I Still Believe [2020] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Jeremy Camp didn’t grow up with much, but he always had the love of his family, which is why they supported him in his dream to pursue a music career. When he attended a Christian college to fulfill this goal, Jeremy unexpectedly met Melissa Henning, who he quickly fell in love with. However, as Jeremy and Melissa grew closer together, they embarked on a harrowing and arduous journey into the unknown as Melissa battled cancer. Through the twists and turns, they discovered that God is always present in the midst of suffering and that there’s always a purpose to pain.

Production Quality (3 points)

It’s no surprise that, after the success of I Can Only Imagine, the Erwin brothers and their team have crafted yet another perfect production. I Still Believe hits all the right notes in every aspect of production, including video quality, camera work, audio quality, sets, locations, and props. Many camera angles are creatively artistic, and the soundtrack is a huge plus as it enhances the audience experience in all portions of the film and seamlessly integrates Camp’s music without turning it into a product placement. Further, the editing professional handles a story that is obviously difficult to properly present due to its scope. In short, there is nothing negative to note in this section.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)

The Erwin Brothers, along with Jon Gunn, have no doubt mastered the art of the biopic as they have wisely chosen to focus their movie-making efforts on adapting real life stories into feature films. Though I Still Believe is a slight departure from the traditional Erwin brand since it zeroes in on a very small collection of characters, there are still no concerns with this storytelling adjustment. This narrative may signal a new era of Erwin creations, but it’s still another installment in their history of reliably quality offerings. In many ways, I Still Believe is almost two different movies as the first and second halves are quite different in tone, but these talented screenwriters correctly applied their God-given skills to weave the source material into a life-changing plot that will resound with many viewers from diverse backgrounds. Based off of real people, the characters therein are very poignant and relatable via realistic and profound dialogue that brings the story to life. Musical montages are responsibly used and don’t encroach upon important conversations that build characters; similarly, creative overlays effectively aid the complex plot presentation. Further, there are clear themes that are used throughout the film and serve to tie the major points together. Essentially, there are no issues to note in this section either.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Once again, in I Still Believe, the Erwin collective proves that they take great care in their casting and acting coaching work. Even though some of the cast members don’t entirely represent the real people they are portraying (which is the movie’s only flaw), every performance is still on point. Line delivery and emotional delivery are basically flawless as the audience is able to easily experience the characters’ feelings. Though this is a relatively small cast compared to previous Erwin projects, it still shines nonetheless and rounds out another blockbuster hit for the brothers.

Conclusion

Jeremy Camp’s compelling backstory was absolutely worth bringing to the big screen and will no doubt lead to further success for Kingdom Story Company. I Still Believe receives an additional x-factor point for being realistic, re-watchable, and generally worthwhile for all audiences. Many viewers will enjoy this film, and it’s likely to leave lasting impact on the Christian entertainment market. However, no matter what, we still highly recommend this film for all Christians and always look forward to future Erwin productions.

Final Rating: 9.5 out of 10 points

Joseph, Close to Jesus {Joseph of Nazareth} (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Joseph never chose to be the earthly stepfather of the Messiah, but by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, he accepted his role to take care of Mary and the Christ Child for as long as God wanted him to. Joseph was there before, during, and after the birth of Jesus, so he had a unique perspective on Yahweh’s plan to save humanity from sin.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Like many other Lux Vide\Trinity Broadcasting Network biblical presentations, the production of Joseph, Close to Jesus is typically fine. It has authentic sets, locations, and props, along with good video quality and audio quality. As a whole, it seems realistic even though the action scenes sometimes employ wild camera work and though some shots are unnecessarily close. The soundtrack is a bit generic and dramatic at times, but most aspects of this production are acceptable. The editing sometimes leaves something to be desired due to some lagging scenes and quick cuts, but on the whole, this is at least an average effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

From start to finish, Joseph of Nazareth adopts a very quick and forceful plot progression as the story is forced forward at a breakneck pace that doesn’t let things naturally develop or allow time for characters to be deepened. Besides this poorly constructed premise, Joseph comes off as a basically perfect and all-knowing character even though he appears a bit crazed at times. In focusing on his inaccessible qualities, some key biblical scenes are brushed over or portrayed in extremely vague ways, which confuses the audience. Other scenes are very muted and blank, and dialogue in general leaves much to be desired. Elsewhere, there are a handful of fantastical and ethereal elements that cause spiritual themes to be painted either in a magical light or as untouchable. In summary, the combination of the speedy storyline and the general oddness of some of the characters and plot points prevents this section from having any points.

Acting Quality (1 point)

While some cast members appear to be culturally authentic, many of them, especially the lead ones, are not and obviously belong to cultures other than those who lived in first century Judea. Moreover, while the costuming of all characters is fine, the acting is extremely theatrical and dramatic. It feels like many of them are putting on a play rather than trying to become the characters, which further gives this film an air of elitism and other-worldliness. Further, emotions are inadequately depicted, and some lines are very forced, which rounds out a disappointing effort.

Conclusion

Joseph, Close to Jesus had a lot going for it since it promised to provide a unique perspective on the Nativity and on Jesus’ early years. However, it committed many unforced errors and was more devoted to making the Bible seem like a Shakespearean experience rather than a Spirit-inspired historical account that still has profound application for us today. Unfortunately, this was the case for most Scriptural entertainment prior to The Passion of the Christ. Thankfully, in recent years, God has provided the market with better options for accessible biblical depictions of the First Christmas on both the big screen (The Nativity Story) and the small screen (The Chosen). These offerings are much more interesting for your family to enjoy this holiday season.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

The Shack (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Mackenzie Phillips never really trusted God after the abuse he underwent at the hands of his father, but he really felt abandoned by Jesus when his youngest daughter was kidnapped, raped, and left for dead by a twisted man. Floundering in his faith, Mack receives a mysterious note signed by God telling him to return to the place where his daughter was found dead: a shack in the mountainous woods. Mack decides to return, thinking he can avenge his daughter’s death, but instead, he experiences an encounter with God beyond his wildest dreams.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a mainstream production, The Shack hits all the right notes en route to a nearly perfect score. This is due to great camera work, video quality, and audio quality. The sets, locations, and props are effectively utilized and authentic. Also, the soundtrack is very poignant and accessible. One minor nitpick to point out with this production pertains to the editing concerns, but this is mainly a plot issue that inadvertently affects this section. Overall, this is almost as good as it gets for a production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Based on William Paul Young’s slightly controversial novel, the film is actually a step above the book as it takes time to explain more about the characters and their motivations. Even still, there are still some issues that hold The Shack back from being all that it could be. For one, the narration right out of the gate from Tim McGraw’s mysteriously omniscient character is completely unnecessary and calls into question why his subplot even exists. This brief, irrelevant storyline, in conjunction with some rushed and confusing scenes revolving around law enforcement, waste precious time at the beginning of the film and make the movie feel like it’s two different ones put together. This squandered time at the beginning hurts this section and likely keeps it from the Hall of Fame, but once the middle of the film arrives, it’s definitely worth a watch. At this point in the movie, The Shack isn’t afraid to tackle very realistic and raw issues we rarely see discussed in Christian film, including child abuse in the name of Christianity and incorrect views of God as well as the connections between these two concepts. Sometimes, flashbacks are used in very effective ways to present the plot and the character motivations, but it would have been better if all narration and early plot points were replaced with flashbacks to make it more of a non-linear style. However, despite a slightly incomplete view of God, The Shack does an excellent job with showing how God will relate to people on a very personal level via good philosophical discussions about life and power emotional experiences. Although it could have gone just a bit further with theological grounding (but not too much), this is a good place for a lot of people to start if they have a warped view of God. Basically, from the halfway point until the part before the end, The Shack is a nearly perfect film. The beginning and the epilogue that fixes things too easily detract from this section and keep it from being all that it could be. Nonetheless, this movie is definitely worth your time and can be a great tool to use to introduce people to God if they are closed to Him for one reason or another.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Another major detractor that keeps The Shack from being Hall of Fame is Sam Worthington’s accent-suppressing. If you’re going to cast a British-Australian actor for an American role, either train him with a better accent or just make the character British or Australian. As it is, the way he delivers his line is very distracting and comes off as breathy and insincere because of the accent clashing. This really puts a damper on things as it makes his emotions seem otherworldly and causes unsure line delivery, which is difficult to watch since he takes up so much screentime. However, other cast members, most notably Octavia Spencer, work overtime to make up for Worthington’s shortfalls and overall post very professional and noteworthy performances. In the end, this section is above average and rounds out a very commendable effort.

Conclusion

Though many theologically astute individuals like to “debunk” The Shack for its inaccuracies (there are a few small ones), the film as a whole demonstrates just how out of touch many Christian thought leaders are with everyday people. The movie does a much better job of relating to everyone on a personal level than any theological debate ever will, and it shows that God really wants with people: a relationship. While it could have use just a hair more theological grounding, The Shack is a great place for many people to start who have been hurt by Christianity or who may have invalid views of God. It’s unfortunate that it just misses the mark of being Hall of Fame, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a watch. Hopefully, in the future, we’ll see more films that walk the delicate balance of being personal-emotional and grounded at the same time. Once Christian entertainment as a whole learns how to relate to everyone personally, the industry will be unstoppable.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

The Drummer Boy: A Musical (Christmas 2021)

Currently in pre-production from Lionsgate, the Erwin brothers, and the Smallbone brothers

Writer(s):  Ben Smallbone, Luke Smallbone, Joel Smallbone, Richard Ramsey

Director(s): Ben Smallbone, Luke Smallbone, Joel Smallbone

Producer(s): Kevin Downes, Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin, Luke Smallbone

Starring: Joel Smallbone, Moriah Peters Smallbone, Josh Smallbone?

Plot Synopsis: A period musical accompanied by an original soundtrack that focuses on three Christmases during the Civil War. The film will depict two brothers fighting on opposite sides in the Civil War.

Apostles: Resurrection of Christ (pre-production)

Andy Erwin (far left), Kevin Downes, and Jon Erwin have formed a new faith-based filmmaking company, Kingdom, that will release multiple movies by different directors in what Jon Erwin calls a "leap forward" in faith moviemaking. Lionsgate will distribute them. Kingdom will announce its first slate of movies in March at the National Religious Broadcasters convention. Erwin Brothers photo

Currently in pre-production from Lionsgate, the Erwin brothers, and Kevin Downes

Writer(s):  Jon Erwin, Jon Gunn

Director(s): Jon Erwin, Andrew Erwin

Producer(s): Kevin Downes

Starring: TBA

Plot Synopsis: This film is the first in a trilogy aiming to create a new cinematic universe of Bible stories. The first installment follows the growth of the early church after the Resurrection of Christ.

Jesus Revolution (2021)

Coming in 2021 from Lionsgate and the Erwin brothers

Writer(s):  Jon Erwin, Jon Gunn

Director(s): Jon Gunn

Producer(s): Kevin Downes, Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin, Greg Laurie

Starring: Jim Gaffigan, Joel Courtney

Plot Synopsis: This film tells the true story of a national spiritual awakening in the early 1970’s and its origins within a community of teenaged hippies in Southern California. The story follows the early life of nationally known pastor Greg Laurie.

I Still Believe (March 2020)

Coming to theaters March 13, 2020 from Lionsgate and the Erwin Brothers

Writer(s):  Jon Erwin, Jon Gunn

Director(s): Jon Erwin, Andrew Erwin

Producer(s): Kevin Downes

Starring: K.J. Apa, Gary Sinise, Shania Twain, Britt Robertson, Melissa Roxburgh, Nathan Dean Parsons, Anjelah Johnson, Abigail Cowen, Nicolas Bechtel, more TBA

Plot Synopsis: This film is Camp’s memoir, detailing his youth in Indiana and his struggles as a teenager, his relationship with Melissa and its aftermath, his music ministry and his second marriage to Adrienne Liesching Camp, a contemporary Christian singer-songwriter. It seeks to reinforce the truth that no matter what happens in your life or how devastating a situation may be, God is still on the throne and all his promises are true.


Forever My Girl (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Liam and Josie were in love all throughout high school, and many felt like they were destined to be together forever.  However, when they were on the verge of pledging their lives together forever, Liam experienced several life-changing moments.  First, his mother died suddenly, and Liam was discovered as a country artist and became successful almost overnight.  Thus, Liam left Josie behind without saying goodbye.  Now, after several years of fame and success, Liam has gotten into trouble with his drinking habit and has been advised to lay low for a while.  Thus, he returns to his hometown to live with his father, who is a pastor, and Liam is shocked at who he finds waiting for him there.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a modern, standard inspirational film, Forever My Girl checks all of the right production boxes.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is a bit generic and uncreative, but the sets, props, and locations are all realistic, appropriate, and professional.  The only other minor issue to point out here is the fact that the editing isn’t the best it could be, but as a whole, this is a very high quality production that we have come to see as commonplace in recent Christian films, and it’s a trend we definitely need to see continue.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though it is based on a novel, Forever My Girl unfortunately follows a predictable and stereotypical storyline that has been done many times before.  The return-to-hometown plot has many different iterations, and this one is just the star-returns-to-the-hometown version.  However, the presentation of this predictability is not entirely annoying and does make some good attempts at being realistic, such as a good attempt to explore family systems and some general efforts to create believable characters and situations.  Even so, the characters need to be a bit deeper through better dialogue, and the main character’s inevitable arc is a too steep.  Nevertheless, the message of the movie is fine, and many audiences will find it to be a good movie.  It’s definitely ten times better than your average Hallmark throwaway.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though the lead actor and the lead actress seem confused and uncoached a lot of the time, the rest of the cast members make up for their deficiencies.  It’s unclear whether or not their characters are meant to be written that way, but it seems like the lead cast members could have contributed a bit more than they did.  However, the other members of the cast demonstrate great line delivery and realistic emotions, which is enough to bring this section over the average mark.  As a whole, this movie is good enough to be watchable.

Conclusion

It is definitely good idea to model movies after novels; if a film like this had not had a story written for it in a book, it likely would have been much worse.  This is definitely a practice we need to see more of on the coming days.  Hollywood has already figured out that using source material is the key to successful entertainment, so it’s time for Christian film makers to follow suit because if they put their minds to it, they can definitely do it better.  There is plenty of Christian source material to use, so it’s a great chance to keep using it.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points