Ragamuffin [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Rich Mullins never fit in as a kid, especially when it came to his father’s lofty expectations for him.  As a young boy, his father usually criticized him for not being the boy he wanted him to be since Rich much preferred the piano over the tractor.  Thus, when Rich had a chance to strike out on his own, he took it and sought to express his artistry wherever he went.  However, when his music became famous virtually overnight, he wasn’t able to handle the success.  In the end, he had to discover Who God really is in order to free from the past.

Production Quality (2 points)

As a whole, this is a respectable, above-average production, starting with the artistic camera work that serves to enhance the overall experience.  Although scenes are sometimes unnecessarily dark, as well as black and white, this isn’t too big of an issue since the video quality is overall clear.  The audio quality is also a plus, and the soundtrack is okay even though it could have been better due to this film being about Rick Mullins.  For the most part, the sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized such that the story feels real.  Further, there are a few awkward cuts, but the editing is overall fine considering the large amount of content covered in this movie.  In the end, this is an acceptable production, especially for the time period, yet it could have done a little but more.  Even still, it does enough to make the film enjoyable.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The life of Rich Mullins was definitely worth portraying in the context of film, and you could say this film was made before I Can Only Imagine started a new trend of Christian artist biopics.  Within Ragamuffin, there is an excellent exploration of real family of origin problems that exist in small town America as well as the emotional struggles of a performer while traveling on the road.  Thus, the plot contains great life philosophies and an artistic look at things, yet it’s bogged down with early and intermediate narration that tells us things without showing them.  Sometimes, expository dialogue is also used to save time due to the large amount of content that’s covered in this story, but there’s still a great exploration of relevant, authentic issues that many people struggle with.  Hence, the characters are raw and good even if they could have been better without so much narration, exposition, and time jumps that only allow a cursory glance at elements that need more focus.  Although some of the scenes could have been used better, Ragamuffin is still a believable journey of mental health, substance abuse, and relationship issues that come as a result of toxic family messages.  There’s also an honest portrayal of church problems in the 1990s that confused a lot of Christians, and the good parts of the dialogue are very worthwhile.  Near the end, there’s a collection of exquisite psychological sequences that make the entire film worth your time, but it would have been better to see substantial build-up to these.  In the end, this is a great film because of the topic it’s based on; there are plenty of opportunities for improvement, but it’s still enjoyable as it is.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Like other portions of the movie, the acting of Ragamuffin could be a bit better than it is, mostly by being more dynamic and less static.  There are some sequences of blank emotions, but on the whole, emotional experience is adequate.  The lead actor takes on the role of Rich Mullins quite well, and other cast members assume their respective roles with ease.  In summary, this film had a lot going for it that helped it rack up plenty of good marks, but there’s still more that could have been done here.

Conclusion

Basically, Ragamuffin is in desperate need of a remake because it was made before Christians were beginning to learn how to tell stories well in movies.  It’s a face value, here-are-the-plain-facts approach to things, but modern Christian entertainment demands more.  We can tell stories better than this; even so, Ragamuffin was ahead of its time for taking on an unpopular topic in Christianity in a time when everything was assumed to be fine, so for this reason alone, it’s worth your time.  We’d like to see the creators of this film collaborate with a good team because they could do great things together.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Advertisements

Faith Like Potatoes (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Angus Buchan has never had an easy life.  He and his family were forced to flee from Zambia to South Africa due to racism, and now, their new farm land isn’t what they expected.  Angus feels like he works all day and all week to no avail.  However, one day, when he finally comes to the end of himself, he decides to listen to a local pastor and to the testimonies of other struggling farmers who came to know Jesus Christ when they had nothing else to turn to.  Angus decides to put aside his pride and follow suit, and little does he know the huge ways God will use him to change the surrounding areas.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Global Creative Studios struggled in other international films they made in this same era, but they went all out for Faith Like Potatoes.  The end result was a very professional production with great video quality and camera work, along with fine audio quality and an effective cultural soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props give off a very realistic and gritty feel that adds to the overall authenticity of the film.  It’s obvious that a lot of time and effort were spent on crafting and constructing scenes that were difficult to film, and there was a high commitment to making the film look as real as possible.  Though there is some choppy editing, this is still a top-notch production that Affirm Films has become known to distribute.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The story of Angus Buchan and his family is a great true story that is based on realistic and accessible characters that are able to be related to as real people despite the time jumps that tend to hold their character growth back from being all it could be.  Fairly good dialogue helps characters to remain personable and build personality and motive despite the large amount of content that is covered, even if narration hurts character development at times by trying to create a crutch to cover the time gaps.  Even still, there is a good use of flashbacks to build character motive and personality that make it easier to connect with characters as real people, but the film may have still benefited from more flashbacks to replace the portions of narration.  More flashbacks would also help the story flow better and avoid just hashing out one important life event after another.  The plot walks the line between just being a collection of scenes and events and being a great story with a lot of content that actually holds the attention.  Finally, there are many good themes and messages in Faith Like Potatoes, even if it might have been better to only focus on a handful of them.  Overall, this is a poignant and believable historical account that is likely worth your time.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

One of the biggest positives of this film is the great commitment to culturally authentic casting, which was likely not an easy feat.  It was also likely not easy to have almost half of the dialogue take place in an obscure African dialect.  Besides these pluses, emotions are fairly realistic, and line delivery is almost always on point.  Though there are some moments of forced emotions and unnecessary yelling and screaming, cast members usually own roles well and appear to be comfortable in their acting, which is important.  As a whole, Faith Like Potatoes is a top-rated film, even if a few minor issues hold it back from the Hall of Fame.

Conclusion

Despite falling short of the Hall of Fame, Faith Like Potatoes is still worth a watch because of its wonderfully true stories and life lessons.  This is definitely Global Creative Studios’ finest work, and movies like this one is why Affirm Films originally gained ground in the Christian entertainment world.  We absolutely need more movies like this one that depict real life events and inspiring historical accounts with the proper production packaging and the adequate acting support.  Unfortunately, this sort of quality is hard to come by, but hopefully, we will begin to see more and more of this in the future.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Unbroken: Path to Redemption (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After surviving months being stranded at sea and being tortured in a cruel Japanese prison camp, Louis Zamperini was finally returned home as a war hero.  His family celebrated his safe return, but little did anyone know that the war still raged in Louis’ mind.  His lead torturer, The Bird, never left his dreams, and hate burned inside of him.  Louis decided to drink to cover up the madness in his head, but this got him into trouble, so he was given a chance to start over on a vacation in Florida.  It was there that he met his future wife, and he felt like his life was finally in a good spot.  They married soon after, but the war did not cease in Louis’ mind as it continued to rage and push his marriage to the brink.  There was only one way to end the war–only if Louis was willing to surrender.

Production Quality (3 points)

Harold Cronk has had decent productions in the past, but he and his team really went all out for this one.  They obviously put a lot of time and effort into crafting extremely authentic and historically accurate sets, locations, and props.  This is not just another cheesy PureFlix ripoff because time and money were spent on attention to detail and one making it look real.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are also extremely professional, but these should be a given in higher budget films like this one.  Further, the soundtrack of Unbroken: Path to Redemption is very impactful as Cronk made a wise decision to depart from the typical Will Musser soundtrack PureFlix films usually have.  Finally, the editing in this film is very good as it handles a large amount of content very well.  In summary, this is a rare find as a perfect PureFlix production, and it is definitely a breakout film for Cronk and his team.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Despite what some critics may say, it was an excellent idea for this film to pick up where the Hollywood version left off because this second half of the story is much better than the first.  Hopefully, this film launches Christian entertainment into a new era of effectively using source material to produce great films.  The time jumps in Unbroken: Path to Redemption are handled very well without narration, and the dialogue is very well-crafted and well-constructed in order to build the characters into real, accessible people.  It goes without saying that the psychological elements in this film are exquisite and are perhaps the best in Christian film to date.  The use of flashbacks is wonderful, and the portrayal of PTSD is very accurate and on point.  Further, the plot progression is handled well, and the messaging is effective without being too over the top.  The only issues to raise with this plot relate to some slightly wasted time at the beginning of the film that is felt later when the ending comes off as a bit rushed, but this is really nitpicking because the story is presented very well and is definitely a breath of fresh air to Christian entertainment.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

It was absolute genius to cast Will Graham as Billy Graham in this film, and this is the sort of expertise we need to see more of in Christian films as we hopefully progress to a new era of Christian entertainment.  Elsewhere in this film, the acting is slightly awkward in the first few scenes, as if they were test scenes, but the acting quickly and dramatically improves as time goes on.  Samuel Hunt has a surprise breakout role as Zamperini, and he does a great job playing multiple different roles as the same character.  Conversely, Merritt Patterson cements a great role as the lead actress in this film.  Overall, each cast member owns his or her respective role very well and seems very comfortable in it.  This rounds out an excellent movie that is definitely worth your time.

Conclusion

Unbroken: Path to Redemption earns an x-factor point for portraying psychological elements very well and for having re-watchability qualities.  Much like Jon Gunn did in The Case for Christ, Harold Cronk and his team have found a new voice by effectively adapting source material into Christian film.  This is exactly what we need to be seeing more of by letting someone else take the screenwriting duties.  Building an authentic production and casting great actors and actresses is also key to success.  Unbroken: Path to Redemption will have far-reaching effects and is definitely worth your time to go see.

Final Rating: 9 out of 10 points

I Can Only Imagine (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Bart Millard always loved to sing, but he grew up in a broken home.  His mother left while he was young, and his father beat him and told him he would never amount to much.  When Bart failed high school football due to injuries, he and his father spent as little time around each other as possible.  Out of this, Bart began singing in high school plays and was told that he had a special talent for the stage.  This led Bart to pursue a career in Christian music, but life on the road was hard.  When he was forced to make a pivotal decision at a crossroads in his career, Bart was finally faced with having to go back to reconcile with the person he came to hate the most: his father.

Production Quality (3 points)

What else can be said about the talent of the Erwin Brothers at this point?  They have clearly mastered production quality, especially when it comes to historical epics.  The attention to detail in I Can Only Imagine is exquisite.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are flawless.  With Brent McCorkle involved, the soundtrack is always going to be a hit.  Sets, locations, and props in I Can Only Imagine are excellent and demonstrate wonderful historical authenticity.  This content-packed epic is edited nearly to perfection.  In short, it’s rare to have a perfect production, but the Erwin Brothers are still schooling the industry in how it’s done.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)

Naturally following their epic film Woodlawn, the Erwin Brothers seem to have found a niche in biopics.  The story of Bart Millard is one that is absolutely worth being told, especially since so many people are familiar with MercyMe and their original breakout hit single, which is the title of this film.  What some audiences may not expect is the profound and timely message this film has to offer.  This film is more than just another inspirational film to grab cash from a willing audience.  In typical Erwin fashion, I Can Only Imagine is the film the western church needs now.  Besides this, the characters are very realistic, authentic, and easy to access via believable dialogue and back stories.  Each character is flawed and gray rather than black and white.  There are really no errors to point out here as the Erwins have masterfully captured another poignant true story in the context of film.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The Masters of Casting did their homework once again in crafting a cast that was true-to-life to the real people behind the story.  Each actor and actress is cast appropriately and assume their roles very well.  Costuming is excellent and correct for the time period.  Dennis Quaid likely posts one of the performances of the year as a very complex three-part role.  In the end, there are little to no errors to raise about this film, which has become the norm of the Erwin brand.

Conclusion

I Can Only Imagine receives an x-factor point for presenting an extremely important issue in a realistic way.  Audiences will flock to this film on the basis of its title recognition alone, but many will receive a message they least expected, yet one that the church as a whole desperately needs.  Many, many Christians and those associated with the church are running from parts of their lives that are broken and are not always their fault because they do not know how to deal with them.  I Can Only Imagine brings this paradigm to front and center at a time when the message of redemption for broken families needs to be heard.  Also, in keeping with their perfect record, the Erwins have notched another one on the Hall of Fame and have possibly taken the top spot of Christian film.

Final Rating: 10 out of 10 points

Nail 32 (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Buck Livingston was a sport cowboy who always ran from God, but when a tragedy leaves him lost and confused, he finds himself turning to God, even though he is told there’s no such thing as a Christian cowboy.  Even so, Buck gives his life to God and to service in the church.  However, he always had a passion for the cowboy sports, and he wrestled with how he could serve God there.  In the end, Buck’s life had a great influence on all those around him.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Unlike previous JC Films projects, Nail 32 has a mostly respectable production.  This includes good video quality and camera work, especially in the action sports scenes.  However, there is some odd lighting throughout as this film is trying to have an unusual vintage look.  Nonetheless, the sets, locations, and props are great and demonstrate good historical authenticity.  Moreover, this production is mainly held back by the use of awkward fadeouts, choppy editing, and lagging scenes.  In the end, however, this production is still above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

This intriguing true story was meant to be presented as an epic, but it unfortunately fell flat due to a large amount of unnecessary hand-holding narration.  This allows the plot to just hit the high points of the main character’s life without developing enough substance or true-to-life characters.  As the story jumps from one thing to the next, the characters are stunted due to flat and rushed dialogue, and there is far too much content shoved into this short time span.  While this could have been an interesting movie, we are not given the opportunity to learn about who these characters are as people as time speeds by in route to the conclusion.  Though there was potential here, it was not met.

Acting Quality (2 points)

However, this section does have plenty of positive as the costuming is realistic and there are plenty of good performances here.  While the acting is sometimes underwhelming due to some mumbled lines and muted emotions, this cast is mostly fine, and some are better than others.  Emotions and line delivery are adequate, which overall rounds out an average film.

Conclusion

Movies like Nail 32 are very well-meaning, and they have a lot of good things going for them, especially the true story elements.  However, in order to be the epic type of movie that they want to be, they have to go the extra mile in all categories, especially plot.  It’s very difficult to handle this much content in a balanced way while at the same time developing all of the characters adequately.  Thus, sometimes it’s better to focus on a portion of a character’s life, if possible.  In the end, Nail 32 is a fine movie, but it could have gone further.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ben Carson grew up disadvantaged and underprivileged, but his mother was determined that he and his brother would not be stuck with the street life.  Thus, she guided them to read as many books as they get could their hands on, even she herself could not read and struggled with mental illness due to what was done to her in the past.  Ben was his share of struggles as well, but he never forgot the God his mother had taught him about, and he was given great opportunities to become one of the best neurosurgeons of all time.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a well-funded made-for-TV production, Gifted Hands is very professionally done.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all on industry standard, and the soundtrack is historically relevant.  Sets, locations, and props are very authentic and well-constructed, especially the historical and medical elements.  There is very little negative to point out here, except for the fact that editing tends to be choppy due to the large amount of content in this film.  However, this is only a blip on the radar and is not enough to keep this production from being great.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The story of Ben Carson is an excellent true story to make a movie out of, but this rendition does not go as far as it could have.  Granted, they had a lot of content to deal with, so the use of flashbacks and modern timeline intertwining together is effective.  However, it’s likely that a longer runtime was needed to handle the full breadth of content better and to give this film the epic feel that it needed.  While there is an excellent use of subtlety throughout instead of using a narration crutch, there still could have been some better sequences of dialogue to build the characters rather than the many montages that were included.  There are also some abrupt cutoffs between Carson’s life segments without smooth enough transitions between then.  Nonetheless, there is plenty of positive to note here as this realistic true story is brought to life to highlight many pertinent issues, as well as an important message of never giving up on God’s plans for you, even when you grow up disadvantaged.  Thus, in the end, this will be an enjoyable film for many audiences.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Gifted Hands is very professionally cast with no obvious errors at all in this cast.  Emotions are handled realistically, and line delivery is almost always on point.  Each cast member is cast appropriately for their character.  This is the way a cast should be assembled and coached.

Conclusion

This story idea had a lot going for it already, so it was only helped by great production and acting quality.  However, a handful of minor lingering issues hold this movie back from being what it could have been.  Movie plots centered around biopic and epic qualities need to live up to their fullest potential.  Even though this film would have flourished in the right hands, it is still adequate and will find its place among most audiences.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Freedom [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Samuel Woodward and his family escape a cruel Virginia plantation one night, they are aided by Christians on the Underground Railroad.  However, they are also pursued by cruel slave bounty hunters.  When Samuel wants to give up on his faith because of what they are going through, his mother tells him the story of his great grandfather, who was a boy on board one of John Newton’s slave ships.  The two lives parallel as they each face their own struggle for freedom and discover faith in God.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

With a hefty budget and cable television backing, Freedom had many positives going for it from the get go.  For the most part, the money is well-spent, including great video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  Obviously, the standout feature of this film is supposed to be its historical live soundtrack sung by the characters like a musical, but this is an area that needs some further refinement.  There are also some lingering small issues in this production pertaining to some fake backgrounds and some slightly rushed editing, yet on the whole, this is a very respectable production that was helped by the money behind it.  The one caveat to point out is that with this kind of money, Freedom *should* have been flawless and likely would have been in the right hands.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Freedom is an attempt at a historical musical epic, and it succeeds on some fronts, even though it fails on other fronts.  For one, there is a lot of unnecessary narration throughout that hurts natural character growth.  Characters are also not helped out by the fact that there are so many of them.  Also, the parallel subplots from two different historical time periods is an interesting touch, yet it is not handled very well as time tends to jump all around.  The sheet amount of content that is being handled here may just be too much for one film, and the dialogue is not substantial enough for the epic style this movie is trying to adopt.  However, this is a mostly realistic and touching story that has a lot of historical backing and interest.  It is extremely important for more Christian movies to be made about history, especially the Underground Railroad.  However, Timothy Chey makes a mistake in portraying most, if not all, the pro-slavery characters as atheists, which is not entirely accurate.  Nonetheless, the second half of Freedom does show improvement, even if the better parts tend to be squeezed out by the wasted time at the beginning.  In summary, Freedom is a good film, but it is frustrating to see the higher potential that it did not reach.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

With professional cast members and fairly good coaching, Freedom had a successful acting run.  Line delivery is on point, and emotions are effective, except for some minor moments of unnecessary drama.  Also, the costuming is very authentic and historically accurate.  There is some odd makeup work in some parts, but as a whole, this is a job well done.

Conclusion

As a side note, John Newton died almost 70 years before the hymn “It is Well” was ever written, so there’s no way his fiancée was able to sing it in church.  Also, it’s also highly unlikely John Newton sang “Amazing Grace” at his own wedding since he wrote it almost 15 years after he got married.  This isn’t the first time Timothy Chey has disregarded historical facts in his films, but his ambition to create a Christian historical epic\musical is noted, even if it is misguided in the beginning.  Nonetheless, there are a lot of positive elements in this film, likely because Chey had assistance from other sources.  However, there were definitely areas it could have been improved in, especially since this was a rare chance for a film with a Christian worldview to show that it was a great historical epic on a cable television channel apart from it being a Christian movie.  There was so much going for this film, especially the budget, so it really should have achieved a higher rating.  Even so, many audiences will still find enjoyment and meaning in it.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Journey to Grace: The Hansie Cronje Story (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Hansie Cronje was one of the world’s best and more famous cricket players, and he used his sports platform to glorify God.  He was passionate for the game and for his family, but the pursuit of a better retirement for him and his wife consumed him.  He always wanted to do better and wanted his game to be better, but this got the better of him as Indian bookmakers relentless pursued him to pay off his team in a match-fixing scheme.  Hansie continually refused them until he could do so no longer.  In the aftermath of things, will he accept God’s grace for what he did?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Though this is an early 2000s production focused on international locations, it is very well done.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are what they should be.  The soundtrack is culturally appropriate.  Sets and locations, though difficult to construct and capture, are executed well.  Also, sports props are well presented and constructed.  The only issue to raise here, of course, is the editing, as too much content—almost an entire life story—is shoved into this seemingly brief runtime.  But in the end, this is a production to be proud of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

This account is a great true story and one worth bringing to the big screen.  Though the characters are mostly realistic, due to the rapid passage of time and the large amount of content dealt with here, they are hard to get to know very well.  They are accessible as people, but there are a lot of side characters that get left by the wayside.  Also, lots of otherwise important sidebar topics are introduced briefly and then forgotten about.  Yet this story is historically authentic and accurate and certainly has a lot to offer as a lot of complex ideas are woven together.  Epics are very hard to make, so this effort is commendable, and most audiences will enjoy it.  In the end, the story is very realistic and leaves an important lesson to be learned.

Acting Quality (3 points)

This historically and culturally authentic cast can hardly be faulted.  There are no glaring errors here as great care was taken to make sure each character was cast appropriately and realistically.  Line delivery and emotional delivery are impeccable.  This is a casting job to be proud of.

Conclusion

It seems like this creative team did everything they could do to make this movie the best it could be, yet they fall just short of the Hall of Fame, only due to amount of content that is taken on here.  Yet we know that a longer runtime was probably out of the question due to budget constraints.  In the end, however, is this an enjoyable movie that will be well-liked because the creators definitely put their full effort into making it quality.  It is definitely worth your time.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

The Light of Freedom (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In 1861, the rumblings of the Civil War were just beginning and the work of the Underground Railroad was in full swing.  Christians from the Union bravely joined the slavery abolition movement and saved runaway slaves from their evil masters.  Both the Confederacy and the Union armies pressed their male citizens into military service.  A group of friends and families is followed as they make brave and heroic decisions that forever alter the course of American history.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though this is an obviously amateurish production, a lot of time and money was spent on making sure that the sets, locations, and props of this film were historically realistic.  They succeeded in this goal, but it was at the expense of other production elements.  Camera work is fine, especially in the action scenes, but video quality is blurry at times.  Audio quality is fine, but the soundtrack is a bit generic.  Furthermore, there is a lot of wasted time and one too many dead scenes, which reflects poor editing, even though there is a lot of content to use here.  Nevertheless, this is at least an average production that spends time making certain elements good; it is at the very least a starting point for greater things in the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this is a period of history that is very much under-explored in Christian film and though there is a lot of potentially interesting content in The Light of Freedom, this film is a collection of random disjointed stories that have no real correlation or driving focus.  Care is given to historical accuracy, but with this comes archaic Shakespearean dialogue that the viewers cannot relate to.  Most scenes are full of information dumps that do not allow the content to develop naturally.  All of the subplots and characters presented need further development so that we can get to know them better and truly understand how we can relate to what is happening.  The purpose of these stories, aside from the historical content, is quite vague, even though there are plenty of opportunities for overarching themes here.  The sheer amount of scenes that contain characters sitting around and talking about trite ideas is frustrating because this time could be given instead to truly character-building, focused, and meaningful content.  In short, while we can see a lot of potential in this story, it’s disappointing that it does not follow through.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though this is a largely amateur cast, they are mostly fine.  They are sometimes too theatrical, but costuming is at least authentic.  There is a need among this cast for more realistic emotions, but they are at least trying, which is the best we can ask for in this situation.

Conclusion

The Light of Freedom desperately needs a remake, or at least another Civil War film like it.  This is an important period in American history for many reasons, one being that it was a time when Christians made a true difference in the culture.  Thus, we absolutely need more Christian films about this era.  It is certainly hard to be historically authentic on a limited budget, but this creative team pulls it off well.  Now if they can just improve other elements, such as characters and plot, they will be well on their way to greatness.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Ben-Hur [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Judah Ben-Hur was a prince of the Jews, and he was close with Messala, his adopted brother.  However, after Messala leaves to make a name for himself in the Roman army, their friendship was strained.  But disaster struck the Ben-Hur family when they were falsely accused of an assassination attempt against a Roman leader.  Messala refuses to acquit them and thus allows Judah Ben-Hur and his family to be taken captive by cruel Rome.  Years later, when given a second chance a life, Judah must decide how he is going to respond.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The one thing you can say for Mark Burnett and Roma Downey is that they know what it takes to fund and create a top-notch production.  In this controversial remake, there are at least good on-set locations and realistic props.  Camera work is usually good in action and non-action scenes, but sometimes there is some dizzying and wild camera work.  Video quality is obviously clear and lighting is professional.  There are no audio errors, but the soundtrack sometimes does not fit the historical period.  Finally, the editing is quite poor as this previously three-and-a-half-hour film is shoved into a two-hour runtime.  But otherwise, this is the sort of production we need more of in Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

When an original film is so iconic, there is little point in trying to remake it except to make money off of the name.  The original Ben-Hur was a ground-breaking classic for its time, which makes even more ridiculous the fact that this modern take on the story completely alters the original plot for no reason.  As Morgan Freeman tells you everything you need to know through narration, time rushes by at breakneck pace in an attempt to hit all the carbon-copy high point scenes of the original film.  Thus, as the film speeds along, there is no time to get to know the characters or connect with their struggles.  One minute they’re here, and the next minute they are there.  The presentation is so lazy and pandering that it’s laughable.  The writers do just enough to remind you of the old movie while at the same time turning the plot inside out for little reason.  The whole experience is overly dramatic and off-putting, thus making for a disappointing film.

Acting Quality (0 points)

As if changing the story wasn’t enough, Burnett and Downey had to drag a whole slew of BRITISH people to play Jewish and Roman characters again.  What would people have said if Morgan Freeman’s African character had been cast as a white British dude?  Besides cultural inconsistencies, the acting is simply too dramatic.  Though the costuming is historically realistic, it’s not enough to make up for the mistakes of this section.  This is another bust.

Conclusion

Burnett and Downey have perfected the model of lazily ripping off and ruining Biblical and historical plots in order to make money.  What they have not perfected is actually using the rare money and resources they are able to somehow acquire for their films for something good and effective.  They are one of the rare production teams that have the ability to actually make a respectable, well-marketed, and recognizable Christian movie, but they fail at it every time, even drawing criticism from mainstream outlets.  The question is, where do they go from here?

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Newton’s Grace {But Now I See} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

John Newton was never a saint.  After living a wild lifestyle and trying to dodge the British Navy draft, he found himself on the high seas and eventually marooned as a slave on a strange island.  But his spirit never gave up and eventually, after coming to the end of himself, He was used of God to influence a powerful emancipation movement that changed the world forever.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Though a lot of good effort is made in this film, it is clear that poor funding holds it back from being all that it could be.  Camera work is sometimes shaky and video quality sometimes has an odd soft-light quality to it.  Flashbacks also have a weird quality to them.  Audio quality is also inconsistent as there are occasional loud outside sounds; the soundtrack is also generic.  The strongest point of this production is the mostly realistic and historically authentic sets, locations, and props, even though there are some obvious animation and some cheesy special effects combined with this.  The editing is okay, but there are some large time jumps.  Overall, it is clear that this creative team is honest in their work…they just needed some better funding.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The story of John Newton is definitely a great historical account to chronicle in film, and Newton’s Grace is an accurate retelling of the story.  However, this plot commits a common error of Biblical and historical stories in that it forgets that historical characters are real people that need character development.  Dialogue is a bit too formal and obligatory rather than dynamic, which leaves the characters unfinished.  As previously mentioned, the story does skip through time a little too fast and leaves the audience slightly confused.  This only leads to an anticlimactic end that does not drive the important message home enough.  In the end, while this film is a nice effort, if the story had been improved, it would have more impact.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This casting job is mostly authentic, which once again demonstrates good effort.  While there are some moments of overly theatrical and practiced acting, this section is the film’s strongest point, even though most the cast members are ‘amateurs’.  The acting caps off an overall commendable effort

Conclusion

If Newton’s Grace had been given a better budget, it could have made a strong case for Hall of Fame.  However, there are still concerns with the plot content, in that the historical characters do not feel like they are real.  When writing historical plots, writers shouldn’t forget to help their audiences access the characters more than the events depicted.  At the end of the day, audiences want to be able to connect with the movie’s characters more than they want to connect with the circumstances of the film.  There are always exceptions to this, but it’s a good rule of thumb to follow.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Streams in the Desert, Part 2: Words of Life (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Lettie and Charles Cowman answered God’s call to missions, He called them to Japan to minister.  However, they faced many obstacles in their ministry, including health struggles.  Though they were forced to leave and come back to the United States, their hearts were always set on missions in Asia as they gave their lives to the calling of God.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Words of Life at least looks better on the surface than Discovering God’s Call.  Video quality is still fine, and camera work has improved in the second installment.  However, audio quality is still quite poor, including the same old loud soundtrack.  Care is still given to historical authenticity, for the most part, but sets and locations are still limited, which makes this attempted epic look cheesy.  Editing is also an issue in this part as there is still a lot of unnecessary content to boost the runtime, yet there is also a great amount of off-screen content that is neglected.  In short, the Streams in the Desert experiment totally failed production standards, especially since it was recently made.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

As if we missed anything in the first part, the first ten to fifteen minutes of Words of Life rehashes what you might have missed in Discovering God’s Call.  Actually, this little recap renders the entire first part useless because it gives you the boring highlights.  Much like the first part, Words of Life relies heavily on narration and long, extended sequences that could put an audience to sleep.  Once again, there are no meaningful attempts to help the viewer to connect with the characters by making them even the slightest bit realistic.  The dialogue is still very archaic, empty, and stilted.  As previously mentioned, there is a great deal of off-screen content that is talked about but not shown, likely due to budget constraints.  There are too many scenes that depict characters doing things that don’t really look like that’s what they’re actually doing.  In short, despite over two hours of plot content, there is nothing to help us believe this is a realistic story, thus making it a failed epic.

Acting Quality (0 points)

This is same song, different verse once again.  Acting is very unsure, with the same unnatural and measure line delivery, and the same flat, nonexistent emotions.  A new feature of Words of Life, however, is the cultural shortcuts taken.  What is the point of making a film about Asian missions when you have no intention to cast a single Asian cast member?  This is beyond tacky and further begs the question as to why this two-part disaster was even allowed to be made.

Conclusion

Though this true story is long, it is presented in such a way that two and a half hours of content are completely unnecessary.  What puzzles me is that there was enough funding to produce this much film but not enough funding to make it a quality project.  What if they reduced the runtime and put more money towards actually making the production respectable?  What if they tried to write a better story with more realistic dialogue?  What if the cast was coached to be more natural?  There are a lot of ‘what ifs’ in the Christian film world that are never really answered, and Streams in the Desert is just another example of a well-intentioned effort with nothing to back it up.  Thus, we must return to the rule of thumb in Christian film making: if the budget is not there to make a quality film, don’t make it.

 

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

 

Streams in the Desert, Part 1: Discovering God’s Call (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

While on a train ride to Chicago, a Christian movie actress ends up sitting across from Lettie Cowman, the author of her favorite Christian devotional, Streams in the Desert.  While in route to their destination, Lettie relays the story of her early life and how she came to know her husband.  After they married, Lettie and her husband felt the Lord’s call to the mission field, so they answered the call and found many great things in store for them.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

For such a new production, the low quality demonstrated by this film is unacceptable.  The only good thing about this production is its video quality.  Otherwise, camera work is unusual, including odd zooms.  Audio quality is deplorable and very echoed.  The soundtrack is stock and is sometimes too loud.  Sets and locations are severely limited, although most of the props are historically accurate.  There are far too many long and empty scenes that demonstrate a lack of adequate editing.  It seems like a lot of content is included just to pad the runtime and make it possible for two of these films to be produced.  In short, when compared with the rising standard of production in Christian film, Discovering God’s Call is very much below par and is very disappointing.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

To make this story into two films, Discovering God’s Call is literally one long conversation between two characters with nothing to break it up except for extremely drab and dry flashback scenes, which are also quite lengthy.  Though it is based on a true story that could have been interesting, the plot is incredibly boring and in no way holds the attention.  The dialogue is very archaic, awkward, and cumbersome, which causes the characters to be extremely cardboard and stiff.  The way this story is presented makes us even wonder why we care about the mundane activities of daily living these people did.  Even though this idea could be meaningful and interesting, it is not presented that way in this film, which shows a lot of wasted potential here.  In the end, this is just another embarrassing disappointment.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Not that they were given much help or that their lines were easy to say, but this incredibly tiny cast falls short of standards.  Without coaching, they are extremely robotic and wooden, using overly practiced and downright unnatural line delivery.  Emotions are nonexistent and flat—everything seems monotone.  The only redeeming quality here is the good historical costuming.  Otherwise, this section tops off a big waste of time.

Conclusion

Since a lot of this historical account takes place off screen from this film, what was the point of making two parts to this?  It would be one thing if the two parts actually formed a real historical epic, but this is just an extended and awkward local news interview.  It might as well be a docu-drama.  This is certainly not the way to make a modern film, especially one that is supposed to be an epic.  Streams in the Desert is nothing short of a disappointment…but wait…we still have another one of these to review…

 

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

 

The List [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jack Stone was dealt a bad hand as a foster kid, but he decided to strike out on his own and not let it get him down.  With hard work and determination, he completed law school and passed the bar before landing himself a lucrative job at a top law firm.  He always abided by his list of goals, and one of them was to start a family, so once he finally found the woman of his dreams, they become frustrated when they cannot have children.  But one day a miracle occurs, yet Jack consistently puts his work first.  Eventually, he will have to face the ultimate choice of what is important in his life.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The List unfortunately had a limited budget, as most startup films do.  There is shaky camera work and one too many dark lighting scenes.  Audio quality is seemingly inconsistent, including a loud soundtrack.  Sets and locations are fairly realistic.  As for the editing, there are too many awkward cuts and transitions in pursuit of cramming tons of content into this film.  However, it seems like more money was given to the second half of the film, as the production quality overall improves as the movie goes on.  With that being said, it might have been better to make this film shorter so that money was saved and used more wisely.  In the end, this is an average effort and is commendable for a pilot.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

It was very difficult to concisely summarize the plot of this film above because this story tries to cover so much content all at once.  Beginning with a collection of unexplained and random scenes, The List grows and changes as the story jumps all over the place with no continuity.  In an attempt to be an epic, all focus and purpose are lost in pursuit of covering ground and making time pass.  There are also too many failed attempts at comedy and other wasted scenes that do nothing to build characters.  Things just randomly happen and the empty and mindless characters are swept up in them.  They need much more development and deepening through better dialogue.  The only thing that keeps this plot from being a zero is the good message that is hidden somewhere in here.  With this, there are loads of untapped potential that make for a disappointing watch.

Acting Quality (1 point)

As a slightly amateurish cast, sometimes the performances here can be lazy and goofy.  At other times, the cast members seem robotic and overly coached.  Thus, emotions are sometimes hard to connect with and lines are sometimes delivered awkwardly.  But there are also good aspects to this cast as they show some potential for the future.

Conclusion

Epics are very hard to make and should be seldom attempted unless there is a really good (and probably true) story for the plot to build on.  Characters must be developed even though time is passing quickly, and this is a difficult feat to pull off.  If the creative team is not prepared to make an epic perfect, it can easily become a huge failure.  Sometimes it’s better to stick with small ideas, especially if you are still trying to hone your film making skills.  However, this team has potential for the future and we look forward to what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

For the Glory [2012] (Movie Review)

Your guess is as good as ours

Plot Summary

Kurt Kuykendall is a highly gifted basketball player who has it all, including a possible Olympic future.  But his home life is a wreck, which leads to tragedy and his being cut from the basketball team.  He feels like his life is over, but all is not lost, because God opens up a new door for him—playing soccer—that he would have never thought was possible.  The only question is, will Kurt seek God or remain bitter about the past?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

While some measures were taken to make this production good, too many corners were cut here.  Video quality and audio quality are on par, though the soundtrack is pedestrian, but there is too much shaky camera work, especially in the sports sequences.  Speaking of the sports sequences, they are too repetitive and redundant, including some unnecessarily recycled footage.  Thus, there are too many sports montages, which reflects poor editing and a general lack of content, even though this film is supposed to be an epic about a real person’s life.  Sets and locations are also fairly limited.  Therefore, though this production looks good on the surface, it does not do enough to warrant more than one point.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

This is an interesting true story to depict in movie form, but it overall lacks focus and causes too much confusion for the audience.  For the Glory commits the amateur epic mistakes of creating too many time jumps and referring to off screen content too often.  Besides the constant sports montages, there are too many head-scratching sequences and random occurrences that do nothing to help us get to know these characters at all.  Time is not spent wisely, thus making it hard to be able to relate to the struggles of these characters.  Dialogue also meanders and is generally hard to follow, which creates cheesy and empty characters.  In short, while For the Glory highlights some true-to-life issues, it does so in a very lazy fashion that will unfortunately have no real impact.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, cases that include Jason Burkey and Richard Swingle that have no connection to the Erwin Brothers do not fair well.  They are their usual awkward selves, as are other cast members.  Emotions are over the top and forced and line delivery is sometimes hesitant.  This cast would have benefited from coaching.

Conclusion

In the grand scheme of things, films like For the Glory are very easily forgettable and fall into the massive heap of Christian movies that just blow over your head after you’ve watched them.  There is nothing particularly good or bad to remember about this category of films—you just watch them and then you’re done and never watch them again.  What we need is greatness in Christian film, not more failed attempts like this one.  Perhaps movies like this one can serve as reminders of how film makers can improve in the future.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Paul the Apostle {St. Paul} [2000] (Movie Review)

Creepy Paul…….

Plot Summary

Saul of Tarsus was a ruthless man bent on destroying the church of Jesus Christ, until he had an unforgettable encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.  From there, his life was never the same as he became Paul and effectively switched sides and became zealous for sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Though many were still skeptical of him, God was with him all of his life and used him to turn the world upside down.  His work as an Apostle of Jesus Christ is still affecting the world today.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

It’s clear that there was money behind this film—you don’t get the opportunity to make a more than two hour film every day.  For the most part, this production is average, with okay camera work and historically authentic sets and locations.  However, some of the video quality is blurry and some of the lighting in outside scenes is poor.  There is also an unusual use of weird special effects throughout, including an annoying use of negative video quality in an attempt to be dramatic.  We also are provided with unnecessary location subtitles as a crutch for bad editing.  With a such a large idea, editing is key, as it is in any epic.  Yet the editing of this film is totally off and allows the plot to focus on all the wrong things.  In short, a lot of wasted money was thrown at this production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Paul the Apostle gets caught up in the all-too-common trap of Bible films: using a movie named after a well-known Biblical character to focus on all kinds of useless side issues and peripheral characters.  It’s fine to make a movie about a character or group of characters who shadowed a well-known Biblical figure, but don’t pretend like the movie is actually about that figure.  Though there is a substantial amount of content in this film about Paul, this movie is not about Paul’s life, but about things that happened around Paul during random parts of his life.  It’s not like Paul has a small story—there is tons of content about him that would make an awesome movie.  Yet we are left with half-measures and allusions to what could have been.  As extra-Biblical events take up the time of this story, pointless time jumps are taken and tons of off-screen content is alluded to.  Dialogue is designed to move the plot along and only crafts characters who seem lofty and inaccessible rather than like real people.  Alas, what could have been with this very important and engaging historical account.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Once again, another Bible movie commits the cardinal sin of casting: British people trying to portray Middle Eastern people.  Thus, there is a lack of cultural authenticity that is not helped by the partially unrealistic costuming, the creepy makeup jobs, and the obviously fake beards.  This is not to mention the overly theatrical, dramatic, and breathy delivery of lines and emotions.  Unfortunately, there is not much good to mention here.

Conclusion

So you have over two hours of runtime and virtually only a third of your content actually pertains to the Biblical historical account of the Apostle Paul.  Very few film makers have the luxury of having this much time on their hands to craft a movie, yet this team decided to waste it on tons of non-Biblical and quasi-historical content, complete with large time jumps and completely unnecessary characters.  Besides this, the characters don’t even feel like realistic or authentic Jewish people, which is not helped by the fact that they are played by British people.  It’s no wonder so many people are weary of films that have the “Bible” stamp on them.  We eagerly await the day when Biblical movies are honest about what they are depicting and create historically realistic and culturally authentic portrayals of people in the Scriptures.

 

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

 

Luther [2003] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Martin Luther was a radical in his day who wanted to see sweeping changes in the Catholic Church.  He was tired of seeing the poor oppressed and abused while the Church made money off of their fear by selling indulgences.  When he tried to make a difference, he received major pushback and was forced to go into hiding after posting his 95 Theses.  While in hiding, he sought God and translated the Word of God for the common people to read.  Though he was not perfect and struggled with despair, Luther was a man of God who truly changed his world for Christ.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

In this rendition of Luther, it’s clear that great care was given to historical authenticity, including excellent sets, locations, and props.  Other aspects of production are also professional presented, including camera work, video quality, audio quality, and an original soundtrack.  There is little to complain about here except for some slightly choppy editing as it seems like too much content is attempted to be covered in one film.  But nonetheless, this film is an example of what a historical biography should look like.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The portrayal of Martin Luther as a real man who struggled with different issues is refreshing and realistic.  Other historical events are also portrayed properly, especially the follies of the Catholic Church in the Dark Ages.  There are understandably quite a few characters in this story, so most of them are not developed as well as others.  However, dialogue is effective and historically authentic.  While the first half of this film handles the large amount of content well, things begin to go downhill in the second half.  There is too much information crammed into the second half, and a lot of it is not very engaging to the average audience.  The story tends to hop from one high point to the next, yet this is an overall good effort and one that is worth your time.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This cast is overall fairly professional—each character is cast appropriately for historical authenticity.  They clearly know what they are doing, but sometimes they tend to be overly dramatic and theatrical.  Line delivery is on point and emotions are mostly good with some moments of being over the top.  But overall, this is a respectable effort.

Conclusion

This idea probably would have worked far better as a miniseries because it would have given the writers freedom to slow down and develop the characters better.  It would have also allowed them to more effectively convey key historical events instead of just jumping from one to the next.  Yet as it is, Luther is a good film many people will enjoy.  We need more films about historical Christianity, and they should be crafted in the mold of this one.  This sort of movie should be the norm, not the exception.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Though None Go With Me (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Elizabeth LeRoy grew up in a small town in the 1950s, but she considered her life to be boring.  That is, until the new young pastor came to town and began spending a lot of time with her.  They eventually fell in love, but as they were engaged, he was called off to fight in the Korean War.  Elizabeth waits for him, but when her father dies and she receives word of the death of her fiancé, she feels like she has no choice but to ask her lifelong friend Will for help.  With everything seemingly falling apart, will she be able to follow God’s plan for her life?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Made in the era of collaboration among Larry Levinson, Hallmark, and Fox Faith, Through None Go With Me is clearly a quality production.  Video quality and camera work reflect this professionalism, as do historically authentic sets and locations.  Audio quality is fine, except for the stock Hallmark soundtrack.  There is really nothing negative to highlight here except for some editing problems, mostly pertaining to excessive time jumps.  But overall, this is a great effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Based on Jerry Jenkins’ novel, the film is mostly fine, though there is a slightly altered plot.  However, since there are excessive time jumps, there is too much content that is passed over due to there being too much to start with.  Thus, information dump dialogue replaces natural plot progression.  Narration also serves as a crutch to bridge the gaps.  Everything is far too rushed as the story just hits the high points.  Character development is left in the dust as dialogue is empty and trite.  However, the plot does portray a somewhat realistic progression of life, even if the ending is slightly predictable.  In the end, it’s great to base films off of books, but don’t do it in such a way that the original point is lost.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though None Go With Me is a pretty standard early 2000s Hallmark casting job.  As such, there are plenty of good elements but others that weigh it down.  Some acting is effective while some of it is overdone, forced, or lazy.  Also, some costuming and makeup are unrealistic, another typical Hallmark pitfall.  But overall, this portion is pretty average.

Conclusion

Jerry Jenkins is a gifted writer, and thus, his stories should be portrayed on the big screen.  But they should not be done in this fashion, so that they are compressed and chopped up in pursuit of fitting into a comfortable ninety-minute, made-for-TV runtime.  A life epic cannot unfold like this and characters cannot be developed properly in this time span.  So when bringing novels to life, consider that you might need to do so in two parts, not all at once.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Return to the Hiding Place (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As the Nazis strengthened their grip on the Netherlands, the brave Ten Boom family and their accomplices—a secret army of teenagers and college students—worked tirelessly to undermine the evil work of the Third Reich.  From hiding Jews and sympathizers to tracking Nazi movements to distributing illegal material to springing prisoners, the ragtag force was constantly doing something to resist the evil.  But when they are stretched to their furthest point and feel like all hope is lost, they will have to dig deep and determine what really matters most.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

From start to finish, it is evident that the Spencer family and their team are dedicated to high quality productions.  It was ambitious of them to choose a difficult historical setting to portray, but they delivered exquisitely.  Each set, location, and prop is perfectly crafted for realism.  Video quality is excellent and camera work is effective in building suspense.  Audio quality has no flaws and the soundtrack is epic.  The only nitpick to raise here is some minor editing problems, probably due to the nature of this large-scale story.  But in the end, this is a top-notch production that will take them places in the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

We always say that when it comes to movies, true stories are usually better than fiction.  Return the Hiding Place is an example of this.  Though the historical topic is very large and difficult to handle, it is handled almost perfectly.  Though there are many subplots, a common thread weaves them together to forge a true historical epic.  The characters are many, but they are believable and authentic.  Real, even hard, life is portrayed effectively.  The ending is powerful and drives the point home.  The biggest issue to raise here is the constant and seemingly unnecessary narration throughout.  While the dialogue therein is great, we would have liked to see more showing than telling.  But otherwise, this is a plot to behold and one you don’t want to miss out on.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Much thought was put into making this cast historically and culturally authentic, from costuming to accents.  Each character is cast excellently.  Line delivery is very much on point and emotions are real and believable.  The only compliant to raise here is some minor accent issues, but it’s not enough to detract too much.  In short, like every aspect of this film, it’s a job well done.

Conclusion

Return to the Hiding Place receives half of an x-factor point for portraying an important issue by properly connecting with audiences in multiple ways.  This is the sort of film we should see over and over again produced from Christian entertainment.  It’s high quality, plot-heavy, and well-cast.  Money was clearly spent wisely to make this film the best it could be, and it paid off.  The Spencer family and their team are truly talented, so we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 8 out of 10 points

 

Full disclosure: We were provided by the creator with a copy of this film in exchange for a fair and honest review

Milltown Pride (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Will Wright loves to play baseball, even if it means playing with the ‘poor kids’.  Even though this gets him in trouble with his father, Will never gives up on his dream to play baseball.  As he grows older, he joins the local mill league along with his ‘country’ childhood friends.  But when he gets discovered by a scout, Will finds himself following the wrong crowd and doing things that go against the religion he was taught by his parents.  Will he ever find his way back to the religion he grew up in?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For Bob Jones University and Unusual Films, this is a respectable production.  The camera work and video quality are pretty good, and the audio quality is okay, although the soundtrack is very annoying.  Sets and locations are mostly historically authentic and fairly diverse, though since this is supposed to be an epic, there really should have been more.  Also, there is far too much content that is not very useful and there are too many wasted scenes.  Epics are supposed to concisely portray a period of a character’s life or the lives of a group of characters.  This is definitely hard to do, but the Unusual Films crew shouldn’t have attempted this genre if they weren’t going to follow through.  But all in all, this is an average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

The entire premise of Milltown Pride is based on a strange and over-the-top class warfare conflict between white people, and the writers do not appear to completely condemn looking down on poor people.  Besides this, this films contains the usual fundamentalist and isolationist religious principles that are baked into the fiber of Bob Jones University, including creating a ‘worldly’ strawman out of sports.  As previously mentioned, everything in this failed epic is dragged out and plenty of time is wasted on endless baseball sequences and juvenile conversations.  The plot barely holds the attention as it follows a predictable progression with no twists and turns.  The characters therein are plastic and turn people off to whatever Christian message this movie is trying to convey.  In short, while this could have been interesting, it just wasn’t.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Unusual Films can’t seem to get away from casting awkward white people in their movies.  This cast is very wooden and lacks proper coaching.  Their emotions seem fake and their line delivery is either unsure or forced.  This rounds out a mostly disappointing effort.

Conclusion

We lost count of the time a character says ‘town boy’ in this movie—it got old really fast.  We are also confident that the Unusual Films crew once again just wanted another outlet to propagate their fundamentalist worldview—not that many people are paying any attention.  It’s films like this one that further turn people off to the concept of Christian movies because this is what too many people think Christians are: isolated, prejudiced, backwards, fundamentalist, patriarchal white people.  If we ever needed a major trend reversal, it’s now.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

Woodlawn (Movie Review)

ftbl

snastn

Plot Summary

Coach Tandy Geralds only believes in what he sees in front of him.  All he sees is a broken high school in Alabama forced to integrate two racial groups who desperately do not want to associate with each.  Coach Geralds, also the assistant principle, is overworked, is unpopular with the school board, and is failing as a husband and father.  His players are frustrated with integration and racial tensions flare easily.  Tony Nathan, an underappreciated African-American athlete, is among them, yet he has been raised to treat people, regardless of skin color, the way Christ treated them.  Everything changes for the team one day when Hank, an itinerant and seemingly offbeat sports chaplain, convinces Coach Geralds to let him talk to the team.  At the end of his rope, Tandy reluctantly agrees.  What ensues from there is a miracle that transforms the football team, the high school, and the city.  One thing leads to another in a miracle season for the Woodlawn Colonels, but everything grinds to a halt one day when they are faced with adversity after adversity.  But in the grand scheme of things, each character learns in one way or another that there is one Way, one Truth, and one Life—Jesus.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The Erwin team went all out for this blockbuster production that was designed to reach outside of the Christian movie circles.  The camera work is phenomenal, ranging from difficult football scenes to character canvasing.  As an epic, the story covers a lot of time, but the editing is seamless.  It is very difficult to make an epic without being too long or without letting important plot elements fall by the wayside.  The editing team walked this tightrope flawlessly.  The inclusion of alternate and historical footage throughout the movie is an artistic flair that was pulled off nicely.  This is not a cheap production, and it shows.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)

As previously mentioned, epic plots are very hard to craft.  Too long, and the audience is lost.  Too quick, and no points are driven home.  Too often in potential epics, character development is discarded and scenes are wasted.  Neither of these mistakes occurred in Woodlawn.  Despite the large amount of plot and character content in this movie, nothing is missing.  The dialogue is concise yet profound.  There are no wasted scenes.  As a side note, Box Office Revolution maintains that movies based on real events are among some of the best on the market.  Nothing could be more true regarding Woodlawn.  The plot twists and turns just as real life does and the historical characters are adapted well.

Acting Quality (3 points)

BOR has long called the Erwin brothers the Masters of Casting.  There has never been a character in their movies that was not cast in the absolutely appropriate role.  Veterans Sean Astin, Nic Bishop, Sherri Shepherd, and Jon Voight are excellent in their roles, along with newcomers Caleb Castille and Joy Brunson.  All actors are coached well.

Conclusion

BOR can find no flaws in Woodlawn.  It also can be awarded the x-factor point for delivering an important topic packaged in a masterful epic.  The Erwin brothers have reached the pinnacle of their career, and there is no turning back now.  The Christian movie industry is at their fingertips, and BOR expects nothing less than the best.

 

Final Rating: 10 out of 10 points