Christmas Manger (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Jessica ran away from home as a teenager after she did something she would regret forever, but now, after living with an abusive boyfriend for several years, she finds herself running back home for help. However, when she arrives on the farm she once lived on, she finds that all is not well nor how she left it. As she struggles to begin a new life, she discovers that she will need to return to her childhood faith in order to move forward.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As should be the case for all recently-made Christian films, Christmas Manger demonstrates high production quality, as evidenced by good video quality and camera work. Though the audio can be quiet at times due to not having enough soundtrack, the sets, locations, and props are adequately used and well-constructed. Besides a few one-off lighting issues in some scenes, which may be by design, the editing is good, which rounds out a great production that we should see become more and more commonplace as we move into a new year of Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Andrea Gyertson Nasfell has always been good at writing plots that portray real and accessible characters in believable life situations. This is paired with dialogue that is mostly good at building character personality and motive, but we really needed to see a bit more from the conversations among the characters in order to develop them a bit further since this is a highly character-based plot. While there are some great character back stories, flashbacks would have been helpful to enhance them. However, this return-to-hometown for Christmas plot does a great job with avoiding most of the cliches that come with this genre, and it’s a more meaningful Christmas movie than usual, even if the story is a bit simplistic. As a whole, this is an enjoyable story with no glaring errors but nothing truly dynamic either.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

This film also has surprisingly good acting, including Andrea Logan White’s arguably best performance to date as she excels at playing herself. Other cast members are also effective and comfortable in their roles, even if a few random cast members tend to put a damper on things to keep this section from being perfect. In the end, however, this is a professional acting job to round out a professional and adequate film.

Conclusion

Films like Christmas Manger should be the norm and the baselines in Christian film (especially Christmas movies) rather than the exception. Hopefully, as we close out another year of Christian entertainment, we are beginning to see more of this, which will presumably lead to more dynamic and groundbreaking films from Christian creators. Movies like this one was a good launching pad to begin with, so it will be good to see Andrea Nasfell continue to release quality content that is memorable and culture-changing.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

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All Saints [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Michael Spurlock leaves the sales world under less than honest circumstances, he decides the most natural thing for him to do is become a pastor so he can have more time for his family and so he can give back to the world rather than take from it.  Thus, he is assigned by the parish to head up a dying church in small town Tennessee as a training ground under the church closes up.  Then Michael is promised to move on to better things.  However, the longer he is at the small church, the more Michael sees that there is purpose for it, especially since it is serving hundreds of Burmese refugees who have no one to turn to.  With God’s intervention, they begin to see miracles happen right before their eyes.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

In keeping with the traditions of Affirm Films, All Saints is a good production on the surface and has no obvious errors.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all on the professional standards they should be on.  The soundtrack is effective and is culturally relevant.  The sets, locations, and props are all well-constructed and realistic.  However, this film needs some serious editing work.  Time is spent on all the wrong things and the plot overall lacks flow and continuity.  However, Affirm has likely done enough to meet minimum market standards.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this is a very intriguing true story that had a lot of potential, this potential is not reached.  There are so many things that could have gone into this film that did not finish developing.  The story is too dominated by the whining, unsure main character.  Unfortunately, there is very little focus or purpose to this plot, even though there were plenty of opportunities to have this.  There are a lot of disjointed and unrelated sequences that fill up the runtime and stunt character development by crowding out any scenes of meaningful dialogue, of which there are few.  In the end, it’s sad to see how this story turned out because it had so much going for it.

Acting Quality (2 points)

John Corbett really puts a damper on this cast since he comes off as very fake and unsure of himself at the same time.  Yet if you can look past him, the other cast members post some good performances.  There is especially good multicultural casting and acting, even if we don’t get to see enough of them.  Overall, this is a good section and makes this movie at least palatable.

Conclusion

Most people will probably be fine with this film, but it’s still a very disappointing experience.  Why can’t we at least see some flashbacks of the Karen people in Burma?  Their subplots are barely developed or explored as John Corbett dominates the runtime with his awkwardness.  In short, though there was a chance for some interesting stories here, it barely materializes and wastes an amazing opportunity.  We believe it’s time for Affirm Films to step out in faith and take a chance on a new genre of Christian film rather than churning out run-of-the-mill films like this one.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Lukewarm (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Luke Rogers is struggling to be the Christian he says he is.  He’s living with his girlfriend and works a questionable bartender job with his friend.  What’s more, he can’t shake the fact that he always had an unhealthy relationship with his father and that this still affects him today.  Luke sees his outspoken Christian neighbor always doing good things and being made fun of for it, and wishes that he could be like him.  Luke and his girlfriend will have to learn that choices are important and that real Christianity doesn’t come easily.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

In nearly all aspects, Lukewarm is cheap.  While the camera work, video quality, and audio quality are okay, they are not wowing.  The soundtrack is cheesy and pedestrian.  Perhaps the most draining portion of the production quality is the cheesiness of the sets and locations.  While they are slightly diverse, they scream amateur movie makers.  Things don’t look like they are supposed to and props are very B-grade.  The surroundings have an odd feel that makes the entire movie feel manufactured.  Finally, the editing is sloppy, just throwing scenes together with no rhyme or reason to them.  In short, though there was a limited budget, no care was taken by the creators to try to be tasteful, thus making it another silly Christian attempt at a movie.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Lukewarm makes a commendable effort to portray important issues facing American Christians, yet they are portrayed in a strawman fashion.  Whatever good ideas exist in this plot are mismanaged and turned into trite asides that blow over the audience’s heads.  As for the plot itself, it is full of too many disjointed subplots that do not work well together and lack continuity.  One character does something, and then another character does stuff, and then they all meet up in an unlikely way.  Characters are too black and white—‘good’ characters are completely moral and tend to condescend on the ‘bad’ characters, who become ‘good’ very quickly after empty inspirational experiences.  Despite its title, not much about this film is ambiguous.  Issues are resolved too quickly, and dialogue is either obvious or petty.  While we usually encourage the use of flashbacks, the ones used in Lukewarm are very cheesy.  To top things off, besides the neatly fixed ending, the film includes one of those obnoxious credits photo montages showing you what the characters did afterward.  In summary, Lukewarm started with a good idea of showing how Christians easily become sidetracked on useless and potentially dangerous activities and how broken family systems effect people later in life, but it quickly descended into another giant laughable strawman.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

With a cast of supposedly talented actors and actresses, Lukewarm demonstrates the importance of acting coaching, especially with an amateur script.  When some actors and actresses are better in some movies but not in others, this is the reason.  In Lukewarm, line delivery is forced and awkward.  Emotions are too obvious.  Only a handful of good acting moments save this score from being zero.  To sum it up, Lukewarm is pretty much a disaster on all fronts.

Conclusion

A word of advice: before making a movie, especially a movie with the Christian tag, make sure you have a great plot and deep characters before proceeding.  Creating a film based off of a mere idea is not good enough and only further contributes to the sagging quality of Christian media.  We find ourselves saying this over and over again, but the fact remains that the Christian film market is wrought with ill-advised low quality productions that continue to give Christian creativity a horrible reputation.  Ideas are great and should be turned into realities, but movies need great teams behind them; otherwise, nothing will change in Christian film making.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points