12 Days With God (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

When Devin Sherman undergoes surgery for cancer around his eye, he’s given a chance to reflect on all he’s recently done. This includes his mistakes and failures, which he still regrets yet cannot make up for. During the procedure and recovery, he looks back on where he’s been and where he is now. These reflections will determine what the future trajectory of his life will be.

Production Quality (2 points)

On the whole, the production of 12 Days With God is above average as it contains good video quality and an acceptable soundtrack, despite the fact that there are some noticeable background sounds and obvious overdubs. Though lighting can be inconsistent, the sets, locations, and props are professional. Also, some of the problem areas get better as the movie progresses, and the editing is at least above the halfway mark. Thus, this section earns a good enough score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

While it’s a little boring at first, the concept behind 12 Days With God is interesting and intriguing. Although there is unnecessary narration throughout, the effective use of psychological elements and flashbacks create a non-linear plot style and establish strong character motives. Despite the somewhat slow pace, the interconnections of characters is good, even if the meandering storyline can be a bit hard to follow sometimes. Also, character arcs come off as too steep at times, and the narrative’s timeline is difficult to comprehend in some instances as the presentation is often muted and confusing. Elsewhere, many of the comedy asides seem out of place and unnecessary, and there are annoying title cards between the days that transpire during the plot. Further, some scenes are fairly wasted as they’re not used like they could have been. Nonetheless, the epilogue stands out though the lead-up isn’t that great, which blunts the otherwise good message’s full impact. In the end, this section does enough to earn an average score but still could have been better.

Acting Quality (2 points)

While there are some situations of robotic line delivery, emotions are mostly okay despite some circumstances of over-acting. Many of the cast members come off as overly practiced while some are better than others. The good thing is that the acting overall improves as the movie goes on, which raised this section’s rating higher than it would have been.

Conclusion

Since the creative team behind 12 Days With God is committed to using real stories in their films, they already have great potential for the future. Once they’re able to work out the pesky concerns with production and acting, like many new film makers, they need to dedicate resources to people who know how to effectively write screenplays. This is perhaps the most pervasive issue of modern Christian entertainment, but once it’s rectified, the field will look completely different.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

The Big Fix [2018] (Movie Review)

The Big Fix (2018) - IMDb

Plot Summary

The Reynolds family members all have many commitments and obligations, yet none of them want to see anything from the others’ perspectives. However, after asking God to change each other, they get the surprise of their lives when they suddenly switch bodies with each other. This gives each of them a chance to see what it’s like to walk in the others’ shoes, and what they find out is unexpected.

Production Quality (2 points)

Overall, the production of The Big Fix is good without many errors. This includes a great soundtrack and professional audio quality. Camera work and video quality are also up to standards. Sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized. The only drawbacks in this section are some cheesy special effects and some choppy editing. In the end, however, this production is enough to be above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

At times, The Big Fix offers some good dialogue and realistic looks at problems with families and businesses in American culture, but other times, the film is a bit in-your-face with obvious messaging and sermonizing. This aside, the movie’s entire basis is a bit off, to say the least, as it comes with all the expected logical problems and inconsistencies that usually accompany body-switching plots. Despite these obvious concerns, not much actual content actually transpires in this narrative apart from forced comedy, unearned silliness, wasted time, and useless montages, which all pertain to the questionable premise. Along with these errors comes inevitably unusual content and insinuations that make for awkward stop-and-start scenes and meandering sequences that lead to nowhere. In order to effectively pull off any type of character-switching idea, you have to actually have good characters to begin with rather than basic stereotypes. This storyline’s poor character development also gives rise to cheesy views of young people. In the end, the conclusion is forced and cheesy as it basically fixed everything very rapidly, and the last scene is quite bizarre in general. Therefore, not many points can be awarded to this section.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, the acting in The Big Fix is okay even though it can be too forceful at times. Other times, however, the emotional and line deliveries seem more natural. The biggest issue here is that, in order to properly execute a character switching plot, you need high-level acting. Unfortunately, these performances are just a bit above average. Nonetheless, while the acting is a bit stop-and-start at first, it tends to improve with time, which rounds out a run-of-the-mill effort.

Conclusion

This creative team is usually almost there (see Fat Chance), but a collection of things always holds them back from reaching the next level. They would greatly benefit from improved screenwriting so that they can focus their talents in other areas, like beefing up production and acting. With a more substantial plot and stronger characters, The Big Fix could have really been something. Nevertheless, perhaps we’ll see better things from this group in the coming days.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

Little Notes to Heaven (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Kyle and Amelia met in a seemingly chance encounter and quickly became friends despite the less-than-desirable circumstances around them. The more time they spent together, the more they fell in love. However, the closer they grew, the more complicated things became as they discovered that there was more holding them back than they previously realized. When it all finally comes to a head, they discover valuable lessons that will stay with them forever.

Production Quality (2 points)

Despite an under-funded production, Little Notes to Heaven does enough to get past the middle mark, such as having clear video and artistic camera angles even though the camera work is sometimes shaky. Audio quality is on point except for a few obvious overdubs, and the original soundtrack is excellent as it flows with the scenes and mixes were creatively edited overlays. Though the sets, locations, and props are slightly cheap, they are overall okay, and the same can be said for the editing save for a few lagging scenes. In the end, however, this is a great first-time effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Surprisingly, the plot is the strongest element of Little Notes to Heaven. Combining artistic tone and voice-over with a creative non-linear storyline, the writers use great conversations and flashbacks to establish the narrative’s philosophy and the characters’ motives. As such, the characters are extremely accessible and realistic via their believable personality and backstories. Psychological elements are also a plus since the creators demonstrate a profound understanding of what some people experience and secretly endure, such as complex family systems concerns and emotional struggles. It all reaches a slightly unexpected conclusion that carries a lot of weight and drives home awesome messaging. The only factors keeping this section from being perfect are the fact that some characters appear to have vague existences at times and the tendency for some events to happen because the story needs to reach a certain conclusion. Otherwise, from start to finish, this film demonstrates an excellent integration of concepts throughout its progression and serves as a great example for how to write a plot that’s driven by relatable characters.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though the acting of Little Notes to Heaven is a bit awkward at first, for the most part, the cast members do well with assuming the roles of the characters. Emotions can be a bit extreme at time, but as a whole, line delivery is professional. By the movie’s end, the acting is nearly perfect, which is enough to make up for the earlier shortcomings. Thus, this caps off a very encouraging freshman offering.

Conclusion

It’s very clear that the creative team behind this screenplay did the best they could with what they had, which is really all we can ask as reviewers. However, it’s a shame that Little Notes to Heaven couldn’t take that final step onto the Hall of Fame due to a handful of rookie mistakes. Nonetheless, many audiences will enjoy this film, which is a great way to begin and shows that its creators have a lot of potential for the future. With better funding and collaboration, they could easily make a bigger impact and find their place in the Christian entertainment field.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

Scion [2018] (Movie Review)

Kingdom Sight

Plot Summary

Kendra Williams is tired of the way things are. She never gets to have any fun because her parents won’t let her go to dangerous all-night parties with her “friends.” One of these said nights, Kendra meets a mysterious man who promises to grant her secret wish of living however she wants. Kendra accepts his offer but suddenly wakes up in a world where she was never born. Will she be able to escape the nightmare before it’s too late???

Production Quality (1 point)

For the most part, Scion offers a very cheap production experience, including shaky camera work, tight shots, and bizarre camera angles designed to be “cool.” Audio quality is also uneven as backgrounds sounds are too prevalent and invasive sound effects annoy the viewer even though the soundtrack is somewhat interesting. The video is also sometimes blurry, and lighting is inconsistent throughout. Sets, locations, and props are mostly average if not slightly limited, and cheesy special effects plague the audience with dizzying sequences. Further, though there is some slight improvement throughout, continuity errors and various editing concerns keep this section on the low end of the spectrum, but it’s not even the worst of it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Scion starts off with the completely wrong premise by portraying a tone-deaf view of young people being wayward and throwing in with strawman villains. Also, the psychological fantasy world created for this plot is very difficult for viewers to understanding since its rules seem very subjective. For instance, things in the alternate universe randomly happen for no particular reason, and obstacles are arbitrarily applied to the characters just for the sake of expanding the narrative and illogically getting them where the writers wanted them to go. Similarly, the story’s progression makes little sense as unnecessary time jumps disorient the audience and endless meandering sequences waste time just so that the characters can run all over the place and fill the runtime. Very convenient dialogue also forces the plot to go where screenwriters wanted it to go, and forced suspense scenes crowd out any shred of potential there was for character development. In the end, this screenplay is just a bad version of the typical It’s a Wonderful Life style of psychological narrative.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though it’s a bit average and sometimes even awkward, the acting is the best aspect of Scion. However, emotions still aren’t very believable throughout, and line delivery is pedestrian. Nonetheless, it’s unclear how the cast members could have done much better with how poorly written this movie was. Thus, this rounds out a severely underwhelming effort that should have never gotten past the initial planning stages.

Conclusion

Kingdom Sight Studios has demonstrated some slight potential in the past, such as in 2nd Greatest, but more recent projects, like Scion and A High School Story, have not instilled any confidence in their commitment to quality. Often, being a lone ranger studio rarely pays off, but the least they could do is overcome their low production quality with deeper storylines that would make bigger companies take notice. However, this isn’t the case as they further contribute to the already low image of Christian entertainment.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

Eyes to See (Movie Review)

Eyes to See (2010) - IMDb

Plot Summary

What Ray cares about most in the world is being a successful camera operator for a traveling national media crew. However, this demanding profession frequently keeps him away from his wife and daughter, who desperately want to be close to him. Nonetheless, Ray pushes forward for career success until a Haitian earthquake traps him underneath rubble and forces him to reexamine everything he holds dear.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

From start to finish, Eyes to See is a very professional production, which is evidenced by good camera work and video quality. The authentic sets, locations, and props are well-utilized and make for a very gritty, realistic setting. Audio quality and soundtrack are also great, and it should be noted that it was very ambitious to take on a difficult natural-disaster-style production idea like this one. As such, the earthquake sequences are mostly accurate. The only minor concerns to point out in this section pertain to some unnecessarily soft lighting within some of the flashbacks and some slightly choppy editing in the film’s second half. However, there’s plenty of positive in this production, which earns it a high score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Eyes to See sports a very strong message about the stark contrast between actually helping people in need during a natural disaster and just looking for media entertainment. This is accomplished through believable characters, which are built with accessible dialogue that establishes character personality as well as a very effective use of flashbacks that reveals character motive. Through these excellent narrative tools, recurring themes and thought-provoking conversations are presented to the audience that offer a brave and honest look at how Americans can easily mistreat those struggling in developing countries. Although it was great to efficiently use time and money with a short film rather than a long one, this is a rare instance where we wish a movie was longer than it was, especially since hearing more from the Haitian characters in this narrative would be have been good to balance out the American characters that tend to dominate the screen time. Also, the plot’s ending is a bit rushed, which leads this section to the rating that it gets, but it’s still an enjoyable experience.

Acting Quality (3 points)

This screenplay’s strongest aspect is its highly professional acting performances, which sport realistic emotions and on-point line delivery. Costuming and disaster makeup are also positive points to note. Further, the culturally accurate casting is very refreshing and essential. In this, this section rounds out an effort that does just enough to achieve Hall of Fame status.

Conclusion

Normally, we would like to see many films that are over ninety minutes long to be shorter, but Eyes to See is an outlier instance since we would have rather seen more than half an hour of content. As previously mentioned, extending the runtime could have been done by giving more focus to the experiences of the local characters instead of focusing so heavily on the Americans, but as it is, this brief narrative is enough to warrant a position on the Hall of Fame. It’s a prime example of how good a small creation can be as well as something adequate can be even better. Hopefully, future entertainment makers can take cues from this example, and perhaps, we’ll see even better things from this creative team in the future.

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

The Cabin [2019] (Movie Review)

The Cabin (2019)

Plot Summary

Roy, a former pastor, has decided to go out to a secluded cabin in the woods to determine whether or not the spiritual realm exists. He’s determined to lock himself in until something spiritual manifests, which attracts the undue attention of various supernatural forces, both good and evil. In the end, Roy will have to battle for his soul, using homemade armor, against poorly animated demons!

Production Quality (.5 point)

Although the video quality of The Cabin is fine, this is the only positive production element. The camera work is very shaky, including some really wacky camera angles, and the audio leaves something to be desired due to its background sounds, constant generic soundtrack, and weird sound effects. Also, the sets, props, and locations are quite cheap, and it goes without saying that the special effects are terrible. Elsewhere, the flashbacks are unnecessarily black and white, and editing is sub-par. Essentially, this is an unacceptably bad production, but it’s not even the worst of what this awful film has to offer.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-3 points)

Although The Cabin‘s plot begins with boring sequences of activities of daily living and vanilla dialogue that produces cardboard characters, things quickly become much more outrageous. Through a combination of stupid jump scares, blank scenes where basically nothing happens, cheesy found footage sequences, and drug trip montages that are nearly impossible to quantify, this film successfully finds its way all the way down to the bottom of the barrel. Besides the forced drama that has no logical lead-up, the narrative is so vague that it’s barely even a story and completely lacks purpose. However, this doesn’t even though the fact that many of the plot points lack realistic support and that the spiritual elements of the story are either portrayed in juvenile ways or through very bizarre methods that cause the viewer to question whether or not the screenwriters actually comprehended the serious subject matter they wrote about. Basically, the movie’s second half is utter nonsense and full of over-the-top sensationalism such that it makes a laughingstock of otherwise important spiritual topics. It’s incredibly difficult to include all of the complete madness that’s contained within this one screenplay without asking the audience to see for themselves, but that would be a total waste of their time.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Despite other glaring problems in The Cabin, the acting is actually quite average, considering the fact that there’s not much for the cast members to work with. Not many lines are demanded of them due to the abysmal writing, but many of the performances contain forced emotions. Nonetheless, this section isn’t all bad, but it’s not enough to salve the utter disaster that is this film.

Conclusion

The Cabin puts the proverbial icing on the bad cake that JC Films made in 2019. Flooding the market with tons of sub-par movies is never the way to go, as we’ve previously stated. Doing such will inevitably lead to horrific disasters like this one that further tarnish the reputation of Christian entertainment. All that can really be learned from train wrecks like this are how not to do it and how important it is to continually produce more quality creations in the future.

Final Rating: -1 out of 10 points

Jack Jonah (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Each family member of Jack Jonah dealt in different ways with the teenager’s untimely death to opioid overdose. Kirk Jonah, his father, launched himself into a non-profit designed to provide anti-drug education to whomever will listen. Both of Jack’s parents believe they can still communicate with the dead boy, and this drives them in their efforts to save other lives from deadly overdoses. However, all of those close to Jack must ultimately come to the point where they trust that good can come out of tragedy.

Production Quality (.5 point)

While the video quality of Jack Jonah is acceptable, the camera work is often quite shaky, and the audio quality is quite poor, including loud background sounds, painfully obvious overdubs, some bouts of over driven audio, and a cheesy never-ending soundtrack that tries to cover up these problems. Additionally, lighting is inconsistent in both the outdoor locations and the indoor sets. Further, the special effects that are used are quite bad, and the editing is marred by abrupt cuts and transitions, which tops off an unacceptable level of production quality that should never be approved in the current entertainment field.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-2.5 points)

There are a myriad of problems with this film’s plot, beginning with its heavy-handed message pushing, which is joined by endless, meandering conversations that are full of forced information-dump dialogue. This causes the characters to be cardboard cutouts who represent issues rather than real people. Also, the choppy story presentation makes the passage of time seem unclear to the viewer, especially since there are many random characters and spider-webbing subplots that only have loose connections with each other. Besides the fact that many of the scenes are blankly vague and hard to understand, the plot becomes more and more bizarre as it progresses due to its weird exploration of other dimensions wherein people who have passed away can come back and talk to those who are still alive. What begins as a typically vanilla story quickly becomes a wacky drug trip into the strange, and it’s laced with an unusual air of mystery that’s not well-explained. Then, the narrative suddenly ends with little to no purpose or clear message to offer to the audience. For all of these reasons, this section receives a negative score, which drags the overall movie below water.

Acting Quality (1 point)

To cap off the other issues in Jack Jonah, its acting leaves much to be desired since most of it is robotic and stilted. Emotions are difficult to believe, and line delivery is mostly vanilla. While some cast members are somewhat average in their performances, others are simply too poor to warrant any higher score than this.

Conclusion

In their race to make as many films as possible in 2019, the JC Films team produced indefensible projects like this one. This is unfortunately yet another example of why quantity over quality is never the way to go in Christian entertainment. Additionally, this may be the only lesson future creators can learn from Jack Jonah: how not to go about it.

Final Rating: -1 out of 10 points

The Islands [2019] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

John Thornton felt called to be a missionary on the remote island of Hawaii in the early 1800s, so he took his wife, Mary, and went with their friend Hiram to the unknown place. Once there, the missionaries met Chiefess Kapiolani and those her were in her tribe. Although the chiefess was familiar with the English language and American customs, many of her people were suspicious of the Caucasian visitors and preferred to practice human sacrifice to their pagan gods. However, one fateful day, as the island’s volcano raged, they all came face to face with what it truly meant to believe in a god.

Production Quality (2 points)

Overall, it’s clear that this production was well-funded with money that was mostly responsibly spent. All the standard elements are up to par, including video quality, audio quality, sets, props, and locations. However, there are a few pesky issues that hold this section back from being perfect, such as some cheesy sound effects that were obviously added on top of the normal audio and a generic soundtrack that never stops playing. Further, the editing leaves something to be desired as there are some abrupt cuts and transitions that cause some scenes to end without natural conclusions. Nonetheless, this production does enough to stay above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

From the get-go, The Islands‘ plot is nearly crippled by immediate narration that continues throughout the narrative and is sometimes substituted with information dump dialogue, which seems to serve as some type of history lesson. To make matters worse, there are far too many characters for the viewer to keep up with much less for them to have time to be properly developed. Time jumps also complicate matters and make the story seem like just a collection of random scenes strung together as the film goes from one high point to the next and even seems to repeat itself on several occasions. Several interactions between characters feel like they’re on repeat and are simply designed to waste time until the climax. A lot of the conversations and situations seem very contrived just for the sake of the plot-line, and there are no clear or consistent themes that underlay the idea and give it true purpose. Nonetheless, all of these problems aside, Timothy Chey and his team did stumble upon a very intriguing true account that still shines through despite the poor storytelling. This fact is most evident in the famed final sequence that actually demonstrates some potential, which is why this section isn’t zero points. However, it’s too little too late and makes for a disappointing experience.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

One of The Islands‘ strongest points is its encouraging commitment to assembling a diverse and culturally accurate cast, even if the costuming is a bit cheesy at times. However, this main strength is slightly weakened by the fact that much of the acting is fairly robotic at times, and emotions are sometimes difficult to believe. While it’s good to see the proper foreign language being applied in this setting, there is a lot of fight-acting throughout the film that is poorly executed and coached. Moreover, in the end, there is enough positive in this section to keep in at the average mark.

Conclusion

The historical narrative behind The Islands appears to be a very interesting and potentially powerful story that could and should have received better treatment. It’s one thing to have a good idea, but it’s another to successfully execute it, and it’s definitely a difficult feat to accomplish. Nonetheless, the experience Chey and his team bring to the table is enough to ask more of them, and the amount of potential for engaging concepts and overarching themes that was left on the table in this film was simply unacceptable. However, Chey is still on an upward trend in his career when compared to his earlier days, so perhaps his true success is just around the corner.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Translated [2018] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Through an unusual turn of events, the Apostle Paul is transported through time to the present day, where he finds the modern church looking very different than the one he knew in his day. Paul is found by Tim, who takes him in and helps the Apostle acclimate to the new world. Then, Paul shares the old messages he was given by God in new ways for the future church.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a seemingly basic and essentially modern production, it’s unclear why Translated scored only average, but this rating is due to a handful of avoidable concerns. One of these is some moments of shaky camera work while other relates to invasive background sounds that are present inside of indoor sets. While the outdoor shots are better, the audio quality overall needs some balancing work, and the soundtrack is mostly average. Nonetheless, video quality is very good, and the prop usage is effective. There are some minor special effects issues, such as low quality black-and-white flashbacks, but editing is mostly in line with standards. In the end, the mixed bag quality of the production causes it to be run-of-the-mill, which is actually unacceptable given the uncomplicated nature of what was being created.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

From the get-go, the entire premise of this plot seems off. Not only does time travel almost always present major logic problems for narratives, but it’s unclear why the Apostle Paul would either need to come to the present day or even would be sent to it. Attempting to alter such a cornerstone Bible story causes many issues that are not easily resolved, and besides this, even if this weren’t a problem, it’s still very difficult to discern the actual purpose of this plotline. Nothing much happens as the film meanders around and touches on some typical fish-out-of-water concepts, such as introducing the ‘different’ character to various ideas that are foreign to them. There is no driving focus to the storyline, and the dialogue is mainly used to spoon-feed the audience with obvious messaging. As such, the characters are poorly developed and are swept along in disconnected subplots that lack meaningful purpose. Essentially, once one random thing happens after another, the story suddenly concludes in an abrupt fashion and doesn’t leave the viewer with much to work with. In the end, there’s little to no potential in this idea, which is why it really never should have been made.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

For a small cast, there really isn’t much dynamic in this movie’s performances. While there’s nothing obviously bad, there are also no positive standouts. Emotions and line delivery are both just pedestrian, which ultimately leads to an average rating.

Conclusion

Starting off with such a bizarre premise likely doomed Translated from the start. There’s just nothing that can be done with a story that inexplicably transports a historical character to the present day for no particular reason. There are just so many other things that could be made that would be far more worthwhile than this. We need more Christian films that present transformative meaning rather than more run-of-the-mill throwaways that will be automatically lost in the shuffle.

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

Life With Dog (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Joe Bigler wants to shut the world out after his wife died a tragic death. However, his daughter won’t leave him alone, the bank wants him to pay his mortgage, and a big company is threatening to turn his neighborhood into a housing development, which prompts them to constantly offer to buy his house. Nonetheless, when a stray dog takes up residence with Joe, his life begins to take a different trajectory. Will he finally be able to make peace with his past and move on with his life?

Production Quality (2 points)

As is the typical custom of Corbin Bernsen and his team, Life With Dog sports a respectable production, including good video and audio qualities along with professional usage of sets, locations, and props. There are really no concerns to note save for the randomly poor lighting and the inconsistent application of editing. Also, the soundtrack is a bit off since it sometimes doesn’t fit the moods of scenes, but as can be seen in the remainder of the film, much of the oddness seems purposeful.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Life With Dog is a capstone of Corbin Bernsen’s erratic and unusual Christian entertainment career because it’s the ultimate encapsulation of everything he’s ever done. Not only does this film boast the typically odd elements he inserts into movies, but it carries an inexplicably unusual tone that can’t be easily quantified. Some example of this intangible bizzareness are evidenced by some actually interesting scenes that appear to make fun of cliched film tropes, some subtle asides that range from eyebrow-raising to borderline inappropriate, and a tendency for the dialogue to frustratingly meander among some actually pertinent topics that need to be discussed, some complex philosophical concepts that are difficult to grasp, and a constant itching feeling that the narrative is hiding some deep secret that’s never to be revealed. Besides this, there are logical inconsistencies in the writing, such as the fact that the main character is seemingly able to do whatever he wants with little to no consequences for his sometimes questionable actions and the fact that there are too many coincidences that allow the plot to exist. Though there are many half-hearted attempts (we suppose) to do something meaningful in the story, like provide an accessible character exploration, nothing specifically significant materializes and is instead left as an unfinished, off-the-wall idea. The climax scene is probably the best example of the entire film in a nutshell because it pretends to keep building to something real but never gets there and only leaves the viewer with something that’s both vaguely significant and head-scratchingly odd, as if the storyline was purposely written to dangle hidden things in front of the audience without actually revealing their true natures. In the end, though there is some potential in this chaos, it’s not enough to keep this movie above water.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Much like other Home Theater films, the acting of Life With Dog is fine without many noticeable errors. Though there are some overdone emotions are certain moments, the cast members’ line deliveries are consistently on point. Also, each individual appears to assume their roles well. Thus, this rounds out a slightly below average effort.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, Bernsen’s career is marked with wasted potential (Christian Mingle, In-Lawfully Yours, 25 Hill, to name a few), and it’s unclear whether or not he ever intends to change. It seems like he’s always striving to make the next great iconic Christian film but consistently falls short due to intangible oddness. The worst part is that he clearly has the connections and the resources to do better than he is, yet he usually comes up short as he settles for second best. Perhaps, in future projects, he will finally unleash his full skill set and collaborate with others who can make up for his shortcomings.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

Mountain Top [2017] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Mike Andrews retired from his law career to follow what he thought was God’s call to be a pastor. However, that all changed when Muriel Miller came to his office to ask her to represent her eccentric husband who has gotten himself in trouble with the law due to his self-proclaimed spiritual gift of prophecy wherein he has visions of the future. Through a set of unusual circumstances, Mike agrees to represent Sam Miller pro bono, which sends the lawyer-pastor on a wild ride that he never expected to experience and that will forever change his life.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Gary Wheeler and his team are well-known for their professional productions, and Mountain Top is no exception. There are virtually no concerns to note in this instance, which entails the use of effective camera work, high video and audio qualities, and well-utilized sets, locations, and props. The only minor nitpicks to note are the somewhat generic soundtrack and the minuscule editing issues that are mostly due to the expansive plot. However, this is an overall nearly perfect effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The Level Path creative team has always had the right idea of adapting Christian novels into films, and Robert Whitlow has wisely sought dramatizations of his books. However, it’s unclear whether or not Mountain Top was the best choice of source material. While the psychological elements that make up the core basis of the plot are interesting, they are also a bit over the top and far-fetched since one of the main characters claims to have many supernatural visions covering a wide range of topics and issues. There’s never been historical precedent for any Christian being able to receive so many special revelations in their lifetime. Besides this, the character receiving the dreams is basically perfect and inaccessible as a person. Additionally, the sheer number of characters in this storyline is overwhelming for the audience and makes for a choppy presentation. They crowd each other out and cause dialogue to be inadequate at developing who they are. The many interlocking subplots are difficult to effectively follow and are better suited for a series if this idea must be portrayed in entertainment. However, there are simply too many convenient turns and coincidences that push the narrative along as the writers seek to cover as much ground as possible while at the same time including wastefully slow sequences. Due to Whitlow’s legal expertise, this aspect of the plot is mostly realistic, and it’s commendable to explore the existence of miracles in the modern world, but Mountain Top treats God’s power like a magic charm, which causes its premise to be simply too unbelievable. There was some potential here, but it was squandered in pursuit of sensationalism.

Acting Quality (2 points)

It seems like Mountain Top endeavored to include nearly every recognizable Christian cast member in one film, and it’s not a bad thing to have experienced cast members. There are actually only a few acting concerns here and there, such as some bland moments, but the sheer number of actors and actresses may mask potential weaknesses. In the end, emotional and line deliveries are at least average, if not better, with only a handful of small issues. In the end, this rounds out a basically average offering.

Conclusion

Wheeler and his team have always been so close to the Hall of Fame, and they do many things the right way. Adapting Christian novels and being committed to professional productions and experienced casts are a winning model on paper. However, many of their films still lack meaningful connections with their audiences and require deeper and more meaningful purposes in order to be truly successful. Perhaps, in the coming days, the Level Path team will finally make a breakthrough.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

MBF: Man's Best Friend (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Paul Landings retired from the military after a disability prevented his further service, so now he works at a dog shelter and takes in dogs who have no homes. However, his practices draw ire from locals, and several troublemakers set fire to his house with the dogs still in it. Affected by PTSD, Landings commits a crime in revenge for his dogs and finds himself embroiled in a lawsuit charged with local politics. Will he be able to be set free from the bondage both in his head and in his life?

Production Quality (2 points)

For the most part, the production of Man’s Best Friend is respectable, including good video, camera, and audio qualities. While the sets, locations, and props are mostly well-chosen, there is some inconsistent lighting in the indoor sets. However, the outside locations are better, and these issues overall improve as the film progresses. Elsewhere, the soundtrack is acceptable, and the editing is a bit odd at types although it is mostly fine. In the end, this is an above average production that could have been a little better due to the year it was made.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

The opening sequences of MBF are a bit of a drag for the viewer since they are drawn out and full of stock footage and vague voiceover that both isolates the audience and wastes valuable time. However, once it gets to the substantial parts of the plot, there are actually some good explorations of how warfare effects people after the military and how one’s life can be greatly altered by the service. Nonetheless, there are a number of problems in this narrative’s character department, beginning with the fact that most of the ‘bad’ characters are total strawmen who hate the main character for no particular reason, are unrealistically anti-military, and are generally annoying. At the same time, the military characters are painted in perfect lights as they create a very odd dichotomy that tries to force the viewer to choose between the importance of a paralyzed character’s life and the lives of dogs that died in a fire. There are either perfect victim characters (though it’s not clear how some of them are actually victims) or highly corrupt small town characters, which is likely realistic in many contexts but is too over the top for this situation. Moreover, the storyline provides both a realistic look at post-war trauma and a hard examination of corruption in small towns, but many audiences may find the premise to be a bit dark and without significant hope or redemption. Elsewhere, the judge seems unnecessarily biased toward the protagonist, and some of the characters attempt to nearly justify the paralysis-inducing crime that is on trial. Dialogue is inconsistently used for information dumps, and a lot of the characters feel unfinished as they tend to crowd each other out for screen time. Also, there is some inappropriate language throughout the plot, and the ending is a bit hard to follow. Overall, much like this creative team’s previous efforts at crafting complex suspense situations (Wild Faith), MBF tries to interest the viewer in legal intrigue mixed with military drama, but there are just too many issues with this concept to justify any points for this section.

Acting Quality (2 points)

While many of the cast members of MBF tend to force their lines and their emotional deliveries in the beginning, the performances as a whole improve as the film progress. The most significantly positive aspect is the fact that DJ Perry posts an extremely memorable and groundbreaking performance as he becomes a character unlike any other he’s previously played and transforms himself for a very difficult role. This element is very impressive and is one of the main bright spots in this otherwise flawed project. Thus, this rounds out an overall above average acting effort that could have been slightly better.

Conclusion

Man’s Best Friend, like many of this creative team’s past projects, had a lot going for it, but it didn’t quite make it past the finish line. Perry, Hagedorn, Teaster, Hornus, and the rest had a lot of momentum following Wild Faith and The Christ Slayer, but MBF tends to blunt this success with its confusing messaging and dark focus. However, Perry’s breakout performance is a key bright spot that gives renewed hope for the future, so it will be interesting to see what this collective produces next.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

The 3 [2019] (Movie Review)

Cylk Cozart, Tina Wesson, Chip Rossetti, Jessica Bell, Kate Kilcoyne, Jeff Armstrong, and Jonathan Plowman in The 3 (2019)

Plot Summary

After his daughter’s tragic death in a school shooting, Jimmy Collins retreats to his cabin in the woods to sulk and drink alcohol. He wants to be left alone in his misery, but he keeps being visited by mysterious characters, some of which he’s all too familiar with from the past. Nonetheless, each visitor keeps trying to steer him away from self-destruction and to the love of God that he’s forsaken. Will Jimmy turn around before it’s too late??

Production Quality (.5 point)

It’s unclear why Chip Rossetti and his team continually put out very low quality productions even in the new era of Christian entertainment. The 3 exhibits poor audio quality via annoying sound effects that punctuate actions, a stock soundtrack, background echoes, and obvious overdubs. While the video quality is passable, this is really the only acceptable production element. Sets, locations, and props are also quite cheap and limited, and there’s virtually no editing throughout the film. In the end, this level of production problems is simply unacceptable in our current market.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Essentially, The 3 is just a collection of very boring and brooding sequences that consistent either drawn-out scenes that lack dialogue or drab and meandering conversations that lack purpose or direction. Although the story explores some interesting psychological concepts centering around confronting family patterns, they are poorly executed and encased in horribly wooden and improperly constructed bouts of dialogue. When a narrative like this is so heavily character-based, conversations are all-important in crafting deep characters with strong motivations, but The 3 greatly drops the ball in this category. While there are some flashbacks throughout, they are improperly applied, and some darker issues, like suicide, are given too much screentime without being balanced by lighter concepts. As the storyline progresses, however, the psychological world that’s created by the plot becomes more and more confusion and ends up getting lost in its own head, much like that of Turbulent. Therefore, this is an effort that lacks any potential or purpose.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Throughout The 3, the cast members exhibit extremely forced emotions and pushy line delivery that overall come off as very robotic and stilted. Other acting is simply bland and vanilla although some of the supporting cast members are slightly better than the principle cast members. However, it’s simply not enough to register any life for this basically unnecessary film.

Conclusion

The era of Christian entertainment that once tolerated sub-par efforts like this movie is long over. Standards are higher now, so spitting out more low quality films that crowd the Christian market is unacceptable. Christian movie makers are being held to higher standards and can no longer simply make things just for the sake of making Christian creations. It’s high time for us to offer better things for all audiences.

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

Assassin 33 AD (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Ram Goldstein and several other genius scientists are working on a top secret project for a multimillionaire named Ahmed. At first, they’re completely cool with being locked in a room with armed guards patrolling the halls, but when they use their super hacking skills to discover that Ahmed is coordinating with government leaders from Muslim-controlled nations to create time travel, they begin to grow concerned. Ahmed intends to use the mystical power of time travel to return to the past and kill Jesus before He’s resurrected so that Christianity will cease to exist! However, time travel is a bit tricky, and when multiple timelines are created due to the tampering, many different versions of the same characters are apparently created. Also, if they don’t erase the extra timelines before it’s too late, they will all converge into an APOCALYPSE! Can Ram and his friends stop this wicked plot before it’s too late?!?!?

Production Quality (-3 points)

Even though it seems like there was a substantial budget spent on Assassin 33 AD, the funding didn’t pay off as it was wasted on extremely cheap CGI and ridiculous special effects that overtake and overpower all other production elements. They have direct connections to the sets, locations, and props and make it clear that this team had no idea what they were doing when they slapped this project together. While there are some notable positives in this production, they are covered up by the myriad concerns created by the CGI and special effects blunders. Also, the editing has a handful of issues, but this could easily be chalked up to having to deal with one of the worst plots in the history of Christian entertainment. Overall, the glaringly obvious negatives throughout this film overshadow any slightly good elements that could be noted.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-3 points)

Where to begin? Assassin 33 AD has achieved the unthinkable feat of being as incoherent and offensive as Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas. This is not a title to be lightly delivered, but there plenty of ways Assassin goes further than even Timothy Chey has gone (yet). First of all, the entire premise behind Assassin is totally off-base from the get-go. Messing around with time travel and how it relates to Jesus is an absolute no-no when it comes to story-boarding, so there’s no reason to even broach the subject. Then, to take this a step further and actually make a purportedly Christian film about modern day soldiers being able to shoot Jesus with a pistol in the Garden of Gethsemane is borderline insanity. As if this isn’t enough, to create multiple timelines that both alter Scripture and try to twist biblical history into including the movie’s characters in the actual canon is just the end. I literally cannot comprehend the inanity of this proposition, which by no indication is being done in jest. Besides these glowing red flag problems that are part of the story’s very fabric, there are so many other movie faux pas committed in Assassin that space will likely not permit a full exploration. Nonetheless, here is a very quick rundown: characters are poorly developed via expository dialogue and unnatural lines that are designed to force the plot forward, key plot points are supported by unexplained “science” and convenient technical devices that lack basis in reality or logic, the villains basically stepped out of a conservative fever dream about Muslims taking over the world, wild time jumps are only supplanted by the maddening nature of the multiple timelines created by time travel, basically every character has a minimum of two different versions of themselves (“past” and “present”), some of these copy characters end up having conversations with each other, the protagonists can seemingly do whatever they want in a supposedly high-security facility with armed guards all around them, the Jesus character seems just as confused about what’s going on as the viewers are, etc., etc., etc. Did I mention that the writers took a crazily arrogant creative license to replace Biblical characters (like the thieves on the crosses beside Jesus and the man who fled the Garden of Gethsemane with no clothes on) with modern-day characters from the “future” timelines? This notion is only made complete by the scene where two copy characters (the same cast member) are discussing how the modern-day Bible is changing right before their eyes due to the timelines being altered in the past. Further, as if all of this wasn’t an epic trainwreck, the film’s epilogue completely turns everything on its ear by negating the “past” timeline that set the movie’s events into notion in the first place. Therefore, taking all of this evidence into account, this section is awarded the maximum negative score, and this also affects other aspects of the film.

Acting Quality (-3 points)

The horrid nature of the plot bleeds over into acting and causes this section to suffer even though it may not have been as bad if it were paired with a different narrative. Much of the line delivery is robotic and not earnest, and emotions are hard to believe. Some cast members, especially those who are portraying villains, overplay their roles while others seem bored or confused, which may have been justified. In the end, the major negatives at the core of the project drag the entire thing down into the depths of Christian entertainment.

Conclusion

Assassin 33 AD also receives to honor of scoring a negative x-factor point to round out an effort that joins Saving Christmas as one of the worst films of all time. Whenever a creator sets out to make a movie about how biblical accounts and Jesus’ life on earth in general could be altered via time travel as well as how the Bible could be rewritten based on the changing of previous timelines, they are already way off the road and should entirely ditch the project. Going through with such a travesty raises some serious questions about the true motivation behind its creation. There’s literally no way to redeem this awful concept, so the best thing that can be done is to encourage audiences to stay away from it and to help future film makers avoid these types of monumental blunders.

Final Rating: -10 out of 10 points

Let Go and Let God (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

After Wendy lost her husband in the line of duty, she felt like things couldn’t get worse. However, they did get worse when her son suddenly went missing. A local pastor has lost his faith, but is he being given a chance to look at his worldview from a new angle after Wendy, one of his members, is in a time of need? Will they all be able to see that letting go and giving anxieties to God is the best way to live?

Production Quality (.5 point)

From start to finish, the production of Let Go and Let God is underwhelming for 2019. The camera work is very shaky, even though the video quality is fine, and the audio is quite unbalanced as some scenes are overdubbed and have unnecessarily high volumes while others have distracting background sounds. Also, the soundtrack is quite loud at times, and there are many very tight and strangely close-up camera shots, along with some blurry angles. Lighting is overall poor in the cheap sets and locations, and there are too many cheesy special effects and overlays, including random split screens. In the end, the editing is also an issue, as evidenced by very abrupt cuts and transitions, and this production as a whole just has too many problems to warrant any more than half a point.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

In the beginning of Let Go and Let God, there’s no clear way to understand what the writers are trying to convey through the unsubstantial dialogue that creates very dry and bland characters. The conversations don’t properly move the plot forward or develop character motives and personalities, and overall, nothing significant happens throughout this story. There are a lot of vague psychological sequences that only waste time and isolate the audience; it’s very hard to relate to the struggles of the disconnected characters, some of which have zero purpose, and there’s an unexplained air of mystery surrounding the narrative that the viewer can’t put their finger on. As the film progress, it becomes more and more consumed with ethereal artistic sequences that have no meaning for the audience and just make for a slow and boring experience. However, by the final third of the movie, the story begins to take an even more incoherent turn into disorganization before culminating with an incredibly abrupt ending that leaves the viewer with an extremely head-scratching message. Thus, due to the abstract oddness of this plot, it warrants a surprising negative score due to unforced errors and general strangeness.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The acting of Let Go and Let God is actually its strongest point, even if it’s generically average. There’s nothing horrible nor dynamic about the cast members’ performances although some of them seem bored and disinterested with the experience. However, they can hardly be blamed due to the nature of the narrative. Elsewhere, some line are a bit over-practiced, and emotions can be flat at times, but this section rounds out a mostly unnecessary film.

Conclusion

It’s extremely difficult to understand why this movie was even made. If the screenwriters knew what message they were trying to communicate, it’s completely lost to the audience. When this happens, the film has already failed. Combine this with poor production and mediocre acting and the project is a total non-starter. Hopefully, as Christian entertainment moves forward, movies like Let Go and Let God will become more irrelevant and and less prevalent.

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

Laughing at the Moon (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Natalie McClay is a selfish businesswoman who wants what she wants when she wants it. However, when her high-dollar lifestyle demands that she get a roommate to share her rent, she has no idea what to expect. When Iris walks into her apartment, Natalie’s whole world is turned upside down. Natalie tries to do everything she can to discredit the eccentric new optimist in her life, the harder she tries, the more her friends like Iris. However, when Natalie goes too far with her mistreatment of her quirky roommate, there are far-reaching consequences, more than Natalie could have imagined.

Production Quality (2 points)

It’s clear that Laughing at the Moon had an adequate budget since the production is quite good, including great video quality and professional camera work with an artistic touch. Similarly, the audio quality and soundtrack are fine, and sets, locations, and props are well-used and well-constructed. At times, the editing is passable, but other times, it’s a bit choppy as some scenes cut off without warning, which suggests that there was a lot more content than they had space for. Also, there are some slight continuity errors between some scene, which seems like an unforced error. However, in the end, this is an above-average production that lays a good foundation for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Laughing at the Moon makes some good attempts at comedy that’s actually funny at times, but sometimes, it’s awkwardly forced, and there tends to be a bit too much quirkiness in some scenes. One of the best thing about this plot is its focus on the human tendency to convince oneself of one’s own superiority over others, especially those who do not fit into societal molds, and this is definitely a story that needs to be told, even if this version is a little (purposely) offbeat at times. The characters are pretty good, but they are hampered by mentions of off-screen content, which lends further credence to the possibility of a quick editing job that chopped out important scenes due to too much original content. Even still, the use of flashbacks throughout the narrative is very effective to establish one of the main characters’ traumatic memories, yet sometimes, it feels like a lot of the scenes are randomly strung together and loosely connected with musical montages that tend to waste time. However, the dialogue in the middle of the plot is pretty good at establishing some believable characters, and there are some very timely themes explored, such as being fake vs being authentic. None of the characters are perfect and each has their own unique flaws. One other weakness of the storyline is the somewhat steep character arcs that occur due to the slightly rushed ending, but there’s a very good point at the end that is worth watching. In the end, Laughing at the Moon is a mixed bag that is pretty good in and of itself; it also shows great potential for future projects.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, the cast members of Laughing at the Moon naturally and easily assume their respective roles. While emotions can be a bit overstated at times, they are mostly fine, and line delivery as a whole is on point. As a side note, this is one of Erin Bethea’s best roles to date. In summary, this is an above-average acting job that rounds out an above-average film.

Conclusion

This movie boasts a very good idea that’s presented in a fresh way, and the main thing holding it back from the Hall of Fame is its choppy presentation. Thus, Laughing at the Moon deserves some level of remake whether it be a new film about similar concepts or a series format for the original film because this creative team may be better at making Christian series. Either way, it should be interesting to see what this team produces next.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

The Two Thieves {Once We Were Slaves} (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

On the day of Jesus’ death, two thieves were crucified with Him–one on His left and one on his right. They were paying for their earthly crimes while Christ was atoning for the sins of all humanity. However, each of them had one last chance to accept redemption from the very Savior Who wanted to save them from their sin.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

It’s clear that the budget of The Two Thieves was quite limited, which is evidenced by some shaky camera work and some limited sets, props, and locations. However, the props therein are very culturally authentic and demonstrate good attention to historical detail. Elsewhere, video quality, audio quality, lighting, and the soundtrack are all good and are enough to keep this section average. Though editing is a bit limited as well, this production shows a good start to even greater things in the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

As The Two Thieves is basically the conceptual predecessor to The Chosen, it showcases the God-given talents of Dallas Jenkins, Tyler Thompson, and the rest of their creative team. This is evidenced by this storyline’s good adherence to Jewish cultural traditions and historical accuracy, which is seamlessly interwoven with deep characters who are developed through motive-revealing flashbacks and well-constructed conversations. The continuity between scenes is also great, and this is all done with a limited time frame. Elsewhere, the story feels very authentic and gritty as the writers are not afraid to be realistic about the hard times of first century Judea. Further, the non-linear plot style is a nice touch. In the end, this storyline is good enough to be nearly perfect, and the only thing holding it back is the time constraint.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Due to restricted funding, The Two Thieves was unable to assemble a fully authentic cast, but thankfully, the accents of the characters are realistic and well-done. Moreover, the lack of complete cultural realism is really the only main concern with this cast as they consistently portray believable emotions and mostly deliver their lines in professional manners. There are a few tiny concerns with line delivery, but in the end, this section demonstrates another reason why God called this creative team to make The Chosen.

Conclusion

As a whole, The Two Thieves proves that, when things are in order, a movie maker and their team can craft a deep story using a small budget. This offering is a perfect example of how short films can be used as a springboard to future greatness. Although this one didn’t quite make it all the way, it still provides a template for future creative teams to replicate.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

The Job [2020] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

At one time, Lance Foster was a successful boxer who could have whatever he wanted, but when he accidentally killed a man in the ring, his life changed forever. He decided to dedicate his life to Christ, but the consequences that were set in motion prior to his conversion continued to haunt him. About to be evicted from his house and divorced by his wife, Lance suddenly finds himself at gunpoint being held up by a desperate man in search of valuables to fix his own mess. However, the two of then form an unlikely bond that leads them both to unexpected results.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a low-budget production, the creators of The Job did mostly well in making the most out of what they had. For instance, video quality is clear, and the soundtrack is quite good. There is some slightly shaky camera work, however, that needs more stability and consistency. For the most part, the sets, props, and locations are fine and are well-utilized despite their limitations. Moreover, there are some instances where the audio quality could be better, and the editing is simply passable. In the end, this is an average production that is a good start for this creative team.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

In a limited plot like this one, deep character development is essential, especially when the characters are confined to just a few sets. This can be done via non-narrated flashbacks and character-building conversations that show their motivations and personalities. However, this is not always done in The Job. for one, the main character is often portrayed as perfect and without flaws; he tends to lecture other characters on how to act without the audience understanding his struggles. While it’s good to explore hard topics and tough life circumstances, we need to see these issues through the eyes of more accessible characters rather than ones we cannot easily relate to. This can be accomplished through more showing than telling and through more personal dialogue and emotional connection than apologetics and witnessing talking points. Although the plot seems to get more interesting in the middle of it, the concept of holding a character hostage in order to witness to them is very difficult to portray in the right way. Some slight character motivations also surface near the end of the film, along with some interesting explorations of family systems, but the quick pace of storyline’s first half, as well as the wasted time near the beginning, reduce their impact. In the end, problems are too easily fixed, including some unrealistic notions about addictions; even though it seems like the writers meant well with this screenplay, there are still a few kinks to work out.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As a whole, the acting is likely the strongest section of the film. Though there are few cast members, they do the best they can with what they’ve been given and improve as the movie progresses. Despite being too earnest at times, they overall portray emotions as adequately as can be expected in the situations they’ve been put in. In the end, this rounds out a mostly middle-of-the-road effort.

Conclusion

Due to being a first-time production with a limited budget, The Job puts its best foot forward and is mostly acceptable. However, a more engaging plot made up of more accessible characters would have taken it to the next level. The key is to portray people in a way that demonstrates a familiarity with human tendencies; only then will the Christian message have its fullest impact. This is definitely something to note for future projects.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Life Changes Everything: Discover Zac Ryan (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Dr. Zac Ryan is a clinical research oncologist searching for a cancer cure when he discovers that his trial patient is his biological father. This is significant because Zac’s mother had him at a young age, and Zac never knew who his father was other than the man who wanted to abort him. Will they be able to reconcile and find a cure for cancer before it’s too late?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, the production of Life Changes Everything is average. Audio quality is inconsistent, and the soundtrack is generic. Lighting is mostly fine with some odd moments. Video quality and camera work are respectable, and sets, locations, and props are passage. However, the editing is quite choppy and a bit disorienting at times. Another dominant quality of this production is its extreme generic-ness. There’s really nothing special about it, and it’s hard to differentiate from a lot of run-of-the-mill Christian films. Thus, it receive a middle-of-the-road score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Moreover, the story is a bit convoluted at times. Narration cripples any chance of deeper development, and a lot of the happenings are squarely based on childish coincidences and unexplained happenings that have little basis in reality. However, there is a good use of flashbacks that saves this plot from being null though both the present and past storylines are very slow, boring, and empty. It’s hard to know who these characters actually are beyond being stand-ins for social issues. While some of the pro-life concepts are slightly intriguing, the core concept (trying to find a cure for cancer) is almost laughable since the writers had a very difficult time explaining how it actually works or answering legitimate questions some of their own characters ask other characters. It’s not clear whether or not they actually thought about how the medical breakthrough would look since they were so focused on engineering another pro-life gotcha moment. When dealing with such a huge topic, sound research and expertise is extremely necessary. In the end, however, the confusing concepts, combined with the drab nature of the storytelling, just aren’t enough to make this film worthwhile.

Acting Quality (.5 points)

To top things off, the acting of Life Changes Everything is unfortunately quite blank and vanilla, especially the lead actor. The performances don’t have anything substantial to offer since there is almost no emotion exhibited by the cast members. Line delivery is average, and there aren’t any glaring errors, which keep this section from being zero, but it’s not enough to save this movie from itself.

Conclusion

Some of the pro-life concepts put forth by this screenplay are worth seeing in some type of remake, but the idea of a person not being able to change the world if they are aborted is a bit of a red herring. Even still, the central components of the plot would be passable if the production was improved, the acting was upgraded, and the cancer cure was better explained. These alterations would have at least made it an average film, which could have been a good starting point. However, as it is, we’re left wondering what could have been.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

Dawn [2018] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Carrie Saunders just wants to live her normal life as a businesswoman, but her recurring nightmares about a missing girl continue to haunt her night after night. Her visions cloud her judgment and cause her to begin to suspect her husband of wrongdoing. Police refuse to believe her tales, so she decides to investigate the matter on her own. Little does she know that the wild ride she’s about to experience will change her life forever.

Production Quality (2 points)

At first, the production of Dawn begins in a rocky manner as evidenced by inconsistent camera work and lighting and some slight background sounds. However, the video quality is stable throughout, and the sets, locations, and props are mostly fine. The camera work does seem to improve as the film proceeds, and it becomes quite professional in the end. Another inconsistent area is the soundtrack since it’s generic in some parts yet quite good in others. Further, one other drawback is somewhat dizzying and repetitive nature of some of the psychological sequences, but this is also sometimes an asset. In the end, the editing is good, and the production is a mixed bag that’s overall above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Dawn dares to try something extremely different in Christian film as it takes on a very unique plot that’s often hard to quantify yet intriguing at the same time. The attempts at extreme creativity are well-noted, even if they can get a bit head-scratching at times. Although some may not like it, it’s good that the Christian elements of Dawn aren’t too in-your-face as it tries to primarily rely on good mystery plot content. However, the storyline does have a few flaws in that the characters could be a bit more developed than they are, which means the time could have been better spent on this venture rather than on repetition of key elements the audience is shown over and over again. Still, the characters are fairly good as they are, even if the villain characters are slight strawmen. The psychological elements of the plot are interesting, but they could use a bit more explanation as to why they are occurring. However, the ending isn’t quite expected, and Dawn is an overall very creative attempt at a complex mystery plot culminating with an actually effective climax that’s built throughout the entirety of the film. This is finally a real suspense plot worth watching, but it would be even better as a remake or a similar replication.

Acting Quality (2 points)

On the whole, the acting of Dawn is fine with only a few minor errors to contend with. There were definitely some opportunities for improved emotional delivery and more dynamic line delivery. However, the cast does enough to make this an above average performance, which rounds out an overall above average film that’s worth your time.

Conclusion

The potential that this creative team showed is very encouraging because it could be the start of something great for them. It’s highly possible that streaming series are in their future if they are allowed to collaborate with larger budgets and tighter writing. What we need is more psychological suspense and mystery stories, and seeing these in the context of Christian series would be awesome, so we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

To Save a Life (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Jake Taylor is one of the most popular kids in school: he’s a basketball star on track for a big scholarship, and he has the girlfriend everyone wanted. He seems to have friends everywhere, but he’s chosen to ignore the only friend he had in middle school because it’s not cool to hang around him anymore. However, this appears to lead to his old friend becoming suicidal and bringing a gun to school one day in an apparent last-ditch attempt for help. In the fallout of the tragedy, Jake and his friends try to get back to normal, but they seem to sink deeper into their vices as a response to the trauma. What is the true purpose of life, and is it possible for high school to have meaning?

Production Quality (2 points)

As an early 2000s production, To Save a Life is good despite some minor missteps. For one, the flashback sequences, while great to include, sometimes come off as a bit disorienting and invasive as they tend to jump back and forth too much and use disruptive flashing effects. In a similar vein, some montages are a bit confusing and protracted in length, especially since they take up time that could have been used on other things. However, there are plenty of positives to note about this production, For one, the soundtrack is fairly good, and the camera work is professionally artistic even if there is some wild zooming and cutting during suspenseful scenes. Nonetheless, much of the production elements improve as time goes on, and video quality, sets, locations, and props are all great in each part of the film. As a whole, the editing is good enough considering how much content is in the story and how many characters there are, so overall, this is an above average production that’s mostly on the mark and improves with runtime.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Even in the beginning, Brian Baugh was always a master of capturing the real human experience, especially of Millennial coming of age years, as he weaves complex storytelling via raw, realistic topics, effective flashbacks, and accessible characters. To Save a Life is a real and honest look at authentic problems facing teenagers both in high school and in the church. It’s a hard but necessary look at the factors leading to teen suicide and teen substance abuse, among other vices; in doing so, the plot unfolds fairly well without dumping too much information onto the audience in the beginning as plot points are developed gradually. The relationships among the characters are very easy to believe as they feel like real people who do real things with real motivations. The psychological material therein is used in very great ways, and the hard look at problems within the church is refreshing. To Save a Life has a very complex cast of characters that makes it feel more like a series than a movie; because of this, some of the characters arcs are a bit too steep due to lack of adequate development time. Even still, the dialogue is well-constructed as the subplots weave together, but the number of storylines is also the slight undoing of the film as we’d like to see some more backstories and more explorations of the issues rather than trying to cover too much in one film. Because of how many ideas are in one movie, the epilogue and the lead-up to it tend to fix things too quickly and easily without many tangible character consequences. The climax scene is also slightly contrived just to have one and only leads to expository dialogue designed to finish things off. In the end, To Save a Life is a massive mixed bag of content that is both rewarding and disappointing, yet Brian Baugh’s talents are still undeniable in his first movie attempt.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

At first, the acting can come off as a bit awkward, but this also tends to work in the film’s favor. This is really the only nitpick to point out since the cast is overall really good despite its large size. There are quite a few standout roles…even Randy Wayne posts a good one. Due to the sheer number and diversity of cast members, they would have done so well in a series, but alas, this film occurred before the era of Christian streaming. Nevertheless, perhaps something similar to To Save a Life will be crafted in the future.

Conclusion

We would definitely love to see Brian Baugh make a series either like this movie or about something else because some creators are just too big for the big screen. Some creators (see Dallas Jenkins) are better the small screen because series provide much better forums to explore complex characters and subplots. No matter what, Baugh is consistently showing today that he has a profound understanding of people, and with two Hall of Fame entries after To Save a Life (I’m Not Ashamed and The World We Make), the sky is the limit for his creative potential.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

The Shack (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Mackenzie Phillips never really trusted God after the abuse he underwent at the hands of his father, but he really felt abandoned by Jesus when his youngest daughter was kidnapped, raped, and left for dead by a twisted man. Floundering in his faith, Mack receives a mysterious note signed by God telling him to return to the place where his daughter was found dead: a shack in the mountainous woods. Mack decides to return, thinking he can avenge his daughter’s death, but instead, he experiences an encounter with God beyond his wildest dreams.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a mainstream production, The Shack hits all the right notes en route to a nearly perfect score. This is due to great camera work, video quality, and audio quality. The sets, locations, and props are effectively utilized and authentic. Also, the soundtrack is very poignant and accessible. One minor nitpick to point out with this production pertains to the editing concerns, but this is mainly a plot issue that inadvertently affects this section. Overall, this is almost as good as it gets for a production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Based on William Paul Young’s slightly controversial novel, the film is actually a step above the book as it takes time to explain more about the characters and their motivations. Even still, there are still some issues that hold The Shack back from being all that it could be. For one, the narration right out of the gate from Tim McGraw’s mysteriously omniscient character is completely unnecessary and calls into question why his subplot even exists. This brief, irrelevant storyline, in conjunction with some rushed and confusing scenes revolving around law enforcement, waste precious time at the beginning of the film and make the movie feel like it’s two different ones put together. This squandered time at the beginning hurts this section and likely keeps it from the Hall of Fame, but once the middle of the film arrives, it’s definitely worth a watch. At this point in the movie, The Shack isn’t afraid to tackle very realistic and raw issues we rarely see discussed in Christian film, including child abuse in the name of Christianity and incorrect views of God as well as the connections between these two concepts. Sometimes, flashbacks are used in very effective ways to present the plot and the character motivations, but it would have been better if all narration and early plot points were replaced with flashbacks to make it more of a non-linear style. However, despite a slightly incomplete view of God, The Shack does an excellent job with showing how God will relate to people on a very personal level via good philosophical discussions about life and power emotional experiences. Although it could have gone just a bit further with theological grounding (but not too much), this is a good place for a lot of people to start if they have a warped view of God. Basically, from the halfway point until the part before the end, The Shack is a nearly perfect film. The beginning and the epilogue that fixes things too easily detract from this section and keep it from being all that it could be. Nonetheless, this movie is definitely worth your time and can be a great tool to use to introduce people to God if they are closed to Him for one reason or another.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Another major detractor that keeps The Shack from being Hall of Fame is Sam Worthington’s accent-suppressing. If you’re going to cast a British-Australian actor for an American role, either train him with a better accent or just make the character British or Australian. As it is, the way he delivers his line is very distracting and comes off as breathy and insincere because of the accent clashing. This really puts a damper on things as it makes his emotions seem otherworldly and causes unsure line delivery, which is difficult to watch since he takes up so much screentime. However, other cast members, most notably Octavia Spencer, work overtime to make up for Worthington’s shortfalls and overall post very professional and noteworthy performances. In the end, this section is above average and rounds out a very commendable effort.

Conclusion

Though many theologically astute individuals like to “debunk” The Shack for its inaccuracies (there are a few small ones), the film as a whole demonstrates just how out of touch many Christian thought leaders are with everyday people. The movie does a much better job of relating to everyone on a personal level than any theological debate ever will, and it shows that God really wants with people: a relationship. While it could have use just a hair more theological grounding, The Shack is a great place for many people to start who have been hurt by Christianity or who may have invalid views of God. It’s unfortunate that it just misses the mark of being Hall of Fame, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a watch. Hopefully, in the future, we’ll see more films that walk the delicate balance of being personal-emotional and grounded at the same time. Once Christian entertainment as a whole learns how to relate to everyone personally, the industry will be unstoppable.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

Heavens to Betsy 2 (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

After Betsy had a unique experience in which God allowed her to live in an alternate version of her life due to her pleadings, she was able to return to her normal life and chronicle her journey under the guise of a fictional work. Her novel made her moderately famous overnight and even attracted unexpected attention from publishers and media outlets. However, this new popularity will come at a price as Betsy will have to decide if she’s going to come clean about the true origins of her story.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Although it’s a 2019 production and should be higher quality than this, Heavens to Betsy 2 is a mostly average one. Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all fine and standard, but the soundtrack is generic and cheesy. The sets, locations, and props are fairly limited and come off as cheap. The editing is very basic as it presents the content at face value without any complex techniques. As a whole, it’s a very pedestrian offering that is neither good nor bad, yet it really doesn’t have a place in the current entertainment field. To top things off, silly magical elements really put the nail in the coffin for this plot that was really doomed from the start.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

After a long rehashing of the previous film many people don’t know about, this unnecessary sequel launches into expectedly cringeworthy comedic sequences very similar to the ones we saw in the first one. Much of the dialogue is trying way too hard to be funny, and many of the scenes are downright pointless. As if it doesn’t have anything better to do, this installment decides to go down a localized media persecution rabbit hole in order to keep the story on life support. However, this idea comes off all wrong as the ‘villain’ character is actually remotely funny for the right reasons. It’s commendable for a Christian creator to want to create a universe of characters, but are these the ones people really want to know better? There are too many coincidences in this story-world as everyone knows about the main character’s book, and lot of the conversations feel dragged out and inflated for runtime purposes. The storyline is overall aimless and lacks substantial themes as it just presents a random collection of scenes that don’t seem fully rooted in reality. In a somewhat bizarre concluding sequence, the screenwriters appear to address the logical problems of the first film, but the explanations only create more questions and inconsistencies.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Like the production, the acting of Heavens to Betsy 2 is very run-of-the-mill and expected. Some cast members tend to overdo their roles and overplay their emotions while others appear unsure of what they’re doing. In the end, with no dynamic performances or standout roles either good or bad, this section also gets an average rating.

Conclusion

One big question we have to ask about this film is why it was even made. Rarely is a sequel justified, especially when the original film was so low-key. Sequels should be about exploring new horizons with characters who are already well-developed and deserve further screentime. Unfortunately, films like Heavens to Betsy 1 and 2 don’t rally have much to offer and will easily be forgotten as time goes on. If screenwriters are interested in trying to develop characters over time, a series would likely be a better forum for this venture.

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

Turbulent [2018] (Movie Review)

Oooohh scary

Plot Summary

When a man and his wife have a sudden plane accident in the middle of nowhere, they have to do whatever they can do to fight for survival. However, the strained relationship between them becomes a detriment to their quest as she believes in God while he resists her faith because of the tragedies they’ve endured in their marriage. Will they be able to overcome both the elements and the distance between them in order to survive another day?

Production Quality (-1 point)

With a production this bad in 2018, we don’t even know where to begin. It’s literally terrible in every way you can conceive: weird outdoor lighting, horrible audio quality with loud background sounds, and basically no soundtrack on top of this. Sets, locations, and props are extremely cheap and don’t line up with what they’re supposed to portray. There are also weird special effects and oddly chosen sound effects that contribute to the annoyingly bad quality of this production. Since you almost have to try to make a production this bad, it warrants a negative point. It goes without saying that the editing is very choppy, but that’s just white noise in the bigger picture because there are so many problems here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 point)

In this storyline, there are no breaks in negativity or balanced scenes as everything is dour and dramatic in infantile ways. It has a very juvenile outlook on life as characters do things that have no grounding in reality and as the plot contains unrealistic survival elements. The majority of the film is painfully long and drawn out scenes that are like pulling teeth to watch. It’s obvious that the main agenda of the film is to scare the viewers into being saved (as if any non-believers would ever think about watching this garbage), yet there are a lot of fantastically weird magical concepts that don’t seem to line up with typical fundamentalist ideologies. These elements are connected to a really bizarre twist at the end of the movie that comes off in a very strange and off-putting way. In the end, there’s so much wrong here with so little to deal with, which is why this is a rare feat deserving of negative points.

Acting Quality (-1 point)

With such a small cast, everything stands out, and the acting therein is annoyingly horrible. Emotions are excruciating to watch as if the cast members are being tortured to say them…it’s like fingernails in the chalkboard to watch it unfold. Every little drama is extremely forced to the point of straining, and because of these issues, there’s no way to properly connect with the character struggles. It’s not like the cast members had good lines to work with in the first place, but they make matters worse with their agonizing delivery. Thus, in summary, if you’re looking for the exact opposite of how to make a Christian film, watch Turbulent.

Conclusion

Negative films are absolutely unacceptable in the modern era of Christian entertainment, and survival plots as a whole are worn out and should be used sparingly unless somebody actually has a good idea to share. Basically, from Turbulent, we can learn the same old lessons we’ve seen before: if you don’t have the money for your film, don’t even think about making it because the higher production standards in the field today demand better delivery. Also, even if you have the money for a decent production, please make sure you actually have a worthwhile plot to share and can properly coach your cast to be believable. The time for poor quality Christian films to go away is long overdue.

Final Rating: -3 out of 10 points

Blackbear {Submission} [2019] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Blackbear was a covert military operative tasked with secretly taking out terrorists in the Middle East, but an unexpected turn of events led to his unit’s capture. While a prisoner of war, they were subjected to cruel torture, and even though they were able to escape, they were each left with serious health consequences due to the drugs that were forced upon them. Back the US, their minds are still at war as they each try to find ways to cope with the pain. Blackbear decides he needs to take up boxing again under his old coach, but he never anticipated the journey he would have to go on to find healing.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For a first-time, slightly underfunded production, Blackbear (formerly known as Submission) has some positive aspects but also some negative elements. For one, the attempts are constructing realistic sets, locations, and props, especially in the war scenes, are commendable and feel authentic. However, audio is sometimes unbalanced, and at times, the camera work is quite dizzying due to dramatic effect. While the video quality is very crisp throughout, a lot of spoken lines are obviously overdubbed, and there are some loud background noises throughout. Despite some cheap and disorienting special effects and one too many dark scenes, the soundtrack is quite good as it includes relevant NF songs. Moreover, the biggest drawback to this production is the poor editing; there are a lot of quick cuts and awkward transitions that make the viewer feel like things are rushing too quickly. For these reasons, the story comes off as choppy, but there are other concerns there as well. As a whole, while this is just an average production, there is potential here, and the complexity of the subject matter is definitely taken into consideration.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

All around, Blackbear is one big mixed bag. It’s clear that the creators really wanted to do something creative with this plot, but it got lost in its own head, so to speak. For one, the dialogue includes authentic military lingo that speaks to good expertise and research on the topic, but the plot itself moves forward too quickly as events occur without good reasons and as storytelling is overall disorganized. It seems like things happen because the writers need them to happen rather than natural events unfolding or characters making choices based on personality and motive. Moreover, there are still good things to note here, such as a good exploration of how self medication of military trauma comes to be and how secret government operations mistreat and abuse people for their own purposes. Nonetheless, all of these themes are just thrown into the proverbial pile since there aren’t any central purposes or focuses that keep the story grounded, which allows it to meander around various topics, like unethical value imposition in the medical field, cheesy portrayals of non-American characters, obscure boxing events, strawman sports villains, and vague references to abstract medical treatments that go over the audience’s heads. Throughout all of this spider-webbing, the dialogue isn’t enough to build believable characters, which is a shame due to the empty sequences of staring that waste precious time, not to mention some of the vague and understated subplots that need to be either integrated better or edited out. All of these issues are rolled in with typical sports movie tropes: training montages, impossible sports feat conversations, random local news reports, and unrealistic looks at heroin recovery; as a side note, this is the most addictive substance known to man, and nobody can just quit it cold turkey. Nonetheless, despite all of these complex issues, there is a surprisingly interesting and actually realistic twist at the end of the film that tries to tie things together in some fashion. The conclusion is very non-typical in most ways, but the monologue by one of the characters at the end isn’t enough to fix what could have been an interesting story. Characters all of a sudden become more interesting at the end, but it’s too late at this point; it would have been better to showcase the creative concepts throughout the movie rather than putting it all at the end. Even so, the way it ends still shows potential for future projects.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While a lot of the acting in Blackbear leaves something to be desired due to quite a bit of forceful and unnatural delivery styles, there are some good attempts at culturally authentic casting. Although there are a lot of blank and emotionless performances at key moments in the film, at least some of them can be explained by the psychological torture the protagonist underwent. In this vein, Scott Pryor is definitely good at playing a mind control victim. Elsewhere, some line delivery is very quick, and Eric Roberts is poorly cast as an incongruous character, but there are enough good performances throughout to keep this section average, which aligns nicely with the other sections of the movie.

Conclusion

No matter how convoluted it seems at times, on the whole, Christian entertainment is getting braver. New film makers are trying different things, and this is encouraging to see because it’s what we desperately need. The final sequences of Blackbear demonstrate creative ideas that can be used in more efficient ways, such as a series collaboration. This forum would allow the good concepts to be packaged in better ways that would reach audiences and get their messaging out there. The concept behind this film needs some type of redo, so hopefully, we’ll see more from this creative team in the coming days.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

Breakthrough [2019] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

When Joyce Smith’s adopted son John falls through the ice one fateful winter day, she feels like she’s lost him forever. However, after praying over him in the intensive care unit, she witnesses a seeming miracle as her son is able to be stabilized into a coma rather than be on death’s door. Afterward, a battle for healing begins as Joyce faces perceived opposition on every side of her as her son keeps fighting for his life.

Production Quality (2 points)

Breakthrough falls in line with other inspirational productions DeVon Franklin has been involved with, such as Heaven is For Real and Miracles From Heaven. As such, Breakthrough hits all the right proverbial notes, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality. While the soundtrack is sometimes too loud and invasive, for the most part, the sets, props, and locations are fine. This film is really just a by-the-book, run-of-the-mill inspirational production with nothing to set it apart either good or bad. The biggest glaring error therein is the poor editing, but this is mainly due to its plot problems. As a whole, Breakthrough is a safe, non-dynamic film through and through.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

On the surface, the message of the plot is fine as it blatantly panders to an inspirational audience, yet Breakthrough sets itself apart by portraying the main character in unusually perfect and un-flawed ways even though she has plenty of issues in her behavior. This premise is likely due to the original book’s content, but empowering someone who seemingly believes she never really did anything wrong and feels like everyone else in the world needs to change except for her is very suspect. The storyline and characters are required to change according to her (sometimes judgmental) standards, and she never really learns anything as she continues to live in her own little world. This is the real hidden problem with Breakthrough besides the typical spoon-feeding of inspirational messages to a hand-picked audience. While there were some interesting psychological elements in this film that had the potential to make an interesting story about the miracles of God, we are instead left with the miracles of Joyce Smith; in doing so, prayer is mis-handled and poorly portrayed as people deciding what’s doing to happen. Elsewhere, random subplots are thrown together that cause a lot of story confusion and disorganization. In the midst of the swirl, there aren’t any substantial characters to relate to because dialogue is bland and pedestrian. Even though this was a small, focused time frame, we don’t really know who these people are beyond the molds the main character puts them into. Had this story been more about miracles and prayer, we would have had another Miracles From Heaven, which was safe, standard inspirational movie designed to target a specific audience. Breakthrough tries to follow in its footsteps, yet the dictates of the main character decide otherwise.

Acting Quality (2 points)

It’s understandable that this mainly Hollywood cast is professional and appears to know what they’re doing. However, some cast members who have more potential, like Josh Lucas, come off as underwhelming and downplayed, which suggests they’ve been cast wrong. It feels like more could have been done with this cast even though there aren’t any glaring problems. With the money and expertise behind the film, the acting needed to be more dynamic than this, but it overall rounds out a mediocre effort designed as a quick cash grab.

Conclusion

DeVon Franklin loves to make money off of the inspirational audience, and he’s clearly good at it. He’s found something that works, so good for him. Nonetheless, with all the marketing and fluff of this film, there’s no real substance to back it up. We were promised a movie about a miracle, yet we can’t connect with the real story due to tainted views of the main character. What’s more, the disjointed subplots make for a confusing viewing experience as it mostly just boils down to a collection of platitudes you could find in a generic white Christian book for sale at Lifeway. There’s nothing special here, but then again, Franklin never intended to do anything further, so he’s sticking with his business model, which is at least upfront and honest. Regardless, Christian entertainment can do better than this.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

Heaven’s War {Beyond the Darkness} (Movie Review)

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The magic of the cosmos…

Plot Summary

Senator Jonah Thomas is a rising political star who wants to be the good guy in Washington, but evil individuals, both human and spiritual, have their own plans for him. Jonah’s political career is pushing his family to the brink, and he doesn’t realize the evil devices that await him in one fateful meeting. As his soul hangs in the balance, he will be given one last chance to battle for his eternal destiny in a very poorly-animated CGI world.

Production Quality (0 points)

Imagine you have this great idea for a complex sci-fi plot that requires a lot expensive CGI and animation tools. Would you go ahead and make it even though you didn’t have the funding to make it on a level we see in theaters today? Essentially, Heaven’s War is a poorly funded attempt at a possibly good idea that will fall totally flat due to how bad the production is. The extremely cheap special effects and the cheesiest possible animation and CGI draw so much attention to themselves that they negate any possible good elements in other parts of the production. They affect everything and make it an unpleasant experience whether via disorienting editing, cheap flashback quality, weird sound effects, or wild and quick cuts between scenes. Even if other elements of the film are fine, the special effects failings are the types of issues that infect everything, which keeps this production rated at zero.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Besides this, the plot is fairly confusing and hard to follow. Even though it’s an interesting idea to explore the spiritual realm, everything is too focused on American politics, which begs the question why the major spiritual battles highlighted here center around raising taxes and finding a vaccine for cancer. If this isn’t the intention, it comes off that way through expository dialogue and devices that move the plot forward, such as news reports and phone conversations. As the story wildly jumps from one random idea to the next, the slightly interesting flashback\psychological vision elements had something going for them, but the way they are presented is a disservice. Poor delivery and unclear direction doomed this plot from the start, not to mention the extremely cheesy portrayal of the spiritual realm that is almost a laughingstock. After lots of disorienting battle sequences and explorations of alternate realities, problems are suddenly quickly fixed at the end with no feeling or reality behind it, and by the time it’s all over, you suddenly realize that this film barely had any actual content in it. Hence, no points can be awarded in this section either.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Surprisingly, as bad as it is, the acting is the strongest point of this movie because it’s the only section that gets any points. Even still, the acting often comes off as un-earnest, overly practiced, and robotic. For the most part, emotions are black, forced, and unnatural. There are some good moments for some of the cast members that are basically just average, but as a whole, the acting is cardboard and the casting poor. This rounds out an unacceptably bad film in the new era of Christian entertainment.

Conclusion

Danny Carrales’ intentions to make different types of Christian films are definitely noted, but their application is way off the mark. It would have been better to make Heaven’s War fully animated so that more time could have been spent on making a real plot. Relying only on special effects of any quality level is never a good idea because they can’t write the story for you. Even the best sci-fi idea will fail if the characters can hold it up for you because the audience has no real connection to the concept without feeling like real people are experiencing it. Basically, better luck next time.

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

The Christ Slayer (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Longinus was raised by the Magi, but he never fully believed the stories they told of the Messiah as he rose through the ranks of the Roman army. he was at the pinnacle of his career, but an injury led to blindness, forcing him out of service. As he languished in darkness with a servant to guide his daily activities, he never dreamed that his life would be forever changed when he helped end a seemingly meaningless crucifixion of the One they called the King of the Jews.

Production Quality (2 points)

Over time, DJ Perry and his creative have definitely improved their production skills as The Christ Slayer demonstrates good camera work, effective camera angles, and professional video quality. The audio quality is also fine for the more part, and the soundtrack is culturally authentic. While the sets, locations, and props are great, the outdoor scenes are better since some of the indoor shots are a bit too dark and disorienting. Some of the editing could have been more consistent and understandable, but on the whole, this production is adequate and shows commitment to improving.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The Quest Trilogy has taken many different turns, and at this point, the ending is better than the beginning. At its inception, some parts were hard to grasp and a bit too abstract, but the unique turn in The Christ Slayer definitely helped things. This is a unique extra-Biblical plot that gives a fresh perspective on the events surrounding the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, and it sports the typical abstractly creative concepts of the CDI team. The spiritual elements from Forty Nights and Chasing the Star are included in this third installment, but they are presented in more accessible fashions. Similarly, the psychological themes of The Christ Slayer are fairly well-utilized, and integration of Biblical accounts is creatively woven together with the main plot. There are a few drawbacks, however, that keep this plot from being all that it could be. For instance, there are quite a few slow scenes that tend to be too artistic such that the audience has trouble understanding them, and some of the characters’ dialogue is a bit archaic and drawn-out. There are some expository conversations that replace better character development, and sometimes, the Jesus character is a bit too ethereal and inaccessible, but as a whole, this is a fine Easter plot that demonstrates unique storytelling.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Probably the brightest spot of this film’s cast is the awesome idea to cast a special needs cast member in a role that doesn’t over-emphasize his condition. Treating him as a regular actor is a huge step forward for disability rights, so this creative team’s decision to do this shows a deeper care for inclusion in the arts. Elsewhere in this cast, some of the main cast members are good while some could use more efficient coaching to avoid being too theatrical and dramatic. As a whole, the acting is average, but it could have been better if emotions were more accessible. In the end, The Christ Slayer is a good end to the Quest Trilogy.

Conclusion

DJ Perry and company have a lot going for them, so it will be interesting to see how they will be able to collaborate with other talent in the future. Throughout their careers, they have only gotten better as they have adapted and changed, which is encouraging to see. Sometimes trilogies end worse than they begin, so since the Quest Trilogy has ended on a good note, this will hopefully be a springboard to better things in the future for CDI entertainment.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

40: The Temptation of Christ (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

After Jesus’ baptism and before his earthly ministry officially began, he went into the desert for forty days, where He was tempted by the devil to forfeit His work before it even began. Satan used many tactics to convince Jesus to fall, yet Christ remained without sin in the trials. As Jesus endured the hardship, He experienced human pain and suffering that prepared Him to relate to those who needed His power the most.

Production Quality (2 points)

While this film’s budget was somewhat limited due to its independent nature, resources were clearly allocated responsibly. Although there are some cheap special effects and sound effects, mostly toward the beginning of the film, there is plenty of positive to note here. The first thirty minutes of the movie are the hardest because these contain some poor editing and lagging scenes, but once the film progresses past this point, things begin to look up. There are some elements of shaky camera work throughout, but the outdoor locations used are very engaging and professionally shot. The perspective filming is effective, and the soundtrack is highly engaging in many parts as it adds to the viewing experience. Further, video quality is crisp throughout, and even though it takes a bit, the production slowly becomes a great one, which is a testament to what this team could pull off with more resources under their belt.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Like the production, the plot is a bit shaky at first, mostly due to immediate and unnecessary narration. Jesus is also a bit too theatrical and inaccessible as a character at first, but He definitely gets better as the story goes on. It’s somewhat difficult to get through the first thirty minutes of the film because of these issues and because of some lagging scenes, so it’s possible that this idea may have worked better as a short film. However, once the thirty-minute mark has been passed, things change for the better since a really good idea is revealed. The use of flashbacks and flash-forwards is very effective to bridge time and to reinforce the psychological elements that the temptations are based on, which are very well-constructed. The core of the plot is based on a collection of very engaging and creative conversations that clearly show what the film was made for. Old Testament prophecies are integrated very well into the dialogue, which is something we don’t see enough of in Bible films. As a whole, this creative team’s take on the temptations of Jesus is very interesting and innovative, mostly due to well-executed psychological sequences that go hand-in-hand extremely well with the flashbacks, mostly because the viewer doesn’t always see the temptation coming. In the end, the use of symbolism and artistic elements are effective in presenting a familiar Bible story in a new, creative way, and the horror elements are handled well without being too sensational. Thus, there is a lot of potential for this creative team through future collaborations.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While the cast is not entirely culturally authentic, this can be forgiven due to the limited budget of the project. At first, the line delivery and emotions come off as too forced and theatrical, but they moderate as the film progresses and show concerted improvement. Due the small cast, they carry the whole film on their shoulders, and for the most part, they post good performances by the movie’s conclusion. This rounds out an overall refreshing independent effort, which plants promising seeds for the future.

Conclusion

It’s difficult to portray the temptations of Jesus properly without a good understanding of human psychology. As a whole, this creative team appears to have such an understanding. The Temptation of Christ is everything a first-time, self-funded project should be: as good of a production as possible, a well-written plot that demonstrates talent that can be developed in the future, and a good enough acting performance to carry the day. Thus, we can’t wait to see what these film makers have to offer once they are given better funding opportunities.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

The Trump Prophecy (Movie Review)

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Shofars!

Plot Summary

Mark Taylor was burnt out as a firefighter after nearly twenty years of service, and he began having physical symptoms of his exhaustion. He also began having mental symptoms of the trauma he experienced, which led to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. He went on leave from work due to the condition and eventually retired, and during this time, he believed that he received visions both from Satan and from God of how Donald Trump would become President of the United States.

Production Quality (0 points)

So Liberty University wants to make another movie to showcase their expensive equipment and unusual application of it. While on the surface this production seems fine, there are too many film school experiments exhibited throughout, such as bizarre camera work and choppy ‘artistic’ editing. Sets, props, and locations are surprisingly limited for the supposed scope of this film, and it seems like with the budget that was funded for this film, things would look better than this. The audio quality as a whole is unacceptable for a movie of this budget level since there are many weird background noises throughout and since the many musical montages use an invasive and unrelated soundtrack. Besides these obvious problems, it goes without saying that the special effects are horribly bad and very cheap-looking for a film school who purports to have some of the best resources at their fingertips. As a side note, there are too many CBN product placements, probably because they couldn’t license the big networks in a film that depends too heavily on news sequences to move time forward. In the end, any good parts of this production are cancelled out by the bad, which leaves us with nothing here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-2 points)

As expected from the build-up and from the divisive political atmosphere surrounding the origin of this film’s idea, this story is utter madness. The fact that a large section of the American Christian population has embraced the bizarre ramblings of a self-proclaimed prophet who has many prophecies that never came true is very disturbing at best. Due to money, Liberty University has chosen to give a platform to these wacky theories, but they packaged them in the most boring and vanilla plot you can imagine. The weird worldview aside, this story has basically nothing to offer the viewers except for boring activities of daily living, random life montages, and off-the-wall acid trip vision sequences that have little to no explanation or understanding of what’s going on. Besides the fact that this film gives a platform to highly unusual and offbeat ideas that borderline on false teaching and peddles cult-life politically Christian propaganda, the main story is actually quite short and irrelevant. There’s hardly anything to it at all, and all of the negative brings it lower than zero, which isn’t really surprising, given the history of this story’s origins.

Acting Quality (0 points)

To combine with one of the most boring plots possible, Liberty University’s film school made sure to cast the most boring cast members we’ve ever seen, and we thought that the cast of Extraordinary was bad enough. The lead actor is extremely dead-faced for most of the movie, and most of the cast members don’t exhibit any substantial emotions except for overly practiced ones. Line delivery is very stilted and robotic, and the interactions between the cast members come off as very awkward and impersonal. In short, if there’s something bad about any movie, it’s probably represented somehow in The Trump Prophecy.

Conclusion

We have to wonder if Liberty University will ever learn from their series of colossal failures (see Extraordinary). Even if you agree with the total drivel propagated by this film of madness, there’s no way you can contort this film to be a quality movie or even an interesting one. Whoever is behind the decision making at LU’s film school clearly has no idea what they’re doing in the entertainment business because they consistently roll out some of the most well-funded and tone deaf movies we’ve ever seen. Words cannot express how far out of touch with reality they are; anyone that even thought about making a film based on a scam-worthy book like The Trump Prophecy has their priorities seriously out of whack and out of tune with what really matters.

Final Rating: -2 out of 10 points

Dead Man Rising (Movie Review)

Image result for dead man rising movie

Plot Summary

Daniel is a death-row inmate awaiting the lethal injection, but he will be one of the first prisoners to receive the new experimental injection drugs. Desperate for an out, he convinces his lawyer to lobby for him to have limited and monitored internet access in order to research the drug in his last days. He is granted this privilege, but a fellow inmate keeps provoking him to research arguments for and against Christianity, and Daniel keeps taking him up on the challenge, even though he has never believed in God. before he knows it, something is changing inside of him, but is it too late?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a more recent film, Dead Man Rising lives up to the expectation of higher production quality, which is evident in the professional camera work and video quality. Audio is also good, even if the soundtrack is a bit generic at times. It’s noted that the sets, locations, and props are relatively limited by the design of the plot, but the props are nonetheless realistic. It’s definitely a better idea to live within your means as far as the production goes rather than to over-extend and look silly. This is really the only issue with this production since the editing is good. Moreover, this limited production design definitely puts more pressure on the plot and characters to deliver…

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

…which they unfortunately do not do as much as they could have. While the plot is a unique idea, it too easily devolves into a boring philosophical conversation between two characters that appears to push a pre-determined agenda a bit too strongly rather than to let things develop naturally. There are also some slightly unrealistic plot circumstances that are designed to make the story happen, even if there are portions of intriguing dialogue that make attempts at character development. However, since there are so few characters, they needed to be developed deeper than they were with more effective flashbacks and clearer character motivations. While there are some attempts at flashbacks, we needed to see more in this area and less in the area of apologetic information dumps that sacrifice precious time that could have been used to increase character growth. We needed a story that tells us about actual people, but we only got half-measured. Nevertheless, the ending is very interesting and effective if you make it that far, but after the wearing apologetic dumps in the middle, many people won’t get to the meaning in the end. Basically, this movie, like most other films, was made or broken by the plot, which didn’t deliver as much as it could have.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, this small cast demonstrates good acting skills even if there are some forced lines and emotions that seem out of context for their situations. Although each cast member assumes his or her respective role well, due to the small size of the cast, each error is more pronounced. There are also some unnecessary yelling scenes that can become wearing. However, as a whole, this is an average performance that rounds out an average film that could have been more.

Conclusion

A common theme in Christian film that few Christian movie-makers have discovered and remedied is that audiences want characters they can relate to as real people. This is done through effective flashbacks and conversations that reveal to us what the character wants, why he does what he does, and how he got to where he is. Filling time with worn-out Christian debate talking points only implies that a film maker doesn’t know how to relate to real people on this level. However, when this trend changes in Christian film and when Christian movie creators begin depicting real characters we can relate to on these levels, that’s when the Christian entertainment field will finally take the culture by storm, which is good food for thought as we begin a new year.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

An Interview With God (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Paul is a journalist who recently returned from Afghanistan, where he was reporting on the war effort there.  What he saw there changed him forever, and it sent him down a dark path as he began searching for the true meaning of life.  He began to question his childhood faith, and he asked God if He was even real.  However, Paul received an unexpected answer one day when he received a tip to interview God Himself.  Skeptical, Paul decides to follow the lead even though he is on paid leave.  What he discovers is unexpected and is destined to change his life forever.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The Astute Films team is fresh on the scene, and they have put together a quality first-time production, which is a great way to start out.  It is clear that they put a lot of effort into making a high-quality production in An Interview With God.  This is evident in great video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is creative, and the film has an overall artistic touch as a lot of work is put into establishing things without being too obvious.  Further, the sets, locations, and props are authentic and appropriate.  Finally, the editing is professional, which rounds out a basically perfect production effort.  With this film, the Astute team has sown great seeds for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

On the surface, An Interview With God seems like another version of The Encounter or The Perfect Stranger, but upon closer look, this new film is much more.  Though the plot mostly centers around lengthy conversations, the dialogue is well-constructed and holds up the plot well.  The characters explore some great topics relating to the nature of reality and the work of God.  These philosophical conversations actually hold the attention because they seek to develop the characters as people rather than to throw worldviews at the audience.  The writers were not afraid to go deep with the characters by making them flawed and accessible.  The portrayal of God is also appropriate and intriguing.  Throughout the storyline, there are creative psychological elements that appear to be building towards a possible plot twist, but unfortunately, this seeming creativity never materializes, which leaves the ending to be a bit flat and disappointing.  The story tends to limp to a conclusion with too many unanswered questions after it had so much potential going for it, but even still, the remainder of the plot is good enough to lift this film to an overall good rating.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Though the cast of this film is very small, they carry the film strongly.  Each cast member portrays emotions effectively and carries his or her role very well.  Line delivery is on point, and it appears as though each cast member fits comfortably into his or her respective roles.  There are no flaws in this section, which is enough to lift An Interview With God to Hall of Fame status.

Conclusion

An Interview With God is one of 2018’s surprise breakout films, and it comes from a creative team who is not afraid to get their name out there.  When a film maker crafts a project they are proud of and one that they are not afraid to share, this immediately shows a great mentality as a creator.  It is clear that great production and acting effort were put into this movie, even if the plot department was a little lacking.  Nevertheless, the effort was enough to breach the seven point threshold, and An Interview With God is a great start to a promising career that demonstrates great potential for the future.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

2nd Greatest (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In Golden, Colorado, local business owners are tired of homeless people and low-income housing, so they convene a meeting at their local business gathering to discuss how they are going to run all the people they don’t like out of town.  A homeless drunk drifter has become the central focus of the town’s conflict, but the new pastor in town takes an interest in the drunk’s well-being.  He convinces a local police officer who knows most things that are going on to take him around one night so that the pastor can see what is going on in the town he moved to.  From that experience, he is inspired of how to help the hurting all around him by following Jesus’ commandments.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

After a very low-quality production like A Perfect Chord, Kingdom Sight Studios has shown concerted production improvement in 2nd Greatest.  This improvement is evident in good video quality and camera work, as well as good sets, locations, and props.  However, there are a few moments of odd camera angles, shaky recording, and poor lighting, but this is not enough to completely detract from the overall quality.  The soundtrack is mostly intriguing, but the editing could use some upgrading as there is a lot of somewhat loosely-associated content throughout the film.  Moreover, on the whole, this production is above average and meets the basic standards necessary for modern films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As this movie’s plot line is based on a true story, there are a lot of good ideas contained within it, but the many storylines that are included are a bit too disorganized to drive the message home properly.  A lot of the characters need further deepening, and even though some of them have some adequate flashbacks, their dialogue and personalities are not quite there.  The stunted growth of the characters is likely a product of the many random and seemingly unrelated subplots that are included in the film.  Not enough focus is placed on the main homeless character, even though he has a potentially great back story, and this seems to be a product of not being able to go deep enough with the characters.  This problem also produces a cheesy villain (if we even need a ‘villain’ in this type of film) and an overly fake ‘perfect’ pastor character.  Basically, there was plenty of good ideas to work with here that needed a bit more refining before being released.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

There are several inconsistent performances throughout as some cast members are skilled while some are not.  Sometimes the emotions feel forced, but other times, they are fine.  Similarly, line delivery is natural while other times it is too unnatural.  There doesn’t seem to be any consistency with acting coaching, unfortunately.  As a whole, while the acting of this movie is a bit uneven at times, there are enough good performances to keep this section average.

 

Conclusion

Basing movies off of true stories is almost always better than your average inspirational fodder, but when the story is mishandled, its full impact is stunted.  Kingdom Sight Studios made some great strides in 2nd Greatest, especially with production quality, and the real stories of the characters were good ideas to use, but we needed to see more of what the real people were like besides being pawns in a plot.  Thus, like many films, retaining a better screenwriter would have done wonders.  Also, it wouldn’t have hurt to upgrade the acting coaching.  As a whole, it is always good to see improvement from a studio, so it will be interesting to see what they do next.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Paul, Apostle of Christ (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Paul had completed many full years of missionary work across the continents of Asia and Europe and after carrying the Gospel of Jesus Christ to thousands of people, both Jews and Gentiles, he appealed to stand trial in Rome before Caesar, but this decision only caused him to suffer further for the cause of Christ at the hands of cruel Romans.  With the church in Rome on the brink of total annihilation, Priscilla and Aquila house many wanted Christians in their home, and Luke is sent to tend to Paul in prison.  As many Christians begin to question the words of Christ, Luke begs Paul for a fresh word to strengthen the church in her dark times, yet Paul is plagued by his thorn in the flesh–namely the lives of all he killed while he was a religious zealot.  With darkness seeming to close in on Christ’s people, the story of Paul’s life carries the same message that saved all followers of the Way: where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Gone are the days when ‘Bible plays’ like The Book of Esther are socially acceptable as Christian films.  We are in a new era of Christian productions, and Paul, Apostle of Christ is another hallmark of this era.  Similar to recent Biblical depictions, such as Risen, this new look at Paul’s life is gritty and authentic and has no fear of being painfully realistic.  This is evident in the excellent and historically authentic sets, locations, and props.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are also what a professional production should be.  The soundtrack is very engaging and thought-provoking, and the editing is quite creative and effective in presenting the story.  The only drawback to this production is a collection of very dark scenes that may be realistic but do not make for great viewing.  Nevertheless, this is a top-notch production that we should see over and over again in Christian films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

While most standard Biblical plot fare is very flat, face-value, and vanilla, Paul, Apostle of Christ rejects this mold and upends the Biblical genre once and for all.  By inserting extremely creative and well-crafted psychological elements into the core of this storyline, Andrew Hyatt and his team have created a point of no return for films based on Biblical events.  Much like their work in Full of Grace, which showed the potential they have always had, their portrayal of Paul’s thorn in the flesh and the trauma he went through in his life is revolutionary in this genre.  This is exactly what needs to be done to show the humanness of Biblical characters through the exquisite use of effective flashbacks and through processes that demonstrate real motive.  Elsewhere, dialogue is rich and meaningful, and the other subplots are intertwined very well as each character is very well-developed.  Care is given to demonstrate great historical accuracy, and while there are some slightly slow scenes and areas that could have been fleshed out with further dialogue and flashbacks, this storyline is a breath of fresh air in a world of very poor Biblical screenwriting.  To top things off, the ending sequence completes the film excellently and is well worth the wait.  In short, this film is a job well done in nearly every area.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

While there were a few missteps with cast members that are not entirely culturally authentic, they are trained to appear culturally authentic, which is leagues better than having a fully BRITISH cast.  Elsewhere, there is plenty of culturally authentic casting to make this section great, and there is clearly a presence of professional acting coaching.  There are very few errors to point out here, and costuming and makeup are also extremely realistic.  In summary, there are many positive elements to point out in this breakout effort.

Conclusion

This film receives a full x-factor point for its effective use of poignant psychological elements as Paul, Apostle of Christ takes its rightful place among the greatest Christian films of our time.  Andrew Hyatt and his team are clearly going places, and even though their sophomore effort was somewhat muted by the blockbuster release of I Can Only ImaginePaul is a signal that a new force to be reckoned has finally arrived in Biblical films.  It will be exciting to see what this team puts together next, but for now, we can enjoy this great movie.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

 

Wraith [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The Lukens family is tired of living in their old, creepy house, so they want to downsize.  However, an unexpected addition to the family throws them for a loop, as does a disturbing presence their daughter keeps seeing and hearing in her room.  As they must make difficult decisions regarding the life of their future child, the evil presence seems to tighten its grip on their lives, pushing them to the breaking point.  Will they be able to survive the onslaught of the paranormal force?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For another independent Christian horror film, Wraith doesn’t have that bad of a production, but it is still mostly average on the whole.  Video quality is mostly fine, but there is some poor lighting throughout, perhaps by design.  A lot of the dark scenes appear to be for dramatic effect, but there are other typically cheesy elements that seem to always come with a cheap horror production, such as wild camera work and dizzying cuts.  Though the sets and locations are somewhat limited, also by design, the props are fine, and there appear to be attempts to create authenticity throughout.  The editing is mostly fine, but there are too many issues with this indie effort to give the production anything more than an average score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Making a pro-life Christian horror film is an interesting endeavor, and it is not one without potential, but Wraith has too many problems in the plot department to reach this possible potential.  When setting out to make a Christian horror film, it’s like it’s a requirement to totally disregard character development.  This film is no exception as the characters are extremely bland and empty due to cheap and stilted dialogue.  Though there are some interesting attempts at flashbacks and creative psychological elements, they are too muted and downplayed in the midst of wasted time that is mostly filled with stupid jump scares and incoherent moments that are meant to be ‘thrilling’ or ‘scary’ but really just end up being stupid.  Randomly vague things just happen as opportunities to build real characters are squandered by kicking the proverbial can down the road just to get to the ending.  Unfortunately, this storyline gets worse and worse as it goes as it slowly reveals a very ill-advised approach to dealing with demonic entities until it finishes with an extremely cheesy climax that endorses dangerous practices.  Overall, this plot is just a mess and really needed to be completely reworked.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While some of the more experienced cast members, such as Ali Hillis, are mostly fine in their performances, some of the younger cast members, particularly the younger female lead, are quite bad at acting.  Some line delivery is painfully forced, and emotions are uneven throughout.  Other moments are far too dramatic, which is an unfortunate byproduct of the difficult horror genre.  In summary, this film squandered whatever potential it may have had.

Conclusion

Christian horror films desperately need a better basis.  It is important that the core concepts of psychological thrillers are well-thought-out and have some logical basis before they are thrown into a movie.  Pro-life themes are great, but this consistently has been one of the worst sub-genres in Christian film.  Besides the fact that the basis for the horror elements in Wraith are difficult for most audiences to grasp, the practices that are seemingly endorsed (trying to cast demons out of houses) are extremely dangerous to practice in real-life and should be heavily discouraged.  Unfortunately, this is just another awful attempt at Christian genre-busting.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Wild Faith (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After the Civil War, Emmett returned to his hometown to take care of the widow of one of his fellow troops in order to fulfill a promise he made.  Emmett and his son live with the African-American widow and her daughter, which causes them extra scrutiny in the corrupt small town they live near.  Emmett’s father-in-law, the local pastor, is against him, as are several other colorful characters.  Everything comes to a head one day when the circus train breaks down in the forest and unwittingly releases wild beasts into the woods.  The children are caught in the middle of the animal escape and a kidnapping plot aimed at hurting Emmett, and it will take wild faith to overcome to dark night before them.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For years, DJ Perry, Shane Hagedorn, and their team have struggled with poor production quality and overly artistic attempts.  However, while the artistry is still present in Wild Faith, a higher production level has finally been achieved.  This is evidenced by great camera work and video quality even in the realistic and complex war scenes.  There are great action shots, as well as historically authentic sets, props, and locations.  Audio quality is also great, and the soundtrack is creative.  The only nitpick to raise here relates to some slightly confusing editing, but this is a small issue compared to the great improvement that has been shown here.  Perry and Hagedorn have proven that never giving up and working to improve pays off in the end.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Though the beginning of this plot is a bit disorienting at first, if you stick with it, things begin to make more sense.  Where the characters are a bit raw at first, they become more realistic as time progresses with the exception of the cheesy villains.  Some of the dialogue is a bit vague at times, but there are also some good conversations throughout that reveal character motive, which is a rarity to find in Christian film.  The overall plot structure of this film is fairly unique and creative as it effectively uses flashbacks and other psychological elements to keep things interesting.  This story is a great attempt to be different rather than the typical inspirational fodder, but there are some opportunities for improvement especially in the areas of character refinement and storyline organization.  Some of the dialogue is a bit obvious at times, but Wild Faith takes an honest look at corrupt small town Christianity and the pain of racism after the Civil War.  Overall, this film shows a lot of potential in this team.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Surprisingly, the acting of this movie is also fairly good.  This DJ Perry character is likely his best performance to date.  Shane Hagedorn starts out a bit rough at first, but his character is a slow burn and begins to refine as it goes on.  The villain cast members are fairly poor and drag down this score, and there are a few overdone emotional moments, but on the whole, this is a good acting performance that caps off a suprisingly enjoyable film.

Conclusion

We always look for improvement across films, and we are always glad when Christian film makers don’t give up and continue to try things.  Experience is hopefully going to lead to improvement, as is listening to constructive criticism.  The Perry and Hagedorn team has wandered in the film wilderness for a few years now, from Ashes of Eden to 40 Nights and Chasing the Star.  To be honest, I did not have high hopes for Wild Faith when it was first sent to me, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Whether or not this film becomes a series, it is clear that this creative team has a lot of potential in front of them, so it will be interesting to see what they produce next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

I Before Thee (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jeffrey Douglas has recently lost his job as a fireman, so he decides that drinking is the best way for him to escape from his problems–both his present and his past problems.  His wife loves him, and she is pregnant with their first child, but Jeffrey can’t seem to get it together as he runs from his past.  As his life continues to spiral out of control, will he ever reach the point where he decides to rely on God?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

These days, even cheaply made films have the ability to have productions of decent quality.  Before Thee is an example of this.  Its video quality is fine, as is the audio quality and camera work.  The soundtrack leaves something to be desired, and there are some random moments of loud background sounds and obvious overdubs.  Sets, locations, and props are mostly cheap and limited, and editing is fairly poor.  However, this film is a step up from the early-2000s garbage productions that used to be dumped into the market, but that’s unfortunately not saying very much.  While this production is average, the movie doesn’t have much else going for it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

A lot of the time, it is very unclear what message I Before Thee is trying to convey.  It raises some important points and highlights some unfortunately realistic circumstances, but there is a bit too much edgy content.  There are also a handful of unusual elements that are difficult to understand.  While there are some interesting psychological concepts that keep this section from being zero, they are mostly poorly executed.  Characters have next to no development as dialogue is very half-hearted and empty.  There are barely any attempts to make the audience understand who the characters are as real people–they appear to just be pawns in the plot.  Elsewhere, the storyline is too disorienting at times, and the ending generally makes no sense at all.  There is very little redemption for the messes that are created in the plot, which gives little purpose to this plot being made.  Maybe someday somebody can use the slightly interesting portions of this film to make a better one.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

It’s not like the cast members had any good lines to work with, but this acting is fairly poor.  While there is some slight potential here, a lot of it is very forced and unnatural.  Emotions are too cardboard and uninspiring.  Line delivery is vanilla.  On the whole, this is another throwaway film you are unlikely to hear much about.

Conclusion

The Christian movie field is beyond flooded at this point, so new creators have to do whatever they can to stand out for the right reasons.  I want to emphasize “for the right reasons.”  Film making is hard and expensive, and your first film is unlikely to have a very high budget.  That’s why you can set yourself apart by having a dynamic plot and great acting coaching.  Anyone can act well with the right coaching, and a great plot is one that captures real people doing real things without pushing a message.  Unfortunately, I Before Thee fails on most of these fronts and will likely be soon forgotten.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

The Colors of Emily (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Kate Montgomery is a big city art dealer who travels to a quaint small town to purchase some mysterious paints from a mysterious artist whom no one in the art dealing world knows the true identity of.  However, she is also on the run from her psychologist and her dark past.  While running away, she will have to end up facing everything she’s trying to hide from in the most unlikely ways.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

While there are some positive elements in this production, there are also some negative ones.  For instance, video quality and camera work are mostly fine, but there is some poor audio quality throughout.  The soundtrack is also a bit generic.  Lighting can be a problem at times, and the sets, locations, and props are somewhat limited in some areas.  For the most part, editing is fine, even though there are a few too many lagging scenes.  Thus, as a whole, this production is basically average and has some room for improvement.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The Colors of Emily is mostly a departure for the Rossetti group.  This story tries to delve into the psychological\suspense\mystery genre, and it contains interesting attempts at psychological elements, but there is too much wasted time before getting to the substantial mystery elements.  This wasted time mostly consists of tongue-in-cheek dialogue about predictable fish-out-of-water concepts, as well as a seemingly vague premise and loose grip on reality.  At times, the storyline seems very unfinished, and the characters come off as too understated and under-developed.  Further, the villain is fairly cheesy, especially in the ‘climax’ scene that’s full of monologuing.  In short, while there is some potential in this story idea, its final product is too vague and undeveloped.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, most of the acting in The Colors of Emily is very awkward and not well-coached.  A lot of the cast members come off as too unnatural, although Jenn Gotzon posts a more authentic performance than usual.  Moreover, there are some other strange characters in this cast, and there are too many sequences of yelling and screaming, especially in the suspense scenes.  Overall, there are too many forced lines and emotions to warrant any more than half of point here.

Conclusion

The Colors of Emily has a good idea behind it, but its effort is basically half-cocked and incomplete.  On the whole, the production needs an upgrade, as does the acting.  The storyline needs more clarification and deepening, as do the characters and dialogue.  This film appears to be an example of the importance of taking time to make quality films rather than just making another movie most people are going to forget about.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Movie Renovation: Wildflower

See original review here.

 

Production Improvements

Much like other movies that need renovations, Wildflower has a very professional production.  As expected, the only issue that needs improvement here is the editing, as it is quite choppy.  However, this is related to the plot, so if this had been rectified, the production would have been nearly perfect.

Plot and Storyline Improvements

Wildflower is one of the most frustrating plots to witness.  It is billed as a unique psychological thriller, and at first, it seems like it has a lot of potential.  However, the more it goes on, the more disappointing it becomes due to narration and overly obvious elements.  The mystery factors and intended elements of surprise are crippled by the poor presentation of the story.  It tries to become too complicated and involved without properly developing the characters or even what the psychological concept behind this plot is trying to convey or model.  For example, the flashbacks\dreams of the protagonist are intriguing, but what about other elements of trauma?  In a similar vein, the antagonist of the story is too obvious, and the scope of the psychological elements are too limited.  Also, the artistic elements of this film are creative and interesting, but there are times when the plot gets lost in them.  This plot could have been greatly improved with a more well-charted psychological journey without narration, in order to preserve the element of surprise in the plot twists.  A more pertinent study of the effects of trauma and causes of dissociation would have made this movie a lot more realistic.  Of course, allowing the characters to develop naturally through substantial dialogue and flashbacks is always a must in a psychological plot.  Finally, the actions and motivations of the characters need to be better explained without so much reliance on coincidences and vague ideas.  There was tons of potential here; it just needed to be better developed.

Acting Improvements

For the most part, this cast was very professional, even with a fairly difficult script to work with.  Much like the plot affecting the editing, improving some of the dialogue would have likely improved some of the lines that the cast members didn’t have much to work with.  However, there were some underwhelming moments that could have been improved, as well as some overly dramatic sequences.

Conclusion

We absolutely need more psychological thrillers in Christian film, but they need to be well-constructed, well-thought-out, and well-researched.  Trauma and dissociation are great topics to explore, but they need to be grounded in reality and not vaguely presented.  Also, narration rarely helps a movie, and the motivations of characters need to be demonstrated through deep dialogue and engaging flashbacks.  Moreover, we believe that Nicholas DiBella has tons of potential as a film maker and will continue to improve in his career.

 

House [2008] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

On a stormy night in rural Alabama, two couples find themselves stranded at a remote and strange bed and breakfast that is run by three eccentrically creepy people.  The longer they are in the large, ominous mansion, the stranger circumstances become for the four of them.  They find themselves in a fight for their lives as they are stalked by a serial killer known as the Tin Man, who is bent on reminding each of them of their darkest secrets from their pasts.  Will they be able survive this evil night?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though House is adequately funded—more so than other Christian horror films, except for The Remaining—the production begins a bit rough.  This includes weird camera angles and moving camera work, probably for dramatic effecting.  There are also some wild cuts, as well as some odd sound effects and lighting for sensational effect.  However, video quality is fine, even if there are some cheesy special effects and zooms throughout.  Moreover, the Anberlin soundtrack is great, and the sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized.  Also, the editing is slightly effective, and other production elements improve as the film goes on.  Thus, this production ends up average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 points)

Though House is full of unnecessary sensationalism and cheesy horror elements, these concepts reflect the flaws of the original novel by Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker, which is actually not the best book that could have been chosen from them to turn into a movie.  In the beginning of this film, everything comes off as too dramatic and too pronounced.  However, it does get better as it goes as the film explores the intriguing psychological elements and concepts of this novel, including effective character backstories and a great use of flashbacks.  In some ways, the movie may be better than the book, even though there is still a need for more substantial dialogue.  Nonetheless, the climax still makes no sense and leaves too many unanswered questions.  However, some audiences will enjoy this movie, if the horror elements do not bother them.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though some cast members in this small cast are trying too hard to be dark and to have strange undertones, the acting of House is mostly fine.  There is also some weird makeup work, but for the most part, emotions are effective among this cast, even though there were a lot of difficult acting moments due to the use of special effects.  This rounds out a mostly average film.

Conclusion

While the premise of this plot is very creative, it still needs a better explanation with more clarity as to what is happening.  Sometimes, Christian horror films, like Scattered, are better at focusing on character backstories and effective flashbacks than other films, which is one thing that keeps the genre alive.  Nonetheless, there are better Ted Dekker books to use for movies, even if future Christian horror flicks will be hard pressed to get this type of funding again without proving itself as effective.  Unfortunately, this is something the Christian horror genre has yet to accomplish.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Movie Renovation: Hardflip

See original review here.

 

Production Improvements

One of the biggest production annoyances with Hardflip is that too often, it feels like one long Decypher Down music video (oh the good ole’ early 2000s).  However, there is a healthy dose of Red that helps things.  Nonetheless, though this movie was marketed as a music-filled experience, this is just too much.  The music is too loud most of the time, and it thus hampers the film’s potential.  Two main things that would make this production higher are to cut down the music to a more palatable amount and to bring the schizophrenic editing up to industry standards.  These two fixes would have gone a long way in pushing this film closer to the Hall of Fame.

Plot and Storyline Improvements

The music overload also undercuts the plot’s ability to truly flourish in this film.  There are a lot of creative artistic undertones in Hardflip that do not reach their fullest potential due to the wild and dizzying presentation of the plot events.  Thus, some organization was in order.  The psychological elements of Hardflip are a plus, but they need better development.  For example, the asides with the homeless guy are interesting, but we need to be better connected with this subplot.  Also, as with most films, improved characters via more complex and meaningful dialogue would have gone a long way to increasing this film’s overall score.  Thus, with fewer music videos, a more responsible use of artistic and psychological elements, and stronger characters based on realistic dialogue, Hardflip could have been a Hall of Fame film.

Acting Improvements

John Schneider and Randy Wayne are a shaky lead role combo at best.  If Caleb is supposed to be a teenager, Randy Wayne looks too old.  John Schneider has shown that he is a product of his directors, so some better acting coaching was in order here.  The supporting cast members could also use some upgrades.  In short, better casting and acting coaching always go a long way.

Conclusion

Johnny Remo has always been close but not quite there in his films.  Hardflip was possibly the closest he has ever gotten to true greatness in film making.  He had great ideas here that, with further refinement, such as a more professional production, a more responsible use of music, a more organized plot, and more refined acting and casting, could have been a Hall of Fame film.  We may never know the fullest potential of this movie, but perhaps future film makers can learn from Hardflip to make their films even better.

Movie Renovation: Meant to Be

See original review here.

 

Production Improvements

The only major production improvement that should be noted in Meant to Be is the need for more organized editing.  In this film, scenes tend to be tossed here and there in a confusing fashion.  However, the editing can only be improved as the plot content is improved.  Thus, a more organized plot would have likely led to improvement in this area.

Plot and Storyline Improvements

Meant to Be is one of the most creative and most frustrating films we have ever reviewed.  Without spoiling the major twist at the end, it should be noted that this twist is mostly unexpected, especially after sitting through the boring and purposeless first half of the plot.  This is where most of the audience will be lost, so the most effective thing that could have been done in this situation would have been to make the first half of movie a good film on its own without having to rely on the twist in the second half.  This would also cause misdirection and make the twist even more surprising and out of left field.  As it is, Meant to Be seems to be rushing to get to the twist, and character development is sacrificed in the process.  We need to know what these characters care about and what their motivations are, and this can be done through substantial dialogue.  If these characters would be able to stand on their own apart from the twist, this would have been a truly great film.

Acting Improvements

Step one: take out Dean Cain.  Further, the jury is still out on whether or not Bradley Dorsey should be acting in his own films.  Other cast members in Meant to Be were underwhelming in their performances, so more improved acting coaching might have helped this section improve.

Conclusion

Bradley Dorsey has some great ideas, but he often stunts their full impact by getting in his own way.  The best thing he can do at this point in his career is to work with a team approach.  He may need to step back from acting in his films and work collaboratively with someone to bring his creative ideas to full fruition by developing deeper characters.  In the end, while it is unclear what his next steps are, if he heeds this advice, he could soar to new heights.

Same Kind of Different As Me (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ron Hall is a successful art dealer who has it all—except for a successful marriage.  He and his wife Debbie have grown apart from each other, and he has been looking in the wrong directions for love.  His marital conflict has now come to a head, so Debbie decides to make Ron exit his safe, affluent world to come volunteer with her at the local homeless shelter.  While there, though his heart is not in the work at all, Ron forms an unlikely relationship with a violent homeless man whose story captivates Ron in a way he never expected.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a clearly well-funded and well-marketed production, Same Kind of Different As Me had a lot going for it from the get-go.  This production is obviously high quality in a lot of ways, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is also very intriguing.  Sets, locations, and props are very well-constructed and utilized appropriately, especially the historical components in the flashbacks.  The only minor nitpick to note here pertains to some small editing issues, such as lagging scenes and awkward transitions.  Otherwise, this production is top-notch.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As Same Kind of Different As Me is based on a book and a true story, sometimes it seems like it’s too much like a book turned into a movie.  This is evident in unnecessary narration and obvious dialogue that tends to spoon-feed the story to the viewer.  Some of the characters tend to be portrayed too perfectly, yet this is a great true story despite these flaws.  The flashbacks are used in highly effective ways and are actually the highlights of the film because of the story they tell.  There are a lot of great messages and lessons to learn from this story, but we would have liked it if this film indulged less in drama and more in the opportunity it had to portray an epic story full of realistic, flawed, and accessible characters.  As mentioned before, there are too many lagging and choppy scenes that hurt this goal from coming to fruition.  However, there is enough good to make this at least an interesting movie to watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this movie is mostly professionally cast, there are a few issues that keep this section from being all that it could be.  For one, the lead actor and actress sometimes seem to be phoning in their performances, and at times they are too dramatic.  However, Djimon Hounsou and Jon Voight are particularly well-cast and well-acted; these two almost save this cast on their own.  Moreover, other cast members outside of Greg Kinnear and Renée Zellweger are also fine and post good performances.  In the end, this punctuates an above average film that could have gone further.

Conclusion

Same Kind of Different As Me had everything going for it, but it stopped just short of greatness.  The excellent true story and high amount of funding almost forced this film to be above-average from the beginning, but the pedestrian nature of its presentation and its over-indulgence in drama apart from character development tripped it up.  In the end, we can’t help but wonder if this was another one of those movies designed to make a quick cash grab at the theaters rather than make a real difference, which seems like the original intent of the book’s authors.  We may never know, but this is at least a fine film that most audiences will enjoy.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

The Crossing [1994] (Movie Review)

Ah, the good ole days

Plot Summary

Matt and Jason were best friends, but when Matt dies of cancer, Jason is left asking why.  Matt was a Christian, and he wanted Jason to be as well, so Matt appears to Jason in a vision and shows Jason where God keeps the sins of everybody written down, where Jesus died on the cross, and what will happen if Jason’s mother tries to save herself without God.  Jason wakes up so scared that he has to become a Christian!

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Much like other older films affiliated with the Christiano Brothers brand, The Crossing is an archaic production with a loud and outdated soundtrack.  While video quality and camera work are mostly fine, and sets, locations, and props are okay, there aren’t any other positives to note.  There are a lot of very cheesy special effects used throughout, and there are too many background noises.  Editing also suffers, including choppy cuts and a very abruptly awkward ending.  Unfortunately, while this was intended to be a youth group film (probably from the Christian Film Library of Pamela’s Prayer), youth leaders will be hard-pressed to get anyone interested in this.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

On the surface, this film has a good message, but it still has the typical overtures of films associated with the Christiano brand, such as the Christian characters being perfect non-sinners and the non-Christian characters being very obvious sinners.  Thus, the characters serve as stand-ins for plot points and spout programmed dialogue that is designed to push and project a specifically forceful and fundamentalist message.  As usual, the plot is out of touch with real people and uses tactics designed to ‘scare’ people into being saved, which are highly questionable and unlikely to be successful.  Besides this, the ‘storyline’ has a quick and rushed progression and completely lacks substance.  Unfortunately, there’s nothing good to say here.

Acting Quality (1 point)

The Crossing reveals some of the origins of the crazy, overly dramatic acting of the dynamic duo Kevin Downes and David A. R. White.  Other cast members in this film bear the resemblance of stoic Christiano cast members.  However, there are some good moments somewhere in here that keep this section from being zero.

Conclusion

All we can do with a film like this is hope it serves as a reminder of how not to make a ‘youth film.’  People that like this sort of garbage also complain about all the ‘bad movies young people watch these days.’  Well, with stuff like this being shown in church, who’s really to blame?  Until Christian entertainment is top-notch quality, we really don’t have much to say, do we?

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Running Forever (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After September 11, 2001, when he mother died, Taylor Sims is separated from her father for years.  However, she is given a chance to rebuild a relationship with him at the horse ranch he owns.  Taylor predictably finds a horse to bond with and a new boyfriend as well.  But when adversity faces the horse ranch, will Taylor and her father be able to get along and win the competition to save everything?

 

Production Quality (0 points)

Though Running Forever (which was repackaged as the scam ‘Christmas’ film A Horse for Christmas) had a $5 million budget, this is one of the worst productions ever made.  Besides cheap video quality and shaky camera work throughout, audio quality is terrible as it frequently uses overdubs and a generic loud soundtrack to cover up loud background sounds that even still bleed through.  Sets, locations, and props are very cheap, and there are too many close-up shots throughout.  There are also unforced issues like obvious continuity errors and awful transitions and cuts.  Overall, despite the money sunk into this sinking ship, this production is a disaster of epic proportions.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

A Horse for Christmas Running Forever is one of those stories that is trying to make you think it is bigger than it is.  In reality, everything about this half-wit plot has been done before, from the trouble character going to a rural area to bond with a horse and fall in love with the stable hand, to losing the beloved horse, to mending an estranged family relationship.  These clichés are not even executed in a good fashion, as dialogue is extremely thin, which creates cardboard characters.  The Christian message is plastic and seems very forced.  There is barely any substantial content in this plot, and the psychological elements that are attempted are laughable.  In the end, there is nothing good to say about this movie.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Clearly no acting coaching whatsoever was employed in this film as the film’s makers largely make up a majority of the cast.  Line delivery is awful, while emotions are painful.  Everybody is unnatural and stiff in their performances, and no care was given to casting people according to the ages of the characters they are supposed to be portraying.  Like the rest of the film, it seems like it’s all done on the fly.

Conclusion

New Kingdom Pictures seems like a total scam.  Not only did they try to re-release this film as a Christmas film, they didn’t even attempt to add any Christmas elements to it.  I guess they realized this film was so bad it needed a PR boost two years later.  Regardless, Running Forever is basically a train wreck of a film that had no business being made, not only because of its highly uncreative premise, but also because so much money was mishandled in a terrible production.  Somebody needs to stop giving these people so much money to waste.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

 

A Distant Thunder [2005] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ann Brown is a successful prosecutor, but when she is tasked with trying a case of a double homicide that involves an unborn child, she begins having strange psychological experiences and attacks beyond her control.  As the experiences continue unexplainably, Ann feels like she is going crazy or being targeted by her opponents.  She has no way to stop them, so she cries out to God for answers, and she gets answers in an unexpected way.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

It is difficult to quantify A Distant Thunder without telling you to watch it.  However, you definitely shouldn’t watch it if you have epilepsy or don’t like horror productions, because it’s a real doozy.  This includes a lot of disorienting and dizzying special effects, with weird sound effects to accompany them.  There are also random lapses in audio throughout.  However, video quality and camera work are surprisingly okay.  The soundtrack is somewhat intriguing.  Yet the editing is fairly poor, which rounds out a confusing experience that is sometimes a pain to watch.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Most of the time, it is very hard to know what in the world is going on in this film.  It makes a strange attempt to combine creepy and off-putting horror elements with an otherwise profound pro-life message.  However, this ‘story’ is just too bizarre and strange to be fully embraced due to its general wackiness and off-the-wall nature.  Yet the legal case therein is interesting and mostly realistic, as are the psychological elements, except that the horror themes constantly distract from anything good.  The ending also has some potential, but the weirdness is too much to overcome.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Despite the other issues in this film, the acting is actually mostly fine.  There are a few overly dramatic moments, but on the whole, line delivery and emotional delivery are on point.  Nonetheless, one can’t help but wonder if this effort was wasted due to the other strange parts of this movie.

Conclusion

The idea behind this film needs a total rework, because as it is, it is not going to have very wide appeal.  The unappealing horror elements will turn off people too easily and will stunt the impact of this important message.  Perhaps one day more improved pro-life films will begin appearing on the market.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

The Debacle (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Larry and Vaughn have been long time friends, but Vaughn has never felt like he was worth much of anything, especially after he gets laid off from his job.  Larry, on the other hand, is overconfident in himself and has many ideas of what he should be doing, such as rescuing damsels in distress.  However, neither of them could have expected to be transported back in time to a Western town in need of heroes.  If Larry and Vaughn can save the town, they will have completed their quest, but if they do not, they will be trapped in history forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Surprisingly, a lot of time and money was put into this production.  This is shown in the good video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  Though the soundtrack is a bit silly and is sometimes too loud, the sets, locations, and props are excellently constructed and utilized for this genre.  However, there are some awkward cuts and transitions that are likely included to make the movie ‘goofy.’  However, on the whole, this is an above average production that does not fit with the rest of the film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

From the beginning to the end, this appropriately-named film is trying way too hard to be funny with cringeworthy comedy moments and eye-rolling escapades.  Not only is the premise completely absurd, but it is full of cheesy Western elements and other asides that make no sense at all.  The Christian message is forced, cheesy, and empty.  This ridiculous story feels like it has been made for the sake of being made, since it has basically no purpose at all.  The characters are dumb due to the half-hearted dialogue, not to mention the fact that the villain concept is very stupid.  Essentially, there’s really nothing good to say about this plot except that it was good when it was over.

Acting Quality (1 points)

Besides the absurd self-casting and acting (Joshua Zirger from Fenced Off should have never been cast again), the cast members over-play and overdo everything.  Line delivery is drawn out, and emotions are laughable.  Though there are some okay moments, most sequences from this cast are annoying as they tend to make fools of themselves.  Unfortunately, there’s not much good to say about this film.

Conclusion

Basically, this movie is a debacle.  Whether or not they intended it to be so appropriately named is beside the point.  Making this sort of comedy that’s in your face and completely obvious is never a winning idea.  Also, the childish time travel notions and cliched Western tropes are very old and worn out.  The only advice that can be offered here is to try something totally different next time.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

The Saber [2007] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Cameron O’Connor joins the military as a cadet and uses his computer skills to make a name for himself.  However, he soon finds himself getting into trouble online with internet pornography that gives him an unrealistic view of women.  As he goes deeper and deeper down a destructive path, he gets kicked out of the military and puts his girlfriend in a very dangerous position.  God finally gets his attention and sends him help to turn around, but not before some serious consequences.

 

Production Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, The Saber is basically B-roll footage of outdoor military maneuvers with some other scenes sprinkled into it in order to try to make it some semblance of a story.  There are no good production elements to point out here.  Video quality is bad, and camera work is inconsistent.  Lighting is very odd, and there a lot of unnecessary zooming shots.  Sets, locations, and props and very cheap and limited.  Audio quality is poor, and the soundtrack is often too loud.  This production feels like a documentary, especially with the stiff way it has been edited.  Thus, there is really nothing good to say here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

With the runtime filled with tons of training montages, this ‘story’ wanders and grasps for a purpose, but never finds one.  This aimless storyline contains extremely empty cardboard characters that have the worst possible dialogue.  There are also strange psychological elements throughout that make it hard to understand what’s going on most of the time.  While this is a very important message to portray, it is horribly presented, with a ridiculous and strawman portrayal of otherwise serious problems.  This demonstrates a lack of comprehension of reality and tends to talk down to ‘bad people.’  As events progress to extreme lengths, the film only offers quick and unrealistic fixes to problems that the writers clearly do not fully comprehend.  This is a huge disappointment.

Acting Quality (0 points)

This amateurish cast has the most awkward and forced line delivery possible, as well as the most uncomfortable and stiff emotions.  Their performances are robotic and unsure as they seem to be just reading lines.  There are also some annoying sequences of yelling, as well as some terrible makeup.  This finishes off a very cringe-worthy effort that I want to forget really hard.

Conclusion

The Saber deals with some serious stuff, but the way it handles the serious stuff is disingenuous and tone-deaf.  After watching this film, it is very hard to believe that the Cross Wind team has a grasp of the real struggles of real people, besides the fact that they have no quality standards.  This whole movie is a microcosm of what’s wrong with Christian film and what needs to be changed about it.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

Heavens to Betsy [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Betsy Simon is a struggling children’s author who wants more out of life.  After her work is rejected again, she complains to God that He never answers the prayers she wants Him to answer.  However, this complaint triggers some unforeseen and unwanted consequences as Betsy suddenly finds herself in a world where God answered every prayer she ever prayed.  While it seems good at first, Betsy soon finds that not all is as it seems and quickly looks for a way out, but finds none.  Will she be able to return to the life God has for her before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a newer production, Heavens to Betsy is an improvement over the previous effort in Angels in Our Midst.  This includes good video quality and camera work.  However, there are some cheesy sound effects, as well as a generic ‘silly’ soundtrack.  There are also some odd background sounds in some scenes, as well as randomly cutoff audio at random times.  Nonetheless, sets, locations, and props are great and appropriate.  The editing is mostly okay, but this story basically writes itself, so not much effort is needed.  On the whole, this is, for the most part, what a modern Christian production should look like.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

In the beginning, Heavens to Betsy is a ridiculously forced comedy that is trying way too hard to be funny.  This is evident in the very cheesy comedy elements and the forced dialogue that causes the characters to be one-dimensional and even mindless at times.  Besides this, the premise is based on the predictable wish-comes-true-in-alternate-reality-to-remind-protaganist-they-don’t-like-that-idea-anymore storyline.  This predictable convention is coupled with a cheap Christian message in the beginning, yet it becomes more meaningful as the movie progresses and even ends with a slightly interesting lesson that is based on a partially creative idea.  Though this story gets better in the end due to some unexpected turns, it is still too little too late as the beginning of the film is likely to lose a lot of viewers before they get to this point.  However, the effort is commendable.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Like the plot, the acting begins as awkward, unsure, and trying way too hard to be funny.  Lines and emotions come off as overly practiced in the beginning.  However, there is improvement after the middle point of the film as there are some better, more well-acted moments.  Thus, this rounds out an almost-average film.

Conclusion

Believe it or not, Heavens to Betsy, especially the second half, is an idea that is worth remaking or redoing in some way.  While the premise has been used before, transposing unanswered prayers into it gives it more than just a ‘Christian spin,’ even though it can come off that way at times.  This is a pertinent issue that needs to be explored in a far better forum, preferably not in a comedy.  Regardless, Christian film makers need to continue to shed their ‘silly’ or ‘cute’ image, and this film doesn’t really do its part on this front.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Angels in Our Midst {Bitterblue} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Tobey Marshall lost his parents in 9/11, and now he is seen as a retarded kid at his school.  He lives with his aunt and uncle, but they don’t like him either, so Tobey decides to talk to the angels he sees, so he can be comforted.  However, one day, a girl named Suzy decides to befriend Tobey, even though no one else will.  This make the bullies pick on both of them and forces them to reply on spiritual strength to make it through each day.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

In many ways, Angels in Our Midst has a lot of trouble shaking the ‘cheap Christian film’ image.  Video quality is mostly fine, as is camera work, but there are other issues that plague it.  Audio quality is inconsistent, especially in the outside scenes.  The soundtrack leaves something to be desired.  Sets, locations, and props are fairly limited and cheap-looking.  The special effects that are used are very cheesy.  Finally, the editing is seemingly nonexistent as some scenes drag on, and there is no real semblance of flow to the film.  In the end, this production is below average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

While it is great to try to portray the struggles and insight of special needs people, this is definitely not the way to do this.  The Christian message of this film is presented in such a way that it comes off as very childish and even mystical at times.  The fixation on angels is somewhat unhealthy, and this becomes more evident as the movie progresses.  Besides this, even if this was a good story to tell, it is extremely BORING.  The characters sit around without much substantial dialogue and tend to do the same things over and over again.  What little dialogue is contained here is very dry and flat.  Thus, the characters are cardboard cutouts.  There is very little content to speak of here, and the progression goes from childish to weird, ending with a bizarre climax scene that borderlines on creepy.  Therefore, there is basically no justification for this story even existing.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Like the characters they portray, the cast members are less than impressive.  Many of the performances are very underwhelming and empty.  Emotions are rarely believable.  While there are some good moments of line delivery, this section rounds out a very flat and useless film effort.

Conclusion

It is very hard to comprehend what this film was really going for, and we are not sure we want to know.  Sometimes it seems like a joke, and other times it seems like they really didn’t know what they were doing.  Either way, somebody needed to censor this film before it got released to the public because it’s mostly embarrassing.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points