Shifting Gears [2018] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Tom has worked hard to become a regional manager, which is why he’s so disappointed when his self-absorbed boss lets him know that he needs a four-year college degree to achieve this position. Frustrated, Tom quits on the spot and decides to look into the property he inherited from his recently deceased father. His wife convinces him to take on his father’s old gas station business as their new source of income. Will they be able to handle the new business while patching up hidden family issues?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

One thing that can be said for newer Christian films, especially those in the last few years: no matter how forgettable or lame the plot is, the productions are absolutely getting better. Shifting Gears has a fine production without many issues, as evidenced by good video quality and camera work. For the most part, audio quality is fine, even though there are some loud portions of the soundtrack and some annoying sound effects, but these are the only issues with the production. It’s clear that time is spent on all aspects of the production, especially the sets, props, and locations that make this movie better than it would be without it. Overall, since the editing is also respectable, this is a high-quality production that unfortunately went wasted.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

As such, it’s very hard to understand the actual purpose of this plot as it meanders around peppered with head-scratching cliches and under-developed characters. It borrows a lot of elements from a typical sports underdog plot combined with a return to hometown plot, which implies that there’s nothing creative going on here. The forced and cringe-worthy comedy elements and asides waste valuable time that could have been used to craft better dialogue, but we are only left with cheesy half-measures. The story is based on too many coincidences, and the Christian message comes off as plastic and manufactured. As many of the scenes are downright eye-rolling and funny for all the wrong reasons, it goes without saying that there is little to no point in making this movie with a plot this bad.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While some cast members are fairly over the top with their performances, they aren’t all bad since some of them are somewhat professional and seasoned in their work. However, some of the cast members are trying way too hard to be funny most of the time, and many emotions come off as painfully forced. Even so, despite the awkward and unsure moments, there are also plenty of good moments that make up for these, and this overall makes this an average section, which rounds out a below-average film.

Conclusion

It’s difficult to see all this good production go to waste when films that have better plots have worse productions. This is the plague of independent Christian film: if one thing works, another thing doesn’t. The cause of this is obviously a lack of proper collaboration. The writers need to be the writers, and the directors need to be the directors. Until creative-minded Christians lay down their differences and begin working together more, nothing much will change, unfortunately.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

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Wesley [2009] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In 1732, John Wesley had fully embraced the religious piety of English Christianity, but his life was changed forever when he was assigned to be a missionary to the American Natives in the colony of Georgia.  He always strived to be what he considered to be a perfect Christian, but his world was transformed when he encountered real people and was forced to come face to face with God’s grace and love for all humanity.  Only then did John Wesley become the spiritual giant he is known as today.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The production of Wesley is very rough at the beginning, including a lot of dark scenes and an obvious use of poorly disguised fake background, as well as some cheap special effects.  Also, there are some moments of odd video quality.  However, regardless of these struggles, there is a concerted effort in this film to demonstrate historical authenticity, especially through the use of realistic sets, locations, and props.  Also, audio quality is fine throughout the film.  Though there are some awkward cuts and transitions, this is at least an average production and is likely good for the limited funding.  With a little more honing, this creative team could be exemplary.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Since this is based on an engaging true story, this plot already has a lot going for it.  This historical account was definitely worth portraying in film, and there are many attempts even in the story to preserve authenticity.  The use of flashbacks is also effective.  While dialogue is good, it could be better and more meaningful.  As it is, it tends to make the characters too stuffy.  Yet the characters tend to improve as they go on, and the characters definitely experience realistic circumstances.  In the end, this plot is actually better than a lot of plots out there and is certainly worth your time.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The strongest point of this section is likely the historically realistic costuming.  At first, the cast members tend to be too theatrical in their performances, including some forced emotions and lines.  However, there is definite improvement throughout in the acting, which makes for an overall average performance.  In short, there are plenty of good points in the film, yet it tends to be tripped up by little things.

Conclusion

We definitely need more engaging historical Christian films, and this creative team is definitely on the right track with films like Wesley and Newton’s Grace.  With a little bit of tweaking in some parts, along with better funding and acting coaching, this team could soon be going places.  Even so, their movies are at least worth a watch and tend to bring a different perspective to Christian film.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Adrenaline [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Joseph Jenkins is a hotshot drag race car driver, but when he is suddenly crippled in a wreck, he feels like his life is over.  As he sulks in a hospital room, he doesn’t want to see anyone, but his roommate pulls him out of his shell and gives him a new purpose in life.  Then Joseph suddenly reconnects with an old friend of his father, whom he never knew.  Joseph soon finds a new lease on life and a chance at redemption, but will he be able to make his newfound faith his own?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Adrenaline is overall a mixed bag, including the production.  Video quality is fine, but camera work is too shaky, including a lot of odd camera angles.  Lighting is poor at first, but it improves as it goes.  Audio quality is fine, but the soundtrack is sometimes too loud.  However, sets, locations, and props are very professional.  Yet Adrenaline commits a common error of indie films—imperfect editing.  Cuts and transitions are very confusing and even sometimes spastic, thus making for a lot of choppy editing.  In the end, this is a good production effort, but some kinks still need to be worked out of it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, though it has some good messages, Adrenaline is a formulaic sports redemption plot with a predictable sequence.  The characters are somewhat stereotypical, though attempts are made to develop them.  However, it would be better to see them deeper because they are intriguing characters.  This can be done by making the dialogue more creative and complex.  Elsewhere, there are too many (unfortunately expected) sports and training montages, as well as a lot of wasted time.  It’s too bad because it feels like this plot has a lot of potential that it doesn’t reach.  Perhaps things will improve next time.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Even as a slightly amateur cast (except for John Schneider), the acting isn’t really that bad.  Even John Schneider is better than he has been in the past.  The cast members embrace their characters well.  The only issue to point out is some overdone emotions, but that’s easily fixed.  This shows great hope for the future.

Conclusion

With some experience working under the Kendricks, this creative team did pick up on a thing or two that they will likely be able to use to get even better in the future.  First movie mistakes can easily be forgiven, so it will be interesting to see what they have planned next.  With some better production funding and a more creative plot, as well as a continuously good cast, this team will be going places.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Trial [2010] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Kent “Mac” McClain’s wife and sons are tragically killed in a car accident, he just wants to end it all.  However, he is interrupted by a phone call and is given a new purpose by the person on the other end: to revive his law practice by taking on a special capital punishment case.  So he assembles a team and begins investigating, but the deeper he digs, the more fishy and complicated things become.  Mac soon finds himself not only fighting for the life of his defendant, but for his very own.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The good thing is that Robert Whitlow does not settle for low to average quality productions when it comes to bringing his books to the big screen.  Video quality and camera work are very professional.  Sets and locations are realistic.  Audio quality is good, although the soundtrack is pedestrian.  Finally, the editing is sometimes effective in being suspenseful, but other times it is too choppy and exposes some missing time.  It seems like there is content missing that was cut from the original take due to length.  However, this is not done very well, as will be highlighted next.  But in the end, Whitlow, Gary Wheeler, and crew know how to put together a respectable production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Whitlow clearly knows legal procedure and is the right person to be writing legal suspense.  The premise of this plot is therefore realistic and is filled with fairly believable, down-to-earth characters and pretty good dialogue.  However, as previously mentioned, there needs to be more useful content included and few melancholy scenes.  Also, Whitlow has a tendency towards overdone drama, which is also present in The Trial.  Finally, there are a few too many coincidences in this plot and a rushed cheesy end that happens because it needed to.  The cheesy villain is given too much time to monologue about their evil plan, although it’s unclear why they did what they did.  All in all, this is once again a respectable effort, but perhaps not the best Whitlow book to choose for a movie.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Acting is this film’s strongest suit as each cast member fits his or her character perfectly.  There is also a presence of clear acting coaching, which is likely the influence of Gary Wheeler, a student of the Kendrick brothers.  Although there are some minor errors that keep this section from being perfect, this casting job shows how it’s done.

Conclusion

The saddest part about this film is that, based on the market availability of Christian movies, films like The Trial seem really good.  In reality, this should be the baseline of quality, not the improvement.  While it is not good enough to be Hall of Fame, The Trial is good enough to be interesting, although it may not capture the attention of many audiences.  Gary Wheeler has a lot of potential as a creator and needs to keep trying until he makes that breakthrough to greatness.  He has great hope for the future.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Jimmy [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jimmy Mitchell is a special boy.  Though he is afraid of water, he is able to see angelic beings known he calls ‘Watchers’ all over his small mountain town.  His father is a defense attorney and his mother is a clerk at the local courthouse, so Jimmy is not unfamiliar with the legal process.  But he is still unsure of what to do when he overhears one of his father’s clients planning to commit a crime, even though he has been recently acquitted.  Jimmy must determine whether or not he is going to overcome his fear to do the right thing no matter what.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As is the custom for Whitlow Films, the production quality of Jimmy is above average.  The camera work is solid and the camera work is mostly good.  The video quality and sound quality are good, but not great.  The sets, locations, and props are authentic.  Overall, there is not much else to be said here—the production of Jimmy is neither extremely negative nor game-changing.  However, it is a step above most Christian films and is likely the best they could have done with the resources available.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from another Robert Whitlow book, the plot of Jimmy is solid for a down to earth small town story.  The characters are true to life and their emotional struggles are real.  Unfortunately, the book’s plot is more dynamic than that of the movie’s.  The adaptation is not fully complete and the movie seems subdued and muted.  There is nothing glaringly wrong with the plot of Jimmy, but it just doesn’t make it past the average mark.  In addition to this, to no one’s surprise, Whitlow elected to use the alternate ending of the novel for the movie.  We felt that the alternate ending is what makes the book as creative as it is.  Without it, the storyline seems incomplete.  Therefore, as is reflected by the score, Jimmy is reduced to an average plot.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The acting is the strongest point of this film.  The film is well-cast and the actors and actresses are well coached.  The only thing that keeps this portion from being perfect is its lack of excellent quality.  The acting is great, but not excellent.

Conclusion

Jimmy is a heartwarming film that portrays special needs people in a very good way.  Though Robert Whitlow sometimes tends to be too sensational, Jimmy avoids this pitfall.  It contains creative conceptions of what special needs people may experience.  The bottom line is that the important message of this film should not be missed: all people deserved to be treated as humans created by God.  Thankfully, this message is not marred by awful production like many Christian films.  It is only too bad that Jimmy was not dynamic enough to make the Hall of Fame.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

The List [2007] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Renny Jacobsen never really knew his father, so he doesn’t feel anything when he receives word of his death except how large his inheritance is.  That’s why he is devastated when he discovers the unusual and unorthodox contents of his father’s will—he cannot receive any of his money unless he joins a secret society known as the Covenant List.  In route to joining The List, Renny crosses paths with Jo, an unlikely potential List member.  Together, they discover that there is more to the secret society than they thought.  Renny must choose the truth before it is too late and before everything he holds dear slips away from him.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Distributed by a large company, The List has decent production quality.  The video quality is pretty good and the sound quality is consistent.  The sets and locations are diverse and well-constructed.  The film has an overall professional feel, but there are some editing problems.  Some scenes last too long while others are cut too short for the audience to really understand what is going on without reading a lot into it.  There are too many cross-fades and fadeouts.  Overall, the production is above average yet has some errors that hurt it from being all it could be.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from the novel by Robert Whitlow, the plot is more complex than most Christian movies.  It explores a genre unique to Christian movies—legal suspense—and does not follow the typical legal fiction storyline.  There is a lot of interesting content as the plot explores spiritual warfare, something many Christian films would never dare to touch.  However, it is not handled in the best way and comes off as overly sensational.  Too much time is spent early in the movie educating the audience on the complex inner workings of the secret society and not enough time is spent on redemptive qualities, which are rushed through and tacked on at the end of the movie.  Because of the high amount of plot content, dialogue often gets neglected, thus leaving stock characters.  Two hours was not enough to cover the scope of this plot properly.  In short, there is a lot of creative content here that was not utilized properly.  More could have been made of this film.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The acting is somewhat professional.  There are no glaring errors except for obviously overly practiced and fake Southern accents.  But at the same time, there is no truly dynamic acting that makes this film interesting.  When it comes down to it, the acting is average, thus garnering an average score.

Conclusion

Robert Whitlow has some interesting plots that should be depicted on the big screen, but The List was likely not the best book to choose, since it was first novel.  Secret societies, spiritual warfare, and legal suspense need to be incorporated in various ways into Christian films, but there is a time, a place, and a way for everything.  Even plots like The List are more complex than your average inspirational film, but it still not the greatest.  That’s why it has been awarded an average score.  Nonetheless, we applaud efforts to bring unique movies to the Christian scene and anticipate more to come.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points