The Prayer Box (Series Review)

The Prayer Box, DVD -

Plot Summary

Welsey wants to do the right thing even as his sister lays in a hospital bed struggling in her battle with cancer.  Wesley faithfully attends church, even though his mother has forsaken the faith for now, and he fervently prays at the altar every week.  However, he is hurt when he sees that his pastor is throwing away the prayer requests people put in the prayer box at the altar.  Thus, Wesley launches a plan to redeem the prayer box and convince God with his deeds that his sister deserves to survive the battle with cancer.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s clear that although the budget for this miniseries was somewhat limited, Kevan Otto used his funds responsibly and maximized the potential from them.  This is evidenced by clear video quality, good camera work, and professional audio quality.  The soundtrack is somewhat generic, but it gets better as the series progresses.  The sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized as they appear to be realistic for the situations.  The main drawback here is the slight need for refined editing in order to avoid including as much B-roll footage for filler scenes as it did.  However, this is a very good production, which signals that Kevan Otto has finally turned over a new leaf in his career.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The Prayer Box is a testament that even Kevan Otto can create good entertainment when he has a good team and when he actually uses employs a talented screenwriter.  Using an actual screenwriter in a series rather than having the director double as the screenwriter is rare, but it great assists in the proper development of story and characters.  This definitely an advantage to this miniseries as a majority of the dialogue is well-crafted and serves to develop character personalities and character motivations without having them fall into stereotypes or pre-determined molds.  Also, the conversations among the characters drive the plot forward rather than having them tossed along by random circumstances.  The premise of the story is also realistic and believable, including the portrayal of churches.  There is also quite a bit accomplished in the story without narration, and the Christian messaging is very poignant and on point.  However, there are a few drawbacks to this plot, including some slightly boring elements in the first episode and some scenes that feel like they’re just kicking the can down the road instead of developing the characters deeper like a series should be able to due to having more time to do so.  One example of this is one too many off-screen characters that are only talked about rather than seen, but this could be due to budget constraints.  There are also other opportunities for content enhancement, and while the ending is effective, it’s somewhat vague, but it definitely does its job.  As a whole, this is easily the best Christian series to date and a great opportunity for Kevan Otto to start afresh in his entertainment ambitions.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The acting of The Prayer Box is definitely one of its strongest points.  This includes surprisingly good child and teenager acting and arguably the best performances to date from Carey Scott and Reginald VelJohnson.  The only drawbacks here are some slightly overdone makeup from some cast members and some slightly under-performed scenes, but it’s nothing too major.

Continuity Quality (2 points)

One big question with The Prayer Box is whether or not it really needed to be a series since it only has two total hours of runtime.  While it’s great to create a miniseries out of a book to release it directly to PureFlix on Demand rather than making a half-baked direct-to-DVD film no one will ever see since this is something we absolutely need to see more of, it’s hard to see why a two-hour series was needed.  If the funding allowed, more runtime would have been good to further develop the characters if at all possible.  However, despite these minor nitpicks, the flow of this series is mostly good except for a few abrupt episode endings.  As a whole, it’s refreshing to see a series, albeit a short one, that is committed to above average continuity and flow between episodes.

Conclusion

Even though The Prayer Box is a very basic and generic storyline, this is just the tip of the iceberg of what can be done when streaming series employ true screenwriters to create content.  Trisha Mammen definitely has a lot of talent as a screenwriter, and Kevan Otto has definitely found a new stride in his career that needs to continue; it’s highly possible that this film could have made the Hall of Fame as a film.  Though we’ve criticized Otto in the past for his poorly created films like A Question of FaithGrace of GodIn the Name of GodOnline, Lukewarm, Decision, and WWJD 1 and 2, after The Prayer Box, it’s possible that his future entertainment ventures could be transformed with a second wind of much better source material and more well-funded productions.  It just goes to show that anyone can make a turnaround with better resources and that we are always willing to recognize improvement and success – no matter who it comes from.

Final Rating: 9 out of 14 points

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Hitting the Breaks, Season 1 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

After racecar driver Randy Wilcox crashes his car in a race, his family convinces him to retire.  Thus, he decides to move the bed and breakfast in rural Colorado that his father willed to him.  What the Wilcox family finds there is a lack of modern conveniences and a collection of quirky characters who live eccentric lives.  Yet through the comedic mishaps they endure, they begin to like their new home, despite the inconveniences.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though the production of this series looks good on the surface, it really just boils down to a silly sitcom.  Video quality is fine, but camera work has a lot of shortcuts taken in it due to the genre.  The genre also brings with it an obnoxious laugh track, as if we are to believe that this was recorded in front of a live studio audience.  However, other audio quality is fine, even if the soundtrack is extremely generic.  Furthermore, sets and locations are severely limited, once again due to the sitcom genre.  Finally, editing is very standard and uninspiring.  Basically, PureFlix still knows how to make things look good on the outside without any real substance.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Much like past comedy projects from the bizarre minds of David A. R. White and Tommy Blaze, Hitting the Breaks is one half lazy and one half downright zany and nonsensical.  Full of cheesy small town characters that are obviously copycatting other films and series, one has to endure constant reality television confessionals that litter the series.  In these ten episodes, each one follows a predictable formula: David A. R. White gets himself into some comedic escapade and then has to get out of it in twenty minutes or less to leave himself time to read a ‘life lesson’ from his father’s journal at the end that attempts to force a purpose into this madness.  These ‘life lessons’ are laughably cheap Christian messages, thus leaving the series pointless and purposeless.  Most of the comedy isn’t even funny, whether it’s for the right reason or the wrong reason.  The dialogue is chock-full of stupid catchphrases and caricatures as everything generally gets zanier and less explainable as the series progresses.  In the end, it’s like they just run out of ideas and find a random way to end it.  Basically, there is little to no point in this mess.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

For this barn-burning cast, PureFlix trotted out ever crazy person they have ever had in their films and put them all together in one place.  Everyone is as absurd as can be expected, especially the Whites, Kevin Downes, Moran Fairchild, and everyone’s favorite Jennifer Lyons.  Gregg Binkley makes a special spectacle of himself throughout the series as he tries desperately to be the new Barney Fife.  It’s surprising that Tommy Blaze didn’t make an appearance in this cast, yet the cast of Ray Wise is actually appropriate for once and saves this section from the abyss.  But it’s still not good enough to count for much.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

With extremely short episodes that repeat the same formula over and over again, it’s safe to say there is no continuity here.  There are no story arcs or characters arcs to speak of.  Thus, there is nothing good to say here either.

Conclusion

Once again, PureFlix is one step ahead of other film makers by breaking new ground for Christian entertainment.  Though this is the first legitimate Christian sitcom, that doesn’t mean it’s any good.  The PureFlix crew basically just packaged up all the craziness they’ve had pent up since Me Again and put it all into one wild series just for the sake of making it.  There is zero purpose and no clear direction here and it only further serves as an embarrassment to Christian entertainment.  Needless to say, the world is still waiting for a truly legitimate and interesting Christian series, which is something that is obviously very difficult to come by.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 14 points

 

Movies That Are So Bad They’re Not Even Worth Our Time, Part 1 (MTASBTNEWOT 1)

In our vast Christian entertainment viewing experience, we sometimes come upon films that we can hardly justify writing a full review for.  Therefore, for your convenience, so you don’t have to go watch those free films that invade your suggested watch list in on-demand video services, we’ve provided a quick overview here.  Someday we might post more, if we’re fortunate enough to find more.

 

The Young Believers

If you want to see the cheapest church skit ever, view this gem.  Starring less than fifteen cast members, a majority of the scenes consist of the four main characters awkwardly standing in front of a wall or a fence.  They spit out preprogrammed lines that demonstrate an isolationist Christian view of the world, as well as the world record for the usage of the word ‘dude’.  There are more production errors that can be counted and the acting is just horrific.  With no real plot to speak of, we decided that it didn’t warrant a full review.

 

Our thoughts exactly
Our thoughts exactly

Raising Izzie

Borderline Christian films are the worst.  Are they trying to be Christian or are they trying to make fun of it?  Who knows.  Regardless, this film depicts one of the most bizarre versions of Christianity we have ever seen, complete with magic blankets.  Characters scream at each other in the most annoying ways and you really never know what’s coming next.  The plot is based on such weird pretzel logic regarding child custody that we don’t even know who to believe on this one.  Anyways, just steer clear.

 

What you see is what you get
What you see is what you get

On Angel’s Wings

This one escaped from the Disney channel for sure.  Featuring a teenage girl with first world problems conversing with the reincarnation of Peter Pan (yes, there is an actual flying scene in this film), this one is a real drug trip doozy sprinkled with Christian themes.  Replete with music videos to the tune of free background music, this film is obviously disingenuous and one big joke, boasting one of the most half-hearted casts ever.  Only watch this one if you feel like a laugh.

Brother White (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Stuck in a long line of pastoral succession at a megachurch headed by the popular Johnny Kingman, James White is desperate to make his mark and to stand out from the crowd.  But doing so only gets him into further trouble.  After nearly ruining a children’s Sunday school class and an expensive painting and disrupting a church service, Kingman send James on a probation to pastor a struggling church in Atlanta.  So James, his wife Lily, and their two children make a cross-country move to the Peach State and find themselves thrust into a multicultural world they have never before experienced.  Not only must James find a way to save the struggling church, but he must come to grips with the fact that he is not invincible and must rely on God and his family for help.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Compared to other PureFlix productions, Brother White is not horrible.  It actually has a lot of potential.  The camera work is pretty good, as is the video quality.  However, the sound quality is inconsistent and some outside scenes are covered up with musical montages.  The editing is decent, but the sets and locations are obviously cheap.  There are some slight excuses for this, but it still could have been better.  Probably the worst production element is pretending like certain characters are singing when they are obviously not.  In short, the production of Brother White is just average—neither horrible nor dynamic.  There was a lot of potential here that was not brought to the surface.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Unlike many PureFlix plots, Brother White is slightly interesting.  Exploring racial relations by inserting an affluent white (White?) family into a predominantly African-American church has a lot of potential, if stereotypes are avoided.  For the most part, they are.  There is plenty of satire in Brother White that is actually funny, such as tongue-in-cheek swipes at prosperity gospel churches.  But there are also elements that are just trying too hard.  Too much comedy falls flat and some lines leave you scratching your head.  There are plot holes that are glossed over and some humor is way too obvious, such as the name ‘Lily White’.  The plot boils down to a simplistic save the farm storyline and seems to lose its original purpose in the end.  James’ character arc is commendable, but the whole movie just leaves you wanting more substance.  In short, Brother White is not so awful that it’s unwatchable, but it’s also frustrating to watch because there was obviously a lot of creativity left untapped.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Though this is probably David A. R. White’s best lead role, it still leaves much to be desired.  The presence of more professional actors in this cast keeps it from sinking to the depths of most PureFlix casts.  However, there is still a lack of acting coaching.  Were all the actors up to par, this movie would have improved.

Conclusion

This is probably the closest the Whites and Tommy Blaze will ever get to true comedy.  But were this plot in different hands, we can’t help but feel it could have been Hall of Fame worthy.  It contains a unique plot on a good topic and as it is, has some humorous elements.  In the end, Brother White is the highest rated White comedy and unfortunately, it is hard to believe that it will get any better than this.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Hidden Secrets [2006] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Following the death of a common friend, Gary, Jeremy, Michael, Harold, and Sherry all gather at his house for a long weekend of repairs and catching up on the good old days.  However, all is not well among them.  Jeremy discovers that he still love Sherry, his former girlfriend, even though his current girlfriend is staying with them.  Michael is guarding a dark secret from his past.  Gary and Harold’s wife constantly clash over his Jewish background and his atheist beliefs.  In the end, they will have to come to grips their hidden secrets in order to face the future.

 

Production Quality (0 points)

There is literally nothing good to say about this film’s production quality.  The video is grainy and the sound quality is all over the place.  The camera work is unprofessional.  Everything about the production has a very cheap identity.  The sets are severely limited, mostly taking place inside one house or on its roof (yes, seriously).  The editing is terrible, but it’s not like there was much to work with.  Roof repair scenes, standing around and talking scenes, and thrift store dress-up scenes litter the landscape.  But nothing can beat David A. R. White mouthing a Building 429 song and pretending like he’s singing it.  As previously mentioned, there is nothing positive here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

There is only one positive element to discuss from this entire film, and that is its slightly interesting exploration of the various types of secret sins many Christians harbor.  Otherwise, the remainder of this film is utter nonsense.  The dialogue is almost written purposely ridiculous.  One character is an over-the-top, obnoxious, legalistic Christian who is the only one, in her mind, who can interpret the Bible properly.  It would be funny if it wasn’t so unwatchable.  The atheist character is equally annoying.  Other dialogue is absurd and overly obvious, shoving issues down viewers’ throats.  There is also no clear plotline to this movie except for repairing a roof, hanging around talking and arguing on various controversial topics, reminiscing about the good old days, playing dress-up in a thrift store, and pretending to sing in a cheap restaurant.  Any good intentions there were in making this movie are buried beneath a mound of insanity.

Acting Quality (0 points)

No acting coaching is employed in Hidden Secrets.  Actors and actresses are allowed to basically run wild with the material with no quality control.  Line delivery is forceful—several actors and actresses are clearly trying to draw attention to themselves.  Emotions are also extreme and unbelievable.  Once again, there is nothing good to say here.

Conclusion

There is a base idea in Hidden Secrets that should have been given to another film.  Unfortunately, Carey Scott, Sean Paul Murphy, and Timothy Ratajczak have not demonstrated that they are good stewards of movie ideas.  To make this sort of movie shows one of three things—they either do not care about making quality movies, they do not fully know how to make quality movies, or they are purposely making low quality movies.  What type of audience is supposed to derive meaning from this sort of movie?  For many reasons, this movie receives a very low score.

 

Final Rating: .5 out of 10 points

 

Marriage Retreat (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Mark and Claire Bowman, James and Donna Harlow, and Bobby and Melody Castle are all close friends, but they are also all struggling in their marriages.  Mark has unresolved issues with his father, James is gone all the time, and Bobby has a gambling problem.  That’s why they decide to take advantage of a marriage retreat sponsored by their church.  They go into the experience with the wrong intentions and quickly find out that they are not all they thought they were.  They will have to dig deep in order to save their marriages from disaster.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

To begin, the camera and sound quality are pretty good, but that is the extent of the positive elements.  The sets are very cheap and limited.  Unfortunately, it is difficult to pinpoint how this film could have been edited better, since it is hard for us to quantify its actual plot.  There is little else that can be said about Marriage Retreat’s production since much of the movie appears to be mostly impromptu work.  One other thing that should be noted is that some of the wedding photos used in the beginning credits are obviously photo-shopped, but when the rest of the movie is considered, this should not be surprising.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

As mentioned, there is little to no plot in this film, not only because it is very limited in scope, but most of the dialogue is very impromptu.  A majority of the scenes do not appear to have a clear script, so they meander along a path of horrific attempts at comedy, replete with clownish dialogue.  Therefore, the characters greatly resemble the actual actors themselves.  This plot’s one small redeeming quality is that it has a good message, but it is lost in a sea of cheap and ridiculous attempts at humor.  There is plenty of potential here to showcase different marital issues among Christian couples, but it is reduced to a C-grade cable channel movie that will never make any impact in Christian culture.

Acting Quality (0 points)

It is noble and notable to cast married couples together in this sort of movie, but like everything else potentially positive in this film, it is washed away.  There is zero acting coaching for this small cast, which seems to indicate a certain amount of overconfidence on the part of the actors.  With coaching, some of the comedy could have been actually funny, but alas, it is just another item on the list of lost potential.

Conclusion

True comedy is needed in Christian movies, as are movies that take on the struggles of Christian marriages.  However, Marriage Retreat only serves to further make a laughingstock of Christian films.  Instead of quickly spinning out more and more movies, PureFlix crews need to stop and think on the implications of quantity over quality.  It is not worth it to simply make movies about good topics—we cannot stress this enough—care and attention must be given to production, plot, and acting quality.  Otherwise, the valuable message is completely lost.

 

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points