Beautifully Broken [2018] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The Hartley Family appears to have it all on the outside; they are a seemingly successful American family.  However, little do they know that their lives are about to become far more complicated than before.  They inadvertently cross paths with William Mwizerwa, a Rwandan refugee who moved from Kenya to America to try to make a new life for his family, whom he had to flee the Rwandan genocide with.  These lives also intersect with another Rwandan family who has been forever changed by the genocide.  Little do they know that collectively, they will experience both brokenness and God’s redemption after brokenness in ways they never before dreamed.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Beautifully Broken is an independent film that has finally come to fruition after being in the works for a while, and it bears some key hallmarks of an indie production.  Though the production begins in a fairly rough manner, including wild camera work, weird light filters, and dizzying flashbacks, this is mainly only the first third of the film.  It seems like this part of the film was produced separately from the rest of the movie since the remainder of the film has a significant quality increase.  This is evident as the camera work, video quality, and audio quality all make marked improvements.  The soundtrack is effective and culturally appropriate; however, sometimes sets and locations do not fully live up to the hype.  Nevertheless, this production does enough in the latter two-thirds to make this section overall above average.  It seems like time was spent to improve this part of the film, and they likely did the best they could with the budget they had.  The one drawback is that the editing does not improve throughout the film, but this is is mainly due to the large amount of plot content.  As a whole, this is a great first-time production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

It’s an excellent idea to begin your movie career with a complex true story rather than to use original content, especially since we have a deficit of creative screenwriters in Christian film.  However, one of the main pitfalls of using a true story is trying to include too much content.  In some ways, it seems like the writing team of Beautifully Broken bit off more than they could chew, but this does not diminish the great message this powerfully true story has to offer.  The downside is that there are one too many ‘filler’ scenes that waste precious time; the sheer amount of content in this plot does not allow space to develop the characters as much as they could have been, and narration and expository dialogue is used too often as a shortcut for full character and story development.  However, despite its rough beginning and inconsistency in the middle, the final third of the plot are definitely worth the wait, and they keep this section higher than it would have normally been.  This writing team definitely has more potential in the future once they master organization and character development.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

It’s possible that the uneven and inconsistent acting is the main thing that derailed Beautifully Broken from a possible Hall of Fame run. While some cast members, like Benjamin Onyango, are very good in their performances, other cast members, like Scott William Winters, cancel out any good that is done.  Once again, Onyango is not given the space he needs to fully show his potential as an actor.  However, for the most part, emotional performances are believable and effective.  Costuming is culturally appropriate, and great efforts were taken to cast culturally authentic cast members.  Overall, this rounds out a great first effort.

Conclusion

A lot of work has clearly been put into making Beautifully Broken happen after a fairly long period of time has passed, and the finished product is both better than most films and not as good as it could have been.  There is plenty of positive in this film, and it is likely worth your time to see when it releases.  There is a great message to learn, and this story is definitely worth being told.  In summary, this film is a great start to a promising career, so it will be interesting to see what they have to offer next.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Advertisements

Movie Renovation: God’s Not Dead

See original review here.

 

Production Improvements

There are really few production errors to note in the first God’s Not Dead film.  The primary issue with this production is, of course, the editing, due to the large and complex amount of content that is attempted to be used in this film.  Thus, if the plot categories were improved, the editing issue would likely also improve.

Plot and Storyline Improvements

The plot of God’s Not Dead needs some serious work.  For one, there are too many ideas shoved into one two-hour film.  A lot of these ideas really need to be movies of their own, such as the Muslim family subplot and the Chinese student subplot.  The blogger character and all of her connections (Dean Cain, the Robertsons, etc.) need to be deleted completely.  The woman with dementia is an interesting aside, but it needs better development.  Pastor Dave and his connections really wouldn’t be missed either; this area might be better if it was altered.  Finally, the portrayal of the atheist professor is noteworthy and better than most, but it still could be better and less over the top.  The “character who is an atheist because their mother died of cancer” trope is a bit thin.  Also, there are obviously instances of anti-Christian bias in academia, but this story could have been a bit more down to earth.  Thus, with a lot of separation, editing, organization, and focus, this plot could have pushed the film into the Hall of Fame.

Acting Improvements

While the acting of the original God’s Not Dead is actually a major improvement over most PureFlix casts, it still isn’t perfect.  For one, David A. R. White and Tommy Blaze rarely need to be acting.  Trisha LaFache is average at best and needs serious coaching.  Dean Cain should probably never be cast again.  Kevin Sorbo has his place, but not as a raging professor.  Otherwise, this cast is fine.

Conclusion

There was a reason the beginning of the God’s Not Dead saga was so popular, and it wasn’t because of its portrayal of atheists.  It has a lot of intriguing content and a lot of ideas that need further exploration in different venues.  Trying to lump all of it together in one film was a disappointment.  However, it was the first time PureFlix actually proved they could be at least somewhat responsible with their budget, including a high-quality production.  Perhaps one day someone will use some of the half-baked ideas of God’s Not Dead for greater purposes.

Camp Cool Kids (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Spence’s older brother Zach never wants him around because he embarrasses him, but their mother wants them to stick together now that their father has died.  Zach is headed to summer camp and Spence is supposed to go with him, but Spence is afraid.  However, Spence’s grandfather convinces him to go and Spence soon finds out that there’s a whole world out there if he will face his fears and not let his overactive imagination get the best of him.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a new production, there are obviously a lot of positive elements here.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all on standard.  The soundtrack is a little silly and it is quite excessive as it dominates the film, especially with the many montages that make up this movie.  Sets, locations, and props, however, are professional and appropriate.  Yet there are some unnecessary ‘silly’ special effects that cloud things, not to mention the fact that there’s really no editing in this film.  In the end, this is a typical new baseline production; it’s good to have a new baseline, but production isn’t the only thing you need.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It’s unclear what the true purpose or intention of this movie is supposed to be.  Is it a kids’ movie?  It sure seems like one.  Characters are very lazily presented through lame attempts at dialogue and comedy.  There is really no plot to speak of, as the story mostly consists of a lot of silliness, quirkiness, and montages to fill time.  The Christian message presented is very plastic and forced.  In the end, there is little overarching or driving purpose to anything that happens in this film, so it’s hard to understand why it was made or what audience it is intended to reach.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Lisa Arnold and company are reliable in putting together a good cast that mostly knows and cares about what they are doing.  There are no glaring errors among this cast—just some uninspiring and seemingly uninterested performances.  Then again, the cast members really didn’t have much to work with.  The whole film seems like an afterthought.

Conclusion

In the not-too-distant past, a film would have been a basement dweller due to low production quality and unprofessional acting.  Yet the new professional industry standards of Christian film have been raised, and thus raise films like this from the ash heap.  But that doesn’t mean that they are any more justified—it just means more money was spent on them.  Thus, we have to ask why.  We know Lisa Arnold and her team mean well and are capable of great things, so why did they make this film?  It seems like the money could have been spent better on a different idea.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Because of Gracia (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Chase Morgan is going to be a senior in high school, but he never feels like he’s been able to make a difference in life.  He is content to just hang out with his best friend OB and not really be noticed by anyone, but when a new girl, Gracia, comes to school, she turns his world upside down and he feels like he has to get to know her, even though he is terrified.  But as they grow closer and become friends, they discover that they have the ability, through their faith in God, to change their world together.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The collaboration of Film Incito, Check the Gate Productions, and Five Stones Films is a lethal combination in crafting a flawless production.  Because of Gracia demonstrates exactly what a modern Christian production should be, from excellent video quality to professional camera work to seamless audio quality.  The soundtrack is also very well-constructed and appropriate for the genre.  Sets, locations, and props are also without flaw.  The editing is nearly perfect as well as the story is presented in an inviting fashion.  In the end, Lisa Arnold and her production team have finally struck gold with this film, and the sky is the limit from here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

New screenwriter Tom Simes has debuted his skills with a worthwhile plot.  Though the story is somewhat limited and tends to be a stereotypical high school romance, the characters carry the story very well and make it enjoyable.  Dialogue is mostly creative and complex, thus serving to build the characters.  The biggest issues to point out here are a lot of unnecessary heavy-handed narration and quite a few ‘silly’ sequences that keep some characters and subplots from being further explored.  It’s great that we know the main characters well and that they are not black-and-white in their construction, but we would like to get to know the supporting characters just as well.  Also, the epilogue that is tacked onto the end of this film really puts a damper on an otherwise excellent point that is shared at the end.  Nonetheless, Because of Gracia isn’t afraid to deal with some very real and serious topics in a realistic fashion, so the creative team must be applauded for this.  In the end, this is definitely a good plot to start out with since it shows further potential for the future, and it is still enjoyable as it is.

Acting Quality (3 points)

You can hardly ask for a better cast than this.  Moriah Peters and Chris Massoglia are excellent in their roles, as are Ben Davis, Masey McClain, and the rest.  The collective minds behind this film really hit a home run with this cast, as each cast member assumes their character flawlessly and even improves upon what is written for them.  Emotions are very believable and line delivery is excellent, which demonstrate the presence of acting coaching.  In the end, this section punctuates a very worthwhile film.

Conclusion

We should be seeing movies like Because of Gracia come out every month from Christian film makers.  This proves that with time, adequate funding, effort, and care, any film can be Hall of Fame.  With the right combination of producers, directors, and writers, greatness can happen.  Movie making, more often than not, should be a team approach, and hopefully Christian film makers are learning this now.  When it releases to the public, this film is definitely worth everyone seeing.  It lends great encouragement to the slow but sure turnaround and upward trend of Christian film.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

Christmas Angel {Angel at Christmas} [2012] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Olivia and Lucas have always heard rumors about a mysterious old house in their New Orleans neighborhood.  Legends say that if you throw a rock through one of the windows and make a Christmas wish, it will come true.  After witnessing several wishes come true when they ask them for other people, Olivia and Lucas decide to investigate the matter further.  They find a collection of offbeat characters hanging around the house who are not what they seem at first.  Little do they know that Christmas angels come in many forms…

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As we’ve mentioned before, PureFlix can usually put together a respectable production.  Video quality is clear as usual and camera work is professional.  The sets and locations are realistic and down to earth.  Unfortunately, the audio quality drags down this production, including a silly Christmas soundtrack and too many scenes in which lines cannot be heard due to background noise.  The editing is mostly okay and does a good job concealing the obligatory Dorsey twist until near the end.  Basically, this is an average production effort but we strongly believe it could have been better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

In keeping with their usual practices, Bradley Dorsey and Andrea Gyertson Nasfell craft a creative and thought-provoking plot that makes you think it’s going to be one thing, only to change it to something different in the end.  However, it goes without saying that Dorsey also commits his original sin of not going all the way with his creativity.  There are times when Christmas Angel is innovative and interesting, while some moments are cringe-worthy and totally off the wall.  This inconsistency makes the audience vacillate between cheering and scratching their heads.  The schizophrenia is also demonstrated in the characters—while the character arcs are great in the end, it’s a rocky road to get there.  As usual, the storyline is based off a creative concept that sports a key plot twist and demonstrates the creative genius of the team.  Elsewhere, there are just too many childish Christmas elements that hold this plot back from being as good as it could have been.  Sometimes we wonder why a creator can come so close so many times but always miss the mark by an inch.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Like the rest of the film, the cast of Christmas Angel is very inconsistent.  Sometimes they have awkward scenes while other times they act very professionally.  Emotions are good at times and not good at other times.  Some of the makeup work is below par.  In short, in comes to another average score.

Conclusion

Basically all of the films Bradley Dorsey is involved in need to be remade.  As we’ve said before, he has tons of potential that is untapped, probably because he throws in his lot with the PureFlix crew.  For that matter, Andrea Gyertson Nasfell has lot of untapped potential herself.  Both Dorsey and Nasfell have much to offer to Christian film and if they ever reach their full potential, then the field will be a different place.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Caged No More (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Aggie never thought it would turn out this way.  She had always cared for Elle and Skye, the daughters of the family whose house she cleaned.  But when they disappear along with their father, Aggie feels like she has to care for the distraught mother left behind.  However, when the mother commits suicide, a string of events are set into motion that alert Aggie to sinister activity that Elle and Skye might be caught up in.  Therefore, she takes a leap of faith to get the help she needs in order to get her girls back.  As the journey takes her across two continents, Aggie clings to faith in God and to the hope that she will find her girls again.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

It seems like the creators of Caged No More had good intentions, but not the resources to pull it off properly.  They likely bit off a larger portion than they could chew.  At least the video quality is clear, which is something most new Christian movies are finally getting right.  The audio quality is passable.  The camera work is okay; sometimes it tries to be too ‘dramatic’ and it comes off wrong.  However, the lighting is very inconsistent.  Some scenes are very dark, seemingly on purpose, but it doesn’t make any sense.  What’s more, the sets are too limited for this scope of a plot.  The surroundings are fairly realistic but sometimes seem empty.  Speaking of scope, the editing of this film is deplorable.  As will be discussed next, Caged No More is a collection of spliced together sequences forced to fit together.  In short, while the effort is applaudable, the delivery is frustrating to watch.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Caged No More is built on a very choppy plot that is patched together with constant narration that either reminds us what just happened or explains something that happened off screen.  There is no coherence between subplots, and the one interesting subplot is wasted and underdeveloped.  The storyline contains too many leaps in logic and is based far too much on coincidences and happenchance.  The characters are thin and empty, crafted with stiff and cardboard dialogue.  It’s really a shame that this review has to be so negative, because the genre this film is trying to break into is interesting.  The idea behind this film is quite interesting, but it is very much wasted potential.  Between the vague ending and the rushed plot, this film felt like it was just speeding to the sequel, but it gave us nothing to be interested in for in the sequel.  At this rate, there is little purpose in creating a sequel; money would be better spent on a remake.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

These cast members seem like they mean well, but they have been thrown into the mix with little to no coaching at all.  Emotions are very overdone and not believable.  Line delivery is forced and awkward.  Kevin Sorbo playing two different characters just doesn’t work at all.  Christian ‘celebrities’ are shoehorned into the cast only for the sake of having their name on it.  In short, there is some potential here, but it is not tapped.

Conclusion

Caged No More is a sad production in many ways.  It really could have been a great genre-breaking work based on an important topic, but it fell very short of the mark.  It pretends to be something bigger than it is.  Buried inside of it are good ideas, but they will likely be wasted as this movie is forgotten over time.  We desperately need different genres of Christian\inspirational films, but this is not the way to go about it.  Human trafficking is a highly important topic that needs to be exposed, but this isn’t the way.  I hope a lesson can be learned here that will make a difference.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

This is Our Time (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ethan, Catherine, Luke, Ryder, and Alexandria, friends through college, have finally reaches graduation and are ready to go out and change the world.  However, the world they find outside of the college classroom is not the one they anticipated.  Catherine and Luke seem to be following their lives’ purposes when they embark to serve the Lord in India.  Catherine and Ryder are set on making an impact in the business world.  Ethan feels stuck working for his lonely father’s restaurant, even though he dreams of going to graduate school.  Each person has a different path to follow and each friend must discover God’s purpose for their lives.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Unlike most PureFlix distributed films, This is Our Time has good production elements.  The camera work and video quality are both pretty good.  The sound quality is inconsistent at times.  The sets and locations are pretty good, considering the story takes place in America and India.  The editing is unfortunately sub-par; there are too many scenes that appear to be filler.  Some events take place off screen and confuse the viewer.  Overall, This is Our Time has a pretty good production effort, but it is not quite there yet.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

This is Our Time has a very unique plot structure that is not typical to most inspirational plots.  Usually, when more than three subplots are crammed together in a movie, it comes off as choppy, but in this instance, it works fairly well since the subplots are all related to characters who graduated together.  The topics discussed in the film are accessible to average viewers.  There are some interesting twists throughout the film.  However, there are just too many negative factors in this plot.  Some situations are very trumped up and contrived.  Most of the dialogue is empty and thus, the characters are left wanting.  The worst part is that it didn’t have to be this way—we feel that Lisa Arnold has more potential than this.  There are several important messages in this film that are lost due its low quality.  In short, we believe that a larger, more dedicated crew would have greatly improved this movie.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

This cast had potential, but they are obviously not coached well.  A lot of the line delivery is very forced and the emotions are not believable.  Once again, we believe that it didn’t have to be this way.  There was simply too much left on the proverbial field.

Conclusion

This is Our Time joins a collection of Christian films that desperately needed a rewrite and\or a redo.  Had Lisa Arnold had a better team surrounding her in the production of this movie, it could have reached its full potential.  Quality control is the real issue here—the tools are there, but they are not placed in the right hands.  In the future, we hope to see Lisa Arnold recruit people who can help bring her intriguing plots to life.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

God’s Not Dead (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Josh Wheaton didn’t ask to be put in the philosophy class of the infamous Professor Radisson.  He also didn’t anticipate having to sign a piece of paper stating that God is dead in order to achieve a high grade in the class.  But prompted by the help of a local pastor, Wheaton decides to not only refuse to sign the paper but also to prove God’s existence in front of the class in addition to his other class assignments.  It’s something that those closest to him do not understand or agree with, but it brings him closer to God and to other people.  Little does he know that Professor Radisson and even those connected to him are being profoundly impacted in ways he never expected.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

This is perhaps the strongest area of the movie.  God’s Not Dead has better production than a majority of PureFlix movies, which shows great progress.  The camera work is great, and the editing is pretty good considering the many interconnected story lines.  The sets are authentic and varied and the lighting is good.  The soundtrack is effective.  The only real error to consider here is the fact that there may be too much content included.  In short, the money used for the movie is mostly put to good use.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Unfortunately, the plot is a bit weak, mostly due to the large number of story lines.  There is nothing inherently wrong with a movie about the interconnected lives of people, and for the most part, God’s Not Dead does a fairly good job managing the content.  However, it seems like there are one too many subplots and one too many characters.  If one or two of these were eliminated and that time used to develop other more interesting characters, this movie would greatly improve.  As it is, the dialogue is pretty good considering the number of characters.  There are some interesting twists and not everything turns out as expected in the end.  Most of the characters are believable, but some seem to be caricatures.  In summary, the plot is a mixed bag with a lot of untapped potential.

Acting Quality (2 points)

When compared to older PureFlix movies, the acting in God’s Not Dead is superb, for most of the actors.  This is David A. R. White’s best acting job to date.  Shane Harper is great in his major debut.  However, Dean Cain and Trisha LaFache are uninspiring.  But still, one could argue that they did not have much to work with.  All in all, the acting is another mixed bag.

Conclusion

God’s Not Dead is the best PureFlix-created movie in their existence.  Improved acting, improved production quality, and improved plot development all contributed to this rise.  However, they still have not hit their ceiling.  There is a lot of potential in this movie, and on its face, it is still an above average movie.  What is most important is that the core message of God’s Not Dead is driven home without being overly preachy or unwatchable.  This is success in and of itself.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Flywheel (Movie Review)

alx

mma

Plot Summary

Jay Austin is a typical used car salesman: dishonest and unashamed of it.  He will do anything to make good margins, including cheat old women and lie outright about the quality of his vehicles.  However, his financial situation is not what he wants it to be, as he is at risk of losing his business to foreclosure.  He calls himself a Christian, but he does not feel conviction for his actions until one day, when he is desperate, he happens upon a television sermon that pricks his conscience regarding his common business practices.  In order to receive God’s favor, Jay turns his philosophy around and begins to build a reputation of integrity for himself.  This causes him to part ways with some of his salesmen, who learned Jay’s former dishonest ways.  On the brink of losing his business, Jay cries out to God and obeys His prompting to return money he cheated out of people.  Following this, a miracle occurs when Jay sells nearly every car on his lot on the day his bill is due at the bank.  It was that day that Jay truly learned what it meant to serve God in all areas of his life.

Production Quality (.5 point)

Anyone who knows anything about the Kendricks knows that Flywheel is not their best movie by far.  The camera work is very poor, as is the editing.  Sometimes the video is hard to make out and there are frequent background noises that disrupt viewing.  Camera angles are not the best.  There are quite a few lighting issues.  While this looks like an overall cheap production, first time film makers get a break on production quality, especially if the budget is tight.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The plot of the inaugural Kendrick film is not bad, but it could be better.  It showcases the beginnings of the trademark Kendrick non-linear plot style, but not to its full potential.  Most of the characters are stereotypical and the dialogue is un-compelling.  There is really nothing dynamic here except for some brief comedy scenes that hold the attention.  The ending is fairly predictable, but Kendricks do a pretty good job at driving home the parable narrative.  They showed great potential, even early on.

Acting Quality (1 point)

The poor acting can be excused by not only the early stages of Kendrick productions, but also the fact that this movie is made of entirely inexperienced or semi-experienced actors.  While many of the actors are seemingly down to earth and realistic in some respects, they are not up to par with high quality productions.  Thankfully, Kendrick movies did not remain on the level of Flywheel.

Conclusion

In the end, Flywheel shows a lot of raw talent, initiative, and want-to.  The production is raw and honest.  The plot is semi-complex and the actors are close to home.  However, it is not enough to warrant a re-watch.  Flywheel will forever serve as a reminder of how blockbuster moviemakers get started.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points