The Visual Bible: Acts (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

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

Acting Quality (2 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Advertisements

Set Apart [2009] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Pastor John Gunn and his wife, who run an inner city kids ministry together, see a need for some teenagers to escape the gang life for the summer, they call upon John’s brother Randy and his wife Heidi to take the teenagers to their ranch out west for the summer.  The teenagers reluctantly agree to go, yet find it hard to change their ways.  However, they soon discover that there is more to life than what the streets are offering them and that God has a specific plan for each of them.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Set Apart is a surprisingly professional production from the studio that brought us Angels Love Donuts.  There are virtually no glaring errors here as video quality, camera work, and audio quality are excellent.  The soundtrack is a bit generic, and there are some montages, but the sets, locations, and props are excellent.  There are also some abrupt and unnecessary cuts, but these small issues are not enough to derail this professional effort.  This film just goes to show what a studio can do if they put their best foot forward, yet it does not explain why production quality decreased in Angels Love Donuts.  Nevertheless, Set Apart is a well-done film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As this story is based on true events and involves the real people, there are clearly a lot of positives here.  There are good attempts to develop the characters through dialogue, but they still need a bit more development, so they are less one-dimensional and are not just stand-ins for issues that need to be covered in this film.  Nonetheless, there are great ideas and messages in this film, even if the conversations of characters tend to be a bit too surface.  It would be nice if there was more substantial content here rather than all of the ‘silly’ scenes and montages.  A little more conflict and character flashbacks\backstories might have been in order as well.  Also, the forced and rushed climax could have been eliminated.  However, on the whole, this is an enjoyable story many audiences will like.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

With a combination of professional cast members and real people playing themselves, this is a well-crafted cast.  It was a great move to have the real characters cast as themselves, and other cast members are equally well-coached.  Emotions and line delivery are great with only a few errors to note.  All in all, this rounds out a very respectable effort.

Conclusion

Films of this rating and caliber should be the norm of Christian film rather than the exception.  Even though this film is somewhat pedestrian, we should have a field of films filled with ones like this one rather than the sea of low-quality nonsense we have to constantly contend with.  Perhaps one day this will be the case.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

The Ride {Rodeo} [1997] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Smokey Banks was one of the best bull riders in the field before he became consumed with alcohol and gambling.  After he finally hits rock bottom by getting himself in trouble, he will have to decide whether or not he wants to go to jail or if he wants to work at a troubled boys ranch teaching the residents how to be cowboys.  One of the boys, much to Smokey’s chagrin, becomes very attached to the fallen athlete and convinces Smokey to teach him how to ride a bull.  Little does Smokey know that his life will be forever changed as a result of coming to the ranch.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For a late 1990s production, in keeping with usual Worldwide Pictures quality, The Ride is at least average, which was good for the time period.  The opening sequence is effective and seems like the most effort was put into it.  Camera work is good for the genre, though video quality is slightly grainy.  Audio quality is fine, but the soundtrack is generic.  Sets, locations, and props clearly had a lot of time put into them to make the film look realistic.  Yet the editing of The Ride is an issue as the film jumps around too much and confuses the audience.  Overall, this movie is passable and will be enjoyable to some audiences.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

This plot is a slightly typical fish-out-of-water plot featuring a spoiled and famous ‘city’ character being forced to live in the ‘wilderness’, yet it is fairly well done.  The characters therein are quite stereotypical, however, and fit into predetermined molds.  There is also not enough plot content as time is used on too many filler scenes.  Nevertheless, most of the dialogue is good and there are attempts to be meaningful.  But in the end, the plot progression is quite predictable, including many expected scenes and a silly romantic subplot.  In short, this is a fine effort, but it comes off a little bit lazy and phoned in.

Acting Quality (1 point)

For a supposedly professional cast, these performances are not what they should be.  There is far too much yelling and emotions are too extreme.  Line delivery is forceful and robotic throughout.  However, performances do improve in the second half of the film, although it is a little late.

Conclusion

Worldwide Pictures had stronger films than The Ride.  This one was perhaps before their prime and before they had fully honed the skills of quality film making.  The good thing is that they did not stay at this lower quality for very long.  But it’s a shame that they stopped making films after Last Flight Out, because, as pioneers in the field, they could have continued to adapt and change and still be a force to be reckoned with.  Perhaps they will once again take up film making as a mode of evangelism one day.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

I’m Not Ashamed: The Rachel Joy Scott Story (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Rachel Joy Scott was an artistic free spirit who longed to change the world.  When her father left the family when she was young, it left her confused and searching for affirmation in her friends.  However, after a spiritual experience one summer while staying with her cousins, Rachel knew she would never be the same again.  But she still struggled with trying to hang out with her old friends, who always tempted her to be like them.  As Rachel tried to discover her true identity, she still felt like she needed to change the world.  In the end, as tragedy hit Columbine High School, she did change the world, and touched many lives in the process.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

This is obviously a talented and dedicated production team, as they went all out to make this movie as realistic as possible.  They stayed true to authenticity with the sets, locations, and props, demonstrating that this was not created lightly.  Video quality, audio quality, and camera work are obviously flawless.  The soundtrack is effective and thought-provoking.  The only detracting factor in this movie is a slight editing issue that is mostly due to having too much content to deal with.  But otherwise, this is a high quality production that shows both the commitment and the skill of those involved.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

We say this all the time—it’s almost always better to portray a real life story in a movie.  With guidance of real events and people, the Rachel Joy Scott story has been thoroughly and effectively brought to life in I’m Not Ashamed.  The characters are highly accessible and relatable, as are the circumstances they experience.  Rachel is a real person with real struggles and real problems, as are the other characters.  The dialogue is excellent and builds strong personalities for the characters.  The only caveat to raise here is the fact that since such a large story was taken on, some parts seem rushed through, but nothing bad enough to ruin this story’s overall point.  The message that is communicated through this plot comes across very well and challenges Christians to live out their faith without compromising.  This is a job well done.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Movies can be made or broken by their casting, but I’m Not Ashamed does not disappoint.  Each cast member fits their character exquisitely.  This is arguably Ben Davies’ best performance to date.  All emotions are realistic and lines are delivered effectively.  Costuming is realistic.  There are no errors here.

Conclusion

It might have been tempting for someone with less than pure intentions to portray Rachel Joy Scott as a perfect saint, but this was not done by this writing team.  She was a teenager who struggled to live out her Christianity, just as many of us do.  Yet though she was surrounded by confusion and turmoil, she made a difference with the short life she had.  Besides being a quality film, I’m Not Ashamed succeeds in communicating this important message.  This is what Christian film should be about, so things are certainly looking up.

 

Final Rating: 8 out of 10 points

 

Last Ounce of Courage (Movie Review)

Make small town religion great again
Make small town religion great again

Plot Summary

When Bob Revere’s son is killed overseas while in the military, he leaves behind a wife and son, along with grieving grandparents.  Bob is the mayor of a small town and he feels like the religious freedom his son fought for is slowly being eroded away as outside legal groups try to remove everything Christmas from the town.  That’s why Bob, along with his grandson and friends, have to fight against the onslaught by taking a stand for religious freedom in their town—even if it means going to the extremes.

 

Production Quality (0 points)

It’s clear that, in keeping with a jillion other films like it, Last Ounce of Courage was forced to happen with no regard for quality.  The production team gave no care to any details—not camera work, not video quality, not audio quality.  There was some effort, however, put into the sets, but they are full of Christmas overload and have that cheesy small town feel.  The editing is fairly choppy and leaves the viewer confused.  Basically, this was a slap-together effort with a clear agenda behind it, as will be discussed next.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-2 points)

Last Ounce of Courage can effectively be rated as total propaganda.  In an attempt to ‘stand up’ for religious freedom supposedly being attacked in a small town, a giant strawman is created.  The issue is portrayed as very one-sided and extreme, even suggesting that perceived attacks on religious freedom are responsible for an insane amount of things, such as societal decay.  Unrealistic situations are posed that force upon the audience the notion that America is in the midst of all-out persecution (it’s not).  Besides this, the plot has an overall zany and off-the-wall feel to it, including bizarre elements that cannot be explained.  Dialogue is mostly contrived and other times eccentric.  There are too many subplots shoved into the storyline, most of which are beyond-Hallmark absurd.  Also, the only African-American characters in the film are the villains.  The ending is forced to be perfect in every possible way, like a child’s movie.  In short, this is an offensive plot deserving of negative points.

Acting Quality (0 points)

The acting is overall mindless and empty, while at times awkward and in-your-face.  Cast members mostly recite their lines as if from a cue card.  Emotions come off as programmed and forced.  Like the production, little care was taken in this area as the propaganda-ridden plot was forced to happen.

Conclusion

Some Christian film makers seem to have a fetish for crafting an us-against-the-world plot themed with religious freedom overtures.  Religious freedom is definitely important, but we find it very hard to believe that the events portrayed in this film have actually occurred in reality.  Crafting this sort of false dichotomy only further deepens the divide between Christians and non-Christians, especially when the latter are portrayed in such offensive ways.  This is not the purpose of Christian film and we hope to never see something like this one again.

 

Final Rating: -2 out of 10 points

 

Time Changer [2002] (Movie Review)

We should go back to the good ole' days...when old white guys ran everything
We should go back to the good ole’ days…when old white guys ran everything
My time machine is far too complex for you to understand
My time machine is far too complex for you to understand
And over here we have an even larger selection of horrid Christian films
And over here we have an even larger selection of horrid Christian films

Plot Summary

The year is 1890.  Dr. Carlisle does the unthinkable and writes a seminary textbook advocating for the teaching of morals apart from Jesus Christ, Dr. Andersen sees fit to stall his vote for the book’s endorsement until Carlisle comes and sees his time machine invention.  When Carlisle finally stops moping around and agrees to meet with the mad scientist, he is roped into travelling through time to the future so that he can learn what supposedly happens when society teaches morals apart from Christ.  What he finds is a shocking new culture he’s not familiar with in many ways.  Will he ever make it back so he can sell his textbook?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Time Changer is one of those films that is very memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.  While the production team should get some slight credit for attempting to dress characters in historically appropriate attire, there are too many other negatives that outweigh the small amount of positive.  For starters, money was wasted building ridiculous time travel contraptions that look like they belong in a 1980s sci-fi film.  The camera work and video quality are okay, but the audio quality is inconsistent, including a very annoying soundtrack.  As usual, the editing is all over the board and is basically just a pasting together of heavy-handed scenes that demonstrate the Christiano brothers’ ridiculous worldview.  Unfortunately, the production isn’t the worst this film has to offer.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

Time travel plots are always going to be a problem.  There’s rarely an instance when this concept can be justified.  But when you merge this mind-bending sci-fi premise with an extreme fundamentalist Christian worldview, disaster occurs.  There is no plot present here, since the Christianos are content to shove their unwanted opinions on the state of humanity in your face at every possible turn.  Who believes that if some crazy professor from the late 1800s discovered time travel, he would use it to ‘solve’ the world’s biggest theological nitpick?  Time Changer is entirely built on the incorrect assumption that the ‘good ole days’ were better, when old white guys made all the decisions, women were not allowed to do anything but sit at home, and religious idolatry reigned.  Thus, the dialogue is chock-full of religious jargon and fundamentalist talking points while at the same time making a mockery of anyone who opposes the assumptions of the writers.  Besides this, in an attempt to be ‘historical’, the dialogue is also overly awkward and cumbersome.  Because of this, the characters are extremely programmed and robotic, just waiting to spew their lingo when the time is right.  There are also subtle racial stereotypes and jabs at modern women’s roles throughout the film.  The ending of the film is borderline bizarre, as it quietly depicts the nutty professor trying to find the ‘end of time’ using his contraption.  Not only do the writers silently let you know that they think the end of time occurs before the year 2050, but they also show disdain for Jesus’ own words in the Scriptures, which state that no one knows the time or day when He’s returning.  In short, there is nothing good about this storyline, and it even goes far enough to be rated in the propaganda category.  It’s purely preaching to a small audience that already agrees with these narrow-minded views and accomplishes little else.

Acting Quality (-1 points)

As can expected, the acting is as outdated as the ideas in this film.  Line delivery is forced and awkward and emotions are not present.  Male cast members are overrepresented while female cast members are painted in a strange light.  As previously mentioned, there are also some subtle racial stereotypes.  But what else is new about this film?

Conclusion

This movie is a wide open window into the disturbing worldview of the Christiano brothers.  In the end, they blame all of society’s ills on Hollywood.  There may be some truth to this, as there are other nuggets of truth buried throughout the sludge of this film.  Immoral Hollywood movies have certainly contributed a great deal to the corruption of society, but the world is always going to do what it does best—recede into sinful entropy.  It is up to the Christians to stop this slide; we cannot expect the world to fix itself and pat us on the back for it.  What people like the Christiano brothers really want is a return to their idea of a comfortably religious society.  But what they don’t realize is that today’s culture is a reaction against that older worldview.  If a white patriarchal religious utopia built on ivory tower theology was the answer to the world’s problems, it would have never ended.  The problem is that those who claimed the name of Christ tainted His Name with their actions, not those who do not claim His Name.  Jesus is the answer for culture’s problems, not some Pharisaical dominion.  And when it comes to movies, if you don’t like what you see, make something better.  So far, Christiano brothers and everyone else who complains about the state of Western culture, you have not produced any movies that are better or more worthwhile than the Hollywood alternative.  So shame on you.

 

Final Rating: -1.5 out of 10 points