Samson [2018] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Samson was chosen to be a judge of Israel by Yahweh, but he did not always do as he was supposed to do.  He was anointed by God with superhuman strength when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, but when he disobeyed, there were serious consequences.  God used Samson to deliver His people from the oppressive Philistines, and He used an imperfect man to accomplish His will in the most extraordinary ways.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

PureFlix has clearly come a long way since the abysmal production days of The Book of Esther and the half-hearted production of movies like Apostle Peter and the Last Supper.  This newer rendition of Samson boasts a surprisingly high production quality, which is manifested in gritty and realistic elements that are not afraid to make the characters get dirty.  Action scenes are filmed very well with good camera work.  Video quality is crisp, and sets, locations, and props are very well-constructed and culturally authentic.  The editing is also good, but this production is held back from being all that it could be by weird cuts and dramatic zooms that are reminiscent of Revelation Road and by very obvious CGI architectural shots.  However, on the whole, Samson is a huge step forward for PureFlix Bible productions.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Right off the bat, the plot of Samson is hamstrung by immediate and unwanted narration.  Accompanying this story crutch is a typically PureFlix ‘creative license’ that they give themselves to do whatever they want with historical narrative.  As this film was shamelessly pushed as a ‘Christian superhero’ flick, it is full of mostly mindless action scenes and is actually quite violent for a Bible film–even rivaling The Bible miniseries for gory content.  With so many battle scenes and bodies flying around, there is no room for character development as dialogue is instead used to fill time, dump information, and force the story along in the direction the writers wanted it to go in.  In molding the story however they wanted, the PureFlix collective whitewashed the obvious mistakes of Samson the historical figure and made this movie into some kind of romance-revenge plot.  However, in some ways, they made some interesting connections between the true events of Samson’s life, which keeps this section from being zero, but they took too much ‘creative license’ with historical fact to be acceptable.  Regardless, we have no idea who Samson is as a character due to massive time jumps, and the recurring villain character is beyond cheesy.  In the end, plot was basically tossed by the wayside in the making of this pandering film.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Somewhere out there, there is a Christian movie consultant who constantly advises film makers to cast BRITISH people as Middle Eastern characters.  Sure, Middle Eastern cast members can be somewhat difficult to find, but what is the idea behind casting people with such obviously culturally inauthentic accents?  I’m sure with this budget PureFlix could have found some authentic cast members.  This consistent problem aside, the acting of this film is mostly fine except for the overly dramatic moments and forced emotions that are apparent here.  Also, it goes without saying that PureFlix consulted with Timothy Chey on how to give PhilistIne characters the worst possible makeup jobs.  On the whole, this section is average.

Conclusion

What to do with another Bible film?  Samson fulfills the gritty category, and the production is fine, but the other categories are greatly lacking in what is needed.  With a budget this big, better cast members could have been employed and better screenwriters could have been retained.  Then again, it’s doubtful that PureFlix actually cares about making a truly quality film.  Samson was just another attempt at a cash grab–PureFlix adapts with the times as needed to do the bare minimum to get enough audiences to pay for a ticket.  Now most people have forgotten this film even happened.  Oh well.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

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Billy: The Early Years (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Billy Graham is one of the most influential evangelists of all time, but he did not begin that way.  He had his own sports dreams and aspirations, but God got his attention and sent him on the path He wanted him to be on.  As Billy pursued education he felt that God wanted him to have, he was influenced greatly by a leading evangelist of the day, Charles Templeton.  Billy also met the girl of his dreams, Ruth, and the two of them began a life together.  But as God gave Billy more influence and opportunity, he and Charles found themselves at odds over a crisis of faith that would influence Billy’s ministry forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a semi-professional production, it’s clear that a lot of effort was put into Billy: The Early Years.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all fine and on standard.  Good attempts are made to make the soundtrack historically authentic.  Though some of the sets are limited, the props also demonstrate historical authenticity and the locations are mostly good.  The biggest drawback to this production is the poor editing job, but this is understandable since so much content is tried to be included.  Overall, this is an acceptable production that shows good effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Even though a small portion of Billy Graham’s life is chosen for this film, it’s still too much to handle as the story is mostly based upon montages and sneak peeks at larger stories that we don’t see enough of.  The plot rushes through time very quickly and jumps from high point to high point.  It’s framed in a very odd way that almost focuses as much on Charles Templeton as on Billy Graham, which is fine, except the movie is framed as a Billy Graham biopic.  Regardless, as time speeds along in this film, there is no time to get to know the characters properly, so we are forced to settle with cheap dialogue and one-dimensional people.  Despite the time jumps, there are still too many meaningless sequences and scenes of unnecessary and unrelated content that has no bearing on anything.  In the end, this is a commendable effort to retell a very important historical story, yet it’s executed very poorly.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Since the characters are given very little development, the cast members are forced to make up for lost time, yet they do so in unprofessional fashions.  In attempts to be ‘interesting’, the cast members come off a very over the top and quirky, as if they are trying way too hard.  Though the costuming is realistic for the historical period, the makeup is way too loud.  In short, this creative team gets an E for Effort, but not much else.

Conclusion

Historical plots are important and are often hard to pull off well.  This story in particular is very important to the history of American Christianity, yet many audiences will be disappointed in the slapped-together nature of this movie that even drew (thankfully) honest criticism from Billy’s son Franklin.  It would have been great to get to know these historical figures are people rather than cardboard cutouts, but this was not the case.  Maybe one day someone will retell this story in a better way.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Love Finds You in Valentine (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Kennedy Blaine, a recent law school graduate, inherits her family’s Valentine, Nebraska ranch property, she is faced with the requirement to visit the property before she tries to sell it.  When she arrives, she finds two caretakers who loved her parents, even if the young man is a bit rough around the edges.  Kennedy also receives a treasure as a part of her father’s passing: the diary of her mother, which chronicles their story of forbidden love.  While in Valentine, Kennedy must not only face shady characters trying to get their hands on her property, but also long lost relatives who won’t give her the love she wants.  Before she knows it, Kennedy finds herself caught up in the excitement of her parent’s ranch—and the mysterious young caretaker who constantly haunts her.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For the most part, Up Entertainment has mastered the art of creating a professional-looking made-for-TV film.  The camera work is excellent, as is the video quality.  The sound quality is good, especially in outdoor scenes.  Sets and locations are diverse, making for realistic surroundings.  The sad thing is that this otherwise perfect production is usurped by issues that are easily fixed by a team this professional: editing and soundtrack.  The soundtrack is quite silly and sounds borrowed from Hallmark.  As for the editing, not enough care is taken to generate interest from the audience.  There are too many wasted segments of scenery and horseback riding, especially when these parts could be used for better purposes.  But in the end, Up schools made-for-TV productions on how to do it right and they should be looked to for advice.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

As previously mentioned, if the scenery and horse segments had been toned down and used for deeper plot and character development, this movie would have landed on the Hall of Fame.  As it is, there is a framework of complexity that is rarely seen on television.  We only wish there had been a deeper utilization of the few yet intriguing flashbacks.  The characters are a little more than one-dimensional, but they struggle to make themselves special in a world of stock romance characters.  The dialogue is above average, but not much more than that.  There are several unrealistic elements in the premise and some odd plot holes.  There is a slight feel of a silly small town film.  The Christian message is too soft for this type of movie—it could have been more meaningful than this.  Finally, the end is forced and tacked on.  There was no reason to insert an unwanted ‘suspenseful’ climax into this film, especially since it’s not even realistic.  This is perhaps the biggest detractor to the plot.  In the end, Valentine left a lot of potential lying on the table.  Next time, Up needs to play their cards better.

Acting Quality (3 points)

With no glaring errors, the acting is the strongest element to Valentine.  Line delivery is professional and emotions are believable.  The actors and actresses enhance the characters they are given.  This acting job is better than some films that make the Hall of Fame.  Yet it also stands as another example of disappointment and wasted potential in this movie.

Conclusion

Up Entertainment has mastered the art of creating an inspirational romance movie that is more than a romance.  Now, it’s time for them to take it to the next level by being more innovative when it comes to the plot.  Charm came closer to crafting a complex plot, but this was partly due to its loose adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.  Romance writers need to take a page from Rik Swartzwelder’s playbook and create a romance plot that is deeper and more complex than usual.  Viewers desperately want this, even if they don’t realize it.  We need romance that means something beyond surface feelings.  Unfortunately, though it is more enjoyable and realistic than a Hallmark movie, Valentine misses the mark on this front.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points