Saul: The Journey to Damascus (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After the Resurrection of Jesus, the Jewish religious leaders sought to stamp out all remaining traces of those who followed Him.  However, they were largely unsuccessful at stopping the spread of the Gospel right under their noses, so they employed a radical in their midst named Saul to lead the charge of ending the teachings of Jesus once and for all.  Though he had success at first, Saul slowly changed until he was shocked by his Damascus road experience and his life was completely turned upside down.  Then he proceeded to turn his world upside down, even as his former employers tried to kill him.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

John Patus, along with the Leif Films team, has had an up and down career mostly marked by apocalyptic failures (literally).  Yet he and the Leif Films team seem to work relatively well together in Biblical productions.  Although there is some randomly shaky camera work in this film, video quality is great and audio quality is professional, including an interesting soundtrack.  However, there are some odd and unnecessary special effects that put a damper on things.  The outdoor locations are quite good, even if the indoor sets and props need some work.  Finally, the editing of this film is inconsistent, although it’s not all bad.  In the end, this is an average production that definitely has room for improvement, yet it is a good effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Though there is unnecessary narration at first, it subsides and allows the story to unfold naturally.  Saul: The Journey to Damascus is actually an honest and accurate depiction of historical events that does not allow the extra-Biblical content to clutter things.  The Biblical characters are relatively well-developed and are real people that can be related to.  The main things that hold this plot back from being perfect are one too many slow and seemingly unnecessary scenes that put a drag on things.  Sometimes dialogue is good, but other time it just seems to fill time.  The ending is very effective and appropriate.  In the end, this is a very refreshing plot in a market that usually produces such poor storylines.  It gives great hope for the future of Biblical film.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Acting is a mixed bag as the costuming is historically authentic, yet not many of the cast members are culturally accurate.  Some are British, while others are American or Canadian, but we know how difficult it is to cast Biblical films properly.  However, though this cast has plenty of talent and potential, some members need to coached a little better.  But overall, this is a mostly a job well done.

Conclusion

It’s refreshing to have a film that’s not across the board terrible, especially a Bible film.  It’s rare to have a film that has as many bright spots as this one, yet does not go all the way and reach Hall of Fame status.  Yet nonetheless, this is a film to be proud of and one to build off of.  It offers a Biblical film model that can be replicated and improved in the future.  Thus, it’s definitely worth a watch.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

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Johnny [2010] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Johnny is a foster boy with cancer who sees it as his mission to show people the truth and love of God even though he is suffering.  When he encounters Dr. Carter, little do they know that both of their lives will be changed forever as a result.  Dr. Carter and his wife are still hurting from the death of their young son, and though they are not ready to believe that Johnny could offer healing for them.  However, God has other plans for all of them.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

In keeping with most recent PureFlix productions, Johnny is most fine.  Video quality is on standard, but there are some unexplainable moments of shaky camera work.  Audio quality is mostly what it should be, but the soundtrack is extremely uninspiring and sometimes it seems like the audio is overdubbed.  Sets, locations, and props are professional.  However, there are far too many montages in this film that serve as a crutch for actual content.  Thus, the editing work is poor.  Overall, this is an average production that should have been better than this, considering the funding it had.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though there is a somewhat good message behind Johnny, there is far too much melodrama that distracts from it.  It is very difficult to connect with the struggles of the characters because they come off as very manufactured and plastic.  The main character is very cheesily sappy and perfect, almost to the point of embarrassment.  A lot of the dialogue from all the characters is very obvious and forceful in moving the plot along rather than developing the characters.  Thus, the story follows a predictable progression that is obvious from the start.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with the plotline itself, the way it is presented and the lack of authenticity really derails this film.  Also, things are fixed too easily, which doesn’t really help us learn anything.  In the end, these sorts of movies are very formulaic and are unfortunately designed to make money.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Though this cast is intended to be professional, there is really no coaching present.  While it is not all bad, there are far too many over the top emotions and yelling sequences.  Everything is overly dramatic, which makes for a very distracting experience.  This is not the way to make a meaningful film.

Conclusion

Johnny is one of those films that uses a generic and predictable plot structure to churn out a made-for-bookstore film that can be easily sold on the shelves.  It contributes nothing to the field and only serves the purpose of generating revenue for the production company.  A few weeks after the release, it is totally forgotten and eventually turns up in the cheap Walmart bins and in thrift stores.  Christian film should not be about profit ventures, even though PureFlix has done this for about a decade now.  However, hopefully that tide is turning.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Me Again (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Richie Chaplin is a mess.  He’s struggling to convey meaning in his pastoral ministry.  His wife has separate from him due to his depression and sleepwalking, taking their three children with her.  His two younger children don’t even know who he is.  His older daughter is messing around with a boy.  Basically, Richie doesn’t want to be himself anymore.  He wants somebody else’s life because his life stinks.  He’s forgotten the original purpose God created him for, so he’s about to embark on a wild journey outside of his control to remind him why he is living the life he is living.  In the end, he will have to decide whether or not he likes the life God has given him or if he is going to make one of the biggest mistakes of his life.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

To their credit, at least PureFlix invested in better camera quality than usual for this film.  The sound quality is also fine, but these are the only positive aspects of the production of Me Again.  Throughout this zany drug trip into the creative faculties of David A. R. White and Tommy Blaze, the camera angles can get dizzying, confusing, and downright amateurish in their attempt to be dramatic or comedic.  Cheesy horror effects are inserted randomly and out of context.  Low-quality special effects are overused and invasive.  The surroundings are painfully obviously reused from Marriage Retreat, suggesting that this movie was borne out of that film’s B-rolls.  Finally, all editing sense is thrown out the window as the plot tosses hither and fro with no system or consistency, like they’re just throwing stuff up against the wall to see what happens.  Overall, Me Again feels like an experimental film that either accidentally got released or was released to try to glean desperately needed funds.  Either way, it doesn’t work.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Few screenwriters venture to create a psychological comedy, and Me Again may stand as a testament as to why.  The plot of this film is extremely hard to nail down.  After watching an unusual sequence on television two nights in a row, David A. R. White is suddenly transported into an alternate universe in which he gets to become a random rich guy, a model he saw on TV, a goldfish (?!?!), an infant, a housemaid, the teenage boy trying to date his daughter, and finally his own wife.  The only real explanations that are offered for this potentially interesting psychological journey are vague and trite inspirational quotes from an offbeat angel character he should have already known about (more on that shortly).  The leaps from one impersonation to the next are not only painfully horrible at trying to be funny, but also leave no room for real character development.  The dialogue is horrifically childish and often feels adlibbed and impromptu.  Yet somewhere in the midst of histrionic displays from A. R. White, including a fake (or not) heart attack, a purposeful makeup disaster, voiceovers for a goldfish and an infant, generally idiotic behavior, self-parodies, and an epic conversation with himself in the alternate universe (perhaps his acting dream), there is some interesting meaning hidden here.  If someone was able to ‘walk in someone else’s shoes’, then they would view life a lot differently.  But this potential meaning is covered up due to time wasted on downright stupidity.  This goes without saying that, in keeping with usual White themes, everything is too black and white.  ‘Good’ characters are obviously perfect and wise while ‘bad’ characters are complete over the top strawmen, bringing more disgrace to how people think Christians view ‘worldly’ people.  Also, solutions to problem are far too easy, trite, and shallow, and offer no real help for people struggling with the real issues presented.

But perhaps the worst element of this entire plot is found in the unusual sepia tone flashback prologue and epilogue.  It’s so devastating that it warrants a Box Office Revolution first: a separate paragraph of discussion.  The prologue and epilogue are presumably supposed to depict Richie and his wife as childhood sweethearts drinking honeysuckle tea (whatever that is).  The epilogue completely undermines the purpose of the plot and suggests that it’s all one big joke.  Either that or PureFlix is full of incompetence (probably a little of both).  Richie’s wife, as a girl, tells him that she knows they’ll be married one day because the specific angel he later sees on television and has a conversation with in the midst of his psychological adventure told her so.  If this is the case, then he should have known what was happening when he recognized the name of the angel.  Another alternative possibility is that the entire middle of the movie is just part of the girl’s dream, which suggests that the entire movie is useless.  Whatever the case is, this plot is so slipshod and incompetent that we can’t make heads or tails of it.  All we know is that it’s an experience we’ll both never forget and never wish to repeat.

Acting Quality (0 points)

As usual, the Whites and their comrades have no restraint or direction in their acting but are content to blurt out lines in ‘funny’ fashions and lazily act their way through another cheap movie full of one-take scenes and adlib behavior.  No emotional meaning can be felt here because the acting is so absurd, especially David A. R. White’s zany impersonations of other characters and Tommy Blaze’s generally bizarre behavior.  In short, another zero point acting job is business as usual for PureFlix.

Conclusion

If anything was accomplished through this unique experience, it was that a movie like this has never been made before and should never be made again.  Unfortunately, any attempt at deeper meaning is so shallow that’s easily washed over with a tide of absurdity.  Many elements of this movie seem to suggest that the Whites and company have no grasp on the real world, as they treat important issues too lightly and portray people has completely good or completely bad.  It seems like the only purpose of Me Again is to make fun of everything, including themselves, and to waste another good idea.  The one merit PureFlix has is an acceptance of creating different types of movies, but in most cases, like this one, they ruin the reputation of Christian movies in unique genres.  This is not to mention the fact that Me Again is just another film that makes the name ‘Christian film’ more of a laughingstock.  At some point, the creation of this type of nonsense must end and Christian filmmakers must get serious about generating quality content if we are ever going to make a true difference.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

Revelation Road 3: The Black Rider

Plot Summary

Two years after the Rapture, the enigmatic Josh McManus has a mission to do good and to right wrongs, even when it seems like evil is winning.  His latest mission takes him to a strict and legalistic settlement that tolerates no crime in order to gain medical attention for an injured girl.  In exchange for both of their lives, Josh must carry out a dangerous mission: search for a mysterious and troublemaking vagrant known as the Shepherd and bring him back so the settlement leader, Drake, can exchange him to his superiors for more life saving supplies.  In route to searching for the Shepherd, Josh and his unwanted tagalong, Sofia, must battle multiple villains and come to grips with what they truly believe about Jesus and His plan for the world.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Despite previous production struggles, Bradley Dorsey and Gabriel Sabloff have greatly improved this franchise.  The camera work improves dramatically in The Black Rider, as does the sound quality.  The surroundings and sets are innovative and creative.  Gone are ridiculous special effects, including that weird lightning!  This would have been a stellar production were in not for a collection of small issues—no doubt White influences.  For example, the CGI that is used is very amateurish.  Action scenes are overall not produced well, and there are too many of them, which is an editing problem.  The scope of the plot is so vast that precious time does not need to be wasted on silly fight scenes.  Yet these such portions squeezed out the deepening of plot creativity.  Nonetheless, this is the type of production that Pureflix has been trying to stab in the dark for years.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The abysmal non-plot of The Beginning of the End seems like a distant memory after viewing The Black Rider.  There is a unique psychological edge to this plot and creative concepts that give the film deeper meaning beyond car chases and gunfights.  An entire new cast of characters is introduced, and it actually works.  A new world is introduced two years after The Sea of Glass and Fire, and it’s better than before.  But this new world is a double-edged sword—it’s too big for the scope of this film.  If more of this world had been explained in The Sea of Glass and Fire, we would have a framework to understand, but this did not happen.  Foreign plot devices such as the ominous ULC are forced upon viewers without explanation.  However, the city-state government system works well in this apocalyptic setting and gives the movie that epic backdrop David A. R. White has been searching for.  Moreover, there are other speculative concepts that are introduced and not fully explained.  Yet the gospel message is philosophically communicated far better than ever before in a Pureflix movie, and all without forcing the message down the audience’s throats.  There is unfortunately still wasted time on childish fighting scenes.  The escapades of Josh McManus, a surprisingly good character, border on unrealistic and sometimes coincidental.  Some of the many villains in this movie are laughable, while others are believable.  Each character is crafted through mostly effective dialogue.  The ending of this plot is also a double-edged sword: it both introduces a key psychological element and confuses the audience.  It both isolates the viewer and makes them want more.  Any further discussion is beyond the scope of this review, but the bottom line is Dorsey and Sabloff really have something going here, something that needs to be continued.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Hands down, The Black Rider is David A. R. White’s best acting work to date.  Bradley Dorsey also contributes an excellent role to the film, perhaps his best.  Unfortunately, there is still some cheesy acting from certain cast members.  Kevin Sorbo in a thrift store disaster getup and sporting a fake insert-ethnicity-here accent is just too much to bear.  Action acting is still B-grade.  Other small issues plague an otherwise great casting job, such as that dumb sheet the Shepherd wears.  Otherwise, costuming is fairly responsible.  Line delivery is sometimes effective and sometimes forced.  Emotions are mostly believable.  In short, everything about this film is give and take: for every cheesy element, there is an excellent element, and vice versa.

Conclusion

The Revelation Road saga is a cinematic freak of nature—a film franchise with a redemption arc of its own that closely mirrors the rise of Josh McManus, the surprising crowning achievement of David A. R. White’s acting career.  Nonetheless, The Black Rider is a constant tug of war between the C-grade action of The Beginning of the End and the psychological creativity of The Sea of Glass and Fire.  The third installment suffers from the wasted time of the first two installments, where this time could have been used to build a better backstory instead of shoving in all into one movie, intending to fix a broken series in one stroke.  But The Black Rider is proof that broken sagas can be fixed.  Therefore, we are surprisingly anticipating the release of Revelation Road 4.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points