Sweet Inspirations (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

When four women who feel like they aren’t making a difference through the church events they attend are inspired to somehow help a struggling women’s shelter, they begin an unanticipated journey that takes them to the unlikeliest of places. Their church has recently acquired a dilapidated restaurant, so the four friends take it upon themselves to renovate the establishment in order to use it to raise money for the domestic violence ministry that’s in financial straits. However, things don’t go as they planned, and they must each learn unique lessons about trusting God and not living in their own strength.

Production Quality (2 points)

Although there are some random moments of inadequate production in Sweet Inspirations, such as some instances of shaky camera work and some inconsistent lighting in certain scenes, the movie’s production quality does overall improve as the film progresses. The sets, locations, and props are mostly well-constructed throughout, and the video and audio qualities are up to industry standards. While the soundtrack is a bit generic and the editing sometimes uneven, this is a passable production albeit one that could have gone a bit further than it did.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Sweet Inspirations tries to do a lot in a limited amount of time, and it’s not all bad. It tries to present an interestingly complex storyline about relevant, real-life topics, but the many characters who are used to pull this off tend to crowd each other out and make the narrative go in many different directions at once. Some characters are downright unnecessary while others have relatable personalities and characteristics; the same critiques can be applied to the conversations among the characters as some of them are really meaningful and worthwhile while others are completely pointless and fruitless. Similarly, there are some great messages to embrace in Sweet Inspirations, such as no longer wasting time on useless church activities, waiting on God, not trying to do everything in your own strength, and doing too much ministry work to the point of exhaustion, but some of these are pushed too hard on the audience, and at times, they are undermined by illogical coincidences and unjustifiable character actions that seem condoned by the writers. In the end, the high number of romantic subplots, the desire to cover too many things in one story, and the generally wasted scenes overshadow the otherwise interesting and realistic ending that could have capped off a very good effort. There was a lot going for this movie, but there may have been too many proverbial cooks in the kitchen and not enough trimming before the project moved forward.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

For the most part, the acting of Sweet Inspirations is its strongest point as many of the cast members are comfortable in their roles and realistic in their performances. Though there are some who are trying a bit too hard, they are not as prominent as the better actors and actresses. Also, the emotions are a mixed bag but are overall acceptable. Thus, this rounds out a slightly above-average effort that could have been a bit better.

Conclusion

In the end, Sweet Inspirations would have benefited from taking its own advice that it gave to one of its main characters about not trying to do everything “good” at once and not attempting to accomplish things in their own strength. It’s clear the creators had a lot of intriguing ideas along with meaningful messages, but trying to include all of them alongside too much pedestrian content was this movie’s ultimate downfall. Nonetheless, there is enough positive here to keep many viewers interested, and some audiences will find it to be worth their while.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

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

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

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

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

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

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

Continuity Quality (0 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 14 points