God Bless the Broken Road (Movie Review)

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I need a loan from the pawn shop!

Plot Summary

When Amber’s husband is killed in an overseas bombing while on tour in the Middle East, her entire life seems to come apart piece by piece. She struggles to support her and her daughter in a small town because she obviously didn’t get any military benefits from the government. She also pushes everyone away and doesn’t go to church anymore, but thankfully, a semi-bad-boy race car driver has crashed in town because he needed some time off from doing whatever it was he was doing before. This gives him time to do stuff with all the kids in town, which is where he becomes obsessed with Amber’s daughter and eventually Amber herself. However, Amber still is struggling financially to the point where she needs an old-fashioned loan from the pawn shop. Will the madness ever end?

Production Quality (2 points)

As per usual for most recent Harold Cronk and PureFlix productions, God Bless the Broken Road has a fine, generic one to offer with nothing particularly special or negative about it. The sets, locations, and props are somewhat limited, but camera work, video quality, and audio quality are all fine. The vanilla soundtrack leaves something to be desired, and the editing is poor because of the nature of the story, but on the whole, this is a fine attempt. However, this brand of production is also becoming very common place in Christian entertainment, so it’s time for deep-pocketed outfits like PureFlix to show us a little something more.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-2 points)

Regardless, any good this film has to offer is totally negated by the total nonsense of this plot. At times, it feels copied from a Karen Kingsbury novel since this idea has been done so much before, but it’s actually worse because of the logical inconsistencies and flimsy premise. Too many unrealistic things happen that don’t appear to be rooted in reality, and this makes a mockery of real problems people may face in life. Most of the scenes are cheesily forced to convey a certain point in typical PureFlix Obvious style. An example of this is an old standby: awkward sermonizing of lessons they want the audience to be force-fed. Another instance is shown through the most generic dialogue and conversations that were surely purchased (or stolen) from Acme Stock Dialogue, Inc. The characters are just pawns in the inevitable progression of the plot as convenient turns happen to drive home certain agendas. Perhaps the worst part of it all is the fact that every horribly overused inspirational cliche is car-crashed into this one epic fail of a film…an exploration of how this is done would require a completely separate analysis. As a whole, God Bless the Broken Road is just another example of PureFlix Drama wherein every scene has to be an emotional climax as the characters are just extremely stereotyped caricatures designed to represent issues rather than people. If you’re looking for a corny Christian movie all-in-one deal, this one will be worth your money and time. Otherwise, avoid it like the plague.

Acting Quality (1 point)

While plastic white people take center stage to bore us with bland performances (in their defense, they weren’t given much to work with in the line department), better cast members are forced to take backseat as they watch the madness unfold before them and likely wonder when they’ll ever make a big enough break to no longer be trapped in PureFlix World. Main cast members come off as dead-faced and emotionally blank a lot of the time, which makes the forced emotional climaxes of the plot even worse. In the end, there’s some good here, but this sections rounds off an overall unacceptable effort in today’s Christian entertainment world.

Conclusion

If we wanted the sappiest, most unrealistic Hallmark film we could find, we would watch this film because it at least isn’t constantly interrupted by drug commercials. But who’s got that kind of time? Instead, let’s hope films like God Bless the Broken Road will become less and less commonplace as Christian audiences demand more quality from Christian entertainment creators. We’ve finally gotten to where above-average productions are commonplace, so it’s time to let the writers be the writers when it comes to screenplays.

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

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Run the Race (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

It seems like Zach and Dave Truett have always been dealt a bad hand in life. Their mother died, and their father soon after fell into alcoholism. Dave suffers from a medical condition, so when Zach tears his ACL at a party, his chances of a football scholarship, their only clear way out of their small town, are jeopardized. This forces Zach to do the soul-searching he had always avoided since their mother died, and it leads the brothers to unexpected places.

Production Quality (2 points)

As the first production funded and facilitated by the Tebow brothers, they have definitely shown that they can aggregate funds and put them to fairly good use. For the most part, this production is quite good and hits all the right notes, including good video quality, effective camera work, professional audio quality, and a great soundtrack. Sets, locations, and props are also adequately used and constructed. While the music is good, one drawback is the many dizzying sports montages that seem to eat up most of the runtime. Because of the time spent on this part, other scenes in the film are awkwardly and abruptly cut off with poor transitions. However, on the whole, this is an above-average production that is great for a first time effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, the money put into the production didn’t reflect well in the plot department. While something good is trying to be portrayed in this story, it doesn’t come through well at all, mostly due to the quick, clipped scenes that leave little room for proper development. Much of the dialogue refers to off-screen content or is very punctuated; this makes for awkward conversations that are inadequate in building characters effectively. While there are some attempts to take a real look at issues facing small towns in America and the people in them, too much time is spent on sports and training montages, which makes for a fairly choppy story presentation that doesn’t flow very well at all. There are too many missed opportunities as mindless sequences crowd the runtime, and many of the characters are too basic and one-dimensional. Difficult topics are mishandled with cliches, and unexpected time jumps leave the viewer disoriented to the story’s progression. Besides a handful of good scenes near the end of the film, this movie mainly talks about things without really showing them to you and fixes things without any heart behind them. In better screenwriting hands, this could have been a great exploration of relevant issues facing ordinary people, but we are left wondering what could have been.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

On the whole, the acting of this film could have been good, and while there aren’t any glaring errors, it’s still a bit thin. Better coaching would have likely brought out the potential in the cast members, and even so, it’s not as bad as it could have been. However, it’s not really dynamic either, which makes this an average section that rounds off a middle-of-the-road film.

Conclusion

In summary, Run the Race is fine for a freshman film effort, but with higher standards being set in the Christian entertainment market, new film makers will need to aim higher if they want to make their mark. Good productions have become more of a benchmark than they once were, and acting should at least be above average. The films that will truly set themselves apart moving forward are those that have dynamic plots and effective storytelling techniques. Perhaps in the their next attempt, the Tebow brothers can wield their fundraising skills to support a truly talented screenwriter.

Final Rating: 4 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

Hitting the Breaks, Season 1 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

After racecar driver Randy Wilcox crashes his car in a race, his family convinces him to retire.  Thus, he decides to move the bed and breakfast in rural Colorado that his father willed to him.  What the Wilcox family finds there is a lack of modern conveniences and a collection of quirky characters who live eccentric lives.  Yet through the comedic mishaps they endure, they begin to like their new home, despite the inconveniences.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though the production of this series looks good on the surface, it really just boils down to a silly sitcom.  Video quality is fine, but camera work has a lot of shortcuts taken in it due to the genre.  The genre also brings with it an obnoxious laugh track, as if we are to believe that this was recorded in front of a live studio audience.  However, other audio quality is fine, even if the soundtrack is extremely generic.  Furthermore, sets and locations are severely limited, once again due to the sitcom genre.  Finally, editing is very standard and uninspiring.  Basically, PureFlix still knows how to make things look good on the outside without any real substance.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Much like past comedy projects from the bizarre minds of David A. R. White and Tommy Blaze, Hitting the Breaks is one half lazy and one half downright zany and nonsensical.  Full of cheesy small town characters that are obviously copycatting other films and series, one has to endure constant reality television confessionals that litter the series.  In these ten episodes, each one follows a predictable formula: David A. R. White gets himself into some comedic escapade and then has to get out of it in twenty minutes or less to leave himself time to read a ‘life lesson’ from his father’s journal at the end that attempts to force a purpose into this madness.  These ‘life lessons’ are laughably cheap Christian messages, thus leaving the series pointless and purposeless.  Most of the comedy isn’t even funny, whether it’s for the right reason or the wrong reason.  The dialogue is chock-full of stupid catchphrases and caricatures as everything generally gets zanier and less explainable as the series progresses.  In the end, it’s like they just run out of ideas and find a random way to end it.  Basically, there is little to no point in this mess.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

For this barn-burning cast, PureFlix trotted out ever crazy person they have ever had in their films and put them all together in one place.  Everyone is as absurd as can be expected, especially the Whites, Kevin Downes, Moran Fairchild, and everyone’s favorite Jennifer Lyons.  Gregg Binkley makes a special spectacle of himself throughout the series as he tries desperately to be the new Barney Fife.  It’s surprising that Tommy Blaze didn’t make an appearance in this cast, yet the cast of Ray Wise is actually appropriate for once and saves this section from the abyss.  But it’s still not good enough to count for much.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

With extremely short episodes that repeat the same formula over and over again, it’s safe to say there is no continuity here.  There are no story arcs or characters arcs to speak of.  Thus, there is nothing good to say here either.

Conclusion

Once again, PureFlix is one step ahead of other film makers by breaking new ground for Christian entertainment.  Though this is the first legitimate Christian sitcom, that doesn’t mean it’s any good.  The PureFlix crew basically just packaged up all the craziness they’ve had pent up since Me Again and put it all into one wild series just for the sake of making it.  There is zero purpose and no clear direction here and it only further serves as an embarrassment to Christian entertainment.  Needless to say, the world is still waiting for a truly legitimate and interesting Christian series, which is something that is obviously very difficult to come by.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 14 points

 

90 Minutes in Heaven (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Don Piper was driving home from a church conference one rainy day, he was blindsided by a rogue eighteen-wheeler semi-truck, which crushed his car and killed him on the spot.  When he passed into the afterlife, he entered Heaven and saw people who has gone before him.  However, due to the prayers of a man at the crash site, Don was pulled back to earth, full of injuries.  For months, he was confined to a hospital bed and his wife and children went through many trials due to Don’s uncertain medical condition.  However, through it all, God showed Himself to be faithful.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

90 Minutes in Heaven is one of those mainstream films about Christian concepts that puts many Christian films to shame due to its commitment to a high production quality.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what it should be.  The soundtrack is very creative and engaging.  Sets, locations, and props are highly authentic and realistic, especially for the time frame.  Finally, the editing is relatively good considering the large amount of content that is taken on in this film.  In the end, this is the standard production quality we should see with each movie that comes out.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though this is a very interesting and realistic true story that definitely warrants a movie of its own, it’s hard to think that it was handled very well in this particular film.  For one, unnecessary and heavy-handed narration forces the plot along and explains things that should be allowed to develop on their own.  The narration stunts character development and subverts the use of effective flashbacks.  There are plenty of characters in this film, but it’s hard to get to know any of them very well due to the constant voiceover.  Besides this, the presentation of this otherwise good story is very slow and boring, perhaps in attempts to be overly dramatic.  Nonetheless, it doesn’t come off right as there are too many stop and start scenes and dead sequences before all of the important information is shoved at the end.  In the end, this movie carries an important message that is not handled very well.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This movie clearly has a professional cast with plenty of recognizable names, yet sometimes the cast members appear to be overconfident in their abilities.  There’s no question that they have talent, but they underwhelm in their performances, like they are just phoning it in.  But for the most part, this section does reflect a professional effort.

Conclusion

Movies like this one, that are made by ‘Hollywood’ for Christians are usually a mixed bag.  Professional production and casting is rarely shirked on, but there always seem to be those lingering problems that drag it down.  The story behind 90 Minutes in Heaven is worthy of the Hall of Fame, yet this film is not due to a handful of small issues that hold it back.  Yet regardless, many will find this film to be enjoyable and it’s certainly worth your time.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

God’s Not Dead 2 (Movie Review)

Is this thing over yet?
Is this thing over yet?

Plot Summary

When Christian teacher Grace Wesley is sued by a student’s parents for daring to mention the name of Jesus in her classroom, she is confused as to what is even happening to her. Yet, inspired by the wisdom of her ailing father whom she takes care of, Grace refuses to back down and begins working with her union-appointed lawyer to fight back in court. With her faith under fire, Grace’s case draws the attention of many from the town of Hope Springs, including Pastor James White David Hill, who serves on the jury. As Grace’s beliefs are attacked and tested over and over again, she must dig deep to withstand the world’s onslaught so that Christianity is not snuffed out forever.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

In the new era of PureFlix, video quality and camera work are no longer in question.  The sets, locations, and surroundings are respectable.  The musical score is average.  On the surface, God’s Not Dead 2 looks like a professional film, but there are many hidden issues therein.  Of the high profile Christian movies we have reviewed, this is possibly the worst edited one to date.  The many-subplots addiction from God’s Not Dead and Do You Believe? is back, and this time, they are more empty than ever.  As will be discussed next, there long sections of this movie that consist of characters staring into space and attempting to sing.  Essentially, this was just a lazy production effort that looks good on the outside but not on the inside.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

In this plot, Christian characters are very perfect in every way while atheist characters are hopelessly evil.  What’s more, atheists are borderline ridiculed, giving an embarrassing feel to the film.  Subplots jump all over the place, confusing the viewer.  The premise and other plot happenings are unrealistic and cannot be reconciled with reality.  The storyline is saturated with legal rhetoric that is either only half-true or isolating to the audience.  Besides these glaringly obvious issues, the plot does not hold the attention and is very drab.  There are many slow and melancholy scenes that seem to be designed only to pad the runtime.  Large portions of the film are dedicated to advertising apologetic books and other Christian ‘celebrities’.  While there is a lot of good information in these product placements, it flies over the audience’s heads and is not remembered.  With all this wasted time, there is zero character development, therefore we cannot even appreciate the struggles that are portrayed.  In addition, the dialogue is chock-full of swipes at atheists and ‘worldly’ people.  The ending is very empty and anticlimactic (despite desperate attempts) and even includes an off-the-wall post-credits scene.  Basically, David A. R. White and company just phoned this one in, hoping that the title name recognition would garner them some more cash.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

While this section is not all bad, there is a lot of monotone acting in this film.  In another attempt to create buzz by trotting out C-grade ‘big name’ actors and actresses (in addition to the typical PureFlix clowns), this attempt basically flops.  Most of the characters carry a Hallmark-ish look to them, with far too much makeup and costuming.  Other cast members are just blank—even though they show potential, there’s no one to draw it out.  In the end, there is really nothing new here.

Conclusion

In our experience, the world portrayed in this film has never existed.  This is not to diminish the plights of some, but the realm PureFlix constructs in many of their films is over the top and outside of reality.  Rather than preaching to the choir with a juvenile us-against-the-world narrative that further divides Christians and atheists, the money spent on these types of films would be better spent on films that actually strengthen the church as a whole and tastefully address how American Christian behavior can improve.  No one will be saved as a result of God’s Not Dead 2.  Christians will not be inspired to grow closer to God as a result of viewing this movie.  I would never recommend this movie to a non-believer because the creators give no concern to opposing points of view.  Since we as Christians have the truth, we have no need to force it down people’s throats with no regard for their feelings.  Delegitimizing someone else’s beliefs has no place in the gospel message.  Yet with an awkwardly placed post-credits scene, we are all but promised more of the same nonsense from PureFlix.  This is not the direction Christian film needs to go in and now more than ever we need someone who will stand up and combat the image movies like this one project.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points