Forgiven [2016] (Movie Review)

Watch Forgiven | Prime Video

Plot Summary

When a desperate criminal takes a pastor and his two daughter hostage within the church after a Wednesday night service, the police are forced to take drastic measures to keep the victims safe. However, the criminal is mostly confused and unsure of what he wants to do. Thus, the pastor and his daughters do what they can to help him. Will the situation be resolved before it’s too late?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Besides a few exceptions, Kevan Otto’s more recent productions have contained higher levels of quality than his previous efforts. There’s a continuation of this trend in Forgiven. Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all professional. Sets, locations, and props are standard. There are only a few minor editing issues, but this fact doesn’t prevent this section from receiving a high score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

This film is based on an interesting suspense idea although the hostage situation is half-hearted at best. Additionally, the characters are one-dimensional, including a criminal who doesn’t really seem to be committed to anything and generally lacks deeper motivations for his behaviors. Stock and unsubstantial dialogue do nothing to improve the blank characters even though this character-based plot desperately needed real conversations to keep it going. Too many empty scenes fill time rather than create meaningful arcs. It felt like that the writers just wanted to skip to the end instead of make the audience want to watch the build-up. Many sequences are very boring and preachy, espousing a cheap Christian message about going to church to act right. Though the conclusion is slightly interesting, it’s difficult for the view to make it there, and it’s hard to understand why the basically perfect and unrelatable protagonist even wanted to help the criminal character. Very narrative-heavy and character-light, this story needed a lot more fleshing out to truly enhance the potential within. Thus, only a meager rating is warranted here.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As a whole, the acting in Forgiven is pretty good. For the most part, emotions are realistic, and line delivery is acceptable. Some performances are better than others, and some cast members are more believable than others. Due to the small cast, errors are more noticeable, which is why this section only receives an above-average score.

Conclusion

At this point, it seems like that Kevan Otto and his team know how to craft a pedestrian, acceptable-on-paper screenplay. However, to truly succeed, they will need to go further than this. Otto has proven that he can improve production quality over time, so it’s time for him to employ better writing talent to create more engaging narratives with more accessible characters. Otherwise, average ratings will be the norm.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Acquitted by Faith (Movie Review)

Watch Acquitted by Faith | Prime Video

Plot Summary

Benjamin Stills’ life is forever changed when he’s responsible for a texting-and-driving accident that puts a little girl in the hospital. Benjamin is a high-power lawyer with a lot of workplace pressure, but this event sends his life spiraling out of control. Will he ever be able to regain his footing and return to the faith that he left behind before it’s too late?

Production Quality (2 points)

This film contains a professional production with only a few errors to speak of. Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all in line with industry standards. Sets, locations, and props are professional and well-constructed. The main concerns in this aspect of the screenplay relate to weird special effects and editing. It’s unclear why these special effects were even needed as they make for an odd experience. Further, some scenes end very abruptly with no warning. Thus, due to more good than bad, an above-average score is warranted in this section.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Acquitted by Faith contains an intriguing narrative although there are many subplots to keep up with. The characters therein are realistic and flawed, developed through authentic dialogue. Due to the large amount of content, many scenes can be a bit rushed even though some sequences waste time when there’s no time to be wasted. The more the story progresses, the more hasty the progression of the narrative becomes. There are many interesting asides and complex characters that could have had creative backstories, but we never get the chance to fully explore them because of the many tangents and subplots. These concerns make the story better suited for a series. It’s a shame that this movie is too bloated because is contains a good subtle Christian message. In the end, due to a generally mixed bag, this section receives an average rating.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

As a whole, the acting in Acquitted by Faith is quite good. There are only a few over-the-top performances, but for the most part, the cast members deliver believable performances with good line and emotional delivery. Near the end of the film, the acting becomes nearly perfect, which leads to a very high score for this section.

Conclusion

This screenplay is perhaps the closest that Kevan Otto has ever come to the Hall of Fame, but it wasn’t due to his solo efforts. Acquitted by Faith was clearly a collaboration, but it still missed the mark due to inconsistent production elements and a bloated narrative. Nonetheless, this movie deserves a remake that reorganizes the concepts therein and presents them in a clearer fashion, perhaps in series form. With the consistent funding that Kevan Otto can get, it’s time to start saving some of the money to put toward fewer projects. Maybe then he’ll finally break through.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Fearless Faith (Movie Review)

Watch Fearless Faith | Prime Video

Plot Summary

Colton is a police officer who’s haunted by the trauma of witnessing his former partner get gunned down in a crossfire. Now, Colton avoids all things relating to God even though his wife wants him to come back to the faith. However, circumstances begin to change Colton’s heart as he’s forced to face the past that he’s been running from.

Production Quality (2 points)

Although this production is mostly above-average, it still has some unnecessary pitfalls, such as odd zooms in the camera work and some strangely blurry video quality in certain parts. Action camera work is inconsistent, and the soundtrack is a bit loud at times. Also, flashbacks tend to be disorienting, and the editing has a lot of quick cuts and transitions, but all aspects of the production generally improve with time. This include better video quality, audio quality, and camera work in the second half of the film. Sets, locations, and props are relatively stable throughout. In the end, this mixed-bag section does enough to warrant this score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Fearless Faith is based on a very valid and worthy idea that needs to be explored in entertainment: law enforcement trauma. However, this concept is presented with stream-of-consciousness storytelling that lacks focus or overarching themes. Average conversations don’t do enough to develop the generic characters although there is a lot of missed potential to have better dialogue. The perfect Christian characters and racial stereotypes don’t do much to help the cause of the narrative. Religious platitudes and lack of continuity are only compounded by wasted time and plot jumps. Despite dry humor and sarcasm that could have made for interesting experience, unrealistic coincidences happen just because the writers need them to. Even though the ending does a somewhat good job of bringing everything together, characters are fixed way too easily, and the conclusion isn’t properly set up. There are no meaningful payoffs because a majority of the storyline is just kicking the can down the road to get to an unearned high point. The climax falls flat where it could have soared because it lacks effective build-up, and personal tragedies aren’t exactly treated in a serious fashion. All of this is to say that Fearless Faith had the potential to be a truly interesting movie, but this section’s low score holds it back.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As a whole, the acting in this screenplay is average. Surprisingly, Jason Burkey may have found his niche in this film as he demonstrates pretty good performances with dry humor and sarcasm. This role doesn’t require him to go too far beyond his abilities, which actually works. Elsewhere, there are no obviously glaring errors in this section except for some annoying yelling and screaming. In certain pivotal scenes, the acting can tend to be unnecessarily blank and not present. In the end, this aspect of them movie rounds out an okay effort.

Conclusion

Fearless Faith had a lot going for it since it was written by real law enforcement officers who know what it’s like in the real world. This creative team put forth a pretty good project in Beautifully Broken, but Fearless Faith seems to lose some of this progress. A disorganized narrative derailed most of the potential in this screenplay, and a handful of concerns in production and acting didn’t help either. Next time, however, this team can hopefully learn from their mistakes and seek better counsel in their plot development.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

My Brother’s Keeper [2021] (Movie Review)

My Brother's Keeper - IMDb

Plot Summary

When Travis Fox returns from war, the trauma of combat still haunts him, especially the death of his Christian friend.  Nonetheless, Travis has sworn off Christianity altogether, wanting to move on with his life.  However, the past won’t leave him alone, and new complications with Travis’ family don’t help matters.  Will he ever be able to find peace?

Production Quality (2 points)

In keeping with most Christian productions that have come out since 2018, My Brother’s Keeper is mostly professional.  Video quality, camera work, and audio are all in line with industry standards.  For the most part, sets, locations, and props are acceptable although they sometimes don’t adequately represent what they’re supposed to portray.  The biggest concern in this section is the choppy editing as some scenes cut and transition in awkward ways.  Thus, this portion of the film receive a slightly above-average score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Throughout this narrative, the conversations and scenes come off as overly staged and unnatural, such as the forceful dialogue and messaging (including overt sermonizing) that leaves nothing to chance.  These problems are only complicated by the many subplots that are juggled, which causes the story to lack focus.  As a result, every character is a one-dimensional representation of an issue rather than an actual person.  Despite potentially good PTSD flashbacks, these experiences are a bit overwrought instead of providing opportunities for the audience to connect with the character.  Elsewhere, events in the narrative happen just because the writers want them to, and this extreme level of convenience causes the plot of aimlessly meander through a sea of empty platitudes and disorganized ideas.  It goes without saying that there are also some very questionable portrayals of dual relationships and counseling ethics.  In the end, there’s unfortunately no potential in this story, leading to zero points.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Despite acceptable line delivery, the emotions in this movie’s performances are very over-the-top.  This is evidenced by lots of yelling and screaming, and it’s generally hard to believe that the cast members care about what they’re doing.  Many of their performances are robotic and practiced although there are some bright spots.  In the end, due to the errors, only a small score is warranted here.

Conclusion

My Brother’s Keeper is essentially another Christian issue screenplay, this time focusing on PTSD.  Normally, this would be a good idea, but adequate research and firsthand accounts are needed to keep mental health portrayals realistic.  There are many complex factors to consider, so crowding out this concept with subpar content isn’t the way to go.  Unfortunately, this film is unable to connect with the audience, which likely means that it will be forgotten in a few weeks.

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

Miracle on Christmas (Movie Review)

Amazon.com: Miracle On Christmas: Erin Bethea, Jason Burkey, Brett Varvel,  Micah Lynn Hanson, Kimberly Cruchon Brooks, Thomas Bonifield: Movies & TV

Plot Summary

Mary isn’t having a good holiday season: it’s been a year since her dad died, and now, Mary’s husband, James, has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Nonetheless, Mary wants to hide this from her mother and siblings, who are coming over for Christmas. On top of it all, James brings a total stranger, Harry, to the celebration. However, Harry turns out to be more than anyone thought and offers new hope during the hard times.

Production Quality (2 points)

At the very least, Miracle on Christmas meets the minimum requirements for modern productions. There aren’t many concerns to note here, and this section has many positives, including good video quality, camera work, and audio quality. The generic soundtrack leaves something to be desired, however, but the sets, locations, and props are acceptable. The main issues in this area pertain to continuity errors, cheesy special effects, and sparse editing. These seems to be evidences of a thrown-together creation, but this part of the film is still above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Using a stream-of-consciousness style of storytelling, this plot presents one thing after another without much continuity between scenes. It’s also hard to connect with characters as many conversations go round and round without accomplishing anything, and dialogue is generally inadequate at building characters. It goes without saying that the angel character is very creepy and overly focused on even though it’s unclear why he even needs to be there except to unnecessarily complicate matters. With no clear themes or central focus, this narrative is essentially a bunch of random scenes strung together, and it’s difficult to feel like the happenings are realistic. While the storyline drags on and on without proper payoffs, time is wasted on useless musical montages, angel monologues, and juvenile animations that accomplish nothing. Therefore, with no potential, zero points can be awarded here.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Although the acting of Miracle on Christmas isn’t all bad, there are many instances of very awkward acting. This include over-the-top and forced emotions as well as overdone line delivery. Several cast members are trying way too hard to either make themselves known or be very theatrical in their performances. Thus, this section rounds out an overall underwhelming effort.

Conclusion

Kevan Otto continues to randomly release low-quality screenplays without warning and without justification. This movie is just another installment in a long line of disappointments that further damage the reputation of Christian entertainment. With no clear direction or purpose, there’s really no reason why Miracle on Christmas should have been made, making it another example of why people continue to be suspicious of Christian creations.

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

My Brother’s Keeper (March 2021)

Coming to theaters March 19, 2021 from Manns/Mackie studios

Writer(s): Ty Manns

Director(s): Kevan Otto

Producer(s): Robert C. Bigelow, Troy Duhon, Joel M. Gonzales, Robert Katz, Bishop Charles Mackie, Ty Manns, Pat Mathews, Brandon Riley

Starring: Joey Lawrence, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Robert Ri’chard, Gregory Alan Williams, T. C. Stallings, Shannen Fields, Blue Kimble, Karen Valero, Jeff Rose, Ty Manns, Derrick Gilliam, Stephanie Katz, Delone Manns, Nate Jones, Justin Clark, Roz Williams, Amberiell Hudson, Jermal Martin

Plot Synopsis: Travis Fox is a returning veteran struggling with PTSD and his faith in God.

Pardoned by Grace (Summer 2021)

Movie about the life of a Michigan City priest films in the Region, Porter County Jail

Expected Summer 2021

Writer(s): Mark E. McCann, Melissa Stamper

Director(s): Kevan Otto

Producer(s): Ben Graham, Scott Highberger, Kevan Otto, Brandon Riley, Tim Warren, Ron Wolff

Starring: Joey Lawrence, Michael W. Smith, Jossie Thacker, Danny Farder, Ben Graham, Chandra Michaels, Tom McElroy, Chad Moseley, Daniel Ball, Roger Welp, Katie Mancuso, Steve Flanigan, Dave Honigman, Ron Wolff, Obi Obisoulstar Uwakwe, Tim Hubbard, Sarah Joanou, Brenda Reiser, Ezra Fontanez, Lindsay Whisler, Elyse Collier, Joe Goehl

Plot Synopsis: This biopic film tells the true story of Scott Highberger, a man who was in and out of jail for a big part of his life. Based on his memoir, the film will cover his 35 arrests, eight felony convictions, five prison sentences, and his path to drug addiction and personal turmoil. The film will end with his new life as an outreach pastor at Road to Life Church’s Michigan City campus who ministers to inmates at Westville Correctional Center.

Redeemed (status unknown)

Redeemed

Status currently unknown

Writer: Ty Manns, Monice Mitchell, Jacqueline D. Moore

Director: Ty Manns

Producer: Vickie Adams, Joel M. Gonzales, Bishop Charles Mackie, Ty Manns, Jackie Moore, Kevan Otto, Pejman Partiyeli, Brandon Riley, Tim Warren

Starring: Keshia Knight Pulliam, Jeff Rose, T.C. Stallings, Eaddy Mays, Roshawn Franklin, Shannen Fields, Karen Valero, Cameron Arnett, Ty Manns, Nereida Velazquez, Johann Mikaiel, Shari Dyon Perry, Deetta West, Joel M. Gonzales, Thom Scott II, Jef Holbrook, Mayra Nuñez, Ole Goode, Bishop Charles Mackie, N’dia-Marrie Farr-Cannon, Sara Lynn Herman, Will Oliver, Sam Beman

Plot Summary: After becoming the youngest female, minority judge elevated to the bench in her state, Angela Sylvester quickly finds herself trapped into a ‘Kids for Pay’ prison scam orchestrated by her boss, Judge Cynthia Paulino. Fearing her legal career and dream of becoming a federal judge is over, she struggles and her career spirals out of control. Afraid, she takes the advice of a close friend and turns to her faith to find the strength needed to redeem herself of the crimes committed.

Christmas Manger (Movie Review)

Image result for christmas manger movie

Plot Summary

Jessica ran away from home as a teenager after she did something she would regret forever, but now, after living with an abusive boyfriend for several years, she finds herself running back home for help. However, when she arrives on the farm she once lived on, she finds that all is not well nor how she left it. As she struggles to begin a new life, she discovers that she will need to return to her childhood faith in order to move forward.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As should be the case for all recently-made Christian films, Christmas Manger demonstrates high production quality, as evidenced by good video quality and camera work. Though the audio can be quiet at times due to not having enough soundtrack, the sets, locations, and props are adequately used and well-constructed. Besides a few one-off lighting issues in some scenes, which may be by design, the editing is good, which rounds out a great production that we should see become more and more commonplace as we move into a new year of Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Andrea Gyertson Nasfell has always been good at writing plots that portray real and accessible characters in believable life situations. This is paired with dialogue that is mostly good at building character personality and motive, but we really needed to see a bit more from the conversations among the characters in order to develop them a bit further since this is a highly character-based plot. While there are some great character back stories, flashbacks would have been helpful to enhance them. However, this return-to-hometown for Christmas plot does a great job with avoiding most of the cliches that come with this genre, and it’s a more meaningful Christmas movie than usual, even if the story is a bit simplistic. As a whole, this is an enjoyable story with no glaring errors but nothing truly dynamic either.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

This film also has surprisingly good acting, including Andrea Logan White’s arguably best performance to date as she excels at playing herself. Other cast members are also effective and comfortable in their roles, even if a few random cast members tend to put a damper on things to keep this section from being perfect. In the end, however, this is a professional acting job to round out a professional and adequate film.

Conclusion

Films like Christmas Manger should be the norm and the baselines in Christian film (especially Christmas movies) rather than the exception. Hopefully, as we close out another year of Christian entertainment, we are beginning to see more of this, which will presumably lead to more dynamic and groundbreaking films from Christian creators. Movies like this one was a good launching pad to begin with, so it will be good to see Andrea Nasfell continue to release quality content that is memorable and culture-changing.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

The Prayer Box (Series Review)

The Prayer Box, DVD -

Plot Summary

Welsey wants to do the right thing even as his sister lays in a hospital bed struggling in her battle with cancer.  Wesley faithfully attends church, even though his mother has forsaken the faith for now, and he fervently prays at the altar every week.  However, he is hurt when he sees that his pastor is throwing away the prayer requests people put in the prayer box at the altar.  Thus, Wesley launches a plan to redeem the prayer box and convince God with his deeds that his sister deserves to survive the battle with cancer.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s clear that although the budget for this miniseries was somewhat limited, Kevan Otto used his funds responsibly and maximized the potential from them.  This is evidenced by clear video quality, good camera work, and professional audio quality.  The soundtrack is somewhat generic, but it gets better as the series progresses.  The sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized as they appear to be realistic for the situations.  The main drawback here is the slight need for refined editing in order to avoid including as much B-roll footage for filler scenes as it did.  However, this is a very good production, which signals that Kevan Otto has finally turned over a new leaf in his career.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The Prayer Box is a testament that even Kevan Otto can create good entertainment when he has a good team and when he actually uses employs a talented screenwriter.  Using an actual screenwriter in a series rather than having the director double as the screenwriter is rare, but it great assists in the proper development of story and characters.  This definitely an advantage to this miniseries as a majority of the dialogue is well-crafted and serves to develop character personalities and character motivations without having them fall into stereotypes or pre-determined molds.  Also, the conversations among the characters drive the plot forward rather than having them tossed along by random circumstances.  The premise of the story is also realistic and believable, including the portrayal of churches.  There is also quite a bit accomplished in the story without narration, and the Christian messaging is very poignant and on point.  However, there are a few drawbacks to this plot, including some slightly boring elements in the first episode and some scenes that feel like they’re just kicking the can down the road instead of developing the characters deeper like a series should be able to due to having more time to do so.  One example of this is one too many off-screen characters that are only talked about rather than seen, but this could be due to budget constraints.  There are also other opportunities for content enhancement, and while the ending is effective, it’s somewhat vague, but it definitely does its job.  As a whole, this is easily the best Christian series to date and a great opportunity for Kevan Otto to start afresh in his entertainment ambitions.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The acting of The Prayer Box is definitely one of its strongest points.  This includes surprisingly good child and teenager acting and arguably the best performances to date from Carey Scott and Reginald VelJohnson.  The only drawbacks here are some slightly overdone makeup from some cast members and some slightly under-performed scenes, but it’s nothing too major.

Continuity Quality (2 points)

One big question with The Prayer Box is whether or not it really needed to be a series since it only has two total hours of runtime.  While it’s great to create a miniseries out of a book to release it directly to PureFlix on Demand rather than making a half-baked direct-to-DVD film no one will ever see since this is something we absolutely need to see more of, it’s hard to see why a two-hour series was needed.  If the funding allowed, more runtime would have been good to further develop the characters if at all possible.  However, despite these minor nitpicks, the flow of this series is mostly good except for a few abrupt episode endings.  As a whole, it’s refreshing to see a series, albeit a short one, that is committed to above average continuity and flow between episodes.

Conclusion

Even though The Prayer Box is a very basic and generic storyline, this is just the tip of the iceberg of what can be done when streaming series employ true screenwriters to create content.  Trisha Mammen definitely has a lot of talent as a screenwriter, and Kevan Otto has definitely found a new stride in his career that needs to continue; it’s highly possible that this film could have made the Hall of Fame as a film.  Though we’ve criticized Otto in the past for his poorly created films like A Question of FaithGrace of GodIn the Name of GodOnline, Lukewarm, Decision, and WWJD 1 and 2, after The Prayer Box, it’s possible that his future entertainment ventures could be transformed with a second wind of much better source material and more well-funded productions.  It just goes to show that anyone can make a turnaround with better resources and that we are always willing to recognize improvement and success – no matter who it comes from.

Final Rating: 9 out of 14 points

Grace of God {The Takers} [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

First Church has been robbed by an unknown culprit!  $20,000 is missing!  However, the pastor wants to keep it all under wraps, so he can control the investigation without going to the police.  That’s why he decides to hire a private investigator who’s an atheist to track down the criminal by interviewing everybody in the church.  Though this investigator is skeptical of the faith, he decides he needs to make himself the personal bodyguard of the church secretary, who is having her own family struggles.  Will everyone be able to learn the lesson of stealing?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Kevan Otto’s production models are fairly standardized, and Grace of God is another example of this.  Video quality and camera work are fine, even if lighting is a bit inconsistent at times.  Audio quality is mostly acceptable, even if the soundtrack is sometimes too loud; there are also some unnecessary background\outside noises that come through.  Sets, locations, and props are passable, but they are fairly limited.  Further, the editing is average at best as many scenes drag on far too long and do not hold the attention well.  Overall, this is just another average production with nothing special to write home about.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

In conjunction with In the Name of GodGrace of God was intended to be a part of a series about the Ten Commandments.  Undoubtedly, we would have been gifted with awkward iterations and proclamations from John Ratzenberger at the beginning of each film.  Grace of God is shockingly about ‘You Shall Not Steal’ (notice the creative original title), and it’s also somehow supposed to be about Easter (there is no way to derive this concept from the plot at all).  Regardless, this plot is as awful as can be expected from such a limited idea.  Characters are totally blank, and most of the film is filled up with them awkwardly standing around and talking without saying anything substantial.  Dialogue is mostly empty and mindless since it is so full of message-pushing and forceful ideas.  A lot of the plot points and story arcs really lack basis in reality and feel very manufactured.  In the end, the storyline lacks any real impact and falls flat on its face.  It’s doubtful that many audiences will make it through the second half of the film–even though that stand-up-in-church scene is pretty hilarious.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Though there is slight potential in this acting, most of the cast members therein seem lost and struggling without any assistance.  Line delivery is choppy, and emotions come off as forced.  There is no clear presence of acting coaching, and Erin Bethea actually exhibits some of the best acting skills, if you can believe it.  Overall, most acting performances are just too robotic and unnatural to warrant any higher ratings.

Conclusion

Thank heavens there weren’t more of these films made.  I can just imagine the halting, sermonizing grunts of John Ratzenberger on keeping the Sabbath day and not coveting.  Hardly any Christian film makers make ten films period, so beginning with this sort of plan was certainly ambitious.  By now, Kevan Otto has made about ten films, so he could have forced them all to be in this ‘series.’  Online fits perfectly with the adultery commandment.  Lukewarm or Decision could be about honoring your parents or something.  A Question of Faith could reference…organ donation?  Regardless, movies that force messages down your throat in the form of sermons rarely have any real impact, so it’s best that this method is avoided altogether.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

A Question of Faith [2017] (Movie Review)

Have you donated your organs today?

Plot Summary

When David Newman’s son dies tragically from a texting and driving accident, the doctors come around looking for his son’s organs to harvest so they can save a dying white girl who has a budding musical career ahead of her.  David is trying to take over head pastor duties from his Scripture-reading-robot father, but the pressure is too much, especially when his wife fully embraces advocating for organ donation in the schools.  Kate Hernandez feels like she has no hope left when her daughter is thrown into jail for texting and driving, but somehow, all of these characters come together in the end in an underserved church sing-off so they can feel good about themselves again.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Despite past production snafus, Kevan Otto has found himself more financially successful in A Question of Faith due to PureFlix’s assistance.  This newfound funding has paid off, as there are very few errors in this production.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all professional.  The soundtrack leaves something to be desired, but it’s not that significant.  Sets, locations, and props are all appropriate and well-constructed.  The biggest issues to point out here are some small editing issues due to the confusing plot presentation.  Yet when you compare this great production with the plot that accompanies it, it’s like daylight and dark.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

Kevan Otto has not lost his unusual storylines of old, yet A Question of Faith manages to somehow be worse than WWJD, Lukewarm, Online, and Decision.  Even though it seems like on its face that this movie is going to be a ninety-minute public service announcement on the dangers of texting and driving, the plot actually has a very sick and twisted obsession with organ donation.  Don’t get me wrong—organ donation is fine if you want to do that, but trying to force the issue like this is downright strange and off-putting.  Combine that with the plastic and empty portrayal of Christians (as usual) and basically no substantial dialogue, this plot is a real doozy.  Time is wasted on meandering ideas that have no real purpose or focus except to be threaded together by that annoying guy who’s always slapping Bible verses on everyone’s problems.  Tragedies are treated very lightly and callously, thus warranting some of the characters to ask other characters if they even care, which is a valid point.  In the end, the only purpose to this film is to push public service announcements and strange causes and culminates in a ridiculously endless sermonizing concert sequences that rivals God’s Not Dead.  Needless to say, Kevan Otto still hasn’t learned anything.

Acting Quality (1 point)

A lot of these cast members are fearfully lifeless, but then again, they really don’t have much to work with in the line department.  Emotions are bland and most performances are very stock.  T. C. Stallings always posts above average performances, but everyone else seems lost and confused.  It seems like the idea here was to paste a bunch of ‘big name’ cast members into this movie and hope it stuck.  It didn’t work.

Conclusion

These days, all you have to do to get a large budget signed off on your film is a random cause, some recognizable cast members, and maybe a big musical number.  Don’t get us wrong—it’s extremely important to promote great causes in films—but this isn’t the way.  Even if this was a palatable cause, it’s not presented well at all.  None of these characters are able to be related to as people; they’re just pawns in an obvious money-making game.  Any opening weekend hype surrounding this film is sure to die away as Christian audiences once again quietly wonder where all the good Christian movies are.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Online [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When John is encouraged by one of his coworkers to check out the site Social Friend Pages to see if he can find his high school girlfriend, he begins a downward spiral.  Though he is already married, he begins meeting his old girlfriend just to ‘catch up’.  Things get out of hand and John soon finds himself hiding from his wife and from God.  Everything comes to a head and John will have to make a decision on which path he is going to take.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Online is a surprisingly okay production with good video quality and camera work, but it is not error-free.  Audio quality is fine, but the soundtrack is very stock.  There are also too many scenes with poor lighting.  Sets and locations are fine, but we would have liked to see more diversity.  Finally, the editing is a major problem in this film as there are far too many empty scenes.  Most of the runtime is filler content and wasted time.  In short, this is an average production, but it doesn’t save this movie from itself.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

This is perhaps one of the worst so-called plots written.  Besides the ridiculous and boring premise that continually repeats the same drudging scenes over and over and again, most of the characters are total strawmen.  A majority of the dialogue is obvious and designed to force the plot along.  While we certainly agree that many problems can come about from the internet, this film suggests that the internet causes all problems known to man today.  Thus, many issues are portrayed incorrectly, as if sin is only available in the digital age and as if these characters had no pre-existing issues before they ventured onto social media.  Besides this, no depth or meaning is conveyed—struggles cannot be appreciated not only because they are out of touch with reality, but also because the characters are not believable.  In the end, there was little justification for this plot being written.

Acting Quality (1 point)

While this acting is sometimes okay, the cast is overshadowed by one cast member that has a loud, ridiculous, and obviously fake French accent.  Elsewhere, emotions are stiff and line delivery is sometimes strained.  Though not all is bad, it’s certainly not all good.

Conclusion

We sincerely believe that Kevan Otto means well, but his delivery is often misguided.  Non-plots like Online are unfortunately laughable because they are based on flimsy concepts that suggest that sin is worse now than it has been in the past.  The characters therein are also so shallow that they can’t be understood.  Also, no story has any chance when it consists of a series of scenes that repeat cyclically.  Furthermore, when casting, it’s best not to have such a glaring error as a fictitious accent that draws so much attention to itself.  Unfortunately, there is little that can be done for this mess.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

What Would Jesus Do? The Woodcarver (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Matthew Stevenson vandalizes a church out of anger over his parents’ pending divorce, some are ready to press charges against him.  But when the woodcarver, Ernest Otto, whose work he damaged learns about the boy, he decides to take a different route.  Otto invites Matthew to come help him in his wood working business as payment for what he did.  Though reluctant at first, Matthew is glad to finally have someone to talk over about his family’s struggles.  As their relationship grows, things begin to change for Matthew.  He must learn that Christianity is more than just words, and that those who claim the name of Christ must ask themselves ‘What would Jesus do?’

 

Production Quality (2 points)

What a difference a third movie makes (sometimes).  Gone are shaky camera work, dark scenes, and inconsistent audio quality.  Instead, The Woodcarver offers a more palatable production experience, one we wish every independent Christian film would at least try to offer.  The sets and locations are down to earth and realistic, albeit slightly limited.  The surroundings are mostly realistic.  The soundtrack isn’t much to get excited about, but this is a minor issue.  There are a handful of minor errors that keep this production from being all that it could be, but above average production is a huge accomplishment for this odd film franchise.  We always wish it were better, but sometimes we can’t ask for much more than this.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

In a complete detour from the previous installments in this trilogy, The Woodcarver introduces a completely new cast of characters and finally dispenses with ‘the drifter’.  The same underlying concept of ‘What would Jesus do?’ is still present, yet it is ten times more meaningful than before.  Rather than multiple meandering and meaningless subplots, this film focuses on one meaningful subplot about a struggling family, something many viewers can relate with.  The characters are more relatable than the other characters in this trilogy, even though the plot is little bit simplistic.  It’s a shame that the characters are not deeper than they are since there are few of them, but effort was certainly put into this plot.  The dialogue is pretty average, but in the Christian movie world, when there’s no glaring errors, that’s great.  Overall, we would have liked to see a deeper, more meaningful plot, but sometimes sticking with the safe route of avoiding huge mistakes in the way to go.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Trading John Schneider for John Ratzenberger paid off.  Though it’s small, this cast really isn’t half bad.  Sometimes emotional delivery is a little off, but it is better more than not.  Line delivery is solid throughout.  There is an obvious presence of acting coaching here, which is a huge change from the rest of the trilogy.  Overall, this is a much better job.

Conclusion

As we mentioned before, wouldn’t it have been much better to save the resources spent on the first two films and put them toward this one film to make it the best it could be?  Couldn’t have one of two of the better subplots from the previous two films joined this film’s plot to create a potential Hall of Fame work?  Which is better, two terrible movies and one average one or one great movie?  We maintain that quality is always better than quantity.  Sure, we need lots of Christian movies on the market, but just think of a world where movies like The Woodcarver were the norm, not movies like the first two WWJD debacles.  That would be truly something to behold.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Lukewarm (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Luke Rogers is struggling to be the Christian he says he is.  He’s living with his girlfriend and works a questionable bartender job with his friend.  What’s more, he can’t shake the fact that he always had an unhealthy relationship with his father and that this still affects him today.  Luke sees his outspoken Christian neighbor always doing good things and being made fun of for it, and wishes that he could be like him.  Luke and his girlfriend will have to learn that choices are important and that real Christianity doesn’t come easily.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

In nearly all aspects, Lukewarm is cheap.  While the camera work, video quality, and audio quality are okay, they are not wowing.  The soundtrack is cheesy and pedestrian.  Perhaps the most draining portion of the production quality is the cheesiness of the sets and locations.  While they are slightly diverse, they scream amateur movie makers.  Things don’t look like they are supposed to and props are very B-grade.  The surroundings have an odd feel that makes the entire movie feel manufactured.  Finally, the editing is sloppy, just throwing scenes together with no rhyme or reason to them.  In short, though there was a limited budget, no care was taken by the creators to try to be tasteful, thus making it another silly Christian attempt at a movie.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Lukewarm makes a commendable effort to portray important issues facing American Christians, yet they are portrayed in a strawman fashion.  Whatever good ideas exist in this plot are mismanaged and turned into trite asides that blow over the audience’s heads.  As for the plot itself, it is full of too many disjointed subplots that do not work well together and lack continuity.  One character does something, and then another character does stuff, and then they all meet up in an unlikely way.  Characters are too black and white—‘good’ characters are completely moral and tend to condescend on the ‘bad’ characters, who become ‘good’ very quickly after empty inspirational experiences.  Despite its title, not much about this film is ambiguous.  Issues are resolved too quickly, and dialogue is either obvious or petty.  While we usually encourage the use of flashbacks, the ones used in Lukewarm are very cheesy.  To top things off, besides the neatly fixed ending, the film includes one of those obnoxious credits photo montages showing you what the characters did afterward.  In summary, Lukewarm started with a good idea of showing how Christians easily become sidetracked on useless and potentially dangerous activities and how broken family systems effect people later in life, but it quickly descended into another giant laughable strawman.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

With a cast of supposedly talented actors and actresses, Lukewarm demonstrates the importance of acting coaching, especially with an amateur script.  When some actors and actresses are better in some movies but not in others, this is the reason.  In Lukewarm, line delivery is forced and awkward.  Emotions are too obvious.  Only a handful of good acting moments save this score from being zero.  To sum it up, Lukewarm is pretty much a disaster on all fronts.

Conclusion

A word of advice: before making a movie, especially a movie with the Christian tag, make sure you have a great plot and deep characters before proceeding.  Creating a film based off of a mere idea is not good enough and only further contributes to the sagging quality of Christian media.  We find ourselves saying this over and over again, but the fact remains that the Christian film market is wrought with ill-advised low quality productions that continue to give Christian creativity a horrible reputation.  Ideas are great and should be turned into realities, but movies need great teams behind them; otherwise, nothing will change in Christian film making.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

Decision [2012] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Following the tragic death of her husband, Ilene Connors struggles to maintain her current financial situation and to keep her delinquent teenage son, Jackson, under control.  At the end of her rope, she agrees with her father’s plan to take Jackson to his remote cabin in the woods in order to teach him some tough life lessons.  Resistant and frustrated, Jackson suddenly finds himself liking the structured atmosphere.  However, he forced to face what he truly believe in when his grandfather’s medical problems leave Jackson having to man up and make some tough decisions.

 

Production Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, we have really nothing positive to say about this film.  We tried to find something, and we sort of did, but it does not pertain to production.  The camera work is very cheap, showcasing poor angles and a general camcorder feel.  The video quality is grainy and the sound quality is spotty, especially in the outdoor scenes.  The sets and locations are extremely limited.  The props are cheesy and the editing looks like it was done on a cheap computer program.  There is really nothing good to say here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Now for the movie’s only positive factor: it clearly presents the gospel message to anyone who happened to be forced to watch the remainder of the film.  That’s all we could find.  The plot is extremely simplistic and very linear.  If this was meant to be a simple gospel presentation, then the characters should have been fleshed out and it should have been marketed that way, not as a direct to DVD movie.  The dialogue is pretty good when it comes to sharing the gospel, but otherwise, it’s high school grade.  The few characters that are in the plot are stereotypical.  Events that take place in the plot are not even believable, such as the survival and outdoors parts.  The grandfather has an undisclosed heart condition that is magically healed every time he pops a pill.  Otherwise, the one hour run time is filled with useless filler, like cleaning out a barn and talking on the phone.  But nothing, absolutely nothing, can top the end of the film.  It is painfully obvious that either someone made a huge editing blunder or the money simply ran out, since the movie cuts off in the middle of someone’s dialogue.  You have to see it for yourself to believe it.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Mike Rosenbaum is obviously older than the Jackson character he plays, which adds a whole new element to this movie.  While it is noble of Natalie Grant to attempt to act while pregnant in real life, it doesn’t really work.  Overall, the cast is not coached at all.  So many times, we see actors and actresses thrown out on the set with no help, and Decision is one of those instances.

Conclusion

Every day we ask ourselves why movies like this are made.  The clear gospel message should have been lifted from this movie idea and inserted into another more worthwhile plot that someone can actually appreciate.  After watching Decision, you get the feeling that Christian movies have reached new lows.  Christian film-makers are not meant to simply churn out cheap productions for the sake of making them.  We strongly believe that God expects Christians to try their best in every area of life—including creating movies.  Decision does not meet these standards.

 

Final Rating: .5 out of 10 points