The World We Make (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

The Grove family has had their share of heartache over the past few years, but family friend Jordan Bishop has always been a constant support for them. However, the dynamics begin to shift when Jordan and Lee begin to develop a relationship after the grief seems to settle. Many discourage them from getting involved, and the small town seemingly works against their being together. Together, they experience unexpected prejudice and bias while discovering that they had more hiding below the surface than they previously realized.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a 2019 film, The World We Make is the type of respectable production we should be seeing time and again. There are very few flaws to point out here save for the slightly awkward editing near the end of the film (likely due to large story scope). Camera work, video quality, and audio quality are all basically flawless even though most scenes are filmed outdoors. The sets, locations, and props are extremely authentic and well-utilized; on-location shooting is definitely a big plus. Although the soundtrack could be a bit more than it is, this is a very high-level effort for a partially low-budget film, which goes to show what a little experience and proper collaboration can do for a movie.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Brian Baugh has always been committed to developing raw and real storylines based on accessible characters (I’m Not Ashamed). While The World We Make is one of his calmer tales, it’s nonetheless refreshing and believable. While the scope of this story may be a bit narrow, it’s nonetheless true-to-life and demonstrates great understanding of real people. The central romance is deeper than what we usually see in these types of films because it feels more believable and everyday. There are some very important themes explored, including grief avoidance, small town prejudice, and racial ostracizing. Characters make realistic decisions based on personality and motive rather than on plot necessity, and the storyline has a few slightly unexpected turns. As a whole, this is a very enjoyable plot to witness, and while it could have been a bit better since the ending is fairly rushed and somewhat cutoff, it’s still great as it is, which is enough to push this film over the top and onto the Hall of Fame.

Acting Quality (3 points)

There are virtually no flaws in the acting department. Caleb Castille owns another starring role, and Kevin Sizemore adapts a unique character that suits him. Gunnar Sizemore is a supporting role, but he could be a new rising star. Further, Gregory Alan Williams demonstrates a much more effective role than he’s played in the past. Overall, there is clear acting coaching present here as emotions and lines are authentically delivered, which rounds out a very commendable effort.

Conclusion

Although The World We Make could have been a bit more dynamic than this, it mostly reaches its fullest potential as a film. There are a few nitpicks, but in the grand scheme of things, Brian Baugh is continually setting himself apart as a master of characters, which seems to give him a better proclivity for series writing rather than movie writing. Indeed, not counting this year, we’ve had a longstanding drought in Christian series, so with new opportunities coming available (VidAngel), we may be poised to seeing a breakout in creators like Baugh directing their talents toward series rather than only films. Regardless of what happens, The World We Make is another good addition to the Hall of Fame and is one you’ll definitely want to make time for.

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

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Blackbear {Submission} [2019] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Blackbear was a covert military operative tasked with secretly taking out terrorists in the Middle East, but an unexpected turn of events led to his unit’s capture. While a prisoner of war, they were subjected to cruel torture, and even though they were able to escape, they were each left with serious health consequences due to the drugs that were forced upon them. Back the US, their minds are still at war as they each try to find ways to cope with the pain. Blackbear decides he needs to take up boxing again under his old coach, but he never anticipated the journey he would have to go on to find healing.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For a first-time, slightly underfunded production, Blackbear (formerly known as Submission) has some positive aspects but also some negative elements. For one, the attempts are constructing realistic sets, locations, and props, especially in the war scenes, are commendable and feel authentic. However, audio is sometimes unbalanced, and at times, the camera work is quite dizzying due to dramatic effect. While the video quality is very crisp throughout, a lot of spoken lines are obviously overdubbed, and there are some loud background noises throughout. Despite some cheap and disorienting special effects and one too many dark scenes, the soundtrack is quite good as it includes relevant NF songs. Moreover, the biggest drawback to this production is the poor editing; there are a lot of quick cuts and awkward transitions that make the viewer feel like things are rushing too quickly. For these reasons, the story comes off as choppy, but there are other concerns there as well. As a whole, while this is just an average production, there is potential here, and the complexity of the subject matter is definitely taken into consideration.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

All around, Blackbear is one big mixed bag. It’s clear that the creators really wanted to do something creative with this plot, but it got lost in its own head, so to speak. For one, the dialogue includes authentic military lingo that speaks to good expertise and research on the topic, but the plot itself moves forward too quickly as events occur without good reasons and as storytelling is overall disorganized. It seems like things happen because the writers need them to happen rather than natural events unfolding or characters making choices based on personality and motive. Moreover, there are still good things to note here, such as a good exploration of how self medication of military trauma comes to be and how secret government operations mistreat and abuse people for their own purposes. Nonetheless, all of these themes are just thrown into the proverbial pile since there aren’t any central purposes or focuses that keep the story grounded, which allows it to meander around various topics, like unethical value imposition in the medical field, cheesy portrayals of non-American characters, obscure boxing events, strawman sports villains, and vague references to abstract medical treatments that go over the audience’s heads. Throughout all of this spider-webbing, the dialogue isn’t enough to build believable characters, which is a shame due to the empty sequences of staring that waste precious time, not to mention some of the vague and understated subplots that need to be either integrated better or edited out. All of these issues are rolled in with typical sports movie tropes: training montages, impossible sports feat conversations, random local news reports, and unrealistic looks at heroin recovery; as a side note, this is the most addictive substance known to man, and nobody can just quit it cold turkey. Nonetheless, despite all of these complex issues, there is a surprisingly interesting and actually realistic twist at the end of the film that tries to tie things together in some fashion. The conclusion is very non-typical in most ways, but the monologue by one of the characters at the end isn’t enough to fix what could have been an interesting story. Characters all of a sudden become more interesting at the end, but it’s too late at this point; it would have been better to showcase the creative concepts throughout the movie rather than putting it all at the end. Even so, the way it ends still shows potential for future projects.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While a lot of the acting in Blackbear leaves something to be desired due to quite a bit of forceful and unnatural delivery styles, there are some good attempts at culturally authentic casting. Although there are a lot of blank and emotionless performances at key moments in the film, at least some of them can be explained by the psychological torture the protagonist underwent. In this vein, Scott Pryor is definitely good at playing a mind control victim. Elsewhere, some line delivery is very quick, and Eric Roberts is poorly cast as an incongruous character, but there are enough good performances throughout to keep this section average, which aligns nicely with the other sections of the movie.

Conclusion

No matter how convoluted it seems at times, on the whole, Christian entertainment is getting braver. New film makers are trying different things, and this is encouraging to see because it’s what we desperately need. The final sequences of Blackbear demonstrate creative ideas that can be used in more efficient ways, such as a series collaboration. This forum would allow the good concepts to be packaged in better ways that would reach audiences and get their messaging out there. The concept behind this film needs some type of redo, so hopefully, we’ll see more from this creative team in the coming days.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

Believe [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Matthew Peyton has tried to keep his father’s struggling factory afloat, but with the unions bearing down his neck and the economy tanking in the small town he lives in, it may be too late for him, even with Christmas just around the corner.  One night, when Matthew is attacked by angry workers, he is left for dead yet tended by a community of homeless people he never knew existed in the city.  They change his outlook on life and give him a new hope for the holidays that he thought he had lost.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a modern production, Believe is mostly high quality and professional.  Video quality is great, and camera work is good except for some unnecessarily odd camera zooms at dramatic moments.  Audio quality is good, however, as is the soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and appropriate for the film.  However, there are some confusing special effects throughout, and the editing is generally disorienting as time goes back and forth without warning.  Nevertheless, it is clear that this production team wanted to make a good film, so they mostly succeeded on this front.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Believe is one of the most complex yet disorganized Christmas plots I have ever witnessed.  It begins with unusual apocalypse undertones that depict a small town falling apart almost like a disaster film.  There is a lot of information dump dialogue to ‘catch the audience up,’ yet a lot of it is politically charged and agenda-driven.  At first, the drama seems manufactured as characters are seemingly swept along in uncontrollable circumstances like stand-ins for plot devices.  The story is also heavily centered around a stereotypical Christmas pageant that can save everything.  The protagonist is hated by almost everybody, which is another premise that seems very forced.  However, the plot pulls itself out of the nosedive in the middle as some really interesting issues and ideas are brought to light in what could have been a very unique and creative Christmas film.  However, the sheer number of ideas packed into this film cripples its influence, especially since the storyline returns to predictability and extremely quick problem-fixing and conflict-resolving for the final sequences.  Regardless, there is a lot of potential here that could be reworked into a different film.  The complexity at least keeps the viewer interested.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, this cast is professional and well-coached.  There are some moments when they are too practiced and forced in their emotions and line delivery, but this is not enough to derail the positive efforts.  On the whole, like other parts of this film, this casting and acting is what is needs to be to keep things interesting.

Conclusion

Many audiences will likely enjoy Believe, and it’s not really that bad of a movie.  But it needs some serious reorganization, along with a final sequence rework.  Too much is trying to be accomplished in this film, but we can never fault wanting to handle a lot of content when most films—especially holiday ones—suffer for any shred of substantial content.  Still, it would be interesting to see a remake of this film because there is definitely tons of potential here.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

The Case for Christ [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Lee Strobel was an acclaimed newspaper reporter who had seemingly reached a new level in his career with his in-depth research pieces.  Everything in his life seemed perfect, until his wife Leslie began talking to a Christian nurse who saved the life of their daughter and became a Christian herself.  Lee’s staunch atheism was immediately challenged by his wife’s beliefs, even though she had become a better person as a result.  Thus, Lee set out to disprove the faith of his wife by attacking the core tenets of Christianity and skeptically investigating the truth behind them.  However, the deeper he went into his investigation, the less faith he had in atheism.  He would eventually have to come to grips with what he really believed and make a decision that would change his life forever.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

After years of wandering in the proverbial wilderness, Jon Gunn and his team, aided by the new standards of PureFlix, have finally found the promised land.  The Case for Christ is a flawless production in every aspect and is an example of what we should see in every film.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are error free.  The soundtrack is highly authentic and appropriate for the time.  Sets, locations, and props are exquisite and demonstrate great care for historical accuracy.  Finally, editing is excellent as montages are kept to a minimum and each scene transitions seamlessly.  Basically, this is your textbook perfect production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

What better plot to use than a real-life story that many audiences can relate to for multiple different reasons?  Not only is this film about real people, but they are actually portrayed as real people through meaningful dialogue and realistic circumstances.  This film could have easily descended into an information-saturated and message-heavy dump that tried too hard to push its point, but that is not the case here.  Both the atheist and the Christian characters are portrayed extremely well and the highly relevant message is presented in such a way that it is both clearly understood and easily received without being pushed in your face.  In the hands of a different writer, this idea could have gone south very easily.  Yet it did not, and Brian Bird proves that with good content, he can go great things.  The only nitpick to raise here is some slight choppiness, but it’s not a big deal.  The bottom line is that this is an excellent plot and one well worth your time.

Acting Quality (3 points)

You can hardly ask for a better cast than this, as each member fits their character excellently.  There are zero acting errors to point out as every performance is executed with near perfection.  Emotions are highly believable and line delivery is on point.  This rounds out an excellent film.

Conclusion

In conjunction with Brian Bird, Jon Gunn has finally discovered his true talent and has struck gold.  He put previous disappointments behind him and found a way to become a great film maker.  All we ask of film makers is to show steady and consistent improvement, and Jon Gunn has done just that.  He was also afforded a great opportunity to tell the amazing true story of Lee Strobel and to have better funding due to the better decisions made by the PureFlix leadership.  This film gives Jon Gunn, Brian Bird, and the rest a platform to build off of to do even greater things.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

 

Sweet Sweet Summertime (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After experiencing the tragic death of his beloved mother, Caleb Burns just wants everything to stay the same.  Everything does stay the same for a time, until Caleb’s father announces that they will be moving from Franklin, Tennessee to Atlanta, Georgia after the summer is over.  Thus, Caleb and his friend Blake launch a summer master plan to not only do the things they want to do before the move, but to also try to convince Caleb’s father to change his mind.  Caleb and Blake also start a club dedicated to Caleb’s mom that does good deeds all around town.  Over the course of the summer, they learn more about themselves than they anticipated and discover just how much of a difference one summer can make.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

In keeping with their past reputation, Echolight Studios, along with its partners Triple Horse Studios and Abington Ridge Films, is certainly dedicated to building high-quality Christian productions.  Nearly every production element of Sweet Sweet Summertime is flawless.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all highly professional.  The original soundtrack suits this film.  Sets, locations, and props are also very appropriate for this film and demonstrate quality.  The only negative production element to raise is the editing, as there are one too many montages and the advancement of time is a bit too rapid.  Yet, as always, this is a top-notch production that should be commonplace in all Christian films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Also in keeping with past trends, Echolight and their team tend to leave much to be desired when it comes to their plots.  Sweet Sweet Summertime is a fairly predictable and formulaic coming-of-age film that basically writes itself from beginning to end, yet the writers did the best they could with what they had, which is all we can ask.  There is too much unnecessary and heavy-handed narration that stunts character development, yet there is also dialogue that assists in making the characters realistic and accessible.  While this story has been done before, this rendition of it is certainly not as cheesy as it could have been and many audiences will find it enjoyable.  The ending is very rushed and tidy, yet there are plenty of viewers who will like it.  Overall, while we would have liked to see more creativity, at least this team put their best foot forward.

Acting Quality (3 points)

This is the sort of cast that we should see in every Christian film.  They are highly professional and well-coached.  Line delivery is flawless and emotions are very believable.  It is rare that you see a film with no acting errors in it, but Sweet Sweet Summertime is one of those films.

Conclusion

Echolight has solidified themselves as a reliably professional studio when it comes to production quality.  They also know how to assemble a respectable, error-free cast.  Yet time and again, Echolight plots tend to leave something to be desired by choosing pre-written storylines that lack creativity.  While films like Sweet Sweet Summertime will have some impact on its target audiences, it will unfortunately be easily forgotten in time.  In order to have a lasting impact in film, the plot must be dynamic.  The day that Echolight uses a dynamic plot will be the day that the Christian film world is turned upside down.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

https://offers.pureflix.com/sweet-sweet-summertime-trailer

A Christmas Tree Miracle {Random Acts of Christmas} (Movie Review)

How'd I get stuck with this guy?
How’d I get stuck with this guy?

Plot Summary

When well-to-do David George is laid off from his job right before Christmas, he and his wife agree not to tell their three children until after Christmas to see if he can find a new job.  But as his job search becomes more and more fruitless and the money begins to run out, the George family begins to find themselves running out of options.  Confused and frustrated, they are forced to vacate their house and seek shelter elsewhere.  Though they are at the end of the rope, little do they know that things are about to turn around for them.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Everything about A Christmas Tree Miracle is a mixed bag.  While the video quality is sometimes blurry and outside scenes are not shot very well, the camera work is mostly okay.  Audio quality is good, but the obligatory Christmas soundtrack is wearing.  There are actually quite a few sets and locations used, but some of the outside ones seem fake.  Finally, the editing is just okay yet falls short of what it could be.  There seem to be too many useless scenes and the first half of the plot is spoiled before it even begins.  In all, this is an average production effort that should have been better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Essentially the Christmas version of Stand Strong, A Christmas Tree Miracle sports a surprisingly complex plot, even though it has many bizarre undertones and random twists and turns.  For example, sometimes things happen just because they need to happen.  One of the main characters is a creepy and schizotypal Santa Claus figure.  Though some plot occurrences are believable, others are just too far outside of reality.  If the writers wanted this movie to be meaningful, why does it have such strange elements?  The storyline oscillates back and forth between potentially interesting and laughable.  Elsewhere, there is too much annoying narration throughout.  Though the characters have some basis of believability, they seem unfinished and at times cartoonish.  Overall, there is just a general feel to this movie that you can’t really put your finger on.  It almost makes you want to like it, but it’s just too silly to be good.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Like other parts of the movie, the acting is sometimes tolerable while other times it is smart alec and over the top.  Some cast members come off as trying to make fun of the film.  Others are more professional.  Emotions are inconsistent but line delivery is mostly on par.  Basically, just another average effort.

Conclusion

A Christmas Tree Miracle is one of those odd movies that seems better than its rating.  Yet we cannot in good faith rate it any higher when it has so many goofy elements and logical inconsistencies.  The idea is interesting and might even be worth a remake.  The creators seem semi-genuine in what they are doing and produced a good amount of content to back it up.  However, this film just isn’t up to par with what it should be.  They should have spent less time on quasi-fantastical ideas and more time trying to bring this story into the real world.  But perhaps they have better things in store for the future.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Blackbear (June 2019)

Coming to select theaters June 14, 2019

Website

Writer(s): Scott Pryor, Laura Pryor

Director(s): J.M. Berrios

Producer(s): Scott Pryor, Laura Pryor, Randall Owens, Autumn Bailey-Ford, Gloria Stella

Starring: Scott Pryor, Darrin Henson, Eric Roberts, Kevin Sizemore, Lorynn York, Sara McMann, Ovince St. Preux, John Gray, Laura Pryor

Plot Synopsis: After two marines make it home following an ISIS interrogation, one struggles to survive while the other fights his way back into the mixed martial arts world that he left behind years ago – looking for a fight worth living for.

Woodlawn (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Coach Tandy Geralds only believes in what he sees in front of him.  All he sees is a broken high school in Alabama forced to integrate two racial groups who desperately do not want to associate with each.  Coach Geralds, also the assistant principle, is overworked, is unpopular with the school board, and is failing as a husband and father.  His players are frustrated with integration and racial tensions flare easily.  Tony Nathan, an underappreciated African-American athlete, is among them, yet he has been raised to treat people, regardless of skin color, the way Christ treated them.  Everything changes for the team one day when Hank, an itinerant and seemingly offbeat sports chaplain, convinces Coach Geralds to let him talk to the team.  At the end of his rope, Tandy reluctantly agrees.  What ensues from there is a miracle that transforms the football team, the high school, and the city.  One thing leads to another in a miracle season for the Woodlawn Colonels, but everything grinds to a halt one day when they are faced with adversity after adversity.  But in the grand scheme of things, each character learns in one way or another that there is one Way, one Truth, and one Life—Jesus.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The Erwin team went all out for this blockbuster production that was designed to reach outside of the Christian movie circles.  The camera work is phenomenal, ranging from difficult football scenes to character canvasing.  As an epic, the story covers a lot of time, but the editing is seamless.  It is very difficult to make an epic without being too long or without letting important plot elements fall by the wayside.  The editing team walked this tightrope flawlessly.  The inclusion of alternate and historical footage throughout the movie is an artistic flair that was pulled off nicely.  This is not a cheap production, and it shows.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)

As previously mentioned, epic plots are very hard to craft.  Too long, and the audience is lost.  Too quick, and no points are driven home.  Too often in potential epics, character development is discarded and scenes are wasted.  Neither of these mistakes occurred in Woodlawn.  Despite the large amount of plot and character content in this movie, nothing is missing.  The dialogue is concise yet profound.  There are no wasted scenes.  As a side note, Box Office Revolution maintains that movies based on real events are among some of the best on the market.  Nothing could be more true regarding Woodlawn.  The plot twists and turns just as real life does and the historical characters are adapted well.

Acting Quality (3 points)

BOR has long called the Erwin brothers the Masters of Casting.  There has never been a character in their movies that was not cast in the absolutely appropriate role.  Veterans Sean Astin, Nic Bishop, Sherri Shepherd, and Jon Voight are excellent in their roles, along with newcomers Caleb Castille and Joy Brunson.  All actors are coached well.

Conclusion

BOR can find no flaws in Woodlawn.  It also can be awarded the x-factor point for delivering an important topic packaged in a masterful epic.  The Erwin brothers have reached the pinnacle of their career, and there is no turning back now.  The Christian movie industry is at their fingertips, and BOR expects nothing less than the best.

 

Final Rating: 10 out of 10 points