Overcomer [2019] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

A random small town is apparently falling apart due to the local factory closing down, and this decimates a Christian private school’s basketball team and sends the coach spiraling. When he already doesn’t even know what he’s going to do about a team, his superior, the principal, forces him to coach a one-girl cross-country team even though she has asthma! Along the way, he stumbles into a random hospital room containing someone who has surprising connections to the plot! Will he ever learn who he really is in Christ beyond just being a coach?

Production Quality (2 points)

Okay, so, what exactly was this $5 million budget spent on? Much of the production is fairly uninspiring. As usual for the Kendricks, it’s fine and mostly professional-looking, but for reals…all we get from this dollar amount is a bunch of vanilla sets, props, and locations mostly pertaining to people’s houses, a school campus, and lots of running\training footage? The decade-plus career of the brothers who brought Christian film out of the dark ages culminates with this? Besides the overall blah-ness of the layout, tons of time is wasted on nothing special in this film, and the editing seems very disjointed and disorganized. However, much of this could be due to the lack of any substantial plot content…

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

…which makes us wonder what the story actually is here. What are we supposed to focus on? The less than half-an-hour treatise on small towns falling apart? Five minutes of basketball footage? Alex Kendrick getting angry and throwing things? A runner with asthma? A random guy in a hospital? In all actuality, the blind man in the hospital bed is the most worthwhile subplot of the entire film, and it keeps this section from being abysmal, yet we only hear this part of the story through spoken word rather than via effective flashbacks. The only way to fix this film would be the focus entirely on this part of the story (the past and present narratives of the blind man and his interactions with other side characters) through a non-linear plot style. However, we don’t get this in Overcomer as we’re instead left with a very disjointed and disorganized storyline that gives us no opportunity to get to know the characters except that Alex Kendrick’s character is an almost-perfect white guy who has to save a non-white girl. Therein, there are many disturbing themes, such as the white family being overly good as they help the ‘bad’ African American girl; it goes without saying that a very disturbing plot point involves the school principal telling the coach to aid said minority minor in going around and lying to her legal guardian in basically illegal fashions. These actions are painted as good and never receive any consequences because the white characters can do no wrong. It’s too bad that the cross-country athlete character never stood a chance with the poor dialogue written for her character…she’s essentially programmed to respond to the prompts of her Caucasian helpers with little thought of her own. Elsewhere, old Kendrick humor is dying a slow and painful death as cringe-worthy attempts at comedy litter the already-confusing landscape of this storyline. In the end, it’s very difficult to think this plot had any other goals besides pushing propaganda and some kind of weird suburban version of Christianity.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The Kendricks can choose literally anyone to be in their films; some cast members would do it for free, yet Alex insists on continually casting himself in lead roles he can’t pull off. He and Shari Rigby crowd out the runtime of Overcomer with bland and forgettable performances that drown out better skills from supporting (non-white) cast members who are barely given a chance to do anything. For instance, Priscilla Shirer and Cameron Arnett have plenty of acting skills, but we don’t see them as often as we see awkward white people. Aryn Wright-Thompson probably has something to offer if she was ever given a shot to do something besides robotically repeat stale lines. In the end, this section is fine, but it punctuates a surprisingly bad effort from the Kendricks.

Conclusion

Minus the unusual racial undertones and the bizarre condoning of illegal actions, Overcomer is basically a run-of-the-mill church film with a sports twist. Even without the glaring issues, however, this still wouldn’t be acceptable based on where the Kendricks are in the careers. They are basically at the pinnacle of success, coming off their most successful film (War Room), so their budget and advertising resources are clearly vast. They can hire and cast whoever they wish, including actual screenwriters, yet they decided to settle for a well-produced version of Flywheel combined with the worst racial stereotypes found in Courageous to create a blandly vague idea that focuses on forcing messages down the audience’s throats. In the end, it appears as though their refusal to reach out and try different collaborations is causing them to fade into the background of an industry they helped save from the brink.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Run the Race (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

It seems like Zach and Dave Truett have always been dealt a bad hand in life. Their mother died, and their father soon after fell into alcoholism. Dave suffers from a medical condition, so when Zach tears his ACL at a party, his chances of a football scholarship, their only clear way out of their small town, are jeopardized. This forces Zach to do the soul-searching he had always avoided since their mother died, and it leads the brothers to unexpected places.

Production Quality (2 points)

As the first production funded and facilitated by the Tebow brothers, they have definitely shown that they can aggregate funds and put them to fairly good use. For the most part, this production is quite good and hits all the right notes, including good video quality, effective camera work, professional audio quality, and a great soundtrack. Sets, locations, and props are also adequately used and constructed. While the music is good, one drawback is the many dizzying sports montages that seem to eat up most of the runtime. Because of the time spent on this part, other scenes in the film are awkwardly and abruptly cut off with poor transitions. However, on the whole, this is an above-average production that is great for a first time effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, the money put into the production didn’t reflect well in the plot department. While something good is trying to be portrayed in this story, it doesn’t come through well at all, mostly due to the quick, clipped scenes that leave little room for proper development. Much of the dialogue refers to off-screen content or is very punctuated; this makes for awkward conversations that are inadequate in building characters effectively. While there are some attempts to take a real look at issues facing small towns in America and the people in them, too much time is spent on sports and training montages, which makes for a fairly choppy story presentation that doesn’t flow very well at all. There are too many missed opportunities as mindless sequences crowd the runtime, and many of the characters are too basic and one-dimensional. Difficult topics are mishandled with cliches, and unexpected time jumps leave the viewer disoriented to the story’s progression. Besides a handful of good scenes near the end of the film, this movie mainly talks about things without really showing them to you and fixes things without any heart behind them. In better screenwriting hands, this could have been a great exploration of relevant issues facing ordinary people, but we are left wondering what could have been.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

On the whole, the acting of this film could have been good, and while there aren’t any glaring errors, it’s still a bit thin. Better coaching would have likely brought out the potential in the cast members, and even so, it’s not as bad as it could have been. However, it’s not really dynamic either, which makes this an average section that rounds off a middle-of-the-road film.

Conclusion

In summary, Run the Race is fine for a freshman film effort, but with higher standards being set in the Christian entertainment market, new film makers will need to aim higher if they want to make their mark. Good productions have become more of a benchmark than they once were, and acting should at least be above average. The films that will truly set themselves apart moving forward are those that have dynamic plots and effective storytelling techniques. Perhaps in the their next attempt, the Tebow brothers can wield their fundraising skills to support a truly talented screenwriter.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Palau: The Movie (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Luis Palau, a world-renowned missionary, had meager beginnings in his life, but this did not hold him back from being all he could be for God. Under the mentorship of key people God placed in his life, Palau brought the Gospel to the countries and locations God laid on his heart and set an example for evangelism. Even today, the impact of his work is still being felt.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

While this is obviously a good idea on paper for a Christian film, it seems like the execution was only partial due to budget constraints. This fact is evident in the limited sets, locations, and props, even though they still demonstrate great attempts at historical and cultural accuracy. The lighting of the scenes is back and forth with indoor scenes mostly poorly lit while outside scenes are fine. The camera work is also acceptable, along with the audio quality. At times, there are background noises, however, and the soundtrack, while culturally authentic, seems forced at times. Further, the editing is somewhat choppy, but on the whole, this production is basically average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As previously mentioned, the story of Luis Palau is a great true story to base a film upon, but the way it was conducted with this rendition wasn’t adequate in fully communicating the important messages therein. From the beginning, the attention of the audience isn’t effectively held due to an overall feel of the film being a sort of docu-drama. This attitude is demonstrated by collections of boring scenes that simply depict characters sitting around or standing while reciting lines. As such, the dialogue isn’t enough to drive the character development to where we can relate to them; we don’t know character motivations well enough even though there are some backstories portrayed. It’s a nice authentic touch to use the original language, but it tends to cloud things when it the whole film already comes off like a collection of Bible study skits. Because of this dynamic, it’s hard to see the characters as anything but representations of ideas, which is a real shame since the movie could have been a true epic story. The time jumps are a disservice both to continuity and proper development of concepts, and it ruins any chance of having central themes or concepts to center the movie around. In the end, this film is mostly benign, which also means it’s not ground-breaking.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While the acting mostly means well, it tends to fall flat due to its vanilla nature. The attempts at cultural authenticity are definitely commendable, but each cast member would benefit from improved coaching. However, it has to be considered that the lack of good written lines puts a damper on their ability to deliver them well. Nonetheless, the smaller cast tends to amplify the errors, and in the end, this is basically an average performance overall.

Conclusion

In summary, it can’t be discounted that commendable effort was made to craft a film depicting an important true story that has impacted thousands of people around the world. Since it’s such an important account, we would have liked to see a much more substantial approach that did it justice and sought to produce a dynamic experience for the viewer. However, the film makers definitely meant well, so it will be interesting to see what they put out next.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Sweet Sweet Summertime (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After experiencing the tragic death of his beloved mother, Caleb Burns just wants everything to stay the same.  Everything does stay the same for a time, until Caleb’s father announces that they will be moving from Franklin, Tennessee to Atlanta, Georgia after the summer is over.  Thus, Caleb and his friend Blake launch a summer master plan to not only do the things they want to do before the move, but to also try to convince Caleb’s father to change his mind.  Caleb and Blake also start a club dedicated to Caleb’s mom that does good deeds all around town.  Over the course of the summer, they learn more about themselves than they anticipated and discover just how much of a difference one summer can make.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

In keeping with their past reputation, Echolight Studios, along with its partners Triple Horse Studios and Abington Ridge Films, is certainly dedicated to building high-quality Christian productions.  Nearly every production element of Sweet Sweet Summertime is flawless.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all highly professional.  The original soundtrack suits this film.  Sets, locations, and props are also very appropriate for this film and demonstrate quality.  The only negative production element to raise is the editing, as there are one too many montages and the advancement of time is a bit too rapid.  Yet, as always, this is a top-notch production that should be commonplace in all Christian films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Also in keeping with past trends, Echolight and their team tend to leave much to be desired when it comes to their plots.  Sweet Sweet Summertime is a fairly predictable and formulaic coming-of-age film that basically writes itself from beginning to end, yet the writers did the best they could with what they had, which is all we can ask.  There is too much unnecessary and heavy-handed narration that stunts character development, yet there is also dialogue that assists in making the characters realistic and accessible.  While this story has been done before, this rendition of it is certainly not as cheesy as it could have been and many audiences will find it enjoyable.  The ending is very rushed and tidy, yet there are plenty of viewers who will like it.  Overall, while we would have liked to see more creativity, at least this team put their best foot forward.

Acting Quality (3 points)

This is the sort of cast that we should see in every Christian film.  They are highly professional and well-coached.  Line delivery is flawless and emotions are very believable.  It is rare that you see a film with no acting errors in it, but Sweet Sweet Summertime is one of those films.

Conclusion

Echolight has solidified themselves as a reliably professional studio when it comes to production quality.  They also know how to assemble a respectable, error-free cast.  Yet time and again, Echolight plots tend to leave something to be desired by choosing pre-written storylines that lack creativity.  While films like Sweet Sweet Summertime will have some impact on its target audiences, it will unfortunately be easily forgotten in time.  In order to have a lasting impact in film, the plot must be dynamic.  The day that Echolight uses a dynamic plot will be the day that the Christian film world is turned upside down.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

https://offers.pureflix.com/sweet-sweet-summertime-trailer

War Room (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Elizabeth Jordan, on the surface, has an ideal life—a good job, an expensive house, a husband with a high salary, and a nice daughter.  However, something isn’t right, something is just missing.  She can’t really seem to get along with her husband anymore, he seems distant and preoccupied with other women, and she barely knows her daughter anymore.  Everything changes for Elizabeth when she meets her new realty client, Miss Clara.  Miss Clara subtlety pricks into Elizabeth’s personal life just enough to make Elizabeth interested in finding out what Miss Clara’s secret to happiness is.  After talking long enough, Elizabeth discovers that her life is not alright and that Miss Clara’s secret weapon is worth a try.  The secret weapon?  A war room, or a prayer closet.  Miss Clara teaches Elizabeth to fight for herself and for her family on her knees so that God can fight for her rather than her fighting for herself.  Little did they know that the battle had only begun.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

In the same vein as Courageous, the production quality of War Room is high.  Despite this being the first Kendrick movie away from Sherwood Baptist Church, nothing in the area of production quality changed between Courageous and War Room.  While there are no real action scenes in War Room, the diversity of sets is still present.  The soundtrack fits into the film neatly.  The editing and the production give the movie a close to home feel, which seems to be what the creators were going for.  In short, this is business as usual for the Kendricks.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The plot of War Room follows a typical non-linear Kendrick plot with minor twists and turns—one that defies conventional plot structure.  In the beginning, the plot depicts realistic struggles of accessible characters paired with a clear Christian message, which is a hallmark of the Kendrick brand.  Dialogue is mostly effective in building character motive and driving character arcs, and the message is obviously a powerful one, but there is a point where the storyline of this film overstays its welcome through multiple moments that seem like the end and through stop-and-start sequences that lag on a bit too long with the purpose of driving home how the characters have become seemingly perfect.  Thus, while there is plenty of good in this plot and while there is no doubt of the film’s success, we needed a bit more realism in the arcs of the characters.  However, the message of War Room is still worthwhile.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

In the first movie away from the Sherwood acting pool, there are no concerns here.  The actors behave just as all actors do under the tutelage of a Kendrick movie crew.  The delivery of lines is solid and the emotions are believable.  This type of movie is heavily dependent on the acting quality, and they did not disappoint.  A continued under-appreciated aspect of Kendrick films is their commitment to diversity of casting.  This is huge, since Christian movies should be better than mainstream movies.

Conclusion

The Kendricks have a brand, and they are sticking with it.  War Room feels like a redux of Fireproof with better cast members and a less textbook message, but the up-and-down career of the Kendricks continues in this rendition.  They know their audience, they have the marketing skills down, and they have the name recognition to basically do whatever they want from here on out and still have box office success.  War Room takes another spot on the Hall of Fame, but we have to wonder if the Kendricks will branch out in their post-Sherwood career or if they will continue to churn out more high-quality but safe films.  We are banking on the latter, but we will be looking for them to do something more creative in their next film.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

 

Woodlawn (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Coach Tandy Geralds only believes in what he sees in front of him.  All he sees is a broken high school in Alabama forced to integrate two racial groups who desperately do not want to associate with each.  Coach Geralds, also the assistant principle, is overworked, is unpopular with the school board, and is failing as a husband and father.  His players are frustrated with integration and racial tensions flare easily.  Tony Nathan, an underappreciated African-American athlete, is among them, yet he has been raised to treat people, regardless of skin color, the way Christ treated them.  Everything changes for the team one day when Hank, an itinerant and seemingly offbeat sports chaplain, convinces Coach Geralds to let him talk to the team.  At the end of his rope, Tandy reluctantly agrees.  What ensues from there is a miracle that transforms the football team, the high school, and the city.  One thing leads to another in a miracle season for the Woodlawn Colonels, but everything grinds to a halt one day when they are faced with adversity after adversity.  But in the grand scheme of things, each character learns in one way or another that there is one Way, one Truth, and one Life—Jesus.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The Erwin team went all out for this blockbuster production that was designed to reach outside of the Christian movie circles.  The camera work is phenomenal, ranging from difficult football scenes to character canvasing.  As an epic, the story covers a lot of time, but the editing is seamless.  It is very difficult to make an epic without being too long or without letting important plot elements fall by the wayside.  The editing team walked this tightrope flawlessly.  The inclusion of alternate and historical footage throughout the movie is an artistic flair that was pulled off nicely.  This is not a cheap production, and it shows.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)

As previously mentioned, epic plots are very hard to craft.  Too long, and the audience is lost.  Too quick, and no points are driven home.  Too often in potential epics, character development is discarded and scenes are wasted.  Neither of these mistakes occurred in Woodlawn.  Despite the large amount of plot and character content in this movie, nothing is missing.  The dialogue is concise yet profound.  There are no wasted scenes.  As a side note, Box Office Revolution maintains that movies based on real events are among some of the best on the market.  Nothing could be more true regarding Woodlawn.  The plot twists and turns just as real life does and the historical characters are adapted well.

Acting Quality (3 points)

BOR has long called the Erwin brothers the Masters of Casting.  There has never been a character in their movies that was not cast in the absolutely appropriate role.  Veterans Sean Astin, Nic Bishop, Sherri Shepherd, and Jon Voight are excellent in their roles, along with newcomers Caleb Castille and Joy Brunson.  All actors are coached well.

Conclusion

BOR can find no flaws in Woodlawn.  It also can be awarded the x-factor point for delivering an important topic packaged in a masterful epic.  The Erwin brothers have reached the pinnacle of their career, and there is no turning back now.  The Christian movie industry is at their fingertips, and BOR expects nothing less than the best.

 

Final Rating: 10 out of 10 points