John Light [2019] (Movie Review)

John Light (2019)

Plot Summary

John Light is a prisoner nearing the end of his sentence, and he’s paired with Matt Garrett as a part of a prison ministry mentor program. Though Matt is ambivalent about the experience at first, he quickly becomes friends with John, who has no one else in life who cares about him. Thus, when John is released, Matt is there to help the ex-con get back on his feet. However, John has to face some dark elements of his past in order to move forward with his life.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

In the beginning, the production of John Light is as poor as those from other JC Films offerings. One example of this is inconsistent audio quality, including some background echoes and noises as well as a generic soundtrack that never stops playing. Also, some scenes obviously begin right after the camera starts rolling rather than already being in motion. However, on the bright side, sets, locations, and props are all acceptable, and video quality and camera work are both fine. While the editing is basically average, the good thing is that all production areas show concerted improvement as the film goes on, which is enough to warrant an even score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

From the get-go, John Light is one of the most noteworthy ideas put forward by the JC Films team, probably because it’s based on true events. However, in the beginning, the characters are a bit blank due to some rushed conversations and some unsubstantial dialogue that fails to properly develop them. This makes it difficult to grasp the overall flow of the plot as the narrative tends to meander without clear themes to guide it. In the first half of the movie, it feels like a bunch of random scenes were strung together, but somewhere in the middle, things suddenly take a turn for the better. While the central purpose is still unclear, there are some realistic attempts at family systems issues and some considerably adequate conversations that make the characters a bit better throughout the storyline’s second half. There is some slight focus on the latter parts of the film, and the characters become more accessible, but the plot’s beginning causes the entire experience to be disjointed. Nonetheless, there are enough noteworthy concepts explored after the midpoint of John Light for it to warrant a modest score.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Although some of the acting is a bit forced at first, including some unnatural line and emotional delivery, like other elements of this movie, these problems do improve with time. Throughout the screenplay, some cast members are better than others, but they all show good effort by the time it’s over. Also, the culturally diverse cast is commendable, so this rounds out a mostly average film effort.

Conclusion

John Light really does deserve a remake since it contains such an interesting true story. In reality, the JC Films team should have nixed all of the other movies they had planned for 2019 and instead put all their eggs in one basket for John Light. In doing so, it’s highly possible that it would have had enough funding (and maybe expanded collaboration) to propel John Light to the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, however, we’ll never know what could have been, yet it’s still an excellent lesson for all Christian entertainment creators: don’t rush to make more films just for the sake of making them; wait to make a quality offering that God actually wants you to make.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

Jack Jonah (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Each family member of Jack Jonah dealt in different ways with the teenager’s untimely death to opioid overdose. Kirk Jonah, his father, launched himself into a non-profit designed to provide anti-drug education to whomever will listen. Both of Jack’s parents believe they can still communicate with the dead boy, and this drives them in their efforts to save other lives from deadly overdoses. However, all of those close to Jack must ultimately come to the point where they trust that good can come out of tragedy.

Production Quality (.5 point)

While the video quality of Jack Jonah is acceptable, the camera work is often quite shaky, and the audio quality is quite poor, including loud background sounds, painfully obvious overdubs, some bouts of over driven audio, and a cheesy never-ending soundtrack that tries to cover up these problems. Additionally, lighting is inconsistent in both the outdoor locations and the indoor sets. Further, the special effects that are used are quite bad, and the editing is marred by abrupt cuts and transitions, which tops off an unacceptable level of production quality that should never be approved in the current entertainment field.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-2.5 points)

There are a myriad of problems with this film’s plot, beginning with its heavy-handed message pushing, which is joined by endless, meandering conversations that are full of forced information-dump dialogue. This causes the characters to be cardboard cutouts who represent issues rather than real people. Also, the choppy story presentation makes the passage of time seem unclear to the viewer, especially since there are many random characters and spider-webbing subplots that only have loose connections with each other. Besides the fact that many of the scenes are blankly vague and hard to understand, the plot becomes more and more bizarre as it progresses due to its weird exploration of other dimensions wherein people who have passed away can come back and talk to those who are still alive. What begins as a typically vanilla story quickly becomes a wacky drug trip into the strange, and it’s laced with an unusual air of mystery that’s not well-explained. Then, the narrative suddenly ends with little to no purpose or clear message to offer to the audience. For all of these reasons, this section receives a negative score, which drags the overall movie below water.

Acting Quality (1 point)

To cap off the other issues in Jack Jonah, its acting leaves much to be desired since most of it is robotic and stilted. Emotions are difficult to believe, and line delivery is mostly vanilla. While some cast members are somewhat average in their performances, others are simply too poor to warrant any higher score than this.

Conclusion

In their race to make as many films as possible in 2019, the JC Films team produced indefensible projects like this one. This is unfortunately yet another example of why quantity over quality is never the way to go in Christian entertainment. Additionally, this may be the only lesson future creators can learn from Jack Jonah: how not to go about it.

Final Rating: -1 out of 10 points

The Islands [2019] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

John Thornton felt called to be a missionary on the remote island of Hawaii in the early 1800s, so he took his wife, Mary, and went with their friend Hiram to the unknown place. Once there, the missionaries met Chiefess Kapiolani and those her were in her tribe. Although the chiefess was familiar with the English language and American customs, many of her people were suspicious of the Caucasian visitors and preferred to practice human sacrifice to their pagan gods. However, one fateful day, as the island’s volcano raged, they all came face to face with what it truly meant to believe in a god.

Production Quality (2 points)

Overall, it’s clear that this production was well-funded with money that was mostly responsibly spent. All the standard elements are up to par, including video quality, audio quality, sets, props, and locations. However, there are a few pesky issues that hold this section back from being perfect, such as some cheesy sound effects that were obviously added on top of the normal audio and a generic soundtrack that never stops playing. Further, the editing leaves something to be desired as there are some abrupt cuts and transitions that cause some scenes to end without natural conclusions. Nonetheless, this production does enough to stay above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

From the get-go, The Islands‘ plot is nearly crippled by immediate narration that continues throughout the narrative and is sometimes substituted with information dump dialogue, which seems to serve as some type of history lesson. To make matters worse, there are far too many characters for the viewer to keep up with much less for them to have time to be properly developed. Time jumps also complicate matters and make the story seem like just a collection of random scenes strung together as the film goes from one high point to the next and even seems to repeat itself on several occasions. Several interactions between characters feel like they’re on repeat and are simply designed to waste time until the climax. A lot of the conversations and situations seem very contrived just for the sake of the plot-line, and there are no clear or consistent themes that underlay the idea and give it true purpose. Nonetheless, all of these problems aside, Timothy Chey and his team did stumble upon a very intriguing true account that still shines through despite the poor storytelling. This fact is most evident in the famed final sequence that actually demonstrates some potential, which is why this section isn’t zero points. However, it’s too little too late and makes for a disappointing experience.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

One of The Islands‘ strongest points is its encouraging commitment to assembling a diverse and culturally accurate cast, even if the costuming is a bit cheesy at times. However, this main strength is slightly weakened by the fact that much of the acting is fairly robotic at times, and emotions are sometimes difficult to believe. While it’s good to see the proper foreign language being applied in this setting, there is a lot of fight-acting throughout the film that is poorly executed and coached. Moreover, in the end, there is enough positive in this section to keep in at the average mark.

Conclusion

The historical narrative behind The Islands appears to be a very interesting and potentially powerful story that could and should have received better treatment. It’s one thing to have a good idea, but it’s another to successfully execute it, and it’s definitely a difficult feat to accomplish. Nonetheless, the experience Chey and his team bring to the table is enough to ask more of them, and the amount of potential for engaging concepts and overarching themes that was left on the table in this film was simply unacceptable. However, Chey is still on an upward trend in his career when compared to his earlier days, so perhaps his true success is just around the corner.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

The Power Couple, Season 1 [2019] (Series Review)

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Plot Summary

Gabby and Vince Powers are both superheroes with the same goal of saving the people around them from certain evil. However, they can’t seem to keep their marriage out of trouble. Thus, in order to be ready for their toughest assignment, the couple decides to attend marriage counseling, but it only seems to make things worse. Will they be able to settle their differences before it’s too late?!?

Production Quality (1 point)

Although not all of the production qualities of The Power Couple are bad, such as okay video and audio, there are also quite a few other concerns to note. For instance, cheap special effects are used throughout the series, and camera work is inconsistent, including some unnecessarily tight shots. Similarly, the sets, locations, and props are fairly limited, and the soundtrack and its accompanying sound effects are beyond cheesy. It also goes without saying that many scenes seem like there aren’t enough people in the shot to adequately support the number of individuals the scene is supposed to represent. Further, the editing leaves much to be desired, which, along with the other problems, overall contributes to an underwhelming performance in this category.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Despite The Power Couple‘s childish premise, the dialogue is surprisingly not all bad as this story attempts to do something different and tries to present real issues. However, it’s simply not enough as the superficial nature of the narrative overtakes any small amount of potential there might have been. This is evidenced by too many very poor attempts to be funny and lots of surface conversations that prevent us from properly understanding who the characters are. Additionally, many biblical and possibly substantial concepts are awkwardly shoehorned into the plot; these ideas are improperly used to magically fix the characters’ problems in illogical and unrealistic ways. Then, before the viewer is prepared, the storyline abruptly ends and expects the audience to beg for another season. In short, though there was a very slight amount of potential in this idea, it wasn’t enough to rescue the narrative from triviality and lazy writing.

Acting Quality (1 point)

For the most part, the acting in The Power Couple is pedestrian and sometimes a bit worse. Emotions are usually forced in unrealistic ways even though line delivery is mostly fine. Some cast members are better than others, but all of the costuming is horrible. One positive note is that it’s good to see a husband and wife (Carlos and Alexa PenaVega) star alongside each other, but this section is overall a disappointment.

Continuity Quality (1.5 points)

While this series has a basic amount of continuity, as evidenced by continuations between episodes and consistent subplots being focused on, it’s still not as good as it could be. For one, each episode is extremely short, which raises the question of this even needing to be a series at all. Further, all character and story arcs are basically predictable and expected with no real twists and turns. Therefore, this rounds out a very underwhelming effort.

Conclusion

It’s very unclear how and why The Power Couple was made, but it’s unfortunately a squandered idea that could have been better in different hands. For one, this type of concept requires higher amounts of funding and a lot of writing collaboration to ensure cheesiness is avoided. In the end, it seems like whatever was spent on this series would have been better used in a different way, such as being saved for higher quality productions.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 14 points

Why We Breathe (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Carrie Hicks just wants to catch a country music break in Nashville, but her relationship with her current boyfriend consistently complicates things. However, things escalate when he inadvertently paralyzes Carrie’s daughter, leading the aspiring artist to flee town and seek shelter with her great uncle, who she’s barely spoken to in years. Carrie wants to get back on her feet and move on with her life, but her daughter’s new disability often halts her in her tracks. In the end, Carrie will have to not only come to grips with her new reality but with the faith she’s been running from all these years.

Production Quality (2 points)

Despite a limited budget, it’s obvious that great care was taken to maintain mostly good production quality in Why We Breathe. This is evidenced by acceptable video and audio elements. Though there are some random moments of shaky camera work and some obvious overdubs, there is enough positive in the film’s first half to keep this section above the average line. Sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized throughout the movie. Unfortunately, however, the editing tends to become more choppy as things progress, which prevents this area of the movie from being all that it could be. Nonetheless, this is acceptable for a first-time effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

In the beginning of the narrative, the ideas are creatively presented without the use of narration and through the eyes of believable characters with realistic struggles. In the plot’s first half, the dialogue is authentic, and the use of subtlety is commendable. However, by the film’s middle point, things tend to become more abrupt as some montages waste valuable time while a handful of conversations reference off-screen content that would have been better to see. Not a few scenes feel like they’re unfinished or cut off as the storyline unnecessarily rushes to an inevitable conclusion that is fairly cheesy. Unfortunately, in this pursuit, the previously positive elements lose their value as the story’s progression becomes more and more rapid. In the end, since the movie’s premise was mostly typical with some predictable elements, it needed deep character development and a more natural conclusion instead of ending with unrealistic fixes and unfinished ideas. The effort is notable, but more fleshing out was needed before it went into production.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

As a whole, the acting in Why We Breathe is mostly professional. Line delivery and emotions appear natural as the cast members seem comfortable in their roles. Though there are some slight moments of robotic and awkward performances, for the most part, the actors and actresses are definitely working to be earnest. Thus, this rounds out an above-average attempt that could develop into better things in the future.

Conclusion

The creative team behind this film definitely had a lot going for them, and they began very strong. However, somewhere at the halfway point, it seems like the process became rushed in a possible desire to quickly release the movie. It’s a shame because with a little more collaboration and a slight amount of fleshing out, Why We Breathe could have scored much higher. Even so, it’s highly possible that the lessons learned from this project could lead to better things in the coming days.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Silver Twins (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

When Larry and David Silver each find Christ while attending separate colleges, they have no idea how they will tell their Jewish parents when they both return home for fall break. Once back home, things don’t go as planned, and they find themselves at odds with some of their family members. However, just as God brought them into a new faith in the true Messiah, the twins discover that He will also provide what they need as they follow Jesus.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, Silver Twins has an average production; it has fine video quality, audio quality, and camera work, but there are some obviously overdubbed lines. Also, there are times when the soundtrack doesn’t adequately fit the mood of the scenes. While the sets, locations, and props are mostly good and realistic, some of them seem slightly cheap and poorly utilized. Further, a handful of scenes are sometimes prematurely cut off, and there are some quick transitions that tend to hamper the viewing experience. In the end, the mixture of positive and negative leaves this section as middle-of-the-road.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

It’s usually a good thing to base a film off of a true story, especially an interesting one like this account. However, although the use of flashbacks is commendable, they sometimes unexpectedly invade the narrative and don’t always relate to the plot’s flow. Similarly, though the exploration of realistic family issues is a plus, the character arcs are too steep and lack believable explanations for why the people change as rapidly as they do. Also, while non-linear storylines can be a very good addition to the movie, the constant criss-crossing of Silver Twins‘ timelines is quite confusing and disorienting for the audience. Further, much of the dialogue is full of platitudes and cliched statements rather than substantial lines that reveal character motive and personality. In the end, the film ends seemingly before many of the subplots come to logical or meaningful resolutions; it was almost as if they intended to make a second part but never did. Thus, although there was some potential here, it just wasn’t enough and was weighed down with avoidable problems.

Acting Quality (1 point)

There are also a handful of unforced errors among the acting, such as obviously manufactured accents that come off as too fake. Also, some cast members trying to play multiple age brackets in the same film properly translate to reality. As a whole, many of the performances are a bit stiff and awkward in parts, and some of the emotions feel very forced and wooden. Certain instances of line delivery seem off point and somewhat robotic, like there are scenes that were done in one take. However, not all is bad here as there are some positives in each of these subcategories, but it’s just not enough to keep this movie’s proverbial head above water.

Conclusion

Films like Silver Twins tend to rely too much on the ideas behind them rather than the execution of the concepts. Dramatic conversion stories are intriguing and noteworthy to portray on the big screen, but in order to truly make a difference and to effectively engage the viewer, it has to be adequately represented. For potentially good narratives like this one, it’s typically better to wait until a good team can be assembled and an adequate budget can be applied. Later-released, quality content always beats quickly created and rapidly distributed movies.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

I Still Believe [2020] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Jeremy Camp didn’t grow up with much, but he always had the love of his family, which is why they supported him in his dream to pursue a music career. When he attended a Christian college to fulfill this goal, Jeremy unexpectedly met Melissa Henning, who he quickly fell in love with. However, as Jeremy and Melissa grew closer together, they embarked on a harrowing and arduous journey into the unknown as Melissa battled cancer. Through the twists and turns, they discovered that God is always present in the midst of suffering and that there’s always a purpose to pain.

Production Quality (3 points)

It’s no surprise that, after the success of I Can Only Imagine, the Erwin brothers and their team have crafted yet another perfect production. I Still Believe hits all the right notes in every aspect of production, including video quality, camera work, audio quality, sets, locations, and props. Many camera angles are creatively artistic, and the soundtrack is a huge plus as it enhances the audience experience in all portions of the film and seamlessly integrates Camp’s music without turning it into a product placement. Further, the editing professional handles a story that is obviously difficult to properly present due to its scope. In short, there is nothing negative to note in this section.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)

The Erwin Brothers, along with Jon Gunn, have no doubt mastered the art of the biopic as they have wisely chosen to focus their movie-making efforts on adapting real life stories into feature films. Though I Still Believe is a slight departure from the traditional Erwin brand since it zeroes in on a very small collection of characters, there are still no concerns with this storytelling adjustment. This narrative may signal a new era of Erwin creations, but it’s still another installment in their history of reliably quality offerings. In many ways, I Still Believe is almost two different movies as the first and second halves are quite different in tone, but these talented screenwriters correctly applied their God-given skills to weave the source material into a life-changing plot that will resound with many viewers from diverse backgrounds. Based off of real people, the characters therein are very poignant and relatable via realistic and profound dialogue that brings the story to life. Musical montages are responsibly used and don’t encroach upon important conversations that build characters; similarly, creative overlays effectively aid the complex plot presentation. Further, there are clear themes that are used throughout the film and serve to tie the major points together. Essentially, there are no issues to note in this section either.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Once again, in I Still Believe, the Erwin collective proves that they take great care in their casting and acting coaching work. Even though some of the cast members don’t entirely represent the real people they are portraying (which is the movie’s only flaw), every performance is still on point. Line delivery and emotional delivery are basically flawless as the audience is able to easily experience the characters’ feelings. Though this is a relatively small cast compared to previous Erwin projects, it still shines nonetheless and rounds out another blockbuster hit for the brothers.

Conclusion

Jeremy Camp’s compelling backstory was absolutely worth bringing to the big screen and will no doubt lead to further success for Kingdom Story Company. I Still Believe receives an additional x-factor point for being realistic, re-watchable, and generally worthwhile for all audiences. Many viewers will enjoy this film, and it’s likely to leave lasting impact on the Christian entertainment market. However, no matter what, we still highly recommend this film for all Christians and always look forward to future Erwin productions.

Final Rating: 9.5 out of 10 points

Desires of the Heart [2009] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Ethan and Jack always had a strained relationship as brothers, but events surrounding the death of their father lead to an even larger wedge being driven between them. Now, after time has passed, things have greatly changed in each of their lives, and there are other family members to forgive. The family business is thriving, but rifts still abound. Will each person make the decisions they need to make in order to heal wounds from the past?

Production Quality (2 points)

Although this production’s background audio quality tends to be poor at times, this is really the only major error to note, and it does improve as the film progresses. Elsewhere, camera work and video quality are good, and the sets, locations, and props are well-utilized. Though the soundtrack is a bit generic and the editing mostly average, the second half of the production is better than the first and overall ends on a good note. Thus, this is enough to warrant an above-average score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Desires of the Heart is a rare instance in which a modern-day adaptation of a biblical story actually works because the writers successfully preserved the narrative’s original concepts without being over-representative or too obvious with their rendering. As such, the plot makes good use of flashbacks and creatively weaves a non-linear storyline that explores the complexities of family inner workings. The characters are pretty good even if they could be a bit better with more substantial, motive-revealing dialogue. Nonetheless, they do have very authentic backstories, and the story as a whole isn’t afraid to create unfortunately realistic consequences that can come as a result of family disputes, bitterness, and unforgiveness. It also contains a great message that is relevant for many audiences, but the slightly abrupt ending seems to keep it from being all that it could be. Nevertheless, this section does enough to earn an average rating.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, the acting in Desires of the Heart is average since some if it is fine while the rest of it is a bit robotic and overly practiced. However, many of the cast members seem honest and committed to their roles. Additionally, much of the line delivery and emotions are mostly believable. Thus, this section rounds out an overall standard effort.

Conclusion

Desires of the Heart is a good example of how focusing on a shorter story is sometimes better than overextending resources with a longer project that could be lower quality. While many audiences enjoy longer creations, beginning small is a great way to maximize potential and practice entertainment making skills. For these reasons, we look forward to seeing what this creative team will produce next.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Translated [2018] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Through an unusual turn of events, the Apostle Paul is transported through time to the present day, where he finds the modern church looking very different than the one he knew in his day. Paul is found by Tim, who takes him in and helps the Apostle acclimate to the new world. Then, Paul shares the old messages he was given by God in new ways for the future church.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a seemingly basic and essentially modern production, it’s unclear why Translated scored only average, but this rating is due to a handful of avoidable concerns. One of these is some moments of shaky camera work while other relates to invasive background sounds that are present inside of indoor sets. While the outdoor shots are better, the audio quality overall needs some balancing work, and the soundtrack is mostly average. Nonetheless, video quality is very good, and the prop usage is effective. There are some minor special effects issues, such as low quality black-and-white flashbacks, but editing is mostly in line with standards. In the end, the mixed bag quality of the production causes it to be run-of-the-mill, which is actually unacceptable given the uncomplicated nature of what was being created.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

From the get-go, the entire premise of this plot seems off. Not only does time travel almost always present major logic problems for narratives, but it’s unclear why the Apostle Paul would either need to come to the present day or even would be sent to it. Attempting to alter such a cornerstone Bible story causes many issues that are not easily resolved, and besides this, even if this weren’t a problem, it’s still very difficult to discern the actual purpose of this plotline. Nothing much happens as the film meanders around and touches on some typical fish-out-of-water concepts, such as introducing the ‘different’ character to various ideas that are foreign to them. There is no driving focus to the storyline, and the dialogue is mainly used to spoon-feed the audience with obvious messaging. As such, the characters are poorly developed and are swept along in disconnected subplots that lack meaningful purpose. Essentially, once one random thing happens after another, the story suddenly concludes in an abrupt fashion and doesn’t leave the viewer with much to work with. In the end, there’s little to no potential in this idea, which is why it really never should have been made.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

For a small cast, there really isn’t much dynamic in this movie’s performances. While there’s nothing obviously bad, there are also no positive standouts. Emotions and line delivery are both just pedestrian, which ultimately leads to an average rating.

Conclusion

Starting off with such a bizarre premise likely doomed Translated from the start. There’s just nothing that can be done with a story that inexplicably transports a historical character to the present day for no particular reason. There are just so many other things that could be made that would be far more worthwhile than this. We need more Christian films that present transformative meaning rather than more run-of-the-mill throwaways that will be automatically lost in the shuffle.

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

Sweet Inspirations (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

When four women who feel like they aren’t making a difference through the church events they attend are inspired to somehow help a struggling women’s shelter, they begin an unanticipated journey that takes them to the unlikeliest of places. Their church has recently acquired a dilapidated restaurant, so the four friends take it upon themselves to renovate the establishment in order to use it to raise money for the domestic violence ministry that’s in financial straits. However, things don’t go as they planned, and they must each learn unique lessons about trusting God and not living in their own strength.

Production Quality (2 points)

Although there are some random moments of inadequate production in Sweet Inspirations, such as some instances of shaky camera work and some inconsistent lighting in certain scenes, the movie’s production quality does overall improve as the film progresses. The sets, locations, and props are mostly well-constructed throughout, and the video and audio qualities are up to industry standards. While the soundtrack is a bit generic and the editing sometimes uneven, this is a passable production albeit one that could have gone a bit further than it did.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Sweet Inspirations tries to do a lot in a limited amount of time, and it’s not all bad. It tries to present an interestingly complex storyline about relevant, real-life topics, but the many characters who are used to pull this off tend to crowd each other out and make the narrative go in many different directions at once. Some characters are downright unnecessary while others have relatable personalities and characteristics; the same critiques can be applied to the conversations among the characters as some of them are really meaningful and worthwhile while others are completely pointless and fruitless. Similarly, there are some great messages to embrace in Sweet Inspirations, such as no longer wasting time on useless church activities, waiting on God, not trying to do everything in your own strength, and doing too much ministry work to the point of exhaustion, but some of these are pushed too hard on the audience, and at times, they are undermined by illogical coincidences and unjustifiable character actions that seem condoned by the writers. In the end, the high number of romantic subplots, the desire to cover too many things in one story, and the generally wasted scenes overshadow the otherwise interesting and realistic ending that could have capped off a very good effort. There was a lot going for this movie, but there may have been too many proverbial cooks in the kitchen and not enough trimming before the project moved forward.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

For the most part, the acting of Sweet Inspirations is its strongest point as many of the cast members are comfortable in their roles and realistic in their performances. Though there are some who are trying a bit too hard, they are not as prominent as the better actors and actresses. Also, the emotions are a mixed bag but are overall acceptable. Thus, this rounds out a slightly above-average effort that could have been a bit better.

Conclusion

In the end, Sweet Inspirations would have benefited from taking its own advice that it gave to one of its main characters about not trying to do everything “good” at once and not attempting to accomplish things in their own strength. It’s clear the creators had a lot of intriguing ideas along with meaningful messages, but trying to include all of them alongside too much pedestrian content was this movie’s ultimate downfall. Nonetheless, there is enough positive here to keep many viewers interested, and some audiences will find it to be worth their while.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Mountain Top [2017] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Mike Andrews retired from his law career to follow what he thought was God’s call to be a pastor. However, that all changed when Muriel Miller came to his office to ask her to represent her eccentric husband who has gotten himself in trouble with the law due to his self-proclaimed spiritual gift of prophecy wherein he has visions of the future. Through a set of unusual circumstances, Mike agrees to represent Sam Miller pro bono, which sends the lawyer-pastor on a wild ride that he never expected to experience and that will forever change his life.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Gary Wheeler and his team are well-known for their professional productions, and Mountain Top is no exception. There are virtually no concerns to note in this instance, which entails the use of effective camera work, high video and audio qualities, and well-utilized sets, locations, and props. The only minor nitpicks to note are the somewhat generic soundtrack and the minuscule editing issues that are mostly due to the expansive plot. However, this is an overall nearly perfect effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The Level Path creative team has always had the right idea of adapting Christian novels into films, and Robert Whitlow has wisely sought dramatizations of his books. However, it’s unclear whether or not Mountain Top was the best choice of source material. While the psychological elements that make up the core basis of the plot are interesting, they are also a bit over the top and far-fetched since one of the main characters claims to have many supernatural visions covering a wide range of topics and issues. There’s never been historical precedent for any Christian being able to receive so many special revelations in their lifetime. Besides this, the character receiving the dreams is basically perfect and inaccessible as a person. Additionally, the sheer number of characters in this storyline is overwhelming for the audience and makes for a choppy presentation. They crowd each other out and cause dialogue to be inadequate at developing who they are. The many interlocking subplots are difficult to effectively follow and are better suited for a series if this idea must be portrayed in entertainment. However, there are simply too many convenient turns and coincidences that push the narrative along as the writers seek to cover as much ground as possible while at the same time including wastefully slow sequences. Due to Whitlow’s legal expertise, this aspect of the plot is mostly realistic, and it’s commendable to explore the existence of miracles in the modern world, but Mountain Top treats God’s power like a magic charm, which causes its premise to be simply too unbelievable. There was some potential here, but it was squandered in pursuit of sensationalism.

Acting Quality (2 points)

It seems like Mountain Top endeavored to include nearly every recognizable Christian cast member in one film, and it’s not a bad thing to have experienced cast members. There are actually only a few acting concerns here and there, such as some bland moments, but the sheer number of actors and actresses may mask potential weaknesses. In the end, emotional and line deliveries are at least average, if not better, with only a handful of small issues. In the end, this rounds out a basically average offering.

Conclusion

Wheeler and his team have always been so close to the Hall of Fame, and they do many things the right way. Adapting Christian novels and being committed to professional productions and experienced casts are a winning model on paper. However, many of their films still lack meaningful connections with their audiences and require deeper and more meaningful purposes in order to be truly successful. Perhaps, in the coming days, the Level Path team will finally make a breakthrough.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

The 3 [2019] (Movie Review)

Cylk Cozart, Tina Wesson, Chip Rossetti, Jessica Bell, Kate Kilcoyne, Jeff Armstrong, and Jonathan Plowman in The 3 (2019)

Plot Summary

After his daughter’s tragic death in a school shooting, Jimmy Collins retreats to his cabin in the woods to sulk and drink alcohol. He wants to be left alone in his misery, but he keeps being visited by mysterious characters, some of which he’s all too familiar with from the past. Nonetheless, each visitor keeps trying to steer him away from self-destruction and to the love of God that he’s forsaken. Will Jimmy turn around before it’s too late??

Production Quality (.5 point)

It’s unclear why Chip Rossetti and his team continually put out very low quality productions even in the new era of Christian entertainment. The 3 exhibits poor audio quality via annoying sound effects that punctuate actions, a stock soundtrack, background echoes, and obvious overdubs. While the video quality is passable, this is really the only acceptable production element. Sets, locations, and props are also quite cheap and limited, and there’s virtually no editing throughout the film. In the end, this level of production problems is simply unacceptable in our current market.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Essentially, The 3 is just a collection of very boring and brooding sequences that consistent either drawn-out scenes that lack dialogue or drab and meandering conversations that lack purpose or direction. Although the story explores some interesting psychological concepts centering around confronting family patterns, they are poorly executed and encased in horribly wooden and improperly constructed bouts of dialogue. When a narrative like this is so heavily character-based, conversations are all-important in crafting deep characters with strong motivations, but The 3 greatly drops the ball in this category. While there are some flashbacks throughout, they are improperly applied, and some darker issues, like suicide, are given too much screentime without being balanced by lighter concepts. As the storyline progresses, however, the psychological world that’s created by the plot becomes more and more confusion and ends up getting lost in its own head, much like that of Turbulent. Therefore, this is an effort that lacks any potential or purpose.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Throughout The 3, the cast members exhibit extremely forced emotions and pushy line delivery that overall come off as very robotic and stilted. Other acting is simply bland and vanilla although some of the supporting cast members are slightly better than the principle cast members. However, it’s simply not enough to register any life for this basically unnecessary film.

Conclusion

The era of Christian entertainment that once tolerated sub-par efforts like this movie is long over. Standards are higher now, so spitting out more low quality films that crowd the Christian market is unacceptable. Christian movie makers are being held to higher standards and can no longer simply make things just for the sake of making Christian creations. It’s high time for us to offer better things for all audiences.

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

Home Sweet Home [2020] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

What Victoria mostly cares about in life is going from one relationship to the next so that she can be whoever she wants to be without having too much commitment. However, when one of her attempts to get a guy’s attention doesn’t quite go as she planned, she stubbornly decides to do whatever it takes to make him ask her out. Thus, she volunteers at the non-profit her prospect, Jason, heads up and finds herself suddenly building a house for a single mother and her family. Little does Victoria know that she’s about to gain a surprisingly new perspective on life that she never considered before.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a whole, Home Sweet Home is a near-perfect example of what a 2020 production should look like for freshman Christian film makers. Not only did they wisely use their budget without over-extending themselves, but they also made sure that key production elements demonstrated good quality, such as video, camera, audio, and music work. The sets, locations, and props are also efficiently used, and overall, there are really no negatives to highlight here save for some minor editing concerns. However, some of these issues can be attributed to the plot; in the end, this is a very solid production effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

From the get-go of this plot, it’s very clear that the writers were inspired by very strong and worthwhile themes of people living behind false exteriors versus being comfortable with who God created them to be. Also, Home Sweet Home isn’t afraid to shine a light on fake romantic relationships that may exist in a Hallmark view of the world as well as the ease of finding identity in “scoring” relationships in the Western world. In doing so, the creators gave a lot of attention to detail to produce a truly funny comedy based on mostly good dialogue. However, while many of the characters are spot-on, some of them, such as the male lead, leave a lot to be desired in the personality and motivation departments because it’s hard to get to know him as a person. Elsewhere, secondary characters and subplots could have been a bit deeper than they are had they been provided with more adequate screentime. To make room for them, some romantic comedy cliches, such as the returning ex-love interest, could have been cut out. In the end, even though the narrative follows a basically predictable progression toward a somewhat forced and convenient ending, Home Sweet Home demonstrates tons of potential for future projects because the writers clearly know how to properly integrate themes into their stories.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Despite the small cast, there are not many acting problems to note in this film. One of the biggest drawbacks, however, is the lack of adequate coaching for the lead actor as he seems lost a lot of the time, but then again, his role isn’t very expansive. Elsewhere, Natasha Bure posts an above-average performance while Sarah Kim is also a standout. In the end, like the movie as a whole, there are just small problems that hold this section back from taking the next step.

Conclusion

The 5×5 Productions team is clearly onto something with this unexpectedly refreshing release. With just a few minor tweaks, Home Sweet Home would have easily made the Hall of Fame. Nonetheless, the themes of this film make it worth your time and give us great hope for the future of this creative team’s work. With a bit more funding and collaboration, they could be going great places with their next project.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

The Golden Voices (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Terrell Christian College is in trouble, but if they can assemble a choir for the Golden Voices singing competition, which they are hosting this year, they might have a chance to stay alive. That’s why Georgia, the head of the music department, enlists her granddaughter, Sidney, to help her when Georgia has a back injury. Sidney only takes the temporary job since she’s in need of some extra cash, but little does she know that this experience, along with an unexpected run-in with a local celebrity, will change her life forever.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a whole, the production for The Golden Voices is average with some positives and some negatives. While the video quality is clear and the camera work is fine, there are one too many outside scenes that have noticeable background sounds and some that are filmed on the side of busy streets. The indoor sets are better, however, and the props are acceptable. Audio quality is a mixed bag due to some background echoes at times and a generic soundtrack that sometimes interferes with spoken lines. There are also some cheesy special effects and some unnecessary aspect ratio changes at random moments. Further, the editing is okay although it has some very quick cuts and transitions. Thus, in the end, this is a run-of-the-mill effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

It’s clear, however, that there were a lot of honest efforts made in the writing of this plot. The dialogue therein is not all that bad and is even sometimes funny; the characters are also on the right track as they are non-typical and feel more authentic than not. Even though the narrative basically boils down to being a save-the-school-by-winning-a-singing-competition-plot, the conversations among characters are actually pretty well-constructed. Nonetheless, it’s a shame that a lot of time is spent on musical montages rather than deeper character development that could have kept this storyline from being as basic as it is. This would have also helped to soften the basically predictable ending, but as a whole, the messaging in this film is quite good, and the movie in general avoids stereotypes that come with musical productions. It would have been good, however, to see a little more effort put forth to keep this plot from being too basic.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Despite some very obviously poor makeup work, most of the cast members assume their roles quite well. Some tend to overplay their performances, but most of them come off as quite genuine, and many of them improve as the film progress. Throughout the movie, emotions are believable, and this collective effort is enough to warrant an above-average score.

Conclusion

Over the years, Poorchild Films has tried several different ideas (Hiding in Plain Sight, Steps of Faith, A Man Called Jon), but The Golden Voices seems like their most honest creation yet. They keep trying and are getting closer to the mark with each effort. However, most of the time, collaboration is the only way forward, so it may be time for this creative team to reach out and work with someone else both for financial and productive reasons. When this begins happening on a more regular basis on Christian entertainment, we will finally be putting the older days behind us.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Let Go and Let God (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

After Wendy lost her husband in the line of duty, she felt like things couldn’t get worse. However, they did get worse when her son suddenly went missing. A local pastor has lost his faith, but is he being given a chance to look at his worldview from a new angle after Wendy, one of his members, is in a time of need? Will they all be able to see that letting go and giving anxieties to God is the best way to live?

Production Quality (.5 point)

From start to finish, the production of Let Go and Let God is underwhelming for 2019. The camera work is very shaky, even though the video quality is fine, and the audio is quite unbalanced as some scenes are overdubbed and have unnecessarily high volumes while others have distracting background sounds. Also, the soundtrack is quite loud at times, and there are many very tight and strangely close-up camera shots, along with some blurry angles. Lighting is overall poor in the cheap sets and locations, and there are too many cheesy special effects and overlays, including random split screens. In the end, the editing is also an issue, as evidenced by very abrupt cuts and transitions, and this production as a whole just has too many problems to warrant any more than half a point.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

In the beginning of Let Go and Let God, there’s no clear way to understand what the writers are trying to convey through the unsubstantial dialogue that creates very dry and bland characters. The conversations don’t properly move the plot forward or develop character motives and personalities, and overall, nothing significant happens throughout this story. There are a lot of vague psychological sequences that only waste time and isolate the audience; it’s very hard to relate to the struggles of the disconnected characters, some of which have zero purpose, and there’s an unexplained air of mystery surrounding the narrative that the viewer can’t put their finger on. As the film progress, it becomes more and more consumed with ethereal artistic sequences that have no meaning for the audience and just make for a slow and boring experience. However, by the final third of the movie, the story begins to take an even more incoherent turn into disorganization before culminating with an incredibly abrupt ending that leaves the viewer with an extremely head-scratching message. Thus, due to the abstract oddness of this plot, it warrants a surprising negative score due to unforced errors and general strangeness.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The acting of Let Go and Let God is actually its strongest point, even if it’s generically average. There’s nothing horrible nor dynamic about the cast members’ performances although some of them seem bored and disinterested with the experience. However, they can hardly be blamed due to the nature of the narrative. Elsewhere, some line are a bit over-practiced, and emotions can be flat at times, but this section rounds out a mostly unnecessary film.

Conclusion

It’s extremely difficult to understand why this movie was even made. If the screenwriters knew what message they were trying to communicate, it’s completely lost to the audience. When this happens, the film has already failed. Combine this with poor production and mediocre acting and the project is a total non-starter. Hopefully, as Christian entertainment moves forward, movies like Let Go and Let God will become more irrelevant and and less prevalent.

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

The Beverlys, Season 1 (Series Review)

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Plot Summary

Tommy Blaze Beverly is running out of money, and his constant hustles for quick cash aren’t yielding what he needs to fund his extravagant California lifestyle. Thus, when he sees a news story about foster girls in need, he jumps at the chance to make some extra money by becoming an instant foster parent basically overnight. Thankfully, his racially stereotyped butler and personal assistant are always there to meet Tommy’s beck and call, and the foster girls basically turn his house into a giant dance studio designed to hold daily auditions for the next Disney role. What could go wrong?

Production Quality (1 point)
In keeping with PureFlix’s typical sitcom elements, the first season of The Beverlys is complete with a constant laugh track, an annoying soundtrack, and the same old sets, locations, and props. While some production elements, such as video quality, audio quality, and camera work, are fine, these limiting factors put a damper on whatever small potential it had. The editing is also littered with stock footage and corny transitions between scenes. Thus, this section only warrants a point, but this is just the tip of this season’s iceberg of problems.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-2 points)
Essentially, The Beverlys appears to be designed as PureFlix’s own version of the Disney Channel. Its first season is full of mindless conversations, dance sequences, and cheesy so-called comedy routines that are all funny for the wrong reasons. This doesn’t even mention the constant stream of extremely forced comedic diatribes and painfully shoe-horned Christian messaging. What makes matters worse is that the storylines are not only pointless but that the dialogue is littered with cringe-worthy racial stereotyping, which causes this section to be negative. Besides this, the characters are very over the top and empty at the same time. The fact that stupid antidotes are forced on the viewer just after the audience sees thinly veiled racism is very disingenuous and offensive. Further, the premise of each episode is utterly pointless, and there’s nothing good going for this season, which is why the derogatory elements overcome this section to make it negative.

Acting Quality (-2 points)
Tommy Blaze departs from his usual corny performances to post a collection that’s in-your-face, bombastic, and annoyingly over the top. Most of the other cast members in this tiny cast are also trying way too hard as many emotions are basically screamed (or sang) at the audience. Line delivery is also very strained and forced. There is very little good to speak of, and the bad greatly outweighs anything positive, which is why this section also warrants negative points.

Continuity Quality (0 points)
The eight episodes of this first season are all literally the same thing over and over again. They all take the same page from the sitcom playbook and find different ways to package it: some silly escapade or scheme entangles the characters, and they have less than half an hour to quickly resolve it and prepare for the next round. This time, however, it’s just done with a Bible thought spin. Therefore, this copy-and-paste model of episode writing warrants no points for this section, which rounds out an overall embarrassing effort.

Conclusion

Another month, another pointless PureFlix original series. For some reason, the PureFlix executives are intent on spending their funds on throwaway concepts like The Beverlys. It’s unlikely they are getting any type of return from this kind of bizarre Blaze pet project, so why make it? It just further adds to the nonsense littering PureFlix’s checkered past and contributes to the already tenuous perception of Christian entertainment. Hopefully, however, things are beginning to look up outside of the PureFlix realm.

Final Rating: -3 out of 14 points

The Follower [2018] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Elisha just wanted to get to Pittsburgh on time, and he never intended to cross paths with an eccentric character named Elijah. Elisha reluctantly decides to aid Elijah’s hitch-hiking, but he immediately regrets the choice as Elijah continually delays Elisha’s plans and hampers his progress. Thus, Elisha keeps trying to get Elijah off of his back. However, little do either of them know that they are about to both learn something valuable that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Production Quality (.5 point)

The cheapness of The Follower‘s production is very evident from start to finish. There are loud background noises and a generic soundtrack that tend to cover up other audio, and video quality is inconsistent throughout. The camera work is randomly shaky at times, and there are some obvious overdubbed lines in some portions. In other parts, cheesy sound effects are inserted on top of the video, and there some instances of weird camera angles. Further, the sets, locations, and props are cheap-looking, and the editing has a handful of glaringly obvious cuts. Thus, while there are some slightly positive moments in this production, it’s overall quite negative, which warrants the low score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It’s unclear whether or not The Follower is supposed to be another modern-day Bible application, but character names like Elijah and Elisha make things very confusing. Besides this, the dialogue is full of corny attempts at comedy, and the cheesy conversations mainly waste time. This causes the middle of the film to be very aimless since it’s appearing to just kill time until the ending, but the storyline actually makes less and less sense as it progresses. The more some hidden purpose is kicked down the road, the more the narrative seems to get lost in its own mind. The story pretends to conceal some great secret, yet the whole concept is too vague to be grasped and only leads to a hollow conclusion. In the end, while there may have been some interesting ideas here, it’s all too rushed and slapped together to make any sense.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Surprisingly, the acting is actually the strongest point of The Follower as Goodwin and Sigler post their best performances to date. They seem very comfortable with their character roles and demonstrate niche talents. Even still, the few cast members that there are seem to be trying way too hard to be funny, and many emotions are quite forced. Line delivery is also uneven, and the acting overall gets worse as it goes even though it started out semi-okay. Therefore, this rounds out a very underwhelming effort.

Conclusion

In the end, The Follower is yet another example of how quantity over quality hurts the Christian entertainment world. Trying to cram more than two movies into one year is very difficult to pull off without sacrificing essentially positive elements. While we do need more Christian movies and series being made each year, we need more Christian entertainment that is not sub-standard and is capable of truly making a difference. Thus, it would be better to have fewer annual releases until the industry is able to consistently produce quality content.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

A Child of the King (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Dr. Wesley King and his late wife were called to the jungles of South America to aid the needy and those who were considered to be hopeless. However, after his wife died, Wesley became lonely in his mission. In the states, a woman named Donna began following Wesley’s story via the letters he sent back to his home church. Then, Donna feels called to join Wesley in his overseas mission field, and God brings them together to minister to the least of those in South America.

Production Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, there are virtually no good aspects to this production as the audio quality is poor, including echoes in the background, a random soundtrack that sometimes interrupts lines, and some invasive outside noises. Similarly, the video quality is not quite what it should be, and there is some very poor lighting throughout the cheap sets and locations. Props also leave something to be desired, and the camera work is inconsistent at best. To top things off, the special effects used therein are very bad, and the editing is extremely choppy as some scenes drag on while others awkwardly or abruptly end. In the end, any small positives in this production are outweighed by the very obvious negatives.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

From beginning to end, the storyline of A Child of the King is very hard to follow since it’s filled with blank conversations between characters and lacks an overall focus or purpose. The stiff and awkward dialogue between characters makes it very difficult to relate to them as people, and the main character is basically perfect. The plot essentially meanders around without the viewer being able to easily follow its progression, and it’s really nothing more than an informational video or mock docu-drama about overseas missions. While there may be some good ideas lost in here somewhere, people who can relate these concepts to the real world are needed to bring them to life. Further, the narrative just randomly ends in an unexpected place without any warning or resolution because that would require something to resolve in the first place.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Surprisingly, the acting of A Child of the King is its strongest point even though it’s mostly pedestrian, generic, and boring. There’s neither anything special nor horrible about the cast members’ performances, despite the fact that they have little content to work with. One bright spot is that the cast, for the most part, is culturally accurate with real accents and dialects, which is unexpected based on the remainder of the movie. Nonetheless, this average section isn’t enough to save this failed effort from itself.

Conclusion

An international film should very rarely be made in conjunction with other projects due to the time and financial freedom it requires. However, 2019 was an indicator of how committed the JC Films team was to producing as much content as they possibly could. The result of this is even more low quality Christian films to crowd out the market. Hopefully, however, the tides are still turning since Christian audiences want and deserve better than half-baked ideas.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

A Promise to Astrid (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Astrid Nicosia lived in a small town and tries to do good to each person she comes in contact with. She freely gave the little money that she had to those who needed it. She also wanted to walk closely with the Lord and to make a difference with what time she had left. Those who were touched by her kindness and generosity made a promise to return her favors either to her or to other people who were also in need.

Production Quality (1 point)

As a 2019 production, A Promise to Astrid has no excuse to be as bad as it is. While the video quality and the camera work are okay, the audio quality throughout the film is quite bad, including loud background sounds, echoes inside of the sets, and an invasive soundtrack that sometimes interrupts dialogue and others times causes confusion since it doesn’t fit the mood of the scenes. In addition, the sets, props, and locations are quite cheap, and there are some obvious continuity errors between scenes. There are also other editing concerns, such as the quick and awkward cuts and transitions, the high number of fade-outs, and the fact that many scenes do not flow together and seem very disconnected from each other. In the end, this is an unacceptable effort with many unforced errors.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Even though it’s based on a book, A Promise to Astrid is not what it should be, mostly due to the lack of substantial characters. Although this is a heavily character-based plot, dialogue is usually a bit clunky and awkward and does not adequately develop character personality or motive. Additionally, it’s very difficult to understand the true purpose of this narrative beyond random people doing random things. The vague ideas behind the storyline might be interesting, but without effective connections with the audience, it really has nothing to show for its meager efforts. Essentially, the plot meanders around as a collection of random scenes before suddenly ending and leaving the viewer wondering why they just watched the movie, which is why this section warrants zero points.

Acting Quality (1 point)

While the acting of A Promise to Astrid is not entirely bad, it’s very marked by incompetent attempts at obviously fake accents. Also, some cast members seem unsure of their roles, even though there’s not much to work with in the beginning. Further, other cast members are either clearly overplaying their roles or half-heartedly trying. Throughout the film, line delivery and emotions are uneven but not all bad, which is enough to warrant at least a point out of this section. In the end, however, this is a very sub-par movie.

Conclusion

Based on their 2019 slate of films, it’s evident that it was the goal of the JC Films team to flood the market with as many movies as they could squeeze into their limited budget. This was an old model PureFlix used in the early 2000s and 2010s, and they had some success due to lack of many other options. However, as the calendar turns to 2020, times have changed in Christian entertainment, and higher quality is demanded. Thus, it’s better to save your funds to make one good film or series and then to see how you can build off of the success of one quality project rather than to get ahead of yourself and to over-extend your means.

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

The Least of These: A Christmas Story (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Rose and Katie have been homeless ever since escaping from an abusive relationship, and Rose struggles to make ends meet for her and her daughter. Working as a waitress at a local diner causes her to cross paths with Charlie, who acts as a Salvation Army Santa Claus just outside the restaurant. However, while their friendship gets off to a rocky start, Charlie feels like God wants him and his wife to reach out to the single mother who’s fallen on hard times. Together, they all discover what it truly means to help the needy at Christmastime.

Production Quality (2 points)

The production of The Least of These starts out a bit rough with some cheap sets, props, and locations as well as some inconsistent lighting. There are also some awkward cuts, fade-outs, and slight continuity errors in the beginning. However, the production does improve as it goes, which suggests a positive change of direction. This includes demonstrating good camera work and video quality throughout. Also, the audio quality is great, including a well-constructed soundtrack. Further, all other elements that were previously below par show marked improvement by the film’s conclusion, which helps this section get over the average mark.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

From the beginning of the narrative, The Least of These takes a rare look at little-considered Christmas themes like the connection between the concept of Santa giving gifts to good children and following a works-based religion. Neither of these ideals holds up when someone is homeless due to fleeing an abusive situation. Elsewhere, the writers put forth realistic attempts to present some problems there are with traditional Christmas ideas while at the same time showing the authentic struggles of real people. This includes giving actual attention to detail of how the working homeless population functions on a daily basis and of how Christians can practically assist them if God prompts them to do so. As a whole, the plot feels like it’s based on real happenings of real people, and the dialogue definitely aids this pursuit. However, the storyline isn’t without its flaws; it can be a bit slow at times, and it struggles to hold the audience’s attention. Though the story is definitely trying to be real, some scenes feel like unnecessary filler, and the ending is basically typical. Also, the Christian message can be a bit muted at times, even though this isn’t always bad. In the end, this screenplay shows tons of potential for future projects, especially character-based explorations, so it will be interesting see what a little collaboration can do for this creative team.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As a whole, the acting isn’t bad at all as many of the cast members appear to be really striving to do their best in assuming the roles of the characters. While they are not always dynamic in their performances, they are mostly professionals and do well enough in emotional portrayals and line delivery. Moreover, this section is kept from being perfect by some isolated scenes where the acting is very awkward and some makeup that is a bit crazy a times. Nonetheless, this section rounds out a commendable and honest effort, which is all we ever ask for.

Conclusion

For future projects, this creative team would definitely benefit from further collaboration to enhance their talents. Also, creating a series may be a better way to showcase their characters and to more efficiently use their budget. In summary, The Least of These is an average movie

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Joseph, Close to Jesus {Joseph of Nazareth} (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Joseph never chose to be the earthly stepfather of the Messiah, but by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, he accepted his role to take care of Mary and the Christ Child for as long as God wanted him to. Joseph was there before, during, and after the birth of Jesus, so he had a unique perspective on Yahweh’s plan to save humanity from sin.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Like many other Lux Vide\Trinity Broadcasting Network biblical presentations, the production of Joseph, Close to Jesus is typically fine. It has authentic sets, locations, and props, along with good video quality and audio quality. As a whole, it seems realistic even though the action scenes sometimes employ wild camera work and though some shots are unnecessarily close. The soundtrack is a bit generic and dramatic at times, but most aspects of this production are acceptable. The editing sometimes leaves something to be desired due to some lagging scenes and quick cuts, but on the whole, this is at least an average effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

From start to finish, Joseph of Nazareth adopts a very quick and forceful plot progression as the story is forced forward at a breakneck pace that doesn’t let things naturally develop or allow time for characters to be deepened. Besides this poorly constructed premise, Joseph comes off as a basically perfect and all-knowing character even though he appears a bit crazed at times. In focusing on his inaccessible qualities, some key biblical scenes are brushed over or portrayed in extremely vague ways, which confuses the audience. Other scenes are very muted and blank, and dialogue in general leaves much to be desired. Elsewhere, there are a handful of fantastical and ethereal elements that cause spiritual themes to be painted either in a magical light or as untouchable. In summary, the combination of the speedy storyline and the general oddness of some of the characters and plot points prevents this section from having any points.

Acting Quality (1 point)

While some cast members appear to be culturally authentic, many of them, especially the lead ones, are not and obviously belong to cultures other than those who lived in first century Judea. Moreover, while the costuming of all characters is fine, the acting is extremely theatrical and dramatic. It feels like many of them are putting on a play rather than trying to become the characters, which further gives this film an air of elitism and other-worldliness. Further, emotions are inadequately depicted, and some lines are very forced, which rounds out a disappointing effort.

Conclusion

Joseph, Close to Jesus had a lot going for it since it promised to provide a unique perspective on the Nativity and on Jesus’ early years. However, it committed many unforced errors and was more devoted to making the Bible seem like a Shakespearean experience rather than a Spirit-inspired historical account that still has profound application for us today. Unfortunately, this was the case for most Scriptural entertainment prior to The Passion of the Christ. Thankfully, in recent years, God has provided the market with better options for accessible biblical depictions of the First Christmas on both the big screen (The Nativity Story) and the small screen (The Chosen). These offerings are much more interesting for your family to enjoy this holiday season.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

A Christian Carol (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Carol is a businesswoman in pursuit of high-level success, and she totally hates Christmas and religion in general. She wishes no one would ever celebrate the holiday, but one night, she’s visited by three angels who aim to change her mind about the season. Will she see the error of her ways before it’s too late???

Production Quality (-2 points)

It’s very difficult to express how bad this production actually is as it commits some very unforced errors. For one, the lighting is either very dark, much too bright, or soft and distracting. Shaky camera work is consistently present, and audio quality is quite poor, which is evidenced by background sounds, echoes, cheesy sound effects, obvious overdubs, and a cheap soundtrack. It goes without saying that other special effects are horrible, including awful CGI that tries to cover up the fact that the budget wasn’t adequate enough to support historical settings. In a similar vein, the sets, props, and locations are very low quality as things don’t portray what they’re supposed to portray. Further, the editing is bad, which rounds out a negatively rated production that seemed to go out of its way to demonstrate ineptitude.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

From the get-go, the story is hampered with childish narration and tripped up with the worst strawman characters that don’t exist in a Timothy Chey movie. The narrative’s entire premise is based on a first-world problems message of contrived religious persecution at Christmastime, including an unrealistic portrayal of people being forced to work on Christmas Day. Dialogue and conversations are very unsubstantial and don’t do enough to prevent this section from going in the red due to its hard-to-believe outlook on reality. The plot is typically constructed according to the original Christmas Carol storyline, which isn’t bad in and off itself. However, creativity and authenticity are greatly lacking in A Christian Carol. Further, the end of the film randomly pivots to Rapture fear-mongering that doesn’t fit with the rest of the tale. In summary, a lack of real-world portrayals derails this idea before it ever gets off the ground.

Acting Quality (0 points)

To round out an embarrassing effort, the acting is mostly forceful with a lot of overly practiced and unnatural lines. Emotions cannot be felt, and cast members are not adequately coached. Though they didn’t have much to work with, they don’t assume the characters very well, and there’s unfortunately nothing positive to note here, which is why it warrants zero points.

Conclusion

It’s admirable to want to make a small church film, but something that’s this low quality does not need to be released to the public. Budgets can be tight, but does that really mean you need to force a movie to happen? There are so many things that go into making a good film, and making another awful one is not only crowding the market but further hurting the reputation of Christian entertainment. Please make sure God actually wants you make the movie you want to make…sometimes, it requires waiting for the right time to come.

Final Rating: -3 out of 10 points

Laughing at the Moon (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Natalie McClay is a selfish businesswoman who wants what she wants when she wants it. However, when her high-dollar lifestyle demands that she get a roommate to share her rent, she has no idea what to expect. When Iris walks into her apartment, Natalie’s whole world is turned upside down. Natalie tries to do everything she can to discredit the eccentric new optimist in her life, the harder she tries, the more her friends like Iris. However, when Natalie goes too far with her mistreatment of her quirky roommate, there are far-reaching consequences, more than Natalie could have imagined.

Production Quality (2 points)

It’s clear that Laughing at the Moon had an adequate budget since the production is quite good, including great video quality and professional camera work with an artistic touch. Similarly, the audio quality and soundtrack are fine, and sets, locations, and props are well-used and well-constructed. At times, the editing is passable, but other times, it’s a bit choppy as some scenes cut off without warning, which suggests that there was a lot more content than they had space for. Also, there are some slight continuity errors between some scene, which seems like an unforced error. However, in the end, this is an above-average production that lays a good foundation for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Laughing at the Moon makes some good attempts at comedy that’s actually funny at times, but sometimes, it’s awkwardly forced, and there tends to be a bit too much quirkiness in some scenes. One of the best thing about this plot is its focus on the human tendency to convince oneself of one’s own superiority over others, especially those who do not fit into societal molds, and this is definitely a story that needs to be told, even if this version is a little (purposely) offbeat at times. The characters are pretty good, but they are hampered by mentions of off-screen content, which lends further credence to the possibility of a quick editing job that chopped out important scenes due to too much original content. Even still, the use of flashbacks throughout the narrative is very effective to establish one of the main characters’ traumatic memories, yet sometimes, it feels like a lot of the scenes are randomly strung together and loosely connected with musical montages that tend to waste time. However, the dialogue in the middle of the plot is pretty good at establishing some believable characters, and there are some very timely themes explored, such as being fake vs being authentic. None of the characters are perfect and each has their own unique flaws. One other weakness of the storyline is the somewhat steep character arcs that occur due to the slightly rushed ending, but there’s a very good point at the end that is worth watching. In the end, Laughing at the Moon is a mixed bag that is pretty good in and of itself; it also shows great potential for future projects.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, the cast members of Laughing at the Moon naturally and easily assume their respective roles. While emotions can be a bit overstated at times, they are mostly fine, and line delivery as a whole is on point. As a side note, this is one of Erin Bethea’s best roles to date. In summary, this is an above-average acting job that rounds out an above-average film.

Conclusion

This movie boasts a very good idea that’s presented in a fresh way, and the main thing holding it back from the Hall of Fame is its choppy presentation. Thus, Laughing at the Moon deserves some level of remake whether it be a new film about similar concepts or a series format for the original film because this creative team may be better at making Christian series. Either way, it should be interesting to see what this team produces next.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Fat Chance [2016] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Allison has always struggled with her weight, but she doesn’t know what to do to change herself. She feels ostracized by other people, and when she feels like she might be interested in a guy from her church group, she feels like she has no chance due to her image. Thus, she decides she needs to find love on the internet…by using her roommate’s picture on her online dating profile. However, things don’t go as she originally planned them to go, and everyone learns a hard lesson about self-esteem and being themselves.

Production Quality (2 points)

For the most part, Fat Chance has a fine production, including good video and audio quality. The soundtrack is intriguing, but some of the camera angles are a bit odd at times. Similarly, lighting is good throughout even if the sets, locations, and props are a bit limited. Even still, they are mostly used well, and the editing is adequate. In the end, this is essentially an above average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Fat Chance definitely isn’t afraid to explore some very relevant body image issues, but this film may not have gone about it in the best way. This is a difficult topic to tastefully portray in a movie, and some of the attempts to highlight the weight of the main character are questionable at best. There are also quite a few distasteful jokes about being overweight, but there are also some other areas of comedy that are actually somewhat funny because they poke fun of silly societal trends. Elsewhere, the writers definitely had some good intentions with character development (since the characters are intended to be based on real people), yet there are also some very poorly designed “bad” characters who are basically really obvious strawmen. However, the dialogue throughout the film is pretty good despite the somewhat strong messaging, and these worldviews are agreeable since they explore important topics of how people paint themselves on social media, how some Christians act fake, and how it’s better to be yourself. In a similar vein, while Fat Chance also includes a lot of typical dating service plot elements (two characters are virtually dating and know each other in real life but don’t know that the other one is the virtual date), it does present a realistic parody of the problems these services can cause. In the end, this storyline is a mixed bag of missed opportunities and potential for the future. With deeper characters and subtler messaging, this plot could have gone a lot further.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Despite having a partially “amateur” cast, Fat Chance has a handful of bright spots among its cast members. Many of them definitely make good attempts to become the characters, and while some are a bit awkward at times, they are mostly good at exhibiting emotions and delivering lines. Thus, this rounds out a basically average effort.

Conclusion

More Christian movies and series need to explore the unpopular opinions and topics found in Fat Chance, but there are obviously better ways to go about this particular concept. Self-worth and self image are both important and sensitive issues to look at, which is why they must be done in consultation with people who have struggled with them and in conjunction with the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the creators of this film demonstrated potential for the future by making Fat Chance, so it will be interesting to see how they build off of this movie in their potentially upcoming projects.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

The Two Thieves {Once We Were Slaves} (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

On the day of Jesus’ death, two thieves were crucified with Him–one on His left and one on his right. They were paying for their earthly crimes while Christ was atoning for the sins of all humanity. However, each of them had one last chance to accept redemption from the very Savior Who wanted to save them from their sin.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

It’s clear that the budget of The Two Thieves was quite limited, which is evidenced by some shaky camera work and some limited sets, props, and locations. However, the props therein are very culturally authentic and demonstrate good attention to historical detail. Elsewhere, video quality, audio quality, lighting, and the soundtrack are all good and are enough to keep this section average. Though editing is a bit limited as well, this production shows a good start to even greater things in the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

As The Two Thieves is basically the conceptual predecessor to The Chosen, it showcases the God-given talents of Dallas Jenkins, Tyler Thompson, and the rest of their creative team. This is evidenced by this storyline’s good adherence to Jewish cultural traditions and historical accuracy, which is seamlessly interwoven with deep characters who are developed through motive-revealing flashbacks and well-constructed conversations. The continuity between scenes is also great, and this is all done with a limited time frame. Elsewhere, the story feels very authentic and gritty as the writers are not afraid to be realistic about the hard times of first century Judea. Further, the non-linear plot style is a nice touch. In the end, this storyline is good enough to be nearly perfect, and the only thing holding it back is the time constraint.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Due to restricted funding, The Two Thieves was unable to assemble a fully authentic cast, but thankfully, the accents of the characters are realistic and well-done. Moreover, the lack of complete cultural realism is really the only main concern with this cast as they consistently portray believable emotions and mostly deliver their lines in professional manners. There are a few tiny concerns with line delivery, but in the end, this section demonstrates another reason why God called this creative team to make The Chosen.

Conclusion

As a whole, The Two Thieves proves that, when things are in order, a movie maker and their team can craft a deep story using a small budget. This offering is a perfect example of how short films can be used as a springboard to future greatness. Although this one didn’t quite make it all the way, it still provides a template for future creative teams to replicate.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

The Chosen, Season 1.2 (Series Review)

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The Critically Acclaimed Hit Series Completes Its First Season

Plot Summary

After Jesus chose a majority of His followers, He began to slowly but surely reveal His nature to the world through public miracles and teachings. Though He mostly ministered in obscurity, His work drew the attention of multiple different spheres of influence: common people, powerful politicians, and power-hungry religious leaders. However, Christ never discriminated in who He chose to follow Him as He broke down social and cultural barriers in order to proclaim His love for all humanity.

Production Quality (2.5 points)
Much like the first half of Season 1, this season’s second half boasts a very high-quality production that both lives within its means and makes the most of what it has. Though camera work can be a bit shaky at times, much like the former half, there are virtually no other production flaws to note here. Video quality and audio quality are both flawless as the camera captures poignant scenes that feel like real life. Sets, locations, and props are incredibly authentic and demonstrate extreme care for historical accuracy and attention to detail. Perhaps the most impactful element of the production is the exquisite soundtrack that is creatively and artistically placed to enhance key moments and to draw the audience into the story’s emotional experiences. Further, editing is seamless and presents a well-crafted plot in a professional manner. In the end, Dallas Jenkins and his very talented creative team have once again showcased their God-given talents in a very responsible manner that has revolutionized Christian entertainment at a time when it was desperately needed.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)
However, there’s still more to say. It’s undeniable that the extreme humanity of The Chosen’s characters are what make the series more than a run-of-the-mill Bible drama. Tyler Thompson and the other writers clearly went great lengths, as prompted by the Holy Spirit, to not only ensure the accurate cultural profiles of the characters but to also make them very flawed and relatable to all audiences, which is something other Biblical productions have been allergic to. The Chosen doesn’t just show the viewers a collection of well-known miracles and stories: the lead-up and fallout of each important event is carefully crafted and woven together with other intriguing subplots. All of this is good enough without even mentioning the way some scenes are presented in artistic manners that are nearly flawless in their presentation. Dialogue and conversations between characters are very deep, meaningful, and even philosophical at times, which is something we rarely see in Christian entertainment. Basically, there are more positive qualities in this section than can be named, which has warranted a separate discussion on how the subplots interlock and interact. In the end, The Chosen creative team has transformed the development of series and characters in Christian entertainment, and there’s no going back from here.

Acting Quality (3 points)
With virtually the same cast from episodes one through four plus others who add more life than there already was, the acting of episodes five through eight does not waver from its previously perfect score. In fact, many of the cast members build off of their roles and become even more comfortable in their characters. Emotions are right on target such that they can be felt by the viewers, and line delivery is basically perfect. This cast is so heavily talented that it’s posing a good problem for Box Office Revolution’s upcoming Actor and Actress of the Year Awards, which is a type of dilemma we have unfortunately never been faced with in our reviewing experience.

Continuity Quality (3 points)
Continuity is where many Christian series completely drop the proverbial ball because the episode are often disconnected and self-contained. However, every episode of The Chosen that has been released so far are somehow able to be both self-consistent as well as connected to the bigger picture, which is an important component of a great series. One way the continuity is best demonstrated in through the use of flashbacks to cover both previously overlooked New Testament stories along with relevant Old Testament accounts, and this latter inclusion is one of the added bonuses of episodes five through eight. Finally, the ending of each episode is epic and demonstrates how much this creative knows what they’re doing and how much they have relied on God to get this project right.

Conclusion

The second half of The Chosen’s first season also receives two x-factor points for presenting the greatest stories of history in the ways they should have been portrayed all along as well as for being re-watchable and binge-able. There’s hardly anything we would want changed about The Chosen at this point except for an even bigger budget to do better things with since Jenkins and the rest have demonstrated an ability to responsibly steward the resources God’s given them. As a side note, we receive no compensation or reward for our reviews and advertising of this series, but we wholeheartedly support its full release and strongly encourage you to both watch Season 1 during this year’s holidays and to share it with as many people as you can. This is first time a season of a Christian series has been critically acclaimed and placed on the Box Office Revolution Hall of Fame. We believe The Chosen has a rare, God-given opportunity to change not only the Christian entertainment world but also Christian culture as a whole because it’s a fresh, high-quality look at well-known stories that are timelessly relevant for all people.

Final Rating: 13.5 out of 14 points

The Job [2020] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

At one time, Lance Foster was a successful boxer who could have whatever he wanted, but when he accidentally killed a man in the ring, his life changed forever. He decided to dedicate his life to Christ, but the consequences that were set in motion prior to his conversion continued to haunt him. About to be evicted from his house and divorced by his wife, Lance suddenly finds himself at gunpoint being held up by a desperate man in search of valuables to fix his own mess. However, the two of then form an unlikely bond that leads them both to unexpected results.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a low-budget production, the creators of The Job did mostly well in making the most out of what they had. For instance, video quality is clear, and the soundtrack is quite good. There is some slightly shaky camera work, however, that needs more stability and consistency. For the most part, the sets, props, and locations are fine and are well-utilized despite their limitations. Moreover, there are some instances where the audio quality could be better, and the editing is simply passable. In the end, this is an average production that is a good start for this creative team.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

In a limited plot like this one, deep character development is essential, especially when the characters are confined to just a few sets. This can be done via non-narrated flashbacks and character-building conversations that show their motivations and personalities. However, this is not always done in The Job. for one, the main character is often portrayed as perfect and without flaws; he tends to lecture other characters on how to act without the audience understanding his struggles. While it’s good to explore hard topics and tough life circumstances, we need to see these issues through the eyes of more accessible characters rather than ones we cannot easily relate to. This can be accomplished through more showing than telling and through more personal dialogue and emotional connection than apologetics and witnessing talking points. Although the plot seems to get more interesting in the middle of it, the concept of holding a character hostage in order to witness to them is very difficult to portray in the right way. Some slight character motivations also surface near the end of the film, along with some interesting explorations of family systems, but the quick pace of storyline’s first half, as well as the wasted time near the beginning, reduce their impact. In the end, problems are too easily fixed, including some unrealistic notions about addictions; even though it seems like the writers meant well with this screenplay, there are still a few kinks to work out.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As a whole, the acting is likely the strongest section of the film. Though there are few cast members, they do the best they can with what they’ve been given and improve as the movie progresses. Despite being too earnest at times, they overall portray emotions as adequately as can be expected in the situations they’ve been put in. In the end, this rounds out a mostly middle-of-the-road effort.

Conclusion

Due to being a first-time production with a limited budget, The Job puts its best foot forward and is mostly acceptable. However, a more engaging plot made up of more accessible characters would have taken it to the next level. The key is to portray people in a way that demonstrates a familiarity with human tendencies; only then will the Christian message have its fullest impact. This is definitely something to note for future projects.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Season of Miracles (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

In the year 1974, when an autistic player joins a local baseball team, the transition is not as smooth as it could have been because the old team wanted to keep things the way they were. However, the coach intends to make the situation work, so the boys must learn to accept each other’s differences and unite against a common foe: their closest rival team. In the end, the season turns out in a way none of them could have ever dreamed.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Season of Miracles is a mixed bag in the production category. While there is some odd lighting in the indoor scenes, as well as randomly blurry video quality, the outside scenes are actually better in these areas. Even still, many scenes have an odd vintage look to them, which may or may not be purposeful. There is also some inconsistent audio quality throughout film, including some overdubbed parts, and action shots have shaky camera work. However, with the exception of the soundtrack, which remains generic throughout the movie, the production overall improves as time goes on, especially when it comes to the filming of action shots. By the end of the film, the production seems right on par with standard, which is why it did enough to achieve an average rating.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

As a whole, it’s unfortunately hard to discern the actual purpose behind Season of Miracles. It’s commendable to explore the treatment of special needs people in previous decades, but this intention doesn’t really come through very well since the plot is mostly filled with lots of baseball montages and tons of random characters that the audience can’t really relate to due to the lack of adequate dialogue. Deciding who and what to focus on as the story progresses is a difficult feat to accomplish since it’s tough to differentiate between some of the characters. There are many, many stock sports scenes and training\game sequences that steal valuable time away from the central storyline, whatever it may be. Further, the Christian message feels extremely forced and entirely based upon awkward platitudes while the non-Christian characters within the plot are total strawmen. In the end, despite the potential this story has with the special needs subplot, there just isn’t enough here, and the overall experience is too vague to justify a higher rating.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, the acting in Season of Miracles is average, but there are some oddly awkward moments with the adolescent and child cast members that probably required further coaching than they had available. The younger actors and actresses seem too earnest at times, but by far the worst element of the acting is the fact that a Caucasian cast member appears to be playing a Hispanic character, which comes off as very offensive. However, there are some other good performances that balance out these concerns and bring the score up to par.

Conclusion

In the end, there may be a lot of good intentions behind films like Season of Miracles, but there are too many pitfalls that comes with them. There are a handful of issues that could have been easily solved through more collaboration, which is truly the tale of Christian entertainment. Lack of purposeful cooperation across multiple different creative teams is what keeps potentially interesting movies like this one from being all that they can be. There have been many missed opportunities like this one in the recent years, but hopefully, we are entering a new era of Christian creativity where collaboration and following God’s plan for what should and shouldn’t be made are the guiding lights.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

When Hope Calls, Season 1 (Series Review)

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It’s like When Calls the Heart on an obscure streaming service!

Plot Summary

When Lillian and Grace, two orphan siblings, agreed to travel to a new town to run an orphanage, they had no idea what would be in store for them. Of course, they probably could have made an educated guess since they went from Hope Valley to a basic copy of this fantastical borough. This new town has equally important aspects as Hope Valley, such as the obligatory town doctor, the expected general store, and of course, a predictably hair-gelled Mountie just waiting to get hitched. What else could fans of When Calls the Heart want besides another series on the cable channel rather than on a streaming service nobody uses?

Production Quality (1.5 points)
The budget for When Hope Calls (WHC) is clearly lower than When Calls the Heart (WCTH), and this is most strikingly obvious in the poorly constructed town set that looks like a bunch of clapboard buildings plopped in the middle of a mowed-over field. The structures’ false fronts are also too much. This aside, must like WCTH, WHC is limited to just a few select sets, props, and locations, and there are some cheap special effects on top of this. Nonetheless, the production is aided by typically fine video quality, audio quality, and camera work, even if the soundtrack is pedestrian and boring. The editing tends to lag at times, such as leaving scenes running too long, but this production is overall just average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)
Much like its parent show, not very significant happens throughout the course of the WHC “plot.” The only remotely interesting elements are used up by the third episode as the series devolves into typical small-town romance nonsense. If it’s possible, the characters are much more blank and cardboard in WHC than in WCTH even if they are less sappy in the former. This is created by a lot of stiff and awkward attempts at conversations as some characters seem to be mysteriously concealing things that are never revealed while others seem to wonder why they are even there. The dialogue is very stock and phoned-in, which creates wooden characters, and the so-called comedic elements are beyond cheesy. Any struggles the characters experience can’t be adequately related to because they seem so plastic and forced. Elsewhere, the town setup is shockingly unrealistic on a historical level, and the Christian themes are very shoehorned in. In the end, with no driving purpose or actual point, the first season’s story is basically just a lot of trumped-up drama with nothing substantial to back it up.

Acting Quality (1 point)
In keeping with Michael Landon Jr.’s common practices, the cast of WHC appears to be as fake as WCTH’s (except not as over the top). This includes how they interact with each other as well as what they look like. On appearances, none of them look historically accurate except for some slight attempts at realistic costuming. When it comes to acting, line delivery seems laborious for some cast members while others seem bored with their roles. Emotions overall seemed forced and unnatural. Some cast members show potential in different roles but don’t live up to their full potential. In the end, this section’s rating is basically expected.

Continuity Quality (.5 point)
As previously mentioned, the best potential for engaging continuity is quickly discarded in the beginning and replaced with drab procedural recurrences. In the middle and at the end of the season, many of the episodes run together and feel like the same thing is happening over and over again. Then, this is culminated with an awkwardly forced climax and alleged cliff-hanger ending in the final episode. Basically, this season doesn’t have much going for it.

Conclusion

What else is there to say? Shows like When Hope Calls have a specific purpose in mind and do whatever it takes to fulfill that purpose. The storylines are predetermined, the production is as cheap as possible, and the cast is as pageantry as expected. All of these criteria are tailor-made for a reason, so we have to commend MLJ and company for at least being consistent in their poor novel adaptations. Why not try to capitalize on the success of a series like When Calls the Heart? However, what is it ultimately accomplishing besides creating more sub-par Christian entertainment?

Final Rating: 3 out of 14 points

Life Changes Everything: Discover Zac Ryan (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Dr. Zac Ryan is a clinical research oncologist searching for a cancer cure when he discovers that his trial patient is his biological father. This is significant because Zac’s mother had him at a young age, and Zac never knew who his father was other than the man who wanted to abort him. Will they be able to reconcile and find a cure for cancer before it’s too late?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, the production of Life Changes Everything is average. Audio quality is inconsistent, and the soundtrack is generic. Lighting is mostly fine with some odd moments. Video quality and camera work are respectable, and sets, locations, and props are passage. However, the editing is quite choppy and a bit disorienting at times. Another dominant quality of this production is its extreme generic-ness. There’s really nothing special about it, and it’s hard to differentiate from a lot of run-of-the-mill Christian films. Thus, it receive a middle-of-the-road score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Moreover, the story is a bit convoluted at times. Narration cripples any chance of deeper development, and a lot of the happenings are squarely based on childish coincidences and unexplained happenings that have little basis in reality. However, there is a good use of flashbacks that saves this plot from being null though both the present and past storylines are very slow, boring, and empty. It’s hard to know who these characters actually are beyond being stand-ins for social issues. While some of the pro-life concepts are slightly intriguing, the core concept (trying to find a cure for cancer) is almost laughable since the writers had a very difficult time explaining how it actually works or answering legitimate questions some of their own characters ask other characters. It’s not clear whether or not they actually thought about how the medical breakthrough would look since they were so focused on engineering another pro-life gotcha moment. When dealing with such a huge topic, sound research and expertise is extremely necessary. In the end, however, the confusing concepts, combined with the drab nature of the storytelling, just aren’t enough to make this film worthwhile.

Acting Quality (.5 points)

To top things off, the acting of Life Changes Everything is unfortunately quite blank and vanilla, especially the lead actor. The performances don’t have anything substantial to offer since there is almost no emotion exhibited by the cast members. Line delivery is average, and there aren’t any glaring errors, which keep this section from being zero, but it’s not enough to save this movie from itself.

Conclusion

Some of the pro-life concepts put forth by this screenplay are worth seeing in some type of remake, but the idea of a person not being able to change the world if they are aborted is a bit of a red herring. Even still, the central components of the plot would be passable if the production was improved, the acting was upgraded, and the cancer cure was better explained. These alterations would have at least made it an average film, which could have been a good starting point. However, as it is, we’re left wondering what could have been.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

Loving the Bad Man (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Julie Thompson never dreamed that she would be raped by a stranger, but she and her family were relieved when justice was served. However, the story didn’t end since Julie soon discovered that she was pregnant with her rapist’s child. Although her family urges to cover up the shame with an abortion, Julie refuses and even takes steps to forgive her perpetrator. This take her and her new child on a journey they never saw coming, but they grow closer to God in the process.

Production Quality (.5 point)

After the long opening credits of this film, the production proceeds in very low-quality fashion, including a loud and invasive soundtrack that rarely takes a break and unacceptably sub-par audio quality. The lighting in most scenes is almost weird, and camera work is quite bad as evidenced by its shakiness and its too-close shots. While video quality is passable, this is the only remotely positive element of this production. Sets, locations, and props are quite cheap, and there is an overuse of cheesy special effects, wild flashes, and black\white\sepia tones. Some scenes come off as downright blurry, and many of them are abruptly cut off and poorly transitioned between. In the end, this is a basement-level production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Even though Loving the Bad Man seemed to begin with an interesting and different idea, the execution is horrible, and some of the messaging seems questionable. For one, many of the Christian characters are unrealistically perfect while many of the non-Christian characters are strawmen who spout childish persecution dialogue. Flashbacks are present in the film, but they are poorly used; additionally, crazy time jumps and dizzying montages hamper any hope of a normal plot. Many importance scenes are glossed over with musical bridges, which hurts any opportunity for substantial conversations that would actually develop characters. As a side note, the portrayal of prison life is fairly realistic, and there is a good message in the end if the viewer makes it past the odd undertones at the beginning of the story.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

If other parts of the film aren’t bad, the acting is enough to send things over the edge. The cast members of this movie exhibit annoyingly extreme emotions and very forced line delivery. Clearly, no coaching is present as many scenes feature people talking over each other and trying way to hard as they yell and scream their lines. Nevertheless, there is ever-so-slight improvement in the last third of the film, and it goes without saying that this is one of Stephen Baldwin’s better roles to date (other than The Genius Club). In summary, however, this isn’t enough to save the movie from itself.

Conclusion

In the future, it may be a good idea to remake this concept with some professional consultation from real rape victims since this story deals with a highly sensitive topic that can be easily mishandled by inexperienced writers. It’s commendable to try different things, but when the delivery is this bad, the creators should really consider pushing pause on the production process. Just because an idea has been given doesn’t mean that it’s time for it to be made…sometimes, waiting is in order. Time can give you opportunities to grow as a creator, to amass better resources and contacts, and to see what God’s plan for your concept is.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

Sacred [2017] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Barrett Lenox, despite his dark past, aspires to succeed in the boxing ring. However, the pressures of helping his wife, Danielle, build their life together, are weighing on him. Her father, who is training him, also pushes him to do better. Will he ever measure up to who he needs to be before more time has passed him by?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

At the beginning of the film, the opening sequence is intriguing and shows promise of creative potential. Also, the soundtrack is effective, and video quality and audio quality are at least average. For the most part, camera work and lighting are good, even if there are some unnecessarily dark scenes throughout. Unfortunately, the editing is somewhat flat, which puts a drag on things, but these efforts were overall good for the tiny budget the production team had to work with. In the end, this is at least an honest attempt.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Since Sacred is only based on a handful of characters and is basically an extended short film, it would have been good to see more depth from both the storyline and the characters. Working with only one subplot requires a lot of refinement, yet there are good attempts at flashbacks throughout this film, which definitely help things. Even so, there needed to be more substantial character-building dialogue to make it easier to get to know them as real people. As they are, the conversations are a bit too matter of fact and flat, and there are a lot of sports training montages for a less-than-an-hour film. Thus, there is a lot of wasted time that takes away from better possibilities. Moreover, there are a lot of interesting concepts and ideas throughout the movie that make it more worthwhile than it would have been, even if the Christian message needs some refinement. The ending is certainty unexpected and slightly creative though it needed a better lead-up than it had. In the end, Sacred has a non-typical plot structure that shows a lot of potential but didn’t quite go as far as it could have.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, the acting of this film is average since it has some good scenes and some poorly executed ones. At times, emotions are overdone, and sometimes, lines are forced. Some cast members appear to be trying too hard, but there are also a handful of good performances. Also, some of the makeup work is fairly low quality, and there’s an unusual insinuation (without hard evidence) that a Caucasian cast member is playing an African-American character, but it’s difficult to know. In the end, this section rounds out a passable effort.

Conclusion

The creators of Sacred were onto something, but it’s possible that they didn’t quite know how to convey it. With such limited resources, it was wise for them to choose a shorter-than-usual runtime though it could have been better utilized by delving deeper into character development. Because of this, the story concept could use a remake, or the creative team could use this film as a foundation to build on for better ideas in the future. Either way, it will be interesting to see what they produce next.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Be Still and Know (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Childhood friends CJ and Sophia have lost connection with each other due to various life circumstances, but they now have a chance to rekindle their friendship during a fall break getaway. Along with two other friends, they go off the grid in a family cabin in order to re-establish what they once had. However, things don’t go as planned, and their sort of vacation takes a turn for the worst, which forces them to rely on God for their help.

Production Quality (1 point)

After showing concerted production improvement in If You’re Gone, the Goodwin creative team has unfortunately gone backward in quality with Be Still and Know. This is due to many very dark indoor scenes and quite a few outdoor scenes that are dominated by background noises. Camera also tends to be shaky throughout, and some odd camera angles are used, likely for some type of dramatic effect. However, it doesn’t work, and the sets, locations, and props are fairly cheap. While video quality is one of the only bright spots of the production and although there are some good portions of this film’s presentation, there are many concerns as well, including a soundtrack that almost always plays in the background even though it doesn’t fit with the moods of the scenes. It goes without saying that many scenes are quite long and drawn out, which is due to random editing. In the end, while it’s not all bad in this section, it’s still a major letdown from a collaborative team that was headed in such a good direction.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unlike previous efforts from the Goodwin team, the plot of Be Still and Know unfortunately has no real potential since there’s barely anything to it. The characters are either blank or stereotypical, and the conflict in the story really makes no sense at all. Conversations and dialogue are very bland and uninspiring, which makes the viewing experience a drag. The premise is highly unrealistic and questionable as it tends to involve slightly illegal activity that’s nonsensically justified. Further, the Christian message feels extremely forced and contrived. In the end, there are either too many issues with this storyline or too much boredom to justify its creation; it’s rare to see a plot with no potential from a experienced creative team, but this is unfortunately the case with Be Still and Know.

Acting Quality (1 point)

In this small cast, errors are more obvious, and they tend to carry the weight of the movie on their shoulders. However, the cast members cannot be fully blamed for the lack of adequate lines to work with. Nonetheless, many of them come off as either bored or overplaying, yet they aren’t all bad. Most of the acting is very boring, unchallenging, and uneventful, and emotions are vanilla. Further, costuming is unusual at times, but this section isn’t completely lost, which rounds out a surprisingly low-quality attempt.

Conclusion

John and Brittany Goodwin definitely care about making an impact in Christian entertainment, and every creator must come to a crossroads in their career: will they choose to continue in mediocrity or step out with something even better than before? Some movie makers are better suited to be series makers (see Dallas Jenkins), so this may be the missing piece of the puzzle for the Goodwins. There’s also plenty of Christian fiction to explore, which can supply ample content for struggling screenwriters if permission is secured. In the end, one movie doesn’t define someone’s entire career, so Be Still and Know could be a rough patch before the breakthrough.

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

Thomas, Close to Jesus {The Friends of Jesus – Thomas} (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Thomas followed Jesus for the three years of the Lord’s earthly ministry, yet Thomas always struggled with belief. His doubt was only compounded when he witnessed the brutal arrest of his Savior and heard how he was violently flogged and executed at the hands of the Romans. At the darkest hour of history, Thomas’ small faith would be tested like never before.

Production Quality (2 points)

As an early 2000’s production, Thomas, Close to Jesus is mostly respectable, including historically authentic sets, locations, and props. Video quality is passable, and audio quality is fine except that the soundtrack is somewhat generic. The camera work tends to be shaky at first but gets better as it goes. To round things off, the editing is fairly pedestrian yet isn’t bad. In the end, this is basically an above-average production that doesn’t make many positive or negative impact.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Lux Vide and TBN had interesting ideas in this early era of Christian entertainment to make a series of films focusing on different disciples, so a film centered around the less-emphasized character of Thomas is refreshing. However, like other Biblical films from this creative team (Mary Magdalene and Judas), the characters cannot be easily accessed due to stiff and pedestrian dialogue that feels like a Bible play. There are too many boring asides and vanilla conversations that waste time and focus on vague concepts without developing accessible characters. While there were good attempts to connect the films of the series together, there were some unnecessary alterations to the historical account. Further, the portrayal of Jesus is once again too ethereal and otherworldly, and too many scenes either contain forced drama or lag on. In the end, there was probably not enough actual content to sustain full-length movie without slid dialogue and flashbacks.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Unfortunately, the cast of Thomas isn’t entirely culturally authentic, but some attempts are made. Moreover, there are a lot of dramatic and theatrical performances as if this is a stage play. This brings overdone and unnatural emotions with it. Even still, the costuming is mostly historically accurate, and there are some good moments in acting, which is enough to keep this section average.

Conclusion

On a number of levels, creating Biblical fiction entertainment is extremely difficult to pull off, which is why it should never be done lightly. Since TBN’s early attempts at depicting the lives of Jesus and His disciples, Christian movies and series have definitely improved in how they portray these historical characters. They were real people, so when they are properly cast in this light, audiences everywhere can relate to them, which makes the message more powerful and meaningful.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Miles Between Us {Four Days Alone in a Car} (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Scott Dauer is a successful Hollywood agent, but an untimely accident prevents his ex-wife from driving their daughter across the country to the Christian college she wants to attend. Thus, Scott is forced to reconnect with the young woman he’s been estranged from for many years as they make the four-day journey across the nation. However, little does either one of them know that their time together will forever alter their lives.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Especially in the beginning, the sets, locations, and props of Miles Between Us are fairly cheap and not well-thought-out. This include some sets that echo a lot of audio, yet most of the scenes have fine lighting and video quality. Camera work is acceptable for the most part, except for the shaky moments and the odd camera angles that sometimes appear. Audio quality is mostly okay, but the soundtrack leaves something to be desired. Finally, there’s virtually no editing in this film as many of the scenes are long and drawn out without proper cuts. In the end, though there’s some improvement as the movie progresses, the production still ends up average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

At the start of this heavily character-based plot, the characters seem to be grasping for things to say in order to fill time while the story moves along. Many of the conversations seem unnatural and don’t do what they need to do with character development even though this plot line heavily depends on them and their personalities due to its limited scope. On top of this, the Christian characters are both perfect and condescending, and many lines spoken by all characters are sterile and clinical, like they were crafted by AI. The progression of time is also unrealistic, no doubt confused by the riveting driving montages and clouded by sequences of sermonizing. One of the only ways to save this plot would have been to transform the memory-based dialogue (“I remember when you did that!”) into actual flashbacks that integrate into a non-linear storyline; this would have done something to breathe life into the dead characters therein. This would have especially helped the fact that an important concept is explored in the last quarter of the film that, while it’s kind of out of left field for the movie’s context, really does need to be discussed in Christian entertainment. However, many viewers will never make it that far due to absolute boredom of the story’s first three quarters. It’s too bad this intriguing idea was wasted, along with the somewhat ambiguous ending, but perhaps, one day, it can be re-purposed in a better way.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Throughout a majority of the film, the cast members seem understandably bored with their lot and sometimes awkward around each other. We can’t blame them since they were given such poor lines to work with. However, their delivery of them is still overly practiced and stilted even though there are some fine performances. Emotions are a bit lame at times, and hair and makeup is strange. Nonetheless, there’s some improvement in these areas as the movie goes on, which is enough to warrant and average rating for this section.

Conclusion

The creative team behind Miles Between Us is almost onto something, but they would do well to make sure their screenwriting is up to industry standards. With the growth of Christian entertainment and the collective improvement of productions, the bar has been raised, and there’s little room for vanilla or basement-level creations anymore. Thus, this can be a learning experience for them; in the near future, they may be able to redo this film or at least use some of its concepts with better characters. Overall, film making is always a learning process, so it will be interesting to see what they produce next.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Faith, Love, & Chocolate! {Live, Laugh, Love!} (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Following graduation from college, Jessica Miller and her two closest friends are forced to face the harshness of the real world that academia never prepared them for. They all have big plans, but they soon realize that no one in their respective job fields really cares about their dreams. Things don’t turn out like they’re supposed to, and the three friends are left scared and confused. However, this gives them the opportunity to realize that God sometimes has bigger plans for people than they can ever realize.

Production Quality (2 points)

As a whole, the production of Faith, Hope, & Chocolate! is fine for a creation produced from a university film school. They have their proverbial ducks in a row when it comes to video quality, audio quality, and camera work. For the most part, sets, locations, and props are professionally presented and utilized. The only major complaints to raise are some occasional backgrounds sounds and some cheesy flashback quality. Also, the editing is a bit generic, but on the whole, this is a respectable production that shows a creative team headed in the right direction.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, the plot detracts quite a bit from this film, mostly due to the incessant and unnecessary narration that greatly hurts the possibility of character development. As such, dialogue is fairly pedestrian but not awful; however, it doesn’t do enough to build the characters beyond their stereotypical molds and expected backstories. Also, the awkward attempts at comedy throughout the storyline don’t help matters, and the fact that some plot elements aren’t entirely rooted in reality isn’t helpful either. Since the central concept of this film is somewhat interesting yet at the same time slightly standard, this character-based story needed to depend heavily on the personalities of the characters, and this was something that wasn’t accomplished. Doing this would have added a necessary level of complexity to this otherwise straightforward idea; moreover, post-college issues need to be explored as this isn’t heavily discussed in Christian entertainment, but a more meaningful basis would have done better with driving the points home. In the end, the problems presented in the story are too easily fixed with a posthumous artifact, which seems to absolve some of the characters of realistic consequences or help them to avoid real lessons. Thus, this is a nice try that will hopefully yield better results next time.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Overall, the acting of Faith, Love, & Chocolate! is fine. It’s neither dynamic nor horrible–just average. At times, some emotions come off as forced and awkward, and line delivery could be a bit more meaningful, but this is the best that can be expected from presumably volunteer cast members. In this light, each cast members takes on their roles well.

Conclusion

In summary, the creative team behind this movie likely did the best they could with what they had available. The one thing we would have liked to see more of was deeper character development, which could have only been accomplished by banning narration and by spending a little more time on the dialogue. In cases like these, it’s sometimes better to base characters off of real people or to give the characters flexibility to fit the personalities of the cast members. Nevertheless, the people behind this film seem to mean well and likely have a lot of good potential for future projects.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Home-Schooled, Season 1 [2019] (Series Review)

Plot Summary

In just one moment, Sarah’s life is completely transformed and turned upside down. When she receives word that she has become the guardian of five of her youngest relatives–homeschooled kids in the Midwest–she has no idea how she will balance her big city life with her new, unexpected responsibilities. How will she manage this new lifestyle that has been chosen for her beyond her control?

Production Quality (.5 points)
Words cannot express how horrible this production is by 2019 standards. The only remotely positive element is the fine video quality, but otherwise, it’s a total wash. Even a $20,000 budget is no excuse for wildly shaky camera work, weird camera angles, and perspective that never stops moving around unless the cameraman sets the camera down in the most inconvenient locations, like behind a running sink. It goes without saying that the series intro sequence screams Windows Movie Maker. When it comes to sets, locations, and props, things are limited to the inside of a large, echo-filled house and blinding outdoor locations filled with incessant leaf-crunching. There are also plenty of loud background sounds, both inside and outside, and they aren’t mitigated by the extremely invasive soundtrack that’s meant to “balance” things out. Finally, the editing is as choppy as possible, including lagging scenes and abruptly cut-off sequences. Essentially, this is an awful experience.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)
What exactly is the purpose of this so-called plot? First of all, there’s hardly any content to speak of, but whatever amount is there is dominated by typical family member squabble storylines and the most cringeworthy dialogue possible. This creates robotic, programmed characters that easily fall into homeschooled stereotypes. All this alleged story really has to show for itself is a bunch of awkward people hanging around a large house none of them can pay for and engaging in a lot of childish coincidences, forced drama, convenient situations, and infantile conversations. Further, the screenwriters completely bungled their portrayal of the child custody process (lawyers NEVER make home visits to check on custody situations), which makes us wonder if they did any research at all on how this transpires in real life. In the end, this “plot” has nothing good going for it.

Acting Quality (0 points)
For one thing, the cast of Home-Schooled is quite small, so errors are more easily seen. For another, the cast members are not coached very well at all, and many of them are intended to play characters who are younger than they actually are, which makes things very odd. Besides this, the acting is just generally awkward and forcibly dramatic. Line delivery is very stilted, and emotions are quite wooden. There are also some bouts of annoying yelling and screaming. In the end, there’s nothing good to highlight here.

Continuity Quality (0 points)
With such short episodes (many of them are ten minutes or less), it’s extremely difficult to justify even making Home-Schooled into a series. If you must make it at all, why not just make it a regular movie? This aside, there are no prevalent themes or overarching storylines that are even able to create continuity between the episodes. With such short runtimes, there’s really nothing to write home about in this section. The only other thing to add here is to ask the creators to not make anymore seasons without some serious changes being made.

Conclusion

The rule of thumb in Christian entertainment is this: if the story and budget aren’t there, can the project or at least put it on hold until you’re sure Jesus wants you to make it. Putting out low-quality projects isn’t being a good steward of what you feel like He wants you to do. Instead of rushing forward and clamoring to make something just for the sake of making a Christian series, wait and see what He really wants you to create because He’ll provide the budget if it’s for real. Moving forward with half-measures (or less than half-measures) is always going to be a problem.

Final Rating: .5 out of 14 points

The Griddle House (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Jack Benson never knew his birth mother, and this fact has always caused his pain. That’s why he takes the opportunity to run when he gets a vehicle for his sixteenth birthday. However, he doesn’t make it very far and ends up stopping at a local diner called The Griddle House. There, he meets an eccentric cast of characters that surprisingly helps him sort through his problems to find hope.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, The Griddle House has a respectable production even though it’s mostly limited to a handful of sets. Even still, the props therein are realistic, and video quality is as it should be. At times, however, there is some shaky camera work as well as some odd camera angles. As a whole, the audio quality is on part with standards, even if the soundtrack is slightly generic. Further, the editing is fairly basic without any major concerns or significant positives. Therefore, this production is basically average since it’s neither horrible nor dynamic.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 points)

From the get-go, it’s fairly hard to understand the point of the story behind The Griddle House. While there’s some character potential, the dialogue isn’t enough to keep them from being generic and cardboard, even though it’s almost entirely made up of conversations. The forced comedy doesn’t help matters, especially since it’s very flat and awkward. Many scenes appear to drag on just for the purpose of filling time, and the interactions between the characters seem stiff and forced rather than natural and dynamic. The Griddle House draws a lot of comparisons with The Encounter, except with fewer Messianic characters. In the end, there’s not really that much to this movie’s plot as it’s hard to deduce the actual purpose behind the random conversations that fill the run time and don’t do enough to help us truly know the characters. This is one of those nice-try-but-not-good-enough efforts.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As a whole, the acting in The Griddle House is fine but not very dynamic. The cast is somewhat vanilla in their performances and safe in their acting. This doesn’t allow many major errors to surface, but it also doesn’t create an environment for standouts. Also, emotions are somewhat awkward throughout, and this section overall comes out as average.

Conclusion

Bearfruit Films typically likes to try different things (i.e. Rumors of Wars), but The Griddle House doesn’t quite meet these standards. It’s almost like there’s some kind of hidden idea in this film that was never fully disclosed or that there were pertinent scenes edited out that would help us understand better. The overall underlying tone is hard to grasp, which makes it difficult to discern the actual purpose. Perhaps future projects from this creative team will yield more lasting results.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Ruling of the Heart (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Judge Edward Morgan is known for being heavy-handed and for enforcing the letter of the law without taking personal situations into account. However, when he’s stranded in a coffee shop one night, he’s confronted by people whom he’s ruled against, which forces him to take a second look at his closely-held beliefs as well as the past pain he’s been hiding from. Will he be able to change his ways before it’s too late?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, Ruling of the Heart is a fine production even if the sets, locations, and props are somewhat limited. Some of the lighting is also unnecessarily dark, and there are some cheap special effects throughout. Flashbacks also have an odd quality about them, such as inconsistently shaky camera work. The soundtrack is fairly generic, and although other production elements are acceptable, there really needed to be more here since this film was made in 2018. However, some of this may be due to the limited plot scope.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 points)

Unfortunately, whereas there was a somewhat interesting idea behind this film, its disregard for legal procedure and judicial realities doesn’t bode well. The courtroom situations depicted within the storyline don’t line up with real life, which really puts a damper on things. To make matters worse, the characters are quite bland and one-dimensional throughout the narrative, and the Christian message seems shoe-horned in. One of the saving graces is the use of flashbacks to try to develop character backstories, but they don’t go as far as they could have, and characters struggle to break out of their “issue” shells and to actually be accessible as people rather than as cardboard cutouts. The stock vanilla dialogue doesn’t help, and the fact that the plot forces things forward instead of letting things unfold naturally isn’t advantageous. Even still, the film seems to be long and drawn out despite the lack of substantial content. While there are some brief attempts near the end of the movie to craft character motive, it’s too little too late. Essentially, when setting out to create a narrative that’s confined without one set and based on a complex topic requiring further research, flashbacks need to be integral in developing characters, and accuracy of the depicted topic needs to be ensured.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Although there’s nothing specifically wrong with the casting and acting in Ruling of the Heart, there’s also nothing particularly dynamic or special about it. This section of the film is overall generic as there is some stilted line delivery and some average emotions that are balanced out by other better performances. Despite some unnatural and overly earnest portrayals, this portion of the movie is basically average.

Conclusion

In the end, Ruling of the Heart is a nice attempt to take a look at how personal experiences can unfairly influence a judge’s ruling, but in order for this concept to produce more of an impact, research needs to be done to make sure judicial situations are accurately portrayed. Further, characters need to organically developed beyond simply representing issues and should be relatable people via personality-building and backstory-revealing dialogue and flashbacks. Without realism of ideas and characters, a movie can’t properly get off the ground to make a difference, no matter how important the topic is.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

The Unlikely Good Samaritan (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Chris Jennings is a new pastor in a small Colorado town, and he’s desperate to prove himself to the people in the church because of his young age. However, this leads him to take drastic measures, including shunning an unwanted member of the church whom the other members don’t feel fits in with their demographic. Nevertheless, Chris is battling his own demons, and once he’s exposed, the religious people turn on him as well. Now that he’s down and out, will Chris ever discover God’s true call on his life?

Production Quality (.5 point)

As a 2019 production, it’s kind of hard to believe that this lower level of quality is still being tolerated. One of the most distracting part of this film is the shaky camera work that hardly ever stops moving and even goes diagonal at times. There are also a lot of weird camera angles and even some blurry video. Sets, locations, and props tend to be cheap, and lighting is fairly inconsistent. Audio quality is okay except for the background sounds. Further, the editing is poor as there are quite a few very abrupt and awkward cuts. In the end, though there’s some slight improvement throughout the film, this production is unfortunately very low quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The Unlikely Good Samaritan contains concepts similar to that of Confessions of a Prodigal Son, which was Clarkson’s freshman film, yet the sophomore effort surprisingly has more concerns than the first. In this second installment, there is a lot of blank and stale dialogue throughout the first three-fourths of the movie, which leads to a glaring lack of character development. At first, hardly anything happens except for wasted scenes that take up time but accomplish nothing; the interactions among characters seem unnatural and overly scripted. While this storyline is a commendable look at real issues plaguing the church, it loses most of its audience in the first half hour due to general boredom and unrealistic portrayals of life. However, by the last fourth of the plot, there’s actually some great flawed characters and a lot of potential in the central idea behind the story, but it’s all presented in the wrong way. The ending is actually fairly realistic and comes from a unique plot twist, but hardly anyone will make it this far into the film. In the end, this concept would have likely worked better either as a short film or as a series.

Acting Quality (1 point)

In the beginning of the movie, similar to other elements, the acting is fairly awkward and unnatural, but they also don’t have many good lines to work with. Some cast members are fine and would have been better with improved development and coaching. Many emotions throughout are very wooden and forced, yet the acting overall tends to get better as it goes, in keeping with the themes of this film. However, since there’s fairly significant improvement by the conclusion, it begs the question why it was so bad in the beginning. In the end, The Unlikely Good Samaritan is a mixed bag that doesn’t do enough to pull itself up from the mud.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that Nathan Clarkson has a lot of good ideas. This fact is evident in his two films, but in this era of Christian entertainment, we need to see more. Collaboration is likely the only path forward for lone ranger creators; we can no longer afford to make movies on our own. God admonishes Christians to work together and to have each other’s backs, so if we accept feedback and ideas from others as well as ourselves, something great can happen. Clarkson’s concepts are creative enough to warrant remakes, so perhaps series-making is in his future once he’s able to work in a team approach. Many entertainment makers have the world at their fingertips if they will reach out and work together.

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

Decision of Faith {365 Decision Time} (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

On the surface, the Miller family is the model of success in Caucasian American culture, but behind the scenes, they’re coming undone. The parents are divorced yet maintain a tenuous relationship in order to aid their grown children. Their daughter is married to a successful political staffer who has his own secrets to hide. Their son is involved with a questionable crowd of people and suddenly has a child on the way with a girlfriend they’ve never met. In the midst of all the turmoil, the Millers have a chance to find the true peace they’ve never had if they will ask for help from the right people.

Production Quality (2 points)

At first, the production of Decision of Faith is somewhat rough, including weird, unnatural lighting, dark sets, and slightly random camera work. The audio quality is also quite inconsistent at first, along with the editing, which includes some abrupt cuts and transitions between scenes. However, the good thing is that the production improves as the runtime progresses, which suggests better funding was provided later on in the process. It gets better to the point that video quality, audio quality, camera work, sets, props, and locations are all passable and even respectable in some parts. The editing remains somewhat inconsistent throughout, but this section overall does enough to go past the average mark.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

In the beginning of the storyline, many disjointed subplots tend to come out of nowhere and meander around, but once things settle down, the subplot overlaying slightly improves even though it’s still somewhat poorly presented. By the middle of the film, one of the most interesting things about the plot is its exploration of realistic hidden issues in affluent Caucasian lifestyles. Before this point, the characters are extreme: either perfect, platitude-spouting Christians or horribly bad non-Christians. However, once things begin to change in the middle, the characters actually become authentic and believable with obvious flaws and issues that can be accessed by many people. One drawback is that large time jumps in the story are marked by time subtitles, and another concern is the unnecessary use of explicit language and edgy content in attempts to be realistic. Also, as the plot continues on past the middle, random things keep happening that have forced connections to previously highlighted elements, and in a seeming rush for time, there are quite a few very sudden conversations that seem programmed to happen at certain moments in order for the story to hit the high points it wants to hit. These types of dialogue devices create very steep and unrealistic character arcs so that things are fixed very rapidly by the time the credits come around. Overall, despite the intriguing themes that show good potential for future screenwriting, Decision of Faith tries to cover too much time and too many issues at once. Thus, it may have been better to present this story in series form to allow for better character refinement and plot organization.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Unfortunately, there is some poor makeup work throughout this film, and at first, the emotional performances are quite forced and un-earnest. However, like other elements of the movie, the acting tends to improve with time, which suggests a shift in leadership mentalities partway through the process. Nothing significantly dynamic occurs as a result, but the improvement is refreshing. Overall, the acting does enough to be average by the conclusion, which rounds off a mostly middle-of-the-road film.

Conclusion

First-time films like Decision of Faith are tricky because it’s difficult to get things started, but in the new wave of Christian entertainment we’ve seen over the past few years, standards are higher, which makes it harder for new voices to stand out. Thus, the planning process is key. Are you meant to make this film at this time? Has God given you the adequate funding to make it professional? Would it work better as a series? Should you collaborate with other creators? These are all great questions to ask that will help you rise above the fray.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

Vindication, Season 1 [2019] (Series Review)

Plot Summary

Detective Travis always wants to bring the criminals of his small Texas town to justice. However, he’s not always right, and he can’t do it all on his own, despite what he believes about himself. Through every twist and turn of each case, the detective learns something new about himself and about life, but the ultimate challenge of his work and life involves his daughter and her checkered past. Thus, when she comes to stay with him and his wife, he’s sure she’s got something to hide. However, he could have never foreseen the end result of this.

Production Quality (1.5 points)
For a relatively low-budget series, Vindication is definitely trying when it comes to production. The video quality is great throughout, and the camera work is respectable. Sets, locations, and props are mostly fine, but the audio is sometimes too quiet. At first, there’s basically no soundtrack, but this tends to improve as the series goes on. While there are some creative story overlays and plot criss-crossing throughout, the editing can be fairly choppy at times. Sometimes, scenes start and stop at awkward places, and some portions seem unnecessary. However, this element also tends to improve with time. In the end, this is an average production that shows commendable effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)
What an absolute roller coaster of a storyline. It’s difficult to know where to begin with this; in the first two-thirds of the series, many of the cases are either fairly unrealistic or extremely simplistic. Some contain improbable circumstances just for the sake, it seems, of being unique and tricky. Others contain lots of coincidences and convenient turns; many of them include partially or mostly inappropriate content seemingly just because. While being edgy and realistic is a good quality to have in Christian entertainment (rather than white-washing humanity), there’s a fine line to walk between authentic and trashy. As a side note, some of the ‘crimes’ that are actually ‘twists’ are substantially questionable and borderline ‘vindicate’ the wrong types of behavior. Elsewhere, the suspense elements don’t seem to jive with reality even though there are some interesting psychological elements throughout. Besides the head-scratching partially objectionable content included, the treatment of police ethics and criminal procedure throughout the series would be offensive to many real police officers. Rules are callously broken with no resource, and while it would be one thing to portray a rogue cop in a negative light for the purpose of being realistic, it’s another thing to downright condone unethical practices in the name of doing the right thing, including mixing personal vendettas against certain people and in favor of family members with police work. The detectives’ time is spent on petty misunderstandings that would likely draw the attention of higher authorities due to their frivolous use of resources and questionable methods of arresting people with little reasonable suspicion. These two major problem areas (inappropriate content and offensive portrayal of procedure) are almost enough to totally derail the series from the get-go, especially when these issues are combined with a lot of blank and empty dialogue and cheap Christian messaging throughout the first two-thirds of the season. Odd portrayals of women and minorities throughout the series are also concerns to contend with, but the recurring subplot between the main character and his daughter keep the narrative on life support long enough to get to the final two episodes of the season, which almost save the writers from themselves. It’s clear that the entire series was made for this storyline, and the daughter is the only notably interesting character in the entire creation. The last two episodes are so starkly different from the other ones (except for the disregard for jurisdiction and other questionable practices in the name of being police with agendas) that it seems like an entirely different idea, yet the thinly-developed characters still shine through due to their lack of depth in the first eight episodes. Had they been properly built in the first two-thirds of the season via real cases and authentic circumstances, we would be looking at a totally different concept. As they are, the last two installments include very effective flashbacks that take a good look at hard issues effecting many people. In doing so, the final ‘villain’ is fairly realistic, and the partial conclusion of the subplot between the father and daughter is mostly authentic and believable. Nevertheless, despite the acceptable ending, it doesn’t cover over the multitude of sins committed by the rest of the storyline.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)
Acting isn’t a glaring problem throughout the series even if many cast members come off as very robotic and overly practiced. However, this is likely not a talent problem or a coaching issue because the lines they are given are usually uninspiring. This is evident since acting seems to improve as dialogue gets a slight upgrade in the latter third of the season. Although makeup is terrible at first, this seems to get better too. The key standout performance from every episode she’s in comes from Emma Elle Roberts as she sets herself apart as a truly talented actress with potential beyond this series. In the end, this is neither the best nor the worst acting from a Christian season.

Continuity Quality (1.5 points)
As previously mentioned, the only significant continuity throughout season one of Vindication involves the storylines of the central character’s family, especially his interactions with his daughter and her checkered past. However, these recurring subplots are fairly good in the midst of a mostly typical recurring crime drama style. Still, it would have been preferable to see some other interwoven subplots that were worthwhile to follow.

Conclusion

The creators of Vindication are trying to do something, but there are too many elements of season one that are way off base. The use of edgy content is commendable for a crime series, but it would be nice to see better standards of propriety when it comes to dealing with sensitive topics. For another, a lot of significant research needs to be conducted before anyone creates a drama centered around criminal procedure and police work because it can be easy to make careless mistakes. Further, there needs to be a better look at mental and behavioral health issues beyond simplifying them and reducing them to trite Christian sayings and prayers. In the end, this concept may work better as a larger-scale federal investigative storyline rather than confining it to a small town with unusual half-mysteries. To summarize, the creators have potential somewhere in here, but there’s too much blocking out the light.

Final Rating: 5 out of 14 points

China Cry (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Sung Neng Yee was glad when the Chinese Communists rose to power in her homeland to drive out the occupying Japanese, but she never anticipated the ultimate consequences this would cause. First, it cost her father his wealth and respect as a successful doctor, and then, the Communists began to tighten their grip on every aspect of Chinese life. However, she and her fellow people adjusted and went forward. Moreover, after beginning a family of her own, Sung Yeng Nee was accused of consorting with Westernizers and Christians. In the darkest moment of her life, she reached out to the God she had always shunned for the help only He could give her.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As an early 1990s production, China Cry has a handful of concerns with it, such as a loud, outdated soundtrack and odd soft lighting at times. Video quality is also sometimes blurry even though the camera work is overall fine, including good establishing shots. For the most part, audio quality is average, and the sets, locations, and props are very realistic, culturally accurate, and historically appropriate. Although the film overall seems outdated and has a lot of quick cuts and awkward transitions due to time jumps in the plot, the production does enough to achieve an average rating, especially considering the time period it was made in.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Right out of the gate, unnecessary narration tends to hurt the plot development, but once it ceases, things begin to unfold naturally without hindrances even though the narration does pop up here and there afterward. Had more substantial and qualitative flashbacks been employed to replace the narration, this plot would have been even better. This would have better helped to bridge the large time jumps throughout the story (non-linear plot structure is the only way to effectively handle lots of content), yet on its face, this narrative is still engaging and very intriguing due to the obscurely interesting portions of history it explores. Key themes are subtly introduced in order to let the character feel more authentic and real than they otherwise would be; the writers definitely did a good job at presenting people at face value rather than trying to push messages via strawmen. Even still, there are some lagging scenes that could have been better re-purposed to improve character growth even more, especially since the second half of the story tends to rush through a lot of content that would have been better explored slowly. This is why a non-linear plot style centered around the weak explanation for the narration would have been appropriate. In the end, China Cry still packs a very powerful message that’s still relevant for all Christians today. It’s too bad that’s is hidden behind poorly designed storytelling, but this true account is nonetheless engaging for all audiences.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Although many of the cast members tend to be dramatically stiff, the lead actress and lead actor are standouts for their comfortably real line delivery and believable emotions. Others tend to lack natural flair for acting, but it’s refreshing to see a culturally authentic cast. Costuming also reflects this commitment to cultural accuracy. In the end, the acting improves enough by the second half of the movie, and the lead acting carries it most of the way.

Conclusion

China Cry definitely deserves a remake, possibly in a miniseries form to further explore alternate subplots and to present the story in a more comprehensive and non-linear fashion. In the end, this film was made very early on in Christian entertainment, but it was onto something we don’t see in many newer movies: a poignant message about relying on God during difficult times and witnessing His miraculous intervention. Thus, many audiences will enjoy this movie, and maybe, new film makers will be inspired to try something outside the norm.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Bonhoeffer, Agent of Grace (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Dietrich Bonhoeffer didn’t want to get involved as the Nazis rose to power in Germany and demanded absolute submission from all institutions, including churches. However, after taking time away in America, he sensed God calling him back to his homeland. Then, the Nazi regime hit home as his twin sister and her Jewish husband had to escape Germany for fear of Nazi nationalism. Thus, when a close friend invited him to get involved in the underground working against Nazi power, Bonhoeffer felt he had to do something to stand against tyranny. Nonetheless, he never anticipated how far he would have to go and what he would experience as a result.

Production Quality (2 points)

For an early 2000s production, it’s clear that a lot of effort was put into Agent of Grace to make it historically authentic, which is evidenced by a great use of realistic-looking sets, props, and locations. Also, the video quality is mostly good except for some outdated-looking portions, and the camera work is standard. Audio quality is on the mark, but it would be nice if there was a more substantial soundtrack to enhance the emotional experience. At the beginning of the movie, the editing is commendable as it uses an overlaying style with effective out-of-order storytelling, yet this is discarded in the last two-thirds of the film and replaced with a very standard linear style. There are also some abruptly awkward cuts that put a damper on things, but overall, this is a respectable production, especially for the time period, and is good enough to be above-average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

There’s no doubt that the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is an excellent and worthwhile one to tell, and in this endeavor, this storyline makes good attempts at character development via adequate dialogue. Where the beginning and the end are interesting, the middle of the story tends to sag a bit as it’s not very engaging and merely presents a collection of isolated and disconnected scenes where things sometimes happen without much lead-up. The good thing is that narration, while it would have been easy to lean on, is entirely avoided, and the conversations between characters are realistic enough. The quick passage of time in the narrative is often difficult to deal with, so it might have been better to frame the entire story as a flashback from the ending sequence since bridging large time gaps while also keeping audience isn’t an easy feat at all. Even still, many sequences are quite good and make the movie worth your time although the amount of off-screen content shows there’s too much in this story to cover in one film. In the end, Agent of Grace is a great effort and is one that was rarely seen in the early 2000s, so at the very least, it makes for a good historical experience.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The best part of this movie is the culturally correct acting and the culturally authentic casting. The costuming is also historically accurate. Besides this, the actual acting quality is very professional, including line delivery and emotional expression. There are very few errors to note here…there are just a few lapses, but this may be due to other elements. Overall, this strong section is enough to push the film past the halfway mark.

Conclusion

This historical account would definitely work better as a miniseries, especially since there are many side plots that didn’t have a chance for exploration in Agent of Grace. There’s a lot of interest and intrigue surrounding this period of history, so more time would have been good. Unfortunately, this film was made before Christian series were even considered outside the children’s entertainment realm; thus, a remake of Bonhoeffer’s narrative and the related elements would be pertinent. Nevertheless, this movie is still worth your time as it portrays a highly important tale that’s still relevant for us today.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Crave: The Fast Life (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

For years, Max has resented his father for leaving them. Now, this anger boils beneath the surface as he endeavors to make a big name for himself as a club promoter in the LA night club scene. However, when he’s faced with a lucrative offer he can’t refuse, little does he know that he’s sinking deeper into pride and arrogance. He refuses to turn to God as things seem to be falling apart around him, but a series of events begins to change his heart and remind him of his mother’s faith.

Production Quality (2 points)

Since it is a 2018 production, Crave: The Fast Life should have exhibited a bit more of a dynamic nature. As it is, the video quality is grainy at times, even though the camera work is mostly fine. At times, there is odd lighting throughout, but all production elements do get better as they go. Subtle camera angles throughout reveal well-placed recurring props, and settings are overall realistic and authentic. The soundtrack is also effectively integrated throughout, and the editing is mostly average. In the end, the production does enough in the second half to achieve and above-average score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

From the get-go, it seems like the screenwriters have a fairly interesting story to share in Crave, which is evidenced by an effective beginning that contains a key character flashback. Other flashbacks are also well-done throughout the course of the plot, yet this technique isn’t used to its fullest potential as the storyline tends to jump around in time using only time stamps to keep the audience oriented. This method of storytelling isn’t the best, even though there are some good attempts to gradually develop character personality and motive. Even so, the time jumps can be a bit disorienting at times, and while the avoidance of narration is commendable, it’s still somewhat confusing for character continuity. Sometimes, dialogue tends to be a bit forward and forced, and the Christian message-pushing seems off-base as it’s portrayed as primarily a church-going habit combined with some behavior modification. There’s some sermonizing done by ‘perfect’ Christian characters who seem to assume that giving people verses without getting to know them is sufficient for a life change. However, one of the plot’s central themes is a hard, realistic look at how generational patterns repeat, which is good, but it tends to wade into some too realistic and slightly edgy content at times. The middle of the story lags and loses some focus and creativity as dynamic storytelling is exchanged for Christian platitudes and quick fixes. The character arcs in the last third of the film are too steep to be believed, and it all culminates in a very quick and rushed ending that easily fixes things with little to no consequences. In the end, there was a lot of potential here, so hopefully, next time, this creative team will be able to work out the kinks of their otherwise good storytelling.

Acting Quality (2 points)

On the whole, the acting in Crave is mostly average. It starts out a bit slow but improves with time like other elements of the film do. Some scenes can feel a bit awkward and have a one-take tone to them while others come off as quickly filmed. Moreover, emotional scenes can seem forced at times, but in the big picture, there is enough good here to outweigh the inexperience. The cast members appear to mean well and want to do their best, so this is a good way to approach things. In the end, this film has some positive marks, and it’s a good start for this creative team.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that Christian entertainment creators are trying to expand the horizons of the genre with films like Crave that would have never been considered just under a decade ago. This progress is encouraging, so we hope to see more forward motion in this area. However, as creativity grows, we also need to see production, acting, and plot qualities grow with it, especially storyline and character growth. We’re just now getting to the point where Christian entertainment is depicting ‘flawed’ characters in the world outside the church, so now, as Christians, we need to get better at telling captivating stories that will truly reach people for Christ.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

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

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