Writer(s): Ben Smallbone, Luke Smallbone, Joel Smallbone, Richard Ramsey
Director(s): Ben Smallbone, Luke Smallbone, Joel Smallbone
Producer(s): Kevin Downes, Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin, Luke Smallbone
Starring: Joel Smallbone, Moriah Peters Smallbone, Josh Smallbone?
Plot Synopsis: A period musical accompanied by an original soundtrack that focuses on three Christmases during the Civil War. The film will depict two brothers fighting on opposite sides in the Civil War.
Every year, movies are released and cast members show off their talents. Writers and directors showcase their creativity. Films are separated into roughly three groups: the truly talented, the potentially great, and the others. At Box Office Revolution, we believe it is our prerogative to annually recognize those movie makers and players who have the ability to bring revolution to Christian entertainment.
James never intended to become a bad man, but he slowly slipped into a destructive lifestyle after his wife tragically died. After losing custody of his daughter and being convicted of crime, James finds himself desperate for cash. He agrees to help a ‘buddy’ out by hauling unknown cargo across the country to an unknown buyer, no questions asked. But just before he reaches his destination, curiosity gets the best of him and he breaks the lock to see what is inside the box truck he has been driving for days. Inside, he finds two young women in squalid condition and is faced with the ultimate moral choice: does he complete the job for the cash or does he break protocol and face consequences?
Production Quality (3 points)
It is refreshing and encouraging that there are new Christian film makers coming onto the scene every year to contribute to a growing army of creative minds ready to redeem the field once and for all. 2016 has been a year for many film makers to try to make their mark, but Priceless stands alone from them all, starting with exquisite production quality. Shot on location (there’s a concept!) with professional camera work and angles, Priceless has all the goods. Video quality is excellent, including diverse lighting done right. Audio quality is flawless and the original soundtrack is an epic breath of fresh air. Sets and locations are extremely realistic; outdoor scenes are executed well. There are no editing problems. There are few times we have an opportunity to say this: there are no production errors in this film. The production is easily one of the best for a rookie effort.
Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)
Unlike the failed Caged No More, which portrays human trafficking in a far-off location away from ‘safe’ America, Priceless shoves the issue in your face—in the middle of small town America and American suburbia. Though the beginning sequence is a bit rushed and the narration is heavy-handed, there are no errors beyond this. The flawed character arcs are inspiring; we really feel like we can relate to the struggles of the characters. Dialogue is effective in building the excellent storyline, as is the use of flashbacks. The plot itself is very gritty and down to earth; there are no unbelievable elements or plot holes. The Christian message is neither in-your-face nor muted, but is presented tastefully. Edgy elements are handled properly. The creators did all they could do with this plot, including a slight plot twist and an appropriate ending. In short, except for some minor rookie errors, this is a plot to be proud of. It not only presents the human trafficking problem to the audience in a realistic way, but it does so with authentic characters and an engaging storyline. We can’t wait to see more from the Smallbones.
Acting Quality (3 points)
Taking a page from the Kendrick\Erwin playbook, the Smallbone team employed acting coaching and it paid off. Though the cast is small, they carry the movie well. In Priceless, Joel Smallbone finally became vindicated for past uninspiring performances that were likely the consequence of poor leadership in those films. Bianca Santos is a very promising actress for the future. Emotions are very believable and line delivery is on point. Costuming is appropriate. In short, there are no errors here.
Priceless receives an x-factor point for presenting a highly important issue in an exquisite manner. While watching this film, I was reminded that this is why we do what we do. Christian film makers who care use their God-given talents to create movies that make a difference in the culture. Similarly, we feel God has called us to critique the Christian creative so that hopefully the field will improve as a whole. Enslaved girls is why we do this. Lost souls is why we do this. Mobilizing activism is why we do this. Making a difference is why we do this. Under such films as Priceless (and other Hall of Fame films) can we unite for a common cause and no longer remember the days of failed low-quality Christian movies. Budding film makers like Ben Smallbone and his team are lighting the way and giving us hope for a new day in Christian film. Since this is how he has debuted, we cannot wait to see what he has to offer next.
Jake Reeson is an aspirational country artist trying to find ‘the big break’ in Nashville. He’s running from a broken family life and checkered past, always thinking that the next gig and the next drink are the answer to his problems. However, when he begins to rediscover loved ones from his past that he thought he left behind, the emptiness of his life is finally exposed and he is left dazed and confused. The only way forward is to determine what he’s going to do with the Christian faith some of his loved ones are trying to introduce him to.
Production Quality (1 point)
Like a Country Song, in keeping with other Skipstone productions, is a real mess that really could have been something. The video quality is clear, but the camera work is shaky. The sets and locations are pretty good, but they could be better. This creative team usually prides themselves in creating innovative soundtracks, and they usually do. In some parts, this soundtrack is quite interesting, but it other parts, it feels shoved down your throat. The live music element is interesting but not used properly, including the stupid title track. Sometimes artistic elements become too abstract and isolate the viewer. Also, editing is very much absent from this film as long staring scenes are allowed to stay and many points are understated. In short, this was a production that had a lot going for it but never found the mark.
Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)
This film is basically an incomplete idea. Focusing on behavioral and family issues is commendable, but not when the characters are underdeveloped and empty. We cannot appreciate the potentially meaningful struggles these characters experience because we cannot connect with them as real people. There is far too much melodrama and not enough redemption. Issues are resolved too easily with no real explanation as to how they were resolved. The little dialogue that is in this film is filled with information dumps and clichés. The timeline of the story jumps all around with no real explanation. On the positive side, there are some slightly creative albeit unfinished spiritual elements in the storyline. But this does not make up for the other issues, especially the very confusing ending. In the end, any meaning that could be derived from this plot is forced upon you and is not conveyed in a redemptive way. It’s just another wasted idea.
Acting Quality (0 points)
In an attempt to build a ‘star-studded’ cast, the production team struck out on quality. For starters, all the makeup jobs are horrible. Cast members either exhibit extreme over the top emotion or monotone nothingness. Too many lines are mumbled. Billy Ray Cyrus really never needs to be cast in the film, as he gives off the appearance of druggie the entire time. Joel Smallbone constantly trying to mask his Australian accent is also annoying and unnecessary. There is really nothing good to highlight here.
Sigh. We have to wonder why this film was not cut or reworked during the storyboard process, if there was one. All we can figure is that they got these ‘big name’ cast members to agree to a vague idea and then ‘had’ to go with it for the sake of making another Christian movie. Redemption plots have huge amounts of potential, as do movies involving original soundtracks. However, these concepts in and of themselves are not enough to carry a film. You need more than this. The day Christian movie makers learn this for good is the day that the entertainment world is finally turned on its ear.
Following the banishment of Queen Vashti from the royalty of Medo-Persia, King Xerses, lonely and confused, takes the advice of his closest advisors and decrees that all the young women be brought to him, given beauty treatments, and then displayed before him so that he can choose a new queen from among them. Among them is a Jewish girl, Hadassah, who had been admonished by her cousin Mordecai to hide her cultural identity from those in the palace. Against all odds, she is chosen to succeed Queen Vashti, just as the wicked advisor Haman is plotting to destroy the Jewish people from the face of the earth. Queen Esther must decide that she must live up to the calling God has put in front of her in order to save an entire race from extinction.
Production Quality (.5 point)
The Book of Esther commits every Biblical movie error in every category, beginning with production. The sets and costuming are very cheap, like this is a children’s church play. It would be one thing if PureFlix did not have the funding to put on a better production, but this is not the case. The camera work and video quality are passable, but the sound quality is very inconsistent. There is really nothing to comment on regarding the editing, either good or bad. In short, the first rule of Bible movies is to create a realistic and high quality setting, including backgrounds, sets, props, and costumes. The Book of Esther does none of this.
Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)
The story of Esther is overused in movies, probably because it is easy to replicate and the plot suits most audiences. But this film is not even a good adaptation—it misrepresents Biblical and historical events and includes unnecessary parts. It seems like the viewer is being insulted and being treated like a child in a bad Sunday school class. The film contains ridiculous over the top characters, more so than usual for a Bible film. The dialogue is overly dramatic, like most Scripture screenplays. There are also creepy undertones and insinuations regarding Haman and his eunuch. A lot of content takes place off screen and this plot generally has no real potential and is even offensive is some ways, thus warranting negative points.
Acting Quality (.5 point)
As a whole, line delivery is horrible and emotion is absent. The acting is either absurd or too theatrical. The only exception is some small acting potential from Joel Smallbone and Jen Lilley, as their talents seem to be wasted on this nonsense. Otherwise, there is unfortunately nothing positive to say.
Needless to say, The Book of Esther is another ruined Bible movie. The audience will learn nothing worthwhile from it except that they probably don’t want to watch anymore films based on Scripture. This movie is the embodiment of why Box Office Revolution feels the need to speak out for quality Christian films and against low quality ones. It feels like PureFlix isn’t even trying when they make movies like this, which further warrants a very low score.