Grace of God {The Takers} [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

First Church has been robbed by an unknown culprit!  $20,000 is missing!  However, the pastor wants to keep it all under wraps, so he can control the investigation without going to the police.  That’s why he decides to hire a private investigator who’s an atheist to track down the criminal by interviewing everybody in the church.  Though this investigator is skeptical of the faith, he decides he needs to make himself the personal bodyguard of the church secretary, who is having her own family struggles.  Will everyone be able to learn the lesson of stealing?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Kevan Otto’s production models are fairly standardized, and Grace of God is another example of this.  Video quality and camera work are fine, even if lighting is a bit inconsistent at times.  Audio quality is mostly acceptable, even if the soundtrack is sometimes too loud; there are also some unnecessary background\outside noises that come through.  Sets, locations, and props are passable, but they are fairly limited.  Further, the editing is average at best as many scenes drag on far too long and do not hold the attention well.  Overall, this is just another average production with nothing special to write home about.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

In conjunction with In the Name of GodGrace of God was intended to be a part of a series about the Ten Commandments.  Undoubtedly, we would have been gifted with awkward iterations and proclamations from John Ratzenberger at the beginning of each film.  Grace of God is shockingly about ‘You Shall Not Steal’ (notice the creative original title), and it’s also somehow supposed to be about Easter (there is no way to derive this concept from the plot at all).  Regardless, this plot is as awful as can be expected from such a limited idea.  Characters are totally blank, and most of the film is filled up with them awkwardly standing around and talking without saying anything substantial.  Dialogue is mostly empty and mindless since it is so full of message-pushing and forceful ideas.  A lot of the plot points and story arcs really lack basis in reality and feel very manufactured.  In the end, the storyline lacks any real impact and falls flat on its face.  It’s doubtful that many audiences will make it through the second half of the film–even though that stand-up-in-church scene is pretty hilarious.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Though there is slight potential in this acting, most of the cast members therein seem lost and struggling without any assistance.  Line delivery is choppy, and emotions come off as forced.  There is no clear presence of acting coaching, and Erin Bethea actually exhibits some of the best acting skills, if you can believe it.  Overall, most acting performances are just too robotic and unnatural to warrant any higher ratings.

Conclusion

Thank heavens there weren’t more of these films made.  I can just imagine the halting, sermonizing grunts of John Ratzenberger on keeping the Sabbath day and not coveting.  Hardly any Christian film makers make ten films period, so beginning with this sort of plan was certainly ambitious.  By now, Kevan Otto has made about ten films, so he could have forced them all to be in this ‘series.’  Online fits perfectly with the adultery commandment.  Lukewarm or Decision could be about honoring your parents or something.  A Question of Faith could reference…organ donation?  Regardless, movies that force messages down your throat in the form of sermons rarely have any real impact, so it’s best that this method is avoided altogether.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

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The Carpenter’s Miracle (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Though John Camdenis is just an average carpenter who doesn’t think much of himself, when his touch appears to bring a dead boy back from the dead, the small town he lives in immediately becomes ground zero for media attention and controversy.  He appears to perform more miracles, but he has no idea what to do with his newfound abilities.  John wants to go back to the way things were, but now it’s no turning back for him or the boy who came back to life.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though this is a made-for-TV production from UP, there are some surprising production errors here.  While video quality is fine, there is a high amount of shaky camera work throughout this film, probably for dramatic effect.  However, it doesn’t come off right.  There are also some awkward camera angles that give off a feel of the camera being moved around manually.  Nonetheless, there is a lot of great attention to detail when it comes to sets, locations, and props, especially the medical elements.  The soundtrack is also very interesting, as the audio quality is also good.  Finally, the editing is mostly fine, and overall, this production is above average, despite the odd oversights.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

At first, the plot of The Carpenter’s Miracle is hard to understand, but it doesn’t get much better from there.  The plot is presented in a very confusing fashion, and it is very unclear what is meant to be learned from this story.  It is only very vaguely Christian as the underlying message is mostly unknown, except for several obvious Easter themes.  Sometimes it seems like the story is hiding some great secret from you, but no clarity is ever offered.  Is the main character supposed to be Jesus or not?  Did he perform miracle or get involved in coincidences?  Besides these unanswered questions, the characters are too one-dimensional due to stilted and under-developed dialogue.  Furthermore, the ending is very head-scratching, thus completing a very unusual experience of a film.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast tends to be professional and mostly means well, there are a handful of awkward moments, especially in the beginning.  However, there is a lot of potential here, and the acting overall improves as the film goes on.  Emotional delivery is particularly believable and realistic.  In the end, however, this punctuates a unique experience that is difficult to quantify.

Conclusion

One can understand why UP would want to make another made-for-TV film to tap into a Christian audience, but this is an unusual choice.  Why not make the message more obviously Christian or at least try to offer some clarity as to what the underlying point of this story is?  Instead, we are left with more questions than answers, yet many people probably won’t ever know this film exists.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Resurrection [1999] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When the mysteriously provocative carpenter named Jesus of Nazareth was executed by crucifixion, it was no skin of Claudius’ nose.  That is, until he was forced to be a part of a political conspiracy with the goal of covering up claims of the same carpenter’s alleged rise from the dead.  But as he is drawn deeper into the conspiracy, Claudius finds himself interested in Jesus and His followers and wonders what they have that he does not.  What will he end up believing in the end?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though this was a 1999 production, the creators were definitely trying in this film.  Video quality is fine, as is the camera work, although there is some randomly poor lighting in the indoor sets.  Most of the sets and props are somewhat cheaply constructed, though the outdoor locations are fine.  Audio quality is what it should be, but the soundtrack is extremely generic.  Further, though this film is less than sixty minutes long, the editing is not exactly great as it is slightly choppy.  In the end, this production comes out as average and demonstrates good enough effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this Roman-soldier-becomes-involved-in-the-Resurrection-cover-up is nothing new, Resurrection and the Max Lucado book it is based on actually predates the other attempts at this, such as The Final Inquiry and Risen.  Nonetheless, it is still an interesting idea.  However, this rendition does not contain very much content as a majority of the fifty-minute runtime is bland characters standing around and talking about offscreen content.  Even then, the dialogue that is used is uninspiring, which in turn creates the bland characters.  At times, it is difficult to follow the train of thought this plot is trying to make, and some of the characters are easily confused with each other due to their lack of originality.  In the end, this is really just an extremely pedestrian Christian film that could have been way better, which is the story for a lot of Christian films.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Although this cast is not entirely culturally authentic, at least it’s not full of obviously BRITISH white guys.  These cast members mostly post good performances, including good line delivery.  Their emotions are a bit too theatrical at times, but this is a passable effort overall.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, Resurrection was stuck in an era when Christian movies were so self-segregating and only tried to appeal to very small audiences.  Were this made today, one would think that it would have wider appeal, but nothing is guaranteed.  At the very least, perhaps this film can be a blueprint to build off of to know how to improve a bland film.  In the future, hopefully we will see more engaging Biblical movies come out.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Pieces of Easter {Backroads and Lillies} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

While high-power executive Alza Bennet is on her way to see her parents, her sister, and her niece and nephew for Easter, who car breaks down, which leads to a serious of disastrous events, including her being stuck with a reclusive country farmer as her only option for transport.  Since she has not seen her family in over a year, Alza is desperate to get there on time, but things keep happening that delay their trip, not to mention the fact that she and her driver cannot get along at all.  But slowly, Alza begins to see the joy of simplicity away from her fast-paced life, even though she hates to be inconvenienced.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Over the years, Kelly’s Filmworks has certainly improved their production quality.  In Pieces of Easter, video quality and audio quality are what they should be.  There are still some trademark Jefferson Moore artistic camera angles, but that’s his brand at this point.  The soundtrack is also random and cheesy and is seemingly made up of free music.  However, sets, locations, and props, are authentic and more diverse than usual.  Finally, the poor editing mostly holds this production back from being better.  Thus, it must be rated as average.  Though this is an improvement from the past, we still feel that they can do better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Pieces of Easter is a better version of the typical Jefferson Moore two-character conversation plot because things actually happen outside of the drawn-out conversations, and they are actually less drawn out than usual and are broken up by some attempts at comedy.  However, not all of the comedy is funny and some of it is quite forced.  Though this storyline is a stereotypical fish-out-of-water plot, it is presented better and is likely as good as this type of limited story is going to get.  This is likely because attempts were made to develop the characters through dialogue, although they could be deeper.  The biggest drawbacks to this plot are the overly-plentiful dead scenes and goofy montages.  There are too many slow parts that don’t hold the attention and too many references to off-screen content.  Overall, though this is a nice try, it really doesn’t make it far enough.

Acting Quality (2 points)

With some slightly different than usual cast members, the acting is the strongest portion of this film.  However, some lines are still mumbled and some emotions are still over the top.  However, most cast members are placed in appropriate roles.  This overall rounds off a decent performance.

Conclusion

The Moores and the Kelly’s Filmworks team certainly never gives up.  They have been on a steady upward trend throughout their career.  Pieces of Easter is a far cry from low-quality productions like The Perfect Stranger saga and Clancy.  It demonstrates real effort to improve, which is encouraging.  With just a little but more work done on production, some continued casting quality, and more creative plots, this team will finally make their mark on Christian entertainment.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Real [2011] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When He was struggling in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus looked down through time and saw all of us and the struggles we would endure.  He saw the sins we would commit and still went to the Cross because He knew that we desperately needed Him.  Even with so many broken stories stretching out into the future, Jesus knew them all and gave Himself up for every one of us.  This is truly the best reason in the world to make a movie.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

It pains us to be so hard on this film because it carries such a powerful message.  However, even the most powerful message is covered up by poor packaging.  This is a very cheap production, including grainy video quality, poor lighting, and an overuse of soft lighting that rivals Jefferson Moore.  However, audio quality is acceptable, including a creative soundtrack.  Yet sets and locations are quite limited, as some are reused several times in different stories.  Finally, as multiple different unrelated storylines are employed, the editing is quite choppy and discontinuous.  This is truly a sad half point to award because we want it to be better and believe it can be—just not this time, unfortunately.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Real is based on a highly creative idea, perhaps one of the best in the loosely associated genre of ‘spiritual warfare’ plots on the market.  To depict Jesus and Satan in the Garden of Gethsemane looking forward to random stories in the future is an excellent idea, but attempting to connect a bunch of shallow subplots together in the span of ninety minutes is not a good idea.  This creates very shallow characters that spout dialogue that is designed to force the plot along.  As such, things happen far too fast as too many important issues are forced into one plot.  However, Real has one of the best portrayals of Jesus, Satan, and other spiritual elements to date.  The prologue and the epilogue, though they make the entire movie work, are worth watching and make this plot what it is.  In the end, we desperately wish this movie could have been better because it has such a great story and message that needs to be shown everywhere.

Acting Quality (1 point)

With a limited and amateurish cast, some cast members were reused in these subplots.  They could also use some better coaching, although they demonstrate great potential.  Sometimes they are a little too unsure of themselves, which shows that they would have benefitted from more coaching.  Though they are ahead of the game than some ‘big name’ cast members are, this section once again demonstrates what this group can do if they have the resources to do it.

Conclusion

Real receives half of an x-factor point for the creative idea behind this story.  As previously mentioned, with a better budget and more refining, Stephen Krist and his team can go great places and take Christian film to new frontiers.  We long to see a remake of Real that focuses more on the central concept without so many loosely connected stories.  We wish we could rate this film higher, but it is easily the best 3-point film out there.  In the end, we know the Krist team has good hearts and can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

The Passion of the Christ (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

In this landmark Biblical epic, the suffering of Christ is depicted on the big screen.  Beginning in the Garden of Gethsemane, continuing to the various trials and through brutal torture, the final hours of Jesus are shown as He struggles up the Via Delarosa to the final reckoning at the Place of the Skull.  Complete with flashbacks to Jesus’ previous ministry and windows into the spiritual battle surrounding the crucifixion, The Passion of the Christ was a game-changer in Christian-based film that opened up a whole new world by refusing to fall into the trap of cute and clean Bible movies.  The real passion of Jesus Christ was horrible and wonderful, and something that we as Christians should never take for granted.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

As a professional and talented director and screenwriter, Mel Gibson puts his gift to a greater good in The Passion.  The camera work is epic, including great angles and clear video quality.  Sound quality is exquisite and the sets and locations are diversely realistic.  Of course, the main element of the production—the gore—may seem excessive to some and may frighten young children, but it is necessary to show Christ’s suffering in this way because any other way would minimize His sacrifice for us.  First century Judea was violent and Jesus’ persecution was intensely awful, and The Passion captures this unfortunate reality.  Finally, the musical score greatly enhances the film.  In short, while Mel Gibson is not an exclusively Christian director by any means, he has shown Christians how to make a great production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

All Christians are familiar with the basic Biblical account of Jesus in the Garden, before the Sanhedrin, before Herod and Pilate, and on the cross.  But before this movie, we believe that many western Christians did not fully appreciate the depth of Christ’s suffering.  Some may consider The Passion to embellish and sensationalize the torture, but we believe otherwise.  A majority of this film is violent and gory, but for good reason.  The purpose of Christ’s suffering is clearly communicated.  The Biblical characters are realistic and are enhanced by flashbacks.  From the beginning to the end, The Passion highlights an important and too-often forgotten aspect to every Biblical narrative: the spiritual battle that takes place away from human eyes.  Jesus’ interactions with Satan are epic and make this movie all that it is.  Of course, there are slightly too many unnecessary elements to this plot, including unusual personal beliefs of Gibson, overly sensationalized subplots, and a slight deification of Mary.  These keep it from being all that it could be.  But nevertheless, the plot, though it covers a short period of time, is very deep and profound.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The decision to use Aramaic and Latin instead of modern English was a success.  Though some of the actors and actresses are American, most are actually Middle Eastern and Jewish, which is a huge step.  The cast is obviously coached well and perform well, though most of them are not blockbuster actors and actresses.  Emotional delivery makes this movie what it is.  In short, this cast proves that ‘big names’ aren’t always needed to make a great film.

Conclusion

The Passion of the Christ was an early indicator of Christian audiences’ hunger for quality Christian films.  Some churches were criticized for publicizing a ‘secular’ film, but Mel Gibson simply did something no one else would do—he shattered Bible movie stereotypes by crafting a gritty and terribly realistic screenplay on the ultimate act of love and suffering in human history.  As mostly sheltered Christians who sometimes take for granted the gross realities in the Bible, we all need to be reminded of how real and painful Jesus’ crucifixion was, lest we forget how monumental His sacrifice for us was.  It’s only a shame that The Passion was not a perfect film, yet it still lands on the Hall of Fame as one to be remembered and one that made a difference for Christian film forever.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points