God’s Not Dead is the best PureFlix-created movie in their existence.  Improved acting, improved production quality, and improved plot development all contributed to this rise.  However, they still have not hit their ceiling.  There is a lot of potential in this movie, and on its face, it is still an above average movie.  What is most important is that the core message of God’s Not Dead is driven home without being overly preachy or unwatchable.  This is success in and of itself.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points