Someone Like You by Karen Kingsbury (May 5, 2020)

Someone Like You: A Novel (The Baxter Family) by [Kingsbury, Karen]

Release date: May 5, 2020

Author: Karen Kingsbury

Plot summary: Kingsbury’s latest Baxter family novel takes on a popular pro-life issue. Maddie Baxter West is shaken to the core when she finds out everything she believed about her life was a lie. Her parents had always planned to tell her the truth about her past: that she was adopted as an embryo. But somehow the right moment never happened. Then a total stranger confronts Maddie with the truth and tells her something else that rocks her world—Maddie had a sister she never knew about. Betrayed, angry, and confused, Maddie leaves her new job and fiancé, rejects her family’s requests for forgiveness, and moves to Portland to find out who she really is. Dawson Gage’s life was destroyed when London Quinn, his best friend and the only girl he ever loved, is killed. In the hospital waiting room, London’s mother reveals that London might have had a sibling. The frozen embryo she and her husband donated decades ago. When Dawson finds Maddie and brings her to Portland, the Quinns—her biological parents—welcome her into their lives and hearts. Maddie is comforted by the Quinns’ love and intrigued by their memories of London, who was so much like her. Is this the family and the life she was really meant to have?

The Power Couple, Season 1 [2019] (Series Review)

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Plot Summary

Gabby and Vince Powers are both superheroes with the same goal of saving the people around them from certain evil. However, they can’t seem to keep their marriage out of trouble. Thus, in order to be ready for their toughest assignment, the couple decides to attend marriage counseling, but it only seems to make things worse. Will they be able to settle their differences before it’s too late?!?

Production Quality (1 point)

Although not all of the production qualities of The Power Couple are bad, such as okay video and audio, there are also quite a few other concerns to note. For instance, cheap special effects are used throughout the series, and camera work is inconsistent, including some unnecessarily tight shots. Similarly, the sets, locations, and props are fairly limited, and the soundtrack and its accompanying sound effects are beyond cheesy. It also goes without saying that many scenes seem like there aren’t enough people in the shot to adequately support the number of individuals the scene is supposed to represent. Further, the editing leaves much to be desired, which, along with the other problems, overall contributes to an underwhelming performance in this category.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Despite The Power Couple‘s childish premise, the dialogue is surprisingly not all bad as this story attempts to do something different and tries to present real issues. However, it’s simply not enough as the superficial nature of the narrative overtakes any small amount of potential there might have been. This is evidenced by too many very poor attempts to be funny and lots of surface conversations that prevent us from properly understanding who the characters are. Additionally, many biblical and possibly substantial concepts are awkwardly shoehorned into the plot; these ideas are improperly used to magically fix the characters’ problems in illogical and unrealistic ways. Then, before the viewer is prepared, the storyline abruptly ends and expects the audience to beg for another season. In short, though there was a very slight amount of potential in this idea, it wasn’t enough to rescue the narrative from triviality and lazy writing.

Acting Quality (1 point)

For the most part, the acting in The Power Couple is pedestrian and sometimes a bit worse. Emotions are usually forced in unrealistic ways even though line delivery is mostly fine. Some cast members are better than others, but all of the costuming is horrible. One positive note is that it’s good to see a husband and wife (Carlos and Alexa PenaVega) star alongside each other, but this section is overall a disappointment.

Continuity Quality (1.5 points)

While this series has a basic amount of continuity, as evidenced by continuations between episodes and consistent subplots being focused on, it’s still not as good as it could be. For one, each episode is extremely short, which raises the question of this even needing to be a series at all. Further, all character and story arcs are basically predictable and expected with no real twists and turns. Therefore, this rounds out a very underwhelming effort.

Conclusion

It’s very unclear how and why The Power Couple was made, but it’s unfortunately a squandered idea that could have been better in different hands. For one, this type of concept requires higher amounts of funding and a lot of writing collaboration to ensure cheesiness is avoided. In the end, it seems like whatever was spent on this series would have been better used in a different way, such as being saved for higher quality productions.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 14 points

Isaiah’s Legacy by Mesu Andrews (BTSNBM)

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Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Andrews’ latest novel, Isaiah’s Legacy, takes a different turn than many of it’s counterparts by thinking outside the box regarding Biblical narratives, but falls a bit short in several areas. Manasseh is a young boy who lives mostly in his own little world and struggles to cope with noise and crowds – two things that are very prevalent in the life of a future king. Zibah, his mother, fears for his future and feels helpless to teach him how to cope. Hezekiah, whose is living on borrowed time, doesn’t fully share Zibah’s level of concern about their son, but knows that something must be done if he is to rule Judah successfully. Shebna is a jealous man of Levite heritage who has been scheming for an advantageous political position for many years. On a visit to his brother Haruz’s home, he meets his niece, Shulle, and learns that she has a way with people society rejects. Shebna brings her to the palace under the guise of being a companion for Manasseh, but is secretly training her to influence the future king as he sees fit. As Shulle grows older, Shebna and his servant Belit, a sorceress, lead Shulle astray; and as Manasseh grows older, Shulle leads him astray. By the time Shulle and Manasseh are adults, they are fully immersed in the cuttthroat world of politics and surrounded by bad influences. Will they choose Yahweh’s way before it is too late? As previously mentioned, this story contains both strengths and weaknesses. On a positive note, the latter half of the novel has strong Biblical themes of redemption and forgiveness. Additionally, it is clear that the bad decisions Manasseh makes in this depiction are not related to his disorder, but his bitterness against his Maker. In contrast, the plot and storyline contain four central flaws. First, the storyline starts out on shaky ground with an information dump from Shebna that seeks to give the reader a historical background for coming events – it would have been better to divide the vast content in this novel between it and a sequel. Second, the last third/fourth of the novel tries to cover over ten years of content, which makes the ending a bit rushed. Third, there is too much page time spent explaining how pagan rituals were carried out, and author also dwells on sensual scenes between Manasseh and Shulle (before they follow Yahweh) for a bit too long. Lastly, though it is a noble idea to portray one of Israel’s kings as having Autism Spectrum Disorder [ASD], it is not clear why Andrews chose to do this. As a special ed major, I wholeheartedly affirm the inclusion of people who have special needs in literature, and think that they should be represented more than they are. However, every good story needs one or more specific reasons for why it’s characters exist as they do, and great stories will use these reasons as pivotal parts of the plot. If Manasseh having ASD does not directly tie in with the plot somehow, why does he have it at all? The answer to this question is never made clear. In summary, Andrews earns slightly below an average score in this section for numerous plot and storyline errors.

Character Development (2 points)

Comparatively, Manasseh is a fairly good protagonist who has realistic responses to change and tragedy. Shulle is a good secondary main character who makes realistic wrong decisions based on duty and the desire to protect her father. (spoiler) However, at times it is hard to know what her role in the story is, outside of calming Manasseh down and trying not to have children. As for the rest, Zibah is a relatable, flawed mother figure who wants her son to follow God and make good choices. Isaiah is a good minor character, but comes off as a bit too saintly at times. Shebna is a weak antagonist who is usually angry at someone or plotting…something. Lastly an additional error to note here is that Shulle’s father basically disappears shortly after the author introduces him, then reappears at the end of the novel with no explanation. This creates a plot hole. Overall, character development is mixed, which leaves Andrews with an average score here.

Creativity & Originality (0 points)

Unfortunately, there is not really anything creative or original to note in this novel that has not been done before in varying forms. Needless to say, this was not our favorite book by Andrews. As such, we do not recommend that it be made into a film or series. Early on in Andrews’ career, she had a rare talent for crafting original characters and deep, meaningful dialogue – see Love Amid the Ashes for an example of this. Because of this, we believe that she still has the potential to be a great author, and maybe even a screenwriter. But she, like many other authors, needs to consider collaboration as the key to future writing success.

Wish List Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

I Still Believe [2020] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Jeremy Camp didn’t grow up with much, but he always had the love of his family, which is why they supported him in his dream to pursue a music career. When he attended a Christian college to fulfill this goal, Jeremy unexpectedly met Melissa Henning, who he quickly fell in love with. However, as Jeremy and Melissa grew closer together, they embarked on a harrowing and arduous journey into the unknown as Melissa battled cancer. Through the twists and turns, they discovered that God is always present in the midst of suffering and that there’s always a purpose to pain.

Production Quality (3 points)

It’s no surprise that, after the success of I Can Only Imagine, the Erwin brothers and their team have crafted yet another perfect production. I Still Believe hits all the right notes in every aspect of production, including video quality, camera work, audio quality, sets, locations, and props. Many camera angles are creatively artistic, and the soundtrack is a huge plus as it enhances the audience experience in all portions of the film and seamlessly integrates Camp’s music without turning it into a product placement. Further, the editing professional handles a story that is obviously difficult to properly present due to its scope. In short, there is nothing negative to note in this section.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)

The Erwin Brothers, along with Jon Gunn, have no doubt mastered the art of the biopic as they have wisely chosen to focus their movie-making efforts on adapting real life stories into feature films. Though I Still Believe is a slight departure from the traditional Erwin brand since it zeroes in on a very small collection of characters, there are still no concerns with this storytelling adjustment. This narrative may signal a new era of Erwin creations, but it’s still another installment in their history of reliably quality offerings. In many ways, I Still Believe is almost two different movies as the first and second halves are quite different in tone, but these talented screenwriters correctly applied their God-given skills to weave the source material into a life-changing plot that will resound with many viewers from diverse backgrounds. Based off of real people, the characters therein are very poignant and relatable via realistic and profound dialogue that brings the story to life. Musical montages are responsibly used and don’t encroach upon important conversations that build characters; similarly, creative overlays effectively aid the complex plot presentation. Further, there are clear themes that are used throughout the film and serve to tie the major points together. Essentially, there are no issues to note in this section either.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Once again, in I Still Believe, the Erwin collective proves that they take great care in their casting and acting coaching work. Even though some of the cast members don’t entirely represent the real people they are portraying (which is the movie’s only flaw), every performance is still on point. Line delivery and emotional delivery are basically flawless as the audience is able to easily experience the characters’ feelings. Though this is a relatively small cast compared to previous Erwin projects, it still shines nonetheless and rounds out another blockbuster hit for the brothers.

Conclusion

Jeremy Camp’s compelling backstory was absolutely worth bringing to the big screen and will no doubt lead to further success for Kingdom Story Company. I Still Believe receives an additional x-factor point for being realistic, re-watchable, and generally worthwhile for all audiences. Many viewers will enjoy this film, and it’s likely to leave lasting impact on the Christian entertainment market. However, no matter what, we still highly recommend this film for all Christians and always look forward to future Erwin productions.

Final Rating: 9.5 out of 10 points

Home Sweet Home [2020] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

What Victoria mostly cares about in life is going from one relationship to the next so that she can be whoever she wants to be without having too much commitment. However, when one of her attempts to get a guy’s attention doesn’t quite go as she planned, she stubbornly decides to do whatever it takes to make him ask her out. Thus, she volunteers at the non-profit her prospect, Jason, heads up and finds herself suddenly building a house for a single mother and her family. Little does Victoria know that she’s about to gain a surprisingly new perspective on life that she never considered before.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a whole, Home Sweet Home is a near-perfect example of what a 2020 production should look like for freshman Christian film makers. Not only did they wisely use their budget without over-extending themselves, but they also made sure that key production elements demonstrated good quality, such as video, camera, audio, and music work. The sets, locations, and props are also efficiently used, and overall, there are really no negatives to highlight here save for some minor editing concerns. However, some of these issues can be attributed to the plot; in the end, this is a very solid production effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

From the get-go of this plot, it’s very clear that the writers were inspired by very strong and worthwhile themes of people living behind false exteriors versus being comfortable with who God created them to be. Also, Home Sweet Home isn’t afraid to shine a light on fake romantic relationships that may exist in a Hallmark view of the world as well as the ease of finding identity in “scoring” relationships in the Western world. In doing so, the creators gave a lot of attention to detail to produce a truly funny comedy based on mostly good dialogue. However, while many of the characters are spot-on, some of them, such as the male lead, leave a lot to be desired in the personality and motivation departments because it’s hard to get to know him as a person. Elsewhere, secondary characters and subplots could have been a bit deeper than they are had they been provided with more adequate screentime. To make room for them, some romantic comedy cliches, such as the returning ex-love interest, could have been cut out. In the end, even though the narrative follows a basically predictable progression toward a somewhat forced and convenient ending, Home Sweet Home demonstrates tons of potential for future projects because the writers clearly know how to properly integrate themes into their stories.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Despite the small cast, there are not many acting problems to note in this film. One of the biggest drawbacks, however, is the lack of adequate coaching for the lead actor as he seems lost a lot of the time, but then again, his role isn’t very expansive. Elsewhere, Natasha Bure posts an above-average performance while Sarah Kim is also a standout. In the end, like the movie as a whole, there are just small problems that hold this section back from taking the next step.

Conclusion

The 5×5 Productions team is clearly onto something with this unexpectedly refreshing release. With just a few minor tweaks, Home Sweet Home would have easily made the Hall of Fame. Nonetheless, the themes of this film make it worth your time and give us great hope for the future of this creative team’s work. With a bit more funding and collaboration, they could be going great places with their next project.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

A Child of the King (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Dr. Wesley King and his late wife were called to the jungles of South America to aid the needy and those who were considered to be hopeless. However, after his wife died, Wesley became lonely in his mission. In the states, a woman named Donna began following Wesley’s story via the letters he sent back to his home church. Then, Donna feels called to join Wesley in his overseas mission field, and God brings them together to minister to the least of those in South America.

Production Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, there are virtually no good aspects to this production as the audio quality is poor, including echoes in the background, a random soundtrack that sometimes interrupts lines, and some invasive outside noises. Similarly, the video quality is not quite what it should be, and there is some very poor lighting throughout the cheap sets and locations. Props also leave something to be desired, and the camera work is inconsistent at best. To top things off, the special effects used therein are very bad, and the editing is extremely choppy as some scenes drag on while others awkwardly or abruptly end. In the end, any small positives in this production are outweighed by the very obvious negatives.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

From beginning to end, the storyline of A Child of the King is very hard to follow since it’s filled with blank conversations between characters and lacks an overall focus or purpose. The stiff and awkward dialogue between characters makes it very difficult to relate to them as people, and the main character is basically perfect. The plot essentially meanders around without the viewer being able to easily follow its progression, and it’s really nothing more than an informational video or mock docu-drama about overseas missions. While there may be some good ideas lost in here somewhere, people who can relate these concepts to the real world are needed to bring them to life. Further, the narrative just randomly ends in an unexpected place without any warning or resolution because that would require something to resolve in the first place.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Surprisingly, the acting of A Child of the King is its strongest point even though it’s mostly pedestrian, generic, and boring. There’s neither anything special nor horrible about the cast members’ performances, despite the fact that they have little content to work with. One bright spot is that the cast, for the most part, is culturally accurate with real accents and dialects, which is unexpected based on the remainder of the movie. Nonetheless, this average section isn’t enough to save this failed effort from itself.

Conclusion

An international film should very rarely be made in conjunction with other projects due to the time and financial freedom it requires. However, 2019 was an indicator of how committed the JC Films team was to producing as much content as they possibly could. The result of this is even more low quality Christian films to crowd out the market. Hopefully, however, the tides are still turning since Christian audiences want and deserve better than half-baked ideas.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

When Silence Sings by Sarah Loudin Thomas

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Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

When Silence Sings is a very creative novel that displays a refreshing Biblical worldview and an openness to diversity that is rarely seen in Christian fiction; however, the novel is a mixed bag that had the potential to be much better than it is. Colman Harpe is a young man caught in the middle of a clan battle between two prominent mountain families – the McLeans and Harpes. He feels called by God to be a preacher, but isn’t quite sure what to do with that calling…until God tells him exactly what, Tell the McLeans about Me. Colman resists this message because he believes the McLeans don’t deserve forgiveness and love, and when he does, one disaster leads to another until he’s lost in the mountain caves with no hope of escape. On the outside, Serepta McLean is a hardened, bitter middle-aged woman who enjoys establishing control and dominance over everyone and anyone she comes in contact with by any means necessary. At least, that’s what she wants everyone to see. On the inside, Serepta is a hurting, vulnerable young girl who has never been able to escape her past. When Colman and Serepta find their carefully constructed lives shaken by the One who loves them most, will they choose to withdraw or look up? This novel is an interesting mix of excellent characters and a creative storyline and too great of an emphasis on physical attraction paired with some unusual elements. It was a creative idea to parallel Colman’s character arc with the prophet Jonah’s, but while the author seems committed to making this an allegory in the beginning, the Jonah themes fade away and she turns to other Biblical illustrations as the pages go by. Thus, plot inconsistency is the first major error here. The second major error is harder to explain, but is in existence. The author writes in a whimsical, mysterious tone that is not inherently bad, but leans towards sensuality during conversations between characters and their love interests. In contrast, the plot contains several strengths. First, her messaging is very good. The way she illustrates the absurdity of treating so-called different people as such through her dialogue and mental imaging is excellent. Finally, her unique take on both the Gospel message and God’s grace is very meaningful. In culmination, Thomas earns an average score for a plot that had roots but no blooms.

Character Development (2.5 points)

In comparison, Thomas’ characters are her biggest writing strength. Colman is a very human prophet who has just as many strengths and weaknesses as the next person. Serepta is an excellent antagonist whose backstory – while incomplete – gives clear reasons for her behavior. (spoiler) Additionally, the fact that everything in her life isn’t fixed at the conclusion of the tale is much appreciated by us here at BOR (which now stands for Box Office Razzmatazz😎). The minor characters are also slightly above average because their character arcs are unpredictable and each one has at least a partial backstory. However, there are a few flaws here as well. First, the romances between characters are portrayed as being based mostly on physical attributes, and some of the same relationships display some unusual behavior. Lastly, while each character displays consistent themes, it is hard to get to know them because of how many there are. This novel would have been better if the content in the same was broken up in a series – we could get to know the characters better if they had an individual voice. Likewise, the third-person narrative style of writing makes all the characters seem a bit impersonal. In spite of these flaws, Thomas shows much potential for future novels and or screenplays because her spiritual foundation is strong. Therefore, she earns a slightly above average score here for making an effort to include substance alongside whimsy.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Thomas earns a full point in originality for her obvious grasp on good character foundations, and for her effort to portray diversity as being multifaceted – as not only involving race inclusion, but acceptance of behavioral, cultural, and other factors that make all people unique. For this reason, we here at BOR feel that Thomas has the potential to be a great screenwriter and recommend that she collab with other good authors like Francine Rivers and Susie Finkebeiner to create scripts based on her novels and creative ideas.

Wish List Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Joseph, Close to Jesus {Joseph of Nazareth} (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Joseph never chose to be the earthly stepfather of the Messiah, but by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, he accepted his role to take care of Mary and the Christ Child for as long as God wanted him to. Joseph was there before, during, and after the birth of Jesus, so he had a unique perspective on Yahweh’s plan to save humanity from sin.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Like many other Lux Vide\Trinity Broadcasting Network biblical presentations, the production of Joseph, Close to Jesus is typically fine. It has authentic sets, locations, and props, along with good video quality and audio quality. As a whole, it seems realistic even though the action scenes sometimes employ wild camera work and though some shots are unnecessarily close. The soundtrack is a bit generic and dramatic at times, but most aspects of this production are acceptable. The editing sometimes leaves something to be desired due to some lagging scenes and quick cuts, but on the whole, this is at least an average effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

From start to finish, Joseph of Nazareth adopts a very quick and forceful plot progression as the story is forced forward at a breakneck pace that doesn’t let things naturally develop or allow time for characters to be deepened. Besides this poorly constructed premise, Joseph comes off as a basically perfect and all-knowing character even though he appears a bit crazed at times. In focusing on his inaccessible qualities, some key biblical scenes are brushed over or portrayed in extremely vague ways, which confuses the audience. Other scenes are very muted and blank, and dialogue in general leaves much to be desired. Elsewhere, there are a handful of fantastical and ethereal elements that cause spiritual themes to be painted either in a magical light or as untouchable. In summary, the combination of the speedy storyline and the general oddness of some of the characters and plot points prevents this section from having any points.

Acting Quality (1 point)

While some cast members appear to be culturally authentic, many of them, especially the lead ones, are not and obviously belong to cultures other than those who lived in first century Judea. Moreover, while the costuming of all characters is fine, the acting is extremely theatrical and dramatic. It feels like many of them are putting on a play rather than trying to become the characters, which further gives this film an air of elitism and other-worldliness. Further, emotions are inadequately depicted, and some lines are very forced, which rounds out a disappointing effort.

Conclusion

Joseph, Close to Jesus had a lot going for it since it promised to provide a unique perspective on the Nativity and on Jesus’ early years. However, it committed many unforced errors and was more devoted to making the Bible seem like a Shakespearean experience rather than a Spirit-inspired historical account that still has profound application for us today. Unfortunately, this was the case for most Scriptural entertainment prior to The Passion of the Christ. Thankfully, in recent years, God has provided the market with better options for accessible biblical depictions of the First Christmas on both the big screen (The Nativity Story) and the small screen (The Chosen). These offerings are much more interesting for your family to enjoy this holiday season.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

Fat Chance [2016] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Allison has always struggled with her weight, but she doesn’t know what to do to change herself. She feels ostracized by other people, and when she feels like she might be interested in a guy from her church group, she feels like she has no chance due to her image. Thus, she decides she needs to find love on the internet…by using her roommate’s picture on her online dating profile. However, things don’t go as she originally planned them to go, and everyone learns a hard lesson about self-esteem and being themselves.

Production Quality (2 points)

For the most part, Fat Chance has a fine production, including good video and audio quality. The soundtrack is intriguing, but some of the camera angles are a bit odd at times. Similarly, lighting is good throughout even if the sets, locations, and props are a bit limited. Even still, they are mostly used well, and the editing is adequate. In the end, this is essentially an above average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Fat Chance definitely isn’t afraid to explore some very relevant body image issues, but this film may not have gone about it in the best way. This is a difficult topic to tastefully portray in a movie, and some of the attempts to highlight the weight of the main character are questionable at best. There are also quite a few distasteful jokes about being overweight, but there are also some other areas of comedy that are actually somewhat funny because they poke fun of silly societal trends. Elsewhere, the writers definitely had some good intentions with character development (since the characters are intended to be based on real people), yet there are also some very poorly designed “bad” characters who are basically really obvious strawmen. However, the dialogue throughout the film is pretty good despite the somewhat strong messaging, and these worldviews are agreeable since they explore important topics of how people paint themselves on social media, how some Christians act fake, and how it’s better to be yourself. In a similar vein, while Fat Chance also includes a lot of typical dating service plot elements (two characters are virtually dating and know each other in real life but don’t know that the other one is the virtual date), it does present a realistic parody of the problems these services can cause. In the end, this storyline is a mixed bag of missed opportunities and potential for the future. With deeper characters and subtler messaging, this plot could have gone a lot further.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Despite having a partially “amateur” cast, Fat Chance has a handful of bright spots among its cast members. Many of them definitely make good attempts to become the characters, and while some are a bit awkward at times, they are mostly good at exhibiting emotions and delivering lines. Thus, this rounds out a basically average effort.

Conclusion

More Christian movies and series need to explore the unpopular opinions and topics found in Fat Chance, but there are obviously better ways to go about this particular concept. Self-worth and self image are both important and sensitive issues to look at, which is why they must be done in consultation with people who have struggled with them and in conjunction with the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the creators of this film demonstrated potential for the future by making Fat Chance, so it will be interesting to see how they build off of this movie in their potentially upcoming projects.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

When Hope Calls, Season 1 (Series Review)

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It’s like When Calls the Heart on an obscure streaming service!

Plot Summary

When Lillian and Grace, two orphan siblings, agreed to travel to a new town to run an orphanage, they had no idea what would be in store for them. Of course, they probably could have made an educated guess since they went from Hope Valley to a basic copy of this fantastical borough. This new town has equally important aspects as Hope Valley, such as the obligatory town doctor, the expected general store, and of course, a predictably hair-gelled Mountie just waiting to get hitched. What else could fans of When Calls the Heart want besides another series on the cable channel rather than on a streaming service nobody uses?

Production Quality (1.5 points)
The budget for When Hope Calls (WHC) is clearly lower than When Calls the Heart (WCTH), and this is most strikingly obvious in the poorly constructed town set that looks like a bunch of clapboard buildings plopped in the middle of a mowed-over field. The structures’ false fronts are also too much. This aside, must like WCTH, WHC is limited to just a few select sets, props, and locations, and there are some cheap special effects on top of this. Nonetheless, the production is aided by typically fine video quality, audio quality, and camera work, even if the soundtrack is pedestrian and boring. The editing tends to lag at times, such as leaving scenes running too long, but this production is overall just average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)
Much like its parent show, not very significant happens throughout the course of the WHC “plot.” The only remotely interesting elements are used up by the third episode as the series devolves into typical small-town romance nonsense. If it’s possible, the characters are much more blank and cardboard in WHC than in WCTH even if they are less sappy in the former. This is created by a lot of stiff and awkward attempts at conversations as some characters seem to be mysteriously concealing things that are never revealed while others seem to wonder why they are even there. The dialogue is very stock and phoned-in, which creates wooden characters, and the so-called comedic elements are beyond cheesy. Any struggles the characters experience can’t be adequately related to because they seem so plastic and forced. Elsewhere, the town setup is shockingly unrealistic on a historical level, and the Christian themes are very shoehorned in. In the end, with no driving purpose or actual point, the first season’s story is basically just a lot of trumped-up drama with nothing substantial to back it up.

Acting Quality (1 point)
In keeping with Michael Landon Jr.’s common practices, the cast of WHC appears to be as fake as WCTH’s (except not as over the top). This includes how they interact with each other as well as what they look like. On appearances, none of them look historically accurate except for some slight attempts at realistic costuming. When it comes to acting, line delivery seems laborious for some cast members while others seem bored with their roles. Emotions overall seemed forced and unnatural. Some cast members show potential in different roles but don’t live up to their full potential. In the end, this section’s rating is basically expected.

Continuity Quality (.5 point)
As previously mentioned, the best potential for engaging continuity is quickly discarded in the beginning and replaced with drab procedural recurrences. In the middle and at the end of the season, many of the episodes run together and feel like the same thing is happening over and over again. Then, this is culminated with an awkwardly forced climax and alleged cliff-hanger ending in the final episode. Basically, this season doesn’t have much going for it.

Conclusion

What else is there to say? Shows like When Hope Calls have a specific purpose in mind and do whatever it takes to fulfill that purpose. The storylines are predetermined, the production is as cheap as possible, and the cast is as pageantry as expected. All of these criteria are tailor-made for a reason, so we have to commend MLJ and company for at least being consistent in their poor novel adaptations. Why not try to capitalize on the success of a series like When Calls the Heart? However, what is it ultimately accomplishing besides creating more sub-par Christian entertainment?

Final Rating: 3 out of 14 points

Sacred [2017] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Barrett Lenox, despite his dark past, aspires to succeed in the boxing ring. However, the pressures of helping his wife, Danielle, build their life together, are weighing on him. Her father, who is training him, also pushes him to do better. Will he ever measure up to who he needs to be before more time has passed him by?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

At the beginning of the film, the opening sequence is intriguing and shows promise of creative potential. Also, the soundtrack is effective, and video quality and audio quality are at least average. For the most part, camera work and lighting are good, even if there are some unnecessarily dark scenes throughout. Unfortunately, the editing is somewhat flat, which puts a drag on things, but these efforts were overall good for the tiny budget the production team had to work with. In the end, this is at least an honest attempt.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Since Sacred is only based on a handful of characters and is basically an extended short film, it would have been good to see more depth from both the storyline and the characters. Working with only one subplot requires a lot of refinement, yet there are good attempts at flashbacks throughout this film, which definitely help things. Even so, there needed to be more substantial character-building dialogue to make it easier to get to know them as real people. As they are, the conversations are a bit too matter of fact and flat, and there are a lot of sports training montages for a less-than-an-hour film. Thus, there is a lot of wasted time that takes away from better possibilities. Moreover, there are a lot of interesting concepts and ideas throughout the movie that make it more worthwhile than it would have been, even if the Christian message needs some refinement. The ending is certainty unexpected and slightly creative though it needed a better lead-up than it had. In the end, Sacred has a non-typical plot structure that shows a lot of potential but didn’t quite go as far as it could have.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, the acting of this film is average since it has some good scenes and some poorly executed ones. At times, emotions are overdone, and sometimes, lines are forced. Some cast members appear to be trying too hard, but there are also a handful of good performances. Also, some of the makeup work is fairly low quality, and there’s an unusual insinuation (without hard evidence) that a Caucasian cast member is playing an African-American character, but it’s difficult to know. In the end, this section rounds out a passable effort.

Conclusion

The creators of Sacred were onto something, but it’s possible that they didn’t quite know how to convey it. With such limited resources, it was wise for them to choose a shorter-than-usual runtime though it could have been better utilized by delving deeper into character development. Because of this, the story concept could use a remake, or the creative team could use this film as a foundation to build on for better ideas in the future. Either way, it will be interesting to see what they produce next.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

The Reliant (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

When the American dollar literally collapses overnight, a family is attacked by desperadoes and is forced to take their gun supply and survival gear into the woods behind their house in order to fend for themselves in the elements. However, the men who gunned their father down are still in pursuit (for some reason), which forces the family to either band together or tear each other apart as they try to defend themselves and survive in the brave new world of looting and living off the land. What will become of them all?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

It’s clear that the money that was donated by people (so that they could be listed as executive producers on the credits) was mostly well-used and not only spent on guns and weaponry. Video quality and audio quality are good, and since the film is mostly filmed in the outdoors, this definitely helps things. The soundtrack is also passable. However, much of the camera work is shaky and dizzy in the name of being action-oriented. Also, most of the indoor scenes are unnecessarily dark and poorly lit. Further, the editing is extremely choppy, which makes things hard to follow, but there are likely other factors to this problem, such as the plot.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

From the get-go, the story makes zero sense. There’s no reason why the world would immediately descend into chaos basically in one day due to the sudden collapse of the dollar. How did it happen? What led to this extreme result and knee-jerk looting? This idea is too big and expansive to focus ninety percent of the plot on a collection of characters wandering around in the woods with guns. Did we mention that this movie is OBSESSED with guns? It holds nothing back in being outright propaganda that’s desperate to both create further political divide and garner the attention of powerful lobbying organizations. These concerns aside, there are tons of characters in The Reliant, and while flashbacks are used throughout, it’s not enough to make up for other problems, such as awkward conversations about vague things that are occurring in the world outside the forest, shoehorned Christian concepts, cheesy survival concepts, and outright fundamentalist messaging. Much like Unplanned, there was much fake outrage about The Reliant‘s so-called undeserved MPAA rating, but once again, the rating was actually justified due to the high amount of needless violence without proper balance. Regardless of this, the characters of The Reliant have extremely steep arcs and lack proper motivation for their actions as things just randomly happen one after another, and the plot lacks clear direction or purpose other than to shove certain worldviews down viewers’ throats. Hence, this section’s negative rating is given due to propaganda and due to total pointlessness.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Throughout nearly every scene, the cast members of The Reliant are coached to exhibit extreme emotions, including a lot of yelling and screaming. Though there is some potential despite these annoyances, dramatic and tense scenes are totally butchered either with awkward line delivery, off-beat emotional delivery, or general uncomfortability with the given roles. In the end, there is little good to highlight in this movie.

Conclusion

After the screener was provided for this film, one of the creators strongly requested that they be given the chance to “approve” this review before it was publicly posted. Surprisingly, this was the first and only request we’ve ever received for this to happen. Moreover, it further shows the amount of control that’s surrounding this movie and reflects the mentality behind its creation. Films like The Reliant have a clear agenda to push on their audiences and purposely make themselves lightning rods for controversy with the hopes of garnering attention from certain groups. There were no attempts in this movie to craft a meaningful plot based on accessible characters, so even if the creative team had the best message in the world, it’s still not correctly packaged. In the end, there are just too many issues here to discern any amount of potential there might have been in this half-baked idea.

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

China Cry (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Sung Neng Yee was glad when the Chinese Communists rose to power in her homeland to drive out the occupying Japanese, but she never anticipated the ultimate consequences this would cause. First, it cost her father his wealth and respect as a successful doctor, and then, the Communists began to tighten their grip on every aspect of Chinese life. However, she and her fellow people adjusted and went forward. Moreover, after beginning a family of her own, Sung Yeng Nee was accused of consorting with Westernizers and Christians. In the darkest moment of her life, she reached out to the God she had always shunned for the help only He could give her.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As an early 1990s production, China Cry has a handful of concerns with it, such as a loud, outdated soundtrack and odd soft lighting at times. Video quality is also sometimes blurry even though the camera work is overall fine, including good establishing shots. For the most part, audio quality is average, and the sets, locations, and props are very realistic, culturally accurate, and historically appropriate. Although the film overall seems outdated and has a lot of quick cuts and awkward transitions due to time jumps in the plot, the production does enough to achieve an average rating, especially considering the time period it was made in.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Right out of the gate, unnecessary narration tends to hurt the plot development, but once it ceases, things begin to unfold naturally without hindrances even though the narration does pop up here and there afterward. Had more substantial and qualitative flashbacks been employed to replace the narration, this plot would have been even better. This would have better helped to bridge the large time jumps throughout the story (non-linear plot structure is the only way to effectively handle lots of content), yet on its face, this narrative is still engaging and very intriguing due to the obscurely interesting portions of history it explores. Key themes are subtly introduced in order to let the character feel more authentic and real than they otherwise would be; the writers definitely did a good job at presenting people at face value rather than trying to push messages via strawmen. Even still, there are some lagging scenes that could have been better re-purposed to improve character growth even more, especially since the second half of the story tends to rush through a lot of content that would have been better explored slowly. This is why a non-linear plot style centered around the weak explanation for the narration would have been appropriate. In the end, China Cry still packs a very powerful message that’s still relevant for all Christians today. It’s too bad that’s is hidden behind poorly designed storytelling, but this true account is nonetheless engaging for all audiences.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Although many of the cast members tend to be dramatically stiff, the lead actress and lead actor are standouts for their comfortably real line delivery and believable emotions. Others tend to lack natural flair for acting, but it’s refreshing to see a culturally authentic cast. Costuming also reflects this commitment to cultural accuracy. In the end, the acting improves enough by the second half of the movie, and the lead acting carries it most of the way.

Conclusion

China Cry definitely deserves a remake, possibly in a miniseries form to further explore alternate subplots and to present the story in a more comprehensive and non-linear fashion. In the end, this film was made very early on in Christian entertainment, but it was onto something we don’t see in many newer movies: a poignant message about relying on God during difficult times and witnessing His miraculous intervention. Thus, many audiences will enjoy this movie, and maybe, new film makers will be inspired to try something outside the norm.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Bonhoeffer, Agent of Grace (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Dietrich Bonhoeffer didn’t want to get involved as the Nazis rose to power in Germany and demanded absolute submission from all institutions, including churches. However, after taking time away in America, he sensed God calling him back to his homeland. Then, the Nazi regime hit home as his twin sister and her Jewish husband had to escape Germany for fear of Nazi nationalism. Thus, when a close friend invited him to get involved in the underground working against Nazi power, Bonhoeffer felt he had to do something to stand against tyranny. Nonetheless, he never anticipated how far he would have to go and what he would experience as a result.

Production Quality (2 points)

For an early 2000s production, it’s clear that a lot of effort was put into Agent of Grace to make it historically authentic, which is evidenced by a great use of realistic-looking sets, props, and locations. Also, the video quality is mostly good except for some outdated-looking portions, and the camera work is standard. Audio quality is on the mark, but it would be nice if there was a more substantial soundtrack to enhance the emotional experience. At the beginning of the movie, the editing is commendable as it uses an overlaying style with effective out-of-order storytelling, yet this is discarded in the last two-thirds of the film and replaced with a very standard linear style. There are also some abruptly awkward cuts that put a damper on things, but overall, this is a respectable production, especially for the time period, and is good enough to be above-average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

There’s no doubt that the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is an excellent and worthwhile one to tell, and in this endeavor, this storyline makes good attempts at character development via adequate dialogue. Where the beginning and the end are interesting, the middle of the story tends to sag a bit as it’s not very engaging and merely presents a collection of isolated and disconnected scenes where things sometimes happen without much lead-up. The good thing is that narration, while it would have been easy to lean on, is entirely avoided, and the conversations between characters are realistic enough. The quick passage of time in the narrative is often difficult to deal with, so it might have been better to frame the entire story as a flashback from the ending sequence since bridging large time gaps while also keeping audience isn’t an easy feat at all. Even still, many sequences are quite good and make the movie worth your time although the amount of off-screen content shows there’s too much in this story to cover in one film. In the end, Agent of Grace is a great effort and is one that was rarely seen in the early 2000s, so at the very least, it makes for a good historical experience.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The best part of this movie is the culturally correct acting and the culturally authentic casting. The costuming is also historically accurate. Besides this, the actual acting quality is very professional, including line delivery and emotional expression. There are very few errors to note here…there are just a few lapses, but this may be due to other elements. Overall, this strong section is enough to push the film past the halfway mark.

Conclusion

This historical account would definitely work better as a miniseries, especially since there are many side plots that didn’t have a chance for exploration in Agent of Grace. There’s a lot of interest and intrigue surrounding this period of history, so more time would have been good. Unfortunately, this film was made before Christian series were even considered outside the children’s entertainment realm; thus, a remake of Bonhoeffer’s narrative and the related elements would be pertinent. Nevertheless, this movie is still worth your time as it portrays a highly important tale that’s still relevant for us today.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Crave: The Fast Life (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

For years, Max has resented his father for leaving them. Now, this anger boils beneath the surface as he endeavors to make a big name for himself as a club promoter in the LA night club scene. However, when he’s faced with a lucrative offer he can’t refuse, little does he know that he’s sinking deeper into pride and arrogance. He refuses to turn to God as things seem to be falling apart around him, but a series of events begins to change his heart and remind him of his mother’s faith.

Production Quality (2 points)

Since it is a 2018 production, Crave: The Fast Life should have exhibited a bit more of a dynamic nature. As it is, the video quality is grainy at times, even though the camera work is mostly fine. At times, there is odd lighting throughout, but all production elements do get better as they go. Subtle camera angles throughout reveal well-placed recurring props, and settings are overall realistic and authentic. The soundtrack is also effectively integrated throughout, and the editing is mostly average. In the end, the production does enough in the second half to achieve and above-average score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

From the get-go, it seems like the screenwriters have a fairly interesting story to share in Crave, which is evidenced by an effective beginning that contains a key character flashback. Other flashbacks are also well-done throughout the course of the plot, yet this technique isn’t used to its fullest potential as the storyline tends to jump around in time using only time stamps to keep the audience oriented. This method of storytelling isn’t the best, even though there are some good attempts to gradually develop character personality and motive. Even so, the time jumps can be a bit disorienting at times, and while the avoidance of narration is commendable, it’s still somewhat confusing for character continuity. Sometimes, dialogue tends to be a bit forward and forced, and the Christian message-pushing seems off-base as it’s portrayed as primarily a church-going habit combined with some behavior modification. There’s some sermonizing done by ‘perfect’ Christian characters who seem to assume that giving people verses without getting to know them is sufficient for a life change. However, one of the plot’s central themes is a hard, realistic look at how generational patterns repeat, which is good, but it tends to wade into some too realistic and slightly edgy content at times. The middle of the story lags and loses some focus and creativity as dynamic storytelling is exchanged for Christian platitudes and quick fixes. The character arcs in the last third of the film are too steep to be believed, and it all culminates in a very quick and rushed ending that easily fixes things with little to no consequences. In the end, there was a lot of potential here, so hopefully, next time, this creative team will be able to work out the kinks of their otherwise good storytelling.

Acting Quality (2 points)

On the whole, the acting in Crave is mostly average. It starts out a bit slow but improves with time like other elements of the film do. Some scenes can feel a bit awkward and have a one-take tone to them while others come off as quickly filmed. Moreover, emotional scenes can seem forced at times, but in the big picture, there is enough good here to outweigh the inexperience. The cast members appear to mean well and want to do their best, so this is a good way to approach things. In the end, this film has some positive marks, and it’s a good start for this creative team.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that Christian entertainment creators are trying to expand the horizons of the genre with films like Crave that would have never been considered just under a decade ago. This progress is encouraging, so we hope to see more forward motion in this area. However, as creativity grows, we also need to see production, acting, and plot qualities grow with it, especially storyline and character growth. We’re just now getting to the point where Christian entertainment is depicting ‘flawed’ characters in the world outside the church, so now, as Christians, we need to get better at telling captivating stories that will truly reach people for Christ.

Final Rating: 5.5 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 World We Make (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

The Grove family has had their share of heartache over the past few years, but family friend Jordan Bishop has always been a constant support for them. However, the dynamics begin to shift when Jordan and Lee begin to develop a relationship after the grief seems to settle. Many discourage them from getting involved, and the small town seemingly works against their being together. Together, they experience unexpected prejudice and bias while discovering that they had more hiding below the surface than they previously realized.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a 2019 film, The World We Make is the type of respectable production we should be seeing time and again. There are very few flaws to point out here save for the slightly awkward editing near the end of the film (likely due to large story scope). Camera work, video quality, and audio quality are all basically flawless even though most scenes are filmed outdoors. The sets, locations, and props are extremely authentic and well-utilized; on-location shooting is definitely a big plus. Although the soundtrack could be a bit more than it is, this is a very high-level effort for a partially low-budget film, which goes to show what a little experience and proper collaboration can do for a movie.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Brian Baugh has always been committed to developing raw and real storylines based on accessible characters (I’m Not Ashamed). While The World We Make is one of his calmer tales, it’s nonetheless refreshing and believable. While the scope of this story may be a bit narrow, it’s nonetheless true-to-life and demonstrates great understanding of real people. The central romance is deeper than what we usually see in these types of films because it feels more believable and everyday. There are some very important themes explored, including grief avoidance, small town prejudice, and racial ostracizing. Characters make realistic decisions based on personality and motive rather than on plot necessity, and the storyline has a few slightly unexpected turns. As a whole, this is a very enjoyable plot to witness, and while it could have been a bit better since the ending is fairly rushed and somewhat cutoff, it’s still great as it is, which is enough to push this film over the top and onto the Hall of Fame.

Acting Quality (3 points)

There are virtually no flaws in the acting department. Caleb Castille owns another starring role, and Kevin Sizemore adapts a unique character that suits him. Gunnar Sizemore is a supporting role, but he could be a new rising star. Further, Gregory Alan Williams demonstrates a much more effective role than he’s played in the past. Overall, there is clear acting coaching present here as emotions and lines are authentically delivered, which rounds out a very commendable effort.

Conclusion

Although The World We Make could have been a bit more dynamic than this, it mostly reaches its fullest potential as a film. There are a few nitpicks, but in the grand scheme of things, Brian Baugh is continually setting himself apart as a master of characters, which seems to give him a better proclivity for series writing rather than movie writing. Indeed, not counting this year, we’ve had a longstanding drought in Christian series, so with new opportunities coming available (VidAngel), we may be poised to seeing a breakout in creators like Baugh directing their talents toward series rather than only films. Regardless of what happens, The World We Make is another good addition to the Hall of Fame and is one you’ll definitely want to make time for.

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

When Calls the Heart, Season 6 (Series Review)

We don’t speak of her anymore

Plot Summary

And once again we return to the fake small town known as Hope Valley for another fruitless season of people living in the dream world crafted by the series creators. Hardly anybody remembers Jack the Mountie anymore except for the fact that he and Elizabeth were married long enough to produce an instant child who’s coincidentally named after him. While Daniel Lissing willingly left the show, which was last season’s biggest news, Lori Loughlin was literally handcuffed, removed, and totally scrubbed from the show. The shadow of her scandal looms over the sixth season, especially with how Hallmark mishandled the whole ordeal and drew unnecessary attention to the problems. As a whole, Abigail’s awkward exit from the show and the subsequent complete rewrite of the show is the most interesting things that happened, but why are we not surprised? Michael Landon Jr. always planned to subject Erin Krakow to his favorite young-widow-starts-sort-of-dating-again treatment as he always has, so there’s nothing left to do but once again point out the same old flaws this series commits and count down the minutes for the Hearties to descend on my little blog post to vehemently defend all things wholesome in the face of such heartless (lol) criticism.

Production Quality (2 points)
What’s a Hallmark production without the same carbon-copy lineup of good camera work and video quality, acceptable audio quality, and that predictable, nauseatingly bubbly soundtrack? When Calls the Heart part VI checks all the proverbial boxes in this category, and it’s getting very difficult to differentiate any of the seasons from each other (except for the first two). Hope Valley still consists of the same old sets, locations, and props that are no doubt re-purposed for other Hallmark productions and are designed to make the audience believe this is a real Western town. Also, there’s still that tiny forest area Bill goes to dramatically reveal another part of his vastly complex yet noticeably cagey backstory. The only complaint for this section (besides their doing the same thing with no noticeable changes or improvements) is that we still don’t have a set for the beauty salon where the female characters get their hair done (although we might have gotten a quick glimpse at it in the finale).

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)
As we’ve said before, ever Hamilton took over Hope Valley, nothing has ever been the same. We just get the same old helium-infused characters spinning in circles as they retrace old plots steps over and over again. The only chances we have to get outside of the Hope Valley crossroads are Bill’s forest trips to tell us another part of his ever-fluctuating history, but now that we have a new Mountie, I guess we’ll have some trips to that bridge or something. Elsewhere, Elizabeth keeps us wondering why she’s even still in the series as her heart (lol) is passed around like a football and only exists for Michael Landon Jr. and company to continue their fetish of pairing a woman with a law enforcement character just long enough for her to get pregnant before killing said man near the end of the movie\series or even in between installments. Seriously, how is Elizabeth and Lucas vs Nathan any different from Charles vs Jack (except that Marcus Rosner was an essential addition to the show yet was stolen from us)? Elsewhere, the town is littered with many empty-minded side romances that they desperately want us to care about (although Aren Buchholz is quickly becoming one of the most important aspects of the entire series). Even Rosemary is losing her luster as a satirical comic relief who reminds us how un-serious the whole ordeal is as the writers are muting her character to go all dark and brooding because of [WHOOPS SPOILER]. And then there’s that whole situation with Abigail. Ironically, just before Lori Loughlin was led away by the police, her character made a hilariously funny reference to how Bill needed to bring some random bad guy to justice, and this is definitely the defining moment of the entire season. Loughlin’s scandalous shadow looms large over the poor town; even after the writers awkwardly tried to erase her from the universe’s memories, everything was clunky following the hiatus. Subplots awkwardly start and stop with no real conclusions. Scenes between Elizabeth and Lucas seem directly copied from Beauty and the Beast (yes, he gave her a library). Gowen is as uneven as ever (seriously, what do the writers expect from him at this point?). They all seem lost without Abigail to guide them in their everyday lives, but alas, she and Cody (awwww he left too!) has bigger fish to fry in court “back east.” Thus, with nothing really new to say here besides the same garbage we’ve seen from the past two indiscernible seasons, Hearties only have this incoherent stream of consciousness to parse through as they rush from Facebook to “own” the author of this post with zingers better suited for a clickbait news site.

Acting Quality (0 points)
For the most part, the acting of this season is as sappy as ever, but there are a handful of instances, especially near the end, that feel very muted and more scripted than usual. This is no doubt that this is due to some of the redone footage after Loughlin’s untimely exit, and the cast members were likely just emotionally distraught over her absence. Overall, there’s really nothing new to write home about (although Elizabeth does quite a bit of writing these days), and this section is award no points because we expect better than this after six seasons.

Continuity Quality (0 points)
As previously mentioned, some of this season’s subplots seem to disappear from the writing with no warning, which is a likely byproduct of the rework done following Loughlin’s arrest. Otherwise, it’s just typical plug and play romances as the writers introduce one after another to the point where you can’t hardly tell the different between them. Also, as a side note, at least a third of the subplots in season six relate in some way to the upcoming summer spinoff show When Hope Calls, which is possibly where many characters will escape to once When Calls the Heart finally runs out of steam.

Conclusion

Oh yeah, so there’s a seventh season coming up. MLJ has at least two more seasons to use Elizabeth’s indecisiveness and lack of personality as a carrot to dangle in front of his rabid fans, but sooner or later, they’ll get tired of this song and dance. With Loughlin’s scandal-ridden exit, this series is already running on fumes and has only been sustained by constant romance bait-and-switch. I mean, is anybody the least bit annoyed with how they treat Elizabeth? Anyhow, this has been another WCTH review from your favorite reviewer in which I didn’t talk about much substantial and just sort of rambled on about random things I thought of while I binge-watched this season. Begin commenting now……………………….

Final Rating: 2 out of 14 points

God Bless the Broken Road (Movie Review)

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I need a loan from the pawn shop!

Plot Summary

When Amber’s husband is killed in an overseas bombing while on tour in the Middle East, her entire life seems to come apart piece by piece. She struggles to support her and her daughter in a small town because she obviously didn’t get any military benefits from the government. She also pushes everyone away and doesn’t go to church anymore, but thankfully, a semi-bad-boy race car driver has crashed in town because he needed some time off from doing whatever it was he was doing before. This gives him time to do stuff with all the kids in town, which is where he becomes obsessed with Amber’s daughter and eventually Amber herself. However, Amber still is struggling financially to the point where she needs an old-fashioned loan from the pawn shop. Will the madness ever end?

Production Quality (2 points)

As per usual for most recent Harold Cronk and PureFlix productions, God Bless the Broken Road has a fine, generic one to offer with nothing particularly special or negative about it. The sets, locations, and props are somewhat limited, but camera work, video quality, and audio quality are all fine. The vanilla soundtrack leaves something to be desired, and the editing is poor because of the nature of the story, but on the whole, this is a fine attempt. However, this brand of production is also becoming very common place in Christian entertainment, so it’s time for deep-pocketed outfits like PureFlix to show us a little something more.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-2 points)

Regardless, any good this film has to offer is totally negated by the total nonsense of this plot. At times, it feels copied from a Karen Kingsbury novel since this idea has been done so much before, but it’s actually worse because of the logical inconsistencies and flimsy premise. Too many unrealistic things happen that don’t appear to be rooted in reality, and this makes a mockery of real problems people may face in life. Most of the scenes are cheesily forced to convey a certain point in typical PureFlix Obvious style. An example of this is an old standby: awkward sermonizing of lessons they want the audience to be force-fed. Another instance is shown through the most generic dialogue and conversations that were surely purchased (or stolen) from Acme Stock Dialogue, Inc. The characters are just pawns in the inevitable progression of the plot as convenient turns happen to drive home certain agendas. Perhaps the worst part of it all is the fact that every horribly overused inspirational cliche is car-crashed into this one epic fail of a film…an exploration of how this is done would require a completely separate analysis. As a whole, God Bless the Broken Road is just another example of PureFlix Drama wherein every scene has to be an emotional climax as the characters are just extremely stereotyped caricatures designed to represent issues rather than people. If you’re looking for a corny Christian movie all-in-one deal, this one will be worth your money and time. Otherwise, avoid it like the plague.

Acting Quality (1 point)

While plastic white people take center stage to bore us with bland performances (in their defense, they weren’t given much to work with in the line department), better cast members are forced to take backseat as they watch the madness unfold before them and likely wonder when they’ll ever make a big enough break to no longer be trapped in PureFlix World. Main cast members come off as dead-faced and emotionally blank a lot of the time, which makes the forced emotional climaxes of the plot even worse. In the end, there’s some good here, but this sections rounds off an overall unacceptable effort in today’s Christian entertainment world.

Conclusion

If we wanted the sappiest, most unrealistic Hallmark film we could find, we would watch this film because it at least isn’t constantly interrupted by drug commercials. But who’s got that kind of time? Instead, let’s hope films like God Bless the Broken Road will become less and less commonplace as Christian audiences demand more quality from Christian entertainment creators. We’ve finally gotten to where above-average productions are commonplace, so it’s time to let the writers be the writers when it comes to screenplays.

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

The Heart of a King by Jill Eileen Smith

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Author’s Note: We were provided with a review copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Jill Eileen Smith’s newest novel is unique in many ways and is overall a great portrayal of the life of King Solomon. While the novel is imperfect, it stands out among many works of Biblical fiction for being both honest and relatable. The opening chapters introduce the reader to Solomon, a young man who lives in his father’s shadow and longs to be named co-regent. In the midst of his struggle to climb the political ladder, he runs into a young woman named Naamah who he has not seen in five years. Naamah is a somewhat spoiled and willful Ammonite woman whose one desire is marriage to Solomon. Despite her flaws, Naamah worships Yahweh rather than the gods of Ammon, and believes that love can overcome all obstacles. Solomon and Naamah are wed and soon have a child together – Rehoboam. However, Solomon’s increasing desire for political alliances leads him away from his first love and in many different directions. Abishag is a young virgin who cared for King David until his death. She is devout in her worship of Yahweh and seeks peaceful relationships with others. Now a king, Solomon marries her for reasons both of love and political advantage. Following this marriage, he goes on to wed Siti, princess of Egypt, the queen of Sheba, and many other women. Will Solomon’s wisdom prove to be a blessing or a curse? To answer this question, read the book!;) This plot holds the attention quite well from beginning to end, and is punctuated with creative musings of The Teacher that became the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes (King Solomon). Smith tastefully weaves passages from Song of Solomon into the story and uses them to shape Solomon’s personality and relationship choices. Furthermore, Solomon’s chaotic personal life and wrong choices are portrayed in a realistic manner. The main flaw here is that the five main characters – each with their own story – make for a bit of a choppy read, especially in the second half of the novel. Additionally, the ending, although well done, feels a bit rushed. However, this remains the best fictional work of King Solomon’s life that I have read to date, therefore earning the storyline an above average rating.

Character Development (3 points)

Smith’s character development is the strongest part of her novel because it demonstrates her clear understanding of different personalities and tendencies among people. Solomon is the best character because his arc slowly develops throughout the novel and is punctuated with a creative look at poetry and philosophical musings he actually wrote. Additionally, his rationalization of disobedience and distrust of God’s promises are relatable and add much to the storyline. Naamah’s character is quite good at first, as is Abishag’s, however, both women feel left unfinished. In contrast, Siti has a clearly defined personality, and Smith’s queen of Sheba is unique and realistic. The only other flaw to mention here is that Naamah and Abishag have a somewhat choppy arc. In spite of these flaws, Smith’s portrayal of court politics and royals using one another is quite good and would make a great Bible miniseries. Therefore, Smith earns an above average score in this section.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Smith earns a full point in creativity for weaving Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon into her story in such a way that the Biblical accounts and her fictional story are interdependent upon one another. The flaws that exist in this novel are mainly a result of it being a standalone work. It is my opinion that these errors could be corrected on the big screen by breaking the novel up into a miniseries. This series should focus on one character at a time and eventually tie their stories together to make for better continuity. It is our hope that Christian filmmakers will recognize unique Christian novels such as these for their potential, and act on this realization soon. Good job Ms. Smith! Your creativity is much appreciated!

Wish List Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

The Horse Dreams Series by Stephen Bly

Image result for horse dreams series stephen bly
Image result for horse dreams series stephen bly
Image result for wish i'd known you tears ago stephen bly

Author’s Note: We were provided with free copies of the books in this series in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Stephen Bly’s distinctive writing style really comes to life in this eccentric, yet charming series. While it is not perfect, it is above average, and as always it is not your typical Western novel. In all three books Bly demonstrates a keen understanding of everyday people and an openness to other cultures that is rarely seen in his generation. The first novel, Memories of a Dirt Road Town, is a little bit slow to get started, and the first half will likely leave the reader scratching their head. However, it all comes together in the end to create a unique and humorous beginning to the story of Develyn Worrell. Develyn, or Dev as she prefers, is a middle-aged divorcee/schoolteacher who is unhappy with her life. She is weary of trying to mend fences with her daughter, and still upset with her husband for having an affair with a high school student. Dev is desperate for a change, which is why she decides to clear her summer calendar and travel to the Wyoming back-country – namely, her hometown. Leaving her best friend in charge of her home and spoiled cats, she packs everything she thinks she’ll need in the back of her Jeep Cherokee and sets off. Several noisy hotels and one midnight heart-to-heart in a diner later, Dev arrives in Wyoming to find that she is much more of a city girl than when she left. She makes friends with a rather unlikely candidate, a multiracial woman named Cree-Ryder who claims to have at least four different cultures in her family heritage. It takes Dev a little while to get used to Cree-Ryder’s rough and tumble ways, but not quite as long to get used to a gaggle of cowboys drooling over her at every turn. As one thing leads to another, Dev finds herself questioning her life choices in the silence of the open country, and gaining friendships she never expected. The plot in the first book is a bit slow to develop, but the well-placed humor and wit found in the second half, along with the simple yet well-crafted plotline, make up for this minor flaw. The second book starts a bit abruptly, but is quicker to gain the reader’s attention than the first novel. Furthermore, Bly delves into deeper and more meaningful content in this one. This novel is arguably the best in the series. Finally, the third book is equally predictable and unpredictable, but has good character arcs. All of this rounds out to a book series that is above average and worth reading. The Horse Dreams Series has been and will be loved by fans of Western fiction for years to come.

Character Development (3.5 points)

Stephen Bly was always known for his unique and multifaceted character models. This series is no different. His ability to portray male and female leads with equal pathos is a rare quality indeed to find in an author of Western action plots. Dev is well-developed through the creation of a raw and well-made backstory. Quint (her eventual love interest) is also realistic, however, in the end the reader is left wanting a little more from his character. Additionally, Dev’s daughter is well-crafted and relatable, however, she is barely existent in the first novel. Finally, Cree-Ryder is tied with Dev for the best character of the series. Her brutal honesty and natural humor add much to all three of the books, and her backstory is quite good. As always, Bly’s strength is character development. For this reason, he earns an almost perfect score in this section.

Creativity & Originality (1 points)

Finally, Bly earns a full point in originality for proving that all Westerns do not have to follow the same template. He manages to establish a sub-genre, so to speak, within Western fiction. Not only does he find subtle ways to include the message of the Gospel, but he also proves that female leads have a place in this genre. For this reason and others, I believe this book series would make a great TV series. The characters need no altering, the screenwriter should stick with what is there. The plot could use a few twists and smoke screens, but this is optional depending on what direction the filmmakers want to take. I feel that these characters could be brought to life on the big screen, and that the message of the story could be better communicated through this tool. To conclude, this was another job well done by Stephen Bly.

Wish List Rating: 7 out of 10 points

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Amazed By You {The Faith Club} (Movie Review)

This has basically nothing to do with this movie

Plot Summary

When Christian Andrews gets a call to attend the funeral of a friend in an obscure New Mexico town, he has no choice but to immediately hitchhike his way there.  However, when he arrives, he finds that someone told him the wrong day of the funeral, so he’s actually too late.  Nevertheless, he decides to take the opportunity to go and stay at the ranch where his friend once lived, even though he has never met the ranch owners before.  He meets the family who owns the ranch and inevitability becomes immediately interested in dating the oldest daughter and decides he wants to start building a chapel on the ranch.  Other than tangling with two drunk convicts who work on the ranch in close proximity to teenage girls, not much else happens in this story.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a newer Christian film, about the only thing going in the favor of Amazed By You is its mostly average production quality.  However, by today’s standards, this should be a given.  In this film, the video quality and camera work are fine, as are the sets, locations, and props, but there are other issues to contend with, such as the stereotypical soundtrack and the audio that is often very quiet and sometimes hard to discern.  Also, there are a lot of awkward cuts and fadeouts and seem to cut scenes short, which also relates to the choppy editing of this movie that makes it difficult to follow at times.  As a whole, this production is average and looks good on the surface, but it leaves a lot of be desired.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Exactly, what is the plot of this movie?  From start to finish, the story is hard to follow as odd things appear to just happen for no particular reason.  It really isn’t rooted in reality very well, and the plot has no clear flow or purpose other than a predictable romantic subplot.  Each character comes off as plastic, empty, and unfeeling as they just spout uninspiring lines.  Any hope of character development is definitely subverted by the many montages that fill this movie’s run time.  It goes without saying that the view of women in the film is unusual, and as a side note, the ‘villains’ are extremely cheesy.  Overall, this is mostly a half-hearted movie effort with no clear direction and no concerted attempts to make characters into real people.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Although there weren’t substantial lines to work with in the first place, the acting of Amazed By You is awkward and wooden.  Emotions come off as forced, and line delivery is not convincing as there is a definite need for more coaching.  Unfortunately, this movie really don’t have much going for it.

Conclusion

It feels like Amazed By You was slapped together and forced to go into production without even deciding upon the messaging of the film.  It’s so vanilla that it lacks the typical worldview-pushing of a fundamentalist Christian film and the predictable elements of an inspirational horse film, even though on the surface it looks like it is both of these.  It’s hard to find a movie that’s so bland and empty that there really isn’t much to comment about.  If this was an attempt to make some quick cash off of inspirational audiences, the marketing really wasn’t that great.  In summary, in nearly every aspect, it’s impossible to understand how this film came to be or what it was even going for.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Unbroken: Path to Redemption (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After surviving months being stranded at sea and being tortured in a cruel Japanese prison camp, Louis Zamperini was finally returned home as a war hero.  His family celebrated his safe return, but little did anyone know that the war still raged in Louis’ mind.  His lead torturer, The Bird, never left his dreams, and hate burned inside of him.  Louis decided to drink to cover up the madness in his head, but this got him into trouble, so he was given a chance to start over on a vacation in Florida.  It was there that he met his future wife, and he felt like his life was finally in a good spot.  They married soon after, but the war did not cease in Louis’ mind as it continued to rage and push his marriage to the brink.  There was only one way to end the war–only if Louis was willing to surrender.

Production Quality (3 points)

Harold Cronk has had decent productions in the past, but he and his team really went all out for this one.  They obviously put a lot of time and effort into crafting extremely authentic and historically accurate sets, locations, and props.  This is not just another cheesy PureFlix ripoff because time and money were spent on attention to detail and one making it look real.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are also extremely professional, but these should be a given in higher budget films like this one.  Further, the soundtrack of Unbroken: Path to Redemption is very impactful as Cronk made a wise decision to depart from the typical Will Musser soundtrack PureFlix films usually have.  Finally, the editing in this film is very good as it handles a large amount of content very well.  In summary, this is a rare find as a perfect PureFlix production, and it is definitely a breakout film for Cronk and his team.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Despite what some critics may say, it was an excellent idea for this film to pick up where the Hollywood version left off because this second half of the story is much better than the first.  Hopefully, this film launches Christian entertainment into a new era of effectively using source material to produce great films.  The time jumps in Unbroken: Path to Redemption are handled very well without narration, and the dialogue is very well-crafted and well-constructed in order to build the characters into real, accessible people.  It goes without saying that the psychological elements in this film are exquisite and are perhaps the best in Christian film to date.  The use of flashbacks is wonderful, and the portrayal of PTSD is very accurate and on point.  Further, the plot progression is handled well, and the messaging is effective without being too over the top.  The only issues to raise with this plot relate to some slightly wasted time at the beginning of the film that is felt later when the ending comes off as a bit rushed, but this is really nitpicking because the story is presented very well and is definitely a breath of fresh air to Christian entertainment.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

It was absolute genius to cast Will Graham as Billy Graham in this film, and this is the sort of expertise we need to see more of in Christian films as we hopefully progress to a new era of Christian entertainment.  Elsewhere in this film, the acting is slightly awkward in the first few scenes, as if they were test scenes, but the acting quickly and dramatically improves as time goes on.  Samuel Hunt has a surprise breakout role as Zamperini, and he does a great job playing multiple different roles as the same character.  Conversely, Merritt Patterson cements a great role as the lead actress in this film.  Overall, each cast member owns his or her respective role very well and seems very comfortable in it.  This rounds out an excellent movie that is definitely worth your time.

Conclusion

Unbroken: Path to Redemption earns an x-factor point for portraying psychological elements very well and for having re-watchability qualities.  Much like Jon Gunn did in The Case for Christ, Harold Cronk and his team have found a new voice by effectively adapting source material into Christian film.  This is exactly what we need to be seeing more of by letting someone else take the screenwriting duties.  Building an authentic production and casting great actors and actresses is also key to success.  Unbroken: Path to Redemption will have far-reaching effects and is definitely worth your time to go see.

Final Rating: 9 out of 10 points

Forever My Girl (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Liam and Josie were in love all throughout high school, and many felt like they were destined to be together forever.  However, when they were on the verge of pledging their lives together forever, Liam experienced several life-changing moments.  First, his mother died suddenly, and Liam was discovered as a country artist and became successful almost overnight.  Thus, Liam left Josie behind without saying goodbye.  Now, after several years of fame and success, Liam has gotten into trouble with his drinking habit and has been advised to lay low for a while.  Thus, he returns to his hometown to live with his father, who is a pastor, and Liam is shocked at who he finds waiting for him there.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a modern, standard inspirational film, Forever My Girl checks all of the right production boxes.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is a bit generic and uncreative, but the sets, props, and locations are all realistic, appropriate, and professional.  The only other minor issue to point out here is the fact that the editing isn’t the best it could be, but as a whole, this is a very high quality production that we have come to see as commonplace in recent Christian films, and it’s a trend we definitely need to see continue.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though it is based on a novel, Forever My Girl unfortunately follows a predictable and stereotypical storyline that has been done many times before.  The return-to-hometown plot has many different iterations, and this one is just the star-returns-to-the-hometown version.  However, the presentation of this predictability is not entirely annoying and does make some good attempts at being realistic, such as a good attempt to explore family systems and some general efforts to create believable characters and situations.  Even so, the characters need to be a bit deeper through better dialogue, and the main character’s inevitable arc is a too steep.  Nevertheless, the message of the movie is fine, and many audiences will find it to be a good movie.  It’s definitely ten times better than your average Hallmark throwaway.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though the lead actor and the lead actress seem confused and uncoached a lot of the time, the rest of the cast members make up for their deficiencies.  It’s unclear whether or not their characters are meant to be written that way, but it seems like the lead cast members could have contributed a bit more than they did.  However, the other members of the cast demonstrate great line delivery and realistic emotions, which is enough to bring this section over the average mark.  As a whole, this movie is good enough to be watchable.

Conclusion

It is definitely good idea to model movies after novels; if a film like this had not had a story written for it in a book, it likely would have been much worse.  This is definitely a practice we need to see more of on the coming days.  Hollywood has already figured out that using source material is the key to successful entertainment, so it’s time for Christian film makers to follow suit because if they put their minds to it, they can definitely do it better.  There is plenty of Christian source material to use, so it’s a great chance to keep using it.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Summer of ’67 (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In the years of the Vietnam War, families faced many different unique challenges posed by the international conflict.  Milly and Gerald have recently been married, but they have been forced to live with Gerald’s eccentric mother due to financial challenges.  Milly’s sister Kate is torn between the pro-war and anti-war efforts due to her mother’s past suicide.  When Gerald and Kate’s on-and-off boyfriend Peter are called to the war front for various reasons, Milly and Kate must both live with Gerald’s eccentric mother Joanna as the world around them seems to be falling apart.  Together, they must rekindle the faith they were always taught in order to make it through.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Sharon and Fred Wilharm of Mainstreet Productions have always had a commitment to building authentic productions.  Summer of ’67 is no exception, as they demonstrate a clear attention to specific historical detail in the props, sets, and locations.  Video quality and camera work are also quite professional.  Audio quality is mostly fine as well, although the soundtrack can sometimes be too loud and somewhat out of place.  As they are still transitioning from making silent films, some adjustments like this can be expected.  Also, the editing can be a bit choppy at times, which can cause the story presentation to be confusing.  Overall, with just a few more tweaks, the Wilharms are very close to mastering professional productions, especially those in need of historical authenticity.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, as Mainstreet Productions used to only make silent films, the plot of Summer of ’67 is not really what it could be.  It comes off as a loose collection of ideas that need better synthesis and organization.  The good thing is that the story does unfold without narration, but some of the dialogue is slightly expository.  Outside of a few interesting conversations, unfortunately, the dialogue does not do enough to build the characters as people.  Some scenes are too short and not explained very well, and time seems to jump from one thing to the next without very clear coherency or organization.  Thus, a lot of the characters come off as shallow, even though they have potential, and a lot of story ideas seem unfinished.  While the ending is very interesting and realistic, the lead-up is not quite enough to hold the attention of the audience.  Overall, it’s clear that the Wilharms really care about trying to making great films; they are just not quite there yet in the plot department.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Another adjustment from making silent films is obviously going to be acting coaching.  While this cast is mostly fine and has a lot of potential, there are one too many scenes where the cast members don’t appear to know what they are doing.  Some of the acting is too stilted and robotic in both line and emotional delivery.  As a good note, this might be Mimi Sagadin’s best role, but she needed a bit more screen time than she was given.  On the whole, this section is mostly average.

Conclusion

We know that the Wilharms really do mean well in their films, and the historical authenticity of this production has great value.  It’s definitely going to be an adjustment to move from silent to non-silent films, so growing pains are to be expected.  However, since the Wilharms have always been committed to improving however they can, we believe that Summer of ’67 is something that can be built off of for future improvement.  Perhaps next time, if a more substantial plot is crafted, the next Mainstreet film could be Hall of Fame.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

A Love That Hurts (Movie Review)

 

Plot Summary

Chris and Samantha are newlyweds who can’t wait to start a family.  However, their dream ends in heartbreak as their first child miscarries.  This tragedy pushes them apart as a couple and causes them each to seek fulfillment in all of the wrong places.  When another tragedy strikes their family, they will have to make a choice: will they grow apart or seek God to save their marriage?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

A Love That Hurts has a surprisingly above-average production for such a small budget.  Although there are some moments of echoed audio and some disorienting special effects, video quality and camera work are quite good.  Sets, locations, and props are slightly limited, but they are good considering what the creators had to work with.  Further, there are some abrupt cuts and transitions throughout, but as a whole, this is a very good production considering the tiny budget that was allotted for it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

While there are some good attempts to portray accessible characters with realistic struggles, the characters of this story really need to be deepened, not only because this is a character-based plot, but also because it would make the story more meaningful.  As it is, a lot of the dialogue is too obvious and forces the plot along.  Some characters are too robotic as they appear to be pawns in the plot, only serving the purpose of spoon-feeding the audience an obvious message.  This message comes off as a somewhat plastic version of Christianity, including an odd portrayal of women.  Also, some characters are ‘overly Christian’ or become perfect through quick resolutions and easy fixes to problems.  However, not all is bad here as the writers at least demonstrate a care for realism, even if the plot is sometimes boring and slow.  The ending is a bit forced and rushed, as well as somewhat vague and abrupt.  In the end, it’s clear the writers meant well here, even if the delivery was misguided.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this is an ‘amateur’ church cast, the cast members show a lot of potential and desire to do well.  There are plenty of good acting moments as real effort is evident.  The main issue to point out here is that sometimes the cast members appear to be overly practiced in their lines and emotions.  Some cast members could use a little more natural emotion, but as a whole, this film is an applaudable effort.

Conclusion

It’s rare to find a movie this highly rated with such a small budget.  Further, it is clear that this creative team was putting their great effort into making this a good project.  However, it seems like more could have been done in the plot department.  Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see if they produce any more content in the future.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

No Lost Cause (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After BethAnn is the victim of a car wreck, she is left paralyzed and angry at the world.  She feels like God hates her, and she definitely does not want to go live with her Christian father.  She is also angry that she is now behind in school.  BethAnn feels like her life has no meaning, but her father and his farm hand help her see otherwise.  Only when BethAnn is able to forgive the man who put her in the wheelchair will she be able to move to a new place in life.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a whole, No Lost Cause has a mostly average production.  This is evident in the fine video quality, yet the camera work and audio quality are inconsistent, including a generic soundtrack and some echoing audio.  Sets, props, and locations are somewhat limited to a few options.  However, there is improvement to these issues as the film goes on.  Editing is fairly standard, which overall rounds out an overall average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

While this film is an interesting attempt to develop realistic characters with realistic struggles, it definitely does not go deep enough.  Dialogue stays around the surface rather than showing character motives, back stories, and personalities.  The premise is also somewhat limited and needed deeper characters to sustain it.  This is a nice idea with a slight amount of potential, but it needed definite upgrading.  Also, the romantic subplot is too predictable and shallow.  The characters arcs that are created are far too steep and suggest that being a good person will automatically heal you of physical ailments.  Further, the ending and resolution of problems are too rushed and unrealistic.  Thus, this idea could really use a rewrite.

Acting Quality (2 points)

While there are some moments of over-acting, including some forced emotions and lines, most of the members of this small cast are trying to be realistic and interesting in their characters, even if they didn’t have much to work with.  There are some awkward moments and a few random outbursts, but on the whole, this is an above average effort.

Conclusion

No Lost Cause is a good first-time film as it keeps things simple and doesn’t try to go too far outside of its bounds.  Even still, since this is a character-driven plot, it would have been much better to see deeper characters through more substantial dialogue and clearer character motivations.  However, perhaps this creative team still has better things in store.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Christmas Blessing (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After becoming disillusioned with his job after a failed surgery, Nathan Andrews decides it’s time to take some time off of work to go back to his hometown to see his dad.  But he decides to hide the true nature of his visit as he goes around town helping people.  He stumbles across a random woman several times, and the two of them fall madly in love.  Nathan also meets back up with his lawyer friend who helped him buy his dying mother a pair of shoes, which are now missing.  Will Nathan be able to make peace with his past and reconcile his work over the holidays?

 

Production Quality (3 points)

Much like the preceding film, The Christmas Shoes, The Christmas Blessing is basically a pristine production with no real errors.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all fine.  The soundtrack is fairly typical, but the sets, locations, and props are good, even if there are a lot of Christmas decorations.  Finally, the editing is standard with no real errors.  It’s rare that we see a perfect production, but at least in this era, Hallmark put their full efforts towards this front.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Also much like the film that comes before this one, The Christmas Blessing is almost a totally pointless plot.  It has a predictable return-to-hometown to stumble upon a random romance at Christmas spiel, all of which seem very forced and manufactured.  This is evident in very obvious and programmed dialogue, which in turn creates one-dimensional characters that only serve as stand-ins for the plot’s inevitable purpose.  There is also a dose of a buying-a-building subplot here, along with a troubled character subplot.  With all of this going on, the progression is very rushed and based on coincidences in route to a predictable conclusion before the television time is up.  The Christian message is also very muted and mostly only based on the previous film.  Basically, the only reason to make these sorts of films is just to have more content to play on TV.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast is mostly professional, in keeping with Hallmark’s usual standards, there are some moments when the cast members seem to be trying too hard.  Sometimes lines come off as overly practiced, and emotions can sometimes be overly ‘interested.’  But on the whole, this section is above average and is on industry standard.

Conclusion

These two films are made for the sake of having Christmas films based on a recognizable Christian song in order to grab the attention of some audiences for a short amount of time.  In the grand scheme of things, movies like this are extremely forgettable and will be lost in time.  We need films that are dynamic and timeless, not more mindless holiday fodder.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

The Note III: Notes From the Heart Healer (Movie Review)

For some reason, we needed another one of these

Plot Summary

After famous feel-good columnists Peyton MacGruder and Kingston Danville get married, they are suddenly the new parents of a child who was left on their doorstep by a young and desperate mother.  Unsure of what to do, they turn to the authorities and accidentally get the struggling mother in trouble.  Peyton than feels bad about what she did and tries to rectify it.  Will she be able to save this hurting family before they hate her forever and ruin her reputation as a columnist?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Much like the other installments of this unnecessary series, The Note III is a very standard Hallmark production with no surprises or deviations.  Video quality, audio quality, and camera work are all what you can expect from a made for television film.  The soundtrack is what you can expect from a Hallmark movie.  Sets, locations, and props are fine.  The only small issue to raise here is the slightly choppy editing, but that comes with this territory.  On the whole, this is a fine production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It’s beyond asking the question as to why we needed another one of these lame rip-off sequels, but does it really matter?  The Christian message, whatever there was before, diminishes throughout this series until it’s unrecognizable in this third film.  At this point, it’s impossible to understand how these plastic ideas even relate to the original Angela Hunt novel or why these stories are put in this trilogy.  They could have been shoved into any Hallmark movie on the assembly line, and they probably actually were.  Note From the Heart Healer is a cheesy, cliched story with basically no purpose or direction.  The characters are fake and plastic, mostly due to manufactured and uninteresting dialogue.  If it seems like this review has been put on repeat, it’s because Hallmark pushed repeat and replicate on this inept trilogy.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As previously mentioned in the other reviews, Ted McGinley is unbearable and ruins whatever cast he is in.  This cast tends toward the more modern plastic cast that Hallmark favors these days, but at least they are not all bad.  Emotions are inconsistent, depending on the cast member.  The same can be said for line delivery, which makes this an average section.

Conclusion

Hallmark is Hallmark, plain and simple.  They take an idea and run with it.  Sometimes they run it into the ground and even twist it, especially if a Christian novel is in the mix.  Creativity isn’t even an option as an idea is ripped off and #Hallmarked.  Thus, as this trilogy thankfully comes to a close, there’s nothing else that can really be said here.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Christmas Card [2006] (Movie Review)

Love finds you in a Christmas card

Plot Summary

When Sergeant Cody Cullen receives a Christmas card from a church group, he is compelled to find the woman responsible for the project after he gets back to the States.  When he finds her, Faith Spelman, and her family, he never thought he would fall in love with her.  But little did he know that he is stuck in the Hallmark universe, where loves pops up in the most “unlikely” places and in the most unrealistic ways.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As usual for Hallmark, the production quality is high, which is the main thing that sustains their brand.  Actually, The Christmas Card has some of the most complex sets and locations for a Hallmark movie.  However, they are still filled with lots of Christmas decorations.  Otherwise, this production checks all of the other boxes, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  It also includes a silly holiday soundtrack, but what else is new?  Finally, the editing is mostly standard and uneventful.  Overall, this is business as usual for Hallmark.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

The Christmas Card is basically the textbook Christmas Hallmark love story in all the usual cheesy ways.  Let’s see how it goes: a couple is thrown together through some ‘funny’ or ‘cute circumstance (in this case, a literal Hallmark card), and they find that they have a lot in common with each other only to discover some earth-shattering news that ‘tears’ them apart for like one scene.  Then they come back together, and everything is fixed.  The characters stepped right out of the Hallmark plot factory, and the circumstances they go through are manufactured, along with their stock dialogue.  The premise is trumped up, as usual, and the Christian message is forced into it to expand the audience influence.  Things happen because they need to in route to an inventible conclusion.  Once again, this is business as usual for Hallmark.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast avoids the usual plastic look of most Hallmark casts, they tend to be too stoic and practiced in their emotions and their line deliveries.  However, there are plenty of good elements here as the cast is overall professional.  At least this is a palatable cast, compared to other efforts from this channel.

Conclusion

Another day, another Hallmark Christmas movie.  The plastic Christian message is optional depending on who it’s targeting.  Films like this are the embodiment of click-bait, or rather watch-bait.  But the one thing you can say for Hallmark is that they almost always nail their productions.  Some Christian film makers could take a cue from this.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

The Note II: Taking a Chance on Love (Movie Review)

Love the smiling faces!

Plot Summary

David Danville, the son of popular columnist Kingston Danville, doesn’t want to go to college on a sports scholarship because he wants to be an artist, but he is afraid to tell his father.  Thus, he tells his father’s girlfriend, Peyton MacGruder, which causes a conflict between them that confuses Peyton’s thoughts of love for Kingston.  What’s more, her latest column mystery is making her wonder if true love even exists and if it’s even worth it or something.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Taking a Chance on Love is once again a typical Hallmark production, with a few more quirks than usual.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are fine as usual, but the soundtrack tends to be odd and annoying at times.  Sets, locations, and props are also mostly realistic with some minor issues.  The main problem is that editing tends to be confusing as this story is trying to be cut for a television length.  However, many of these small issues can be easily overlooked, which makes this yet another business as usual production for the Hallmark team.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Although the first installment in this ‘series’ had some amount of substance, this highly unnecessary and forced sequel lacks it in every way.  The premise is very shallow and thin as it unsuccessfully tries to piggy-back on the success of the first film.  This story is full of silly conflicts and romantic subplot clichés that are inevitably and easily resolved within the allotted time frame.  Thus, the storyline overall is very empty, as are the characters.  Cheap dialogue is used to speed the plot along and build the cheesy romance.  The end result is a cringeworthy collection of plastic people.  The other big issue is that there is barely any potential in this dead-end plot idea, not to mention the fact that not much happens here.  Essentially, this film’s necessity is highly suspect.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Much like other casts that involve Ted McGinley, this one is very underwhelming.  Besides Ted’s usual annoying and plastic presence, most emotions from the cast are fake and manufactured.  Line delivery is extremely measured and robotic.  However, not all is bad here, and there are at least a few good moments from the supporting cast members that keep this section from being nothing.  Yet it doesn’t help the fact that this movie is basically pointless.

Conclusion

Sometimes movie companies will do anything to squeeze a sequel out of a slightly successful idea.  In this case, the Hallmark crew just transposed the cheesiest possible romance story idea onto a flimsy premise and injected familiar characters into it.  This is a very low-effort film with no risk-taking or creativity.  The plastic nature of the people involved is very off-putting and annoying, which rounds out another day in the Hallmark business.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

The Note [2007] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After an airplane tragically falls from the skies and kills many who were involved, struggling local reporter Peyton MacGruder discovers a note at the crash site that leads her to some investigative journalism about the note’s author and intended recipient.  Thankfully, she has the help of office love interest Kingston Danville to help sort out this holiday mystery.  You never know when or where love’s going to find you at Christmas time!

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As usual for a Hallmark Christmas movie, The Note has a high-quality production.  Video quality, audio quality, and camera work are all on par with what they should be.  The soundtrack is about what you can expect for a Hallmark holiday creation.  Sets, locations, and props are all professional, and Christmas decorations are even kept to a happy medium.  There are just a few minor errors throughout, like some awkward transitions, but it’s only nitpicking.  As a whole, this is a great production that is mostly the norm in made for television films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As the Hallmark team decides to borrow a plot from acclaimed author Angela Hunt, The Note is unsurprisingly more creative than most Hallmark plots, even though this is not Hunt’s strongest storyline in the least bit.  However, the characters at least bear a semblance of realism due to some good dialogue, even if the plot tends to be based on too many coincidences.  Even so, there are a lot of great messages and ideas throughout this story.  Yet there are one too many moments that come off as a little too cheesy, as well as the inclusion of too many random, disconnected scenes.  Yet on the whole, this is perhaps the best Hallmark has to offer in the plot department.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Another common pitfall in Hallmark movies pertains to the casting and acting.  Any cast that involves Ted McGinley is rarely good, but at least the other cast members besides him are fine, even though he tends to drag down an entire movie with his plastic and overly fake demeanor.  Yet there are enough good and honest moments from the other cast members to make this section at least average.  The one thing that can be said is that it’s not as bad as usual.

Conclusion

Bringing Christian novels to life is almost always a great idea because the plot is already written, and these plots almost always involve some different and non-typical elements.  Angela Hunt is certainly a great author to choose from.  However, production companies are still usually safe in the plots they choose and don’t go too far outside of the norm.  In the end, companies like Hallmark have advertisement spaces to sell, so they don’t want to be too risky.  Perhaps the advent of more Christian-based streaming services will allow more creative content to flourish.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Journey to Paradise (Movie Review)

Love finds you in Paradise?

Plot Summary

Channel 7 News (?) radio station is looking for a new associate producer since they are a privately-run station or something.  Thus, when a mysterious man named Joe shows up to apply for the job, all the people at the station, who have nothing better to do, speculate as to why the young man is in town and who they can try to matchmake him with.  But will his secret past come back to haunt him and ruin his chances at love?  Probably not.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, Salty Earth Pictures has earned a reputation for putting together cheap productions.  While video quality and camera work are okay in Journey to Paradise, there is strange soft lighting throughout that make for an ethereal experience.  The stereotypical holiday soundtrack is accompanied by weird background sounds, which makes no sense, considering there are basically no outdoor locations in this film.  There are only a few sets as it is, and they are filled with dumb Christmas props.  Finally, as is to be expected, there is really no editing present, thus making for a very drab experience.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

At times, it seems like this film is a total joke due to its cheesy, eccentric, and annoying characters that are built with empty, plastic holiday romance dialogue.  All of the comedy falls flat and makes this movie seem like a total joke or a satire.  The storyline is ridiculously typical and predictable, like it was taken from those stupid Love Finds You books.  A majority of the time is wasted with meandering nonsense as the inevitable romance is kicked down the road with silly coincidences and conventions.  This romance idea of a random guy coming to a small town and being thrown together with the first available girl he finds and then having a falling out before getting back together thing has been done ad nauseum already.  Furthermore, the Christian message that is forced into this nonsense is extremely manufactured and almost laughable.  In the end, why movies like this are continually made is beyond me.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Much like the characters they are stuck with, these cast members are awkward and unsure in their line delivery.  Emotions are very plastic, not to mention the fact again that comedy is very forced.  Unfortunately, while it’s not likely this cast had much to work with, it’s still not a good experience.

Conclusion

In some ways, it seems like Salty Earth Pictures means well, but they don’t have a very good way of going about it.  For the most part, their films come off as juvenile and silly.  Mixing Christmas romance clichés with them presentation style is the worst.  If you want this sort of nonsense, watch Hallmark—at least they have better productions or something.

 

Final Rating: .5 out of 10 points

 

The Path of the Wind (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Lee Ferguson has just been released from prison, so he intends to get his life back on track by getting a job and making a living for himself.  But he did not expect to meet a girl like Katie, who is a Christian and challenges him to do better in life.  However, outside circumstances and their own feelings get the best of them as they let their relationship go further than they intended.  Will they be able to reconcile before God?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

From start to finish, The Path of the Wind is a very cheap production in every way except for camera work.  Video quality is blurry, and there is odd lighting throughout.  Much of the audio is obviously overdubbed, there are loud outside noises, and the soundtrack is uninspiring.  Sets, locations, and props are very limited.  Furthermore, there is really no substantial editing to speak of.  Essentially, the creation of this film has to be called into question due to the severe lack of funding and due to the unusual nature of the plot.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The first three quarters of this plot are completely aimless as it is mostly a pointless exploration of people wallowing around in their own problems.  Thus, characters are overly realistic, and even though there are some pertinent life issues raised, they are not handled very well as edgy content is mishandled.  Dialogue does nothing to help the characters, and there are a lot of disjointed subplots with not much coherency.  However, while the ending is somewhat unexplained and unusual, it actually tends to make a powerful point that saves this plot from being totally inept.  But on the whole, this movie either needed to be totally scrapped or totally reworked.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Hands down, the worst part of this film is the acting.  Every cast member is very amateurish, as evidenced by their very stiff and unfeeling approach to acting.  Barely any emotion is even exhibited here, and line delivery is overly practiced and awkward.  Some characters seem highly stereotyped by their casting.  Unfortunately, there is very little to mention about this film.

Conclusion

You can’t base your entire film on one good idea.  Presentation is everything.  When you mishandle content, create a film with an abysmal budget, and do nothing to assist struggling cast members, your movie is doomed from the start.  In the future, film makers need to make sure not to force their ideas out there without the proper backing.  If God wants your movie to happen, we strongly believe He will help you do it in a quality way.

 

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

 

A Strange Brand of Happy (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

David Weathersby has no clear direction in life, especially after being fired from his job by his hotshot boss, who is impressed with himself.  He feels like he doesn’t have any purpose and decides to languish away, so his roommate decides to introduce him to a random life coach he ran into so David can find a fresh purpose for himself.  But this introduction only creates a problematic love triable between David, his old boss, and the life coach.  Will this silliness ever be resolved?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

In a change from previous Rebel Pilgrim productions, such as Hope Bridge and the awful Fenced Off, A Strange Brand of Happy at least has an above-average production.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all fine.  The soundtrack is a bit silly, however, and there is some odd soft lighting throughout.  There are also a lot of cheesy animated interludes that give the movie a juvenile feel.  Also, a lot of the sets are relatively limited, as well as the props, and there are no real locations.  Finally, editing is just average and contributes to a slightly above-average, but not quite all-the-way-there production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Full of cheesy and quirky characters, this story is just a childish romantic ‘comedy’ based on a silly and manufactured love triangle.  Nearly all the humor is very forced and dry and is thus not funny.  There is too much pointless goofiness throughout, including silliness for the sake of being silly.  At times, this story feels like a joke, and it contains some very vague Christian themes.  With no real direction or purpose, this plot is just a bunch of random content assembled in a formulaic and predictable fashion, with a side of weird edgy elements and a very strange tone throughout.  Any meaning that is tried to be inserted at the end is too little too late, thus making for mostly a waste of time.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This cast is very stiff and wooden in their delivery, as well as awkward.  There is definitely not enough coaching here, although there are some good moments to note.  However, there is a lot of odd makeup work throughout, as well as some unnecessary yelling throughout.  In the end, this rounds out an overall low-average and basically low-effort film.

Conclusion

Rebel Pilgrim certainly knows how to make a strange brand of movies.  What exactly are they going for?  They’ve attempted the dramatic emotional exploration in Hope Bridge and the stupid comedies in Fenced Off and A Strange Brand of Happy, but what do they really have to show for it?  They also present a strange brand of Christianity in their films, so perhaps the title of this movie is not by accident.  Are they actually just trolling like The Asylum to see what some money they can make off of their efforts?  Your guess is as good as ours.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Karla Faye Tucker: Forevermore (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Karla Faye Tucker was formerly a drug addict and a prostitute who ran with the worse possible crowd and soon found herself convicted of cold-blooded murder.  Sentenced to death row, she had finally hit rock bottom until a prison chaplain introduced her to the God she had been running from all her life.  Karla underwent a dramatic transformation and became a sold-out follower of Jesus.  Through a divine set of circumstances, another prison chaplain falls in love with her, even though she is sentenced to die, and he decides he wants to marry her.  Against all odds, their story was broadcast for all to hear about.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Forevermore is another one of those early 2000s Christian movies carried by PureFlix that had very cheap production quality.  Video quality is okay, but there are a lot of odd camera angles and weird soft lighting throughout.  Audio quality is somewhat echoey and the soundtrack is archaic, though likely realistic for the time period.  Sets, locations, and props, though attempts are made to be authentic, are quite cheap and limited.  The editing has some potential, but it’s too amateurish.  Overall, this is a below-average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this is another interesting true story and historical account portrayed in movie form, it is presented in a very odd fashion.  This is mostly due to the off-the-wall dialogue, which creates eccentric characters.  There are too many head-scratching moments that are unclear whether or not they are supposed to be comedic.  There is probably a good message in here somewhere, but very few audiences are going to be interested in the archaically unusual way this movie is presented.  It’s very difficult to connect with the characters since they are hard to see as real people.  In the end, this is another half-idea that needed more thought put into it.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

It’s really nice that Karen and Kenneth Jezek like to star opposite each other, as they also did in Come What May, but they seriously need some real acting coaching.  They come off as extremely over the top and forceful.  They are trying way too hard, as are the other cast members in the small cast.  Like other elements of the film, the cast is, of course, eccentric.  It’s hard to know what exactly this film was going for.

Conclusion

Movies like this are unfortunately a dime a dozen.  There are many, many interesting true stories that are portrayed and should be portrayed in Christian film, but the follow-through is rarely what it should be.  Perhaps future film makers can continue to learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before them and will improve.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

New Life: Nouvelle Vie (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Ben and Ava first met as kids and next door neighbors, they never thought they would one day be married and be trying to start a family of their own.  But it happened and just when they can’t believe that things could get better—they get worse.  Not only does Ava miscarry, but she also receives devastating news that changes her life forever: cancer.  Will their relationship be able to survive the roller coaster disease?  Will Ava’s dreams ever be fulfilled?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a newer production, it is clear that New Life is professional on pretty much every front.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all top-notch.  The soundtrack is actually creative and enhances the film.  Sets, locations, and props are well-funded and diverse.  The only minor issue to raise here, as usual, pertains to some small editing problems, such as choppiness and lack of clarity.  But in the end, this is a nearly model production that we will hopefully see more and more of in the coming years.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

So Erin Bethea wrote a cancer movie.  It’s actually not as bad as it may sound on its face, despite the forced awkward comedy from Erin Bethea and Jonathan Patrick Moore.  There is also way too much heavy-handed narration from Moore’s character and way too many montage sequences.  Yet despite these issues, New Life is actually a fairly realistic portrayal of life events encapsulated in a somewhat interesting storyline.  Though the characters and their dialogue need to be deepened, there is a lot of potential here.  The massive time jumps are also a drag, but the realistic ending is worth the wait.  Though this movie’s message is not explicitly Christian, it is still meaningful.  In the end, there are definitely a lot worse stories than this one, so you might find it to be worth your time.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

What could go wrong when you put Erin Bethea and Jonathan Patrick Moore in co-starring roles?  A lot, actually, as they exhibit very over the top emotions and forced, awkward line delivery.  However, the rest of the cast is actually pretty good despite their antics.  If pretty much anyone else was put in the co-starring roles (except for maybe the Whites or the Camerons or anything involving Tommy Blaze or Matthew Florida), this cast could have been perfect.

Conclusion

Had Erin Bethea not starred in this film (and probably not Moore either), this could have been a Hall of Famer.  There is a lot of good here, more than I expected there to be, but it needed to be written for someone else to act in.  Regardless of her past mistakes, it’s possible that Erin Bethea did learn a thing or two from the Kendricks, so it will be interesting to see if she has any plans for future film projects.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Coffee Shop [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Donovan has always loved her dream job as the owner of a local coffee shop, but she fears that her mortgage is about to cause her dream to end prematurely.  What’s worse is a hotshot playwright comes to town and starts off completely on the wrong foot with her, all the while Donovan’s sister is trying to get her to run back to the boyfriend who left Donovan for a big time Chicago job.  Will Donovan be able to sort out all the confusion in time to save her dreams?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Up Entertainment has perfected the Hallmark model of putting out a consistent amount of films with fairly professional production quality in each one.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is a bit too generic, however, which fits this genre to a T.  What also typically comes with this sort of made for television movie is relatively good sets, locations, and props, yet some minor editing issues that plague it, all in the name of making the runtime trim.  All of these typical elements are present in Coffee Shop, making it seem like it was made on an assembly line.  Overall, though the production is great, there are plenty of other predictable elements to point.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this story is trying a bit harder than most made for TV romantic comedies, Coffee Shop is still an extremely typical story about a jilted girlfriend who has to save her ______ and then both her old boyfriend and a new well-groomed man whom she doesn’t like at first but grows to like show up in the small town she lives in with other quirky characters.  Though some of the characters demonstrate attempts to be creative, probably mostly the influence of the Erwin brothers, there are just too many predictable elements for this section to warrant any more points.  The entire plot follows a predictable progression and the end can be seen from the beginning.  In the end, it’s hard to see the justification for yet another one of these sorts of films.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Despite all of other issues, the Erwin brothers still do their thing and win out when it comes to casting and acting coaching.  There are virtually no errors in this section as line delivery is on point and emotions are very natural.  UP and Hallmark should consider hiring the Erwins as permanent casting help.

Conclusion

We realize the machine of cable television demands certain movies that fit into certain molds, so perhaps there is really no solution to this problem until cable is no longer relied upon as a source of entertainment revenue.  Creative Christian film makers need a better outlet for their films so that they can showcase their talent outside of the confines of a revenue-seeking machine.  Perhaps one day we will see more of these sorts of films on streaming services such as PureFlix.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Pawn’s Move (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Jimmy unexpectedly inherits the secretly wealthy estate of his eccentric antique-collecting mentor, he doesn’t quite know what to do with it.  Therefore, in order to escape from people who only want him for his money, he decides to take a trip to the small town where his mentor grew up so he can sort things out.  But what he finds there is unexpected and reveals a side of himself he never thought he had.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a first-time, limited-funding production, Pawn’s Move is raw and honest.  Camera work is mostly good, as is video quality.  However, lighting is sometimes inconsistent and audio quality tends to pick up a lot of background noises.  Yet the soundtrack is okay.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and authentic, even if they are a bit limited.  Finally, the editing also needs some improvement, even though it shows plenty of potential.  In the end, this is an average and honest production that definitely showed potential for the future, as we saw in The Matchbreaker.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Much like their second film, the Vetter Brothers’ freshman effort Pawn’s Move is artistic and creative.  It utilizes quirky yet believable characters in a muted romantic comedy setting.  Yet despite the huge amount of potential here, this story is severely underdeveloped and understated.  The characters are accessible, yet they need more exploration.  Comedy is subtle, and sometimes too subtle.  Overall, there are too many random ideas floating around in this plot that need better organization, but it was a great start that led to better things.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though this amateur cast is somewhat awkward, they are definitely trying.  Sometimes it seems like they need a little more direction than they are being given.  They would have definitely benefitted from upgraded coaching, especially when it came to emotional expression.  Yet nonetheless, like the rest of this film, it showed promise for the future.

Conclusion

There are few film makers that can pull off comedy properly because true comedy requires an understanding of flawed and human characters, as well as superb dialogue.  While Pawn’s Move does not necessarily fully meet these requirements, it is still a step in the right direction.  All film makers, even the best, sometimes have meager beginnings, so the important thing is to keep moving forward and to keep trying to improve.  The ones who do this are set apart from the rest and make a real difference.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

In Over My Head (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Nathan is the spoiled young adult of a well-to-do business family who believes he can do whatever he wants.  But his world comes crashing down one day when both of his parents suddenly are killed in a car accident, leaving Nathan to run the family business and take care of his two younger siblings.  Nathan is forced to rely on the faith he always thought was silly to make it through.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

With a clearly limited budget, it’s difficult to see the justification for this film.  The sets and locations are quite cheap and limited, although the props are okay.  Video quality and camera work are also fine, but audio quality is not.  There are too many loud background noises and a loud yet generic soundtrack that covers up things.  The transitions are also too abrupt and choppy to make any sense.  In short, the money used for this production should have been saved for a different film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

The entire premise of this forced and juvenile comedy is very thin and flimsy.  There is a lot of fake drama yet not enough real plot content as the story jumps all over the place as a collection of random ‘goofy’ scenes.  The characters are very one-dimensional thanks to lame and empty dialogue.  The Christian message presented is very plastic and lazy.  There is also a very cheesy love triangle subplot that takes up a lot of this film’s time.  But it’s not like there were any better ideas to include here.  Basically, it’s very difficult to understand how movies like this are made.

Acting Quality (0 points)

While these cast members may mean well, their performances do not always reflect this.  They are a lot of times very robotic and overly practiced.  Their emotions are hard to connect with.  Since this is such a small cast, any errors are automatically amplified.  It’s hard to see anything positive here.

Conclusion

What if struggling film companies like Strong Foundation saved all of their money for one good film rather than making a handful of cut-rate cheap films that will never have any impact on the market?  We are sure people like the ones behind these sorts of films do mean well in what they are doing, they just need more direction in their work.  Yet perhaps they can build on mistakes like this one and become better as a result.

 

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

 

The Music in Me [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Because of Gracia (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Chase Morgan is going to be a senior in high school, but he never feels like he’s been able to make a difference in life.  He is content to just hang out with his best friend OB and not really be noticed by anyone, but when a new girl, Gracia, comes to school, she turns his world upside down and he feels like he has to get to know her, even though he is terrified.  But as they grow closer and become friends, they discover that they have the ability, through their faith in God, to change their world together.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The collaboration of Film Incito, Check the Gate Productions, and Five Stones Films is a lethal combination in crafting a flawless production.  Because of Gracia demonstrates exactly what a modern Christian production should be, from excellent video quality to professional camera work to seamless audio quality.  The soundtrack is also very well-constructed and appropriate for the genre.  Sets, locations, and props are also without flaw.  The editing is nearly perfect as well as the story is presented in an inviting fashion.  In the end, Lisa Arnold and her production team have finally struck gold with this film, and the sky is the limit from here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

New screenwriter Tom Simes has debuted his skills with a worthwhile plot.  Though the story is somewhat limited and tends to be a stereotypical high school romance, the characters carry the story very well and make it enjoyable.  Dialogue is mostly creative and complex, thus serving to build the characters.  The biggest issues to point out here are a lot of unnecessary heavy-handed narration and quite a few ‘silly’ sequences that keep some characters and subplots from being further explored.  It’s great that we know the main characters well and that they are not black-and-white in their construction, but we would like to get to know the supporting characters just as well.  Also, the epilogue that is tacked onto the end of this film really puts a damper on an otherwise excellent point that is shared at the end.  Nonetheless, Because of Gracia isn’t afraid to deal with some very real and serious topics in a realistic fashion, so the creative team must be applauded for this.  In the end, this is definitely a good plot to start out with since it shows further potential for the future, and it is still enjoyable as it is.

Acting Quality (3 points)

You can hardly ask for a better cast than this.  Moriah Peters and Chris Massoglia are excellent in their roles, as are Ben Davis, Masey McClain, and the rest.  The collective minds behind this film really hit a home run with this cast, as each cast member assumes their character flawlessly and even improves upon what is written for them.  Emotions are very believable and line delivery is excellent, which demonstrate the presence of acting coaching.  In the end, this section punctuates a very worthwhile film.

Conclusion

We should be seeing movies like Because of Gracia come out every month from Christian film makers.  This proves that with time, adequate funding, effort, and care, any film can be Hall of Fame.  With the right combination of producers, directors, and writers, greatness can happen.  Movie making, more often than not, should be a team approach, and hopefully Christian film makers are learning this now.  When it releases to the public, this film is definitely worth everyone seeing.  It lends great encouragement to the slow but sure turnaround and upward trend of Christian film.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

The Beautiful Beast [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Isabelle Elliot is a spoiled heiress to a fortune that she has no idea how to manage properly.  She does whatever she wants with the money she has at her fingertips but always makes sure to keep her only normal friend close to her.  She convinces this friend to go with her on a spontaneous ski trip to Switzerland, but a disagreement leaves Isabelle stranded in the cold.  She wanders around until she finds a mysterious cabin and takes shelter inside.  There she meets a reclusive man who confuses her but also intrigues her.  Will he be able to teach Isabelle what really matters in life?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For a SunWorld production, this one isn’t half bad.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are find, even if there isn’t enough of a soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are actually pretty good considering the source.  The biggest issue here is that the editing is choppy, as usual for this sort of film.  There isn’t much content to begin with, but to present it like this is unprofessional.  But in the end, we’ve come to expect these sorts of things from these types of films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The Beautiful Beast is based on a very stereotypical and predictable idea that utilizes a thin, forced, and even juvenile thrown-together romance premise.  Though there are several somewhat interesting conversations, the characters still need deepening beyond their cheesy romantic story stereotypes.  We need to be able to feel like this is a real story and not some silly knock-off fairy tale that it’s lamely named after.  As it is, the character arcs and the predictable progression are too steep to be believable.  On top of all this, the Christian message is cheap and forced, like it was added in later to make this a “Christian film.”  In the end, the only way to fix this sort of plot is to build deep and realistic characters, but this did not happen in this film.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast is small, they are mostly professional in their performances.  Line delivery is on point, but emotions are sometimes over the top in attempts to be comedic.  But in the end, this is a decent casting and acting job.

Conclusion

Regardless, it’s really hard to see the justification for this sort of film.  The idea has been done before—too many times—so unless you’re going to improve an old idea, don’t use it.  This film is really just a representation of the need for an inspirational\quasi-Christian film, so somebody manufactured an overused plot and found some cast members to be in.  There’s nothing creative or innovative here—just pure business.  This is definitely not the way to make a movie that will actually make a difference.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Pitching Love and Catching Faith {Romance in the Outfield} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Heather and Tyler meet on a softball field in the heat of a game and of course don’t like each other at first until they are randomly thrown together in a quirky relationship in which Tyler doesn’t want to kiss her until the right time.  Heather makes it her goal to kiss him, but she soon discovers that his faith is more important than she realized.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a freshman production, this confusingly-titled movie is pretty good.  Video quality is professional, as is the camera work, even though there is some unnecessarily poor lighting.  Audio quality is fine, but the soundtrack leaves something to be desired.  Sets, locations, and props are fine but slightly limited.  Finally, the editing is too amateurish, including very choppy cuts and transitions that make the viewing experience confusing.  But in the end, this is fine for a first-time effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It seems like this film with the long title was pitched (haha) to Hallmark, UP, INSP, or even the abysmal ION in the hopes of a TV deal, but there were no home runs (lol).  It has all the trademarks of Hallmark cheesiness, including a cheap Christian message and the most juvenile romantic plot ever.  Every romance cliché and conversation in the book of stock romances is used in this film.  The plot progression is so predictable that it seems like someone wrote it in their sleep.  Their nothing new or creative here as two empty and cardboard characters are inevitably thrown together into a plastic romance full of forced drama, fake breakups, and an unhealthy obsession with kissing.  Maybe even Hallmark was tired of this.  Then again, maybe not.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Though this cast is not all bad, it is a small cast, thus amplifying the errors.  Most cast members are very awkward and flat.  Many of them are unsure in their line delivery, while emotions are forced and stiff.  This is definitely not a good way to top off a textbook romance movie.

Conclusion

It seems like a Christian message was slapped onto this film just to sell it to a certain market.  There’s really no other reason why it should be considered Christian.  Regardless, there is nothing whatsoever creative about this movie.  Thus, there is zero justification for its creation as it clutters an already-crowded field and genre.  The last thing we need is more of these plastic romances.  But last time I checked Hallmark, there’s still plenty more to come.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Reading Kate (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Michael O’Neil is down on his luck and all alone, except for this daughter.  But when he receives word that his estranged separated wife, Kate, is dying of a chronic disease, he jumps at the chance to discover how much money she has.  Yet in meeting her again and reconnecting with her, he begins fulfilling her final wishes and discovers that the two of them still have something in common.  As Michael reads Kate books to honor her, their conversations turn to eternal things and nature of the afterlife.  They must both make significant decisions that will impact their lives forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

After several years of struggling productions, the Kelly’s Filmworks team has finally discovered a winning formula.  Though this film is entirely black and white, it definitely adds to the experience and makes it a unique standout.  Video quality and audio quality are majorly improved from past films.  Camera work is still artistic at times, but Jefferson and Kelly Moore have finally embraced their true artistry.  The original soundtrack is very interesting and creative.  Sets and locations are somewhat limited in this film, but that is justified given the story.  The biggest issue here is the editing, as there are one too many montages.  Yet in the end, the production of Reading Kate demonstrates real improvement and gives great hope for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

After several years of dead-end plots, Jefferson and Kelly Moore have finally discovered who they truly are as film makers, and this is reflected in the characters they play.  They have embraced their personalities and have let them flow into the dialogue of these characters.  This dialogue builds them into realistic people that we can connect with and relate to.  However, the overuse of montages keeps us from getting to know these characters at a deeper level, which is sometimes we would have liked to see happen in this film.  Yet nonetheless, Reading Kate is an honest, character-driven story that draws on the true talents of Jefferson and Kelly Moore.  There is some dry comedy throughout, yet some of it is funny.  It offers a unique Christian message and intriguing psychological elements that make the viewer think.  Though the ending is somewhat abrupt, yet also thought-provoking.  In the end, while there is still a little work to do, we are excited about the direction the Moores have chosen to go with their plots.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Though this film utilizes many of the typical Kelly’s Filmworks actors and actresses, there demonstrate significant improvement in their performances.  This is actually the most improved category, as Jefferson Moore sheds his old personas and trades them for an embracing of his true self.  Kelly Moore also finally demonstrates her acting talents that we never had a good chance to see before.  Two-character conversation films are hard to effectively act in, but the two of them work well together.  Though there are some minor line delivery issues that keep this section form being perfect, this is still something to be excited about.

Conclusion

Sometimes it takes film companies a little longer than others to find themselves and to find where they fit in the industry.  Though we have been critical of the work of the Moores in the past, the good thing is that they did not give up and kept trying.  The progression of 1 Message, Pieces of Easter, and now Reading Kate demonstrates concerted improvement, which is all we ask of film makers.  Now that the older days of low-quality films are behind them, we can’t wait to see what the Moores have in store next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Redemption of the Heart [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Alex Montoya has backslidden from his Christian faith, and now he finds himself under the weight of financial debt.  Desperate for money, he agrees to help his friend scam church members for money using a false charity front.  However, a kind man named Jacob soon sees through their scheme, yet wants to offer Alex a second chance.  Will Alex turn away from his double life and back to the faith he was raised in?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Though the video quality of this production is okay, it is really the only good element to it.  Camera work is fairly shaky and audio quality is relatively poor.  The soundtrack is loud and amateurish.  Sets and locations are mostly limited and need a little bit more work done on them.  Furthermore, the editing leaves something to be desired as there are too many montages and extended flat scenes.  Overall, there just seems like there’s a lot of corners being cut in this production, which is unacceptable in a film this new.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Redemption of the Heart follows a very predictable and stereotypical plot line.  Things happen because the pre-determined plot mold determined that they needed to happen; thus, the characters are swept along in inevitability.  Yet sometimes the premise is too vague, making it hard for the audience to understand what is happening some of the time.  There is a lot of off screen content mentioned, along with a lot of confusing dialogue that creates cardboard characters.  There is an attempt at a plot twist at the end, but it is introduced so late that it only leaves the viewers scratching their heads.  In the end, this story is so formulaic that it is unlikely to be easily remembered.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, many of these cast members look very fake and unnatural.  A majority of the line delivery is very stilted and awkward, with some of the lines being very indiscernible.  Any emotions seem very forced and empty.  Alas, this section rounds out another disappointing effort.

Conclusion

Redemption of the Heart is one of those films that will be forgotten shortly after it is watched.  It is a prime example of why it’s never a good idea to slap together a project just for the sake of releasing another Christian film.  The market doesn’t need to be flooded with more and more half-hearted attempts at Christian movies.  We say this all the time, but it still remains true: taking your time on a movie to make it quality, making sure you have the proper funding, writing a complex plot with good characters, and coaching your cast members well always, always, always pays off in the end.

 

Final Rating: .5 out of 10 points

 

I’m in Love With a Church Girl (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Miles Montego has everything money can buy, but he is restless and is under investigation by the federal government.  When he talks a Christian friend of his, he is inadvertently introduced to a girl he cannot stop thinking about.  The only problem is she is an outspoken Christian while Miles hasn’t been to church since he was a kid.  But in order to pursue her, he begins to play the part of a Christian, all the while running from his past as a drug dealer.  Eventually, it will all catch up to him so what choice will be make?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Though there was a modest amount of money behind this project, it doesn’t seem like it was spent very well.  Camera work is fine, as is video quality, but there are one too many poorly lit scenes here.  Audio quality is fine, but the soundtrack is very standard and typical.  Sets and locations are fairly cheap and limited and have room for improvement.  There are too many product placements in this film, which make it seem plastic.  Finally, the editing is not the best as there are too many montages and wasted scenes.  In the end, while there is some good here, it simply isn’t up to standard.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this film was based on a true story, this story is not necessarily portrayed well.  There is too much narration that serves as a crutch to move the plot along.  Dialogue is mostly okay, but characters tend to be too one-dimensional and need further depth.  There is also some suggestive content that could have been avoided.  The purpose behind this film is also questionable—the idea here could send a wrong message about ‘missionary dating’.  It doesn’t really seem like the seriousness of the issues presented here are really grasped.  Though there is a somewhat good message of redemption, its conclusion and quite forced and rushed—it’s very hard to appreciate what is going on here because it all seems too surface.  Unfortunately, this was not the best way to portray a true story.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Though this is a ‘big name’ cast, and though there are some bright spots, there is too much over-acting and there are too many awkward performances in this effort.  A lot of the cast members seem forcibly cast to the point where they don’t seem real.  Of course, Stephen Baldwin is as ridiculous as can be expected.  Also, costuming and makeup is largely overdone in most of the cast members.  Essentially, this film is a case of too much of the wrong thing.

Conclusion

True stories are great in film—they can portray real people that audiences can connect with and learn from.  However, I’m In Love With a Church Girl crafts an unusual message that can confuse Christians when it comes to dating.  We certainly aren’t about to get into a debate over this topic in this forum, but we definitely have to be very careful when it comes to becoming emotionally involved with non-Christians.  Besides this, the gospel is presented, perhaps unconsciously, as a quick-fix method for problems and is thus cheapened.  But maybe next time this team will improve.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Sacred Vow (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Doug and Amber married when they were young, in college, and hopelessly in love.  However, as they grew older, they slowly but surely grew apart.  Then Doug does the unthinkable: he becomes involved with another woman who makes him want to get out of his current marriage.  But Amber refuses to sign the divorce papers until they both give their marriage a chance.  With secrets between them and their faith in tatters, will they ever be able to repair what is broken?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, the production of Sacred Vow is good.  Video quality and camera work are on par.  However, audio quality is sometimes poor, which seems out of place in this production.  The soundtrack could also use some work.  Sets and locations are acceptable, but the reality-television confessional style presentation seems counter-intuitive.  It’s very odd to have characters tell you things like this—it would be better for these things to be shown rather than told.  Thus, editing is somewhat lazy and relies on these odd confessionals.  Overall, this is an average production, but it feels like it could have been better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The confessionals also hamper with the plot structure.  Are we supposed to pay attention to the characters telling us about the story or to the story itself?  The “interviews” serve as a crutch for actual dialogue and character development.  Besides the interviews, there are also flashbacks that are fine but need more development to make sense rather than constant voiceovers.  Though this story has a good message and point, it is sometimes too shallow and simplistic, and at other times, it is too edgy.  It’s really hard to know who these people are outside of their interview spots.  There are also a few too many cheesy elements that hold this idea back.  In the end, what started as a likely good idea became too clunky to work well.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, this cast screams amateurish.  Sometimes their performances appear to be overly practiced, while other times they are quite awkward.  Some line delivery is too breathy and measured.  Also, costuming and makeup are very odd and off-putting.  Overall, though it seems like they meant well, it’s not really good enough.

Conclusion

Films like Sacred Vow start off as something interesting but all too quickly and easily fall short of their original intentions.  Though some decent money was spent on this film, it wasn’t applied in a way that makes it worthwhile.  The story is too underwhelming and the cast is not adequate enough.  In the end, unfortunately, Sacred Vow is just another one of those random Christian films that easily gets tossed aside and lost in the shuffle.  What we need is more dynamic films, not more five-dollar-bin fodder.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

A Vow to Cherish (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

John and Ellen have been married for over two decades.  They have done everything together over the years and are still in love after all this time.  John and his brother built a successful business while Ellen was a recognized teacher.  They had two children whom they love.  However, one day, their seemingly perfect world comes crashing down when Ellen suddenly develops Alzheimer’s disease.  John is faced with hard choices as Ellen loses memory after memory and becomes increasingly confused.  Will he be able to stand up under the weight of it all and remain faithful?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though Worldwide Pictures did a majority of their movie making in the 1980s and 1990s, they perfected a production model that no other Christian film makers could successfully replicate at the time.  A Vow to Cherish is one of those productions—it has great camera work and good sets, locations, and props.  Audio quality is fine, although the soundtrack is a bit average.  Video quality is also acceptable considering the time frame, yet it could be a little better.  Some of the indoor scenes are poorly lit, but outside scenes are shot well.  Finally, the editing is quite good and makes for a good watch.  Overall, this is a great production for the time period and shows what a film maker can do if they truly care about quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Based on a novel by Deborah Raney, A Vow to Cherish is a very engaging and intriguing story.  It highlights the little-focused-on issue of aging and dementia as it portrays the progression of this debilitating disease very well, including a commitment to medical realism.  The progression of time in this sort of story can be difficult to properly handle, but A Vow to Cherish does so very well.  However, it is not without its issues, as the dialogue is largely designed to move the plot along and to tell information without showing it to the audience.  While the characters are mostly believable, there is a slightly unnecessary and unrealistic dichotomy between Christian characters and non-Christian characters.  Yet the struggles of these characters are meaningful and believable—thus, the audience is able to connect with them on some level.  But at the same time, there are too many underdeveloped subplots and characters that we would like to get to know better.  Overall, with an honest Christian message, A Vow to Cherish is a mixed bag plot with the potential to go further.  Thus, it warrants an average rating.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Worldwide Pictures was always able to assemble professional casts, and this film is no exception.  Line delivery is great, but some emotions seem forced and wooden.  Yet this cast does an excellent job portraying those who struggle with mental illness and those who care for them.  Overall, this is a job well done.

Conclusion

Even during the 90s, when good Christian movies were nearly impossible to come by, Worldwide Pictures demonstrated a commitment to producing quality films that were unfortunately unrivaled for their time period.  Though they are not the best, movies like A Vow to Cherish are still enjoyable today and definitely worth your time.  Current Christian film makers can learn a lot from the models used to make WWP movies; there are many newer films that unfortunately never made it to this point.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Until Forever {Undying Faith} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Michael Boyum was full of life and joy when Michelle first met him.  They grew to love each other and then the unthinkable happened: Michael began having health problems and was diagnosed with leukemia.  But they vowed to walk the journey together and to pray for God’s healing.  However, the longer it went and as the cancer kept coming back, they began to wonder what God’s real plan was.  Was God really listening or was there something they were missing?  Ultimately, they found that God’s plans were much higher than their own.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s very clear that much thought and care were put into this meaningful film that is based on true events.  This is evident in the wisely-spent production budget that yielded big results.  Camera work and video quality are flawless.  Audio quality is professional and the original soundtrack is creative and engaging.  Sets, locations, and props are extremely realistic.  It’s sad to say, but there are some minor editing issues that keep this production from being all that it could be.  But otherwise, Until Forever is a model production for independent film makers—you can hardly get any better than this.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Based on true events—you probably already know that we prefer this sort of plot because of realism—Until Forever demonstrates honesty and authenticity.  The struggles of the characters can be appreciated and connected with, yet they are not as deep as they could be.  This is likely due to under-developed dialogue, an overuse of narration, and too much silent dialogue that is covered over with musical montages.  There are also some peripheral characters and subplots that needed more exploration instead of that extra musical montage.  However, this film still demonstrates a great exploration of tough issues, including a fair and balanced philosophical conversation with the opposing point of view.  Even though the storyline follows a vague progression of time, the messaging is highly effective, as is the ending.  This is a touching story and is definitely worth a watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast clearly means well, they begin in a very awkward fashion—we are unsure as to how purposeful this is.  Nonetheless, it doesn’t really come off right, but they are saved by the fact that their performances do improve as the movie goes on, which is possibly due to improved coaching.  Emotions are realistic and easy to connect with.  On the whole, this is an above-average performance.

Conclusion

Until Forever should be a standard film in Christian entertainment, not an exception to the rule.  The market should be flooded with films like this, not the usual Christian-labeled garbage you stumble upon on video streaming services.  This film tells a real story in the most honest and meaningful way possible and spends time, effort, and money in doing so.  All we can ever ask from film makers is that they do the best they can with what God has given them, and the Linn family did this with Until Forever.  We can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points