Summer of ’67 (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In the years of the Vietnam War, families faced many different unique challenges posed by the international conflict.  Milly and Gerald have recently been married, but they have been forced to live with Gerald’s eccentric mother due to financial challenges.  Milly’s sister Kate is torn between the pro-war and anti-war efforts due to her mother’s past suicide.  When Gerald and Kate’s on-and-off boyfriend Peter are called to the war front for various reasons, Milly and Kate must both live with Gerald’s eccentric mother Joanna as the world around them seems to be falling apart.  Together, they must rekindle the faith they were always taught in order to make it through.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Sharon and Fred Wilharm of Mainstreet Productions have always had a commitment to building authentic productions.  Summer of ’67 is no exception, as they demonstrate a clear attention to specific historical detail in the props, sets, and locations.  Video quality and camera work are also quite professional.  Audio quality is mostly fine as well, although the soundtrack can sometimes be too loud and somewhat out of place.  As they are still transitioning from making silent films, some adjustments like this can be expected.  Also, the editing can be a bit choppy at times, which can cause the story presentation to be confusing.  Overall, with just a few more tweaks, the Wilharms are very close to mastering professional productions, especially those in need of historical authenticity.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, as Mainstreet Productions used to only make silent films, the plot of Summer of ’67 is not really what it could be.  It comes off as a loose collection of ideas that need better synthesis and organization.  The good thing is that the story does unfold without narration, but some of the dialogue is slightly expository.  Outside of a few interesting conversations, unfortunately, the dialogue does not do enough to build the characters as people.  Some scenes are too short and not explained very well, and time seems to jump from one thing to the next without very clear coherency or organization.  Thus, a lot of the characters come off as shallow, even though they have potential, and a lot of story ideas seem unfinished.  While the ending is very interesting and realistic, the lead-up is not quite enough to hold the attention of the audience.  Overall, it’s clear that the Wilharms really care about trying to making great films; they are just not quite there yet in the plot department.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Another adjustment from making silent films is obviously going to be acting coaching.  While this cast is mostly fine and has a lot of potential, there are one too many scenes where the cast members don’t appear to know what they are doing.  Some of the acting is too stilted and robotic in both line and emotional delivery.  As a good note, this might be Mimi Sagadin’s best role, but she needed a bit more screen time than she was given.  On the whole, this section is mostly average.

Conclusion

We know that the Wilharms really do mean well in their films, and the historical authenticity of this production has great value.  It’s definitely going to be an adjustment to move from silent to non-silent films, so growing pains are to be expected.  However, since the Wilharms have always been committed to improving however they can, we believe that Summer of ’67 is something that can be built off of for future improvement.  Perhaps next time, if a more substantial plot is crafted, the next Mainstreet film could be Hall of Fame.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

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Samson [2018] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Samson was chosen to be a judge of Israel by Yahweh, but he did not always do as he was supposed to do.  He was anointed by God with superhuman strength when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, but when he disobeyed, there were serious consequences.  God used Samson to deliver His people from the oppressive Philistines, and He used an imperfect man to accomplish His will in the most extraordinary ways.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

PureFlix has clearly come a long way since the abysmal production days of The Book of Esther and the half-hearted production of movies like Apostle Peter and the Last Supper.  This newer rendition of Samson boasts a surprisingly high production quality, which is manifested in gritty and realistic elements that are not afraid to make the characters get dirty.  Action scenes are filmed very well with good camera work.  Video quality is crisp, and sets, locations, and props are very well-constructed and culturally authentic.  The editing is also good, but this production is held back from being all that it could be by weird cuts and dramatic zooms that are reminiscent of Revelation Road and by very obvious CGI architectural shots.  However, on the whole, Samson is a huge step forward for PureFlix Bible productions.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Right off the bat, the plot of Samson is hamstrung by immediate and unwanted narration.  Accompanying this story crutch is a typically PureFlix ‘creative license’ that they give themselves to do whatever they want with historical narrative.  As this film was shamelessly pushed as a ‘Christian superhero’ flick, it is full of mostly mindless action scenes and is actually quite violent for a Bible film–even rivaling The Bible miniseries for gory content.  With so many battle scenes and bodies flying around, there is no room for character development as dialogue is instead used to fill time, dump information, and force the story along in the direction the writers wanted it to go in.  In molding the story however they wanted, the PureFlix collective whitewashed the obvious mistakes of Samson the historical figure and made this movie into some kind of romance-revenge plot.  However, in some ways, they made some interesting connections between the true events of Samson’s life, which keeps this section from being zero, but they took too much ‘creative license’ with historical fact to be acceptable.  Regardless, we have no idea who Samson is as a character due to massive time jumps, and the recurring villain character is beyond cheesy.  In the end, plot was basically tossed by the wayside in the making of this pandering film.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Somewhere out there, there is a Christian movie consultant who constantly advises film makers to cast BRITISH people as Middle Eastern characters.  Sure, Middle Eastern cast members can be somewhat difficult to find, but what is the idea behind casting people with such obviously culturally inauthentic accents?  I’m sure with this budget PureFlix could have found some authentic cast members.  This consistent problem aside, the acting of this film is mostly fine except for the overly dramatic moments and forced emotions that are apparent here.  Also, it goes without saying that PureFlix consulted with Timothy Chey on how to give PhilistIne characters the worst possible makeup jobs.  On the whole, this section is average.

Conclusion

What to do with another Bible film?  Samson fulfills the gritty category, and the production is fine, but the other categories are greatly lacking in what is needed.  With a budget this big, better cast members could have been employed and better screenwriters could have been retained.  Then again, it’s doubtful that PureFlix actually cares about making a truly quality film.  Samson was just another attempt at a cash grab–PureFlix adapts with the times as needed to do the bare minimum to get enough audiences to pay for a ticket.  Now most people have forgotten this film even happened.  Oh well.

 

Final Rating: 4 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 (2.5 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.  The only nitpick to note here pertains to some minor typical elements and a slightly predictable ending, but the story was limited by reality, so this complaint is very minor compared to the excellent work of art this film actually is.

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: 9.5 out of 10 points

 

The Visual Bible: Acts (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Jesus Resurrected from the dead, He charged His disciples to go out and complete the work He had begun by making new disciples and building His kingdom on earth.  Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to give His followers power, and they spread His Gospel to ends of their known world.  God also raised up an unlikely champion of the faith in Paul of Tarsus, who formerly persecuted the very people he joined forced with.  Through the power of God, the followers of Jesus turned the world upside down.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Much like the other installments of The Visual Bible saga, Acts demonstrates superb production quality, including in the areas of video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is a bit generic, but the sets, props, and locations are excellent in historical and cultural authenticity.  There are virtually no errors to point out here—except for the fact that there is no editing, which is by design.  In the end, however, this is a top-notch production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Acts demonstrates the same ambition as other Visual Bible films, which cover entire books of the Bible in one film.  Unfortunately, while there are many excellent stories in the book of Acts, this rendition is simply too long to have full impact.  Once again, designed narration hurts character development and thus makes this more of an informational resource than a drama film.  However, it still has its place, even though this film tends to have a strange portrayal of angels.  In the end, the historical accounts therein are very enjoyable and worth a watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Unfortunately, Acts still contains the Visual Bible struggle for cultural authenticity as not many of the cast members are culturally appropriate.  While there are some moments that are too theatrical, this cast is mostly professional even still, with good emotions and line delivery.  Also, costuming is a major plus.  This rounds out another generally average effort.

Conclusion

At least this depiction of Acts is not cheesy, but one has to wonder what it would have been like if this was a series.  It seems like it would have had great impact.  Actually, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey already tried that.  However, I think we are still due a good series based on the book of Acts.  Any takers?

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

The Visual Bible: The Gospel of John (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The Apostle John wrote his Gospel to show that Jesus came to change the world, but He was also a man Who could relate to each person He came into contact with.  He performed miracles unlike the world has ever seen and changed many lives, all in route to laying down his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.  The religious leaders nearly always opposed Jesus’ work, but His work is still alive and well today.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

The Gospel of John follows in the footsteps of the other Visual Bible films by having a high-quality production, but it’s possible that John is the best production of the group.  This is evident through great video quality, camera work, and audio quality, including a culturally authentic soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are excellent in demonstrating authenticity and realism.  The only minor issues therein pertain to some odd and sometimes cheap special effects, such black and white flashbacks and unnecessary ‘flashy’ elements.  However, this aside, this is a top-notch production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Where the production succeeded, unfortunately, the plot did not.  Where other portrayals of Jesus in The Visual Bible saga are fair and interesting, the portrayal of Jesus in this version of The Gospel of John is not very inviting.  Instead, the Jesus in this film is a throwback to the 70s and 80s ‘zen’ portrayals of Christ.  Sometimes, he comes off as lofty and even a bit crazy at times.  Other characters come off as too dramatic, and some sequences are too sensational.  Like the other Visual Bible films, John has narration by design, which does not give us many good opportunities to get to know the characters very well.  However, there are a handful of positive elements here that keep this section from being zero, such as the opportunity to see some less-focused on portions of the gospel.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While other Visual Bible casts tried to include more culturally authentic cast members and less British ones, John does not always succeed on this front.  There are too many obviously non-authentic cast members, besides the fact that there are a lot of dramatic and theatrical performances.  In situations like this, where narration is built-in, acting is very important since there are limited opportunities for lines.  However, though there are some moments of overplaying, there are plenty of good sequences throughout this film that are enough to make this section average.

Conclusion

While The Visual Bible projects are commendable and ambitious, John does not seem like as helpful of a resource as the others, especially since it tends to take a turn for the dramatic and sensational.  Portrayals of Jesus are hard to pull off, but there’s no need to make them more difficult with ethereal loftiness.  Still, there are plenty of good parts to The Gospel of John, and many audiences will enjoy it.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Road to Emmaus [2010] (Movie Review)

Don’t worry, Mel Gibson will tell us why Jesus looks different

Plot Summary

After the death of Jesus, two men were on the road to Emmaus when they were suddenly met by a (perfect?) stranger Who appeared both know little about recent events and yet know so much about the Jewish Law and Prophets.  As the (perfect) stranger talked with them, they became hopeful over what He had to say, but they had no idea that their encounter (lol) with Him would change their lives forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Beginning with recycled footage from The Visual Bible: Matthew, Road to Emmaus is essentially an add-on to The Visual Bible saga.  As such, the production is relatively the same, except the constantly moving camera work that gets dizzying at times.  Otherwise, video quality, audio quality, and soundtrack are all fairly standard.  Sets, locations, and props demonstrate the usual attempts at authenticity.  There are some abrupt cuts that keep the editing from being all that it could be, but Road to Emmaus is generally another above-average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

While this is an interesting idea for a short film since this is a Biblical story that often receives little attention, it is still just a short film, unfortunately.  As such, it employs unnecessary narration that is not in the typical word-for-word model, as well as information-heavy dialogue that doesn’t help to build the characters and mostly tries to force the plot along.  The conversations therein are too obvious and push an obvious message rather than letting the characters try to naturally develop as real people.  It would have been more interesting, in my opinion, to frame the entire Gospel story into this one story through the use of flashbacks, but that would have required a feature length film.  For the most part, this rendition of Road to Emmaus is fine, even if it has a below average plot.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Like The Visual Bible: Matthew, Road to Emmaus has mostly fine acting, even though the cast is not completely culturally authentic.  However, emotions and line delivery are good, even though they tend to be slightly over-practiced at times.  There are some slightly theatrics, and Marchiano is not in his better role in this film, but costuming to good, and there are enough positive elements to make this section above average.

Conclusion

As previously mentioned, the story of the road to Emmaus could have been more effectively utilized as a present-day anchor for flashbacks to other aspects of the Gospel as Jesus explains the Law and the Prophets to the two travelers.  However, as this rendition is, it mainly just feels like a tack-on where it could have been the main thing.  Perhaps another film maker will remake it in the future.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Come Follow Me [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Jesus called Peter to follow Him, Peter never thought he would experience what he experienced.  Jesus called Peter to follow Him no matter what, but Peter faltered at the darkest hour of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Peter could not understand why Jesus was allowing Himself to be overpowered by evil, so he took matters into his own hands and found himself fallen away was Jesus was taken captive.  However, Jesus gave Peter a second chance after His Resurrection and led Peter to change the world for the sake of Christ.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a short film with a loose association to The Visual Bible, Come Follow Me is almost an afterthought, even though the production is mostly good.  Video quality, camera work, and audio are all on par with what they should be, even if the soundtrack is a bit odd a times.  There are some random bouts of odd lighting, but the sets, locations, and props demonstrate a lot of attempts at authenticity.  There are also some intermittent sequences of slow motion, and the editing is somewhat choppy, but on the whole, this production is good enough to be above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Although Come Follow Me is not a word-for-word rendition of the story, there is still unnecessary narration presented.  However, not being tied to the word-for-word model helps to develop the characters better, even though they could still use some deepening through more substantial dialogue.  It is good to see a portrayal of different aspects of familiar stories, even if some parts are overly dramatic.  As previously mentioned, this short version of the story of Peter is a bit rushed as it comes off as choppy and even flat at times.  It tends to only hit the high points, even though this could have been a feature length film, as there is plenty of Peter content to work with in the historical accounts.  Thus, this section can’t warrant very many points.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Unlike his original performances in The Visual Bible, Bruce Marchiano shows his darkly dramatic side in Come Follow Me, which is off-putting.  Other cast members also tend to be too dramatic and theatrical in their performances.  On the bright side, costuming is fine, and there are some attempts at cultural authenticity, even though this is not consistent throughout.  In the end, however, this film comes off a mediocre and forgettable.

Conclusion

There was a lot of untapped potential left at the table when it came to this film.  There are plenty of Peter movies on the market, but we could use one that truly captures Peter as a real person who can be related to by many.  The Bible and other historical accounts have plenty of content on Peter to use, so it’s up to a responsible film maker to use them well.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Visual Bible: Matthew (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In the Gospel of Matthew, the story of Jesus Christ is told, from birth to earthly ministry to death to Resurrection.  Jesus was not only fully God, but he was the Messiah, the Savior of the Jews and of the whole world.  He was a historical figure Who not only impacted everyone He came into contact with but also completely altered human history with His coming.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The Visual Bible was an ambitious film project to create movies that contained entire books of the Bible within them.  Obviously, with this sort of undertaking, the films produced are going to be very long and are going to lack substantial editing.  Moreover, the Matthew installment has good production overall, including good video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  There are a few oddly-lit scenes, but there was lots of effort put into the historical authenticity of this film, especially when it came to sets, locations, and props.  Though there are a lot of slow parts to this film, this is to be expected, and this production is overall above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Naturally, a movie based entirely on one whole book of the Bible, word-for-word, is going to have built-in narration.  Once again, this is a great take on the entire Gospel of Matthew from start to finish, but there are a handful of issues that come with this territory, such as a high number of scenes that lack dialogue and a hampering of character development due to limited dialogue options.  Nonetheless, this project is well-meaning and has its place as an informational resource rather than as a work of historical fiction.  It’s not possible to watch in one sitting, but it is definitely good and insightful to use in certain situations.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The Visual Bible: Matthew marked the beginning of Bruce Marchiano’s career, and after seeing this version of him, one can understand why he was cast so often as the Messiah.  He stood out in a world of drab, lofty, and ethereal ‘zen’ portrayals of Jesus from the 70s and 80s, thus making The Visual Bible an enjoyable experience with a positive, natural portrayal of Christ.  However, there are other inconsistencies with this cast, such as random cultural authenticity mixed with British and American cast members.  Moreover, most of the acting is fine, even if there are some slow moments, thus making for an overall positive film.

Conclusion

The Visual Bible project is a resource that can be used for various occasions and purposes, even if it is not truly a historical epic.  It played a key role in bringing Bible movies back to the correct basis of Biblical accuracy, which was a contrast from 70s and 80s attempts at using creative license with the Bible.  The Visual Bible is a good example to build off of regarding how to keep Biblical films rooted in historical fact.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Under Jakob’s Ladder (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jakob is a former Communist teacher, but he was relieved of his position when he began dissenting from the Communist ideals.  After talking about Jesus at a friend’s funeral, he and several others of various Christian sects are rounded up and locked in a Communist dungeon to be starved and psychologically tortured into submission to the Communist rule.  However, Jakob leans on God for strength and helps the men he is locked up with to find common ground and faith in God, even in the darkest times.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Under Jakob’s Ladder is a mostly under-funded independent project, so its collection of production errors is understandable.  For one, the opening sequence is unusually produced with several disorienting features.  Also, there is some poor lighting throughout, and the sets and locations are severely limited.  However, there are some attempts at realistic and historical props, and the soundtrack is good throughout.  Moreover, the use of black and white flashbacks is a bit off, as is the unnecessary use of slow motion.  Editing could use a little work as well, but there is some improvement throughout the film that is enough to make this production average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

From the beginning and on into the movie until the end, there is annoying and echoing narration that forces the plot along in completely unnecessary fashion.  Regardless of this, however, this is a very intriguing true story that could have been a true war epic had it been presented in a different way.  Despite some of the odd flashbacks, some of them are normal and very good at providing insight into character motives.  However, there are a lot of meandering ideas in this film that do not come to full fruition, such as the creative chess themes.  There are also some parts that are too dramatic, and the plot overall needs better organization and focus, as well as better character development through deeper dialogue.  Moreover, the ending is very interesting and thought-provoking; it could have been even more impactful if the leadup was more palatable.  Unfortunately, while this story had a lot going for it, there was a lot of potential wasted here.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While this film’s creators were definitely putting effort into the realistic costuming, the obviously unnatural accents need a bit of refinement.  There is definitely a lot of potential in this cast as their performances demonstrate effort and care, even if some cast members can be too drab and underwhelming at times.  Nevertheless, their performances are enough to make this section average.

Conclusion

The idea behind Under Jakob’s Ladder is definitely worth a remake.  Though this film was not funded as well as it could have been, this strong plot idea could have come through a bit better than it did.  This was a character-based plot, so we needed deep characters with strong motives and back stories, which we almost got.  Unfortunately, this rendition fell short of high marks.  Perhaps one day we will see a new version created.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 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

 

A Candle in the Dark: The Story of William Carey (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

William Carey always knew that God had called him and his family to be missionaries in a foreign country, but he never expected God to open a door in unreached India.  Unlike English missionaries before them, Carey and his family immersed themselves in the culture of the people rather than try to impose religious culture on people.  In getting to know the people and meeting their everyday needs, God opened doors of opportunity for them, but their stay in India was certainly not without hardships.  Through it all, God was faithful to them.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Although this production is somewhat cheap and under-funded as a curriculum companion, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not all that bad.  Sometimes the sets look fairly cheap, but outdoor locations and cultural props are fine.  Video quality, audio quality, and camera work are all fine as well, even if the soundtrack is a bit generic.  While the editing is a bit odd at times, there is definite improvement throughout this production, which is enough to warrant an above-average score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The story of William Carey is a great historical account to present in the form of a film, but this rendition tends to make the characters a bit too lofty than they should be.  This is done through dialogue that is too formal and unnatural, as well as some whitewashing of family struggles.  There is also a crutch of narration through journaling that moves the story along too quickly.  The time jumps stunt character growth as the story just tries to hit all the high points.  However, it is clear that this plot means well, and it does become more realistic as it goes on.  There are plenty of good marks here, and the ending is appropriate.  It just seems like it could have been presented in a more accessible fashion.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Plenty of care was given to making the costuming historically and culturally authentic.  There are also good efforts to have culturally authentic cast members.  However, sometimes the acting can be too theatrical and programmed.  There are one too many dramatic moments, but there are also plenty of other good moments that outweigh the negatives.  For the most part, emotions are realistic, thus warranting an above-average score here.

Conclusion

It’s frustrating when Christian films like this are so ‘Christianese.’  This curriculum clearly had an agenda to push, so it’s surprising that the film turned out this well.  As Christians, however, we’ve got to get out of our little boxes and make truly great movies that will make a difference.  We can really do without even more cute little Christian films.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Harlem Grace (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Joe is a Harvard graduate from a prominent Wall Street power family, but he shocks everyone by giving up all of his social connections and bright future as an investor following in his father’s footsteps and deciding to work with the homeless men of Harlem.  He begins with grand plans, but be soon realizes that the situations people endure are more complicated than he previously thought.  He ends up living in the homeless shelter he runs, but he impacts hundreds of lives with his work for the Lord.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a 1990s production, Harlem Grace tends to be a bit archaic, even though this is slightly expected for the time period.  This is mostly manifested in the video quality.  Though there are a few funding issues, the creators of this film are definitely trying to be realistic, which is mostly evident through the well-constructed and utilized sets, locations, and props.  Though the soundtrack is a bit odd at times, and there is an unnecessary use of weird sound effects, camera work is adequate.  Also, the editing is good, even though it seems like this film could have been longer.  However, in the end, this production means well and is good enough.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

This plot is based on an excellent true story that accurately portrays very authentic circumstances and the struggles the characters endure.  Because of these positives, it makes me wonder why this film was not longer.  Perhaps funding kept it limited, and this might have been a wise move.  Nonetheless, these is enough content here to sustain a feature length film.  We need to see more of these characters and get to know them better as people.  While the dialogue is good as it is, the progression of the storyline is a bit too rushed at times.  There are also some time jumps that hamper character arcs.  However, this film has a great message that can at least spark the creation of a better film like it.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The acting is likely the strongest point of this film, as the cast members are definitely trying to be realistic and natural in their line delivery.  They are obviously well-coached, and emotions are nearly always believable.  There are just a few small errors that keep this section from being perfect, but on the whole, this is a job well done.

Conclusion

Despite what this film had going against it—low funding and lack of attention—the creators made the best out of what they had, which is all we can really ask for.  More modern films with better funding can take lessons from Harlem Grace in how to maximize resources.  Also, future film makers might want to take note of the messaging in this film as a rough blueprint for future projects.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Movie Renovation: Pendragon-The Sword of His Father

See original review here.

 

Production Improvements

Pendragon: The Sword of His Father was one of the most under-funded productions that showed the most potential.  Thankfully, this potential was fulfilled in Beyond the Mask, but there were some things that could have improved Pendragon.  In many ways, it seems like Pendragon was filmed over a long period of time, with each part of the movie having a different level of production quality.  Despite the very low funding, the Burns family did their best to make the most out of what they had, which is all we really ask for.  For example, the construction and engineering of the complex battle sets and props was impressive.  However, video quality and lighting were very inconsistent throughout, and a lot of the audio quality was reworked in post.  Essentially, all this production needed was better funding, which the Burns family had in Beyond the Mask, so they followed through on their potential.

Plot and Storyline Improvements

Pendragon is one of deepest and most complex plots we have ever reviewed, especially since it was based on a long historical account.  Unfortunately, the Burns were forced to cram almost four hours of epic content into two hours, which was still an impressive amount of time for an indie film.  Even so, we feel like Pendragon could have been a two-part miniseries had the funding been there.  The characters barely reach their full potential, and their epic journey across time is barely captured in this limited window we are offered.  There is so much more that could have been done here if the budget had permitted.  The first part could have been about the captivity of Artos and his escape, while the second part could have focused on his redemption.  There are so many possibilities here, so maybe one day, we will get a remake?

Acting Improvements

Unfortunately, the casting and acting is by far the biggest detractor of Pendragon.  Obviously, cast options were limited, so their hands were tied.  The good thing is that casting got a major upgrade in Beyond the Mask, including the employment of an acting coach.  Still, if Pendragon were remade, we would need an entirely new cast.  As a side note, however, Marilyn Burns is a great costume designer.

Conclusion

The Burns family followed the indie film model perfectly: they began with an under-funded production that was rescued by a deep and complex plot and were given a greater opportunity to go further in Beyond the Mask.  Now, all that’s missing is a follow-up film (wink wink).  They are a creative team with loads of potential, just waiting to break out.  If they are ever offered a full theater release and distribution contract, then Christian film will never be the same again.

 

Greater: The Brandon Burlsworth Story (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Brandon Burlsworth always wanted to play football at the top college level, but he was always told he was never cut out for the sport due to his size problems.  However, Brandon defied all odds by adapting a strong work ethic that helped him train to become fit to walk-on and play SEC football at the University of Arkansas.  His life affected all of those around him as he made the football team better with his faith and his work ethic.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Greater is clearly a well-funded production as it is very professional.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The action sports scenes are filmed very well, and the sports props are highly realistic.  The soundtrack is adequate, and sets and locations are great.  The only small nitpicks to raise here pertain to some small editing issues, such as some lagging scenes and seemingly unnecessary content.  Otherwise, however, this production is top-notch and checks all the right boxes.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

While this film is based on a great true story, there is a lot of content that is covered in this plot.  Thus, character development suffers as the characters tend to only be pawns in the storyline.  The dialogue primarily serves to move time forward rather than to develop the characters as people.  There are also a lot of typical sports clichés and training montages.  With so much content to handle in one film, there are too many wasted sequences like this that could have been used to build the characters.  However, not all is bad here as this is a great story to tell with a worthwhile message.  Moreover, it had a lot going for it and definitely could have been better.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The acting is perhaps the strongest section of this film.  This is a very professional cast with no glaring errors committed.  Emotions are believable and realistic, and line delivery is on point.  In the end, this section brings this movie close to the fullest potential it could have had.

Conclusion

Greater had many key elements and advantages in its corner, but it didn’t quite get the job done.  I can help but think that in different hands, this film would have been a Hall of Fame epic.  With some slightly deeper characters and dialogue, along with a less choppy presentation, it would have breached the Hall of Fame threshold.  Nonetheless, this is an enjoyable film that many audiences will enjoy.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Same Kind of Different As Me (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ron Hall is a successful art dealer who has it all—except for a successful marriage.  He and his wife Debbie have grown apart from each other, and he has been looking in the wrong directions for love.  His marital conflict has now come to a head, so Debbie decides to make Ron exit his safe, affluent world to come volunteer with her at the local homeless shelter.  While there, though his heart is not in the work at all, Ron forms an unlikely relationship with a violent homeless man whose story captivates Ron in a way he never expected.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a clearly well-funded and well-marketed production, Same Kind of Different As Me had a lot going for it from the get-go.  This production is obviously high quality in a lot of ways, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is also very intriguing.  Sets, locations, and props are very well-constructed and utilized appropriately, especially the historical components in the flashbacks.  The only minor nitpick to note here pertains to some small editing issues, such as lagging scenes and awkward transitions.  Otherwise, this production is top-notch.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As Same Kind of Different As Me is based on a book and a true story, sometimes it seems like it’s too much like a book turned into a movie.  This is evident in unnecessary narration and obvious dialogue that tends to spoon-feed the story to the viewer.  Some of the characters tend to be portrayed too perfectly, yet this is a great true story despite these flaws.  The flashbacks are used in highly effective ways and are actually the highlights of the film because of the story they tell.  There are a lot of great messages and lessons to learn from this story, but we would have liked it if this film indulged less in drama and more in the opportunity it had to portray an epic story full of realistic, flawed, and accessible characters.  As mentioned before, there are too many lagging and choppy scenes that hurt this goal from coming to fruition.  However, there is enough good to make this at least an interesting movie to watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this movie is mostly professionally cast, there are a few issues that keep this section from being all that it could be.  For one, the lead actor and actress sometimes seem to be phoning in their performances, and at times they are too dramatic.  However, Djimon Hounsou and Jon Voight are particularly well-cast and well-acted; these two almost save this cast on their own.  Moreover, other cast members outside of Greg Kinnear and Renée Zellweger are also fine and post good performances.  In the end, this punctuates an above average film that could have gone further.

Conclusion

Same Kind of Different As Me had everything going for it, but it stopped just short of greatness.  The excellent true story and high amount of funding almost forced this film to be above-average from the beginning, but the pedestrian nature of its presentation and its over-indulgence in drama apart from character development tripped it up.  In the end, we can’t help but wonder if this was another one of those movies designed to make a quick cash grab at the theaters rather than make a real difference, which seems like the original intent of the book’s authors.  We may never know, but this is at least a fine film that most audiences will enjoy.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Noah’s Ark [1999] (Series Review)

Plot Summary

If Hallmark is to be believed, Noah lived in Sodom with Lot and constantly tried to stop people around him from fighting wars.  Then a strange version of God decided to scare Noah into building an ark to save him and his white family.  Once on the ark, the storm comes, and Noah and her family are all stuck there.  Thus, they begin acting crazy and absurd until it’s finally all over with.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Who knew Hallmark dabbled into Bible series in the 1990s?  For the most part, the production of Noah’s Ark is fine, especially when it comes to video quality and camera work.  However, there are some random lapses of audio quality throughout, along with a loud soundtrack.  Sets and locations are also somewhat limited considering the intended scope of this film, but props are fine.  There are also some very cheap special effects and obviously fake backgrounds, but the editing is surprisingly fine, and other elements show some improvement throughout.  In the end, this is just an average production, but there are a lot of other issues to point out in this series.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1.5 points)

When a Bible movie or series begins with a disclaimer telling you that they took creative license with a historical account, they are basically telling you to get ready for a whole lot of crazy.  What is the actual point of altering historical accounts for fun?  What if somebody altered more recent historical accounts for personal enjoyment?  Trying to squeeze Lot, Sodom, and Gomorrah into the story of Noah is just all wrong and cripples this series before it even begins.  Besides these obvious problems, the portrayal of God in this series is downright strange and bizarre, but this is only a part of this series’ overall weirdness.  There are other bizarre characters and insinuations, fueled by strange dialogue and useless asides that waste time.  Along with this comes several off-the-wall attempts at comedy and some totally head-scratching drug-trip moments that come close to making this debacle a parody.  In short, there really isn’t much good to say about this section.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Like many attempts at bringing Bible stories to life, Noah’s Ark gives no care to cultural authenticity in casting, mixing American and BRITISH cast members of recognizable names to sell this show.  Besides this, the cast is overall too dramatic, even though they do have plenty of good moments.  The costuming is also fine, but it’s not enough to make this section any more than average.

Continuity Quality (1.5 points)

Though this ‘series’ only has two episodes, the continuity is mostly fine.  There are some interesting character arcs and story arcs, but the many blatant content errors are complete inexcusable.  Thus, this mishandling of historical fact brings this whole series down in flames.

Conclusion

Too often, Bible movies and series become about Hollywood trying to make some quick bucks on a Christian audience.  But don’t get too high and mighty, Christian film makers—you do it too.  Even Christians sometimes take great ‘creative’ license with historical accounts (see The Book of Esther).  The bottom line is that there are so few good Bible movies and series on the market, and this is an absolute travesty.  Biblical films and series should be the best of the best, not a laughingstock.  We’re still waiting for this day to come.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 14 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

 

Stephen’s Test of Faith (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Stephen doesn’t like to be picked on by bullies at school because of his Christian faith.  When he complains about it to his father, his dad decides to tell him three stories of Christian martyrs in history, including the stoning of Stephen from the book of Acts.  Thus, when Stephen falls asleep that night, he has three dreams about the three stories, in which he is also a character.  Will his visions teach him how to not be afraid of the atheist bullies at his school???

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Though Voice of the Martrys has crafted quality productions in the past, Stephen’s Test of Faith is not one of these.  This film contains somewhat cheap and limited sets, props, and locations, which doesn’t bode well for the historical parts.  There is also some poor lighting throughout.  Further, this production has some odd camera angles and slightly shaky camera work, although the video quality is fine.  Audio quality is also fine, even though the editing is somewhat poor.  Overall, the low quality of this production, combined with the shortness of its duration, makes its creation slightly unjustified.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

This is combined with the fact that its premise is very unusual and almost insulting.  Equating real martyrdom and persecution with getting made fun of by immature kids at school is very odd and off-putting.  Did Voice of the Martyrs mean to tell kids they don’t have it as bad as people who are killed for their faith?  That’s almost worse.  Either way, it’s a mishandling of first-world problems.  Besides this, the story of this film has a disorienting progression and sequencing, which is helped by its short time frame.  Even so, the plot jumps from one thing to the next as it tries to cover far too much content in a small amount of time.  It seems like it is unable to focus on any one thing, and this makes the characters too one-dimensional and swept along by the plot’s circumstances.  Unfortunately, though Voice of the Martyrs might have meant well with this film, it’s a swing and a miss.

Acting Quality (1 point)

For the most part, this cast tends to be dominated by child actors that have an annoying delivery style.  Other cast members tend to be too forceful and dramatic, while others are unsure of themselves.  However, not all is bad in this cast as there are some good moments, yet this is not enough to save this film from itself.

Conclusion

With films like Bamboo in Winter, Behind the Sun, The Eastern Bride, and Closure, Voice of the Martyrs is usually able to capture the real struggles of persecuted Christians around the world, but trying to transpose these struggles onto the first world problems in modern America is just wrong.  This may have not been intentional, but it came off that way in Stephen’s Test of Faith.  We have to be careful not to demean the actual persecution Christians experience outside of the Western world by trying to make our minor issues into persecution.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Waterproof [2000] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Eli Zeal is just minding his own business as a convenience store owner when Thaniel Battle, a kid mixed up with the wrong crowd accidentally shoots Eli in an armed robbery.  This prompts his mother, Tyree Battle, to take Eli and her son back to her hometown to escape trouble with the law.  Basically a hostage, Eli meets Tyree’s eccentric family in a backwards small town, who try to heal his wound using their own sort of medicine.  Will Eli ever be able to escape the crazy house he’s stuck in?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As an early 2000s\late 1990s production, Waterproof tends to have an air of looking archaic most of the time.  This mostly pertains to the odd video quality, even though camera work is professional.  Audio quality is okay except for the loud soundtrack and some random background noises.  For the most part, sets, locations, and props are realistic, thus making for authentic historical surroundings.  The editing is fairly good throughout, and other elements show improvement as the film goes on.  In the end, this is an average production, which is pretty good for the time frame.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, Waterproof begins in a very odd manner, with a very eccentric tone and premise that dominates nearly three-fourths of the film.  The circumstances presented are almost unrealistic as they come off as cobbled-together and forced.  This story is mostly a return-to-hometown plot combined with a prodigal plot, only it comes with extremely off-the-wall characters that are trying too hard to provide comic relief.  Sometimes the story comes off as downright crazy as it is quite hard to take seriously.  For the first half of the film, it tends to meander along with no real purpose, and then near the end, it suddenly produces a profound message that is tied to an important character backstory.  However, for most audiences, this gem will be too late into the movie for it to be found due to the unusual beginning.  On the whole, it is very difficult to understand the true meaning of this story, apart from the good ending.

Acting Quality (2 points)

With professional cast members, this cast is mostly fine, even though some actors and actresses tend to be a bit forceful and stilted with their line delivery and emotions.  Other cast members are being purposely eccentric to fit their characters, but I guess they didn’t have a choice.  In the end, this is an above-average acting job that makes the film at least half-palatable.

Conclusion

It is hard to know or understand what this movie was actually going for.  Was this intended to be a satire?  If it was meant to be realistic, the eccentricities needed to be packaged a little differently.  It seems like there were many different and better ways the important message at the end could have been presented.  We may never know what was meant by this film, but perhaps someone can make an improved version of it one day.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Christmas Oranges (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Rose is an orphan girl who lives in Mrs. Hartley’s orphan home.  However, when Mrs. Hartley and some of the children die of illness one fateful month, all of the orphans are sent to other places.  Rose and some of her friends are sent to live in the orphanage of the angry Mr. Crampton, who has strict rules and doesn’t want children messing around with his stuff.  However, the more Rose learns about Mr. Crampton, the more she learns that he is hurting during the holiday season and needs someone to love him.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As usual for John Lyde and his creative teams, Christmas Oranges is a professional production.  This is evidenced by good video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is somewhat generic, but it is fine for the genre.  Locations are mostly fine, even though there are few of them, but the sets are limited in scope.  There are also some random scenes that are poorly lit for no clear reason.  However, on the flip side, the editing is surprisingly effective.  On the whole, this is a high quality effort that has become commonplace from this group.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

In a different turn from other stories from John Lyde and company, Christmas Oranges has a uniquely substantial plot that contains the accessible struggles of relatively believable characters.  Though there is narration that hurts things, the child characters are actually pretty good, even if the orphan premise is slightly cheesy.  There are also some silly ‘kids’ sequences and montages, along with some strawman characters.  However, for the most part, the dialogue and the ideas therein are mostly meaningful and do their best to avoid cliched Christmas concepts involving orphans.  Probably the best element of this storyline is its use of realistic character backstories to humanize the ‘bad’ characters.  On the whole, while this movie did not go as far as it could have, it is still enjoyable and is worth a watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

While most of the cast members are definitely professional, this section still tends to be a mixed bag.  Some cast members seem to be overdoing their performances just a bit.  However, on the whole, emotions are realistic, and line delivery is on point.  As a side note, costuming is historically authentic.  Overall, this rounds out a very professional effort.

Conclusion

The Covenant Communications\Paulist Productions\Mainstay Productions collaboration has been working for years to make respectable films, and for the most part, they have succeeded.  However, they have been plagued by an inability to get over the last proverbial hill that stands between them and film greatness.  Nonetheless, they have all the tools necessary to do so.  Thus, we believe that sometime in the near future, they will finally break through and make that dynamic film that has alluded them for years.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Joseph and Mary (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Joseph was tasked with being the earthly father of Jesus, the Messiah, while Mary was chosen to be the biological mother of the Savior.  However, they were just ordinary people who wanted to follow what the Lord wanted for them.  They watched as Jesus grew up before their eyes, and they were also apparently preoccupied with the life of a random rabbi who was their friend.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a new Bible production, Joseph and Mary is mostly respectable.  It’s clear that care was given to the authenticity of the production, even though the sets are somewhat limited and reused a lot.  Nevertheless, props are appropriate, and the outdoor locations are great.  This film checks all the typical boxes of good video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is adequate.  The only other problem to raise is the choppy editing that poorly handles the large amount of content in this movie.  But in the end, John Patus and the others at Leif Films are definitely improving over the years.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

So you want to make a movie about Joseph and Mary, yet you decide to use at least half of the runtime depicting an otherwise interesting story about a fictional rabbi who shadowed Jesus in the Lord’s early years.  This is a fine idea, but why not make the movie primarily about the rabbi?  Joseph and Mary are almost supporting characters in this story.  There is also unnecessary narration that hurts character development.  The healthy construction of the characters is also hindered by the rapid passage of time that follows the same characters as they keep meeting in the same places over several time periods.  There is also a tendency to hit the high points of the story rather than to settle down and let us get to know them as people.  The stoic and overly formal dialogue certainly does not help.  However, this film is an interesting perspective on the early years of Jesus through the eyes of a flawed and accessible character that is not Joseph or Mary.  Yet this good idea is somewhat soured by the strange ending sequence that leaves the audience wandering what this movie is supposed to teach us.  In the end, the Leif Films team is usually closed to good things, as evidenced in The Apostle Peter: Redemption, but they can’t seem to get there.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, there is not much good to say about the acting of this film.  For one thing, it is very poorly cast and lacks authentic cultural cast members.  Kevin Sorbo, a generic white guy, really has no business playing Joseph, besides the fact that he is awkward in this film.  Rather than being too BRITISH, this cast is too American.  The costuming is also somewhat cheesy, yet there are a handful of good moments that keep this section from being nothing.

Conclusion

Bible films are almost always problematic.  If the production isn’t a problem, it’s the casting.  If not that, then the plot suffers.  There are so many variables that have to be aligned in a Biblical film; after all, they are historical accounts.  Thus, they needed to be treated with more care.  We can’t have any more of these Bible plays coming out because even Christian audiences are getting tired of that.  We need dynamic authenticity, but perhaps the Leif Films team will keep trying and find the mark one day.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Messenger’s Box (Movie Review)

It’s magical!

Plot Summary

Jake Casper is just a random teenager who stumbles upon a magical box while cleaning out his late grandfather’s attic.  He discovers a magic nail inside that was used to piece the hand of Jesus.  Since it’s Christmastime, Jake decides to go around and heal people with the magical power of the nail, even the most evil bully in town, who’s dying in a hospital bed.  But will Jake and his friends be able to get past the security guards to save him?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The Messenger’s Box has plenty of issues, but at least the production is mostly average.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all mostly fine.  However, the soundtrack is generic, and sets, locations, and props are somewhat cheap, even though there is definitely effort here.  Some flashbacks have an odd quality about them, and there are some cheesy special effects.  The most obvious error here pertains to the very abrupt scene chances and transitions, like this film was chopped together in post.  Basically, though there is effort here, it still only comes out as average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

This film has one of the dumbest magical Christmas device plots ever.  Everything about it is extremely juvenile and overly dramatic.  Even with all of this, there is still not much content to speak of as not much happens outside of the magical elements and the awkward forced comedy sequences.  Most of the dialogue is very forced and scripted, and a majority of it focuses on the magical plot device and other insignificant asides.  Thus, this creates characters that are all fixated on either the magical ‘thing’ or on the dumbest sidebar topics.  Besides this, they come off as uninspiring and flat rather than accessible and realistic.  Essentially, whoever dreamed up this stupid idea of a film needs to seriously revamp their movie making process.

Acting Quality (0 points)

To match their characters, this cast is very robotic, stiff, wooden, and empty in most of their performances.  Emotions are basically non-existent as everything is either very dramatic or very matter-of-fact.  Line delivery is overly practiced.  Unfortunately, there is very little positive to say about this extremely cheesy film.

Conclusion

Gary Bosek and his team obviously did not think this one through very well.  Using Crystal Creek people as cast members is one thing, but basing your entire plot on a stupid ‘Bible’ magical device in a Christmas context is a completely worn out idea and is so juvenile that it has no place in Christian film.  This is just all wrong as a movie and should have been scrapped from the beginning.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

Wesley [2009] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In 1732, John Wesley had fully embraced the religious piety of English Christianity, but his life was changed forever when he was assigned to be a missionary to the American Natives in the colony of Georgia.  He always strived to be what he considered to be a perfect Christian, but his world was transformed when he encountered real people and was forced to come face to face with God’s grace and love for all humanity.  Only then did John Wesley become the spiritual giant he is known as today.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The production of Wesley is very rough at the beginning, including a lot of dark scenes and an obvious use of poorly disguised fake background, as well as some cheap special effects.  Also, there are some moments of odd video quality.  However, regardless of these struggles, there is a concerted effort in this film to demonstrate historical authenticity, especially through the use of realistic sets, locations, and props.  Also, audio quality is fine throughout the film.  Though there are some awkward cuts and transitions, this is at least an average production and is likely good for the limited funding.  With a little more honing, this creative team could be exemplary.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Since this is based on an engaging true story, this plot already has a lot going for it.  This historical account was definitely worth portraying in film, and there are many attempts even in the story to preserve authenticity.  The use of flashbacks is also effective.  While dialogue is good, it could be better and more meaningful.  As it is, it tends to make the characters too stuffy.  Yet the characters tend to improve as they go on, and the characters definitely experience realistic circumstances.  In the end, this plot is actually better than a lot of plots out there and is certainly worth your time.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The strongest point of this section is likely the historically realistic costuming.  At first, the cast members tend to be too theatrical in their performances, including some forced emotions and lines.  However, there is definite improvement throughout in the acting, which makes for an overall average performance.  In short, there are plenty of good points in the film, yet it tends to be tripped up by little things.

Conclusion

We definitely need more engaging historical Christian films, and this creative team is definitely on the right track with films like Wesley and Newton’s Grace.  With a little bit of tweaking in some parts, along with better funding and acting coaching, this team could soon be going places.  Even so, their movies are at least worth a watch and tend to bring a different perspective to Christian film.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Judas: Close to Jesus (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Judas Iscariot did not always intend to betray Jesus Christ, but he was always hungry for Jesus to begin a revolution to overthrow the Roman Empire.  Inspired by radicals and shunned by his well-to-do Jewish family, Judas felt he had no other options except for Jesus to fulfill his biggest dreams.  Yet when this does not happen, Judas allowed Satan to take control of his life and thus became the betrayer of the Savior of the world.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Lux Vide and the Trinity Broadcasting Network have always been committed to good production quality, especially when it comes to historical authenticity.  Video quality and camera work are good, and audio quality is also fine except for a sometimes loud soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are as usual the strongest point as they reflect at least some degree of historical authenticity.  There are really no glaring errors here except for the usual editing concerns, but other than that, this is a respectable production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Lux Vide and the Trinity Broadcasting Network did push new frontiers with their Bible movie ambitions, but Judas commits the same errors others did in the past, such as Jeremiah, Esther, Paul the Apostle and The Apocalypse.  While this installment is an interesting and unique look at a different Bible character than usual, for the most part, the characters are still too lofty and inaccessible.  This is especially true of the Jesus character.  It’s like they took cues from the 1970s Bible movies again.  There is also a cheesy romantic subplot to boot.  However, not all is bad here as there is an interesting Judas character arc and there are some realistic happenings in this story that keep it alive.  Yet this overall too-dramatic presentation keeps this story from being all that it could be.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Like the other Bible films from these creative teams, the cast is also too dramatic and theatrical.  Line delivery is sometimes too breathy and even archaic.  The cultural authenticity of the cast is random and inconsistent, even including some BRITISH people.  Yet at least not all is bad here, even though this film overall does not live up to its full potential.

Conclusion

It was certainly good of TBN and Lux Vide to try to bring different Biblical accounts to the big screen, but audiences want and need Biblical characters that can be related to, not more lofty play actors.  It’s unfortunate that a lot of these otherwise well-funded efforts went to waste, because there was so much that could have been done with these films.  But perhaps someone can use these as a blueprint of what to do and what not to do in the future.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Brother’s Keeper [2015] (Movie Review)

 

Plot Summary

Andy and Pete Goodwynn are twin brothers and always have each other’s back, even when they do not see eye to eye on things.  However, when one of them is falsely accused by a powerful man in town who can have whatever he wants, neither twin brother knows what to do.  Though it seems like there will never be justice, little do they know that they will be challenged to grow closer to God as a result of the adversity they face.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It is clear that a lot of work was done in Brother’s Keeper to have a professional production.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is very engaging and interesting.  Sets, locations, and props are all appropriate and realistic for the time period.  There are really no glaring errors to point out here.  The only caveat to raise pertains to some minor editing issues, since a large amount of content is being handled here.  But on the whole, this is nearly a model production and one we should see more of in the days to come.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The storyline of Brother’s Keeper is one of the most interesting yet most frustrating plots to witness.  It depicts an unfortunately realistic corrupt small-town premise filled with believable characters that each have their own flaws.  The plot writers were not afraid to be real in their depiction of people and thus have crafted some good dialogue here.  However, despite this plot’s many positives, it is hamstrung by a very disjointed structure that includes large and seemingly unnecessary plot holes and time jumps.  The portions that are chosen to be time jumps really make no sense as to why they couldn’t have been included.  Due to the other plot elements, one would think that the story could have more continuity.  Yet nonetheless, this is an interesting story that is at least worth a watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is a relatively professional cast, and it even has an excellent villain cast for Ray Wise.  There are only minor errors to speak of here, mostly pertaining to some overdone emotions.  However, there are plenty of good moments to highlight, and line delivery is on point.  Though there are some small areas for improvement, this is a great example of good casting and coaching.

Conclusion

Due to the scope of this idea, the movie either needed to be split into two parts or it needed to be made into a miniseries.  There is enough content and character development here to sustain at least a two-part miniseries or movie.  Even though this film falls short of the Hall of Fame, there are plenty of positive elements in it that can be applied to other films, such as a non-typical, complex storyline, as well as professional production, casting, and coaching.  It will be interesting to see if this creative team makes anything else in the future.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Come Unto Me [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Samuel and Mary make their living stealing from others because as young orphans, they have no one to turn to.  However, while on the run from the Romans one day, they are sheltered by a woman they have never seen before.  After talking with her and her carpenter son, Samuel and Mary are intrigued by them and want to know more about them.  Yet little do they know that the woman’s son, Jesus, is about to embark on the ministry work of His Father in order to change the world.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Come Unto Me is the best production yet in this short film series, including high video quality and audio quality, along with great camera work and soundtrack work.  There is still a concerted commitment in this series to use realistic and high quality outdoor locations and props, which is a huge plus.  This is mainly what sets these films apart from your average Bible play movie.  There are really no concerns to point out here except for some small editing concerns pertaining to scenes that overstay their welcome.  Yet on the whole, this is another great production effort that continually shows needed improvement.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, the plot takes a small step back in this film as the cumbersome dialogue returns and Jesus is still portrayed as a lofty and inaccessible individual.  There is also too much talk about off-screen events without showing them.  Indeed, a majority of this film is sitting around talking without developing the characters well enough.  Nevertheless, despite the someone boring progression of the film, there are a lot of interesting ideas here that need further development.  It’s possible that this could only be done in a series format, because the short film series has likely run its course at this point.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The acting remains relatively stable in this third installment as the same positives and negatives as before are present.  Costuming is good, and the cast members are still not completely culturally authentic.  Though there are still some moments of unnecessary drama, this cast is less theatrical than the others, which shows coaching improvements.  Thus, in the end, Come Unto Me rounds out another average film.

Conclusion

The good thing about John Lyde and his team is that they are focused on quality Bible films rather than churning out a bunch of cheap Bible plays.  Thus, they are definitely on the right track here.  Yet it still seems like No Ordinary Shepherd, He Knows My Name, and Come Unto Me are already set up to be a miniseries.  There are already three episodes made—now others just need to be filled in to create continuity.  Series’ and miniseries’ are likely the future of Christian entertainment, so we’re still waiting for someone to step up and show what they can do.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

He Knows My Name (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ever since Rebekah’s father died tragically, Rebekah’s mother has not let her do much of anything.  Rebekah wants to go with her neighbor Isaac to see the miracle-working man named Jesus, but Rebekah’s mother doesn’t trust anyone.  Rebekah is only left to listen to her blind grandfather’s stories about being an innkeeper with no room for a young pregnant couple from Bethlehem.  One day, Rebekah finally gets her chance to meet Jesus and her life is changed forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

He Knows My Name demonstrates production improvement over No Ordinary Shepherd.  There is still some odd lighting in some scenes, the sets, locations, and props are all very high quality, especially the realistic locations.  Likewise, video quality and camera work also demonstrate high quality, along with the audio quality and soundtrack.  There are really only some minor production errors to address here which typically pertain to some editing concerns.  The presence of one too many lagging scenes raises some small issues, but it’s not enough to derail this production.  Improvement is what we look for across time, and this film shows it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Again, we wonder if the plots of No Ordinary Shepherd and He Knows My Name could have been combined somehow, yet this film clearly has a good message and effort behind it.  This second installment is more well-thought-out than the first as the characters are slightly more accessible and less lofty than before.  However, the portrayal of Jesus has still not improved as he seems like a character on another plain of thought from the others.  The dialogue, especially Jesus’, still tends to be a bit archaic and isolating, but there are better attempts here.  Overall, this seems like a more true-to-life story than the first, and it shows a continued effort to improve, which is all we can ask for.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The acting also shows improvement, even though the cast members are still completely culturally authentic.  Yet the realistic costuming is still present and the cast members appear to be more well-coached than before.  There are some small trip ups pertaining to theatrics, but on the whole, this upward trend is encouraging to see.

Conclusion

In many ways, this unofficial short film series plays out more like a miniseries should.  This why I have to wonder if it would do better in a miniseries format rather than a short film format.  Miniseries’ certainly receive more attention than short films.  Besides, we really don’t have a notable Bible miniseries on the market.  With the advent of more streaming service options, there is really no reason why we don’t have more series’ like this.  Perhaps one day we will.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

No Ordinary Shepherd (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Saul is a crippled shepherd boy who longs to meet the mysterious, miracle-working man all of Judea talks about.  Saul remembers the stories his father told him about being a shepherd and witnessing the heavenly host of angels tell him and his friends about the coming of the Messiah.  Saul’s father saw the baby Who was called the Messiah, and wondering if he could be the same miracle-working man everyone talks about.  Little does Saul know that he will be given an opportunity to see Him face to face.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though a lot of good effort was put into this short film, most notably the historically realistic props and locations, there are still some issues that keep it from being all that it could be.  There is too much soft light throughout, as well as one too many dark scenes.  The sets are also somewhat limited.  However, video and audio quality are fine, as well as the camera work and the soundtrack.  Also, the editing is surprisingly good, even though this is almost too short of a film.  In the end, this production shows good effort and is at least average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Sometimes it is better to just make one short idea to get started with film making.  An extended and protracted film can waste a lot of time and resources.  However, since this is such a focused movie with limited time, the characters need to be given a lot more intense attention.  They need to be more accessible rather than a collection of lofty Bible figures that use too much archaic dialogue.  Also, the use of narration should never be used as a crutch in a short film.  In the end, it is clear that this film means well and carries a good message, so the effort is definitely applaudable.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This cast starts out tending to be too theatrical in their delivery and not natural enough in their emotions.  However, there is some improvement throughout, even though the case members are not culturally authentic.  But perhaps this was all they had to work with.  The good thing is that the costuming is realistic and avoids looking like a Bible play.  Thus, this rounds out another average section that demonstrates good effort.

Conclusion

With three installments in this short film series, it seems like they could have been synthesized into one film.  Yet one can understand why a responsible film maker would begin their work with a short film—indeed, there are many films that should also be in the short film category.  Therefore, in the end, this is a commendable film that shows great potential for the future.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Jeremiah [1998] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jeremiah grew up in the reign of Josiah, the last golden era for Judah as a nation.  As a young boy, God called him to be a prophet; however, he did not always accept this call.  As he grew, he knew he was destined to be a Levitical priest, but God gave him a message to tell the people that no one wanted to hear.  Jeremiah was persecuted for what he had to share and suffered terribly as Jerusalem’s days were numbered by the Babylonian siege.  Yet through it all, God was with him as he carried out the Word of the Lord.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For a late 1990s production, Jeremiah has plenty of good elements.  Affirm Films’ older Bible movies were certainly not perfect, but they definitely showed good effort.  The biggest plus to this production pertains to the excellent sets, locations, and props, which all demonstrate historical authenticity and great attention to detail.  Video quality and audio quality are also what they should be, including an effective soundtrack.  However, there are some drawbacks to point out, such as weird lighting in some scenes for dramatic effect, quick and rapid time jumps, fast cuts and transitions.  Thus, this production is overall average, but this is very good considering the time period.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Like too many other Bible movies like it, such as Affirm’s rendition of Esther, Jeremiah tends to portray Biblical characters in a too lofty fashion through the use of odd and cumbersome dialogue styles.  It would be nice if Biblical characters were not so inaccessible and theater-like.  But nevertheless, this is an interesting and noteworthy portrayal of a different Biblical account that often goes unnoticed.  It’s refreshing to see a different story, but at the same time, it is frustrating to watch because it had such potential that was wasted.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Much like the cumbersome dialogue, too often in this film, the cast members use weird, archaic annunciation, like this is a 1970s or older Bible film.  In a similar vein, a lot of the acting is too dramatic and theatrical at times, and too much of the line delivery is breathy.  While some cast members are culturally authentic, others are not, including several British people.  Yet there are plenty of good moments here and some cast members tend to improve throughout.  In the end, this rounds out a nearly average film.

Conclusion

It would be great to see this idea remade because it is a very interesting story that deserves to be portrayed.  Yet this movie can also serve as an example of how not to portray Biblical characters.  Audiences want to see people they can relate to, not lofty characters in a play.  The Bible needs to be brought to life in authentic and even gritty ways because it’s real life and deserves to be portrayed that way.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 pointsj

 

Come the Morning (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Constance Gibson decides to take her three children to the growing city of Los Angeles in search of her absent husband in the hopes that he has been able to start a new life for them all.  However, as they arrive in the strange new city, they find that not all is as they expected, and they will have to make some hard decisions in order to face the future.  Through it all, will they be able to press into their faith in God to get through the dark times?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For a production created in 1993, Come the Morning is excellent.  Worldwide Pictures has always been a standout company for their commitment to production quality.  Video quality, audio quality, soundtrack, and camera work are all what they should be in this film.  There was obviously great care given to the historical authenticity of this film’s sets, locations, and props.  The only small issues to point out here pertain to some slightly low-quality lighting in some scenes, as well as some quick cuts and transitions in the editing.  However, in the end, this is an excellent effort and is one that can serve as an example for future films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Unlike other Christian films newer than it, Come the Morning exhibits Worldwide Pictures’ ability to capture the real-life struggles of accessible characters.  This story is not afraid to portray gritty circumstances and contains a lot of good ideas.  The characters are very believable, yet they could use a little more personality through more complex dialogue.  They have a tendency to be swept along by circumstances.  It also seems like this story could be longer than it is, since it leaves a lot of potential on the proverbial playing field.  But regardless of this, Come the Morning is an accessible story that depicts a realistic story that many audiences will enjoy.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The acting is the strongest section of this film since there are no real errors to point out here.  This is a very encouraging acting job to witness, as emotions are all believable and line delivery is very much on point.  The costuming is also authentic, which show great effort.  This rounds out a very respectable creation.

Conclusion

We desperately need more Christian film making groups and creative teams who are consistently committed to rolling out movies that are quality on all fronts.  Five- and six-point ratings should be the norm in Christian film, as Worldwide Pictures always did.  If this were the case in Christian entertainment, we would be looking at a completely new field filled with greater opportunities and successes.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Saint John: The Apocalypse [2000] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a Roman soldier is exiled to the island of Patmos for insurrection, he does not expect to meet the infamous and fabled Theophilus, who happens to be the aging Apostle John.  A group of Christians whom the Roman solider knows also comes to the island in search of the mysterious Theophilus, all the while John is experiencing the visions from God that later became the Book of Revelation.  All of their lives intersect in a way they could not have previously believed.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

There is a lot going on this early 2000s production from Trinity Broadcasting Network and others.  Though there are plenty of attempts to create historically and culturally authentic sets, locations, and props, there are some other issues here that hamper the production.  These include some randomly poor lighting and wild zooms for dramatic effect, as well as some unnecessarily overdubbed audio.  The voice of God that echoes throughout the film is also a bit annoying.  A lot of the special effects used are very obvious and poorly done—if you are making a production about the Book of Revelation, you’d better have some well-funded special effects.  Yet on top of this, there are plenty of realistic gritty elements throughout, as well as good video quality and average editing.  Essentially, this is a very unique production and is a mixed bag at that, thus warranting the average score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, the plot writers decided to consult The Robe and the old Ben-Hur for how to make a first century Roman\Jewish story and cast of characters most like a soap opera.  This includes a cheesy romantic subplot and a lot of overly dramatic dialogue.  All of the characters are impossible to access due to their lofty and inhuman demeanors.  However, there is a very realistic historical context portrayed here, as well as a lot of good plot ideas that are basically wasted.  Yet these elements save the plot from being a total loss.  There is a lot of content here, and in the right hands it could have made a great two-part movie or miniseries.  They needed a better writer to be able to handle the complex content from the Book of Revelation properly.  But unfortunately, anything that involves TBN is guaranteed to be overly dramatic.

Acting Quality (1 point)

The same can be said for the casting and acting, as nearly every cast member uses a breathy line delivery reminiscent of Nicholas Cage and the actresses from the old Ben-Hur and The Robe.  Thus, line deliver is too measured and drawn out, like a Bible soap opera.  However, though the cast is not entirely culturally authentic, the costuming is at least historically accurate.  There are also some good acting moments that save this section from being a total loss.

Conclusion

One thing can be said for this film: it’s not your run-of-the-mill cute\boring Christian film.  It’s ambitious, but perhaps too ambitious for the resources the creators had at their disposal.  It’s very difficult to depict the visions of Revelation properly—this requires state-of-the-art special effects, which usually do not exist in Christian films, unfortunately.  Yet there is no excuse for having acting this bad, even though it’s not BRITISH.  This plot needed a total rewrite, but the idea definitely needs to be retained for future reworking and improvement.  Maybe one day it will be remade.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Wings of the Wind (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Rose Cornell aspired to be a pilot in the 1940s, which was unheard of for a woman at the time.  However, due to her father’s insistence, and a set of tragic circumstances, she was unable to fulfill her dream.  As one tragedy after another impacts her life, Rose struggles with her faith and whether or not God actually cares about what happens to her and her family.  Will she be able to come to grips with the truth before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

KICKS Flicks always demonstrates some measure of commitment to production quality, yet Wings of the Wind is an improvement over past low quality efforts, such as Sybil Ludington and The Light of Freedom.  They always show definition dedication to historical authenticity in their films, especially when it comes to authentic set, locations, and especially props.  These are all well-constructed and thought out.  Video quality is also mostly good, except for some odd blurry flashback sequences.  Lighting is also fine except for some scenes where there is not enough.  Audio quality is stable throughout, even if the soundtrack is underwhelming.  Finally, the editing is relatively poor as the story is presented in a confusing fashion.  But overall, this production demonstrates continual improvement, which is all we can really ask.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, this plot is extremely hard to follow as it lacks clear direction and purpose.  It depicts a vague historical story that is very difficult to put your finger on for some reason.  There is definitely not enough dialogue, which leaves the characters flat.  There are also a lot of tangential subplots that have no real resolution or explanation.  However, there is still too much wasted time and there are too many pointless sequences that lack substantial content.  Overall, while it’s likely this story meant well, it is so poorly presented that it is impossible to understand fully.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

KICKS Flicks always saves themselves from total irrelevancy by committing to historical authenticity, especially when it comes to the costuming.  When it comes to acting, however, they are lacking.  While there are plenty of good moments with this cast, there are one too many scenes of over-acting and yelling, which demonstrate overly dramatic emotions.  Yet line delivery is mostly on point throughout.  Overall, Wings of the Wind is another mixed bag.

Conclusion

KICKS Flicks is showing improvement, which is one of the main things we want to see from film makers.  They also continually build their own brand to help themselves stand out in the sea of mindless and mediocre independent Christian films.  If they continue on their upward progression, then they will find themselves on top eventually.  Yet in order to do this, they seriously need to retain better plot writing and acting coaching.  But it seems like they want to get better and likely will in the future.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

The Eastern Bride (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Pete de Jaeger is a successful South African businessman who never before considered the plight of the underground Christian church in the Middle East until he is forced to watch it play out before his eyes.  However, his girlfriend is skeptical of Asian persecution of Christians as she embarks to complete a news story on the modernization and Westernization of China.  Yet together, the two of them discover worlds they never thought existed as they try to help their fellow Christians around the world.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As an early 2000s, limited resources production, The Eastern Bride is fairly good.  Though it begins with some blurry video quality, this improves throughout.  Some camera work is also shaky at first and changes for the better.  Audio quality is fine throughout the soundtrack makes attempts to be culturally authentic.  The best portion of this production are the realistic and accurate sets, locations, and props, since this was likely difficult to pull off.  Yet editing is a concern as there is a lot of disjointed content here.  But in the end, this is at least an average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though this story likely means well and has a lot of potential, it’s difficult to understand at times.  Is it about persecution in China or persecution in the Middle East?  It’s likely about both, but cramming them both into one film is ill-advised.  There is too much random, meandering content that makes the film take a while to get to the point.  As it is, there are too many ideas to fit into the short runtime.  While it seems like the characters begin to be developed and are mostly believable, we don’t get to see enough of them, mostly because there are too many to introduce into this short of a story.  This is a large-scale idea that needed at least two different movies to support it.  It could also be a series, especially since the ending comes off as very unfinished.  In summary, it’s clear that the writers meant well and knew what they were talking about; it’s possible that they didn’t know just how big of an idea they had here.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As usual for the Open Doors International films, the cast of The Eastern Bride is culturally authentic and mostly well-coached.  At times, however, the cast members can be too practiced in their line delivery and emotional delivery.  Yet this is a very good, above-average effort all around.

Conclusion

Ideas like The Eastern Bride, Bamboo in Winter, and Behind the Sun are much bigger than their movies allow them to be.  What if each of these ideas took place in a mini-series format?  If the budget made it possible, the impact would be much larger.  But then again, the same could be said for many lost-in-the-shuffle Christian films.  Perhaps one day ideas like these will be brought back out and improved through better funding and plot writing.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Bamboo in Winter (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Su Ming decides to find out for herself what the Christians who live near her Chinese village believe, she discovers a new opportunity in life to have faith that she never thought was possible.  She is drawn to the teachings of Christ and asks the local preacher every question she can think of.  However, though she finally surrenders to Christ, she does not expect the governmental persecution that follows.  As she sees other Christians giving their lives for the sake of Jesus, Su Ming will have to decide whether or not she will one day do the same.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though Bamboo in Winter is an archaic 1990s production, it is actually not half bad, considering the time period and the limited resources.  Video quality is a bit blurry at times and audio quality is sometimes poor.  Camera work, however, is fine, yet the soundtrack is outdated.  However, considering the time period, the sets, locations, and props are very realistic and culturally accurate.  It’s clear that attention was given to this area, and there are other production improvements throughout.  Finally, the editing is okay, which rounds out an overall average production, yet it is certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Though the first half of this story is dominated by a lot of narration, it is still a unique, realistic, and believable storyline, even if it is a very short idea.  Better care is given to developing the characters in this plot than in most movies newer than it.  This is done through effective dialogue and authentic circumstances.  The audience can appreciate what the characters are experiencing for this reason.  The ending is also thought-provoking and non-typical.  Overall, though it is short in duration, this story has a great message that probably deserves to be reused in the future.

Acting Quality (2 points)

It’s surprising that a Christian film of this age had the resources to assemble such a culturally authentic cast.  It also seems as though each cast member is coached well as line delivery is mostly good and emotions are believable.  There are just some small errors here pertaining to over-practiced lines, but this is not enough to hold this section back.  In the end, this film is real standout in its time period.

Conclusion

This idea either needs to be remade or a newer, upgraded version needs to be created.  With a little more complexity and improved production quality, this could be a Hall of Fame worthy movie.  Regardless of all of this, Bamboo in Winter will always serve as an example of what can be done, even with a limited budget, if the film creators actually put care and thought into what they are doing.

 

Final Rating: 5 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

 

Paul the Emissary: A Biblical Epic (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Paul was called out by God to become a world-shaking Apostle for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  God took him from being Saul the persecutor of Christians to becoming Paul the Emissary.  He took the Gospel to the furthest reaches of the Roman world and literally turned the world upside down.  His work for God still has a lasting impact on Christianity today.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a 1997 production, Paul the Emissary is fairly good, but it still comes out at average.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all fine, as they should be.  The soundtrack is also okay, but it is somewhat generic.  Sets, locations, and props are surprisingly well-constructed and realistic, but most of the good elements in this production are marred by the most ridiculous special effects you can imagine.  If you don’t have the funding for professional special effects, just don’t do them at all.  Furthermore, the editing of this film is horrific, as tons of content was shoved into a short runtime, as will be discussed next.  Basically, this is another run-of-the-mill Bible production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It’s simply not possible to condense the entire life of Paul in fifty minutes.  Paul the Apostle couldn’t even do it properly with nearly two hours under their belt.  There is little to no point in trying to accomplish this impossible task.  Why not focus on one element of Paul’s life, like in Saul: The Journey to DamascusPaul the Emissary is way too condensed, which causes the story to jump from one high point to the next with no continuity or flow.  It’s basically a collection of random scenes about characters that are lofty and inaccessible.  There’s no way to get to know them as the dialogue is too theatrical.  Essentially, there’s no way you can call this movie an epic when it’s less than an hour.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Though this isn’t an overly BRITISH cast, most of the cast members sport weird fake accents that off-putting.  Besides this, most line delivery and emotional delivery are overly dramatic and theatrical.  However, the performances are not all bad and there is some authentic costuming to save this section from the abyss.

Conclusion

If you only have fifty minutes to make a film, do not try to make an entire life epic about a Biblical character with a lot of known content.  Either focus on one aspect of their life, or choose a different character.  Also, don’t use any special effects if you can’t use them properly.  In the end, while there were some good elements in this film, it simply wasn’t enough.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Resurrection [1999] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Karla Faye Tucker: Forevermore (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Karla Faye Tucker was formerly a drug addict and a prostitute who ran with the worse possible crowd and soon found herself convicted of cold-blooded murder.  Sentenced to death row, she had finally hit rock bottom until a prison chaplain introduced her to the God she had been running from all her life.  Karla underwent a dramatic transformation and became a sold-out follower of Jesus.  Through a divine set of circumstances, another prison chaplain falls in love with her, even though she is sentenced to die, and he decides he wants to marry her.  Against all odds, their story was broadcast for all to hear about.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Forevermore is another one of those early 2000s Christian movies carried by PureFlix that had very cheap production quality.  Video quality is okay, but there are a lot of odd camera angles and weird soft lighting throughout.  Audio quality is somewhat echoey and the soundtrack is archaic, though likely realistic for the time period.  Sets, locations, and props, though attempts are made to be authentic, are quite cheap and limited.  The editing has some potential, but it’s too amateurish.  Overall, this is a below-average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this is another interesting true story and historical account portrayed in movie form, it is presented in a very odd fashion.  This is mostly due to the off-the-wall dialogue, which creates eccentric characters.  There are too many head-scratching moments that are unclear whether or not they are supposed to be comedic.  There is probably a good message in here somewhere, but very few audiences are going to be interested in the archaically unusual way this movie is presented.  It’s very difficult to connect with the characters since they are hard to see as real people.  In the end, this is another half-idea that needed more thought put into it.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

It’s really nice that Karen and Kenneth Jezek like to star opposite each other, as they also did in Come What May, but they seriously need some real acting coaching.  They come off as extremely over the top and forceful.  They are trying way too hard, as are the other cast members in the small cast.  Like other elements of the film, the cast is, of course, eccentric.  It’s hard to know what exactly this film was going for.

Conclusion

Movies like this are unfortunately a dime a dozen.  There are many, many interesting true stories that are portrayed and should be portrayed in Christian film, but the follow-through is rarely what it should be.  Perhaps future film makers can continue to learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before them and will improve.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Dying to Be Heard [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Rachel Angelo is a high-powered executive who has put in the hard work and hours to get a big promotion, and when she gets it, she goes out to party and makes a lapse in judgment regarding a man at the bar.  Thus, she ends up pregnant and her boss threatens her to get rid of the child.  However, she accidentally goes to a crisis pregnancy center and becomes conflicted about her decision.  When she watches a random music video, she also thinks back to her family’s Jewish heritage and how they endured the Holocaust.  Thus, she begins to change her mind about the life growing inside of her.

 

Production Quality (-1 points)

Tender Shoot Films is unfortunately among the worst at production.  Their productions are consistently below market standards and below even zero-point productions.  In Dying to Be Heard, video quality is poor and camera work is often filmed extremely close to people’s faces, not to mention the fact that it’s very shaky.  Lighting is somewhat poor and sets, locations, and props are severely limited.  Audio quality is also poor, picking up unnecessary background noises, not to mention the fact that the soundtrack is blaring.  But by far the worst element of this production is the terribly disorienting editing that rivals My Refuge for how bad it can be.  In the end, it feels like one has to try to make a production this bad.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

Unfortunately, this theme being terrible only continues in other elements of this film.  It’s extremely disappointing that often pro-life films are so ruined in this way.  As previously mentioned, this so-called story is all over the place and lacks any continuity whatsoever.  The subplots are extremely disjointed and are only very thinly related.  Things are forced to go together as this story tries to cover way too much ground, even by having flashbacks within flashbacks.  Perhaps the worst part of this plot is the fact that the dialogue is so poorly written that the characters are laughable.  The ‘bad’ characters are extreme strawmen and nearly every conversation is either full of message-pushing or elements that make characters extremely black and white.  Problems are fixed for no good reason and the ending is a very rushed and forced conclusion.  Once again, you almost have to try to write a story this bad.

Acting Quality (-2 points)

Probably the worst part of this film is the awful acting.  The lead actress often comes off as drunk or high, and she is awful at delivering her lines, even though there’s not much for her to work with.  Most cast members fumble through their lines from time to time, like every scene was done in one take.  Emotions are among the worst and everything is so awkward and unsure that it’s nearly unwatchable.  It’s very hard to believe that movies like this are made.

Conclusion

Companies like FaithHouse, Cross Shadow, and Tender Shoot are extremely hard to figure.  They churn out film content on a regular basis, yet it’s often very bad in every way.  Production is often awful, plots are nonexistent, and acting is extremely amateurish.  Yet they truck along and keep putting out films.  Do they mean well?  Do they just need more direction?  We can only wonder about these things.  All we can do if offer constructive criticism and hope it matters somehow.

 

Final Rating: -4 out of 10 points

 

The Sword [2009] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Marcus Fidelius is converted to Christianity one night in a Roman jail due to an earthquake and the testimony of Paul and Silas, he and his entire family are transformed forever.  He passes down his newfound faith to his children and grandchild, and with it, an ancient sword that becomes a family heirloom.  As each generation faces their own challenges, the sword reminds them of the faith they have been given that will protect them in times of trouble.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

With a very low budget, The Sword has an understandably cheap-looking production.  In some ways, this is justified.  Lighting is quite poor at first, yet it does improve later.  Indoor sets are fairly limited, yet props and outside locations are pretty good.  Video quality is unfortunately blurry throughout, yet different parts of the film seem to have better quality than others, as if funding was better spent later in the production process.  Camera work and audio quality are okay throughout, although there are some odd camera angles at first.  Overall, this is a very good effort based on what was available to them and is very reminiscent of Pendragon.  It would be interesting to see what this group could do with better funding.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

This plot is based on a very interesting Biblical-historical idea that needs more development.  The writers clearly mean well as they try to present realistic characters and interesting dialogue, although these things need more development as well.  This fairly complex plot is ambitious and shows a lot of initiative, but the expositional dialogue needs to be kept to a minimum.  The story tends to skip through time too rapidly, thus leaving a lot of loose ends.  However, this writing shows a lot of potential for the future and should be built upon for a future project.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This cast is made of amateurs and likely volunteers, so grace is extended here.  They mean well, but they tend to be robotic and overly practiced.  They should some good potential.  Though some of the makeup is odd, the costuming is fairly good considering the funding.  Overall, The Sword is a great effort that needs to be followed up.

Conclusion

It’s good to go ahead and try to make a movie to show off your skills, but sometimes waiting for more funding is prudent.  Nonetheless, The Sword demonstrates what this creative team can do and how much more they could do with better funding.  They likely did the best they could do with what they had.  We greatly encourage this collective to try their hand at another film that is better funded, if at all possible, because they definitely have something to offer.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Chasing the Star (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Prompted by the celestial sign of the star, three Magi set out from their homeland to the land of Israel to discover the promised Messiah.  Each of them had their own backstory and struggles and they faced many trials and roadblocks along the way, mostly the attempted sabotage of the evil King Herod.  They also experienced spiritual warfare and spiritual awakening as a result of their journey across the desert, and they were never the same again.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though there are a lot of attempts in Chasing the Star to be a professional production, there are also some issues that hold it back from being all that it could be.  Video quality and outdoor lighting are great, but there is some random shaky cam for dramatic effect that puts a damper on things.  However, audio quality is fine and the soundtrack is intriguing.  Outdoor locations are very well constructed and utilized, yet indoor sets and props are cheap-looking and limited.  Finally, the editing makes the film very disorienting and confusing as the plot jumps all around.  In the end, this is a good effort, but it seems like more could have been done.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

As previously mentioned, this story tends to jump all over the place in a very confusing fashion that leaves the audiences isolated.  There is also a lot of cryptic, archaic, and even cumbersome dialogue that causes the characters to come off as stuffy and Shakespearean.  A lot of content is also very vague and hard to understand, although there are some interesting psychological elements.  This story tends to be overly artistic, but the use of spiritual elements is better than that of Forty Nights, even if they are still portrayed as too dramatic and sensational.  It’s great to explore spiritual warfare, but not enough time is spent on real and meaningful content, although there are some good attempts to develop the Magi through flashbacks.  Yet it’s still hard to access them as people due to their dialogue.  However, the last ten minutes of this film improve a lot and almost make the experience worthwhile.  Nonetheless, there are still a lot of improvements to be made here.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Similar to Forty Nights, some of these cast members act downright creepy, while others are simply too dramatic or too stuffy in their delivery.  There are too many reminders of a Bible play in this film, yet there is sometimes okay acting, especially from Garry Nation.  The costuming is a bit unusual at times, but it tends to work.  Overall, much of this movie is a mixed bag.

Conclusion

Chasing the Star is another unfortunate waste of an interesting idea.  We desperately need creative Bible stories that are focused on spiritual and psychological elements, but not like this.  They need to have slightly improved production and deeper character development in order to be worthwhile.  Yet DJ Perry and his team appear to be improving with each film they make, so it’s possible that they are on the verge of something great.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

The Case for Christ [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Lee Strobel was an acclaimed newspaper reporter who had seemingly reached a new level in his career with his in-depth research pieces.  Everything in his life seemed perfect, until his wife Leslie began talking to a Christian nurse who saved the life of their daughter and became a Christian herself.  Lee’s staunch atheism was immediately challenged by his wife’s beliefs, even though she had become a better person as a result.  Thus, Lee set out to disprove the faith of his wife by attacking the core tenets of Christianity and skeptically investigating the truth behind them.  However, the deeper he went into his investigation, the less faith he had in atheism.  He would eventually have to come to grips with what he really believed and make a decision that would change his life forever.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

After years of wandering in the proverbial wilderness, Jon Gunn and his team, aided by the new standards of PureFlix, have finally found the promised land.  The Case for Christ is a flawless production in every aspect and is an example of what we should see in every film.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are error free.  The soundtrack is highly authentic and appropriate for the time.  Sets, locations, and props are exquisite and demonstrate great care for historical accuracy.  Finally, editing is excellent as montages are kept to a minimum and each scene transitions seamlessly.  Basically, this is your textbook perfect production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

What better plot to use than a real-life story that many audiences can relate to for multiple different reasons?  Not only is this film about real people, but they are actually portrayed as real people through meaningful dialogue and realistic circumstances.  This film could have easily descended into an information-saturated and message-heavy dump that tried too hard to push its point, but that is not the case here.  Both the atheist and the Christian characters are portrayed extremely well and the highly relevant message is presented in such a way that it is both clearly understood and easily received without being pushed in your face.  In the hands of a different writer, this idea could have gone south very easily.  Yet it did not, and Brian Bird proves that with good content, he can go great things.  The only nitpick to raise here is some slight choppiness, but it’s not a big deal.  The bottom line is that this is an excellent plot and one well worth your time.

Acting Quality (3 points)

You can hardly ask for a better cast than this, as each member fits their character excellently.  There are zero acting errors to point out as every performance is executed with near perfection.  Emotions are highly believable and line delivery is on point.  This rounds out an excellent film.

Conclusion

In conjunction with Brian Bird, Jon Gunn has finally discovered his true talent and has struck gold.  He put previous disappointments behind him and found a way to become a great film maker.  All we ask of film makers is to show steady and consistent improvement, and Jon Gunn has done just that.  He was also afforded a great opportunity to tell the amazing true story of Lee Strobel and to have better funding due to the better decisions made by the PureFlix leadership.  This film gives Jon Gunn, Brian Bird, and the rest a platform to build off of to do even greater things.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

 

Samson [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Samson was a troubled man who God used to punish the Philistines.  Samson was supposed to be set apart from his people, but he did not always obey the guidelines God laid out for him.  He became involved with women who dragged him down and eventually met his destruction at the hands of his enemies, but not before God gave him one last chance to deal a blow to the evil Philistine people.

 

Production Quality (-3 points)

This rendition of Samson is among the worst productions we have ever witnessed, rivaled only by Final: The Rapture, David and Goliath, and My Refuge.  It utilizes the worst possible sets, locations, and props that look like they are in somebody’s backyard using everyday items from Walmart.  The scenes are full of shadows and the worst lighting imaginable, a rare production fail we have only witnessed in this film.  The filters are randomly black and white, but then again, it could just be the medieval lighting.  Besides these blatantly obvious missteps, there are a myriad of other issues that time does not permit full discussion on, such as the blurry video quality and the extremely overdriven audio quality, which includes stupid sound effects.  It goes without saying that the editing is notorious as well.  In short, it’s unbelievable that this movie even exists in this form.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Since this ‘plot’ is framed as a children’s bedtime story, it’s very unusual to choose the story of Samson for this venue.  Parts of it obviously have to be whitewashed, but this story sometimes doesn’t care that it’s twisting or adding things to the historical account, while other times it makes a big deal about not doing this.  Regardless, the portrayal of Samson is bizarre, even though he was likely an eccentric person.  Yet nothing makes any sense in this film, and there are no attempts to make the characters seem even the least bit realistic.  The story jumps all over the place and pauses for important interludes such as power outages in the present-day storyline.  But in the end, this plot really has nothing to offer.

Acting Quality (-1 points)

As if the rest of this movie wasn’t bad enough, this is one of the worst casts we have ever witnessed, and is right on the level of Fathers, if not worse.  These cast members don’t appear to have any idea what they are doing and some of them seem like they are being taken advantage of.  There is nothing whatsoever positive to even mention about this entire film.

Conclusion

This film is so bad that even the reviewers at Christian Film Database, who rarely criticize anything, frown upon this version of the story of Samson.  It’s presented in the worst possible packaging you can ever imagine; you seriously have to try hard to make a production this bad.  Thus, this entire experience is either a total joke or an example of sheer incompetence.  There’s really nothing else to say.

 

Final Rating: -4 out of 10 points

 

Billy: The Early Years (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Billy Graham is one of the most influential evangelists of all time, but he did not begin that way.  He had his own sports dreams and aspirations, but God got his attention and sent him on the path He wanted him to be on.  As Billy pursued education he felt that God wanted him to have, he was influenced greatly by a leading evangelist of the day, Charles Templeton.  Billy also met the girl of his dreams, Ruth, and the two of them began a life together.  But as God gave Billy more influence and opportunity, he and Charles found themselves at odds over a crisis of faith that would influence Billy’s ministry forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a semi-professional production, it’s clear that a lot of effort was put into Billy: The Early Years.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all fine and on standard.  Good attempts are made to make the soundtrack historically authentic.  Though some of the sets are limited, the props also demonstrate historical authenticity and the locations are mostly good.  The biggest drawback to this production is the poor editing job, but this is understandable since so much content is tried to be included.  Overall, this is an acceptable production that shows good effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Even though a small portion of Billy Graham’s life is chosen for this film, it’s still too much to handle as the story is mostly based upon montages and sneak peeks at larger stories that we don’t see enough of.  The plot rushes through time very quickly and jumps from high point to high point.  It’s framed in a very odd way that almost focuses as much on Charles Templeton as on Billy Graham, which is fine, except the movie is framed as a Billy Graham biopic.  Regardless, as time speeds along in this film, there is no time to get to know the characters properly, so we are forced to settle with cheap dialogue and one-dimensional people.  Despite the time jumps, there are still too many meaningless sequences and scenes of unnecessary and unrelated content that has no bearing on anything.  In the end, this is a commendable effort to retell a very important historical story, yet it’s executed very poorly.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Since the characters are given very little development, the cast members are forced to make up for lost time, yet they do so in unprofessional fashions.  In attempts to be ‘interesting’, the cast members come off a very over the top and quirky, as if they are trying way too hard.  Though the costuming is realistic for the historical period, the makeup is way too loud.  In short, this creative team gets an E for Effort, but not much else.

Conclusion

Historical plots are important and are often hard to pull off well.  This story in particular is very important to the history of American Christianity, yet many audiences will be disappointed in the slapped-together nature of this movie that even drew (thankfully) honest criticism from Billy’s son Franklin.  It would have been great to get to know these historical figures are people rather than cardboard cutouts, but this was not the case.  Maybe one day someone will retell this story in a better way.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

My Son, My Savior (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Mary was chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah, who would save Israel and the world from their sins.  Though Jesus was Mary’s son, He also came to be her Savior, and she believed in Him and what He had been sent to earth to do.  Though it was not easy at times for her to watch her Son work and suffer, she knew it was all part of God’s greater plan for humanity.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though attempts are made in this film to be realistic, they are clearly limited by a low budget.  Video quality is fine, yet there is weird soft lighting throughout that casts an odd effect on everything.  This is mostly in the indoor sets, which have a cheap feel to them, as do the props inside of them.  However, the outdoor scenes are much more professionally constructed and executed.  Camera work is relatively stable throughout and audio quality is acceptable.  There is an attempt to make the soundtrack culturally authentic, even if it is a little loud at times.  Finally, the editing is sometimes good and other times not, especially since there is a lot of content shoved into this movie.  In the end, this is an average production that needed some more funding in order to be adequate.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

As previously mentioned, this film makes a lot of honest attempts to be realistic and authentic, especially when it comes to staying true to the original historical account.  However, this adherence also comes off as very strict and stiff, which paints the characters as inaccessible and somewhat lofty ‘Bible heroes’ that we can’t relate to today.  While the creators of this film probably mean well, it’s too reminiscent of a Bible play as the story speeds through the Gospel accounts very rapidly in less than sixty minutes.  In the end, while the writers can be applauded for an authentic effort, there is simply too much content crammed into fifty minutes and not enough care given to character development.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The costuming work done here is okay, but it borderlines on Bible play status.  The casting is not culturally authentic, likely due to budget constraints.  This film was made back when Bruce Marchiano posted good performances as Jesus, and he is the standout cast member in this movie.  Other cast members are too dramatic and pronounced in their line delivery.  Though there are some good moments, emotions are not very believable.  In the end, this is an average performance.

Conclusion

Biblical films are difficult feats to accomplish.  The limited budgets of independent films make this even hard to do.  Film makers need to consider whether or not they really need to make another cheap Bible film if they don’t have the resources to make it well.  Though this film is intended to be an evangelistic tool, it’s unclear whether or not this would be that effective due to the low budget.  Perhaps this money should have been saved for a more worthwhile film, or at least saved until enough was available to make this a professional production.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 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

 

Sybil Ludington: The Female Paul Revere (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

During the Colonial era, when the Colonists were restless and ready to be out from under the thumb of the British, Sybil Ludington, along with her family and friends, worked secretly for the independence of the Colonies from the British.  Though it wasn’t always easy and they faced plenty of opposition, in the end, they believe it was worth it to achieve freedom.  Even though she is an unsung hero, the work of Sybil Ludington still affects America today.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Sybil Ludington is clearly a first-time effort with poor funding.  What funding they did receive it seems was spent on the historically accurate props.  Otherwise, the rest of the production falls by the wayside.  Video quality is poor and camera work is quite shaky.  Lighting is terrible in most scenes and the sets and locations are severely limited.  Audio quality is also fairly unprofessional and below standard.  Furthermore, as usual for a fledgling independent film, editing is almost nonexistent.  In the end, though Kicks Flicks usually means well, money was clearly a problem here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Much like its successor, The Light of Freedom, Sybil Ludington highlights an important and intriguing historical story that would be easier to understand if it was presented better.  However, as it is, this film has an extremely boring presentation that plays out like a homeschooler’s play more than a movie.  What’s more is the dialogue is archaic and cumbersome in attempts to be historically authentic or something.  Thus, the characters cannot be related to and it’s impossible to even be interested in this story because of the way it’s laid out.  It’s a shame because this is probably a good story that’s worth telling in some other fashion, like one with more money behind it.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Like other sections, good costuming that reflects the historical period well is the only thing that saves this part from being zero points.  Otherwise, this acting job is somewhat unpleasant, including terrible line delivery and painfully forced emotions.  There is far too much yelling and not enough believability.  Even if you don’t have enough money to fund your production, you can still at least try to have a professional acting performance.

Conclusion

Historical fiction is a tricky and ambitious genre to take on early in one’s film making days.  Though the Burns family has had success in this area, it’s certainly not for everyone.  But even the best of film makers sometimes has a meager beginning, so perhaps we haven’t even seen the best that Kicks Flicks can do.  Maybe things will look up for them in the near future.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

The Ten Commandments [2006] (Series Review)

Another crazy young, white, British Moses

Plot Summary

Moses, a Hebrew, grew up in Egypt, raised by the royal family, but after being driven from the land for committing a crime, he was forced to live in the desert among the Midianites.  He though his lot in life was to live among the Midianites forever, but God had other plans as He called Moses to go back to Egypt to free His chosen people, the Hebrews, from slavery.  Reluctantly, Moses went back to be the deliverer of his people and to witness God’s wonders.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

It’s clear that a lot of time and money was put into this made-for-television miniseries.  Video quality and camera work are professional, as are audio quality and soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and historically authentic.  However, there are some cheap special effects throughout that put a damper on things.  Also, although this miniseries is nearly three hours long, the editing is still poor as some content is cut off while other content is given too much time.  However, overall, this is a respectable and well-funded effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, that’s where the complements end.  It seems like anytime a mainstream company, even when they are joined by a Christian company, tries to make a Bible production, it fails miserable.  There are obviously exceptions to this (The Passion of the Christ and Nativity Story), it happens a lot.  This rendition of The Ten Commandments is filled with incessant heavy-handed narration that tries to force the audience to get to know the characters too quickly.  Narration also serves as a bridge for the plot, which speeds by at breakneck pace, while at the same time committing unnecessary historical and Biblical inaccuracies.  Though it’s ambitious to take on so much content in a miniseries, it’s almost too much content to handle, especially when time is spent on strange and seemingly useless portions of this story, in addition to all the unnecessary extra-Biblical content.  Besides these issues, there is a lot of cheesy sensationalism through this series, including a strange portrayal of God.  Thus, historical truth is freely edited and added to as the writers see fit.  Basically, where this could have been an interesting series, it fails.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Once again, this series is another instance of culturally inauthentic casting, including blatant BRITISH cast members and actors with ages that do not match the historical character they are plating.  Besides these issues, line delivery is quite poor, even though these are supposed to be professional actors and actresses.  Sometimes they are too dramatic and forceful with their emotions.  Makeup is also a huge problem as it is mostly overdone.  In the end, this is another disappointing section.

Continuity Quality (1 points)

Though there are some interesting character buildups throughout this series, their age progression is not historically correct.  Some success is found here in using the series format to create character arcs, even as the story arcs are already written for them.  Time transitions are also intriguing, but as previously mentioned, they usually move way too fast to try to cover too much time.  In the end, this miniseries leaves a lot of potential behind.

Conclusion

There is little to no point in trying to rewrite history in order to sell entertainment, whether it’s on the big screen or the TV screen.  When you already have the story laid out for you in a historical document, what’s the point of altering it?  What would someone think if a creator altered a different historical account that’s not in the Bible?  The Bible is not something to play with and change for convenience.  But don’t get too cocky, Christian film makers—you’ve done it too.  Perhaps one day we will have a high quality Biblical series or miniseries that will be worth celebrating.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 14 points

 

Esther [1999] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When King Xerxes banished his wife, Queen Vashti, for refusing to obey him, he called all the young women of the Persian kingdom to come and audition to be his new queen.  Among them was Esther, a Jewess, whose cousin Mordecai instructed her to hide her ethnic identity from the royal leaders.  Little did either of them know that she had been raised up by God for such a time to save His people from certain destruction.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though this film was made before the 2000s, Affirm Films demonstrated even in 1999 that they were committed to professional production quality.  Video quality and camera work are good in this film, even if lighting is sometimes inconsistent.  Audio quality is average, and the soundtrack leaves something to be desired.  The biggest win for this production is the professional and historically authentic sets, locations, and props which demonstrate care for accuracy.  The editing is fine but it could use a little improvement.  Overall, this is a respectable production and shows why Affirm is where they are today.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

This rendition of the story of Esther was likely the first of its kind in the modern era, later to be follow by For Such a Time As This, One Night With the King, and the deplorable Book of Esther.  In this 1999 version, care is also given to an accurate retelling of the story, even if it is a little too literal.  This is the only film we’ve seen that portrays Xerxes very well and likely accurate to the historical figure.  At least this story shies away from the silly ‘love story’ trope that modern film writers try to force into the account.  However, the characters in this version still don’t seem like real people as they are too dramatic and boring at the same time.  There are a lot of dead sequences and not enough substantial dialogue.  Overall, this was a nice try, but not good enough.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This cast, though semi-professional, is overly theatrical and too practiced.  Though costuming is culturally authentic, the casting is not always this way.  Emotions are also forced and feel manufactured, like this is some sort of Bible play.  Yet not all is bad here and this rounds out an acceptable effort.

Conclusion

A lot of time and money was likely spent on sets and costumes in this film, much like its later relation, One Night With the King.  However, what both of these films forget is substance.  Though Esther is better at adhering to the true historical account, it is still not presented in an interesting way that will engage audiences.  Biblical film makers can learn from this to not abandon accuracy but still develop the characters like they’re real people, not lofty ‘heroes’ that have no connection to us today.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points