Heaven’s War {Beyond the Darkness} (Movie Review)

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The magic of the cosmos…

Plot Summary

Senator Jonah Thomas is a rising political star who wants to be the good guy in Washington, but evil individuals, both human and spiritual, have their own plans for him. Jonah’s political career is pushing his family to the brink, and he doesn’t realize the evil devices that await him in one fateful meeting. As his soul hangs in the balance, he will be given one last chance to battle for his eternal destiny in a very poorly-animated CGI world.

Production Quality (0 points)

Imagine you have this great idea for a complex sci-fi plot that requires a lot expensive CGI and animation tools. Would you go ahead and make it even though you didn’t have the funding to make it on a level we see in theaters today? Essentially, Heaven’s War is a poorly funded attempt at a possibly good idea that will fall totally flat due to how bad the production is. The extremely cheap special effects and the cheesiest possible animation and CGI draw so much attention to themselves that they negate any possible good elements in other parts of the production. They affect everything and make it an unpleasant experience whether via disorienting editing, cheap flashback quality, weird sound effects, or wild and quick cuts between scenes. Even if other elements of the film are fine, the special effects failings are the types of issues that infect everything, which keeps this production rated at zero.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Besides this, the plot is fairly confusing and hard to follow. Even though it’s an interesting idea to explore the spiritual realm, everything is too focused on American politics, which begs the question why the major spiritual battles highlighted here center around raising taxes and finding a vaccine for cancer. If this isn’t the intention, it comes off that way through expository dialogue and devices that move the plot forward, such as news reports and phone conversations. As the story wildly jumps from one random idea to the next, the slightly interesting flashback\psychological vision elements had something going for them, but the way they are presented is a disservice. Poor delivery and unclear direction doomed this plot from the start, not to mention the extremely cheesy portrayal of the spiritual realm that is almost a laughingstock. After lots of disorienting battle sequences and explorations of alternate realities, problems are suddenly quickly fixed at the end with no feeling or reality behind it, and by the time it’s all over, you suddenly realize that this film barely had any actual content in it. Hence, no points can be awarded in this section either.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Surprisingly, as bad as it is, the acting is the strongest point of this movie because it’s the only section that gets any points. Even still, the acting often comes off as un-earnest, overly practiced, and robotic. For the most part, emotions are black, forced, and unnatural. There are some good moments for some of the cast members that are basically just average, but as a whole, the acting is cardboard and the casting poor. This rounds out an unacceptably bad film in the new era of Christian entertainment.

Conclusion

Danny Carrales’ intentions to make different types of Christian films are definitely noted, but their application is way off the mark. It would have been better to make Heaven’s War fully animated so that more time could have been spent on making a real plot. Relying only on special effects of any quality level is never a good idea because they can’t write the story for you. Even the best sci-fi idea will fail if the characters can hold it up for you because the audience has no real connection to the concept without feeling like real people are experiencing it. Basically, better luck next time.

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

Beyond the Farthest Star (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

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

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

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

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

If You’re Gone (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Brad and Lillian believed that they were meant to be together forever.  When Brad graduates from high school, Lillian believes this will not affect their relationship as she has one more year to go.  However, on the night of the graduation, Lillian’s life is changed forever when Brad disappears for days without contacting anyone.  The town searches for him and holds vigils for him, but nothing ever comes of it all as the months go by with no word about Brad’s whereabouts.  Lillian’s emotions collapse as she can think of nothing else besides the future life she thought she had.  Will she be able to pick herself back up and remember the faith she claims to have had?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

After several years of trial and error, the production efforts of husband-and-wife movie team John and Brittany Goodwin have paid off.  Though If You’re Gone had a modest budget, it was allocated very well.  This is evident in the professional video quality and camera work.  The soundtrack is a very good original creation, and the audio quality is spot-on.  Sets, locations, and props, though somewhat limited, are utilized very well.  The only minor issues to point out here that keep this production from being perfect are some inconsistent lighting and some slight editing issues, but as a whole, this is a very professional production that gives great hope for the future of Every New Day Pictures.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Based on the original novel from the Goodwins, If You’re Gone delivers a unique plot and a compelling message.  Though the story can be a bit slow at times, there are some great conversations and dialogue throughout that seek to build characters.  However, there were still some missed opportunities to use dialogue to deepen characters just a tad more since this is a character-based story with only a handful of characters.  These missed opportunities are most evident in the middle of the film as it appears to only serve to fill time with montages and somewhat repeated scenes in order to get to the ending.  Though some audiences may not hold on for the end, the conclusion is definitely worth the wait as it contains an unexpected twist combined with a very unique and empowering message that one does not see very often in Christian film.  This ending is very much worth your time, but it would have been even better to see some flashbacks in the middle of the film that helped us to further understand why the characters did what they did and that expanded upon the family of origin issues that were touched on.  This story was clearly written for the excellent ending, so it would have likely been Hall of Fame if the lead-up was more engaging.  Even still, some will find this movie to be worthwhile and interesting.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, the cast of If You’re Gone appears to be well-coached as each cast member does a good job assuming his or her respective role quite well.  Masey McLain is always a great lead, but it might have helped for her to have further support since some cast members come off as a bit weak and detracting from the overall score.  However, emotions and line delivery are above average as a whole, which rounds out this film very well.

Conclusion

The Goodwins have persevered for several years in pursuit of the greatest film, and they have a unique opportunity to create their own source material by writing it before making their own films out of it.  They have always been close to the mark, and with If You’re Gone, they have come even closer.  Production is in a good spot for them, and acting is nearly perfect.  The next step forward for their team is to ensure stronger plots to accompany their great messaging.  Writing stories can be difficult, so it may be a good opportunity to adapt other source material as well since the Christian fiction world is replete with options.  In summary, If You’re Gone is definitely a good film, and the Goodwins are one step away from true greatness.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

2nd Greatest (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In Golden, Colorado, local business owners are tired of homeless people and low-income housing, so they convene a meeting at their local business gathering to discuss how they are going to run all the people they don’t like out of town.  A homeless drunk drifter has become the central focus of the town’s conflict, but the new pastor in town takes an interest in the drunk’s well-being.  He convinces a local police officer who knows most things that are going on to take him around one night so that the pastor can see what is going on in the town he moved to.  From that experience, he is inspired of how to help the hurting all around him by following Jesus’ commandments.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

After a very low-quality production like A Perfect Chord, Kingdom Sight Studios has shown concerted production improvement in 2nd Greatest.  This improvement is evident in good video quality and camera work, as well as good sets, locations, and props.  However, there are a few moments of odd camera angles, shaky recording, and poor lighting, but this is not enough to completely detract from the overall quality.  The soundtrack is mostly intriguing, but the editing could use some upgrading as there is a lot of somewhat loosely-associated content throughout the film.  Moreover, on the whole, this production is above average and meets the basic standards necessary for modern films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As this movie’s plot line is based on a true story, there are a lot of good ideas contained within it, but the many storylines that are included are a bit too disorganized to drive the message home properly.  A lot of the characters need further deepening, and even though some of them have some adequate flashbacks, their dialogue and personalities are not quite there.  The stunted growth of the characters is likely a product of the many random and seemingly unrelated subplots that are included in the film.  Not enough focus is placed on the main homeless character, even though he has a potentially great back story, and this seems to be a product of not being able to go deep enough with the characters.  This problem also produces a cheesy villain (if we even need a ‘villain’ in this type of film) and an overly fake ‘perfect’ pastor character.  Basically, there was plenty of good ideas to work with here that needed a bit more refining before being released.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

There are several inconsistent performances throughout as some cast members are skilled while some are not.  Sometimes the emotions feel forced, but other times, they are fine.  Similarly, line delivery is natural while other times it is too unnatural.  There doesn’t seem to be any consistency with acting coaching, unfortunately.  As a whole, while the acting of this movie is a bit uneven at times, there are enough good performances to keep this section average.

 

Conclusion

Basing movies off of true stories is almost always better than your average inspirational fodder, but when the story is mishandled, its full impact is stunted.  Kingdom Sight Studios made some great strides in 2nd Greatest, especially with production quality, and the real stories of the characters were good ideas to use, but we needed to see more of what the real people were like besides being pawns in a plot.  Thus, like many films, retaining a better screenwriter would have done wonders.  Also, it wouldn’t have hurt to upgrade the acting coaching.  As a whole, it is always good to see improvement from a studio, so it will be interesting to see what they do next.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

The Second Coming of Christ [2018] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The end of the world is nearing, and all of the bees are dying.  Thus, Dr. BEEatrix Cera has been enlisted by the mysterious Chairman of New World Genetics to create the Immortal Bee, an experiment that will causes bees to live forever and produce food that makes humans live forever.  Simple right?  Well, with the food stores running out, even though cancer has been cured by a random Catholic guy who gives food away, the Chairman demands immortality from BEEatrix.  However, at what cost will BEEatrix go to save the world and try to get rid of the dreams of Jesus she keeps having?  What will happen when the end finally comes?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

While it’s clear that time and effort was spent on this independent production, which is evidenced in the good video quality and camera work throughout, this film still seems quite indie.  While the sets, locations, and props are fairly well done and while the soundtrack is intriguing, there is quite a bit of obvious CGI and cheesy animated overlaying throughout this film.  However, audio quality is fine, and the only other issue to point out here is that the editing is quite choppy.  Nevertheless, there is enough effort and funding here to make this an overall above-average production that is reminiscent of the modern productions we see in Christian film today.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

What the world doesn’t need is another half-baked Christian apocalyptic film, but at least The Second Coming of Christ gets past that overused speculative beginning of the tribulation known as the Rapture.  We rarely get a look at the end of the apocalypse in the Christian cinematic universe, but we get that opportunity in this film.  However, it doesn’t deliver at all.  The plot is very incoherent as it is based on flimsy dialogue and very thin and empty characters.  A lot of the end times elements are presented in a very juvenile fashion, and key concepts of this storyline are not well-explained at all as the entire world hangs in the balance waiting for immortal bees to be born.  Umm, what?  Besides this, the villain is very cheesy, and there is a lot of Catholic message-pushing.  There is very little to hold the interest, and this seems more like a regular sci-fi plot rather than and end-of-the-world depiction.  It’s really quite boring, actually.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

The acting of this film is particularly bad as all of the emotions are painfully forced, as if through a sieve, and the cast members are extremely dramatic with their line delivery.  Some cast members, however, are just lackadaisical or clueless.  There is a tiny amount of good here (how did Quinton Aaron get stuck in this movie?), but on the whole, this section wraps up a very poor film effort.

Conclusion

It seems like this movie started off with half of an idea and just tried to run with it without realizing that it was running on fumes and had nothing substantial to show for it at all.  How are films like this even made?  Think of all the projects that get abandoned, but stuff like this one gets put through.  Well, at least we can say there’s never been a Christian film about the bee apocalypse before this one.  There are new ideas being born daily, apparently.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Texas Rein {The Ride Home} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Cassie Roberts receives word that her father is having medical complications, she is forced to return to the small town of Texas she grew up in, the one she tried to get away from.  While back in town, she is reminded of her horse riding days and reluctantly agrees to help her father and his young trainer to train her old horse for a reining competition.  Will she be reminded of what she left behind and of the new life she can start anew?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

While Texas Rein has good standard production elements, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality, there are still some other issues to raise.  The soundtrack is very stock and uninspiring.  The sets and locations are quite limited to a few houses and outside areas and don’t even give off that small town feel.  Finally, the editing is quite poor and causes the film to be very choppy and confusing—just a collection of random scenes.  There are also too many musical montages.  In short, while this movie looks good on the surface, it’s really just an average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

So a character returns to their hometown they don’t want to be in because of some extenuating circumstance and finds a reason to stay (usually a horse is involved) and meets a significant other and so on and so forth.  We’ve seen this plot before and this is a 2016 movie, so why are we seeing it again?  Besides the predictable plot structure, the characters therein are extremely juvenile and simplistic.  The dialogue is typical and full of small town statements.  Nothing really substantial happens as the passage of time is hard to follow.  We can’t feel like these people are real or are doing real things as their unrealistic high school dramas are resolved too easily.  Basically, there’s really nothing good to say here.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

This is really a very poor casting job.  The actors and actresses are awkward, wooden, and robotic in their line delivery.  They don’t express any believable feeling or emotions.  On the bright side, this is possibly Erin Bethea’s best role to date.  But otherwise, this is a big disappointment.

Conclusion

It’s great to want to make a movie, but sometimes you need to take a step back and see if it really is worth marking.  Texas Rein probably would have done better as a short film, to work as sort of a springboard for better things.  With no creative plot content and very weak characters, this was unfortunately not a story worth telling.  Also, it’s great to have production elements down, but having such a poorly coached cast is unacceptable.  Perhaps things will improve in the future.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points