The Wager [2007] (Movie Review)

Creepy……..

Plot Summary

Michael Steele, a major movie star, slowly finds his life changing and being turned upside down as he tries to live the way he feels a Christian should live.  Nothing seems to work out and things only seem to get harder as he tries more to do what Jesus would do.  As his friends and coworkers call him crazy and shake their heads at what he is trying to do, Michael Steele finds himself wavering at times.  Will God really help him endure what he is going through?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

If one good thing can be said for this unusual production, it’s that time and money were definitely spent on the sets, locations, and props.  However, not much else positive can be highlighted.  Camera work is quite shaky and video quality is quite grainy.  The soundtrack is bad enough without forcing us to listen to Randy Travis attempt to sing.  Also, there are a number of annoyingly bizzare special effects throughout, including constant flashing that seems to be unfriendly to the epileptic.  Finally, editing is poorly done, thus leaving the film too choppy and punctuated.  In the end, to be a film of this profile, production should have been far better than this.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Based on a novel by Bill Myers, this really is not the best book plot that could have been chosen to be placed on the big screen.  The plot structure is quite unusual and includes confusing flashbacks that don’t serve much purpose.  There is not real plot content as the story hops from one thing to the next.  The characters therein are very one-dimensional.  Unfortunately, this includes a strawman portrayal of non-Christian characters and a squeaky clean portrayal of Christian characters.  While there is some semblance of a good message lost in translation, all the problems of this story are fixed far too easily, thus making it all seem very trite and plastic.  In short, this movie was written for a vague idea that never materialized.

Acting Quality (1 point)

After watching The Wager, one has to wonder why Randy Travis is ever cast in a movie.  What exactly good acting qualities does he bring to the table.  But hey, on the bright side, this film contains Candace Cameron Bure’s best role to date, surprisingly enough.  Other cast members, such as Nancy Stafford, are not all that bad, but there is a lot of negative here that detracts from the positive—mostly pertaining to Randy Travis.

Conclusion

What is to be accomplished by these sorts of films?  With half-efforts evident in all three categories, what did the creators expect?  Do people expect that they can just barely try to put a movie together and then it will just be fine since it’s a Christian movie?  Thankfully, we are seeing less and less of these types of films today, so films like The Wager can provide a major lesson to today’s film makers: ‘big name’ cast members and writers do not automatically make for a great movie.  Great Christian movies take true effort and care and are unfortunately hard to come by.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

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The Encounter, Season 1 [2016] (Series Review)

With this creepy look, who doesn’t want an encounter?

Plot Summary

When someone is going about their everyday activities, they never know what is about to happen or who they are about to meet.  They all have struggles and secrets that they don’t want anyone to know, but they would be free if they just knew someone they could trust them with.  But people never know when they are about to meet Someone Who will change their life forever.  They never know until they have their own Encounter with Jesus.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The Encounter series follows a typical production formula that PureFlix has been using for years.  They check the boxes for making the production look good on the surface, including video quality, audio quality, sets, props, and locations.  The soundtrack is sometimes engaging but mostly standard.  Sometimes there is too much shaky camera work, especially in the poorly shot actions scenes.  The biggest issue here is that large amount of wasted time throughout the series.  Most episodes are 25-28 minutes long, but the plots are usually so thin that this is too much time.  The exception to this is of episodes one and four, which will be discussed later.  But in the end, this series demonstrates an overall typical and average production effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

For eight episodes, The Encounter rehashes the same types of ideas, concepts, and conversations over and over again, just with different characters.  Outside of episodes one and four, there is no creativity here, as the opening sequence tells you what’s going to happen in each episode.  Besides being predictable, these stories are also very quick and punctuated, like they’ve been made in a quick plot factory.  While there are some good issues raised in the series, there are too many quick fixes and easy solutions based on creepy and plastic Jesus dialogue.  Thus, the messaging is quite shallow.  However, there is some potential here, as the first episode is very interesting and should have been the focus of the whole series so we could have gotten to know these characters better.  Also, the fourth episode would have made an interesting movie, if done properly.  But overall, this series just hops from high point to high point and discards substance and realism along the way.  It’s a good idea done very poorly.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While there are bright spots in this large scale cast, there are also plenty of issues.  For one, it seems like Bruce Marchiano, who has done well portraying Jesus in the past, has lost his touch. Other cast members are typical PureFlix standbys and rejects who seem to be lazy and phoning in their performances.  But as it is, it just comes out as average.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

When the same ideas repeat over and over again in each episode and new characters are constantly being introduced, there is no chance or hope for continuity in this season.  There are no story arcs or character arcs.  We need to see what happens to these characters after their initial encounters, which is why it would have been great to have the characters from the first episode be the main focus of this series.  Yet the way it has been done is shallow and lazy, thus warranting no points here.

Conclusion

There’s nothing wrong with having Jesus intervene in everyday situations, but spitting out a whole bunch of episodes that are all basically the same doesn’t accomplish anything.  It’s easy to create a bunch of surface characters and then leave them; it takes true skill to craft meaningful characters that we can connect with.  It’s also a great idea to create a Christian series, but we need something better than this.  We need sustainable ideas that make people want to follow a set of characters across an arc.  PureFlix has the resources to do this, but will they?

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 14 points

 

The Moment After 2: The Awakening (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After the Rapture, the inevitable one world government materialized and began rounding up the Christians when they wouldn’t take the mark of the beast.  Thus, Christians began to form groups in secret to protect each other from the new one world order.  Former FBI agent Adam Riley, now a resistor, escapes from captivity and sets out to find the truth about the Christians in hiding.  His former partner Charles Baker is also called back to serve the one world order and to search for the elusive Jacob Krause.  As their paths cross once again, choices will be made that will affect them forever.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The Awakening is a slight improvement from the first Moment After installment.  Camera work is the most marked improvement, as action scenes are shot better.  Sets and locations are also improved to give the film a bit more of a realistic feel.  Audio quality is fine, but video quality is slightly inconsistent.  Some scenes are not lit as well as others.  The soundtrack is just average.  However, the editing has its positive elements as the story seems to unfold.  In the end, this is an average production, but something is still missing.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The Awakening has strong comparisons to Revelation Road and could be considered its predecessor.  As such, there are some intriguing elements in The Awakening, but it’s still not a very dynamic story.  Slightly more effort was put into the complexity of this installment than in the first one, and there is an interesting twist near the end, but there isn’t really much else good to say here.  The characters are still empty and the plot is filled with too many boring and meandering conversations.  The villains are quite cheesy and the apocalyptic elements are, as usual, manufactured.  Also, this film is inevitably continued into nothing, like many apocalyptic efforts after it, thus making the overall story very empty and pointless.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This acting performance is much the same as the first installment, just with an extra dose of Andrea Logan White in all her usual stiffness.  David A. R. White and Kevin Downes are also their usual selves with random outbursts and fake action-guy demeanors.  Brad Heller surprisingly remains sane throughout the film.  Overall, this is just another below-average performance.

Conclusion

Why start a series you never intend to finish?  This incident was not isolated to The Moment After series; the Whites and company repeated this again with Jerusalem Countdown, In the Blink of an Eye, and possibly The Mark series as well.  The fate of Revelation Road is still unknown, but the bottom line is that if you keep starting and never finishing the same apocalyptic plots over and over again, there’s a problem.  Rather than constantly flooding the market with half-ideas, how about finishing what you start and actually delivering something original for a change?

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

The Encounter 2: Paradise Lost (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After a twist of fate throws a collection of strangers together, trapped in a Thailand resort during a storm, strange things begin to happen.  A wanted international criminal and his sidekick and wife, the two owners of the resort, and a ‘drug enforcement’ agent are all faced with the reality of their lives as they meet Jesus Christ face to face.  They are all forced to ruminate on the choices they have made in the past in order to determine how they are going to move forward.  Will they cling to their bitterness, rage, and vices, or will they turn to Jesus and accept the free gift He offers to each one of them, regardless of their pasts?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

In a change from the norm, The Encounter 2: Paradise Lost boasts above-average production quality.  The camera work is professionally presented and the video quality is better than not.  The audio quality is consistent across the board.  The sets and locations are diverse and fairly realistic, with a few exceptions.  The surroundings have an interesting feel, but it seems like more could have been done here, especially since many scenes seem borrowed from Escape.  On the down side, David A. R. White brings with him to this film a cheesy action feel that includes waste-of-time sequences and unrealistic elements.  Furthermore, the editing of Encounter 2 is all off.  The film begins with a time lapse presentation and then randomly abandons it.  The passage of time in general is hard to follow and a lot of content is crammed into a small window of opportunity that is squeezed out by philosophical monologues and unrealistic fight scenes.  But in the end, this is definitely an improvement for PureFlix and shows what they can do, even though it also shows what they could be doing better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

As mentioned before, too much is shoved into the nearly 110-minute runtime, thus isolating the important aspects.  The few main characters that are presented are given a lot of screen time, yet by the end, we only see half of them.  By the end of the film that focuses on the struggles of five key characters through the use of flashbacks and philosophical dialogue, we should feel like they are real people, but this is not completely true of this film’s core characters.  There’s nothing wrong with having a small cast of characters, but they need to be deep, complex, and realistic.  The Encounter 2 doesn’t make it all the way on this front.  Yet there are many interesting and creative elements to this storyline.  The flashbacks, as mentioned, are a good touch.  The issues presented are believable, but some of the ‘solutions’ to the issues are not.  Some ambiguity exists in the plot, but not enough.  Bruce Marciano’s philosophical monologues are better this time around, but they still can become draining.  The spiritual elements that underlie the plot are very intriguing and commendable, but the totally-not-obvious Satan character is over the top.  In the end, the plot of The Encounter 2 is a mixed bag with a creative ending, but it doesn’t do quite enough to lift this film out of average-ness.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Robert Miano demonstrates in this film that he has the ability to be an excellent villain, which does not explain why he acted so mysterious and lofty in his Biblical roles, The Book of Esther and The Book of Daniel.  Yet Miano is the best actor in this cast.  Bruce Marciano is always fine, but at some point, his roles become extremely predictable.  Elsewhere, David A. R. White is his usual cheesy action hero self and other actors and actresses either overplay or underplay emotions.  Line delivery is overall inconsistent, but costuming is fine.  Overall, the acting work is just average.

Conclusion

The Encounter 2: Paradise Lost is a huge improvement on The Encounter.  The creative idea of having Jesus show up in the flesh in the middle of a hostage situation is very commendable.  The psychological\spiritual elements throughout are also noteworthy.  But this film is tripped up by its large amount of content and low amount of overall quality.  The plot is spread too thin and the characters are too shallow for the time spent on them.  In the end, this is an enjoyable film, but it’s also another one of those frustrating movies that we wish could be remade.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Me Again (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Richie Chaplin is a mess.  He’s struggling to convey meaning in his pastoral ministry.  His wife has separate from him due to his depression and sleepwalking, taking their three children with her.  His two younger children don’t even know who he is.  His older daughter is messing around with a boy.  Basically, Richie doesn’t want to be himself anymore.  He wants somebody else’s life because his life stinks.  He’s forgotten the original purpose God created him for, so he’s about to embark on a wild journey outside of his control to remind him why he is living the life he is living.  In the end, he will have to decide whether or not he likes the life God has given him or if he is going to make one of the biggest mistakes of his life.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

To their credit, at least PureFlix invested in better camera quality than usual for this film.  The sound quality is also fine, but these are the only positive aspects of the production of Me Again.  Throughout this zany drug trip into the creative faculties of David A. R. White and Tommy Blaze, the camera angles can get dizzying, confusing, and downright amateurish in their attempt to be dramatic or comedic.  Cheesy horror effects are inserted randomly and out of context.  Low-quality special effects are overused and invasive.  The surroundings are painfully obviously reused from Marriage Retreat, suggesting that this movie was borne out of that film’s B-rolls.  Finally, all editing sense is thrown out the window as the plot tosses hither and fro with no system or consistency, like they’re just throwing stuff up against the wall to see what happens.  Overall, Me Again feels like an experimental film that either accidentally got released or was released to try to glean desperately needed funds.  Either way, it doesn’t work.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Few screenwriters venture to create a psychological comedy, and Me Again may stand as a testament as to why.  The plot of this film is extremely hard to nail down.  After watching an unusual sequence on television two nights in a row, David A. R. White is suddenly transported into an alternate universe in which he gets to become a random rich guy, a model he saw on TV, a goldfish (?!?!), an infant, a housemaid, the teenage boy trying to date his daughter, and finally his own wife.  The only real explanations that are offered for this potentially interesting psychological journey are vague and trite inspirational quotes from an offbeat angel character he should have already known about (more on that shortly).  The leaps from one impersonation to the next are not only painfully horrible at trying to be funny, but also leave no room for real character development.  The dialogue is horrifically childish and often feels adlibbed and impromptu.  Yet somewhere in the midst of histrionic displays from A. R. White, including a fake (or not) heart attack, a purposeful makeup disaster, voiceovers for a goldfish and an infant, generally idiotic behavior, self-parodies, and an epic conversation with himself in the alternate universe (perhaps his acting dream), there is some interesting meaning hidden here.  If someone was able to ‘walk in someone else’s shoes’, then they would view life a lot differently.  But this potential meaning is covered up due to time wasted on downright stupidity.  This goes without saying that, in keeping with usual White themes, everything is too black and white.  ‘Good’ characters are obviously perfect and wise while ‘bad’ characters are complete over the top strawmen, bringing more disgrace to how people think Christians view ‘worldly’ people.  Also, solutions to problem are far too easy, trite, and shallow, and offer no real help for people struggling with the real issues presented.

But perhaps the worst element of this entire plot is found in the unusual sepia tone flashback prologue and epilogue.  It’s so devastating that it warrants a Box Office Revolution first: a separate paragraph of discussion.  The prologue and epilogue are presumably supposed to depict Richie and his wife as childhood sweethearts drinking honeysuckle tea (whatever that is).  The epilogue completely undermines the purpose of the plot and suggests that it’s all one big joke.  Either that or PureFlix is full of incompetence (probably a little of both).  Richie’s wife, as a girl, tells him that she knows they’ll be married one day because the specific angel he later sees on television and has a conversation with in the midst of his psychological adventure told her so.  If this is the case, then he should have known what was happening when he recognized the name of the angel.  Another alternative possibility is that the entire middle of the movie is just part of the girl’s dream, which suggests that the entire movie is useless.  Whatever the case is, this plot is so slipshod and incompetent that we can’t make heads or tails of it.  All we know is that it’s an experience we’ll both never forget and never wish to repeat.

Acting Quality (0 points)

As usual, the Whites and their comrades have no restraint or direction in their acting but are content to blurt out lines in ‘funny’ fashions and lazily act their way through another cheap movie full of one-take scenes and adlib behavior.  No emotional meaning can be felt here because the acting is so absurd, especially David A. R. White’s zany impersonations of other characters and Tommy Blaze’s generally bizarre behavior.  In short, another zero point acting job is business as usual for PureFlix.

Conclusion

If anything was accomplished through this unique experience, it was that a movie like this has never been made before and should never be made again.  Unfortunately, any attempt at deeper meaning is so shallow that’s easily washed over with a tide of absurdity.  Many elements of this movie seem to suggest that the Whites and company have no grasp on the real world, as they treat important issues too lightly and portray people has completely good or completely bad.  It seems like the only purpose of Me Again is to make fun of everything, including themselves, and to waste another good idea.  The one merit PureFlix has is an acceptance of creating different types of movies, but in most cases, like this one, they ruin the reputation of Christian movies in unique genres.  This is not to mention the fact that Me Again is just another film that makes the name ‘Christian film’ more of a laughingstock.  At some point, the creation of this type of nonsense must end and Christian filmmakers must get serious about generating quality content if we are ever going to make a true difference.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

The Encounter [2010] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Nick, Melissa, Hank, Catherine, and Kayla are all strangers to each other until they are forced to meet up at a quaint diner due to road closures one stormy night.  Each has their own story and hurts, but the last thing they expect is to meet the mysterious owner of the diner, who calls himself Jesus.  He knows many things about them that no one else knows but he actually demonstrates true care for them, something many of them have never experienced.  Each of them must make the most important choice of their lives—will they listen to the words of Jesus or will they turn away?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

The production pretty much derails this movie from the get go.  For starters, the movie is purposely designed to have extremely limited sets—the movie only takes place a very small amount outside, partly inside vehicles, partly inside flashback locations, mostly inside the makeshift diner, and yes, inside the diner’s bathroom.  The video quality is quite grainy and the camera work shaky.  The sound quality is inconsistent.  The only redeeming production quality is the editing, even though there is very little content to work with.  In short, it would have done this movie wonders to have better production quality.  With such a small cast and so few sets, there are no excuses to have such poor production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Although the encounter with Jesus in modern times is not really a new plot, there is nothing inherently wrong with this particular rendition.  The characters are pretty good and the flashbacks effectively enhance them, but once again, with so few characters, there was more time to develop them, yet this was not done.  This sort of small scale plot depends entirely on the characters, and since the characters are just average, it’s not good enough.  We needed to know more about these characters besides their favorite foods, their occupations, their parents, and their surface struggles.  Again, the flashbacks are great, but more is needed.  The spiritual\psychological elements in the plot are interesting, but the devil character is very cheesy.  In short, this plot concept had a lot of potential—especially if more psychological elements had been explored—that was not brought to the surface.  The final result is just a stock plot.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This cast seems better than a lot of PureFlix casts; even though there is really no acting coaching, the actors and actresses do a pretty good job by themselves.  However, like the rest of this movie, more is needed.  Similar to how the characters carry this sort of small scale plot, the actors and actresses are vital.  Unfortunately, there is just not enough positive here.

Conclusion

Though David A. R. White is the director of The Encounter, he does not insert his usual cheesy flavor.  But at the same time, dynamic elements are not present.  The tools are there, but they are not picked up and used.  The Encounter had the possibility to showcase a unique movie genre, but it was left hanging.  This film likely joins a group of Christian films that deserve a remake.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

The Book of Esther (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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.

Conclusion

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.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

In the Blink of an Eye [2009] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

David, a detective, stumbles into the vacation of his life when he saves a famous pop star from a hostage situation.  David and his wife Lori, along with David’s partner Larry and his wife Sussette, are invited by the pop star’s boyfriend to spend a lavish weekend with them on their private yacht in the waters of Mexico.  But David quickly sense that something is not quite right with the pop star and her boyfriend.  Yet before he can do anything about it, strange things start happening.  Passengers begin disappearing and David keeps waking up to the same day repeating over and over and over again.  No matter what happens, the day repeats over again and David is the only one who can remember anything about the repeats.  In order to solve the mystery of his life, he must face the faith he has been running from all his life.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

For starters, In the Blink of an Eye has pretty good video and sound quality.  However, that is all that can be said.  The film also contains odd camera angles and confusing editing—this may be due to the odd plot structure, but it is difficult to understand the flow of the movie.  There are also plenty of unnecessary scenes that appear to just fill time.  In addition to this, the movie has limited and cheap sets and costumes, like they spent most of the money on the expensive yacht, cars, and jet skis.  There is also bad makeup work on most of the characters and cheesy apocalyptic special effects.  To make matters worse, John Hagee product placements litter the dialogue.  In short, there is little to be positive about here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

This plot has basically no potential.  The premise is very trumped up and most of the plot is filler—nothing dynamic or interesting.  There is plenty of out of place and awkward dialogue; some of the lines seem impromptu.  Thus, the few characters within are mindless and empty.  This sort of plot concept, a day repeating over and over again, has been done before and is almost worn out at this point.  To top things off, the entire plot, including the confusing end, is based on bad theology regarding knowing the exact hour of the Rapture’s occurrence, which is directly contrary to the Scripture verse used at the end of the movie.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

It is commendable to cast David A. R. and Andrea Logan White together as husband and wife, but it is not worth it if they are not going to be coached properly.  Most of the lines are forced, and since the cast is so small, they carry the entire movie on their shoulders.  Instead of helping the movie, most of the actors are very poor casting choices, exhibiting overdone emotions and unrealistic actions.  There are really only one or two good actors.

Conclusion

There is nothing wrong with expanding the Christian film genres into action adventure and psychological thriller, but In the Blink of an Eye misses the mark.  The repeating day plot is overused and is rarely justifiable, especially in the fashion that this movie uses it.  Employing such a small cast and limited sets in exchange for using expensive vehicles suggests an air of vanity.  Our advice for the Whites is that they listen to constructive criticism in order to improve their film quality, because they certainly have the potential and resources to do so.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points