Mountain Top [2017] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

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

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (2 points)

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

Conclusion

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

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Season of Miracles (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

In the year 1974, when an autistic player joins a local baseball team, the transition is not as smooth as it could have been because the old team wanted to keep things the way they were. However, the coach intends to make the situation work, so the boys must learn to accept each other’s differences and unite against a common foe: their closest rival team. In the end, the season turns out in a way none of them could have ever dreamed.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Season of Miracles is a mixed bag in the production category. While there is some odd lighting in the indoor scenes, as well as randomly blurry video quality, the outside scenes are actually better in these areas. Even still, many scenes have an odd vintage look to them, which may or may not be purposeful. There is also some inconsistent audio quality throughout film, including some overdubbed parts, and action shots have shaky camera work. However, with the exception of the soundtrack, which remains generic throughout the movie, the production overall improves as time goes on, especially when it comes to the filming of action shots. By the end of the film, the production seems right on par with standard, which is why it did enough to achieve an average rating.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

As a whole, it’s unfortunately hard to discern the actual purpose behind Season of Miracles. It’s commendable to explore the treatment of special needs people in previous decades, but this intention doesn’t really come through very well since the plot is mostly filled with lots of baseball montages and tons of random characters that the audience can’t really relate to due to the lack of adequate dialogue. Deciding who and what to focus on as the story progresses is a difficult feat to accomplish since it’s tough to differentiate between some of the characters. There are many, many stock sports scenes and training\game sequences that steal valuable time away from the central storyline, whatever it may be. Further, the Christian message feels extremely forced and entirely based upon awkward platitudes while the non-Christian characters within the plot are total strawmen. In the end, despite the potential this story has with the special needs subplot, there just isn’t enough here, and the overall experience is too vague to justify a higher rating.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, the acting in Season of Miracles is average, but there are some oddly awkward moments with the adolescent and child cast members that probably required further coaching than they had available. The younger actors and actresses seem too earnest at times, but by far the worst element of the acting is the fact that a Caucasian cast member appears to be playing a Hispanic character, which comes off as very offensive. However, there are some other good performances that balance out these concerns and bring the score up to par.

Conclusion

In the end, there may be a lot of good intentions behind films like Season of Miracles, but there are too many pitfalls that comes with them. There are a handful of issues that could have been easily solved through more collaboration, which is truly the tale of Christian entertainment. Lack of purposeful cooperation across multiple different creative teams is what keeps potentially interesting movies like this one from being all that they can be. There have been many missed opportunities like this one in the recent years, but hopefully, we are entering a new era of Christian creativity where collaboration and following God’s plan for what should and shouldn’t be made are the guiding lights.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Virtuous [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Simone Burner is attacked by the grandson of a powerful man, she is arrested for the grandson’s murder and mostly everybody in the city turns against her for no particular reason.  Therefore, she has to seek out the help of an estranged attorney who doesn’t really like her as her last resort.  Meanwhile, there are tons of others subplots are all going on at the same time as other random characters are briefly introduced who have very loose connections to the original point.  With so much going on, the question is not what will happen, but will anyone understand what is happening?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Virtuous has a professional and adequate production, as evidenced by clear video quality, good camera work, acceptable audio quality, and an intriguing soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are professionally chosen and presented.  On the surface, it seems like Virtuous checked all the necessary boxes to receive a passing score.  However, the major detractor here is the horrific editing.  Somewhere in post-production, someone needed to sit down and have a serious talk with the JC Films team about whether or not it’s justified to have a 150 minute film that has next to no continuity.  This was the editor’s job; however, this was not done, and thus, it leaves a gaping hole in this film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

As previously mentioned, this perhaps the most convoluted and non-continuous plot in all of our viewing days.  With hundreds of subplots that have very little connection to one another, there is no way to make sense of what is going on as the story hops from one random thing to the next.  There’s all kinds of intrigue with this local judicial and law enforcement system and how corrupt businessmen are trying to control stuff, plus some stereotypical down-on-his-luck who takes on a seemingly impossible case that has some ties to a non-profit involving Erin Bethea, and this doesn’t even cover the random guy in the hospital and the nurse who takes care of him who also has a questionable position on the jury of the original trial.  This previous run-on sentence doesn’t even cover all the points Virtuous tries to expand on.  It’s like twelve different people all had ideas and decided to shove them all together into one bloated film.  With so much going on, there is no hope for character development as dialogue is stunted and all over the place.  The only characters that stand out are strawmen villains, unfortunately.  Yet despite all of this massive blending of concepts, there is a really interesting idea somewhere lost in the fray that would be better served in a miniseries format.  It’s disappointing to see good ideas go to such waste, especially when it’s like this.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

With so many cast members, it’s really hard to keep up.  This is an unusually large cast for a Christian film, thus making the performances inconsistent and random.  Sometimes line delivery and emotional delivery are good, while other times they are not.  Overall, it comes out as fairly average.

Conclusion

When you’re in the process of making a film that is over two and a half hours and you actually have the budget to make a film this long, perhaps you need to stop and consider: with so much content, I should make this a series!  People love series: just look at the unexplainable success of When Calls the Heart.  Why not, instead of making a cumbersome film like this one, try something different and create an interesting genre-busting Christian series.  It would be a huge hit.  Yet once again, we are left wondering what could have been.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Screenwriters [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When the great movie producer Chester Mayer threatens the famous screenwriter Stewart Harvey to give him a script or else, aspiring intern Chip Leninskovich steps in to help Stewart, whom he has always looked up to.  Together, they begrudgingly agree to write a script in 24 hours in order to satisfy the hard-nosed producer.  But in the midst of their furious writing, the two men discover they have more in common than they thought.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s clear that the Advent Film Group team put their fullest effort into crafting historically authentic surroundings for this film.  Props and the few sets that there are speak to a commitment to being very authentic.  Even the black and white video is effective.  The soundtrack is also reminiscent of the era that is portrayed.  Camera work is professional as well.  There are very few errors to point out here, and they only pertain to editing, as some scenes are too long, while others are too short.  There are also too many montages that try to fill time.  But in the end, this production effort is a job well done—we can’t wait to see it applied to a bigger scale.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, the simplistic plot structure of The Screenwriters holds it back from being all that it could be.  The scope of the story is too limited to one room with a handful of people coming and going from it and talking about the past and what they want to do.  Flashbacks would have been helpful to get outside of that room.  Besides this, the plot follows a predictable progression—we actually like the plot the characters were writing better than the actual plot.  We would have loved to see it replicated alongside the main storyline.  Finally, some of the characters in this film are intriguing while some are cheesy.  Effort is put into developing their backstories, but we would have liked to see more.  In short, this plot needed to be more dynamic so that this movie could be all that it could have been.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

This casting job is surprisingly respectable, considering who the cast includes.  This is perhaps Richard Swingle’s best acting performance to date.  Jason Burkey is better than usual, and Jenn Gotzon is just herself.  The only issues to raise here is some silly emotional delivery and ‘goofy’ elements.  But in the end, this casting is a breath of fresh air.

Conclusion

Advent Film Group is on the verge of something great.  They have assembled the necessary tools to craft a high quality production.  They know how to cast a film and coach the cast members.  All that’s missing now is a dynamic plot.  Like many other almost-there film makers, once Advent solves the plot puzzle, they will be a force to be reckoned with.  We anticipate their next release.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

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

 

Heaven Bound [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ted is a successful dog food marketer until one fateful day when he accidentally kills his company’s iconic mascot and becomes the town laughingstock.  Underemployed and in debt, Ted and his wife Josie are doing their best to make ends meet, but it’s not enough.  Josie is unhappy, so she concocts a plan to swipe her elderly boss’ valuables in order to pay their debts.  Accompanied by her lazy little brother, Ted and Josie attempt to pull off a caper but soon find that their intended victim has more in store for them than they thought.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

Heaven Bound is a measuring rod for films with limited sets.  It uses each location to its fullest potential through effective and witty camera work and crisp video quality.  Audio quality is also exquisite, including a memorable original soundtrack.  The editing is highly effective in driving the comedy home.  In short, there are no production errors, thus giving this area a perfect score.  Adam Drake and Torry Martin show true talent with productions and great potential for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

You can always count on Marshal Younger, Torry Martin, and Rene Gutteridge to deliver an eccentrically funny storyline filled with true comedy.  This plot is a masterful mix of humor and meaning.  They demonstrate how to write a plot with only a handful of characters: though they are few in number, each character is very deep and believable.  The biggest drawback to raise here is that the plot is mostly formulaic and predictable, but it is still highly enjoyable.  This team took the storyline to its fullest potential, and that’s all we ever want to see.  They have true talent and should be utilized in more movies in the future.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Though a small cast, this group carries the film well with highly professional acting.  Each character is cast appropriately and delivers their lines effectively.  A wide range of believable emotions are also displayed.  With no errors, this is a job well done.

Conclusion

With Drake and Martin handling production and Younger, Martin, and Gutteridge handling the writing, Heaven Bound is a true work of art—a lethal combination of comic genius, thus warranting a spot on the Hall of Fame.  This film had a limited budget—imagine what they could do with more resources!  This team has true talent and they will be getting bigger and better as time goes on; we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.  In the meantime, Heaven Bound is definitely a movie you want to make time to see.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

https://vimeo.com/199484564



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

The Confession [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Leaving her Amish family behind in order to discover who she truly is in the world, Katie Lapp soon discovers that the Englisher life is harder than she anticipated.  She tries to work a restaurant job while searching for the mother she never met, Laura Mayfield-Bennet.  As a wealthy woman with a terminal illness, Laura is wary of leaving too much for her husband, Dylan, to gamble away like he has before.  She longs to find the long lost daughter she gave up years before, but she gives up all hope until one day, a miracle seemingly occurs.  Has her daughter really returned to her or has her husband pulled another one of his tricks?  In the midst of the confusion, Katie Lapp must keep her head above water and trust that God is in control.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Michael Landon Jr. and Brian Bird always seem like they are on the cusp of production greatness, and The Confession inches closer to production perfection, improving from the standard performance of The Shunning.  Camera work is highly professional, as is video quality.  Sound quality is good across the board.  The sets and locations are more realistic and diverse than the previous installment and give the film a tangible feel.  Yet two areas—the soundtrack and the editing—keep this production from being all it could be.  For one, The Confession utilizes a vanilla Hallmark-ish soundtrack that doesn’t inspire much.  For another, there are some lapses of editing, namely some odd assumptions, leaps in logic, and plot holes.  For the most part, the editing is fine, but there are just enough errors to create a small amount of confusion.  But in the end, this is actually a really good production and showcases what the Landon Jr. crew can do.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The Confession is more complex than The Shunning and it is really an interesting storyline.  The structure is unique and is mostly not one that is commonly used.  The conflict is slightly simple, but at least it’s not a copy of a copy of a copy.  Characters feel more real in the second movie than in the first one, and this is probably because of some more meaningful and deeper dialogue.  But there are a few silly moments that keep the character development from being all that it could be.  Elsewhere, as previously mentioned, there are some plot holes and leaps and logic that are inserted just to keep the plot moving to a desired conclusion.  For instance, how did replacement servant never arrive from ‘the agency’ and expose Katie for not being the replacement servant?  This allows the plot to progress forward to its desired conclusion with a dramatic will-signing scene.  For the most part, the error finding in this film is a little bit nitpicky, but we would have preferred to see the plot progress more naturally and not so carefully orchestrated.  Also, the ending of the film is quite confusing and isolating, obviously just setting up for the next film.  In the end, The Confession is an enjoyable plot with a touching message—it’s just too bad it wasn’t better because it definitely could have been.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Usually, changing a handful of the cast members in the middle of a trilogy isn’t a good idea, but it actually helps this franchise.  Katie Leclerc is a much better Katie Lapp and makes her character feel more authentic.  Elsewhere, emotional delivery and line delivery are much improved.  Everyone is cast very appropriately.  For the most part, Landon Jr. and company avoid their usual over-costuming mistakes.  Unfortunately, a handful of minor errors keep the acting quality from being perfect, but it is still a formidable effort.

Conclusion

Landon Jr., Bird, and their comrades have always demonstrated an ability to adapt Christian novels into films, and The Confession is probably their second best.  It’s oh-so-close to being Hall of Fame due to its professional feel and slightly creative plot, but several minor issues become a perfect storm to keep this from happening.  Unfortunately, only major plot reconstruction would have made it any better.  Yet it is good how it is and many people will enjoy this film.  Therefore, we can’t help but wonder that Hallmark’s production absence from this film somehow made it better.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

The Shunning [2011] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Katie Lapp’s life is about to change.  As a young Amish woman, she is coming of age and has been chosen by Hickory Hollow’s bishop to be his wife in order to raise his two children following the death of his wife.  But Katie is struggling with her Amish identity and wonders if there is another life for her outside of Lancaster County, as she secretly plays non-Amish music on her worldly guitar.  She also misses her true love, Daniel Fisher, after his tragic death.  What’s more, a mysterious Englisher woman has been asking around Lancaster County for Katie by name.  Everything comes to a head as Katie finally must choose between the life she has grown up in and the life she wants to find outside of Hickory Hollow.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The Shunning has all the typical marks of a Michael Landon Jr.\Brian Bird production: good video quality, professional camera work, vanilla editing, a clichéd setting and surroundings, and unrealistic costuming.  Landon Jr. and Bird have always known how to invest in quality camera work and video quality, but they unfortunately let too many other things fall by the wayside.  This plot is sleepy enough as it is, but the editing does nothing to help this fact.  Slow transitions between scenes and long fadeouts tempt the viewer to fast forward.  There are also too many scenery sequences that could have been used instead to build characters.  Also, it’s really hard to know if the portrayal of the Amish in this film is realistic or if it’s embellished.  Yet there are enough positive elements to lift this production about average status, but we await the day when the Landon Jr.\Bird team finally goes all the way, as they clearly have the means to do.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from Beverly Lewis’ popular novel by the same name, The Shunning just carries the entire identity of a stereotypical Amish plot.  As previously mentioned, some of the elements are likely realistic, but we can’t help but think that some real Amish people would feel offended by some of the portrayals.  There is little meaningful plot content as this film is obviously just setting up for the second installment of the trilogy.  Character development is shallow and dialogue is vanilla.  If so much time was going to be spent on preparing for the next film, it was an absolute must for characters to be deep and meaningful by the time the credits rolled.  Unfortunately, this did not happen.  On the brighter side, the use of flashbacks in this film are effective and creative.  The subplot overlay is intriguing and breathes new life into the film about halfway through.  Overall, while there are some interesting points, this plot really doesn’t hold the attention and it’s difficult to know what audience this movie would draw interest from.  As we’ve mentioned in the past, Landon Jr. specializes in bringing Christian novels to the big screen, but too often, the books are better than the movies.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

With obviously practiced ‘Amish’ accents, dialogue from the cast members is often hard to understand without captioning.  Yet the acting is not terrible and is sometimes quite good.  Emotions are sometimes over the top and other times realistic.  It’s not that this movie was cast wrong—they are not coached good enough.  Therefore, this is just another average contribution to the movie.

Conclusion

The Shunning is one of those movies that, when analyzed, is really not that bad, but it carries an intangible air to it that makes it extremely forgettable.  Landon Jr. and Bird have the ability and potential to make a huge difference in the Christian\inspirational movie field, but they constantly settle for second best.  There are plenty of other more meaningful, creative, and complex Christian novels that desperately need to be made into screenplays, and Landon Jr. and company have demonstrated the willingness and ability to do this.  What Christian film needs is game changers, not the status quo keepers.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points