The Pilgrim’s Progress: The Journey Begins

The Pilgrim’s Progress

Plot Summary

The famous tale by John Bunyan now comes to life in animated form for the first time. Join Christian as he embarks on a daring quest to the Celestial City that will ultimately test his faith and endurance as he fights through each new challenge the enemy brings him in attempt to dissuade him from the path of righteousness.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

The overall production of this movie is unique and fairly well done – minus a few imperfections. One main imperfection is that most scenes are overall quite choppy and transitions are awkward. Not to mention that some scenes (especially close up staring scenes) go on for a little too long. For the most part though, as already mentioned, the animation quality is actually quite good, especially scenes involving nature. As for music quality, it’s not bad but it seems a little inconsistent. For example, it’s either too overpowering or too drowned out by extra background noises. However, these are all fairly minor issues because there is always room for improvement in nearly every film. This being said, Pilgrims Progress The Journey Begins certainly has a lot more to offer (production wise) than most Christian animated movies with just a few things that could be improved upon in a production sense.

Plot & Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The film started out with a creative outlook on the town where the main character resides, which made one think that they were going to modify the plot in a more creative/modern way. However, they sort of overlooked this idea and continued with an edited version of the original storyline. This being said, even though they did cut out a lot of the story (obviously for the sake of time) it still seems like they tried to cram too much in a film with a medium-length run-time. This goes back to the choppy production work – not to say that the plot and storyline quality is not good, it just would have been more interesting if they had restructured the plot a little bit more. The writers didn’t need too completely change the original plot, but create a few different outlooks on things like they did with some scenes already. For example, the beginning, as mentioned, and one other very interesting outlook on the story was the Legality hill scene. This scene in particular was probably the most creative scene in the movie. Another main imperfection in the storyline was that each scene seemed very different from each other, as if they were all written at different times or by different people. These factors cause the storyline to not flow very well. All of these issues and positive qualities are why it receives said points.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The acting quality in this movie is somewhat mediocre at best. The beginning of the film is especially rough in this area. The mayor/superior’s assistant is quite cringe worthy, even during his very short appearance in the film. The acting seems to get slightly better as the movie progresses, and it is also quite apparent throughout the film that most of the characters are played by the same voice actors (meaning John Rhys-Davies in particular). This is not really a problem though because it does workout in the end considering John Rhys-Davies is good at what he does and this method will always save space on the budget. The one main drawback of the casting is that the main character (Christian) is a bit annoying at times – it is mostly tolerable but could be better. Overall, the acting quality is one of the the main drawbacks to the film. We should certainly like to see these filmmakers spend more time on this aspect in future films.

Conclusion

In conclusion, all said menial problems noted about this film don’t really matter that much in the end as long as the main point is established and that point is the gospel message. Although a higher production, acting and storyline quality would definitely help to get this point along more effectively, as long as it reaches individuals and families for Christ that is all that matters. This being said, Pilgrims Progress: The Journey Begins is a great movie for children and families to watch because it doesn’t treat children like they are dumb – like so many animated christian films do – and doesn’t completely lose the interest of adults.

final rating 5.5 points out of 10 points

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Joseph and Mary (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Joseph was tasked with being the earthly father of Jesus, the Messiah, while Mary was chosen to be the biological mother of the Savior.  However, they were just ordinary people who wanted to follow what the Lord wanted for them.  They watched as Jesus grew up before their eyes, and they were also apparently preoccupied with the life of a random rabbi who was their friend.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a new Bible production, Joseph and Mary is mostly respectable.  It’s clear that care was given to the authenticity of the production, even though the sets are somewhat limited and reused a lot.  Nevertheless, props are appropriate, and the outdoor locations are great.  This film checks all the typical boxes of good video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is adequate.  The only other problem to raise is the choppy editing that poorly handles the large amount of content in this movie.  But in the end, John Patus and the others at Leif Films are definitely improving over the years.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

So you want to make a movie about Joseph and Mary, yet you decide to use at least half of the runtime depicting an otherwise interesting story about a fictional rabbi who shadowed Jesus in the Lord’s early years.  This is a fine idea, but why not make the movie primarily about the rabbi?  Joseph and Mary are almost supporting characters in this story.  There is also unnecessary narration that hurts character development.  The healthy construction of the characters is also hindered by the rapid passage of time that follows the same characters as they keep meeting in the same places over several time periods.  There is also a tendency to hit the high points of the story rather than to settle down and let us get to know them as people.  The stoic and overly formal dialogue certainly does not help.  However, this film is an interesting perspective on the early years of Jesus through the eyes of a flawed and accessible character that is not Joseph or Mary.  Yet this good idea is somewhat soured by the strange ending sequence that leaves the audience wandering what this movie is supposed to teach us.  In the end, the Leif Films team is usually closed to good things, as evidenced in The Apostle Peter: Redemption, but they can’t seem to get there.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, there is not much good to say about the acting of this film.  For one thing, it is very poorly cast and lacks authentic cultural cast members.  Kevin Sorbo, a generic white guy, really has no business playing Joseph, besides the fact that he is awkward in this film.  Rather than being too BRITISH, this cast is too American.  The costuming is also somewhat cheesy, yet there are a handful of good moments that keep this section from being nothing.

Conclusion

Bible films are almost always problematic.  If the production isn’t a problem, it’s the casting.  If not that, then the plot suffers.  There are so many variables that have to be aligned in a Biblical film; after all, they are historical accounts.  Thus, they needed to be treated with more care.  We can’t have any more of these Bible plays coming out because even Christian audiences are getting tired of that.  We need dynamic authenticity, but perhaps the Leif Films team will keep trying and find the mark one day.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

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

 

The Apostle Peter: Redemption (Movie Review)

A creeper

Plot Summary

The Apostle Peter followed Jesus zealously once he was called, but when faced with the darkest hour in history, Peter fell away and denied that he even knew his Lord.  Yet after His Resurrection, Jesus forgave Peter and made him the head of His church.  All his life, Peter sought to never forsake Christ again, so when faced with martyrdom, he only wanted to please his Lord and witness to those around him—even a skeptical Roman soldier who was seeking the truth.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Productions PureFlix has had a hand in are usually average or above, as is the case with The Apostle Peter: Redemption.  However, we can’t help but feel that there could have been more here.  While all the typical elements—camera work, video quality, audio quality, and soundtrack—are okay for the most part, it feels like this production isn’t going the extra mile.  This is mostly demonstrated by fake looking sets and locations that are actually quite limited.  Some historical authenticity is present, but it seems too plastic.  The editing is fine, but leaves sometime to be desired.  In short, this is just a standard production that seems slapped together; it could have been better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

With themes similar to Apostle Peter and the Last Supper, this plot is very slow to develop and hard to follow.  Not much happens as unfeeling characters have boring and stiff conversations filled with stilted theatrical dialogue and discourses on obscure Roman politics.  We can’t feel like these characters are real or relatable people since they act like they stepped out of one of those horrid 1980s Bible movies.  They don’t really do anything except ramble on and pretend like things are happening.  The only redeeming qualities here are the okay use of flashbacks and the interesting end that is slightly meaningful if you make it that far.  Otherwise, this story is a big disappointment.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

This film is poorly cast, and even though it stays away from the BRITISH errors, the cast members are still not historically authentic.  The costuming also seems fake and cheaply made.  The actors and actresses are stoic and robotic in their line delivery and unfeeling in their emotions.  John Rhys-Davies is the only exception here, as he is always the same in every movie he’s in.  As a side note, Stephen Baldwin seems like he’s in his natural habitat, since he’s as creepy as ever and exhibits random unwanted outbursts.  But basically, this is a mess.

Conclusion

It’s commendable to create Biblical films, but once again, this is not the way to do it.  This is an interesting look at the latter life of a Bible character, but the storyline simply does not hold the attention and seems disingenuous.  It’s hard to believe that this wasn’t just a movie thrown together for the sake of having a Bible movie.  We implore film makers to put effort into their work and to not create half-measures.  It is simply not worth it.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Return to the Hiding Place (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As the Nazis strengthened their grip on the Netherlands, the brave Ten Boom family and their accomplices—a secret army of teenagers and college students—worked tirelessly to undermine the evil work of the Third Reich.  From hiding Jews and sympathizers to tracking Nazi movements to distributing illegal material to springing prisoners, the ragtag force was constantly doing something to resist the evil.  But when they are stretched to their furthest point and feel like all hope is lost, they will have to dig deep and determine what really matters most.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

From start to finish, it is evident that the Spencer family and their team are dedicated to high quality productions.  It was ambitious of them to choose a difficult historical setting to portray, but they delivered exquisitely.  Each set, location, and prop is perfectly crafted for realism.  Video quality is excellent and camera work is effective in building suspense.  Audio quality has no flaws and the soundtrack is epic.  The only nitpick to raise here is some minor editing problems, probably due to the nature of this large-scale story.  But in the end, this is a top-notch production that will take them places in the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

We always say that when it comes to movies, true stories are usually better than fiction.  Return the Hiding Place is an example of this.  Though the historical topic is very large and difficult to handle, it is handled almost perfectly.  Though there are many subplots, a common thread weaves them together to forge a true historical epic.  The characters are many, but they are believable and authentic.  Real, even hard, life is portrayed effectively.  The ending is powerful and drives the point home.  The biggest issue to raise here is the constant and seemingly unnecessary narration throughout.  While the dialogue therein is great, we would have liked to see more showing than telling.  But otherwise, this is a plot to behold and one you don’t want to miss out on.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Much thought was put into making this cast historically and culturally authentic, from costuming to accents.  Each character is cast excellently.  Line delivery is very much on point and emotions are real and believable.  The only compliant to raise here is some minor accent issues, but it’s not enough to detract too much.  In short, like every aspect of this film, it’s a job well done.

Conclusion

Return to the Hiding Place receives half of an x-factor point for portraying an important issue by properly connecting with audiences in multiple ways.  This is the sort of film we should see over and over again produced from Christian entertainment.  It’s high quality, plot-heavy, and well-cast.  Money was clearly spent wisely to make this film the best it could be, and it paid off.  The Spencer family and their team are truly talented, so we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 8 out of 10 points

 

Full disclosure: We were provided by the creator with a copy of this film in exchange for a fair and honest review

One Night With the King {The Call of Destiny} (Movie Review)

 

This costume is awfully heavy
This costume is awfully heavy

Quick! I need more eyeliner!
Quick! I need more eyeliner!

Plot Summary

The story of Esther is a Cinderella story of the ancient world.  Ordered by the king to audition to be his new queen, the young Hadassah, a devout Jewess, is reluctant to go.  Her uncle Mordecai encourages her to go in the Lord’s strength, but to conceal her Jewish identity for her safety.  Forced to undergo a year of beauty treatments before seeing the king, Esther forms a bond with the eunuch in charge of the process, who quickly discovers that she is different from the other girls.  But little does Esther know that she is about to be swept up into a bigger plan to save her people—a plan that only Yahweh could orchestrate.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

In the era of Fox Faith, money was certainly spent on some aspects of production, such as camera work and video quality.  The audio quality is also passable, and the soundtrack is slightly intriguing.  However, there are many other negative production elements that detract from this, such as weird special effects.  While time is obviously spent on the sets, locations, and props, there is an air of great extravagance in every part of this production.  Everything is taken to an ornate extreme; over-decoration clutters the sets.  This is a unique problem as they spent their money in the wrong ways.  As for the editing, it is also overdone in an attempt to be very dramatic.  Some scenes are replayed over and over again from different angles, just for dramatic flair.  Many scenes drag on too long, trying to drive a theatrical point home.  As will be covered next, time is spent in all the wrong ways.  While the funds were obviously present to make this a great production, they were grossly misappropriated.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

For starters, narration is used far too much to fill the gaps of this plot that the writers did not feel like filling with substantial content.  As previously mentioned, some portions of the storyline are rushed while others have too much time spent on them.  The historical account of Esther is altered in some ways for the convenience of the plot, even though the two-hour runtime proves they have no time constraints.  Instead, the writers crowd out real content with embellishment and the frivolous pursuit of meaningless subplots.  Trivial asides that have nothing to do with the original story are given far too much screen time.  Though there is some positive to find here in the complexity of the storyline, it is far too complex to the point that it cannot be easily understood.  Petty and unimportant events are portrayed as extremely dramatic as the writers squeeze forced drama out of everything.  The dialogue is empty and confusing, thus creating bland and mindless characters.  This is such a disappointment because the resources were here to make a truly great movie, but they were greatly squandered.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

We are all for casting unknowns, but with the money this team had to spend, couldn’t they have found a more professional cast?  The acting is very empty and it seems like no coaching is present.  Some lines are over-pronounced and over-enunciated, while others are mumbled.  Emotions are not believable but instead are over-dramatized.  But the money was spent on other things, of course, such as over-the-top makeup jobs.  Most of the main characters have a different extravagant costume for every scene.  The one positive to note here is that at least the cast is mixed-race rather than all British, but that’s about it.

Conclusion

Branded as a Biblical epic, One Night With the King had the tools available to it to be truly great.  Had the money been spent properly, we could be placing this film on the Hall of Fame.  Had the complex plot been honed better and the historical elements been properly handled and portrayed, we would be applauding this effort rather than denouncing it.  The lesson that can be learned from this experience is that it’s not the money you have, it’s how you spend it.  Just throwing money at a production doesn’t cut it.  It takes true talent to spend money wisely and know when to stop.  Yet frugality was not a word in this creative team’s vocabulary.  Next time, stop trying to impress us with shining objects and focus on substance.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Escape [2012] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Following a tragedy in their lives, doctors Paul and Kim Jordan decide that it’s time for a change of scenery.  Therefore, they accept an opportunity to leave their American comfort behind in order to serve a struggling medical clinic on the streets of Thailand.  All seems well until Paul follows a mysterious local boy in order to help a patient unable to come to clinic, only to find himself captured by local traffickers in need of his medical expertise.  Separated from his wife, who begins to beg the local authorities for help, Paul seeks moral from his fellow captor, who brings him face to face with the God he has been running from all his life.  Together, they must not only plan to escape with their lives, but they must contend with the problem of suffering and how God works in the world.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For a modest budget, Escape boasts plenty of positive qualities.  The camera work is above average, as is the video and sound quality.  Though the sets are slightly limited, they are authentic and the crew did good with what they had.  The action scenes are well-produced and do not give the appearance of a cheap production.  The only caveat here is some indie-ish elements that are very minor and easy to pass over.  In short, there is nothing flashy here, but the production quality is solid.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Escape explores a genre that is unfortunately often unique to Christian films: suspense adventure.  It would have been easy for the plot to come off as shallow and cheesy due to reliance on action sequences, but this did not happen.  The plot is simple yet profound; the plot twists are straightforward and while it does not necessarily make waves, it does not crash and burn.  The dialogue is solid, which leads to good character development.  With the small amount of characters in a limited area, their success is key.  They pass the test.  The only issues to bring up here are the small scope of the plot and the overall simple feel of the movie.  Some parts at the beginning could have been better explored.  In the end, the plot is refreshing and the end somewhat unexpected.  The crew delivered with limited resources, which is a win.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The acting quality is overall professional, with only some minor errors.  The cast is small, but they do not commit errors that completely derail the movie.  They carry the movie well as they have obviously been coached well.  Some of them seem slightly inexperienced, but it is not a big deal.  The good thing is that real Asian actors are used rather than forcing white people to seem Asian, as some low cost productions do.  Overall, Escape is well-acted.

Conclusion

Escape receives half an x-factor point for dealing with the problem of pain in a very appropriate and poignant manner.  This philosophical issue is explored through dialogue and is not shoved down the viewers’ throats.  The bottom line is that while Escape is a very simple movie, it is also very deep.  Rather than exploring a broad scope, the writers chose quality over quantity.  The action elements make for a unique Christian movie and do not detract.  In short, Escape is an underrated Christian film that deserves applause.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

Beyond the Mask (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

William Reynolds is not a good man.  As an unofficial contracted ‘enforcer’ for the East India Company, he has committed many undocumented international crimes.  That’s why his boss, Charles Kemp, enlists him and his partner to steal and replace an incriminating Parliamentary report that could shut down the entire company for unethical business practices.  However, after this mission is complete, William intends to put his criminal life behind him.  Little does he know that Kemp has other plans for him.  After secretly surviving a failed attempt on his life, Reynolds is forced to take on the identity of the man who foiled the murder—a young vicar headed to a local parish.  It seems easy until Reynolds must fabricate a knowledge of the Scriptures and come to grips with his newfound love for a local girl who has no idea who he really is.  What Reynolds learns is that life in hiding is anything but straightforward, especially during the tumultuous political times of pre-Revolutionary War England and America.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

Burns Family Studios did an excellent job on the production of this adventure epic movie, including camera work, special effects, and historical costuming.  It would have been very easy for this type of large scope movie to be cheaply produced, but this was not the case.  The editing must have been very tricky, given the time that the movie covers, but it is done fairly well.  There are virtually no errors here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

However, the same cannot be said about the plot.  Box Office Revolution believes talented writer Paul McCusker bit off more than he could chew with this historical epic.  The movie covers at least two years of highly important content, and it walks the line of being too fast paced and being just good enough.  In some respects, the plot moves too fast to develop the characters, but in other respects, it is a very exciting movie full of intriguing plot twists.  It is creatively woven around historical events, yet BOR wonders if Mask should have been two movies or even a miniseries.  At the same time, BOR realizes that money is always an issue with independent Christian films, so it is likely that McCusker and Burns Family Studios did the best they could with what they had.  In short, the only real errors in this aspect of the movie are the fast paced plot and some small yet unrealistic action scenes.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Andrew Cheney and Jon Ryhs-Davies are obviously well-seasoned actors, and they are coached well.  However, the ‘amateur’ actors are also coached very well.  BOR noted that staff positions on the production of this movie were devoted to acting coaching, something that other Christian productions need to take note of.  There are virtually no acting errors in Beyond the Mask.

Conclusion

In short, there are two ways of looking at Beyond the Mask, much like the masks of William Reynolds.  Either McCusker and Burns Family Studios did the best with what they had or they did not do enough.  BOR chooses to adopt a position in between these two options.  Beyond the Mask is clearly above average and Paul McCusker has always been known as an excellent story writer.  The movie is a breath of fresh air in the Christian movie industry and has made BOR very excited to see the future movies of Paul McCusker and Burns Family Studios.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points