Ragamuffin [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

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

Acting Quality (2 points)

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

Conclusion

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

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

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A Murder of Innocence (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

When Albert and Aimee Anderson move to a small town to pastor the local church, they expect all the typical things of a small town church, but nothing in their lives ever prepared them for what happened soon after they arrived. After discovering the dead bodies of their two newest and closest friends, the Andersons are left reeling in the aftermath as they entire church turns to them for guidance during this dark time. However, answers escape them as the culprit seems elusive and the townspeople grow restless and anxious. Will evil ever be brought to justice? Will they be able to recover a sense of normalcy?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a whole, A Murder of Innocence has a mostly fine production, including good video quality and fine sets, locations, and props, even if they are a bit limited in scope. A lot of the time, the audio is extremely quiet and muffled, and the soundtrack is either lacking or overpowering. Also, camera work is inconsistent–sometimes shaky and sometimes fine. Further, the editing is a concern as there are many awkward fadeouts throughout after scenes have gone on too long while some scenes have very quick transitions that cut things off. It seems like there was more content or some that wasn’t usable, so a lot of it appears to relate to post-production issues. Overall, this is just an average production, which isn’t quite up to modern standards.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Although it initially was a good idea to use a true story to try something a bit different, yet much time is wasted on silent montages and clunky dialogue as everything feels very scripted and robotic, especially the ‘perfect’ Christian characters. Instead of actual character development, we’re just left with offensive gender stereotypes that paint women as less intelligent than men. Besides this, the plot is largely based on very shallow concepts and doesn’t appear to comprehend reality very well. Throughout the story, there’s a mysteriously odd tone like it’s concealing some great secret, but it all comes to nothing substantial. If you’re going to write mystery plot, you need to make sure you’ve done your homework to make criminal investigations realistic and believable. It feels like there’s too much going on here that the writers don’t quite understand, which creates the odd mysticism. Besides this, a vast majority of the scenes are slow and dour without much balance or adequate character engagement as the plot drags on and on and chases fruitless rabbit trails. After using up over an hour teasing a possibly forthcoming purpose via dramatic dialogue and randomly extra subplots, there’s little to show for the effort. While it’s commendable to try a suspense plot centered around mental health in rural areas, the very steep character arcs and magical fixes in the final minutes really do the film in, especially since there’s nothing to hold the audience’s interest or make the film worthwhile. Without a central focus, the movie meanders and flounders until a conclusion.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Much like the other elements of the film, the acting is a bit stifled and lifeless as it comes off as over-practiced. In conjunction with the audio problems, the line delivery itself is very soft and almost muted most of the time. However, the acting is at least average in most places without any majorly glaring errors or standout performances. Though there is some unnecessary drama, this section rounds out a basically vanilla effort.

Conclusion

The good thing is that Christian entertainment is becoming broader and braver as time goes on. There was a time when mystery suspense dramas like A Murder of Innocence would have been unthinkable in some Christian circles, but thankfully, there are at least attempts to be more creative and diverse. However, there are still things to work on, most notably plot and character content. This was based on a true story, so it’s not really acceptable to have such poor characters, along with an aimless storyline. Next time, before making a Christian film, it would be better to count the cost and make sure there’s enough creativity and purpose behind it. The only stories that will be transformative are the ones that feel like real life.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

To Save a Life (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Jake Taylor is one of the most popular kids in school: he’s a basketball star on track for a big scholarship, and he has the girlfriend everyone wanted. He seems to have friends everywhere, but he’s chosen to ignore the only friend he had in middle school because it’s not cool to hang around him anymore. However, this appears to lead to his old friend becoming suicidal and bringing a gun to school one day in an apparent last-ditch attempt for help. In the fallout of the tragedy, Jake and his friends try to get back to normal, but they seem to sink deeper into their vices as a response to the trauma. What is the true purpose of life, and is it possible for high school to have meaning?

Production Quality (2 points)

As an early 2000s production, To Save a Life is good despite some minor missteps. For one, the flashback sequences, while great to include, sometimes come off as a bit disorienting and invasive as they tend to jump back and forth too much and use disruptive flashing effects. In a similar vein, some montages are a bit confusing and protracted in length, especially since they take up time that could have been used on other things. However, there are plenty of positives to note about this production, For one, the soundtrack is fairly good, and the camera work is professionally artistic even if there is some wild zooming and cutting during suspenseful scenes. Nonetheless, much of the production elements improve as time goes on, and video quality, sets, locations, and props are all great in each part of the film. As a whole, the editing is good enough considering how much content is in the story and how many characters there are, so overall, this is an above average production that’s mostly on the mark and improves with runtime.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Even in the beginning, Brian Baugh was always a master of capturing the real human experience, especially of Millennial coming of age years, as he weaves complex storytelling via raw, realistic topics, effective flashbacks, and accessible characters. To Save a Life is a real and honest look at authentic problems facing teenagers both in high school and in the church. It’s a hard but necessary look at the factors leading to teen suicide and teen substance abuse, among other vices; in doing so, the plot unfolds fairly well without dumping too much information onto the audience in the beginning as plot points are developed gradually. The relationships among the characters are very easy to believe as they feel like real people who do real things with real motivations. The psychological material therein is used in very great ways, and the hard look at problems within the church is refreshing. To Save a Life has a very complex cast of characters that makes it feel more like a series than a movie; because of this, some of the characters arcs are a bit too steep due to lack of adequate development time. Even still, the dialogue is well-constructed as the subplots weave together, but the number of storylines is also the slight undoing of the film as we’d like to see some more backstories and more explorations of the issues rather than trying to cover too much in one film. Because of how many ideas are in one movie, the epilogue and the lead-up to it tend to fix things too quickly and easily without many tangible character consequences. The climax scene is also slightly contrived just to have one and only leads to expository dialogue designed to finish things off. In the end, To Save a Life is a massive mixed bag of content that is both rewarding and disappointing, yet Brian Baugh’s talents are still undeniable in his first movie attempt.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

At first, the acting can come off as a bit awkward, but this also tends to work in the film’s favor. This is really the only nitpick to point out since the cast is overall really good despite its large size. There are quite a few standout roles…even Randy Wayne posts a good one. Due to the sheer number and diversity of cast members, they would have done so well in a series, but alas, this film occurred before the era of Christian streaming. Nevertheless, perhaps something similar to To Save a Life will be crafted in the future.

Conclusion

We would definitely love to see Brian Baugh make a series either like this movie or about something else because some creators are just too big for the big screen. Some creators (see Dallas Jenkins) are better the small screen because series provide much better forums to explore complex characters and subplots. No matter what, Baugh is consistently showing today that he has a profound understanding of people, and with two Hall of Fame entries after To Save a Life (I’m Not Ashamed and The World We Make), the sky is the limit for his creative potential.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

The Shack (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Mackenzie Phillips never really trusted God after the abuse he underwent at the hands of his father, but he really felt abandoned by Jesus when his youngest daughter was kidnapped, raped, and left for dead by a twisted man. Floundering in his faith, Mack receives a mysterious note signed by God telling him to return to the place where his daughter was found dead: a shack in the mountainous woods. Mack decides to return, thinking he can avenge his daughter’s death, but instead, he experiences an encounter with God beyond his wildest dreams.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a mainstream production, The Shack hits all the right notes en route to a nearly perfect score. This is due to great camera work, video quality, and audio quality. The sets, locations, and props are effectively utilized and authentic. Also, the soundtrack is very poignant and accessible. One minor nitpick to point out with this production pertains to the editing concerns, but this is mainly a plot issue that inadvertently affects this section. Overall, this is almost as good as it gets for a production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Based on William Paul Young’s slightly controversial novel, the film is actually a step above the book as it takes time to explain more about the characters and their motivations. Even still, there are still some issues that hold The Shack back from being all that it could be. For one, the narration right out of the gate from Tim McGraw’s mysteriously omniscient character is completely unnecessary and calls into question why his subplot even exists. This brief, irrelevant storyline, in conjunction with some rushed and confusing scenes revolving around law enforcement, waste precious time at the beginning of the film and make the movie feel like it’s two different ones put together. This squandered time at the beginning hurts this section and likely keeps it from the Hall of Fame, but once the middle of the film arrives, it’s definitely worth a watch. At this point in the movie, The Shack isn’t afraid to tackle very realistic and raw issues we rarely see discussed in Christian film, including child abuse in the name of Christianity and incorrect views of God as well as the connections between these two concepts. Sometimes, flashbacks are used in very effective ways to present the plot and the character motivations, but it would have been better if all narration and early plot points were replaced with flashbacks to make it more of a non-linear style. However, despite a slightly incomplete view of God, The Shack does an excellent job with showing how God will relate to people on a very personal level via good philosophical discussions about life and power emotional experiences. Although it could have gone just a bit further with theological grounding (but not too much), this is a good place for a lot of people to start if they have a warped view of God. Basically, from the halfway point until the part before the end, The Shack is a nearly perfect film. The beginning and the epilogue that fixes things too easily detract from this section and keep it from being all that it could be. Nonetheless, this movie is definitely worth your time and can be a great tool to use to introduce people to God if they are closed to Him for one reason or another.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Another major detractor that keeps The Shack from being Hall of Fame is Sam Worthington’s accent-suppressing. If you’re going to cast a British-Australian actor for an American role, either train him with a better accent or just make the character British or Australian. As it is, the way he delivers his line is very distracting and comes off as breathy and insincere because of the accent clashing. This really puts a damper on things as it makes his emotions seem otherworldly and causes unsure line delivery, which is difficult to watch since he takes up so much screentime. However, other cast members, most notably Octavia Spencer, work overtime to make up for Worthington’s shortfalls and overall post very professional and noteworthy performances. In the end, this section is above average and rounds out a very commendable effort.

Conclusion

Though many theologically astute individuals like to “debunk” The Shack for its inaccuracies (there are a few small ones), the film as a whole demonstrates just how out of touch many Christian thought leaders are with everyday people. The movie does a much better job of relating to everyone on a personal level than any theological debate ever will, and it shows that God really wants with people: a relationship. While it could have use just a hair more theological grounding, The Shack is a great place for many people to start who have been hurt by Christianity or who may have invalid views of God. It’s unfortunate that it just misses the mark of being Hall of Fame, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a watch. Hopefully, in the future, we’ll see more films that walk the delicate balance of being personal-emotional and grounded at the same time. Once Christian entertainment as a whole learns how to relate to everyone personally, the industry will be unstoppable.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

Heavens to Betsy 2 (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

After Betsy had a unique experience in which God allowed her to live in an alternate version of her life due to her pleadings, she was able to return to her normal life and chronicle her journey under the guise of a fictional work. Her novel made her moderately famous overnight and even attracted unexpected attention from publishers and media outlets. However, this new popularity will come at a price as Betsy will have to decide if she’s going to come clean about the true origins of her story.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Although it’s a 2019 production and should be higher quality than this, Heavens to Betsy 2 is a mostly average one. Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all fine and standard, but the soundtrack is generic and cheesy. The sets, locations, and props are fairly limited and come off as cheap. The editing is very basic as it presents the content at face value without any complex techniques. As a whole, it’s a very pedestrian offering that is neither good nor bad, yet it really doesn’t have a place in the current entertainment field. To top things off, silly magical elements really put the nail in the coffin for this plot that was really doomed from the start.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

After a long rehashing of the previous film many people don’t know about, this unnecessary sequel launches into expectedly cringeworthy comedic sequences very similar to the ones we saw in the first one. Much of the dialogue is trying way too hard to be funny, and many of the scenes are downright pointless. As if it doesn’t have anything better to do, this installment decides to go down a localized media persecution rabbit hole in order to keep the story on life support. However, this idea comes off all wrong as the ‘villain’ character is actually remotely funny for the right reasons. It’s commendable for a Christian creator to want to create a universe of characters, but are these the ones people really want to know better? There are too many coincidences in this story-world as everyone knows about the main character’s book, and lot of the conversations feel dragged out and inflated for runtime purposes. The storyline is overall aimless and lacks substantial themes as it just presents a random collection of scenes that don’t seem fully rooted in reality. In a somewhat bizarre concluding sequence, the screenwriters appear to address the logical problems of the first film, but the explanations only create more questions and inconsistencies.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Like the production, the acting of Heavens to Betsy 2 is very run-of-the-mill and expected. Some cast members tend to overdo their roles and overplay their emotions while others appear unsure of what they’re doing. In the end, with no dynamic performances or standout roles either good or bad, this section also gets an average rating.

Conclusion

One big question we have to ask about this film is why it was even made. Rarely is a sequel justified, especially when the original film was so low-key. Sequels should be about exploring new horizons with characters who are already well-developed and deserve further screentime. Unfortunately, films like Heavens to Betsy 1 and 2 don’t rally have much to offer and will easily be forgotten as time goes on. If screenwriters are interested in trying to develop characters over time, a series would likely be a better forum for this venture.

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

The World We Make (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

The Grove family has had their share of heartache over the past few years, but family friend Jordan Bishop has always been a constant support for them. However, the dynamics begin to shift when Jordan and Lee begin to develop a relationship after the grief seems to settle. Many discourage them from getting involved, and the small town seemingly works against their being together. Together, they experience unexpected prejudice and bias while discovering that they had more hiding below the surface than they previously realized.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a 2019 film, The World We Make is the type of respectable production we should be seeing time and again. There are very few flaws to point out here save for the slightly awkward editing near the end of the film (likely due to large story scope). Camera work, video quality, and audio quality are all basically flawless even though most scenes are filmed outdoors. The sets, locations, and props are extremely authentic and well-utilized; on-location shooting is definitely a big plus. Although the soundtrack could be a bit more than it is, this is a very high-level effort for a partially low-budget film, which goes to show what a little experience and proper collaboration can do for a movie.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Brian Baugh has always been committed to developing raw and real storylines based on accessible characters (I’m Not Ashamed). While The World We Make is one of his calmer tales, it’s nonetheless refreshing and believable. While the scope of this story may be a bit narrow, it’s nonetheless true-to-life and demonstrates great understanding of real people. The central romance is deeper than what we usually see in these types of films because it feels more believable and everyday. There are some very important themes explored, including grief avoidance, small town prejudice, and racial ostracizing. Characters make realistic decisions based on personality and motive rather than on plot necessity, and the storyline has a few slightly unexpected turns. As a whole, this is a very enjoyable plot to witness, and while it could have been a bit better since the ending is fairly rushed and somewhat cutoff, it’s still great as it is, which is enough to push this film over the top and onto the Hall of Fame.

Acting Quality (3 points)

There are virtually no flaws in the acting department. Caleb Castille owns another starring role, and Kevin Sizemore adapts a unique character that suits him. Gunnar Sizemore is a supporting role, but he could be a new rising star. Further, Gregory Alan Williams demonstrates a much more effective role than he’s played in the past. Overall, there is clear acting coaching present here as emotions and lines are authentically delivered, which rounds out a very commendable effort.

Conclusion

Although The World We Make could have been a bit more dynamic than this, it mostly reaches its fullest potential as a film. There are a few nitpicks, but in the grand scheme of things, Brian Baugh is continually setting himself apart as a master of characters, which seems to give him a better proclivity for series writing rather than movie writing. Indeed, not counting this year, we’ve had a longstanding drought in Christian series, so with new opportunities coming available (VidAngel), we may be poised to seeing a breakout in creators like Baugh directing their talents toward series rather than only films. Regardless of what happens, The World We Make is another good addition to the Hall of Fame and is one you’ll definitely want to make time for.

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

When Calls the Heart, Season 6 (Series Review)

We don’t speak of her anymore

Plot Summary

And once again we return to the fake small town known as Hope Valley for another fruitless season of people living in the dream world crafted by the series creators. Hardly anybody remembers Jack the Mountie anymore except for the fact that he and Elizabeth were married long enough to produce an instant child who’s coincidentally named after him. While Daniel Lissing willingly left the show, which was last season’s biggest news, Lori Loughlin was literally handcuffed, removed, and totally scrubbed from the show. The shadow of her scandal looms over the sixth season, especially with how Hallmark mishandled the whole ordeal and drew unnecessary attention to the problems. As a whole, Abigail’s awkward exit from the show and the subsequent complete rewrite of the show is the most interesting things that happened, but why are we not surprised? Michael Landon Jr. always planned to subject Erin Krakow to his favorite young-widow-starts-sort-of-dating-again treatment as he always has, so there’s nothing left to do but once again point out the same old flaws this series commits and count down the minutes for the Hearties to descend on my little blog post to vehemently defend all things wholesome in the face of such heartless (lol) criticism.

Production Quality (2 points)
What’s a Hallmark production without the same carbon-copy lineup of good camera work and video quality, acceptable audio quality, and that predictable, nauseatingly bubbly soundtrack? When Calls the Heart part VI checks all the proverbial boxes in this category, and it’s getting very difficult to differentiate any of the seasons from each other (except for the first two). Hope Valley still consists of the same old sets, locations, and props that are no doubt re-purposed for other Hallmark productions and are designed to make the audience believe this is a real Western town. Also, there’s still that tiny forest area Bill goes to dramatically reveal another part of his vastly complex yet noticeably cagey backstory. The only complaint for this section (besides their doing the same thing with no noticeable changes or improvements) is that we still don’t have a set for the beauty salon where the female characters get their hair done (although we might have gotten a quick glimpse at it in the finale).

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)
As we’ve said before, ever Hamilton took over Hope Valley, nothing has ever been the same. We just get the same old helium-infused characters spinning in circles as they retrace old plots steps over and over again. The only chances we have to get outside of the Hope Valley crossroads are Bill’s forest trips to tell us another part of his ever-fluctuating history, but now that we have a new Mountie, I guess we’ll have some trips to that bridge or something. Elsewhere, Elizabeth keeps us wondering why she’s even still in the series as her heart (lol) is passed around like a football and only exists for Michael Landon Jr. and company to continue their fetish of pairing a woman with a law enforcement character just long enough for her to get pregnant before killing said man near the end of the movie\series or even in between installments. Seriously, how is Elizabeth and Lucas vs Nathan any different from Charles vs Jack (except that Marcus Rosner was an essential addition to the show yet was stolen from us)? Elsewhere, the town is littered with many empty-minded side romances that they desperately want us to care about (although Aren Buchholz is quickly becoming one of the most important aspects of the entire series). Even Rosemary is losing her luster as a satirical comic relief who reminds us how un-serious the whole ordeal is as the writers are muting her character to go all dark and brooding because of [WHOOPS SPOILER]. And then there’s that whole situation with Abigail. Ironically, just before Lori Loughlin was led away by the police, her character made a hilariously funny reference to how Bill needed to bring some random bad guy to justice, and this is definitely the defining moment of the entire season. Loughlin’s scandalous shadow looms large over the poor town; even after the writers awkwardly tried to erase her from the universe’s memories, everything was clunky following the hiatus. Subplots awkwardly start and stop with no real conclusions. Scenes between Elizabeth and Lucas seem directly copied from Beauty and the Beast (yes, he gave her a library). Gowen is as uneven as ever (seriously, what do the writers expect from him at this point?). They all seem lost without Abigail to guide them in their everyday lives, but alas, she and Cody (awwww he left too!) has bigger fish to fry in court “back east.” Thus, with nothing really new to say here besides the same garbage we’ve seen from the past two indiscernible seasons, Hearties only have this incoherent stream of consciousness to parse through as they rush from Facebook to “own” the author of this post with zingers better suited for a clickbait news site.

Acting Quality (0 points)
For the most part, the acting of this season is as sappy as ever, but there are a handful of instances, especially near the end, that feel very muted and more scripted than usual. This is no doubt that this is due to some of the redone footage after Loughlin’s untimely exit, and the cast members were likely just emotionally distraught over her absence. Overall, there’s really nothing new to write home about (although Elizabeth does quite a bit of writing these days), and this section is award no points because we expect better than this after six seasons.

Continuity Quality (0 points)
As previously mentioned, some of this season’s subplots seem to disappear from the writing with no warning, which is a likely byproduct of the rework done following Loughlin’s arrest. Otherwise, it’s just typical plug and play romances as the writers introduce one after another to the point where you can’t hardly tell the different between them. Also, as a side note, at least a third of the subplots in season six relate in some way to the upcoming summer spinoff show When Hope Calls, which is possibly where many characters will escape to once When Calls the Heart finally runs out of steam.

Conclusion

Oh yeah, so there’s a seventh season coming up. MLJ has at least two more seasons to use Elizabeth’s indecisiveness and lack of personality as a carrot to dangle in front of his rabid fans, but sooner or later, they’ll get tired of this song and dance. With Loughlin’s scandal-ridden exit, this series is already running on fumes and has only been sustained by constant romance bait-and-switch. I mean, is anybody the least bit annoyed with how they treat Elizabeth? Anyhow, this has been another WCTH review from your favorite reviewer in which I didn’t talk about much substantial and just sort of rambled on about random things I thought of while I binge-watched this season. Begin commenting now……………………….

Final Rating: 2 out of 14 points

Heavenly Deposit (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Peter Ranos has always tried to make the big break in Hollywood, but lately, nothing seems to be working out for him and his wife. They’ve hit every financial bump possible, and no one wants to cut them a break. When they just about exhaust all of their options and almost get by, something else hits them from the blind side. Peter is eventually brought to his knees as he realizes he can’t do it on his own anymore, which forces him to return to his childhood faith that he abandoned when his father suddenly died.

Production Quality (2 points)

For a first-time, low-funded production, Heavenly Deposit is able to at least breach the average line, which is something we’re seeing more of in more modern Christian entertainment. Though it begins a little rough with some roving camera work and abrupt cuts, it overall improves as the film progresses. The soundtrack is a bit inconsistent at times, and the sets, props, and locations are somewhat limited in the beginning, but it becomes clear by the middle of the movie that the creators did have something better in mind. They do the best with what they have, and the video quality is stable throughout as well as the audio quality. The camera work and the editing calms down, and the sets become better utilized in the second half. Though it does begin a bit rough, it’s encouraging to see that this production team can improve as the film goes on, which shows good potential for future projects. In the end, this production makes enough improvements to warrant an above-average rating, and this isn’t bad considering the budget and experience of the creators.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

From the get-go, the protagonist forces unnecessary narration on the audience, but it thankfully subsides until the epilogue. It’s great that the writers were able to base this story off of true events because, for the most part, it does feel like realistic circumstances everyday people would experience. This gives the plot a non-linear and non-typical feel, and the premise is down-to-earth. However, in the first half of the film, the dialogue comes off as a bit generic as it doesn’t do quite enough to deepen the characters beyond stereotypical roles. Since this is a character-based story with a handful of characters, we needed deeper personalities and motives for them rather than run-of-the-mill placeholders that feel swept along by the plot. Granted, we do see more authenticity from the characters in the second half of the film as the creators’ true intentions are revealed, but it’s difficult for most viewers to stick with it that long without something substantial to hold onto. Because the first 30-45 minutes tends to meander without major themes, the good messages and understanding of real struggles depicted in the remainder of the runtime may be lost to many people. In a similar vein, though the story does become more focused as it goes, there are a few too many slightly silly coincidences and head-scratching magical elements that tend to put a damper on things. Also, the last 10 minutes rush through a lot of content with the aim of fixing things, but as a whole, this story is good enough to make the film average.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Like other elements in the film, the acting does get better with time. It does feel like this cast really cares about doing their best, and they are willing to be coached in some ways. There’s nothing dynamic happening here, but it’s refreshing to see a cast that’s not trying to flaunt something. The main drawback to highlight here is some weird hair and makeup work in the beginning, but as usual, this gets better later in the movie. As a whole, Heavenly Deposit is a good place to start for film makers who have potential to do even better.

Conclusion

Some entertainment creators are better with series than movies (see Dallas Jenkins and company). It’s highly possible that George Vincent and his crew fit into this category as well, and with the growth of Christian streaming services like PureFlix and VidAngel, creative teams have a lot more options than they once did. Thus, with more time and better budgeting, we have high hopes for what Vincent and his team can produce next.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Breakthrough [2019] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

When Joyce Smith’s adopted son John falls through the ice one fateful winter day, she feels like she’s lost him forever. However, after praying over him in the intensive care unit, she witnesses a seeming miracle as her son is able to be stabilized into a coma rather than be on death’s door. Afterward, a battle for healing begins as Joyce faces perceived opposition on every side of her as her son keeps fighting for his life.

Production Quality (2 points)

Breakthrough falls in line with other inspirational productions DeVon Franklin has been involved with, such as Heaven is For Real and Miracles From Heaven. As such, Breakthrough hits all the right proverbial notes, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality. While the soundtrack is sometimes too loud and invasive, for the most part, the sets, props, and locations are fine. This film is really just a by-the-book, run-of-the-mill inspirational production with nothing to set it apart either good or bad. The biggest glaring error therein is the poor editing, but this is mainly due to its plot problems. As a whole, Breakthrough is a safe, non-dynamic film through and through.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

On the surface, the message of the plot is fine as it blatantly panders to an inspirational audience, yet Breakthrough sets itself apart by portraying the main character in unusually perfect and un-flawed ways even though she has plenty of issues in her behavior. This premise is likely due to the original book’s content, but empowering someone who seemingly believes she never really did anything wrong and feels like everyone else in the world needs to change except for her is very suspect. The storyline and characters are required to change according to her (sometimes judgmental) standards, and she never really learns anything as she continues to live in her own little world. This is the real hidden problem with Breakthrough besides the typical spoon-feeding of inspirational messages to a hand-picked audience. While there were some interesting psychological elements in this film that had the potential to make an interesting story about the miracles of God, we are instead left with the miracles of Joyce Smith; in doing so, prayer is mis-handled and poorly portrayed as people deciding what’s doing to happen. Elsewhere, random subplots are thrown together that cause a lot of story confusion and disorganization. In the midst of the swirl, there aren’t any substantial characters to relate to because dialogue is bland and pedestrian. Even though this was a small, focused time frame, we don’t really know who these people are beyond the molds the main character puts them into. Had this story been more about miracles and prayer, we would have had another Miracles From Heaven, which was safe, standard inspirational movie designed to target a specific audience. Breakthrough tries to follow in its footsteps, yet the dictates of the main character decide otherwise.

Acting Quality (2 points)

It’s understandable that this mainly Hollywood cast is professional and appears to know what they’re doing. However, some cast members who have more potential, like Josh Lucas, come off as underwhelming and downplayed, which suggests they’ve been cast wrong. It feels like more could have been done with this cast even though there aren’t any glaring problems. With the money and expertise behind the film, the acting needed to be more dynamic than this, but it overall rounds out a mediocre effort designed as a quick cash grab.

Conclusion

DeVon Franklin loves to make money off of the inspirational audience, and he’s clearly good at it. He’s found something that works, so good for him. Nonetheless, with all the marketing and fluff of this film, there’s no real substance to back it up. We were promised a movie about a miracle, yet we can’t connect with the real story due to tainted views of the main character. What’s more, the disjointed subplots make for a confusing viewing experience as it mostly just boils down to a collection of platitudes you could find in a generic white Christian book for sale at Lifeway. There’s nothing special here, but then again, Franklin never intended to do anything further, so he’s sticking with his business model, which is at least upfront and honest. Regardless, Christian entertainment can do better than this.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

Clancy Once Again (Movie Review)

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An actual copyrighted screenshot

Plot Summary

If you thought that Clancy ended where the title character died, you thought wrong (unless this head-scratching sequel is actually a long dream). After they appeared to be on the right track with Reading Kate, husband-and-wife film-making duo Jefferson and Kelly Worthington Moore have create an unnecessary follow-up to a film no one really remembers about characters the audience can’t connect with. In this sequel, Nick Best and Clancy are back to…do things…like get involved in street fighting (see copyrighted photo above) and usurp the rule of law because they feel like it. Beyond that, it’s hard to pinpoint what this movie’s actually about.

Production Quality (1 point)

As a fairly recent production, we should be seeing Moore more from Kelly’s Filmworks than this. While they have a flair for some creative camera angles and establishing shots at times, there are too many dark scenes in this film as well as a lot of silent portions that lack adequate soundtrack support. While video quality is mostly fine, sets, locations, and props are somewhat limited in scope, which doesn’t really hold the attention well. The most glaring problems that negatively affect the entire viewing experience relate to the high amount of long, drawn-out sequences that reflect lazy editing and a desperation to squeeze runtime from the thin amount of movie content. As a whole, while this production isn’t glaringly bad, it’s just not enough coming from a film outfit that’s produced more than five movies, especially since the field has higher production standards these days.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The sole point given to this plot is only because of the hilarious exchange between the two main characters about Hallmark cards and Fakebook. Otherwise, there’s nothing to offer here. After the riveting opening sequence about the previous movie’s events, which appears to suggest Clancy Once Again is actually an alternate ending for the first one or some kind of dream sequence epilogue within the former film, this rendition of the uninteresting Clancy story is full of awkwardly useless conversations and complete with a cheesy villain return subplot. As it desperately grasps for content and purpose amidst a confused landscape and forced premise, unrealistic happenings move things along in order to create an unnecessary suspense feel. Full of coincidences and convenient turns, Clancy Once Again advocates for vigilante citizens taking matters into their own hands rather than trying to wait for the authorities. Obviously, there may be a time and place for this type of action, but the reasons behind it in this film are absurd. When all else fails to keep the runtime above ninety minutes, recycled footage from the first film everybody forgot about is right there to extend your viewing experience. In the end, there’s little else to be said except that this is the most unnecessary sequel in the history of unnecessary sequels (and there’s lots of those).

Acting Quality (1 point)

Jefferson Moore’s unusual preoccupation with Christina Fougnie continues in Clancy Once Again, and her acting skills have not improved with age. In this film, she comes off as even more full of herself as her line delivery is shrill and her emotional expressions are off-putting. Other cast members are bland and vanilla with Moore taking on his usual persona, which wouldn’t be all that bad if he actually had lines to work with. Most cast members seem to be phoning in their performances. One standout issue with this section is noticeably bad makeup throughout the whole cast (but most notably on Fougnie). In the end, this rounds out a subpar film lost in a growing sea of Christian movies that’s leaving the old guard behind.

Conclusion

Jefferson and Kelly were on the right track with Reading Kate, but they’ve lost their way again with a useless sequel to a boring film no one cared about in the first place. Where are they headed as movie creators? It’s hard to say, but they certainly won’t accept dissent or any constructive criticism. They do have experience and some production\writing skills to bring to the table, but they will only find true success in a collaborative environment. However, we somehow doubt this will ever happen since they’ve been content to operate on their own all these years. Thus, whatever talent they have will likely continue to go to waste.

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

God Bless the Broken Road (Movie Review)

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I need a loan from the pawn shop!

Plot Summary

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

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (-2 points)

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

Acting Quality (1 point)

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

Conclusion

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

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

The Christ Slayer (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Longinus was raised by the Magi, but he never fully believed the stories they told of the Messiah as he rose through the ranks of the Roman army. he was at the pinnacle of his career, but an injury led to blindness, forcing him out of service. As he languished in darkness with a servant to guide his daily activities, he never dreamed that his life would be forever changed when he helped end a seemingly meaningless crucifixion of the One they called the King of the Jews.

Production Quality (2 points)

Over time, DJ Perry and his creative have definitely improved their production skills as The Christ Slayer demonstrates good camera work, effective camera angles, and professional video quality. The audio quality is also fine for the more part, and the soundtrack is culturally authentic. While the sets, locations, and props are great, the outdoor scenes are better since some of the indoor shots are a bit too dark and disorienting. Some of the editing could have been more consistent and understandable, but on the whole, this production is adequate and shows commitment to improving.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The Quest Trilogy has taken many different turns, and at this point, the ending is better than the beginning. At its inception, some parts were hard to grasp and a bit too abstract, but the unique turn in The Christ Slayer definitely helped things. This is a unique extra-Biblical plot that gives a fresh perspective on the events surrounding the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, and it sports the typical abstractly creative concepts of the CDI team. The spiritual elements from Forty Nights and Chasing the Star are included in this third installment, but they are presented in more accessible fashions. Similarly, the psychological themes of The Christ Slayer are fairly well-utilized, and integration of Biblical accounts is creatively woven together with the main plot. There are a few drawbacks, however, that keep this plot from being all that it could be. For instance, there are quite a few slow scenes that tend to be too artistic such that the audience has trouble understanding them, and some of the characters’ dialogue is a bit archaic and drawn-out. There are some expository conversations that replace better character development, and sometimes, the Jesus character is a bit too ethereal and inaccessible, but as a whole, this is a fine Easter plot that demonstrates unique storytelling.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Probably the brightest spot of this film’s cast is the awesome idea to cast a special needs cast member in a role that doesn’t over-emphasize his condition. Treating him as a regular actor is a huge step forward for disability rights, so this creative team’s decision to do this shows a deeper care for inclusion in the arts. Elsewhere in this cast, some of the main cast members are good while some could use more efficient coaching to avoid being too theatrical and dramatic. As a whole, the acting is average, but it could have been better if emotions were more accessible. In the end, The Christ Slayer is a good end to the Quest Trilogy.

Conclusion

DJ Perry and company have a lot going for them, so it will be interesting to see how they will be able to collaborate with other talent in the future. Throughout their careers, they have only gotten better as they have adapted and changed, which is encouraging to see. Sometimes trilogies end worse than they begin, so since the Quest Trilogy has ended on a good note, this will hopefully be a springboard to better things in the future for CDI entertainment.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Run the Race (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

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

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Grace and Gravity (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

While on a business trip in the United Kingdom, an American man takes a photography hike only to be shocked by a man waiting on a bridge who intends to jump to his death. The American decides to awkwardly climb up the impossibly tall bridge with no other way to get on it, for he intends to share the Gospel with the British man before he ends it all. However, the American doesn’t know what he’s in for as the two men embark on the longest quasi-philosophical debate involving Bruce Marchiano since the original Encounter film.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Since it has very limited sets, locations, and props, Grace and Gravity doesn’t make any major mistakes in the production category, but it doesn’t make any waves either. Video quality and audio quality are both fine accordingly, yet the soundtrack is very generic. Camera work is also adequate, but the presence of weird technological sound effects and other cheap elements put a drag on things. To cap things off, the editing is very basic and almost non-existent, which essentially gives us an average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Did we really need another film that’s basically a long-winded conversation between Bruce Marchiano and another person? It’s bad enough that this movie is full of forced dialogue and long, drawn-out portions, but there’s hardly anything to this so-called plot. It’s intent on kicking the can down the road by wasting time as it grasps for content and produces menial flashbacks that give us little insight into character motive. While there are some slight attempts at talking about real issues, they come off as inadequate and empty. This idea is awkwardly forced to be something it’s not as there are a handful of totally dead scenes, which makes the story very fruitless as it slogs on. Further, the worldview is bit odd, and the ending sequence is highly unusual and unrealistic. In summary, with no characters to work with in a character-based plot, we’re left with a lame attempt to do something (not sure what).

Acting Quality (0 points)

With only two main cast members, they carry the weight of the film. Unfortunately, they fumble the ball often. While Marchiano is slightly better than past roles, his delivery still comes off as overly theatrical and practiced. The acting as a whole is very stilted and cardboard. There are too many scenes of only one or two cast members doing all the talking, and there are some cringe-worthy sequences of painfully forced emotions. In the end, this rounds out a very disappointing effort that had little going for it.

Conclusion

Grace and Gravity really is just another version of The Encounter, just without an obvious Jesus character. It seems like Bruce Marchiano always includes his contract that he needs a certain amount of speaking time in the film, including a hefty imparting of wisdom (see The Encounter 2 and Alison’s Choice). To many audiences, this delivery of content will be very off-putting and appear purposeless. There just isn’t anything substantial for this film to offer beyond half-baked philosophical explorations that do little to relate to the struggles of real people.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

Unplanned [2019] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director and abortion rights advocate, was taken by God on an unforgettable journey of redemption and forgiveness that led her to reject her former way of life and trade it for a ministry of pro-life activism. Though no one could have ever dreamed that an abortion clinic supervisor would switch political sides and join her former enemies, there is no end to the power of prayer.

Production Quality (2 points)

As expected at this point from PureFlix, the production of Unplanned is above-average and hits all the right notes, for the most part. On the surface, it looks good due to high video quality, professional camera work, and adequate sets, locations, and props. Audio quality is also good. They’ve checked all the typical boxes, but there are some issues with the soundtrack as many of the songs don’t properly fit the situations they are played in. However, the most glaring problem is the horrific editing that takes the viewer all over the map of a story that could have been good but only ends up playing like an audio book, as we see next.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

At this point, it’s painfully clear that the current PureFlix team can’t even properly portray a great true story even if it hit them in the face like Abby Johnson’s story did. Even if the book is already written for them, you can count on PureFlix to fumble the ball at the goal line by falling back on their old tried-and-failed pitfalls of trying to be too obvious without trusting the audience to read in to the subtlety and of crafting too many climax scenes for dramatic effect. The obvious goal was the hit all the high points of the story in order to maximize the most shock and awe possible with the hopes of scaring people about abortion. There’s no doubt that there were many powerful parts of Abby’s story, but we’ll never really know as the demonstrative elements are over-emphasized in the movie while the potential for character building is simply replaced with incessant and heavy-handed narration. They seem like great characters, but it’s impossible to know them due to the narration and the wild time jumps that leave the viewer disoriented. Since there’s a lot of content in this story, it could have been effectively laid out via flashbacks that built character motivation, yet instead, we were left with talking-points conversations and overly emphasized strawman villain moments. The film is written for basically one good scene near the end where we actually get realistic dialogue uninterrupted by Bratcher’s narration, but it’s too little too late. Unfortunately, where Abby Johnson’s story could have been a powerful treatise on prayer and a change of heart, all we’re given is a smile-and-wave, run-of-the-mill experience dedicated to grossing people out about abortion whose R-rating is warranted due to lack of balance.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Surprisingly, Ashley Bratcher is a bright spot in this cast, which suggests her performance in Princess Cut was heavily controlled by the creators of that film. While the supporting cast might have been interesting, it’s hard to tell due to the famine of lines and dialogue in this film. Even still, the casting and acting are mostly good without many glaring errors…it’s just basically unfinished and left wanting, like the overall feel of this movie.

Conclusion

There’s absolutely no doubt that Abby Johnson and David Bereit played integral roles in bringing the pro-life movement out of the dark ages through prayer and expert leadership, and Abby’s story is an amazing one that deserved a movie of its own. However, PureFlix’s treatment of the story doesn’t do it any justice. Moreover, Unplanned, in a way, represents the current state of the pro-life movement: lots of well-meaning people who want to do the right thing, along with a collection of more influential people who believe that ‘gotcha’ talking points and graphic displays of the evils of abortion will change things. The early marketing for this film proclaimed it to be (another) death knell for the corrupt Planned Parenthood, yet we beg to differ. Any success the pro-life movement will find moving forward is by both listening to and telling actual stories of real people, not by falling into the trap of unleashing smoking guns that will ‘sink’ your opposition. There was a massive opportunity to tell a real story in Unplanned that could actually reach people, but once again, PureFlix proves that they can’t tell stories properly because this requires actually knowing people. Unfortunately, while the gory moments of this film can be powerful if packaged properly, when they are separated from an emotional connection with the characters, they can re-traumatize those who have been hurt by abortion, which doesn’t win any ‘converts.’

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Mary Magdalene: Close to Jesus (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Mary Magdalene lived a dark life before she encountered Jesus of Nazareth, and her bondage and past mistakes always tried to call her back. However, her experience with Jesus forever changed her life. She sought to serve Him and follow Him whenever she could, and her influence that came as a result of her time with Jesus had a positive effect on those around her.

Production Quality (2 points)

The early 2000s Bible films produced by the collaboration between the Trinity Broadcasting Network and Lux Vide were certainly well-funded, which translated to great attention to historical detail. Other production elements were also professional, including video quality and camera work. The sets, locations, and props reflected attempts at authenticity, and the editing was streamlined. However, there were a few issues with audio in Mary Magdalene. For one, there are a lot of very obvious overdubs that seem unnecessary. On paper, the audio seems fine, but the soundtrack is sometimes archaic and incongruous, and any presence of overdubbing speaks to sound problems. Nevertheless, this film has an above-average production that is good enough but not dynamic.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The story of Mary Magdalene is definitely an interesting Biblical account this isn’t focused on enough; however, this rendition gives an odd take on the story since there isn’t enough exploration as to how she became originally possessed. This is a central point in the story, so focusing on tangential content instead of this core concept is unusual at best. Lacking a coherent bondage storyline makes it hard for the viewer to appreciate Mary’s redemption arc. Elsewhere in the story, time seems to move too quickly, and there are some unnecessary alterations to the historical account. All of this hampers proper character development due to stunted dialogue and little continuity. While the portrayal of Herod is fine, John the Baptist is too nutty, and Jesus is too inaccessible and ethereal. There is also some unnecessary suggestive content that could have been shown more tastefully. In the end, while the movie’s plot had a lot of potential, it falls flat for a number of reasons and shows that unskilled screen writing can hurt any good idea.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, the cast of Mary Magdalene is not completely culturally authentic, which is manifest in unrealistic accents. However, the historical costuming is one of the stronger points of the film. Nonetheless, emotions among the cast members are often too forceful, dramatic, and theatrical. Line delivery is too robotic at times, but there are some positive elements that keep the acting from level zero. In the end, this section is still below average, and this movie is another not-good-enough Bible film.

Conclusion

The TBN\Lux Vide combo definitely tried to blaze some trails in the early 2000s with regard to Bible films, but they too often missed the mark. It wasn’t for lack of budget; rather, inadequate screenwriting held their Biblical accounts back from being all they could have been. Having the characters cross back and forth between the different films was a great universe-connecting idea, but it was in vain since they didn’t have wide appeal. For future learning, current film makers can take notes from these films on how to go about crafting Biblical epics without repeating the old mistakes.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Palau: The Movie (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Luis Palau, a world-renowned missionary, had meager beginnings in his life, but this did not hold him back from being all he could be for God. Under the mentorship of key people God placed in his life, Palau brought the Gospel to the countries and locations God laid on his heart and set an example for evangelism. Even today, the impact of his work is still being felt.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

While this is obviously a good idea on paper for a Christian film, it seems like the execution was only partial due to budget constraints. This fact is evident in the limited sets, locations, and props, even though they still demonstrate great attempts at historical and cultural accuracy. The lighting of the scenes is back and forth with indoor scenes mostly poorly lit while outside scenes are fine. The camera work is also acceptable, along with the audio quality. At times, there are background noises, however, and the soundtrack, while culturally authentic, seems forced at times. Further, the editing is somewhat choppy, but on the whole, this production is basically average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As previously mentioned, the story of Luis Palau is a great true story to base a film upon, but the way it was conducted with this rendition wasn’t adequate in fully communicating the important messages therein. From the beginning, the attention of the audience isn’t effectively held due to an overall feel of the film being a sort of docu-drama. This attitude is demonstrated by collections of boring scenes that simply depict characters sitting around or standing while reciting lines. As such, the dialogue isn’t enough to drive the character development to where we can relate to them; we don’t know character motivations well enough even though there are some backstories portrayed. It’s a nice authentic touch to use the original language, but it tends to cloud things when it the whole film already comes off like a collection of Bible study skits. Because of this dynamic, it’s hard to see the characters as anything but representations of ideas, which is a real shame since the movie could have been a true epic story. The time jumps are a disservice both to continuity and proper development of concepts, and it ruins any chance of having central themes or concepts to center the movie around. In the end, this film is mostly benign, which also means it’s not ground-breaking.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While the acting mostly means well, it tends to fall flat due to its vanilla nature. The attempts at cultural authenticity are definitely commendable, but each cast member would benefit from improved coaching. However, it has to be considered that the lack of good written lines puts a damper on their ability to deliver them well. Nonetheless, the smaller cast tends to amplify the errors, and in the end, this is basically an average performance overall.

Conclusion

In summary, it can’t be discounted that commendable effort was made to craft a film depicting an important true story that has impacted thousands of people around the world. Since it’s such an important account, we would have liked to see a much more substantial approach that did it justice and sought to produce a dynamic experience for the viewer. However, the film makers definitely meant well, so it will be interesting to see what they put out next.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

The Least Among You (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Richard Kelly was one of the first African-American students admitted to a traditionally all-white and all-male seminary and California, and in the the beginning, the seminary president says he’s on his side to break down racial barriers among Christians. Though Richard had no interest in going to seminary, he does have an interest in racial justice, but the further he goes with his miniature revolution, the strangers things become as former enemies become friends while former friends become enemies. Nothing is at it seems, and Richard will have to decide if he will trust in God more than he trusts in people.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a whole, The Least Among You comes off as well-funded and well-orchestrated on the production side of things. This is evident in the authentic sets, locations, and props that reflect historical accuracy and attention to detail. There is also a lot of good artistic and creative camera work that seeks to establish things, and the audio quality and soundtrack are adequate as well. The only drawbacks to this production are some poorly lit scenes and some slightly choppy editing, but they aren’t enough to keep this production from being all that it can be, which is dynamic and respectable.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The story behind this film is somewhat obscure, but this doesn’t make it any less necessary or poignant. It’s actually a very relevant tale that explores uncomfortable racial problems within the church that many Christians would like to easily forget. The Least Among You portrays and very realistic and gritty look at a hidden history of American Christianity that needs full exploration if we are to learn anything in our present era. This is coupled with great attempts at character development through effective dialogue and flashbacks that demonstrate real character motive and help us to understand where they are really coming from. All of this is done without narration, and there are no ‘villain’ characters as some characters are two-faced and are crafted very well accordingly. While each character actually feels like a real person with a real backstory, there are a handful of seemingly unnecessary scenes, especially ones containing realistic but distasteful language; it really feels like the film would have been fine without these inclusions. Further, the climax scene is somewhat cheesy and not well explained, and it leads to a rushed ending where many things are patched up. As such, the middle of the plot is the best portion as it presents very important and excellent messages and themes that are still highly relevant for the church today, which makes it worth your time.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, The Least Among You demonstrates culturally authentic casting except for some cast members that demonstrate slightly fake accents that are a bit outside of their realms of expertise. Otherwise, there is a lot of great cast work to see here, including professional acting and great acting coaching. While some emotions are a bit forced and overdone, they are overall fine, along with line delivery. As a whole, this film is so close to the Hall of Fame, but it’s still enjoyable as it is.

Conclusion

As we’ve said many times before and will likely say again, films like The Least Among You should be the norm in Christian entertainment. Plenty of care, time, and funding was put into it, and the story is enjoyable, realistic, and poignant. While the ending may fall a bit flat and while other portions leave something to be desired, there is still plenty of good to note here that many audiences will enjoy, which makes this film worth your time.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Mission Improbable [2016] (Movie Review)

Mission Improbable (2016)

Plot Summary

The lives of several substance abusers and a pastor who lives a luxurious ministry lifestyle suddenly become interconnected as God leads each them down different paths to the same place: a Christian substance abuse rehab. They all have different motives and different reasons for being there, but by the time it’s done, none of them will be the same. However, when each person’s past comes calling, how will they respond?

Production Quality (1 point)

One of the most glaring problems with this production is that it’s over-extended and cannot adequately portray what it’s meant to portray. This is evidenced by very cheap and limited sets, locations, and props, as well as poor lighting throughout. The audio quality, both indoor and outdoor, are also both inadequate. While the video quality is mostly fine, there are a lot of strange camera angles. Also, while the editing is mostly fine, this is overall a very cheap production that really has no place in this era of Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

While this film seeks to portray unfortunately realistic circumstances that can be found virtually anywhere in America, it does so in a very tone-deaf manner. Substance abuse is a real and serious issue, but this movie treats it solely like a spiritual issue (there are spiritual components, but not only that) and does so in a very legalistic and unrealistic fashion, such as implying that praying and becoming a Christian immediately cures substance abuse. However, there is a refreshingly honest look at church problems, even if the bad characters are total strawmen, especially the ‘bad’ women. It doesn’t help that all of the dialogue is painfully forced and has a very archaic style and tone about it. As such, the conversations do nothing to build or grow characters even though there are very steep character arcs that come as a result of reading Bible verses, which are also highly unrealistic. In the end, everything is magically fixed when the characters act as the plot wants them to act. Essentially, this is a worthwhile topic to explore in film, but screenwriters need to do so in the context of actual research about and\or experience with substance abuse rather than the total ignorance this film displays.

Acting Quality (0 points)

To top things off, this film contains some of the worst acting of the past few years. This poor quality includes weird scenes of cast members talking to themselves and is most represented by the very awkward and overly-practiced tone of the acting. Many cast members seem self-impressed for no reason and demonstrate tone-deaf emotional and line delivery. Elsewhere, emotions are extremely forced to the point parody. In the end, this film has very little going for it.

Conclusion

Nearly every movie starts off with a good idea. One of the most error-prone areas of Christian film is converting that good idea into a movie that’s worthwhile, high-quality, and accessible by several different audiences. If a film can’t be understood or can’t properly relate to people, there’s really no hope for it. This besetting sin of Christian film is an overall symptom of problems facing the church: American Christians, as a generalization (there are always exceptions), have difficult time understanding real people because they don’t know them very well. Until this changes, Christian film as a whole won’t change on the large scale.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story [2019] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Manav Banerjee only wanted to be a successful journalist in the late 1990s India, when the country was full of social unrest due to religious persecution and restlessness. Thus, when Banerjee was given a chance at big story – finding a reason to arrest American missionary Graham Staines – he jumped at the chance to infiltrate the Christian cell who cared for the leper outcasts in order to trap Staines with Indian religious laws. However, the longer he knew Staines, the more perplexed Banerjee became, and he inadvertently set off a chain of events that would change both of their lives forever.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

The Least of These is a production that was a long time coming, and the finished product was definitely worth the wait as the on-location filming location paid off. This gives it an air of authenticity that there wouldn’t otherwise be in an international film. Video quality, camera work, sets, and props also live up to these high standards set by the hard work put into it. Audio quality is also mostly adequate, and the soundtrack is culturally appropriate, even if it is a bit loud and invasive in some scenes. The only other minor error to point out here relates to some quick cuts and abrupt scene transitions, but the editing is overall good, including some artistic overlays that are executed well. As a whole, as we kick off 2019 in the world of Christian entertainment, The Least of These is an almost-perfect production in the new era of Christian film that demands higher quality productions.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

It’s definitely clear why this true story was chosen for a film, and it’s refreshing to see a unique, non-Western perspective on white missionaries coming to a third world country, which can be attributed to the Indian creators of this film. We’ve had plenty of films told through the eyes of the ‘benevolent’ white missionaries, so seeing a culturally authentic perspective on this true story makes this plot very worthwhile. However, there are still some pitfalls of freshman story-telling to note here, such as the heavy-handed narration that doesn’t allow the plot to unfold naturally. Nevertheless, for the most part, character development appears to survive mostly intact, which can likely be attributed to their being based on real people. A good use of effective flashbacks also aids in this effort. Further, the Christian message is presented very well without being too forceful. Unfortunately, while the beginning and middle of this plot are quite good, it tends to lag at the end and to not discover the dynamic feel that it needed to push it onto the Hall of Fame. There are one too many abstract scenes that don’t have enough meaning attached to them. Nevertheless, this is still a great film about an excellent real-life story that is definitely worth your time.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

It seems like there were better cast members to cast for Australian roles than non-Australian cast members Stephen Baldwin and Shari Rigby, whose Australian acting accents are either non-existent or extremely inconsistent. Despite these obvious errors, however, Baldwin and Rigby do well in fulfilling their DVD-cover roles by being in less than half of the film’s run time. They are definitely overshadowed by the excellent cultural casting for all of the other characters, which is a refreshment. Not only do the Indian cast members fit into their roles very well, but they are also skilled in line execution and emotional delivery. Further, costuming throughout the film is authentic and culturally accurate, which rounds out an overall above-average effort.

Conclusion

While The Least of These didn’t go as far as it could have been, this is absolutely a great start to a film-making career for all of those involved. Not only did Stephen Baldwin show that he can actually pull off a semi-normal role, but Aneesh Daniel and his team have showcased great skill and talent that will hopefully be applied to even better movies in the future. While we can’t wait to see what they have next, this film is definitely worth your time.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

On Wings of Eagles [2016] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Eric Liddell was a Scottish Olympic gold medalist, an accomplished educator, and a dedicated family man who was called to take the Gospel to China in the 1930s and 1940s. He faced hardship and persecution from the Communist government, but he never gave up in his mission to run, to educate children, and to share the Gospel with whoever he came in contact with. Though he died in captivity, he left a lasting legacy with all who knew him and beyond.

Production Quality (2 points)

It’s apparent that good effort was put into making this production professional, which is evidenced by great video quality and camera work, as well as a good use of international sets and locations. The props are culturally authentic, and the soundtrack is very effective. However, this production is kept from being perfect because of some inconsistent audio quality and some fake-looking special effects that should have been better. Further, the editing is fairly poor as there are some awkward cuts and transitions and since there is a lot of content that is not handled very well. Even so, this is a good production that is above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Due to taking on a large amount of content from the life of one person, this plot relies too heavily on time jumps and excessive, unnecessary narration that short-circuits any hope for actual character and plot development. While this is a great true story with a lot of potential to be an epic, we have a hard time understanding who the characters are beyond historical bios. Any hope of dialogue is mostly rushed and choppy due to the storyline jumping all over the place. There are also too many wasted and drawn-out scenes that could have been maximized to fuller potential, but they cause the story to not flow well at all. However, there is still a lot of good content here due to the fact of it being based on a real story, and the ending likely makes it worth a watch, even though it could have been much better.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As a whole, this cast is fairly culturally authentic and professional as each cast member does a good job assuming his or her respective character role. If they had more lines to work with, things would definitely be even better, even if there is some inconsistent line and emotional delivery in some places. Though there is some over-acting, this section is overall above average, which rounds out an average film that could have been much better.

Conclusion

On Wings of Eagles had so much going for it: a well-funded production, culturally accurate casting, and an excellent true story that had the makings of a real epic. Nevertheless, this great potential was seemingly forgotten as half-measures were settled for. Just fixing one of these elements listed would have likely qualified it for the Hall of Fame, but it unfortunately fell short of the mark. Even still, many audiences will still enjoy this film, and it can serve as a blueprint for how to take things one step further into greatness.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Dead Man Rising (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Daniel is a death-row inmate awaiting the lethal injection, but he will be one of the first prisoners to receive the new experimental injection drugs. Desperate for an out, he convinces his lawyer to lobby for him to have limited and monitored internet access in order to research the drug in his last days. He is granted this privilege, but a fellow inmate keeps provoking him to research arguments for and against Christianity, and Daniel keeps taking him up on the challenge, even though he has never believed in God. before he knows it, something is changing inside of him, but is it too late?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a more recent film, Dead Man Rising lives up to the expectation of higher production quality, which is evident in the professional camera work and video quality. Audio is also good, even if the soundtrack is a bit generic at times. It’s noted that the sets, locations, and props are relatively limited by the design of the plot, but the props are nonetheless realistic. It’s definitely a better idea to live within your means as far as the production goes rather than to over-extend and look silly. This is really the only issue with this production since the editing is good. Moreover, this limited production design definitely puts more pressure on the plot and characters to deliver…

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

…which they unfortunately do not do as much as they could have. While the plot is a unique idea, it too easily devolves into a boring philosophical conversation between two characters that appears to push a pre-determined agenda a bit too strongly rather than to let things develop naturally. There are also some slightly unrealistic plot circumstances that are designed to make the story happen, even if there are portions of intriguing dialogue that make attempts at character development. However, since there are so few characters, they needed to be developed deeper than they were with more effective flashbacks and clearer character motivations. While there are some attempts at flashbacks, we needed to see more in this area and less in the area of apologetic information dumps that sacrifice precious time that could have been used to increase character growth. We needed a story that tells us about actual people, but we only got half-measured. Nevertheless, the ending is very interesting and effective if you make it that far, but after the wearing apologetic dumps in the middle, many people won’t get to the meaning in the end. Basically, this movie, like most other films, was made or broken by the plot, which didn’t deliver as much as it could have.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, this small cast demonstrates good acting skills even if there are some forced lines and emotions that seem out of context for their situations. Although each cast member assumes his or her respective role well, due to the small size of the cast, each error is more pronounced. There are also some unnecessary yelling scenes that can become wearing. However, as a whole, this is an average performance that rounds out an average film that could have been more.

Conclusion

A common theme in Christian film that few Christian movie-makers have discovered and remedied is that audiences want characters they can relate to as real people. This is done through effective flashbacks and conversations that reveal to us what the character wants, why he does what he does, and how he got to where he is. Filling time with worn-out Christian debate talking points only implies that a film maker doesn’t know how to relate to real people on this level. However, when this trend changes in Christian film and when Christian movie creators begin depicting real characters we can relate to on these levels, that’s when the Christian entertainment field will finally take the culture by storm, which is good food for thought as we begin a new year.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Christmas Princess (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Donaly Marquez is glad her foster family adopted her and her siblings, but she will carries inside of her the stigma of being a foster kid, and she still can’t shake the painful memories of her drug-addicted mother that continually make her feel inadequate. However, she’s always wanted to try out to be a Rose Bowl Parade Princess, so when she gets the opportunity, she jumps at the chance. Will she be able to overcome the past that wasn’t her fault or will she not allow herself to shine?

Production Quality (3 points)

In keeping with most UP Entertainment films, Christmas Princess exhibits a highly professional production, starting with great video quality and camera work. The audio quality is also on-point, and the soundtrack is effectively composed. Also, the sets, locations, and props are very much well-constructed and well-utilized, which contributes further to the professional of the film. Further, the editing is flawless, which rounds out a basically perfect production that should be the standard for made-for-TV inspirational films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

It’s always clear that using source material from true stories that allow the audience to connect with believable and realistic characters is the key to having a good plot. Christmas Princess, though the title suggests otherwise, is a great example of what can be done when real-life events are depicted in the context of a movie that seeks to build accessible characters through great dialogue and an exquisite use of flashbacks and other psychological elements. The conversations do a lot to build character motive and personality, which in turn makes them feel like actual people that audiences can relate to. It’s rare to see such a consistent use of flashbacks to build the storyline in this type of film, but it’s extremely refreshing, especially in a Christmas film about a topic that could potentially be very sappy. Instead of this, however, the writers took the professional and realistic route that allows many different people to relate to this true story, so it’s definitely worth your time. The only drawbacks to mention here relate to some slow parts and montages, but as a whole, this is the best that could have been done with this story, which is all we ever ask.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Though this is not a ‘blockbuster’ cast, each cast member does a great job assuming his or her respective character role, and the cultural authenticity is refreshing. For the most part, line delivery is on point, and emotions are believable, even though there are a few weak moments. Even so, this acting and casting work is very professional and rounds out a very surprisingly worthwhile Christmas film.

Conclusion

Sometimes good films come from the most unexpected of places, but it still remains that true stories make some of the best films. When the writing is left to a talented writer or to real life, the production team can focus on maximizing the other elements of the film, and it’s clear the UP TV is outpacing other inspirational channels with quality content like this film. As this Christmas season comes to a close, this is another movie to add to your collection.

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

Christmas Manger (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Jessica ran away from home as a teenager after she did something she would regret forever, but now, after living with an abusive boyfriend for several years, she finds herself running back home for help. However, when she arrives on the farm she once lived on, she finds that all is not well nor how she left it. As she struggles to begin a new life, she discovers that she will need to return to her childhood faith in order to move forward.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As should be the case for all recently-made Christian films, Christmas Manger demonstrates high production quality, as evidenced by good video quality and camera work. Though the audio can be quiet at times due to not having enough soundtrack, the sets, locations, and props are adequately used and well-constructed. Besides a few one-off lighting issues in some scenes, which may be by design, the editing is good, which rounds out a great production that we should see become more and more commonplace as we move into a new year of Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Andrea Gyertson Nasfell has always been good at writing plots that portray real and accessible characters in believable life situations. This is paired with dialogue that is mostly good at building character personality and motive, but we really needed to see a bit more from the conversations among the characters in order to develop them a bit further since this is a highly character-based plot. While there are some great character back stories, flashbacks would have been helpful to enhance them. However, this return-to-hometown for Christmas plot does a great job with avoiding most of the cliches that come with this genre, and it’s a more meaningful Christmas movie than usual, even if the story is a bit simplistic. As a whole, this is an enjoyable story with no glaring errors but nothing truly dynamic either.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

This film also has surprisingly good acting, including Andrea Logan White’s arguably best performance to date as she excels at playing herself. Other cast members are also effective and comfortable in their roles, even if a few random cast members tend to put a damper on things to keep this section from being perfect. In the end, however, this is a professional acting job to round out a professional and adequate film.

Conclusion

Films like Christmas Manger should be the norm and the baselines in Christian film (especially Christmas movies) rather than the exception. Hopefully, as we close out another year of Christian entertainment, we are beginning to see more of this, which will presumably lead to more dynamic and groundbreaking films from Christian creators. Movies like this one was a good launching pad to begin with, so it will be good to see Andrea Nasfell continue to release quality content that is memorable and culture-changing.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

Beyond the Farthest Star (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Anne Wells hates that her family has been forced to move to a podunk Texas town. Her father is a pastor who demands perfection from his family, and she hates him for it. Anne always does her best to get into trouble and to do whatever she wants because she wants to know if God really cares about her and what the actual purpose of life is. She escapes into her music, and her father escapes into his work as he runs from the ghosts of his past. When their family is faced with several life-changing decisions, which way will they go?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s clear that this film has a professional production that was given a lot of care and effort, which is evidenced by good video and audio qualities, as well as skilled camera work. Sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized, even if there are a few unnecessarily dark scenes. Further, the soundtrack is highly effective and engaging. The only drawback to point out here is some choppy editing, but this is also due to the large amount of story content. As a whole, this is a very respectable production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

As Beyond the Farthest Star is based on good source material, it demonstrates a very profound understanding of the real problems facing real people, especially the struggles of people whose personalities are not appreciated by the church. This plot has an exquisite use of flashbacks to develop character motive and backstory, and the content of the flashbacks is extremely believable. Through the flashbacks and dialogue, there are excellent efforts to develop the characters and to develop the interactions between teenagers and adults. However, this plot is almost schizophrenic with its presentation because one minute, the dialogue is great, only to have it undermined with an out-of-left-field scene that makes no sense. There is a strange lack of understanding of certain aspects of reality, such as the acquiring of confidential documents. There is also a highly unnecessary religious freedom\persecution subplot to contend with that wastes tons of time and puts a damper on everything. Further, there is narration present throughout the story in the form of journaling, and sometimes it is tolerable because of its philosophical nature, but other times, it gets in the way and takes up valuable time. Thus, even though there is a large amount of content in this complex storyline, not every scene is used very well as some are unnecessary and contain some edgy content. Even still, there is tons of potential in this plot and in the people who wrote it because it’s not afraid to expose hidden ministry problems and to use unashamed small town satire. The message therein is excellent and very worthwhile, but there are too many dramatic scenes with no break, and the cheesy ending tends to fix everything, even if the climax scene is effective. Basically, Beyond the Farthest Star is a giant mixed bag of potential, some of which panned out, so it’s likely worth your time.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

For the most part, the acting of this film is sharp and adept as each cast member appears to comfortably assume their respective character roles. Emotions are believable, and line delivery is on point. There are only a few minor issues throughout that pertain to some overdone drama and seriousness, but this section rounds out a very respectable film.

Conclusion

Movies like Beyond the Farthest Star are both engaging and difficult to watch because it’s clear that there is a massive amount of potential with this type of idea. A movie about rebels from Christian families combined with hidden ministry problems is exactly what we need now, but there is too much confusion in this film that holds it back from reaching its highest possibilities. Even so, this movie is worth a watch this holiday season, and it bodes well for any future projects from this creative team.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

Silent Night [2012] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

In 1818, Joseph Mohr was transferred to the small Austrian town of Oberndorf to be the assistant priest at the parish there.  He wants to make a difference wherever he goes, but he feels like the leaders of the Catholic Church don’t allow him to fully minister to the common people of the town.  The powerful people in the parish want everyone in the congregation to look nice on the outside, but Joseph has a heart for the poor and the outcast.  As he ministers to people against the will of his superiors, God inspires Joseph to write a Christmas song to encapsulate the season.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

When working with the Mainstay Productions team, the Covenant Communications team always showed a consistent commitment to high-quality productions, so this is also evident in Silent Night.  Besides the good video quality and camera work, this film demonstrates great attention to historical and cultural detail through realistic and accurate sets, locations, and props.  There is also a very effective cultural soundtrack; the only errors in this production pertain to some very poor lip-syncing and obvious overdubs when the the cast members are supposed to be singing, but this is the only real error in this production, which is otherwise quite good.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The story behind the Christmas carol Silent Night is a great true story to base a film on, and this one does a very good job of honestly portraying the two sides of the Catholic Church.  The other good thing is that Silent Night avoids falling into the trap of only basing the film on the idea behind it rather than developing characters through dialogue.  For the most part, the characters in this story are accessible and can be related to due to the dialogue that reveals their personalities and motivations.  However, there are quite a few slow parts throughout that detract from the movie’s dynamic value.  Since the film is mostly dialogue-based, it might have been better to include a few more engaging conversations and to develop the ancillary characters a bit better.  Even so, there are several very good scenes near the end that help us understand the characters better, even if the very end of the film (the predictable singing of the title song) falls a bit flat and is anti-climatic.  In the end, this is a great story model to follow and is one that can be built off of for future work.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

As a whole, this case has great authentic accents and cultural costuming, which keeps with the earlier themes of production quality in this film.  For the most part, line delivery and emotional delivery are fine, but some parts are too dramatic or seem a bit unnatural.  However, there is plenty of good here, and this rounds out a very well-done film.

Conclusion

On paper, Silent Night is a great film, but it just doesn’t have that final push it needed to make it a dynamic Hall of Fame film, which is unfortunate because it has plenty of good going for it.  Even still, this is a movie that many will enjoy because it is well-made and well-funded, and it has a great story to tell.  Thus, this is a good one to add to your holiday list.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Maggie’s Christmas Miracle (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Maggie has always hated Christmas ever since her father left the family during the holiday season.  Ever since then, she’s sought to control everything around her, especially her young son’s life.  However, when his grades begin dropping, she is forced to entrust him to the care of an after-school tutor, but Maggie soon finds that she isn’t like what she expected from a tutor.  Will she decide to open up her heart over the holiday season to love again?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As expected, Maggie’s Christmas Miracle is a typically fine Hallmark production with good video quality and camera, as well as good audio quality.  The soundtrack is predictably generic but not as bad as usual.  The sets, locations, and props are fine, but the Christmas decor is expectedly overwhelming and beyond belief.  Further, the editing is average, and thus, everything in this production is standard and expected from the Hallmark assembly line of Christmas films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though Hallmark movies are always better when using source material, especially from authors like Karen Kingsbury, there are still plenty of typical elements in Maggie’s Christmas Miracle.  While Karen Kingsbury characters run circles around typical Hallmark fare, there are still a lot of cheesy feel-good elements throughout this plot.  However, the dialogue is mostly good enough to develop character motive and personality, even if the plot is extremely predictable with a cookie-cutter romance plot where two people who don’t like each other at first are thrown together at Christmastime.  The story includes all the expected turns and conventions, and all of the stereotypes are too easily fallen into.  Since this is a character-based plot, we needed to see deeper character growth than this, and we also would have liked to see relationship twists and turns that were more based on past and present personality and behavior issues rather than on unrealistically stupid miscommunication problems (see The Bridge).  Unfortunately, the story gets worse as it goes on as cheap Christian messages are awkwardly inserted and end up hurting any good portions of dialogue there may be.  Essentially, the source material is helping this plot to be more than it would otherwise be, but there’s still a lot more that could have been accomplished here.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As expected, the casting and acting of this film is mostly professional with typical Hallmark elements, such as some overdone makeup.  For the most part, the line delivery and the emotions are natural, but there are some portions that are a bit too sappy.  However, as a whole, this cast is professional enough to know what they’re doing and to produce an above-average performance.

Conclusion

If Hallmark only used books and true stories as source material from here until eternity, the channel would be a much better place for it.  However, this is highly unlikely to happen.  Even still, there is enough good in Maggie’s Christmas Miracle to make it a passable holiday film to watch if you want a safe, benign movie that’s not too old and not too cheesy.  Also, if you like Karen Kingsbury novels, this film is definitely for you.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

My First Miracle [2016] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Angelica, a sixteen-year-old girl, is battling a rare form of cancer around the holiday season, and her family is struggling financially.  She keeps crossing paths with a boy on the run from his past and a fellow cancer patient who tries to cheer her up.  With everything going wrong for her family, as well as the boy she keeps meeting up with, for the holidays, could a miracle for just right around the corner for them?

Production Quality (2 points)

My First Miracle is basically a standard inspirational production with good camera work and good video quality, even if there’s some inconsistent audio throughout.  As a whole, the audio is mostly fine, but the soundtrack is a bit generic.  Sets, locations, and props are standard and good, and the editing is a bit average.  As a whole, this production is above average without anything specific or significant to stand out about it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

My First Miracle follows the predetermined mold for an inspirational quasi-Christian Christmas movie as narration is disguised as characters ‘thinking’ even though the attempts at psychological elements are noted.  It’s cheesy how the same characters keep crossing paths at Christmastime, and musical montages are used to fill the runtime.  There are too many slightly unrealistic coincidences that drive the plot along, and there are plenty of filler scenes and references to the disease-at-Christmastime plot conventions.  While there are some attempts to develop characters, most of the dialogue is pedestrian.  In addition, the storyline follows a very predictable progression and even includes odd medical concepts and silly magical Christmas elements.  To top things off, the epilogue fixes basically all the problems just in time for the holidays.  In short, this is just another throwaway plot that had some potential that was wasted.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The acting is definitely one of the strongest points of this film as there aren’t any glaring errors throughout.  Even still, there’s also nothing particularly dynamic about the cast although they are mostly professional.  Coaching is evident as emotional and line delivery are good with only a few minor issues.  In the end, this is just another average Christmas film to play in the background.

Conclusion

Streaming services have created a good home for films like this one because they are safe and benign and can be played while other things are being accomplished.  If you’re going for this type of film, this is definitely a model to follow.  However, if you want something more dynamic and culture-changing, this definitely isn’t the type of film for you.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Secrets in the Snow (Movie Review)

Image result for secrets in the snow

Plot Summary

When a snowstorm hits unexpectedly, six teenagers are trapped at Eastbrook High to wait it out.  None of them want to be there, and each of them as a secret to hide.  As time goes on, frustrations and stress increase, which causes the secret stories to come to light one by one.  However, the storm also continues to worsen, which threatens their safety.  Will they be able to make it out before it’s too late?

Production Quality (2 points)

Although it appears the budget was somewhat limited, Secrets in the Snow has a mostly good production, including fine audio, video, and camera quality.  However, the soundtrack is a bit generic and loud at times, and the sets, locations, and props are understandably limited by design, even though they are well-utilized for the most part.  There is also some inconsistent lighting, as well as some randomly shaky moments of camera work, but the editing is good.  As a whole, this is an above average production that could have been slightly better than it was.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

John and Brittany Goodwin have always attempted to develop their characters through backstories, so the effort to do this in this film is definitely commendable.  However, since this is a heavily character-based plot with almost nothing but the characters to hold it up, we needed to see much deeper character development and growth through meaningful conversations and flashbacks.  The dialogue therein needed to be less shallow and less scripted, and there are too many wasted scenes on activities that don’t build characters or help us to understand who they are as people.  Even still, this is a non-typical and mostly creative plot structure that demonstrates the true potential the Goodwins have as both screenwriters and film makers.  As they continue to grow in their careers, we expect great things from what they have to offer as they continue to deepen their character development over time because we know that they mean well and want to do their best.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Like other parts of this film, the cast members also mean well, but some of the line delivery and emotions come off as overly practiced and not natural enough.  Some performances seem to stilted and measured while some lines appear to be read.  However, there is plenty of positive here as most of the cast members appear to be comfortable with their character roles and seem to be committed to the process.  As a whole, this is an average film, which is great for a debut.

Conclusion

After this film and If You’re Gone, the Goodwins and their team are definitely on the cusp of something great.  Once they are able to deepen their characters and refine their plot structures, they will definitely be a force to be reckoned with since they have already rectified their production and acting shortcomings.  As the Goodwins continue to produce their own source material for films, we anticipate better things from them in the near future.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

My Broken Horse Christmas (Movie Review)

Image result for my broken horse christmas

Plot Summary

John always likes to go with his father to pick out a new horse every year, and he knows his father is good at picking out the best horses.  However, this year, his father acquires a crazed unruly mare and decides that she belongs to John so that he can train her.  John is dejected at this prospect because he feels like he’ll never be able to fix his new broken horse.  Nevertheless, this father persists in forcing him to train it, which leads to surprising results.

Production Quality (3 points)

John Lyde and his Covenant Communications and Mainstay Productions teams are consistently committed to quality productions even though their films are not traditional length.  This commitment to good quality is evident in crisp video quality, professional camera work, and good audio quality.  The soundtrack is interesting and engaging, and the sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized for the historical time period.  In the end, though the editing is a bit average, this production doesn’t have any major problems, which warrants a perfect score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Lyde and his team always prize shorter stories over long and drawn out films that have no interest, and basing this short film off of a Christian novella was definitely a good idea to acquire source material.  Because of this source material, the plot is slightly more creative and different than most Christmas films, but it seems to contain a lot of odd messaging that appears to glorify patriarchal attitudes.  The father character is likely realistic in his portrayal, but the story seems to pass along messaging that he is a wise and all-knowing character.  Other characters need better development through more substantial dialogue, which one would think would come from basing a short film off of a novella.  Since it’s so short, we needed to see very streamlined character development, but the plot instead lags behind and chooses to focus on pushing lessons on the audience that really don’t make much sense and on forced Christian messages that don’t seem to apply to the characters’ situations.  Some portions don’t appear to be very rooted in reality, and the abrupt and rushed ending causes the story to be over before much happens.  In short, while this could have been an honest and raw character biopic, it was reduced to a quasi-sermonizing piece that pushes messages that are hard to comprehend.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As a whole, there aren’t many acting problems in this film, which is a consistent component in John Lyde’s creations.  The casting and coaching appear to be professional, and for the most part, emotions and line delivery are natural.  However, this section isn’t perfect before of some slightly 
over-dramatized parts and some weak child acting, but in the end, this rounds out an another above average film for the Mainstay\Covenant team.

Conclusion

It’s absolutely a great idea to use Christian novels and novellas as source material for Christian films, especially since there are so many options to choose from.  This high number of selection opportunities makes it odd when obscure novellas like this one was chosen, especially when it’s not clear what My Broken Horse Christmas actually wants us to learn.  It’s a visually appealing yet substantially vague experience that will likely and unfortunately be easily forgotten.  John Lyde has always been right on the cusp of greatness, so it’s time for him to take the next step into dynamic creations.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Christmas Dress (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Mary and Leland Jeppson feel like they won’t have a good Christmas because the year has been hard on their finances, and they won’t be able to give their children anything good unless the shipment comes in from the big city, which a snowstorm has put in jeopardy.  However, the courage of a local boy who likes their oldest daughter might be able to make it happen if he and his father can brave the storm and make it back safely.  Will everyone be able to have a good Christmas after all?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Even for short films like this one, the Covenant Communications team is mostly committed to having an at least average production.  This is evident in the fine video and audio quality, as well as the average camera work.  The most obvious problems are the somewhat cheap and limited sets, locations, and props.  However, it’s definitely evident they are trying in this production, even though the otherwise good soundtrack can be too loud at times.  Further, the editing is average, which rounds out an overall average effort that actually could have been a bit better due to its limited runtime.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, with such a small scope to work with, the drama of the plot overtakes the characters and doesn’t allow them enough space to be developed properly.  This is caused by flat dialogue and unclear conflict that makes it hard for the audience to properly relate to the struggles of these characters who may otherwise have realistic problems.  While the Christian messaging is good and somewhat accessible, the short and limited nature of the plot is too cheesy and makes it hard to justify this short film’s creation.  Basically, it’s a nice, safe story that’s mainly benign and without any true impact.  We like to see more than this from Christian films.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While these is evidence that this cast means well and is trying, there appears to be a lack of coaching.  This issue seems to cause some acting to be slightly awkward and to create a lot of robotic line delivery.  The costuming is also a bit cheap and cheesy because it doesn’t entirely fit the time period, but there’s enough positive in this section to make it average.  As a while, however, this film isn’t much to write home about.

Conclusion

In Christian entertainment, short films definitely have their place, but they really need to be more dynamic than this.  This can be done through deep character growth and meaningful plot development.  Shorter films mean smaller productions, so resources should be allocated more responsibly with them.  In the end, it’s already hard for short films to make a full impact, so extra effort should be put into them to make this happen.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Christmas Ranch (Movie Review)

What?? A horse movie without the horse’s name in the title??

Plot Summary

Lizzy is a bad teenager girl whom her parents can’t handle during the holiday break, so they sentence her to live with her aunt on her remote and rural horse farm during the Christmas break.  Her parents are always busy with work, and Lizzy hates being somewhere that doesn’t have good cell phone coverage.  To make matters worse, Lizzy discovers that her aunt is about to default on her mortgage, which is due for payment for Christmas Eve!!!!!  Thus, Lizzy suddenly makes a miraculous behavioral change and teams up with a local country boy to save the day!

Production Quality (2 points)

Surprisingly, it appears as though thought and effort were put into this production, which is evidenced by fine video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The sets, locations, and props are fine, although they could be a bit more engaging.  However, the soundtrack is fairly generic, and there are constant Christmas chimes sound effects that litter the listening experience.  Further, editing is just average, which rounds a good production on paper, but it simply doesn’t do enough to be truly transformational.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Has this plot seriously never been done before?!?  This is seriously one of the worst plot stereotypes featuring one of the worst character stereotypes as a bad teenage girl is forced to live in the country on a horse farm with no cell phone coverage, where she meets a local country guy.  Said teenage girl hates everything until she’s magically fixed by the horse and the guy, and there’s also a save-the-farm-with-a-racehorse plot to boot.  Seriously, since when are mortgages due on Christmas Eve?  Besides the fact that this story has been done before and has no potential, the dialogue is extremely uninspiring, which causes the characters to be flat and cardboard.  Since the plot always has everything going wrong with it, the best a screenwriter can do is at least attempt to craft good characters using engaging conversations, flashbacks, and motives, but, of course, this is not done.  On top of this, the corny Christmas premise of this plot is forced, as if they decided to add it in at the last minute; further, the Christian messages are awkwardly inserted into the film.  ‘Bad’ characters are magically fixed when the plot needs to them to be without any real arcs, and the runtime is filled up with training montages until everything is perfectly fixed in the last 10-15 minutes.  Basically, there’s not much good to mention here.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While some cast members in this film are fine, others are drab, and this movie has some of the worst teenager acting ever.  Emotions are extremely forced, and line delivery seems very unnatural.  However, there are enough okay portions of this section to warrant an even score, but it isn’t enough to save this movie from itself.

Conclusion

What is truly gained in films like these?  Rehashing and reusing same-old, worn-out story ideas is a drag on the industry.  Rather than force and rush through another half-baked idea, we need future Christian film makers to give us truly dynamic entertainment that’s rooted in high quality productions, engaging storylines, and authentic acting.  Otherwise, we’re not making any difference at all.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Megan’s Christmas Miracle (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Meghan and her father were forced to move to West Virginia when he lost his job, she absolutely hated it.  However, in the future, as she looks back upon this time, she likes how she was able to teach some local girls how to dance and how she was in a Christmas play that year.  She was able to reestablish her relationship with her father, which still affected her as she grew older.

Production Quality (.5 point)

Megan’s Christmas Miracle, though it’s a 2018 production, is one of the cheapest-looking in recent memory.  Although video quality is fine, the camera work is a wild ride that includes bizarre camera angles and roving shots that are dizzying.  Besides this, the limited sets and locations are very cheaply lit, like this was literally filmed in somebody’s extra house, and the props are also lacking.  There’s also weird audio quality with obvious background sounds and barely any soundtrack, and there is no editing to speak of or any substantial transitions between scenes.  This rounds out a very poor production effort for 2018.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It was a monumental struggle to even fabricate anything to write for the plot summary of this film because it’s so wanting for content that it’s sad.  With basically no storyline or plot concept to work with, the characters are extremely empty and cheesy due to flat and uninspiring dialogue.  Other than predictable Christmas concepts and stereotypical small-town and ‘bad teenager’ characters, there is little to sustain this movie’s painful runtime other than drab conversations and riveting activities of daily living (ADL’s).  For a brief moment, some confusing ‘magical’ elements are teased out of left field before they disappear just as soon as they came.  Essentially, as one thing after the next happens with no organization or continuity, there is little to no nope of potential in this ‘story.’

Acting Quality (1 point)

Understandably, a majority of the cast members in this film seem bored and uninterested with the job they’ve been subjected to, and who wouldn’t be with this little amount of lines to work with?  No coaching is evident as lines are half-heartedly delivered and as emotions are flippant.  While some cast members appear to actually care about this film enough to put forth some sort or effort, it’s only enough to keep this section from being zero, which surprisingly makes this area the best of the film.

Conclusion

What exactly is this film going for?  I feel like we ask ourselves this question a lot when reviewing Christian films – especially Christmas ones.  It would be one thing if Megan’s Christmas Miracle was from the early 2000s, but 2018 films are expected to be higher quality than this with the recent upgrades and newfound advantages for independent Christian films, especially in the area of production.  A production this bad is unacceptable in this new era, so any production below average is basically an automatic disqualifier because there’s no more excuses.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

The Christmas Reunion (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a group of four unlikely friends from high school reunites in the small town of Cave City, Kentucky, for a brief Christmas reunion, they suddenly get stranded by the snow and are forced to recount the old days they had together.  However, Cave City is falling apart at the seems as it gets bought up by some Eastern Syndicate – even the old diner!!  Will they ever be able to save the small town from ruin?

Production Quality (1 point)

In this 2016 production, there are many elements that should not be for one this new.  This includes poor audio quality that sometimes echoes, as well as a cheesy holiday soundtrack that sometimes overpowers the scenes.  There are also very cheap and limited sets, locations, and props, including an overpowering amount of Christmas decor.  The only good areas of this production that keep it from being zero points are the fine video quality and camera work.  However, the editing is fairly poor, and the use of special effects is cheesy, which keeps this at a one-point production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

In keeping with his past script-writing practices, Chip Rossetti includes 
extremely stilted and unnatural dialogue throughout this story that makes the characters seem like robots.  Another commonly used Rossetti theme that’s present in this film is the heavy-handed small town values that are under attack by big city corporations.  Paired with this are 
constant return-to-small-town conversations and plenty of exposition through conversations that might as well be narration.  All of these elements severely cripples any potential for character growth and reduces it to a church play feel.  Besides this, there is really little to not plot potential here at all as the characters are cardboard cutouts instead of people.  Instead of trying to develop the characters, the storyline seems to grasp at anything it can do to fill time with except for actually developing characters, and this includes poorly constructed flashbacks.  As extremely convenient dialogue forces the plot along, the audience is forced to listen to the message that small town values fix everything even while big city evils try to destroy them.  Essentially, there is little interesting to mention here.

Acting Quality (1 point)

In keeping with the way the lines are written, the delivery of them is also extremely practiced and measured, as if the cast members are robots.  Acting is either overdone or underwhelming, and while it’s fine sometimes, it’s mostly very wooden and stilted.  There is such a thing as over-coaching, and Chip Rossetti’s teams have consistently done this in nearly all their films (except Fathers).

Conclusion

Chip Rossetti has an unusual production model to say the least.  He advertises 3-5 movies throughout the year, and one of them might be released, but the rest disappear into the black hole while one or two other random films pop up on PureFlix on Demand with no warning or marketing.  We have to give it to Chip, however: he never gives up on making more films.  Nevertheless, all of this film-making experience should have amounted to something better than a two-point half-baked Christmas film by now.  There’s something to be said for doing the same thing over and over again with no results.

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

The Prayer Box (Series Review)

The Prayer Box, DVD -

Plot Summary

Welsey wants to do the right thing even as his sister lays in a hospital bed struggling in her battle with cancer.  Wesley faithfully attends church, even though his mother has forsaken the faith for now, and he fervently prays at the altar every week.  However, he is hurt when he sees that his pastor is throwing away the prayer requests people put in the prayer box at the altar.  Thus, Wesley launches a plan to redeem the prayer box and convince God with his deeds that his sister deserves to survive the battle with cancer.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s clear that although the budget for this miniseries was somewhat limited, Kevan Otto used his funds responsibly and maximized the potential from them.  This is evidenced by clear video quality, good camera work, and professional audio quality.  The soundtrack is somewhat generic, but it gets better as the series progresses.  The sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized as they appear to be realistic for the situations.  The main drawback here is the slight need for refined editing in order to avoid including as much B-roll footage for filler scenes as it did.  However, this is a very good production, which signals that Kevan Otto has finally turned over a new leaf in his career.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The Prayer Box is a testament that even Kevan Otto can create good entertainment when he has a good team and when he actually uses employs a talented screenwriter.  Using an actual screenwriter in a series rather than having the director double as the screenwriter is rare, but it great assists in the proper development of story and characters.  This definitely an advantage to this miniseries as a majority of the dialogue is well-crafted and serves to develop character personalities and character motivations without having them fall into stereotypes or pre-determined molds.  Also, the conversations among the characters drive the plot forward rather than having them tossed along by random circumstances.  The premise of the story is also realistic and believable, including the portrayal of churches.  There is also quite a bit accomplished in the story without narration, and the Christian messaging is very poignant and on point.  However, there are a few drawbacks to this plot, including some slightly boring elements in the first episode and some scenes that feel like they’re just kicking the can down the road instead of developing the characters deeper like a series should be able to due to having more time to do so.  One example of this is one too many off-screen characters that are only talked about rather than seen, but this could be due to budget constraints.  There are also other opportunities for content enhancement, and while the ending is effective, it’s somewhat vague, but it definitely does its job.  As a whole, this is easily the best Christian series to date and a great opportunity for Kevan Otto to start afresh in his entertainment ambitions.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The acting of The Prayer Box is definitely one of its strongest points.  This includes surprisingly good child and teenager acting and arguably the best performances to date from Carey Scott and Reginald VelJohnson.  The only drawbacks here are some slightly overdone makeup from some cast members and some slightly under-performed scenes, but it’s nothing too major.

Continuity Quality (2 points)

One big question with The Prayer Box is whether or not it really needed to be a series since it only has two total hours of runtime.  While it’s great to create a miniseries out of a book to release it directly to PureFlix on Demand rather than making a half-baked direct-to-DVD film no one will ever see since this is something we absolutely need to see more of, it’s hard to see why a two-hour series was needed.  If the funding allowed, more runtime would have been good to further develop the characters if at all possible.  However, despite these minor nitpicks, the flow of this series is mostly good except for a few abrupt episode endings.  As a whole, it’s refreshing to see a series, albeit a short one, that is committed to above average continuity and flow between episodes.

Conclusion

Even though The Prayer Box is a very basic and generic storyline, this is just the tip of the iceberg of what can be done when streaming series employ true screenwriters to create content.  Trisha Mammen definitely has a lot of talent as a screenwriter, and Kevan Otto has definitely found a new stride in his career that needs to continue; it’s highly possible that this film could have made the Hall of Fame as a film.  Though we’ve criticized Otto in the past for his poorly created films like A Question of FaithGrace of GodIn the Name of GodOnline, Lukewarm, Decision, and WWJD 1 and 2, after The Prayer Box, it’s possible that his future entertainment ventures could be transformed with a second wind of much better source material and more well-funded productions.  It just goes to show that anyone can make a turnaround with better resources and that we are always willing to recognize improvement and success – no matter who it comes from.

Final Rating: 9 out of 14 points

A High School Story (Movie Review)

 

Plot Summary

Faith High is a seemingly ordinary private Christian high school with all the typical high school issues, but one student is intent on forcing the daily events she sees unfold around her into some kind of Biblical parallel so that she can have an interesting end-of-the-semester school project to talk about.  A new kid comes to town as the backup quarterback and falls in love with a mostly silent ballet dancer, so this is naturally the stories of David and Esther mashed together.  The vain and self-impressed starting quarterback is obviously Saul, and you can see how this keeps going.  With this movie in the works for so long, you would think some better content was created.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Ever since 2nd Greatest, Kingdom Sight Studios has been committed to crafting more professional productions than A Perfect Chord.  Thus, A High School Story has a mostly average production that’s fueled mainly by good video quality, find audio quality, and professional sets, locations, and props.  However, the soundtrack is sometimes too loud, and there are some odd camera angles and wild camera work, especially in the poorly filmed sports action scenes that feel like nothing is really happening even though you’re supposed to think there’s an actual game going on.  Scenes like these show the true genius of Facing the Giants in the independent film world (A High School Story even has a discount version of Bobby Lee Duke).  Elsewhere in A High School Story, there are too many stupid slow-motion scenes, as well as self-serving product placements and unwarranted self-love for A Perfect Chord.  In the end, this is a mostly average production that could have done better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

From start to finish, annoying narration decides to explain things to us that we should be about to figure out on our own if the dialogue was any good at all.  We apparently have to be told who the characters are instead of letting them develop on their own through actual conversations.  There are also plenty of weird attempts at cringe-worthy bad comedy as ‘bad’ characters are over the top bad while ‘good’ characters are too perfect.  As is commonplace in cheap sports films, training montages displace opportunities for plot and character growth, as do ridiculous high school nonsense and predictable love triangle stupidity.  There are too many cheesy attempts at ‘young people’ dialogue, and we mention the beyond-cheesy attempts to force Bible stories into this modern-day plot?  This seriously needs to stop.  In the end, this plot contributes nothing to the film’s score.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

With mainstay Kingdom Sight cast members, this acting job is another average one as there are some fine moments that are cancelled out by other moments of awkward and forced acting.  When some cast members attempt their own brand of comedy, it’s quite bad.  It goes without saying that some cast members seem desperate to advertise their horrid local comedy act throughout the film.  Essentially, while these often-used Kingdom Sight cast members are definitely gaining experience with each film, there’s just not enough coaching present here to sustain a higher score.

Conclusion

There’s one thing Kingdom Sight is getting right: releasing films directly to PureFlix On Demand and Amazon Prime in order to get them out there rather than to waste time and money on limited screenings no one will go see and DVD’s that will end up in the $5 Walmart bin.  However, 3 points is basically the ‘best of the worst’ score according to our review scale.  After 2nd Greatest, Kingdom Sight likely hit their ceiling of potential with their current model, so it’s time for them to take the next step in movie making.  They seem committed to trying different things, and their production model is mostly fine.  Thus, with their next film, they need to take a bigger step towards greatness by employing a better screen writer and a better acting coach (plus maybe some new cast members).

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Indivisible [2018] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Army Chaplain Darren Turner and his wife Heather feel that they are called to the life they live as they each minister to those who are connected to the military in different ways.  They are committed to each other and to their family, and they firmly believe God is always supporting them.  However, the months-long separation with Darren’s deployment takes a toll on their marriage and their family as they are apart for months on end with oceans between them.  When tragedy strikes close to home, they will have to decide if they will weather the storm and press into their faith or if they will let it all fall apart.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s very clear that Indivisible was a well-funded and well-organized production.  This is evident in the flawless video quality and the great action camera work.  The sets, locations, and props are also excellent and appropriate for the situations portrayed, and it was smart for the creative team to stay within their budget and to not film too many complicated scenes.  There is a very realistic feel to the film, even if there are some slight audio issues.  However, there is a relatable soundtrack, although some of the editing tends to be a bit choppy.  Nevertheless, this production is still top-notch and demonstrates very wise use of funding.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

In keeping with the growing trends of using better source material in Christian films, Indivisible seeks to tell a very engaging and poignant true story that explores realistic everyday issues that need to be discussed in the context of film.  There is a very real-life feel to the film as the day to day struggles of military families are portrayed very accurately and in a way that many can relate to.  Although there are plenty of opportunities to develop true-to-life characters based on the real people of the true story, it feels like there were missed opportunities to take them a step further beyond the typical and into the dynamic.  An example of these missed opportunities appears to manifest in the middle of the plot as this part of the movie comes off as just a collection of loosely connected scenes en route to a conclusion it wants to get to.  Time moves too quickly at times, which is never helpful for character growth.  However, even though some chances for dynamic storytelling were left on the proverbial playing field, this movie still presents a very effective and accessible view of PTSD and its psychological and emotional effects on the victim and those around him.  As a whole, this plot is definitely good on paper even though there was the greater potential to go further.  Despite this fact, many audiences will still enjoy this film for its realism.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

It’s evident that Sarah Drew drew on her past acting experience and on her experience with the Erwin Brothers in Mom’s Night Out to both deliver a great performance and to assist the rest of the cast in this same endeavor.  As such, the casting and acting are both very professional.  For the most part, line delivery is on point, and emotions are mostly realistic.  There are some slight issues at times when emotional delivery can come off as a bit forced and over the top, but overall, each cast member appears comfortable in his or her respective roles.  Though there are a few nitpicks in the various areas of this film, Indivisible still has the potential to reach many different audiences.

Conclusion

One can easily see why this great true story was chosen for a film.  There are many important messages in Indivisible that many people will relate to, especially those with close connections to the branches of the military.  The military life has never been easy for anyone, but for too long, this has been kept quiet.  Thanks to the courage of the Turner family, a great story is now being told that reaches out to families who may feel like they are alone.  While there is always room for improvement, there is still plenty of good about Indivisible due to a lot of hard work put into it.  Thus, it earns a rightful spot on the Hall of Fame.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

Born to Win [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Leon Terblanche was always told by his father that he would never amount to anything.  When he and his mother fled the abuse of his home only to abandon him at a hotel, Leon found himself as the only white child in a segregated African community during apartheid in South Africa.  However, the government discovered him there and took him away to be passed from home to home before he was able to strike out of his own and begin working for the railroad.  During his whole life, Leon was always angry and resentful towards his father, even after he married and began a family of his own.  He medicated this anger with alcohol, but when everything hit a breaking point, he was forced to choose between his own ways and the ways of the God he always pushed away.

Production Quality (2 points)

Despite their landmark production Faith Like Potatoes, Global Creative Studios did not have as much production success in Born to Win.  The video quality, camera work, and action shots are fine in this film, and the audio is fairly good, but there are several other issues to contend with.  While sets, locations, and props are sometimes fine and realistic, there are some very obvious fake backgrounds that put a damper on things.  Plenty of time and effort was put into this production, including a good soundtrack, but there are a handful of small things that hold it back from being all it could be.  The most glaring problem that hurts the film is the severely choppy editing, and this is also related to the plot problems.  Moreover, this production is mainly above average, but it’s still a letdown after the success of Faith Like Potatoes.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Frans Cronje and his team have always been committed to telling the great and true stories of real people with real struggles, and this commitment is still evident in Born to Win.  However, despite the great source material, the presentation of it is quite poor.  This is most notable due the extreme amount of heavy-handed narration that greatly hurts character growth and plot development.  The narration is mainly used to plug up the plot holes created by the breakneck time jumps that are present in the story.  These two factors combined make it nearly impossible for characters to develop as the dialogue is stunted and choppy.  Despite the little time available, there are still lots of wasted scenes, and though there is plenty of content to work with in the real story, there is little to no story organization as it jumps from one thing after the next.  Too much ground is attempted to be covered without the effective use of flashbacks or actual dialogue.  The lack of substantial dialogue and character development makes it very difficult to appreciate the otherwise meaningful struggles of the characters due to the wasted time and large gaps, and viewers are told things that are hard to believe due to poor development.  Unfortunately, it all boils down to a flat ending with little meaning because of this.  It’s too bad because there was tons of potential here for a great message to be shared.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Though the acting appears to begin well, it tends to get worse as the film goes on, especially as cast members are forced to play multiple age brackets that they are not exactly suited for.  Line delivery and emotions can be awkward at times, and there is an overall need for more coaching.  There are times when emotions are lines are too forced, and there are one too many scenes of poorly executed yelling and screaming.  Overall, this caps off a mostly disappointing effort that had so much going for it.

Conclusion

The Cronje creative team has definitely shown the height of their potential, but it’s possible they tried to do too much on their own in Born to Win.  Faith Like Potatoes obviously had a better collaborative effort behind it, which is an important lesson to learn in film making.  One success does not equal constant success; it’s something has to be continually worked for, and it’s definitely not easy.  However, it’s totally worth it in the end, especially when you have good stories that need to be told.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Faith Like Potatoes (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

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

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Shake Off the World (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Austin is a talented football player, but his coach has it out for him for no particular reason, which has forced Austin to stay on the bench for most plays.  Whenever he gets a chance, Austin makes big plays, but when some off-the-field issues begin to change and move him in a different direction, Austin isn’t sure if he can live without football or his girlfriend.  However, Austin discovers a new group of friends who introduce him to Jesus, and his life is never the same after that.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a fairly new production, Shake Off the World has a good enough production to get by.  This is evidenced by clear video quality and fine camera work, including good sports action shots.  Audio quality is okay throughout, but there are too many moments where the soundtrack is simply too loud to hear anything.  Sets, locations, and props are also mostly fine, but there are quite a few scenes that are randomly dark for no good reason.  Further, there are too many quick fade-outs and transitions that appear to interrupt the flow of the film at times.  Overall, this production does just enough to get above the average mark.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

While Shake Off the World appears to begin as a slightly interesting true story, it quickly devolves into a big nothingburger.  Predictably present are all the typical sports story elements, but it still lacks an effort to be interesting.  In between the expected sports montages are very dry and drab conversations between characters that do nothing to develop them as people.  They aren’t accessible, and the empty dialogue makes them come off as wooden and stiff.  Thus, they are hard to relate to, and they appear to be swept along in random plot circumstances that have no continuity, logic, or feeling.  Due to the high amount of time spent in montages, the story line is rushed and actually quite short and small in scope.  Most scenes and subplots come off as disconnected from the others, and by the time the film ends, it feels like it barely got off the ground.  When a film feels like it’s over before it began, something went horribly wrong in the plot department.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Despite not having many lines to work with, the acting is actually just average.  The cast definitely means well even though they are underwhelming at times.  Some lines are mumbled, and some emotions appear to not reach their full potential.  However, they did enough to keep this area at the middle mark.

Conclusion

It’s quite hard to understand why this film was made and what it was going for.  If the creators meant well, their messaging was totally lost in translation.  They either cut too many scenes or didn’t plan enough to begin with.  While it was a good idea to make a film based off of true events, the true story definitely did not come through, and this frustrates many audiences.  Maybe this creative team will have better luck next time.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Amazed By You {The Faith Club} (Movie Review)

This has basically nothing to do with this movie

Plot Summary

When Christian Andrews gets a call to attend the funeral of a friend in an obscure New Mexico town, he has no choice but to immediately hitchhike his way there.  However, when he arrives, he finds that someone told him the wrong day of the funeral, so he’s actually too late.  Nevertheless, he decides to take the opportunity to go and stay at the ranch where his friend once lived, even though he has never met the ranch owners before.  He meets the family who owns the ranch and inevitability becomes immediately interested in dating the oldest daughter and decides he wants to start building a chapel on the ranch.  Other than tangling with two drunk convicts who work on the ranch in close proximity to teenage girls, not much else happens in this story.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a newer Christian film, about the only thing going in the favor of Amazed By You is its mostly average production quality.  However, by today’s standards, this should be a given.  In this film, the video quality and camera work are fine, as are the sets, locations, and props, but there are other issues to contend with, such as the stereotypical soundtrack and the audio that is often very quiet and sometimes hard to discern.  Also, there are a lot of awkward cuts and fadeouts and seem to cut scenes short, which also relates to the choppy editing of this movie that makes it difficult to follow at times.  As a whole, this production is average and looks good on the surface, but it leaves a lot of be desired.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Exactly, what is the plot of this movie?  From start to finish, the story is hard to follow as odd things appear to just happen for no particular reason.  It really isn’t rooted in reality very well, and the plot has no clear flow or purpose other than a predictable romantic subplot.  Each character comes off as plastic, empty, and unfeeling as they just spout uninspiring lines.  Any hope of character development is definitely subverted by the many montages that fill this movie’s run time.  It goes without saying that the view of women in the film is unusual, and as a side note, the ‘villains’ are extremely cheesy.  Overall, this is mostly a half-hearted movie effort with no clear direction and no concerted attempts to make characters into real people.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Although there weren’t substantial lines to work with in the first place, the acting of Amazed By You is awkward and wooden.  Emotions come off as forced, and line delivery is not convincing as there is a definite need for more coaching.  Unfortunately, this movie really don’t have much going for it.

Conclusion

It feels like Amazed By You was slapped together and forced to go into production without even deciding upon the messaging of the film.  It’s so vanilla that it lacks the typical worldview-pushing of a fundamentalist Christian film and the predictable elements of an inspirational horse film, even though on the surface it looks like it is both of these.  It’s hard to find a movie that’s so bland and empty that there really isn’t much to comment about.  If this was an attempt to make some quick cash off of inspirational audiences, the marketing really wasn’t that great.  In summary, in nearly every aspect, it’s impossible to understand how this film came to be or what it was even going for.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Unbroken: Path to Redemption (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

Production Quality (3 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

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

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

Final Rating: 9 out of 10 points

The Identical (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ryan Wade has always known the church life because he was raised by a pastor and his wife, whom he believed to be his real parents.  However, as he grew older, he did not feel the call to ministry that his father was impressing upon him.  Instead, he wanted to pursue a musical future.  However, when he got caught by the authorities doing ‘wrong things,’ Ryan’s father sent him to the military to ‘get fixed,’ with the expectation that Ryan would enter seminary afterward.  However, the military did not dampen Ryan’s musical dreams, and once he was out, he encountered a life-changing revelation: he is the twin brother of musical sensation Drexel Hemsley, which raises many questions about Ryan’s true heritage.  Will the answers he wants give him peace or more turmoil?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s clear that The Identical is a well-funded production with a well-allocated budget.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The original soundtrack is creative, even if there is some obvious lip-syncing.  The production’s biggest strengths relate to the great 
attention to historical detail, which is evident in the well-constructed and well-utilized sets, locations, and props that reflect correct time period and culture.  The only drawback to this production is the somewhat choppy editing that is a byproduct of the plot presentation, but on the whole, this is a very good and professional production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though this story concept is a bit off-the-wall as the twin brother characters bear a strangely similar resemblance to Elvis Presley (not really sure why this character concept was chosen), there are some interesting messages to explore in The Identical.  For example, the story provides a realistic portrayal of historical issues of the time period, such as churches suppressing certain types of ideas, hiding issues, and expecting men to be fixed by the military.  However, besides the somewhat out-of-left-field story concept, there is way too much narration and expository dialogue to fill time gaps, which obviously stunts character growth and short-circuits the dialogue potential.  It would have been better to just let the story unfold naturally and to let the characters reach their full potential through meaningful dialogue that builds their personalities and motives.  Besides this obvious misstep, the story is based on too many coincidences and things that happen because the plot demands it.  However, despite these issues and despite the odd premise, there is lots of potential in this story–enough to warrant a remake–and many audiences will still find it to be a fine movie.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The Identical has surprisingly professional casting and acting.  Several cast members, such as Ray Liota, do a great job playing multiple ages.  Some emotions tend to be overdone, however, especially from Erin Cottrell.  However, line delivery is almost always on point, and the costuming is historically accurate and realistic.  This rounds out a slightly above average movie effort.

 

Conclusion

It’s great for Christian films to come up with creative movie concepts that are outside of the norm and to make films that are good because they are good without being Christian-ized.  The idea behind The Identical is one of those you don’t think of every day, so the creatively must be commended.  However, while a lot of the attention this movie received centered around the central concept, there were other pitfalls that kept it from being all that it could be.  Even still, there is plenty of positive here to build on, and there are some great cues for other films to model after.  It will be interesting to see if this creative team does anything else in the future.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Undeserved (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Dawn’s life is changed when her deadbeat mother is shot dead in a bar parking lot, which prompts the state to assign her custody to her aunt and uncle until she can finish high school.  Despite her loss, things are looking up for her as she is moved to a better area.  However, it doesn’t take long for Dawn to discover that there are just as many hidden problems in suburbia as there are obvious problems on the streets.  Fearing for her safety, Dawn leaves her new home to take up residence on the streets once again.  Moreover, she soon finds herself in trouble again, and only her aunt believes that she is worth the fight.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For a very small budget, Undeserved sports a lot of good production qualities, including good camera work, video quality, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is also creative, even though it tends to be a bit too loud at times.  Sometimes, camera work is randomly shaky, and sometimes scenes are too dark and poorly lit.  However, these issues are not completely noticeable, even if the flashback quality is bit odd.  The editing is average overall, and these factors are enough to make this an above-average production, which is a great start for a new film maker with such a limited budget.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Undeserved is definitely not afraid to take on difficult but unfortunately realistic issues within the white suburban church demographic.  Though there is some obvious and expository dialogue throughout, the storyline is intriguing due to its non-typical structure.  For the most part, the story unfolds in a realistic manner with a natural progression of time, even though there are some slight coincidences that help the plot along.  The character are fairly well-developed even though the dialogue could be constructed a bit better.  Sometimes it seems like the main characters are victimized too much, but there are plenty of good attempts to develop character motive and personality through conversations and flashbacks.  However, there are a few too many montages, and issues appear to be fixed too easily in the end.  There are quite a few things tacked onto the end of the film, as if time ran out, which suggests that this idea might have worked better as a series.  However, this plot is overall average.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast is mostly inexperienced and ‘amateur,’ they appear to be professional in their performances.  There is definitely evidence of coaching, and although there are some slightly forced emotions and some moments that are partially underwhelming and awkward.  However, there is far more good here than bad, and this is only amplified by the fact that the cast does not have ‘big names’ in it.  In summary, this rounds out a very good first film effort.

Conclusion

It’s hard to get the necessary funding for a first-time small church film, so the best thing a film maker can do is craft a good plot, coaching cast members well, and get the film out there.  This creative team made efforts on all three of these fronts, and for the most part, the efforts paid off.  One can hardly do better than this with a less than $50,000 budget except perhaps forge a more captivating storyline.  In the end, a film like Undeserved is all we really ask of freshman creators, so it will be interesting to see what this team produces next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

An Interview With God (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Paul is a journalist who recently returned from Afghanistan, where he was reporting on the war effort there.  What he saw there changed him forever, and it sent him down a dark path as he began searching for the true meaning of life.  He began to question his childhood faith, and he asked God if He was even real.  However, Paul received an unexpected answer one day when he received a tip to interview God Himself.  Skeptical, Paul decides to follow the lead even though he is on paid leave.  What he discovers is unexpected and is destined to change his life forever.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The Astute Films team is fresh on the scene, and they have put together a quality first-time production, which is a great way to start out.  It is clear that they put a lot of effort into making a high-quality production in An Interview With God.  This is evident in great video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is creative, and the film has an overall artistic touch as a lot of work is put into establishing things without being too obvious.  Further, the sets, locations, and props are authentic and appropriate.  Finally, the editing is professional, which rounds out a basically perfect production effort.  With this film, the Astute team has sown great seeds for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

On the surface, An Interview With God seems like another version of The Encounter or The Perfect Stranger, but upon closer look, this new film is much more.  Though the plot mostly centers around lengthy conversations, the dialogue is well-constructed and holds up the plot well.  The characters explore some great topics relating to the nature of reality and the work of God.  These philosophical conversations actually hold the attention because they seek to develop the characters as people rather than to throw worldviews at the audience.  The writers were not afraid to go deep with the characters by making them flawed and accessible.  The portrayal of God is also appropriate and intriguing.  Throughout the storyline, there are creative psychological elements that appear to be building towards a possible plot twist, but unfortunately, this seeming creativity never materializes, which leaves the ending to be a bit flat and disappointing.  The story tends to limp to a conclusion with too many unanswered questions after it had so much potential going for it, but even still, the remainder of the plot is good enough to lift this film to an overall good rating.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Though the cast of this film is very small, they carry the film strongly.  Each cast member portrays emotions effectively and carries his or her role very well.  Line delivery is on point, and it appears as though each cast member fits comfortably into his or her respective roles.  There are no flaws in this section, which is enough to lift An Interview With God to Hall of Fame status.

Conclusion

An Interview With God is one of 2018’s surprise breakout films, and it comes from a creative team who is not afraid to get their name out there.  When a film maker crafts a project they are proud of and one that they are not afraid to share, this immediately shows a great mentality as a creator.  It is clear that great production and acting effort were put into this movie, even if the plot department was a little lacking.  Nevertheless, the effort was enough to breach the seven point threshold, and An Interview With God is a great start to a promising career that demonstrates great potential for the future.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

Beautifully Broken [2018] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The Hartley Family appears to have it all on the outside; they are a seemingly successful American family.  However, little do they know that their lives are about to become far more complicated than before.  They inadvertently cross paths with William Mwizerwa, a Rwandan refugee who moved from Kenya to America to try to make a new life for his family, whom he had to flee the Rwandan genocide with.  These lives also intersect with another Rwandan family who has been forever changed by the genocide.  Little do they know that collectively, they will experience both brokenness and God’s redemption after brokenness in ways they never before dreamed.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Beautifully Broken is an independent film that has finally come to fruition after being in the works for a while, and it bears some key hallmarks of an indie production.  Though the production begins in a fairly rough manner, including wild camera work, weird light filters, and dizzying flashbacks, this is mainly only the first third of the film.  It seems like this part of the film was produced separately from the rest of the movie since the remainder of the film has a significant quality increase.  This is evident as the camera work, video quality, and audio quality all make marked improvements.  The soundtrack is effective and culturally appropriate; however, sometimes sets and locations do not fully live up to the hype.  Nevertheless, this production does enough in the latter two-thirds to make this section overall above average.  It seems like time was spent to improve this part of the film, and they likely did the best they could with the budget they had.  The one drawback is that the editing does not improve throughout the film, but this is is mainly due to the large amount of plot content.  As a whole, this is a great first-time production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

It’s an excellent idea to begin your movie career with a complex true story rather than to use original content, especially since we have a deficit of creative screenwriters in Christian film.  However, one of the main pitfalls of using a true story is trying to include too much content.  In some ways, it seems like the writing team of Beautifully Broken bit off more than they could chew, but this does not diminish the great message this powerfully true story has to offer.  The downside is that there are one too many ‘filler’ scenes that waste precious time; the sheer amount of content in this plot does not allow space to develop the characters as much as they could have been, and narration and expository dialogue is used too often as a shortcut for full character and story development.  However, despite its rough beginning and inconsistency in the middle, the final third of the plot are definitely worth the wait, and they keep this section higher than it would have normally been.  This writing team definitely has more potential in the future once they master organization and character development.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

It’s possible that the uneven and inconsistent acting is the main thing that derailed Beautifully Broken from a possible Hall of Fame run. While some cast members, like Benjamin Onyango, are very good in their performances, other cast members, like Scott William Winters, cancel out any good that is done.  Once again, Onyango is not given the space he needs to fully show his potential as an actor.  However, for the most part, emotional performances are believable and effective.  Costuming is culturally appropriate, and great efforts were taken to cast culturally authentic cast members.  Overall, this rounds out a great first effort.

Conclusion

A lot of work has clearly been put into making Beautifully Broken happen after a fairly long period of time has passed, and the finished product is both better than most films and not as good as it could have been.  There is plenty of positive in this film, and it is likely worth your time to see when it releases.  There is a great message to learn, and this story is definitely worth being told.  In summary, this film is a great start to a promising career, so it will be interesting to see what they have to offer next.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

God’s Not Dead 3: A Light in Darkness (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Pastor Dave is released from prison for not turning over his sermon notes to the local government, he is immediately hit with a new persecution angle.  His father’s church, which he has pastored for years, sits on the property of a public university, so protests build on campus based on an argument that questions the necessity of the church being on public property.  Dave begins to feel pressure from the university leadership, but things hit a breaking point when the church appears to be attacked and when his close friend Jude is killed in the attack.  Dave decides to reach out to his long-lost brother for legal help as chaos reigns around him.  Will he ever be able to live in peace?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

With the third installment and possible end to the God’s Not Dead trilogy, they have not backed off on their recently attained practice of high-quality productions.  On most production fronts, A Light in Darkness is a very professional production, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is even better than the previous two installments as it is mostly void of the title track and thankfully leaves us without another Newsboys concert to wrap things up.  Sets, locations, and props are also very well-utilized and well-constructed.  The only two caveats in this production are the presence of some cheesy special effects and the somewhat sloppy editing job, but on the whole, God’s Not Dead 3 is top-notch production work.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

In a shocking turn of events, after making us muddle through that horrible second film, the third of the trilogy has one of the best plots.  The first film’s plot had good elements due to its many fractured subplots, but A Light in Darkness has the best central and focused idea of them all.  Though it takes forever to get to the point and though there are plenty of persecution-complex pitfalls along the way, the ending of this film is very significant because it takes the franchise in a totally different direction than the other ones were going in.  Unfortunately, there are still plenty of issues with this storyline, including a lack of adequate character development due to poorly-constructed dialogue and a sloppy story construction that tends to jump from one thing to the next and include too many issues.  However, someone got ahold of the plot and decided to insert some truth about why young people don’t like the church, which was a breath of fresh air, however brief it may have been.  As a whole, this story was a good idea in the end, but it was probably too little too late.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

In spite of the usual awkwardness of David A. R. White as a ‘serious’ lead, other cast members are more natural and believable in their roles, even John Corbett.  Benjamin Onyango was hardly ever afforded a fair opportunity to show his full potential in this trilogy, but his parts are still great.  The reality is that there are actually few acting errors in this film; even the emotional performances are mostly believable.  As a whole, PureFlix has made a lot of strides over the past few years, so if they will just direct their resources in a more responsible direction, who knows what good could be done.

Conclusion

The unfortunate part is that PureFlix managed to isolate everybody throughout the course of the GND franchise.  The first film was a big hit because it filled a void in the market and was basically at the right place at the right time.  It had good qualities, such as better production than usual, but it was still mostly standard and pedestrian.  The second GND film was nothing short of a total trainwreck, and this where the trilogy lost its reasonable audience.  However, A Light in Darkness isolated anyone faithful who were left by taking the narrative in a different and non-persecutory direction.  In short, it pays to know who your audience is, but it also pays to strive for high-quality Christian films that aren’t based entirely on pandering to a specific base.  PureFlix has the resources to truly blow open the Christian industry if they really want to, but will they seize the opportunity before it’s too late?

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Sense of Urgency [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Izzy already has a strained relationship with her parents, but when she finds out that they have lied to her all her life about her being adopted, she decides to take a road trip to see her biological mother without them knowing.  However, she quickly finds out that her road trip is not what it seems as things go from bad to worse.  A nightmare scenario suddenly unfolds as she finds herself a hostage in a desperate situation.  Though she has resisted the Christian faith for years now, she begins to change her mind when faced with death.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Sense of Urgency is unfortunately a fairly cheap small time production that had some obvious funding shortfalls.  This is evidenced by a weird light filter that plagues the film and gives the video quality a bizarre gray look.  The soundtrack is also generic and fairly loud at times.  The sets, locations, and props are mostly pedestrian, and audio quality is somewhat inconsistent.  While the camera work is fine most of the time, there is some weird lighting in some scenes.  There are also cheesy special effects to contend with, and the editing is choppy in some places.  Overall, while there was some effort here, this production needs a lot of work.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The surprising thing about Sense of Urgency is that the core idea of the film is actually slightly interesting.  While the beginning of the movie is hard to understand since random things seemingly happen, there is some potential for the development of flawed and accessible characters with slightly complex back stories that cannot be typically found in the inspirational world.  However, a lot of this potential never comes to fruition.  Nevertheless, this plot idea is interesting enough as a suspense idea and would probably benefit from some sort of remake.  Even so, this good effort is unfortunately not enough as some of the characters are too cheesy, such as the villain and the Christian characters, and some dialogue is too forced and expository for the moment.  The conversations need to build characters better, and the circumstances need to occur more naturally rather than out of necessity for the plot.  Further, the Christian message needs to be less childish, and the ending doesn’t need to try to fix everything.  Overall, this was a nice effort, and it offers some slight hope for future projects.

Acting Quality (1 point)

As this cast is mostly composed of inexperienced members, the acting is unfortunately pedestrian and basically below average.  This is due to forced emotional performances and line delivery that needs some work.  At times, the cast members are not very convincing in their roles, but there are also moments of potential and more natural performances.  Perhaps they can continue to improve their craft with better coaching.

Conclusion

Overall, Sense of Urgency does what we ask of struggling film makers: when the budget is low, focus on the plot.  While this storyline is not the most creative in the world, it demonstrates potential and is definitely something to build off of.  It’s almost always better to depart from the average inspirational fare that crowds the market, so trying a different type of suspense plot can help you stand out.  However, what is much better is learning to portray real people in more natural ways without the message pushing.  If you get this right, God will send the funding at the right time.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Grandma’s House [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Grandma Margie’s family is a wreck even though she is always praying for them and imparting her fundamentalist wisdom to them.  She lets any and all of them come to live with her in her huge house–as long as they abide by her strict rules.  She aims to fix them up from their problems before sending them back out into the evil world.  With so many things going on in her house, she can hardly keep up, and neither can we.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Surprisingly, this film, which by all outside factors seems like a small church film, has an above-average production quality.  This is manifested in good video quality and good camera work, as well as professional audio quality, even if the soundtrack is very generic.  There are some random dark scenes, however, and sets, props, and locations are fairly limited by the nature of the plot and the resources available.  The editing can be oddly choppy at times despite the fact that there are useless filler scenes throughout.  Some scenes seem cut short while others drag on too long.  With the sheer amount of content shoved into this film, it’s no wonder things get confusing.  However, on the whole, this production is better than expected.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Grandma’s House is a forum to push a very close-minded and fundamentalist worldview on the audience that has an offensive view of women and a slew of quick fixes for all of your neighborhood problems.  While the movie takes an honest look at real family issues and other realistic problems, it refuses to probe the reasons behind the wrong actions and instead settles for cheap spiritualized platitudes and Bible-verse-bandaging.  The story assumes that people just need to stop acting bad and start acting legalistic in order to be ‘fixed.’  Thus, each character is designed to represent an issue rather than a person, which makes them empty and simplistic.  Dialogue is mostly expository and issue-pushing, and there is too much heavy-handed narration.  In the end, everything is fixed without any good explanation or realistic understanding of how issues progress.  

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While most of the cast members in this film are average in their performances, Loretta Devine is particularly annoying, similar to her infamous Caged No More role.  Other cast members are not the worst at acting, but they are not the best either.  There are some attempts to coach them, but there are just too many extreme emotions, including yelling and screaming outburst.  At times, line delivery comes off as too practiced, but there are enough good moments here to justify an average score.

Conclusion

Movies like this one know what they want to push on their audience or simply tell some specific audience what they want to hear.  It’s fine to want to discuss important issues in the context of a film, but treating people like pawns or one-dimensional problems doesn’t do any service to your cause.  Most people will see right through such attempts, which will only further contribute to the negative image of Christianity that films like Grandma’s House seek to reinforce for some reason.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Wrestling With God [1990] (Movie Review)

 

Plot Summary

Alexander Campbell was a religious radical in a day when man was seeking to corrupt the true theology of Jesus Christ, so he left Catholic Ireland for religious freedom in America.  However, he finds the same doctrinal problems when he enters the New World, but at the same time, he also meets like-minded people who want to follow the true Gospel and worship God freely without man’s intervention.  Alexander eventually settles down to raise a family, and he faces many new challenges along the way.  Ultimately, he will have to discover God beyond theology and doctrine and meet Him for himself.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a 1990s production, Wrestling With God is understandably archaic, which is evidenced by one too many dark scenes and grainy video quality.  However, camera work is okay, and there is obviously a lot of attention to detail in this production as its sets, locations, and props reflect a commitment to historical and cultural authenticity.  The soundtrack is somewhat generic, however, and the editing is quite choppy, including too many long, lagging scenes and too many leaps in time.  Overall, due to the issues that add up and the attempts at authenticity, this production is just average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

While this obscure true story is a bit out of left field to choose for the film, the historical account is slightly interesting, even if it is mostly based on niche theological debates that will likely isolate and bore most audiences.  It is difficult to see the wide appeal of this concept, especially since it doesn’t hold the attention very well at all.  While there is potential here for real historical characters to come to life, this storyline is a bit too long to cram into less than two hours, and the large time jumps short-circuit any ability to get to know these characters as people.  The inconsistent story presentation, the expository dialogue, and the boring conversations about theological eccentricities also hurt the opportunity to develop authentic and relatable characters.  As a whole, historical accounts are typically better than your run-of-the-mill inspirational fodder, but Wrestling With God is just a bit too boring to work out.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Accompanying this 1990s production is 1990s-style acting, which tends to be too theatrical and overly practiced.  While the costuming and accents are historically authentic, the emotional performances are not entirely convincing, and this amateur cast could use a bit more coaching.  However, this area is not all bad, which make this section basically average.

Conclusion

The creators of this older film probably meant well in making it, but they might should have considered using a more recognizable and engaging historical account to make into a movie.  The theological debates encapsulated in this tale might be consequential and important to some people, but it will be lost on most audiences because it is more important to depict real people experiencing a real God Who is truly beyond theology and man-crafted doctrines.  This would be a worthwhile message to share in movie form and one that would have a larger impact.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points