Sunday School [2008] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Rachel is a new girl in town, and she is challenged to attend Sunday school for the first time in a while.  She reluctantly goes, but she finds herself interested in the new young pastor, even though she wants to travel to Hollywood and leave the small town behind to find fame.  Rachel’s presence in church causes a stir, especially due to her interest in the pastor.  Torn between two worlds, what choice will Rachel ultimately choose?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

With a very small budget, Sunday School struggles to have a quality production.  This includes some randomly poor lighting and inconsistent audio quality that has a loud soundtrack at times and other times includes too many outside noises.  However, the camera work and video quality are fine; they are the best elements of this production.  Sets, locations, and props are fine but could use some improvement.  Finally, the editing leaves something to be desired, but when looking at this film’s budget, one can’t expect much more than this.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this is a very limited story that doesn’t really contain anything truly creative, there is a small amount of potential here pertaining to the divide between church people and ‘worldly’ people who seek the truth.  However, the characters are too generic and not accessible enough, mostly because the dialogue is very stock.  A lot of the time, the characters talk without saying much substantial.  Also, the storyline tends to have typical prodigal character elements, and the ending is fairly rushed, even though it has some good points.  Essentially, this is a nice try, but not good enough.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though this is a small church film with a limited cast, the performances therein are actually average rather than below average.  There are some forceful performances from some cast members, but some cast members are better than others.  Emotions are mostly fine, but line delivery is inconsistent.  Overall, this section is par for the course.

Conclusion

Small church films are hard to pull off.  Budgets are almost always limited, yet films like this can redeem themselves by having deep, dynamic characters and a complex, thought-provoking storyline.  Unfortunately, Sunday School does not do this.  While the acting is better than it could be, this movie struggles to be relevant and will likely unfortunately be forgotten as time goes on.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

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Waterproof [2000] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Eli Zeal is just minding his own business as a convenience store owner when Thaniel Battle, a kid mixed up with the wrong crowd accidentally shoots Eli in an armed robbery.  This prompts his mother, Tyree Battle, to take Eli and her son back to her hometown to escape trouble with the law.  Basically a hostage, Eli meets Tyree’s eccentric family in a backwards small town, who try to heal his wound using their own sort of medicine.  Will Eli ever be able to escape the crazy house he’s stuck in?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As an early 2000s\late 1990s production, Waterproof tends to have an air of looking archaic most of the time.  This mostly pertains to the odd video quality, even though camera work is professional.  Audio quality is okay except for the loud soundtrack and some random background noises.  For the most part, sets, locations, and props are realistic, thus making for authentic historical surroundings.  The editing is fairly good throughout, and other elements show improvement as the film goes on.  In the end, this is an average production, which is pretty good for the time frame.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, Waterproof begins in a very odd manner, with a very eccentric tone and premise that dominates nearly three-fourths of the film.  The circumstances presented are almost unrealistic as they come off as cobbled-together and forced.  This story is mostly a return-to-hometown plot combined with a prodigal plot, only it comes with extremely off-the-wall characters that are trying too hard to provide comic relief.  Sometimes the story comes off as downright crazy as it is quite hard to take seriously.  For the first half of the film, it tends to meander along with no real purpose, and then near the end, it suddenly produces a profound message that is tied to an important character backstory.  However, for most audiences, this gem will be too late into the movie for it to be found due to the unusual beginning.  On the whole, it is very difficult to understand the true meaning of this story, apart from the good ending.

Acting Quality (2 points)

With professional cast members, this cast is mostly fine, even though some actors and actresses tend to be a bit forceful and stilted with their line delivery and emotions.  Other cast members are being purposely eccentric to fit their characters, but I guess they didn’t have a choice.  In the end, this is an above-average acting job that makes the film at least half-palatable.

Conclusion

It is hard to know or understand what this movie was actually going for.  Was this intended to be a satire?  If it was meant to be realistic, the eccentricities needed to be packaged a little differently.  It seems like there were many different and better ways the important message at the end could have been presented.  We may never know what was meant by this film, but perhaps someone can make an improved version of it one day.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Breaking the Press (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The Conagheys could never have children, so they decided to adopt a pair of twin boys who was in need of a home.  As proud members of a small community in Texas that greatly valued high school basketball, the Conagheys encouraged their two boys, Josh and Matt, to get involved.  However, one became better than the other and became tired of being stuck in the small town team.  Instead, he wanted to play for the better team in the next town.  The Conagheys decide to let him live with his aunt so he can attend the other school, but at what cost will is come at?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For the most part, Breaking the Press has a fairly professional production with no glaring errors.  The sports filming is definitely great, include good action shots and camera work.  Video quality and audio quality are what they should be.  The soundtrack is a bit generic, but it is adequate.  Sets, locations, and props are on par with what they should be.  The biggest issue to point out here is the poor editing, including abrupt cuts and transitions, as well as musical montages.  But this is not enough to derail this section, which is nearly perfect.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, the storyline of Breaking the Press is not very creative at all.  For starters, there is too much narration, which of course stunts natural character and story development.  The time jumps certainly don’t help this either.  The whole thing is just a typical and formulaic sports storyline mixed with a predictable prodigal son storyline.  There is really no creativity here, and the characters come off as plastic and manufactured.  Also, sports montages are commonplace, along with a random Christmas inclusion in the middle of the film.  Edgy content is not handled very well either.  On the whole, this just seems like someone trying to pander to Christian audiences.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Yet this cast is mostly professional and is definitely above average.  The only thing holding back this section are the overdone moments and overly practiced lines.  Yet for the most part, emotions are realistic.  This rounds out an overall average film effort.

Conclusion

It’s hard to get more formulaic than movies like Breaking the Press.  Throwing a prodigal son story into the inspirational sports genre does not exactly excite.  Creativity is very minimum here, and it seems like this is a low-effort attempt to grab some quick cash from a Christian audience.  If you are going to make a typical story, the least you can do is to craft realistic and accessible characters.  But once again, a film is left wanting.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Lost in Silver Canyon (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

While on their way to Christian camp, Joe and Vanessa find themselves accidentally left behind in a western ghost town exhibit.  Thus, they decide to explore the area around them, but they find themselves ‘trapped’ in a mine.  An old prospector with no prospects ‘rescues’ them and proceeds to mime the story of the prodigal son for them.  All the while, the obnoxious Sam Starr (brother of Johnny Starr) is searching for the old prospector so he can tell him something.  In this Bob Jones-style story from Mr. Button Family Video, everyone can learn a forceful Bible lesson.

 

Production Quality (-1 points)

As a 1990s production, it’s expected to be archaic, but not this bad.  Not even The Printing (same year) was this bad.  Video quality is blurry and outside shots are glaring.  Inside shots have poor lighting and camera work is mostly stationary.  Audio quality is very poor as a lot of it is overdubbed.  The soundtrack is annoying and the constant juvenile sound effects, especially those punctuating Sam Starr, are enough to drive a person mad.  Sets, locations, and props are extremely cheap and limited.  Furthermore, there is editing to speak of.  Essentially, this production warrants negative points due to its obnoxious nature, especially when it comes to sound effects and all things Sam Starr.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

Sam Starr is a bumbling, fumbling complete idiot of a character who is funny for all the wrong reasons and seems like he escaped from the cast of The Rev.  His movements can’t be accomplished without weird grunting, stupid sound effects, and constantly scattering of paraphernalia.  Besides his sideshow, the other characters stepped right out of a Bob Jones\Unusual Films movie like The Treasure Map, Appalachian Trial, or Project Dinosaur.  There are also some shades of Pamela’s Prayer here. The Christian message presented is cringeworthy and full of patriarchy.  Besides all of this, there is basically no story to speak of here as a majority of the runtime is filled with home video footage of a vacation to a western ghost town and a lot of forceful ‘Bible lessons’.  There is little to no purpose in this nonsense, and it’s actually very annoying, thus landing it the rare award of having negative points.

Acting Quality (-1 points)

One has to question if some of these cast members should have been around children due to their erratic and disturbing behavior, especially the idiot who played Sam Starr.  Even if this sideshow is supposed to be funny, it’s only funny because it’s so pathetically absurd.  Other cast members, as previously mentioned, are just on loan from Bob Jones and contribute nothing good except driving home Christian stereotypes.  Thus, this is another negative section.

Conclusion

Lost in Silver Canyon joins the ranks of those Christian films that are so offensive in their presentation that they warrant negative points.  The only reason to watch this film is to get a good laugh at the expense of Sam Starr, but otherwise it’s another total embarrassment to Christian film.  This is how people think Christians act, and sometimes they aren’t very far off.  Hopefully films like these will serve as motivation to make better ones so that any negative movies will be totally forgotten.

 

Final Rating: -3 out of 10 points

 

Turning Back [2010] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Dave Patterson returns home after three years of drugs and rehab, his brother, an aspiring local politician and trusted church leader, is skeptical of his change and even envious of how his father accepts Dave with open arms.  Thus, Dave grows bitter towards his brother and seeks to share his side of the story in counseling.  Will they be able to reconcile their differences before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Probably due to a limited budget, this production is slightly cheap in its presentation.  The lighting quality for most the film is strange and camera work is very random.  Audio quality is also inconsistent and soundtrack is very standard.  Sets, locations, and props are mostly okay but still reflect the limited nature of this production.  Furthermore, editing is fairly choppy as it is hard to understand what this story is trying to convey sometimes.  In the end, considering the limited resources here, this is an okay production, but it begs the question of necessity.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this is an interesting idea and is a more creative take on the typical prodigal son idea, it is still unfolds in a vague and confusing way.  Though this movie also actually portrays counseling in a realistic way for a chance, there are too many unnecessary plot tangents that waste too much time, even though there’s just barely an hour of runtime.  This causes the story to ump all around with no real focus, and there are too many random and unrelated characters.  The dialogue is too flat, thus causing the story to not hold the attention.  The ending is also slightly abrupt.  It seems like this film would have been better suited to be a short film.  Regardless, it needs a lot more development.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though this cast is slightly amateurish, they appear to mean well.  They are sometimes unsure in their performances, but they put forth a decent enough effort.  There aren’t really any glaring errors, but they aren’t really dynamic enough.  Overall, it comes out as average.

Conclusion

Even though the creators of this film were likely honest in the creation of it, unfortunately, this movie is definitely going to slip through the cracks of the market and be easily forgotten.  This story is interesting and has potential, but it needs a lot more deepening and creativity to make it.  The production needs better funding and the acting needs to be more dynamic.  But perhaps this was just a test run and there are better things in store.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Broken Chains [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Benny Trevors has just gotten out of prison and has decided to hitchhike back home to his mother’s house, where he can decide what he wants to do with his life.  He is almost immediately contacted by ‘old buddies’ of his, who ask him to help them with a new crime plan.  Benny is torn between the good and the bad and has a series of conflicts with his daughters that cause him to want to leave town.  However, he stopped from doing this when he steps in to protect a woman from her violent husband.  Little does he know that he is about to be sent on a journey to face the past he doesn’t want to ever see again.

 

Production Quality (0 points)

As a very underfunded and amateurish production, Broken Chains really doesn’t have anything good going for it.  Although it’s likely that the production team meant well, they really couldn’t get anything to work here.  Video quality is blurry, camera work is shaky, and audio quality is not what it should be.  The soundtrack is too loud and out of place and there are some unusual camera angles.  Sets, locations, and props are severely limited.  Finally, there are too many odd transitions that make for a disorienting editing experience.  In the end, it’s sad to see this finished product because it’s likely that they meant well.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Broken Chains is a rare instance in which the plot is significantly better than the production and the acting.  Though it takes a while to get into, this is actually an interesting plot idea that contains a lot of intriguing psychological elements.  However, there are a lot of overly dramatic moments and not enough substantial content.  Random things tend to just happen without much explanation.  The characters are in need of deeper development and the conclusion, though somewhat interesting, is a bit contrived and convenient.  Overall, since this is based on true events, this plot definitely has a lot of potential, but this movie as a whole needs a total rewrite.

Acting Quality (0 points)

This cast is unfortunately very amateurish and not well-versed in acting skills.  They are forceful and practiced, as well as very measured and stilted.  There are some sequences of painful singing.  Also, emotions are very flat and empty.  In the end, this film is extremely B-grade or worse.

Conclusion

Only because of the good ideas presented here does this movie deserve a remake.  The production and acting are on the basement level of film.  It would have been better to wait and use this idea in a production that was better funded and more well-cast.  Perhaps one day it will get the remake that it deserves, but for the most part, this film will likely go very much unnoticed.

 

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

 

The Music in Me [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Jessica leaves the small town she grew up in to pursue her musical dreams, she never thought she would get a second chance with the people she once knew.  But she is given that second chance when she is down on her luck and offered the position of choir director at the church she once called home.  Little does she know that she can turn their whole music program around, plus get a well-groomed man on the side.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Up Entertainment has proven that they know how to fund and executed a production, even if their plots continually suffer for creativity.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all on professional standard in The Music in Me.  However, the ‘original’ soundtrack that includes the main actress singing is awful.  Also, sets and locations are sneakily limited.  Some other small shortcuts are taken, but the editing is mostly fine.  In the end, Up has borrowed from the Hallmark model and has learned how to churn out made-for-TV films that look pretty good on the surface.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though there are some half-hearted attempts to develop the characters and there is like one character that’s not stereotypical, everything else from The Music in Me has already been done on Hallmark, ten times over.  It’s the same old prodigal character returns to their hometown shtick, with all of the predicable character molds to fill.  Dialogue is very stock and there are too many attempts at forced comedy.  The Christian message is plastic and trite; it seems like this film is only Christian because it needs to reach a certain audience.  In the end, there is nothing new here, this is business as usual, same old, same old, move along, nothing to see here…

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though there is a slight air of professionalism among this cast, they all look fake, like they were just rejected from a Hallmark audition.  Did we mention that the singing is grating?  The singing, especially from the main actress, is grating and cringeworthy.  Besides this, it seems like a lot of these performances are phoned in.  Like we said, there’s nothing new here.

Conclusion

Up has the ability to do something different, to stand out from Hallmark by using their money to fund a creative plot.  But no, they choose to fall into the same old patterns.  Sometimes they try, like with Love Finds You in Charm, but this time they have not.  Perhaps one day someone will be able to use a platform like this to produce a great idea that is actually worth watching on TV.  I wonder how long we’ll have to wait for that to happen.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Prodigal [2011] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Levi Layton has grown up under the shadow of his father, the pastor.  Levi feels suppressed and controlled by the church atmosphere and by all the nosy busybodies who want to control his father.  His best friend constantly tries to lead him astray and he eventually lures him away from the church altogether.  With the church under financial pressures and with other churches trying to compete for their members, will the Layton family be able to come back together and pick up the pieces of their faith?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though it has somewhat amateurish origins, Prodigal is at least an average production that demonstrates effort to be mostly professional.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be, even though the soundtrack is a bit goofy.  Sets and locations are somewhat limited to a few buildings around a neighborhood, but it seems like they are used to their fullest potential.  As is common with most amateur productions, the editing of this film is not very professional.  Though some attempts are made to make it work, it still comes off as too choppy and inconsistent.  Nonetheless, this is an average production that can be built off of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Many prodigal son stories have been brought to the big screen, probably too many at this point.  However, despite its packaging, Prodigal is not really a prodigal son story in the traditional sense, as most of the plot focuses on the story before the son leaves, and even when the son does leave, it’s very brief and constricted.  There is nothing inherently wrong with trying something a little bit different, but the way this story comes off is too quirky.  There are too many failed attempts at off-the-wall comedy and too many head-scratching conversations that include some suggestive innuendo.  It almost seems like the writers are making fun of church people (which sometimes isn’t that hard or unjustified), yet it is not done very tastefully.  Trying to develop backstory for the prodigal son is actually a good idea, but it never really leads to anything.  The plot follows a linear, predictable progression with no real twists or surprises.  The Christian message therein feels very plastic and slapped together.  In the end, this was a nice try, but not good enough.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This amateur cast is better than most—they definitely have their good moments.  But they also have their bad moments as some cast members seem to embrace their role too much and others appear to be making fun of the movie (again, not that hard to do).  Though there is good to find here, too much of the acting is disingenuous and somewhat lazy, thus making this an average performance.

Conclusion

We say this all the time, but too many films on the Christian market are just all the same.  Most are neither good enough nor bad enough to warrant much attention.  Films like Prodigal easily fall through the cracks and are never heard from again—our blog is full of films like this one.  Thus, we continue our rallying mantra: as a Christian film makers, use your God-given talents to do something different that truly makes a difference, not that just adds to the endless pile of mediocrity.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Confessions of a Prodigal Son (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Sean Matthews couldn’t wait to strike out on his own and get out from under the confines of being a pastor’s son.  When given half of his inheritance with the stipulation of staying in school, Sean heads off to USC to live the party lifestyle.  He feels like he can do whatever he wants—that is, until he meets Ali, a girl who seems immune to his usual manipulation.  Thus, he pursues her in the hopes of winning her over, even though she is not interested in having a relationship.  They become friends and she changes Sean’s outlook on life.  When Sean comes to a crossroads, he will have to decide which path he wants to take.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Confessions of a Prodigal Son starts out fairly rough, like many freshman productions.  There is a lot of shaky camera work at first, including odd artistic angles, such as filming through crowds and from behind objects, as well as a lot of close-up shots.  However, this seems to improve as the movie goes.  Video quality is relatively stable throughout, but audio quality is another inconsistent factor, as it goes from cheap to quality over the span of ninety minutes.  The soundtrack is too loud at first and some audio is overdubbed, but these issues seem to work themselves out later.  Unfortunately, sets and locations are slightly cheap throughout the movie.  The editing is actually somewhat creative as the story is presented in a semi-out-of-order fashion that enhances interest.  Overall, this production seems to be a learning experience for the Lighting Dark team, which is perfectly reasonable, considering this is their first film.  The good news is that they will likely improve down the road.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The one thing we can say for Confessions of a Prodigal Son is that while the story is somewhat overused and predictable, at least it is presented in a creative and unique fashion.  This rendition of the famous parable will stand out from others because effort was made to be artistic and different.  At first, the narration seems too heavy-handed, but it becomes more justifiable later.  The portrayal of addicts is spot-on in this film, even if the solutions are little shallow.  There seems to be a lot of edgy content simply for the sake of having it and some important issues are treated too simply, probably to fit the story into the designated runtime.  Some characters are cheesy and have character arcs that are too steep, yet there are times when they are surprisingly well-crafted.  Though the messaging is somewhat obvious, it is still at least partially meaningful and is packaged in an artistic fashion that shows potential for the future.  In short, this movie is not all bad and stands out among others like it, which is all we ask for of new film makers.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Like other elements in this film, the acting begins fairly rough and inexperienced.  There are some mumbled and slurred lines, yet there are also some overly-enunciated lines.  However, these issues work themselves out over time, like the other issues that were previously pointed out.  Emotions are mostly realistic throughout the film and line delivery certainly improves in the second half.  Overall, it is encouraging to see improvement throughout a movie rather than consistent negativity.

Conclusion

Confessions of a Prodigal Son is a mixed bag that carries with it the potential for greatness.  This is normal for a first-time film, as are the early production struggles.  If production and acting had been consistently professional and if the characters had been a little deeper through better dialogue, this film would have likely been Hall of Fame.  We are always encouraged to see new film makers that are trying to do the right things, so we anticipate greater things from the Lighting Dark team in the future.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Turn Around Jake (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jake has a dream job, a flashy fiancé, and everything he ever wanted, until one day when it all comes crashing down.  He is forced by his boss to take the fall for something illegal the company did and is left homeless and on the run from the law.  Jake has nowhere to turn, so he is forced to go back to the home he ran from—including the father and the girlfriend he left behind to pursue his dreams.  What he finds is that everything he was looking for was right in front of him.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

In the recent days of PureFlix, they have mastered the art of doing just enough to make a production look good on the surface.  Turn Around Jake is no exception to this rule.  Camera work, video quality, and audio quality are all on par.  The soundtrack is one of those childish attempts at comedy tunes, but is mostly typical.  Sets and locations are fairly limited but are passable.  There is really no editing present as the storyline just follows a stereotypical progression.  In short, there is really nothing out of the ordinary to say about this production—it’s standard and a little above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Turn Around Jake is really nothing but a typical city-character-returns-to-struggling-hometown-and-fixes-things plots.  This is also mixed with a dose of a prodigal character plot.  Everything is there: the old girlfriend, the parental character, the city characters who try to pull him back, and the other rural caricatures.  Besides this word-out premise, there are a lot of absurdly childish characters, dialogue, and asides that really make no sense except that the writers tried to force a lot of comedy but failed miserably at it.  As the story rushes through a predictable progression that hits all the expected points, it peddles a very cheap Christian message that cannot be respected and feels like it was shoved in so PureFlix would carry it.  Essentially, there is nothing original, creative, or worthwhile here, thus warranting no points.

Acting Quality (1 point)

While there is some good here, for the most part, this cast is over the top and awkward.  They are painfully lacking coaching as their attempts at being funny and witty completely fall flat.  As a bright spot, Jen Lilley continues to outshine otherwise laughable PureFlix casts.  It would be interesting to see her in a more upstanding film.

Conclusion

In the end, Turn Around Jake is business as usual for the inspirational film business.  Somewhere they keep a database of the very small and limited scope of reusable inspirational plots (we think Hallmark is the gatekeeper of such secrets) and every time a new film makers needs a story they can easily peddle to the masses, they pick one for themselves.  Among these plots are the closely related prodigal character plot, the hometown return plot, and the fish-out-of-water plot.  Turn Around Jake borrows elements from each of these conventions and mixes them into its own awkward comedy style.  Anything that involves all of these elements is probably doomed from the start.  How about trying something original?

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

The Perfect Summer (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Jake and his mom move from Chicago to Hawaii to start a new life with her father, Jake is less than thrilled about the change of pace.  He has to adjust to new surroundings and new people who do not always accept him.  He also has to endure his eccentric grandfather, who tries to rebuild their relationship.  Jake is ready to give up when he discovers that he has a thing for surfing and that his grandfather can teach him.  Perhaps the worst summer ever for Jake will turn into the perfect summer.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The Perfect Summer is such a clean, stock made-for-television film.  From the opening sequence to the loudest soundtrack ever to lots of nature footage, this movie checks all the boxes of mediocre production quality.  While the video quality and camera work are fine, the poor audio quality is very distracting as it picks up all kinds of unwanted sounds.  However, the sets and locations are fairly professional and interesting.  Finally, the editing is standard and moves the plot along at a predictable pace.  In short, this production is average, but we’ve come to expect more from professional television channels.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The Perfect Summer is a predictable inspirational cookie-cutter plot depicting a city character moving to a remote location and having to adjust to a different culture with limited internet access.  The constant jokes about the internet and other forced comedy gets really old.  The local characters are stereotypical; none of the characters are developed enough for there being so few of them.  This film’s premise is a fairly thin sports\training story complete with lots of music videos, empty conflicts, and a typical romantic subplot.  Unfortunately, the Christian message seems manufactured and plastic.  However, this story has a slightly realistic ending and sort of redeems it to a point.  But otherwise, if you’ve seen this kind of movie before, you’re probably not missing anything.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This cast is actually the best part of the film, even though Eric Roberts is involved.  He is strange and overdone as usual and singlehandedly holds this section back.  His presence poisons the entire film.  But the rest of the small cast is okay, though there are some slightly over emotions and cultural stereotypes.  In the end, this is a good effort, but we would have liked to see a little more from this professional team.

Conclusion

This plot has really been done before, may too often.  Channels like UP and the like need to be brave enough to take a risk with a different plot.  What’s it going to hurt?  They have the resources to make pretty much any kind of inspirational plot they want, so why not go for broke?  The Perfect Summer is one of those forgettable movies that you might watch while flicking the TV channels and then forget about in a few days.  With the money and abilities companies like this have, they need to set the bar higher for themselves and do something original and memorable.  It’s fine to make clean entertainment, but why get stuck in mediocrity?

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Texas Rein {The Ride Home} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Cassie Roberts receives word that her father is having medical complications, she is forced to return to the small town of Texas she grew up in, the one she tried to get away from.  While back in town, she is reminded of her horse riding days and reluctantly agrees to help her father and his young trainer to train her old horse for a reining competition.  Will she be reminded of what she left behind and of the new life she can start anew?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

While Texas Rein has good standard production elements, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality, there are still some other issues to raise.  The soundtrack is very stock and uninspiring.  The sets and locations are quite limited to a few houses and outside areas and don’t even give off that small town feel.  Finally, the editing is quite poor and causes the film to be very choppy and confusing—just a collection of random scenes.  There are also too many musical montages.  In short, while this movie looks good on the surface, it’s really just an average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

So a character returns to their hometown they don’t want to be in because of some extenuating circumstance and finds a reason to stay (usually a horse is involved) and meets a significant other and so on and so forth.  We’ve seen this plot before and this is a 2016 movie, so why are we seeing it again?  Besides the predictable plot structure, the characters therein are extremely juvenile and simplistic.  The dialogue is typical and full of small town statements.  Nothing really substantial happens as the passage of time is hard to follow.  We can’t feel like these people are real or are doing real things as their unrealistic high school dramas are resolved too easily.  Basically, there’s really nothing good to say here.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

This is really a very poor casting job.  The actors and actresses are awkward, wooden, and robotic in their line delivery.  They don’t express any believable feeling or emotions.  On the bright side, this is possibly Erin Bethea’s best role to date.  But otherwise, this is a big disappointment.

Conclusion

It’s great to want to make a movie, but sometimes you need to take a step back and see if it really is worth marking.  Texas Rein probably would have done better as a short film, to work as sort of a springboard for better things.  With no creative plot content and very weak characters, this was unfortunately not a story worth telling.  Also, it’s great to have production elements down, but having such a poorly coached cast is unacceptable.  Perhaps things will improve in the future.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Gavin Stone, a washed-up child star, is trying to find his next big break when he gets himself in big trouble with the law.  As a settlement, the judge offers him a deal that includes required community service hours at a local church.  Gavin accepts the deal and returns to his hometown to stay with his father, whom he has not spoken to in years.  While working at the local church, Gavin stumbles upon a church play they are planning for Easter and decides to audition for it.  However, in order to get the part of Jesus, he has to pretend that he is a Christian.  But the longer he pretends, the more he becomes interested in what his new friends have to offer.  He will have to decide how long he’s going to keep up the charade and whether or not he wants the real thing.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

With an adequate budget, wise spending, and clear talent, the production team of The Resurrection of Gavin Stone proves that churches can make high quality productions.  There are no errors to point out here—camera work is professional and video quality is crisp.  Audio quality is flawless and the soundtrack is adequate.  The sets and locations are realistic and down to earth.  There are also no editing problems; everything flows perfectly.  In short, Vertical Church and the rest of this team set their minds to making a top-notch production, and it paid off.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Throughout her writing career, Andrea Gyertson Nasfell has always shown that she has a knack for writing real-life comedy, especially church satire—Gavin Stone is no exception.  Though this passed-around plot is formulaic and predictable, Nasfell takes it to its furthest potential, which is all we really ask of a writer.  Though this appears to be a stereotypical small town setup, it’s really not of the Hallmark brand (which actually gets a subtle jab at one point).  The characters are not plastic and cheesy, but instead are realistic and believable.  Dialogue is highly effective and drives the plot, as it must in a predictable comedy.  While the plot follows a stereotypical progression and this fact keeps it from being a higher score, this is the best anyone can do with this sort of idea.  Nasfell has always had a lot of writing talent, and Gavin Stone showcases this once again.  We can’t wait to see her break out into greatness one day.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Like the production team, the casting team went all out to make this portion quality.  One character even says “Acting is about being yourself through the character.”  This acting philosophy is reminiscent of the Kendrick\Erwin school of thought and is desperately needed in all of Christian film.  Actors and actresses do not need to be who they are not, but instead need to act naturally and professionally in their character.  Anjelah Johnson-Reyes demonstrates this extremely well in her first headlining role—she might be one of the best Christian actresses of our time.  All other cast members also demonstrate poise and professionalism in all ways, thus warranting a perfect score.

Conclusion

Dallas Jenkins, Andrea Nasfell, and the rest of the team demonstrate in this film that it really isn’t that difficult to make a quality Christian film.  With the right funding, a wise allocation of funds, a plot taken to its fullest potential, and a professional cast, anyone can make a Hall of Fame movie if they put their mind to it.  With creators like these, there is hope for the tide of Christian entertainment to continue to turn.  Now we ask Jenkins, Nasfell, Vertical Church, and everyone else involved in to use Gavin Stone as a springboard to even greater entertainment.  They are on the verge of the upper echelon and we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

Full disclosure: We were provided by the creator with a copy of this film in exchange for a fair and honest review

Milltown Pride (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Will Wright loves to play baseball, even if it means playing with the ‘poor kids’.  Even though this gets him in trouble with his father, Will never gives up on his dream to play baseball.  As he grows older, he joins the local mill league along with his ‘country’ childhood friends.  But when he gets discovered by a scout, Will finds himself following the wrong crowd and doing things that go against the religion he was taught by his parents.  Will he ever find his way back to the religion he grew up in?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For Bob Jones University and Unusual Films, this is a respectable production.  The camera work and video quality are pretty good, and the audio quality is okay, although the soundtrack is very annoying.  Sets and locations are mostly historically authentic and fairly diverse, though since this is supposed to be an epic, there really should have been more.  Also, there is far too much content that is not very useful and there are too many wasted scenes.  Epics are supposed to concisely portray a period of a character’s life or the lives of a group of characters.  This is definitely hard to do, but the Unusual Films crew shouldn’t have attempted this genre if they weren’t going to follow through.  But all in all, this is an average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

The entire premise of Milltown Pride is based on a strange and over-the-top class warfare conflict between white people, and the writers do not appear to completely condemn looking down on poor people.  Besides this, this films contains the usual fundamentalist and isolationist religious principles that are baked into the fiber of Bob Jones University, including creating a ‘worldly’ strawman out of sports.  As previously mentioned, everything in this failed epic is dragged out and plenty of time is wasted on endless baseball sequences and juvenile conversations.  The plot barely holds the attention as it follows a predictable progression with no twists and turns.  The characters therein are plastic and turn people off to whatever Christian message this movie is trying to convey.  In short, while this could have been interesting, it just wasn’t.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Unusual Films can’t seem to get away from casting awkward white people in their movies.  This cast is very wooden and lacks proper coaching.  Their emotions seem fake and their line delivery is either unsure or forced.  This rounds out a mostly disappointing effort.

Conclusion

We lost count of the time a character says ‘town boy’ in this movie—it got old really fast.  We are also confident that the Unusual Films crew once again just wanted another outlet to propagate their fundamentalist worldview—not that many people are paying any attention.  It’s films like this one that further turn people off to the concept of Christian movies because this is what too many people think Christians are: isolated, prejudiced, backwards, fundamentalist, patriarchal white people.  If we ever needed a major trend reversal, it’s now.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

Heart of the Country [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Faith left her rural North Carolina home to pursue her musical dreams in New York City, she never expected to meet the man of her dreams—or so she thought.  After a whirlwind romance and marriage to Luke Carraday, they are horrified to discover that the investment firm he worked for came under audit by the federal government, landing all employees in jail, including Luke.  Dazed and confused and with no one to turn to, Faith returns home and finds her ailing father the same as he always was.  Though Faith’s sister is not excited about her coming back, Faith’s whole family supports her no matter what happens.  However, none of them foresee the events that about to unfold—events that have the potential to change the direction of their lives forever.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

With a modest budget, Heart of the Country did pretty much all they could do with the money they had.  The video quality is excellent and the camera work is professional.  Sound quality is consistent throughout, and the soundtrack is fairly good, even though it’s dominated by Jana Kramer, the lead actress.  The sets and locations are relatively diverse—jumping back and forth from New York City to rural North Carolina works very well.  There is an overall authentic feel to the surroundings.  The only caveats to raise with this film are some minor editing issues.  Though flashbacks are utilized wonderfully, there are some choppy elements of the production that derail its pursuit of perfection.  But these minor issues aside, this is a formidable production model to be proud of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

From the beginning, the plot of Heart of the Country is unique and outside of the norm.  Few movies ever attempt to depict a newlywed couple’s struggles—most movies retreat after the wedding vows are said and we never hear from them again.  The premise of this film is a brave idea that deserve resounding applause.  As previously mentioned, flashbacks enhance this film and make it what it is.  The characters are fairly believable, though they could use a little more development in this character-based plot.  For the most part, this plot avoids the usual return-to-your-hometown clichés.  Unfortunately, the Christian message is quite muted and needed to be a little more meaningful.  Another problem is a number of wasted scenes that could have been used to develop characters and deepen the storyline.  Some elements are understated while others are overstated.  The end is meaningful even though it is slightly expected.  Overall, this is an above average plot that had the potential to be even better.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is a formidable cast made up of B-grade cast members.  They seem to be coached fairly well.  Line delivery is above average, as are emotions.  One big drawback here is that most of the cast members make excessive use of makeup and costuming.  In the end, this is a respectable acting job.

Conclusion

We’ve said it before, but we really wish that films like Heart of the Country were the baseline of inspirational film.  It includes a unique idea, professional production, believable characters, and commendable acting.  We also wish films like this one would go all the way and achieve Hall of Fame status.  But nonetheless, films like this one are still enjoyable and definitely worth your while.  It’s unfortunately still a rare find in the industry.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Changing Hearts [2012] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

James Reed is a successful consultant in the big city, glad that he left his rural life behind. However, his old life starts calling him back when his father begins to have health problems, prompting James’ mother, brother, and sister to call on him to come help them run the family business: a rural bed and breakfast.  James returns home, saying he will stay for a week.  When he arrives, he finds his family’s business is not as good as they portrayed it.  But he also finds that he still has feelings for one of the employees there.  Even though James does not want to be home and his brother doesn’t want him there either, the Reed family will have to band together and work hard in order to combat a business rival who wants to buy out the bed and breakfast.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Starting off, Changing Hearts is the typical story of a cheap Christian movie.  The video quality and camera work is the strongest point of the production, giving this movie and good surface feel.  However, as we usually say, there isn’t much past the surface.  The sets are limited to the bed and breakfast building and property and some random ‘big city’ scenes.  There’s nothing creative about the soundtrack and at times, there is loud background noise that overpowers the scene.  There is really nothing to say about the editing—the movie just drags on and until it’s finally done.  Perhaps the worst element of the production is a scene at the end in which a large crowd of people is supposed to be depicted, yet it’s an obvious production blunder, with a handful of people copied over and over again to make it look like a large crowd.  Beyond this, there is nothing obviously wrong with the production of Changing Hearts, but there is nothing dynamic enough to cause it to stand out.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Leading off the previous comments, the plot of Changing Hearts is extremely linear, with no twists or turns or creativity.  It’s a simplistic prodigal son plot done quite poorly.  The characters fit nicely into their predetermined molds: the prodigal character, the angry brother, the parents, the love interest, and the optional villain (in this case, I can sympathize, since it disturbingly reminds me of a real life person).  Little is done to deepen these characters beyond their stereotypes.  Dialogue is not utilized properly and is very vanilla.  Characters are swept along by the inevitable plot that concludes abruptly and predictably.  Life lessons are obviously taught throughout, but not in a way that causes the audience to connect with the real life events.  The plot comes off in such a way that it seems like it takes place in a location outside of real life.  But if it’s meant to be an allegory, it’s not indicated.  In summary, this would have been fine for a first time film if more thought was put into it.  From the get-go, the plot is very limited in scope and potential, so the most needs to be made of every element.  This did not occur, thus warranting zero points.

Acting Quality (1.5 point)

In a strange twist, the acting is the strongest element of this film.  It’s rare that the acting overshadows the other elements; usually acting goes hand in hand with the others.  In this case, the acting is only better because it’s average and the rest of the film is sub-par.  There is nothing glaringly horrible from this cast.  Line delivery is pretty good.  Emotions sometimes seem plastic, but sometimes they are not.  This cast seems like it has a lot of potential, but it only comes out as average.

Conclusion

As time goes on, Christian films like this will unfortunately be forgotten and lost amidst a sea of cheap movies on thrift store shelves and yard sale tables.  It frustrates us to see this sort of potential do to waste.  Despite the uncreative plot, the tools were there to make this movie stand out, at least as a freshman creation.  But unfortunately, Changing Hearts is just another one of those movies that will fade away.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points