Prayer Never Fails (Movie Review)

Make a serious face Eric

Plot Summary

When Aiden Paul is fired from his job as a public school teacher and basketball coach, he feels like God wants him to hire a troubled agnostic lawyer to help him win a case against his former employer.  But the school district prepares to throw the book at Aiden and make an example out of him, so he soon finds he will have to fight for his rights and for the team that loves him.  Will he be able to prevail over the odds that are seemingly stacked against him?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Prayer Never Fails begins as a very rough and raw production with very shaky camera work and strange camera angles.  The lighting also begins very poorly.  Audio quality is relatively stable throughout.  Moreover, sets and locations are consistently realistic throughout.  The good thing is that the camera work and angles do improve later in the film, if you make it far enough.  Yet the editing is confusing throughout and leaves too many dead sequences intact.  In the end, though the production ends up average, it’s a very rocky road to get there and certainly doesn’t help this film’s already-shaky cause.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this story is very low-key and slow to develop at first, it is based on an absurdly unrealistic religious freedom premise that would never stand up in the real world.  This is combined with a typical downtrodden legal premise and several other confusing and disjointed subplots.  However, the agnostic lawyer character is one of the best we have ever seen in these sorts of films and should be transported to a different movie where his flawed characteristics can be more professionally explored.  Yet other characters are not nearly as well-developed, including the downtrodden lead and the strawman villain lawyer.  Furthermore, like certain other ‘persecution in the courtroom’ stories, this film fails the test of realism and boils down to an easily patched-up and fixed ending.  This story needs to be scrapped and started over with the agnostic lawyer character only.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though this is a semi-professional cast, they begin in a very underwhelming fashion.  The lead actor is especially unsure of himself and cannot carry the leading role.  However, there is potential here and the acting, especially the emotional delivery, does greatly improve in the second half of the film.  Overall, this rounds out a very roller coaster experience of a film.

Conclusion

It’s great to write a legal plot, but why does it automatically have to be about religious freedom and so-called persecution that’s not even believable in the real world?  Also, why leave production and acting to be so shoddy in the beginning?  It’s never worth just slapping a movie together just for the sake of having a movie, especially in the new era of Christian film that demands higher quality.  We’ll never begin to understand movies like this.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

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Without a Father (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Two men, Jacob Taylor and Christopher Bauman, grew up with different lives, but they both grew up without a father.  Now they live different lives—one is successful in law but not in his marriage, while the other is successful with his family but struggles for work.  Though they have taken two different paths, the truth for them still remains the same: they both have a Father in Heaven Who wants them to turn to Him in their time of need and to put their trust in Him.

 

Production Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, as a low-budget church production, Without a Father suffers on most production fronts.  Video quality and camera work are very inconsistent and mostly low-quality.  Audio quality is also poor, including a loud and uninspiring soundtrack.  Flashbacks are black and white for no reason.  Sets, locations, and props are limited and fairly cheap.  Finally, the editing is also bad, with very awkward and abrupt cuts and transitions that make for a confusing experience.  In short, though this church likely meant well with this film, the delivery is not very good.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Though Without a Father has a good purpose (which is obviously messaged in the title), the plot completely lacks focus, as it is mostly a random collection of stories all jumbled together.  Though the agenda is good, it is still pushed way too hard in the audience’s faces.  Narration is also heavy-handed and provides more message-pushing.  Trite Christian answers are provided as unrealistic quick fixes for problems.  Also, the legal premise presented here is basically not believable.  Finally, there is no justification for this film being so long, since the runtime is only sustained by long and drawn out scenes depicting the empty characters doing random things and activities of daily living.  Basically, having a low production budget is one thing, but the least you can do as a struggling film maker is make a decent plot without heavy-handed messaging.

Acting Quality (0 points)

As an amateur church cast, some forgiveness is in order here, but it still doesn’t warrant these poor performances.  The cast members are overly practiced and stiff in their delivery.  Emotions are too extreme and there is far too much yelling.  In short, from start to finish, Without a Father is unfortunately how not to make a church movie.

Conclusion

It’s baffling to me how churches make films this long.  In my experience, it’s difficult for a church to even make a thirty-minute film, much less one that’s nearly two hours.  With all the effort put into films like this, what do they really have to show for it?  We can understand not having enough money for a first-time church production, but if you’re going to make a movie like this, at least try to write a good story with realistic characters.  Otherwise, what’s really the point?

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

 

The List [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jack Stone was dealt a bad hand as a foster kid, but he decided to strike out on his own and not let it get him down.  With hard work and determination, he completed law school and passed the bar before landing himself a lucrative job at a top law firm.  He always abided by his list of goals, and one of them was to start a family, so once he finally found the woman of his dreams, they become frustrated when they cannot have children.  But one day a miracle occurs, yet Jack consistently puts his work first.  Eventually, he will have to face the ultimate choice of what is important in his life.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The List unfortunately had a limited budget, as most startup films do.  There is shaky camera work and one too many dark lighting scenes.  Audio quality is seemingly inconsistent, including a loud soundtrack.  Sets and locations are fairly realistic.  As for the editing, there are too many awkward cuts and transitions in pursuit of cramming tons of content into this film.  However, it seems like more money was given to the second half of the film, as the production quality overall improves as the movie goes on.  With that being said, it might have been better to make this film shorter so that money was saved and used more wisely.  In the end, this is an average effort and is commendable for a pilot.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

It was very difficult to concisely summarize the plot of this film above because this story tries to cover so much content all at once.  Beginning with a collection of unexplained and random scenes, The List grows and changes as the story jumps all over the place with no continuity.  In an attempt to be an epic, all focus and purpose are lost in pursuit of covering ground and making time pass.  There are also too many failed attempts at comedy and other wasted scenes that do nothing to build characters.  Things just randomly happen and the empty and mindless characters are swept up in them.  They need much more development and deepening through better dialogue.  The only thing that keeps this plot from being a zero is the good message that is hidden somewhere in here.  With this, there are loads of untapped potential that make for a disappointing watch.

Acting Quality (1 point)

As a slightly amateurish cast, sometimes the performances here can be lazy and goofy.  At other times, the cast members seem robotic and overly coached.  Thus, emotions are sometimes hard to connect with and lines are sometimes delivered awkwardly.  But there are also good aspects to this cast as they show some potential for the future.

Conclusion

Epics are very hard to make and should be seldom attempted unless there is a really good (and probably true) story for the plot to build on.  Characters must be developed even though time is passing quickly, and this is a difficult feat to pull off.  If the creative team is not prepared to make an epic perfect, it can easily become a huge failure.  Sometimes it’s better to stick with small ideas, especially if you are still trying to hone your film making skills.  However, this team has potential for the future and we look forward to what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Virtuous [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Simone Burner is attacked by the grandson of a powerful man, she is arrested for the grandson’s murder and mostly everybody in the city turns against her for no particular reason.  Therefore, she has to seek out the help of an estranged attorney who doesn’t really like her as her last resort.  Meanwhile, there are tons of others subplots are all going on at the same time as other random characters are briefly introduced who have very loose connections to the original point.  With so much going on, the question is not what will happen, but will anyone understand what is happening?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Virtuous has a professional and adequate production, as evidenced by clear video quality, good camera work, acceptable audio quality, and an intriguing soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are professionally chosen and presented.  On the surface, it seems like Virtuous checked all the necessary boxes to receive a passing score.  However, the major detractor here is the horrific editing.  Somewhere in post-production, someone needed to sit down and have a serious talk with the JC Films team about whether or not it’s justified to have a 150 minute film that has next to no continuity.  This was the editor’s job; however, this was not done, and thus, it leaves a gaping hole in this film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

As previously mentioned, this perhaps the most convoluted and non-continuous plot in all of our viewing days.  With hundreds of subplots that have very little connection to one another, there is no way to make sense of what is going on as the story hops from one random thing to the next.  There’s all kinds of intrigue with this local judicial and law enforcement system and how corrupt businessmen are trying to control stuff, plus some stereotypical down-on-his-luck who takes on a seemingly impossible case that has some ties to a non-profit involving Erin Bethea, and this doesn’t even cover the random guy in the hospital and the nurse who takes care of him who also has a questionable position on the jury of the original trial.  This previous run-on sentence doesn’t even cover all the points Virtuous tries to expand on.  It’s like twelve different people all had ideas and decided to shove them all together into one bloated film.  With so much going on, there is no hope for character development as dialogue is stunted and all over the place.  The only characters that stand out are strawmen villains, unfortunately.  Yet despite all of this massive blending of concepts, there is a really interesting idea somewhere lost in the fray that would be better served in a miniseries format.  It’s disappointing to see good ideas go to such waste, especially when it’s like this.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

With so many cast members, it’s really hard to keep up.  This is an unusually large cast for a Christian film, thus making the performances inconsistent and random.  Sometimes line delivery and emotional delivery are good, while other times they are not.  Overall, it comes out as fairly average.

Conclusion

When you’re in the process of making a film that is over two and a half hours and you actually have the budget to make a film this long, perhaps you need to stop and consider: with so much content, I should make this a series!  People love series: just look at the unexplainable success of When Calls the Heart.  Why not, instead of making a cumbersome film like this one, try something different and create an interesting genre-busting Christian series.  It would be a huge hit.  Yet once again, we are left wondering what could have been.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Apocalypse 4: Judgment (Movie Review)

Everything else has happened in this series, so let’s throw Mr. T in here too

Plot Summary

As the ONE has tightened its grip on the world, Christianity is outlawed and everyone must take the Mark of world leader Franco Macalousso, or they will be arrested and possibly executed.  The world must worship Macalousso or be doomed.  But when the world leader feels that excitement about hating Christians is wearing thin, he decides to stage a televised trial for infamous Christian Helen Hannah to get people interested again.  Enigmatic defense lawyer Mitch Kendrick is recruited to ‘defend’ her, even though it’s all staged.  But no one knows that Mitch is searching for the truth himself—will he be able to find it?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

As this stupid series finally grinds to a halt, we can say affirmatively that production quality barely changed throughout it.  While camera work and video quality have improved in this final installment, nothing else has.  The audio quality is inconsistent and the soundtrack is quite loud at times.  Sets, locations, and props, in an attempt to look ‘futuristic’, only come off as cheesy.  Finally, like the rest of the series, editing is quite poor.  On the bright side, there’s no more product placements, but it’s unacceptable to have a series this long with such bad production quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Was there really a justification for a fourth installment in this series that doesn’t include anything about the subplots that were supposedly continued at the end of Tribulation?  Helen Hannah remains to be the central Christian character of the series for some reason, but otherwise we are introduced to even more characters we’ve never seen before, including Mr. T.  The same ridiculous concepts this series has always pushed are present in this final film as well, but this time transposed on top of a staged legal battle.  Dialogue does nothing for character development as a lot of time the is filled exploring vague and isolating concepts.  It seems like the writers are constantly inventing ways to kill time without actually helping us to get to know all these characters they shove at us.  Finally, though the end is slightly interesting and has some potential, it cuts off with an abrupt transition to the nonexistent fifth film they obviously wanted to make.  Thankfully, their funding was finally cut.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

As Corbin Bernsen and Mr. T join this crowded cast, things really do not improve.  There are too many over the top emotions and shouting sequences.  There is some potential with line delivery, and this cast seems professional on the surface, but it’s just not good enough.  This is another disappointing effort.

Conclusion

Well, it’s finally over.  What did we learn?  When you can’t even create an average production, don’t make four movies.  When you don’t have any plot or character development to speak of, don’t make four movies.  When you can’t focus on a central story or character arc in your series and instead constantly come up with new characters and subplots with each installment, don’t make four movies.  When you cast all kinds of ‘big names’ but don’t bother to coach them, don’t make four movies.  Are you seeing a theme here?  The Apocalypse series is just another blight on Christian film and will hopefully be forgotten one day, but at least we can learn something from it…I hope…

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

The Trial [2010] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Kent “Mac” McClain’s wife and sons are tragically killed in a car accident, he just wants to end it all.  However, he is interrupted by a phone call and is given a new purpose by the person on the other end: to revive his law practice by taking on a special capital punishment case.  So he assembles a team and begins investigating, but the deeper he digs, the more fishy and complicated things become.  Mac soon finds himself not only fighting for the life of his defendant, but for his very own.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The good thing is that Robert Whitlow does not settle for low to average quality productions when it comes to bringing his books to the big screen.  Video quality and camera work are very professional.  Sets and locations are realistic.  Audio quality is good, although the soundtrack is pedestrian.  Finally, the editing is sometimes effective in being suspenseful, but other times it is too choppy and exposes some missing time.  It seems like there is content missing that was cut from the original take due to length.  However, this is not done very well, as will be highlighted next.  But in the end, Whitlow, Gary Wheeler, and crew know how to put together a respectable production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Whitlow clearly knows legal procedure and is the right person to be writing legal suspense.  The premise of this plot is therefore realistic and is filled with fairly believable, down-to-earth characters and pretty good dialogue.  However, as previously mentioned, there needs to be more useful content included and few melancholy scenes.  Also, Whitlow has a tendency towards overdone drama, which is also present in The Trial.  Finally, there are a few too many coincidences in this plot and a rushed cheesy end that happens because it needed to.  The cheesy villain is given too much time to monologue about their evil plan, although it’s unclear why they did what they did.  All in all, this is once again a respectable effort, but perhaps not the best Whitlow book to choose for a movie.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Acting is this film’s strongest suit as each cast member fits his or her character perfectly.  There is also a presence of clear acting coaching, which is likely the influence of Gary Wheeler, a student of the Kendrick brothers.  Although there are some minor errors that keep this section from being perfect, this casting job shows how it’s done.

Conclusion

The saddest part about this film is that, based on the market availability of Christian movies, films like The Trial seem really good.  In reality, this should be the baseline of quality, not the improvement.  While it is not good enough to be Hall of Fame, The Trial is good enough to be interesting, although it may not capture the attention of many audiences.  Gary Wheeler has a lot of potential as a creator and needs to keep trying until he makes that breakthrough to greatness.  He has great hope for the future.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Jimmy [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jimmy Mitchell is a special boy.  Though he is afraid of water, he is able to see angelic beings known he calls ‘Watchers’ all over his small mountain town.  His father is a defense attorney and his mother is a clerk at the local courthouse, so Jimmy is not unfamiliar with the legal process.  But he is still unsure of what to do when he overhears one of his father’s clients planning to commit a crime, even though he has been recently acquitted.  Jimmy must determine whether or not he is going to overcome his fear to do the right thing no matter what.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As is the custom for Whitlow Films, the production quality of Jimmy is above average.  The camera work is solid and the camera work is mostly good.  The video quality and sound quality are good, but not great.  The sets, locations, and props are authentic.  Overall, there is not much else to be said here—the production of Jimmy is neither extremely negative nor game-changing.  However, it is a step above most Christian films and is likely the best they could have done with the resources available.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from another Robert Whitlow book, the plot of Jimmy is solid for a down to earth small town story.  The characters are true to life and their emotional struggles are real.  Unfortunately, the book’s plot is more dynamic than that of the movie’s.  The adaptation is not fully complete and the movie seems subdued and muted.  There is nothing glaringly wrong with the plot of Jimmy, but it just doesn’t make it past the average mark.  In addition to this, to no one’s surprise, Whitlow elected to use the alternate ending of the novel for the movie.  We felt that the alternate ending is what makes the book as creative as it is.  Without it, the storyline seems incomplete.  Therefore, as is reflected by the score, Jimmy is reduced to an average plot.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The acting is the strongest point of this film.  The film is well-cast and the actors and actresses are well coached.  The only thing that keeps this portion from being perfect is its lack of excellent quality.  The acting is great, but not excellent.

Conclusion

Jimmy is a heartwarming film that portrays special needs people in a very good way.  Though Robert Whitlow sometimes tends to be too sensational, Jimmy avoids this pitfall.  It contains creative conceptions of what special needs people may experience.  The bottom line is that the important message of this film should not be missed: all people deserved to be treated as humans created by God.  Thankfully, this message is not marred by awful production like many Christian films.  It is only too bad that Jimmy was not dynamic enough to make the Hall of Fame.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

The List [2007] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Renny Jacobsen never really knew his father, so he doesn’t feel anything when he receives word of his death except how large his inheritance is.  That’s why he is devastated when he discovers the unusual and unorthodox contents of his father’s will—he cannot receive any of his money unless he joins a secret society known as the Covenant List.  In route to joining The List, Renny crosses paths with Jo, an unlikely potential List member.  Together, they discover that there is more to the secret society than they thought.  Renny must choose the truth before it is too late and before everything he holds dear slips away from him.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Distributed by a large company, The List has decent production quality.  The video quality is pretty good and the sound quality is consistent.  The sets and locations are diverse and well-constructed.  The film has an overall professional feel, but there are some editing problems.  Some scenes last too long while others are cut too short for the audience to really understand what is going on without reading a lot into it.  There are too many cross-fades and fadeouts.  Overall, the production is above average yet has some errors that hurt it from being all it could be.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from the novel by Robert Whitlow, the plot is more complex than most Christian movies.  It explores a genre unique to Christian movies—legal suspense—and does not follow the typical legal fiction storyline.  There is a lot of interesting content as the plot explores spiritual warfare, something many Christian films would never dare to touch.  However, it is not handled in the best way and comes off as overly sensational.  Too much time is spent early in the movie educating the audience on the complex inner workings of the secret society and not enough time is spent on redemptive qualities, which are rushed through and tacked on at the end of the movie.  Because of the high amount of plot content, dialogue often gets neglected, thus leaving stock characters.  Two hours was not enough to cover the scope of this plot properly.  In short, there is a lot of creative content here that was not utilized properly.  More could have been made of this film.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The acting is somewhat professional.  There are no glaring errors except for obviously overly practiced and fake Southern accents.  But at the same time, there is no truly dynamic acting that makes this film interesting.  When it comes down to it, the acting is average, thus garnering an average score.

Conclusion

Robert Whitlow has some interesting plots that should be depicted on the big screen, but The List was likely not the best book to choose, since it was first novel.  Secret societies, spiritual warfare, and legal suspense need to be incorporated in various ways into Christian films, but there is a time, a place, and a way for everything.  Even plots like The List are more complex than your average inspirational film, but it still not the greatest.  That’s why it has been awarded an average score.  Nonetheless, we applaud efforts to bring unique movies to the Christian scene and anticipate more to come.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Come What May [2009] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Caleb Hogan has always been torn between his parents and their differing belief systems.  He finally convinces his lawyer mother to fund a semester at Patrick Henry College for him, even though they hold beliefs contrary to hers.  Interested in law himself, Caleb joins the mock trial team and begins working with Rachel Morton, a somewhat stodgy girl whom he likes but cannot date right away due to her standards.  They begin to have a conflict over the moot court topic: overturning Roe vs. Wade.  Caleb is unsure of the college’s insistence on full overturn, especially as he and Rachel work as interns at his mother’s firm while they take on an abortion case in real life.  In the end, one worldview must win out in Caleb’s mind and heart.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Come What May is obviously an amateur film, but it didn’t have to be this bad.  While the video quality is okay, there is really nothing else good to say, unfortunately.  The makeup jobs on each actor are poor.  The camera work is stock, and the lighting and sound quality are very inconsistent.  The sets are quite limited, which can be expected, but the outdoor scenes rarely have sound.  Finally, the editing is poor—some scenes are very confusing and others last too long.  However, this may also be due to a lack of good content.  Overall, it is hard to justify this movie’s existence if for the production alone.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Patrick Henry College is supposed to be an expert on winning moot court championships, and make sure to not let the audience forget their greatness in their own brand of product placements throughout the movie.  However, if they are so good, then they should at least get their facts straight.  They do not.  There are multiple moot court championship inaccuracies and untrue facts, including having a former Supreme Court justice judge the final round.  It is great to have a pro-life message, but it comes off very abrasive and preachy, like the creators are trying to force things down your throat.  Some arguments used for the pro-life worldview are so off-the-wall that Box Office Revolution does not support them.  As previously mentioned, there are plenty of unnecessary scenes, and offbeat amateurish dialogue litters the film.  To top things off, this movie reinforces negative Christian stereotypes by purporting strange views of the roles of women in society.  The ‘bad’ characters are caricatures, with the exception of one character, who has an interesting enough arc to save this plot from garnering zero points.  In short, while we need more pro-life films on the market, Come What May only hurts the cause.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

This cast must be given a break since they are all mostly inexperienced.  It is great to find new actors for Christian films instead of using the same ones over and over again, but coaching needs to be provided.  There is poor emotional delivery and wooden acting throughout this film.  In short, though these was some potential, the acting only serves to further hurt this movie’s case.

Conclusion

Overall, Come What May is a very bad presentation of the otherwise important pro-life issue.  It would have been one thing to have average production and average acting combined with a strong plot, but none of this happened.  The creators manipulated reality to suit their own means, filled the movie with their bizarre brand of Christianity, and generally did everything possible to force this movie to happen without thinking about the overarching consequences.  Social issues need to be showcased in Christian films, but Come What May only serves as an example of how not to go about it.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points