MBF: Man's Best Friend (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Paul Landings retired from the military after a disability prevented his further service, so now he works at a dog shelter and takes in dogs who have no homes. However, his practices draw ire from locals, and several troublemakers set fire to his house with the dogs still in it. Affected by PTSD, Landings commits a crime in revenge for his dogs and finds himself embroiled in a lawsuit charged with local politics. Will he be able to be set free from the bondage both in his head and in his life?

Production Quality (2 points)

For the most part, the production of Man’s Best Friend is respectable, including good video, camera, and audio qualities. While the sets, locations, and props are mostly well-chosen, there is some inconsistent lighting in the indoor sets. However, the outside locations are better, and these issues overall improve as the film progresses. Elsewhere, the soundtrack is acceptable, and the editing is a bit odd at types although it is mostly fine. In the end, this is an above average production that could have been a little better due to the year it was made.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

The opening sequences of MBF are a bit of a drag for the viewer since they are drawn out and full of stock footage and vague voiceover that both isolates the audience and wastes valuable time. However, once it gets to the substantial parts of the plot, there are actually some good explorations of how warfare effects people after the military and how one’s life can be greatly altered by the service. Nonetheless, there are a number of problems in this narrative’s character department, beginning with the fact that most of the ‘bad’ characters are total strawmen who hate the main character for no particular reason, are unrealistically anti-military, and are generally annoying. At the same time, the military characters are painted in perfect lights as they create a very odd dichotomy that tries to force the viewer to choose between the importance of a paralyzed character’s life and the lives of dogs that died in a fire. There are either perfect victim characters (though it’s not clear how some of them are actually victims) or highly corrupt small town characters, which is likely realistic in many contexts but is too over the top for this situation. Moreover, the storyline provides both a realistic look at post-war trauma and a hard examination of corruption in small towns, but many audiences may find the premise to be a bit dark and without significant hope or redemption. Elsewhere, the judge seems unnecessarily biased toward the protagonist, and some of the characters attempt to nearly justify the paralysis-inducing crime that is on trial. Dialogue is inconsistently used for information dumps, and a lot of the characters feel unfinished as they tend to crowd each other out for screen time. Also, there is some inappropriate language throughout the plot, and the ending is a bit hard to follow. Overall, much like this creative team’s previous efforts at crafting complex suspense situations (Wild Faith), MBF tries to interest the viewer in legal intrigue mixed with military drama, but there are just too many issues with this concept to justify any points for this section.

Acting Quality (2 points)

While many of the cast members of MBF tend to force their lines and their emotional deliveries in the beginning, the performances as a whole improve as the film progress. The most significantly positive aspect is the fact that DJ Perry posts an extremely memorable and groundbreaking performance as he becomes a character unlike any other he’s previously played and transforms himself for a very difficult role. This element is very impressive and is one of the main bright spots in this otherwise flawed project. Thus, this rounds out an overall above average acting effort that could have been slightly better.

Conclusion

Man’s Best Friend, like many of this creative team’s past projects, had a lot going for it, but it didn’t quite make it past the finish line. Perry, Hagedorn, Teaster, Hornus, and the rest had a lot of momentum following Wild Faith and The Christ Slayer, but MBF tends to blunt this success with its confusing messaging and dark focus. However, Perry’s breakout performance is a key bright spot that gives renewed hope for the future, so it will be interesting to see what this collective produces next.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

The Christ Slayer (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Longinus was raised by the Magi, but he never fully believed the stories they told of the Messiah as he rose through the ranks of the Roman army. he was at the pinnacle of his career, but an injury led to blindness, forcing him out of service. As he languished in darkness with a servant to guide his daily activities, he never dreamed that his life would be forever changed when he helped end a seemingly meaningless crucifixion of the One they called the King of the Jews.

Production Quality (2 points)

Over time, DJ Perry and his creative have definitely improved their production skills as The Christ Slayer demonstrates good camera work, effective camera angles, and professional video quality. The audio quality is also fine for the more part, and the soundtrack is culturally authentic. While the sets, locations, and props are great, the outdoor scenes are better since some of the indoor shots are a bit too dark and disorienting. Some of the editing could have been more consistent and understandable, but on the whole, this production is adequate and shows commitment to improving.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The Quest Trilogy has taken many different turns, and at this point, the ending is better than the beginning. At its inception, some parts were hard to grasp and a bit too abstract, but the unique turn in The Christ Slayer definitely helped things. This is a unique extra-Biblical plot that gives a fresh perspective on the events surrounding the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, and it sports the typical abstractly creative concepts of the CDI team. The spiritual elements from Forty Nights and Chasing the Star are included in this third installment, but they are presented in more accessible fashions. Similarly, the psychological themes of The Christ Slayer are fairly well-utilized, and integration of Biblical accounts is creatively woven together with the main plot. There are a few drawbacks, however, that keep this plot from being all that it could be. For instance, there are quite a few slow scenes that tend to be too artistic such that the audience has trouble understanding them, and some of the characters’ dialogue is a bit archaic and drawn-out. There are some expository conversations that replace better character development, and sometimes, the Jesus character is a bit too ethereal and inaccessible, but as a whole, this is a fine Easter plot that demonstrates unique storytelling.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Probably the brightest spot of this film’s cast is the awesome idea to cast a special needs cast member in a role that doesn’t over-emphasize his condition. Treating him as a regular actor is a huge step forward for disability rights, so this creative team’s decision to do this shows a deeper care for inclusion in the arts. Elsewhere in this cast, some of the main cast members are good while some could use more efficient coaching to avoid being too theatrical and dramatic. As a whole, the acting is average, but it could have been better if emotions were more accessible. In the end, The Christ Slayer is a good end to the Quest Trilogy.

Conclusion

DJ Perry and company have a lot going for them, so it will be interesting to see how they will be able to collaborate with other talent in the future. Throughout their careers, they have only gotten better as they have adapted and changed, which is encouraging to see. Sometimes trilogies end worse than they begin, so since the Quest Trilogy has ended on a good note, this will hopefully be a springboard to better things in the future for CDI entertainment.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Wild Faith (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After the Civil War, Emmett returned to his hometown to take care of the widow of one of his fellow troops in order to fulfill a promise he made.  Emmett and his son live with the African-American widow and her daughter, which causes them extra scrutiny in the corrupt small town they live near.  Emmett’s father-in-law, the local pastor, is against him, as are several other colorful characters.  Everything comes to a head one day when the circus train breaks down in the forest and unwittingly releases wild beasts into the woods.  The children are caught in the middle of the animal escape and a kidnapping plot aimed at hurting Emmett, and it will take wild faith to overcome to dark night before them.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For years, DJ Perry, Shane Hagedorn, and their team have struggled with poor production quality and overly artistic attempts.  However, while the artistry is still present in Wild Faith, a higher production level has finally been achieved.  This is evidenced by great camera work and video quality even in the realistic and complex war scenes.  There are great action shots, as well as historically authentic sets, props, and locations.  Audio quality is also great, and the soundtrack is creative.  The only nitpick to raise here relates to some slightly confusing editing, but this is a small issue compared to the great improvement that has been shown here.  Perry and Hagedorn have proven that never giving up and working to improve pays off in the end.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Though the beginning of this plot is a bit disorienting at first, if you stick with it, things begin to make more sense.  Where the characters are a bit raw at first, they become more realistic as time progresses with the exception of the cheesy villains.  Some of the dialogue is a bit vague at times, but there are also some good conversations throughout that reveal character motive, which is a rarity to find in Christian film.  The overall plot structure of this film is fairly unique and creative as it effectively uses flashbacks and other psychological elements to keep things interesting.  This story is a great attempt to be different rather than the typical inspirational fodder, but there are some opportunities for improvement especially in the areas of character refinement and storyline organization.  Some of the dialogue is a bit obvious at times, but Wild Faith takes an honest look at corrupt small town Christianity and the pain of racism after the Civil War.  Overall, this film shows a lot of potential in this team.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Surprisingly, the acting of this movie is also fairly good.  This DJ Perry character is likely his best performance to date.  Shane Hagedorn starts out a bit rough at first, but his character is a slow burn and begins to refine as it goes on.  The villain cast members are fairly poor and drag down this score, and there are a few overdone emotional moments, but on the whole, this is a good acting performance that caps off a suprisingly enjoyable film.

Conclusion

We always look for improvement across films, and we are always glad when Christian film makers don’t give up and continue to try things.  Experience is hopefully going to lead to improvement, as is listening to constructive criticism.  The Perry and Hagedorn team has wandered in the film wilderness for a few years now, from Ashes of Eden to 40 Nights and Chasing the Star.  To be honest, I did not have high hopes for Wild Faith when it was first sent to me, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Whether or not this film becomes a series, it is clear that this creative team has a lot of potential in front of them, so it will be interesting to see what they produce next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Chasing the Star (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Prompted by the celestial sign of the star, three Magi set out from their homeland to the land of Israel to discover the promised Messiah.  Each of them had their own backstory and struggles and they faced many trials and roadblocks along the way, mostly the attempted sabotage of the evil King Herod.  They also experienced spiritual warfare and spiritual awakening as a result of their journey across the desert, and they were never the same again.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though there are a lot of attempts in Chasing the Star to be a professional production, there are also some issues that hold it back from being all that it could be.  Video quality and outdoor lighting are great, but there is some random shaky cam for dramatic effect that puts a damper on things.  However, audio quality is fine and the soundtrack is intriguing.  Outdoor locations are very well constructed and utilized, yet indoor sets and props are cheap-looking and limited.  Finally, the editing makes the film very disorienting and confusing as the plot jumps all around.  In the end, this is a good effort, but it seems like more could have been done.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

As previously mentioned, this story tends to jump all over the place in a very confusing fashion that leaves the audiences isolated.  There is also a lot of cryptic, archaic, and even cumbersome dialogue that causes the characters to come off as stuffy and Shakespearean.  A lot of content is also very vague and hard to understand, although there are some interesting psychological elements.  This story tends to be overly artistic, but the use of spiritual elements is better than that of Forty Nights, even if they are still portrayed as too dramatic and sensational.  It’s great to explore spiritual warfare, but not enough time is spent on real and meaningful content, although there are some good attempts to develop the Magi through flashbacks.  Yet it’s still hard to access them as people due to their dialogue.  However, the last ten minutes of this film improve a lot and almost make the experience worthwhile.  Nonetheless, there are still a lot of improvements to be made here.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Similar to Forty Nights, some of these cast members act downright creepy, while others are simply too dramatic or too stuffy in their delivery.  There are too many reminders of a Bible play in this film, yet there is sometimes okay acting, especially from Garry Nation.  The costuming is a bit unusual at times, but it tends to work.  Overall, much of this movie is a mixed bag.

Conclusion

Chasing the Star is another unfortunate waste of an interesting idea.  We desperately need creative Bible stories that are focused on spiritual and psychological elements, but not like this.  They need to have slightly improved production and deeper character development in order to be worthwhile.  Yet DJ Perry and his team appear to be improving with each film they make, so it’s possible that they are on the verge of something great.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points