Modern Prodigal (Movie Review)

Modern Prodigal (2019) - IMDb

Plot Summary

Brian Sanderson is an investigative reports who’s addicted to painkillers and never ceases in his quest to solve the mystery of his son’s untimely death to the same drug he’s hooked on. Even though his obsessions cause him to lose his dream job, Brian will stop at nothing to discover the truth of what really happened while also wrestling the demons inside his head. Ultimately, Brian will have to confront his dark past in order to face the future.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

After an odd opening sequences that seems to suggest Modern Prodigal is part of a crime series, weird gray lighting seems to dominate much of the film. Audio quality is also an issues as there are some obvious background sounds as well as too much dead air, even if the little soundtrack therein has some potential. Sets, locations, and props are are bit cheap-looking, and there are some unnecessarily tight shots and instances stationary camera work. Furthermore, the editing leaves something to be desired with awkward cuts and transitions, but the good news is that the production takes a turn for the better in the film’s second half that amends a lot of the earlier errors. However, this is only enough to raise this section to the halfway mark.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Surprisingly, the characters are one of the strongest aspects of Modern Prodigal as some of them possess subtle characteristics that make them come off as relatable and human; their dialogue is also not all bad since it establishes them as imperfect people. However, while some conversations are quite good, others are too obvious and over the top. Nonetheless, the narrative makes fairly good use of mystery concepts throughout the plot progression and does a reasonable job at concealing important facts and revealing them bit by bit throughout the film. While there are plenty of positive aspects, there are also nagging concerns with this story, such as the fact that it’s trying to cover too much ground in one screenplay. Much of its content would have been better suited for a series, and a sudden massive time jump at the movie’s conclusion leaves the viewer somewhat confused. Nevertheless, Modern Prodigal offers a lot of hope for this writing team’s future potential.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, the good aspects of this film’s plot are detracted from by a lot of over-acting in many of the screenplay’s important scenes. This includes quite a bit of overdone emotional performances and forced line delivery. While there is some good in this section, such as some good supporting cast members and better acting in the less dramatic scenes, better coaching could have lifted Modern Prodigal to a better level.

Conclusion

This film joins a sizable collection of Christian creations that had a lot going for them but never made the next step in to greatness. Much of this shortfall is due to financial constraints, but a lot of it can be blamed on a lack of collaboration or a tendency to force something to happen before it’s time. Ideas were never meant to be carried out alone, and sometimes, it’s just not the right season for them. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see what this creative team offers next.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Season of Miracles (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

In the year 1974, when an autistic player joins a local baseball team, the transition is not as smooth as it could have been because the old team wanted to keep things the way they were. However, the coach intends to make the situation work, so the boys must learn to accept each other’s differences and unite against a common foe: their closest rival team. In the end, the season turns out in a way none of them could have ever dreamed.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Season of Miracles is a mixed bag in the production category. While there is some odd lighting in the indoor scenes, as well as randomly blurry video quality, the outside scenes are actually better in these areas. Even still, many scenes have an odd vintage look to them, which may or may not be purposeful. There is also some inconsistent audio quality throughout film, including some overdubbed parts, and action shots have shaky camera work. However, with the exception of the soundtrack, which remains generic throughout the movie, the production overall improves as time goes on, especially when it comes to the filming of action shots. By the end of the film, the production seems right on par with standard, which is why it did enough to achieve an average rating.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

As a whole, it’s unfortunately hard to discern the actual purpose behind Season of Miracles. It’s commendable to explore the treatment of special needs people in previous decades, but this intention doesn’t really come through very well since the plot is mostly filled with lots of baseball montages and tons of random characters that the audience can’t really relate to due to the lack of adequate dialogue. Deciding who and what to focus on as the story progresses is a difficult feat to accomplish since it’s tough to differentiate between some of the characters. There are many, many stock sports scenes and training\game sequences that steal valuable time away from the central storyline, whatever it may be. Further, the Christian message feels extremely forced and entirely based upon awkward platitudes while the non-Christian characters within the plot are total strawmen. In the end, despite the potential this story has with the special needs subplot, there just isn’t enough here, and the overall experience is too vague to justify a higher rating.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, the acting in Season of Miracles is average, but there are some oddly awkward moments with the adolescent and child cast members that probably required further coaching than they had available. The younger actors and actresses seem too earnest at times, but by far the worst element of the acting is the fact that a Caucasian cast member appears to be playing a Hispanic character, which comes off as very offensive. However, there are some other good performances that balance out these concerns and bring the score up to par.

Conclusion

In the end, there may be a lot of good intentions behind films like Season of Miracles, but there are too many pitfalls that comes with them. There are a handful of issues that could have been easily solved through more collaboration, which is truly the tale of Christian entertainment. Lack of purposeful cooperation across multiple different creative teams is what keeps potentially interesting movies like this one from being all that they can be. There have been many missed opportunities like this one in the recent years, but hopefully, we are entering a new era of Christian creativity where collaboration and following God’s plan for what should and shouldn’t be made are the guiding lights.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Christmas Manger (Movie Review)

Image result for christmas manger movie

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

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