Mountain Top [2017] (Movie Review)

Image result for mountain top christian movie

Plot Summary

Mike Andrews retired from his law career to follow what he thought was God’s call to be a pastor. However, that all changed when Muriel Miller came to his office to ask her to represent her eccentric husband who has gotten himself in trouble with the law due to his self-proclaimed spiritual gift of prophecy wherein he has visions of the future. Through a set of unusual circumstances, Mike agrees to represent Sam Miller pro bono, which sends the lawyer-pastor on a wild ride that he never expected to experience and that will forever change his life.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Gary Wheeler and his team are well-known for their professional productions, and Mountain Top is no exception. There are virtually no concerns to note in this instance, which entails the use of effective camera work, high video and audio qualities, and well-utilized sets, locations, and props. The only minor nitpicks to note are the somewhat generic soundtrack and the minuscule editing issues that are mostly due to the expansive plot. However, this is an overall nearly perfect effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The Level Path creative team has always had the right idea of adapting Christian novels into films, and Robert Whitlow has wisely sought dramatizations of his books. However, it’s unclear whether or not Mountain Top was the best choice of source material. While the psychological elements that make up the core basis of the plot are interesting, they are also a bit over the top and far-fetched since one of the main characters claims to have many supernatural visions covering a wide range of topics and issues. There’s never been historical precedent for any Christian being able to receive so many special revelations in their lifetime. Besides this, the character receiving the dreams is basically perfect and inaccessible as a person. Additionally, the sheer number of characters in this storyline is overwhelming for the audience and makes for a choppy presentation. They crowd each other out and cause dialogue to be inadequate at developing who they are. The many interlocking subplots are difficult to effectively follow and are better suited for a series if this idea must be portrayed in entertainment. However, there are simply too many convenient turns and coincidences that push the narrative along as the writers seek to cover as much ground as possible while at the same time including wastefully slow sequences. Due to Whitlow’s legal expertise, this aspect of the plot is mostly realistic, and it’s commendable to explore the existence of miracles in the modern world, but Mountain Top treats God’s power like a magic charm, which causes its premise to be simply too unbelievable. There was some potential here, but it was squandered in pursuit of sensationalism.

Acting Quality (2 points)

It seems like Mountain Top endeavored to include nearly every recognizable Christian cast member in one film, and it’s not a bad thing to have experienced cast members. There are actually only a few acting concerns here and there, such as some bland moments, but the sheer number of actors and actresses may mask potential weaknesses. In the end, emotional and line deliveries are at least average, if not better, with only a handful of small issues. In the end, this rounds out a basically average offering.

Conclusion

Wheeler and his team have always been so close to the Hall of Fame, and they do many things the right way. Adapting Christian novels and being committed to professional productions and experienced casts are a winning model on paper. However, many of their films still lack meaningful connections with their audiences and require deeper and more meaningful purposes in order to be truly successful. Perhaps, in the coming days, the Level Path team will finally make a breakthrough.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Life Changes Everything: Discover Zac Ryan (Movie Review)

Image result for life changes everything movie

Plot Summary

Dr. Zac Ryan is a clinical research oncologist searching for a cancer cure when he discovers that his trial patient is his biological father. This is significant because Zac’s mother had him at a young age, and Zac never knew who his father was other than the man who wanted to abort him. Will they be able to reconcile and find a cure for cancer before it’s too late?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, the production of Life Changes Everything is average. Audio quality is inconsistent, and the soundtrack is generic. Lighting is mostly fine with some odd moments. Video quality and camera work are respectable, and sets, locations, and props are passage. However, the editing is quite choppy and a bit disorienting at times. Another dominant quality of this production is its extreme generic-ness. There’s really nothing special about it, and it’s hard to differentiate from a lot of run-of-the-mill Christian films. Thus, it receive a middle-of-the-road score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Moreover, the story is a bit convoluted at times. Narration cripples any chance of deeper development, and a lot of the happenings are squarely based on childish coincidences and unexplained happenings that have little basis in reality. However, there is a good use of flashbacks that saves this plot from being null though both the present and past storylines are very slow, boring, and empty. It’s hard to know who these characters actually are beyond being stand-ins for social issues. While some of the pro-life concepts are slightly intriguing, the core concept (trying to find a cure for cancer) is almost laughable since the writers had a very difficult time explaining how it actually works or answering legitimate questions some of their own characters ask other characters. It’s not clear whether or not they actually thought about how the medical breakthrough would look since they were so focused on engineering another pro-life gotcha moment. When dealing with such a huge topic, sound research and expertise is extremely necessary. In the end, however, the confusing concepts, combined with the drab nature of the storytelling, just aren’t enough to make this film worthwhile.

Acting Quality (.5 points)

To top things off, the acting of Life Changes Everything is unfortunately quite blank and vanilla, especially the lead actor. The performances don’t have anything substantial to offer since there is almost no emotion exhibited by the cast members. Line delivery is average, and there aren’t any glaring errors, which keep this section from being zero, but it’s not enough to save this movie from itself.

Conclusion

Some of the pro-life concepts put forth by this screenplay are worth seeing in some type of remake, but the idea of a person not being able to change the world if they are aborted is a bit of a red herring. Even still, the central components of the plot would be passable if the production was improved, the acting was upgraded, and the cancer cure was better explained. These alterations would have at least made it an average film, which could have been a good starting point. However, as it is, we’re left wondering what could have been.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

Overcomer [2019] (Movie Review)

Image result for overcomer movie

Plot Summary

A random small town is apparently falling apart due to the local factory closing down, and this decimates a Christian private school’s basketball team and sends the coach spiraling. When he already doesn’t even know what he’s going to do about a team, his superior, the principal, forces him to coach a one-girl cross-country team even though she has asthma! Along the way, he stumbles into a random hospital room containing someone who has surprising connections to the plot! Will he ever learn who he really is in Christ beyond just being a coach?

Production Quality (2 points)

Okay, so, what exactly was this $5 million budget spent on? Much of the production is fairly uninspiring. As usual for the Kendricks, it’s fine and mostly professional-looking, but for reals…all we get from this dollar amount is a bunch of vanilla sets, props, and locations mostly pertaining to people’s houses, a school campus, and lots of running\training footage? The decade-plus career of the brothers who brought Christian film out of the dark ages culminates with this? Besides the overall blah-ness of the layout, tons of time is wasted on nothing special in this film, and the editing seems very disjointed and disorganized. However, much of this could be due to the lack of any substantial plot content…

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

…which makes us wonder what the story actually is here. What are we supposed to focus on? The less than half-an-hour treatise on small towns falling apart? Five minutes of basketball footage? Alex Kendrick getting angry and throwing things? A runner with asthma? A random guy in a hospital? In all actuality, the blind man in the hospital bed is the most worthwhile subplot of the entire film, and it keeps this section from being abysmal, yet we only hear this part of the story through spoken word rather than via effective flashbacks. The only way to fix this film would be the focus entirely on this part of the story (the past and present narratives of the blind man and his interactions with other side characters) through a non-linear plot style. However, we don’t get this in Overcomer as we’re instead left with a very disjointed and disorganized storyline that gives us no opportunity to get to know the characters except that Alex Kendrick’s character is an almost-perfect white guy who has to save a non-white girl. Therein, there are many disturbing themes, such as the white family being overly good as they help the ‘bad’ African American girl; it goes without saying that a very disturbing plot point involves the school principal telling the coach to aid said minority minor in going around and lying to her legal guardian in basically illegal fashions. These actions are painted as good and never receive any consequences because the white characters can do no wrong. It’s too bad that the cross-country athlete character never stood a chance with the poor dialogue written for her character…she’s essentially programmed to respond to the prompts of her Caucasian helpers with little thought of her own. Elsewhere, old Kendrick humor is dying a slow and painful death as cringe-worthy attempts at comedy litter the already-confusing landscape of this storyline. In the end, it’s very difficult to think this plot had any other goals besides pushing propaganda and some kind of weird suburban version of Christianity.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The Kendricks can choose literally anyone to be in their films; some cast members would do it for free, yet Alex insists on continually casting himself in lead roles he can’t pull off. He and Shari Rigby crowd out the runtime of Overcomer with bland and forgettable performances that drown out better skills from supporting (non-white) cast members who are barely given a chance to do anything. For instance, Priscilla Shirer and Cameron Arnett have plenty of acting skills, but we don’t see them as often as we see awkward white people. Aryn Wright-Thompson probably has something to offer if she was ever given a shot to do something besides robotically repeat stale lines. In the end, this section is fine, but it punctuates a surprisingly bad effort from the Kendricks.

Conclusion

Minus the unusual racial undertones and the bizarre condoning of illegal actions, Overcomer is basically a run-of-the-mill church film with a sports twist. Even without the glaring issues, however, this still wouldn’t be acceptable based on where the Kendricks are in the careers. They are basically at the pinnacle of success, coming off their most successful film (War Room), so their budget and advertising resources are clearly vast. They can hire and cast whoever they wish, including actual screenwriters, yet they decided to settle for a well-produced version of Flywheel combined with the worst racial stereotypes found in Courageous to create a blandly vague idea that focuses on forcing messages down the audience’s throats. In the end, it appears as though their refusal to reach out and try different collaborations is causing them to fade into the background of an industry they helped save from the brink.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

The Trump Prophecy (Movie Review)

Image result for the trump prophecy movie shofar
Shofars!

Plot Summary

Mark Taylor was burnt out as a firefighter after nearly twenty years of service, and he began having physical symptoms of his exhaustion. He also began having mental symptoms of the trauma he experienced, which led to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. He went on leave from work due to the condition and eventually retired, and during this time, he believed that he received visions both from Satan and from God of how Donald Trump would become President of the United States.

Production Quality (0 points)

So Liberty University wants to make another movie to showcase their expensive equipment and unusual application of it. While on the surface this production seems fine, there are too many film school experiments exhibited throughout, such as bizarre camera work and choppy ‘artistic’ editing. Sets, props, and locations are surprisingly limited for the supposed scope of this film, and it seems like with the budget that was funded for this film, things would look better than this. The audio quality as a whole is unacceptable for a movie of this budget level since there are many weird background noises throughout and since the many musical montages use an invasive and unrelated soundtrack. Besides these obvious problems, it goes without saying that the special effects are horribly bad and very cheap-looking for a film school who purports to have some of the best resources at their fingertips. As a side note, there are too many CBN product placements, probably because they couldn’t license the big networks in a film that depends too heavily on news sequences to move time forward. In the end, any good parts of this production are cancelled out by the bad, which leaves us with nothing here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-2 points)

As expected from the build-up and from the divisive political atmosphere surrounding the origin of this film’s idea, this story is utter madness. The fact that a large section of the American Christian population has embraced the bizarre ramblings of a self-proclaimed prophet who has many prophecies that never came true is very disturbing at best. Due to money, Liberty University has chosen to give a platform to these wacky theories, but they packaged them in the most boring and vanilla plot you can imagine. The weird worldview aside, this story has basically nothing to offer the viewers except for boring activities of daily living, random life montages, and off-the-wall acid trip vision sequences that have little to no explanation or understanding of what’s going on. Besides the fact that this film gives a platform to highly unusual and offbeat ideas that borderline on false teaching and peddles cult-life politically Christian propaganda, the main story is actually quite short and irrelevant. There’s hardly anything to it at all, and all of the negative brings it lower than zero, which isn’t really surprising, given the history of this story’s origins.

Acting Quality (0 points)

To combine with one of the most boring plots possible, Liberty University’s film school made sure to cast the most boring cast members we’ve ever seen, and we thought that the cast of Extraordinary was bad enough. The lead actor is extremely dead-faced for most of the movie, and most of the cast members don’t exhibit any substantial emotions except for overly practiced ones. Line delivery is very stilted and robotic, and the interactions between the cast members come off as very awkward and impersonal. In short, if there’s something bad about any movie, it’s probably represented somehow in The Trump Prophecy.

Conclusion

We have to wonder if Liberty University will ever learn from their series of colossal failures (see Extraordinary). Even if you agree with the total drivel propagated by this film of madness, there’s no way you can contort this film to be a quality movie or even an interesting one. Whoever is behind the decision making at LU’s film school clearly has no idea what they’re doing in the entertainment business because they consistently roll out some of the most well-funded and tone deaf movies we’ve ever seen. Words cannot express how far out of touch with reality they are; anyone that even thought about making a film based on a scam-worthy book like The Trump Prophecy has their priorities seriously out of whack and out of tune with what really matters.

Final Rating: -2 out of 10 points

Secrets in the Snow (Movie Review)

Image result for secrets in the snow

Plot Summary

When a snowstorm hits unexpectedly, six teenagers are trapped at Eastbrook High to wait it out.  None of them want to be there, and each of them as a secret to hide.  As time goes on, frustrations and stress increase, which causes the secret stories to come to light one by one.  However, the storm also continues to worsen, which threatens their safety.  Will they be able to make it out before it’s too late?

Production Quality (2 points)

Although it appears the budget was somewhat limited, Secrets in the Snow has a mostly good production, including fine audio, video, and camera quality.  However, the soundtrack is a bit generic and loud at times, and the sets, locations, and props are understandably limited by design, even though they are well-utilized for the most part.  There is also some inconsistent lighting, as well as some randomly shaky moments of camera work, but the editing is good.  As a whole, this is an above average production that could have been slightly better than it was.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

John and Brittany Goodwin have always attempted to develop their characters through backstories, so the effort to do this in this film is definitely commendable.  However, since this is a heavily character-based plot with almost nothing but the characters to hold it up, we needed to see much deeper character development and growth through meaningful conversations and flashbacks.  The dialogue therein needed to be less shallow and less scripted, and there are too many wasted scenes on activities that don’t build characters or help us to understand who they are as people.  Even still, this is a non-typical and mostly creative plot structure that demonstrates the true potential the Goodwins have as both screenwriters and film makers.  As they continue to grow in their careers, we expect great things from what they have to offer as they continue to deepen their character development over time because we know that they mean well and want to do their best.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Like other parts of this film, the cast members also mean well, but some of the line delivery and emotions come off as overly practiced and not natural enough.  Some performances seem to stilted and measured while some lines appear to be read.  However, there is plenty of positive here as most of the cast members appear to be comfortable with their character roles and seem to be committed to the process.  As a whole, this is an average film, which is great for a debut.

Conclusion

After this film and If You’re Gone, the Goodwins and their team are definitely on the cusp of something great.  Once they are able to deepen their characters and refine their plot structures, they will definitely be a force to be reckoned with since they have already rectified their production and acting shortcomings.  As the Goodwins continue to produce their own source material for films, we anticipate better things from them in the near future.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Summer of ’67 (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In the years of the Vietnam War, families faced many different unique challenges posed by the international conflict.  Milly and Gerald have recently been married, but they have been forced to live with Gerald’s eccentric mother due to financial challenges.  Milly’s sister Kate is torn between the pro-war and anti-war efforts due to her mother’s past suicide.  When Gerald and Kate’s on-and-off boyfriend Peter are called to the war front for various reasons, Milly and Kate must both live with Gerald’s eccentric mother Joanna as the world around them seems to be falling apart.  Together, they must rekindle the faith they were always taught in order to make it through.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Sharon and Fred Wilharm of Mainstreet Productions have always had a commitment to building authentic productions.  Summer of ’67 is no exception, as they demonstrate a clear attention to specific historical detail in the props, sets, and locations.  Video quality and camera work are also quite professional.  Audio quality is mostly fine as well, although the soundtrack can sometimes be too loud and somewhat out of place.  As they are still transitioning from making silent films, some adjustments like this can be expected.  Also, the editing can be a bit choppy at times, which can cause the story presentation to be confusing.  Overall, with just a few more tweaks, the Wilharms are very close to mastering professional productions, especially those in need of historical authenticity.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, as Mainstreet Productions used to only make silent films, the plot of Summer of ’67 is not really what it could be.  It comes off as a loose collection of ideas that need better synthesis and organization.  The good thing is that the story does unfold without narration, but some of the dialogue is slightly expository.  Outside of a few interesting conversations, unfortunately, the dialogue does not do enough to build the characters as people.  Some scenes are too short and not explained very well, and time seems to jump from one thing to the next without very clear coherency or organization.  Thus, a lot of the characters come off as shallow, even though they have potential, and a lot of story ideas seem unfinished.  While the ending is very interesting and realistic, the lead-up is not quite enough to hold the attention of the audience.  Overall, it’s clear that the Wilharms really care about trying to making great films; they are just not quite there yet in the plot department.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Another adjustment from making silent films is obviously going to be acting coaching.  While this cast is mostly fine and has a lot of potential, there are one too many scenes where the cast members don’t appear to know what they are doing.  Some of the acting is too stilted and robotic in both line and emotional delivery.  As a good note, this might be Mimi Sagadin’s best role, but she needed a bit more screen time than she was given.  On the whole, this section is mostly average.

Conclusion

We know that the Wilharms really do mean well in their films, and the historical authenticity of this production has great value.  It’s definitely going to be an adjustment to move from silent to non-silent films, so growing pains are to be expected.  However, since the Wilharms have always been committed to improving however they can, we believe that Summer of ’67 is something that can be built off of for future improvement.  Perhaps next time, if a more substantial plot is crafted, the next Mainstreet film could be Hall of Fame.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points