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

 

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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

 

In the Name of God {Name in Vain} [2013] (Movie Review)

Eric Roberts trying to conduct group counseling without screening clients

Plot Summary

When Mason, a troubled foster teen, comes to live with the Lewis family, he thinks that it will be just like all the other foster families he has stayed with.  But unlike the families before them, the Lewis are committed to setting him on the straight and narrow and teaching him RESPECT at all costs.  Even when he vandalizes a hardware store and is sentenced to ‘group’, the Lewis family sticks by him.  In the end, Mason will have to learn about RESPECT in order to move forward in life.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

If KKO Productions have anything going for them, at least they have figured out how to have clear video quality.  Otherwise, there is little else we can say positive for this film.  Camera work is inconsistent and some scenes are darker than others.  Audio quality is also a tossup, as some lines are indistinguishable while others are too loud.  The soundtrack is cheesy, as usual.  KKO appears to be severely limited in sets and locations, as there are really only three main sets used in this film.  This causes the editing to suffer as well, since many events take place off screen in places where they obviously could not acquire a set.  In short, old news is new news for KKO when it comes to cheaply produced Christian films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Framing an entire film as a sermon illustration is hardly ever a good idea.  It gives the writers a springboard to shove an obvious message down the viewer’s throat and is generally lazy.  Thus, In the Name of God overuses theological concepts and oversimplifies them by having characters repeat them over and over again.  Rather than showing and demonstrating Christian virtues lived out, they are talked about and impressed upon the audience with no meaningful actions to back them up.  Coupled with this overreach are empty and mindless characters, who are driven by petty and silly dialogue.  None of them seem like real people, just players in an obvious church play designed to teach second graders the Ten Commandments.  The subplots therein are very random and lack continuity, not the mention the fact that they contain highly unrealistic occurrences, such as a small church pastor placing children in foster care and a ‘counselor’ sharing confidential information with random people.  If you want to include such things in your films, please research them first.  As it is, In the Name of God makes a mockery of important issues that could have been presented in a meaningful fashion.  But alas, we can find no real potential with this movie, thus warranting no points for the plot.

Acting Quality (0 points)

As is the usual custom of KKO, otherwise talented actors and actresses are fed lines without any real coaching or guidance.  Most of the scenes in this film seem like they were one-take only.  John Ratzenberger has certainly had much better acting jobs than this one.  Eric Roberts always plays the same weird character, but that’s beside the point.  It seems like the ‘no-name’ cast members have potential that is not being brought out.  Thus, no points can be awarded here.

Conclusion

So apparently this was intended to be a movie series about the Ten Commandments.  Can you imagine ten movies like this one?  If this was supposed to be about the fourth Commandment, it completely went over our heads.  Basically, In the Name of God, or whatever it’s called, is another embarrassing low budget production that carries an in-your-face theological message that is unlikely to convert or inspire anyone.  We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: before making a Christian movie, please make sure you have the funding for what you want to do.  Then please make sure you actually have a plot.  These two things can make such a difference when your movie is completed.  Because seriously, who’s going to watch this garbage?

 

Final Rating: .5 out of 10 points

What Would Jesus Do? (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a down-on-his-luck pastor encounters a mysterious drifter who wants his help, the pastor is unsure of how he is to respond.  Mired in his own self-pity, the pastor lets the drifter pass on by.  As the drifter makes his way around the small California town searching for someone to help him, he only meets distrust and resistance.  The people of the town are all hurting and struggling in different ways, and it seems like the upstart mayoral candidate’s plans to bring a casino to town is the only hope.  But one day, the ‘few’ Christians that are ‘still faithful’ are forced to take a good look at the lives they are living when the drifter collapses in the middle of a worship service.  From there, the Christians must decide whether or not they are going to live their life by the slogan ‘What Would Jesus Do?’

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

All\KKO Productions were never much for investing money in films.  We completely understand that far too often, funding for Christian films is scarce and hard to come by, but if you’re going to make a movie, there’s no point in propping up a cut-rate production, because no enough people are going to watch and enjoy it, unless other elements, such as the plot, are very profound.  WWJD falls in line with many low quality Christian productions before and after it, sporting the typical symptoms of the same old malaise: poor video quality, cheap camera work, inconsistent sound quality, and the like.  The sets are very sloppy and the surroundings are glaringly low budget.  The soundtrack is one part Hallmark and another part indie worship band.  Finally, we have to question whether or not the editing department knew what they were doing with this film, as the plot zings all over the place, trying to land on and amplify in-your-face Christian elements.  In short, this production barely keeps its head above the water of zero points, but not by much.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

With seemingly good motives, WWJD is actually the most disjointed plot we have ever seen.  Sporting an infinite cast of shallow caricatures with laughable dialogue, this vastly meandering storyline is enough to make your head spin.  From a bumbling-borderline-creepy drifter to a depressed burned-out pastor to an awkward amateur ‘musician’ to a generic realtor to a scrupulous newspaper editor to a cartoonish political villain…the list of characters goes on and on and on.  There are numerous other peripheral characters, but you get the point.  Each character is complete with bizarre one-liners there are intended to be serious but instead come off as comical.  Strawman issues facing modern Christians (churches shutting down, casinos being built in suburban areas, evil realtors buying up low income housing, spreading rumors in the media) are presented and quickly fixed as the characters diverge to either become perfect slogan-spouting Christians or hopelessly wicked power-hungry snakes.  Everyone is either transformed into a do-gooder when a drifter collapses in the middle of a church service or is condemned to live a life of forever evil.  What’s more, this ‘plot’ limps along on childishly unrealistic elements, such as a church taking care of a sick man rather than a hospital.  By the end, this film will be trying to sell you cheap WWJD gear that makes you a better Christian (not kidding).  In short, the intent of this movie is beyond our comprehension; all we know is that it’s a mockery of Christian film—again.

Acting Quality (0 points)

This cast is essentially John Schneider and a whole host of amateurs, all of which are provided zero acting coaching.  Line delivery is awkward and emotions are either nonexistent or forced.  Positivity is overplayed; sometimes people are very over-excited to the point of embarrassment.  Lines that are meant to be serious come off all wrong and appear comedic.  Basically, if you watched Decision and Lukewarm, you get the picture of what the acting is like.

Conclusion

What else can be said that hasn’t already been said?  Between Decision, Lukewarm, and the WWJD trilogy, All\KKO Productions has really done a number on the reputation of Christian movies.  The real question is this: the message of asking what Jesus would do in every circumstance that faces us as Christians is highly important, but who is going to watch this movie to learn that?  Even if someone did watch this movie, they are highly unlikely to either be converted to Christianity or to be inspired in their faith.  Since neither of these objectives is accomplished, what’s the point of making a half-cocked, cheap, and downright embarrassing production?  We implore future film makers to take notice.  Make a difference in Christian film, not another thrift store reject.

 

Final Rating: .5 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