Becoming Jesse Tate (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jesse Tate feels like an outcast teenager at her school since her father is in jail as the scapegoat of his workplace’s crimes.  It seems like everybody hates her, and she is ashamed to admit she is a Christian because of what has gone on.  Though people who used to be called her friends have shunned her, Jesse finds a new purpose in helping the prisoners her father knows, and this helps her grow close to God.  However, a mysterious individual keeps instant messaging her information about her dad’s trial, and Jesse fears that her father’s lawyer does not have his best interests at heart.  Will the truth come out before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Much like Set Apart, Becoming Jesse Tate has a fine production.  This includes good video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is a bit generic, however, and sets and locations tend to be limited to a few areas.  However, props are well-utilized.  There are a few small editing issues to contend with as well, but on the whole, this is a respectable, standard production that makes the later production of Angels Love Donuts even more perplexing.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, there is very little potential in this plot as the premise is fairly silly and is based on unrealistic circumstances.  The ideas therein are very trite, and the dialogue suffers for lack of substance.  Thus, the characters are flimsy and plastic, not to mention how dumb the ‘villain’ characters are.  Because the characters are one-dimensional, it is difficult to relate to their struggles.  This idea as a whole is very short and limited—it needs a lot more development to be more than the cheesy mystery that it is.  This is not to mention the plot holes and lapses in logic that keep this story moving along to the desired conclusion.  The Christian message is also very sappy and cringeworthy as problems are fixed in ridiculously easy ways.  Basically, the existence of this story is barely justified.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

These cast members are fine and seem to care about what they are doing.  However, there are some moments of forceful line delivery and emotions, especially from the ‘villains.’  Some of the teenage actors and actresses are awkward at times and need further refining.  However, there are enough good moments to keep this section average.

Conclusion

It is difficult to measure what is gained from cute little Christian films like this one.  It’s all fine and good, but is a difference really being made?  The creator may mean well, but we need dynamic films that will make a difference, not more movies like this one.  A story like this needs deep characters to carry it along, because without them, as we saw here, it just becomes trite and unimportant, even if it was meant to be serious.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

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Rust [2010] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Former pastor James Moore, who is running from his faith and his career, returns to his hometown to discover it the grounds of a dark mystery and closely held secrets that has put one crazy man in prison for arson.  With nothing left to lose and nothing else to do, Moore decides to take it upon himself to solve the mysterious case that was too open and shut.  As he looks at all the angles of the fire and the events of that night, Moore finds himself turning to God again as he rediscovers the faith he left behind.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Corbin Bernsen and his teams have always been committed to high production quality.  Rust is the earliest example of this commitment, as it sports great video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is also intriguing.  Sets, locations, and props, for the most part, are professional.  The only issues to point out here pertain to some choppy editing and some slightly poor lighting in some parts.  But otherwise, this is a professional and model production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

From the beginning of his foray into Christian film, which was this film, until now, Corbin Bernsen’s creative motivation has always been an enigma.  What is he ever going for?  Rust adopts the mysterious and semi-dark approach that was seen later in Beyond the Heavens.  Neither film truly makes much sense or has any driving purpose behind it.  Yet the mystery portion of Rust is intriguing and somewhat engaging.  The characters, while a bit eccentric, are also interesting in their own way, sometimes due to unique and cryptic dialogue.  Movies like this one always seem to be hiding something, like a private joke or secret, but they never let us in on the puzzle.  At least the ending is slightly unexpected, even though it takes a somewhat predictable path to get there.  If there were some more clarity in this plot, it could have been interesting and more highly rated, because there was a lot of potential here.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Much like the production of this film, the acting quality is professional and above average.  For the most part, actors and actresses are cast appropriately, and their line delivery is on point.  Sometimes emotions tend to be a bit forced, but they are good as a whole.  There are also some other moments of underwhelming performances, but they are not enough to keep this section from being highly rated.

Conclusion

Corbin Bernsen always has a lot of potential in his films.  He usually maintains high production and acting quality.  However, he is also committed to plots that are seemingly purposely unusual.  Rust is no exception to this trend, especially since it is his first Christian film.  One can understand why ‘secular’ film makers want to dip into the Christian market, but we have never understood Bernsen’s odd approach to movie making, despite his quality productions.  Yet perhaps we will never understand.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

My Grandpa Detective (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Robert Whitmore III was just awarded a prestigious police award and promoted to lead detective, a role that used to be held by his famous grandfather, Robert Whitmore Sr.  However, Bob III’s world is rocked when he discovers that his new partner is none other than his grandfather, who has been pressed back into service by the force for retiring too early to collect his pension.  Together, they will have to get along to catch a notorious criminal who has come back to town with the goal of stealing the coveted Bronze Basin of Bitterness.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Surprisingly, the production of this film is not as bad as the rest of it.  All the usual elements, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality, are fine and professional.  There are really no glaring errors here.  The soundtrack is a bit silly, which is to be somewhat expected for a comedy like this.  Sets, locations, and props are average and passable, except for the fact that some unusual props are constantly emphasized.  Also, as usual for this sort of film, the editing is somewhat poor and disorienting.  In the end, this production is the best component of this film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

My Grandpa Detective is one of the most nonsensical ‘comedy’ plots since The Takeover.  Besides having absolutely no purpose and being completely aimless, this film has an extremely absurd feel to it that includes a lot of head-scratching and deadpan-inducing moments and sequences.  There is no way to understand what is trying to be communicated in this film as a collection of very eccentric and bizarre characters fumble around, looking for a reason to keep this film going.  The premise is very trumped up and the Christian message is very forced and awkward.  Nearly every line of dialogue is stupidity, thus making the storyline impossible to take seriously.  There are also a lot of cliqued mystery tropes and a predictable ending to top things off.  Essentially, the creators of this film were either confused, delusional, or purposely satirical.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Besides the fact that several cast members are made to look much older than they are, nearly all of the acting in this cast is as absurd as the plot.  Everyone seems intent on making a fool of themselves with childish emotions and outbursts, as well as poor line delivery.  In the end, most elements in this film are completely ridiculous.

Conclusion

Why are Christian films like this still being made in 2016?  What does this sort of movie accomplish, outside of making a further mockery of Christian movies?  True comedy takes well-developed characters and realistic, witty dialogue, not all of the raving nonsense you find in My Grandpa Detective.  Alas, this is another embarrassment and one that should be forgotten, unless you need to know how not to make a movie.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Finding Faith [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Faith gets too close to a ‘boy’ she met online but never met in real life, she never imagined the trouble it would cause her.  In one fateful moment, the stalker behind the fake profile kidnaps her as Faith’s hometown descends into panic over the incident.  The local sheriff has a bone to pick with online stalkers, so he immerses himself into the case unlike any other.  What they find is a vast human trafficking scheme bigger than their small town.  Will they be able to find Faith before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

As an early production for Liberty University and team, the quality of Finding Faith isn’t really what it should be.  Video quality is okay, but camera work is randomly shaky.  Audio quality is also poor, even though the soundtrack is trying to be suspenseful.  Sets are okay, but locations and props are somewhat limited.  Editing is mostly average and still leaves something to be desired.  Overall, with many other people involved in this film, Liberty University took a step back with this production, and it’s hard to see how it was justified.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Full of heavy-handed narration from Erik Estrada, the messaging of this story is certainly not subtle.  Yet at the same time, it’s also full of dead air and wasted sequences.  It’s a shame too, because this is an interesting and different idea with a meaningful message that needs to be shared.  However, the characters are so empty due to bland and vanilla dialogue that it’s hard to relate to them as real people, only as cutouts playing a part.  There was so much that could have been done with this story—with better characters of course—but the writers only barely scratch the surface.  It’s unfortunate to see ideas like this one fall so short of the mark.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Though this is a relatively large cast, they lack adequate coaching.  The cast members post very stiff and blank performances, but then again, they didn’t have many lines to actually work with.  They also have their good moments, and it’s not all bad, but any cast that includes Erik Estrada is always dominated by his odd demeanors and personas.  In the end, this film as a whole is mostly a disappointment.

Conclusion

The Liberty University team and the JC Films team always had big ideas and ambitions that rarely follow through and meet the expectations that are set for them.  They have plenty of resources and connections, but little to no creative screenwriting.  It seems to be consistently difficult for them to portray real people on the big screen, so it might be time for them to invest in some better writing.  Only then will they make the difference they want to make.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Persecuted [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

John Luther is a highly successful ministry leader sometime in the near future, and he is being pressured by politicians to support a bill that would allow the government to regulate religion to ‘keep it fair’.  However, John refuses to comply, and thus finds himself under intense attack from faceless enemies who seem bent on destroying him and his reputation.  Injured and on the run, John will have to decide what he really believes and how he is going to defend himself.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

The main redeeming elements of this film pertain to the professional production job.  It’s difficult to successfully execute a suspense production, but this team does very well.  Camera work is great, especially in the action scenes, and video quality is what it should be.  Audio quality is also good and the suspense soundtrack is a nice touch.  Sets, locations, and props are appropriate and adequate.  The only nitpick to raise here is some editing issues pertaining to the choppy presentation of this story.  But in the end, this is a respectable production that should be the norm.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this suspense story has a lot of interesting ideas in it, it is too all over the place to make any sense.  It’s great to have a different genre for once, but this isn’t really the way.  Though the persecution premise is somewhat well-explained, it needs to be explained better so it comes off as more realistic.  The protagonist is seemingly too perfect and one-dimensional, although other characters are interesting.  However, several of the villains are fairly cheesy.  We would have like to get to know some of these characters better; as it is, the dialogue is all over the place and does not help develop the protagonist.  There are also a lot of convenient suspense turns as things happens because they need to.  Too much is fixed at the end, even as the ending will leave you scratching your head.  In the end, this plot needs a serious rework.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though this cast is at least somewhat professional, a lot of the performances are overly dramatic.  The lead actor does not do a very good job carrying his role, and a lot of the villain cast members are over the top.  Emotions are slightly believable, but line delivery is sometimes unsure.  In short, this is an average performance.

Conclusion

Persecuted fills a genre gap in Christian film, but that’s about the only reason why it stands out, besides professional production.  Persecution premises set in modern America are always going to need a lot of explanation and justification, and this film does not necessarily succeed on that front.  No matter the suspense film, this genre tends to suffer from lack of character development, which Persecuted also demonstrates.  In the end, while there is potential here, it needed a lot more development in order to be better.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

The Frontier Boys (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a tight-knit group of high school basketball players and fans is directly affected by a seemingly random drive-by shooting, they band together to discover the truth behind the evil deed.  However, unbeknownst to the others, one of them is holding a terrible secret that would affect his very life if he disclosed it.  But as the trail grows cold, will be speak the truth and risk it all to save his friends?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The Frontier Boys starts off as a very raw and rough production, which is not characteristic of Echolight Studios.  Camera work is quite shaky at first and video quality is inconsistent.  However, audio quality is always good and the soundtrack is creative.  Sometimes lighting is randomly poor, but this and other productions elements at least improve as the movie goes on.  Sets, locations, and props are stable throughout the film, but for some reason it takes until the middle of video quality, camera work, and lighting to improve.  However, the editing is bit odd as it leaves too many lagging scenes and unexplained sequences.  Overall, this production is a roller coaster and probably should have been redone.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The Frontier Boys is a rare circumstance in which the creative plot saves the film from total mediocrity.  Though it begins in a confusing fashion, the story becomes more interesting as it goes, even though it does take a while to get to the point.  Regardless, the characters are surprisingly well-developed through unique dialogue and realistic circumstances.  However, there are some typical sports and mystery story elements and sometimes it seems like the creativity of this suspense idea is not reaching its fullest potential.  It feels like this film was just a beta test because a lot of factors are too downplayed and not taken seriously enough.  Had they been taken more serious, this would be a whole different ballgame.  But in the end, though things tend to be fixed too easily in this plot, it is still a commendable effort and one that demonstrates story-writing talent, which is hard to come by in the Christian movie field.  Perhaps this talent will be utilized further in the future.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast is some off-putting and unusual at first, they work well together and assume their roles very well.  Line delivery is on-point and emotions are believable.  This is a professional casting job and one that should be replicated in the future.

Conclusion

There’s really not a movie out there that’s like The Frontier Boys.  It actually follows a non-typical plot structure and dabbles into an untapped genre.  If the production were upgraded and the plot even slightly improved, this would have been a Hall of Fame film.  Perhaps with the backing of Echolight, this creative team has a chance to really make a difference in the field, if they put their mind to it.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Hollow [2011] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Jordan, a drug runner, decides to try to change his ways, he finds that it is neither easy nor safe to do so.  As the drug supplies try to get him back, they go after his girlfriend and everything he holds dear.  Meanwhile, the two detectives tasked with catching the drug supplier have their own demons to wrestle with.  Will they be able to come to grips with who they are in order to make the difference they need to make?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

For some reason, in their earlier days, PureFlix was committed to distributing and promoting all sorts of very low quality films (see Saving Winston, As I Stand, and Running Inside Out for other examples).  The only good production element of Hollow is video quality.  Otherwise, camera work is very shaky and many scenes are filmed from behind and through objects.  No audio quality is recorded on set except for loud outside sounds and train noises—all of the dialogue is overdubbed.  The soundtrack is also nearly nonexistent.  Sets, locations, and props are very cheap and most of the scenes are poorly lit.  There are far too many montages that waste time, as well as lagging scenes that drag out the runtime.  Basically, this production needed a complete redo before it was ready.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Somewhere in this story are some really interesting ideas and realistic issues that need to be dealt with in Christian films, but this is not the way to present them.  Hollow overall lacks real purpose and struggles to gold the attention.  There are too many confusing and loosely related subplots that rely on coincidences and unrealistic occurrences.  Gritty subjects are portrayed very flippantly and the dialogue is very unusual, thus crafting odd characters.  There is hardly enough content to sustain a full length film, as previously mentioned, so time-wasting tactics such as montages and empty sequences are employed.  The bottom line is that though there are some really interesting ideas in here somewhere, they are covered up by wasted time and amateur presentations.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Like the production and the plot, there is a small amount of good in the acting, but the cast members largely lack coaching and are thus extremely robotic and measured in their line delivery.  Hardly any emotion is shown among them.  This is another disappointing effort.

Conclusion

When films like this one are made, it is clear that someone is pushing just to make a Christian movie about blank.  PureFlix needed a film that fulfilled a certain genre or mold they are trying to copy, so they dialed up a desperate independent film making team to spit out something in a short amount of time.  This is how films like Hollow came to mass distribution.  Quality was thrown out the window in the pursuit of flooding the market.  This is how we have the mess we have today.  But hopefully new film makers are picking up the pieces and reforming the field, however slow it may be.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

Boonville Redemption (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Melinda was always told that she was an illegitimate child.  Her mother is superstitious and has a secret she is trying to hide as she is under the thumb of the ruthless Maddox, Melinda’s stepfather.  When Maddox sends Melinda away to Melinda’s grandmother, Melinda sees a whole new outlook on life, including insights into who her father really is.  She discovers that everyone in the small western town of Boonville is hiding a secret, and only courage and faith will help them to disclose what they need to disclose.

 

Production Quality (2 point)

Since there is a lot of mainstream experience on the production team, the production of Boonville Redemption is understandably professional.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is pedestrian, but the sets and locations are historically realistic.  The biggest errors to highlight here pertain to editing, as there are a lot of abrupt transitions and choppy sequences.  There is too much content that has been crammed into the 100-minute runtime of this film.  Basically, this film is professional on the surface, yet it lacks the necessary substance to be any better than it is.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Though Boonville Redemption attempts to explore a unique plot style and genre, it does so in all the wrong ways.  Constant narration from the unnecessarily omniscient Pat Boone doesn’t leave anything to chance and makes sure the ending is obvious in the beginning.  Pretty much every character is a cheesy stereotype, especially the ridiculously monologuing villain.  The characters that have potential to be good are barely given any screen time, probably due to the large number of characters in general.  Though there is a lot of content, as previously mentioned, time is frivolously wasted on very unnecessary sequences.  Any good parts are very rushed and are drowned out by too many quirky elements.  Everything culminates in a gag-inducing “it’s my diary” climax sequence that really just puts the icing on this rotten cake.  Unfortunately, while this could have been a creative and interesting story, it falls very much short of expectations.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The good news is historical costuming is realistic, although there are some minor shades of Michael Landon Jr. frontier makeovers present.  The acting is mostly professional with only some minor errors, such as some overly dramatic moments.  If Edward Asner, Richard Tyson, and Pat Boone were removed from this cast, it would have been perfect.  But at least this casting job is somewhat palatable.

Conclusion

Boonville Redemption demonstrates mainstream professionalism in the production and acting departments, but the plot severely suffers from lack of creativity and forceful delivery.  Throwing a bunch of big name cast members into a well-funded production does not equal a good movie.  The story seems like it had too many writers in the story room, but that isn’t really the case.  Essentially, writers need to trust their audiences to figure things out rather than have Pat Boone tell them what to think about stuff.  Also, the last thing we needed was the Pat Boone credits number, but who really cares at this point?

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Ace Wonder: Message from a Dead Man (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ace Wonder, aka Gator Moore, always loves a good mystery and seeks to solve whichever ones come in front of him so that justice may be served.  While traveling with his family on vacation, when their camper breaks down in a small Tennessee town, Gator accidentally stumbles upon a family with a mystery that needs solving.  Derek Morton’s grandfather died unexpectedly and left behind a cryptic message that cause many to suspect he was crazy.  However, Gator believes there is something bigger afoot and enlists his siblings to assist him in solving the case.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

After The Widow’s Might, it was difficult to see what the future of HeuMoore Productions was.  However, with Ace Wonder: Message from a Dead Man, the HeuMoore team has demonstrated adequate improvement.  Video quality is professional, and camera work is fine except for some weird camera angles that attempt to be suspenseful.  Audio quality is great and the original soundtrack is creative without SINGING.  Sets, locations, and props are good but somewhat limited.  There are some cheesy special effects utilized, but animation is actually used effectively and enhances the film.  Finally, editing is quite good, thus rounding out an overall average production.  This is definitely a great effort for an underfunded project, and it is great to see this team continually improving.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though there is some potential to this Ace Wonder plot, it is still a mostly formulaic suspense\mystery storyline.  The story is based on too many coincidences, mystery clichés, and clues being found at opportune times.  Though there is way too much narration, the dialogue and characters are actually good, which shows that this team is trying to make a good film.  This story would be way better with a little more creativity and real plot twists, as well as a less fundamentalist portrayal of women.  Mysteries are certainly a hard genre to write, since it’s easy to fall into cheesy coincidences, so they might consider trying a different genre next time.  Overall, it is great to have a different genre in Christian film for once, and this team certainly has the potential and wherewithal to go further in their careers to do something great.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Though Ace Wonder uses a lot of the same cast members from The Widow’s Might, there are others that make for a greatly improved acting experience.  It seems like all of the cast members from the previous film have honed their skills better.  This category is actually the most improved as there are really no glaring errors except for a few minor missteps.  Once again, this gives great hope for the future.

Conclusion

Coming back from the horrific Widow’s Might couldn’t have been easy for HeuMoore Productions, but on the whole, despite their unusual worldview that needs broadening, the Moore team really seems like they are trying this time.  They definitely put forth more effort in the production and acting departments and it is encouraging that they are showing improvements, especially since they are committed to breaching different genres in Christian film.  The biggest blessing of Ace Wonder was the lack of cast members singing.  Now if they can continue to hone their plot creativity and shed some of the odd components of their worldview, they will really be on the track to greatness.  After The Widow’s Might, I never thought I would be saying this, but the HeuMoore team has great potential for the future.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

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