Tulsa [2020] (Movie Review)

Tulsa (2020)

Plot Summary

Tommy is a troubled ex-Marine with several substance abuse problems, but now, Tulsa, a girl in the foster care system, is claiming that Tommy’s her father. Thus, Tulsa’s social worker decides to go against her superior’s advice and forces Tommy to take Tulsa on a trial basis. Tulsa wastes no time trying to reform her alleged father so that he’s ready for the home visit. Will Tommy be able to turn around his life before it’s too late?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The beginning of this 2020 production is rough, including shaky camera work and inconsistent audio quality. The video is consistently clear, but the lighting tends to go back and forth. While the soundtrack is interesting, it sometimes is shocking in the way it’s introduced. Editing also leaves something to be desired as it’s choppy and discombobulated. However, there’s enough improvement in the second half of this film to justify an average score for this section.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It seems like the whole point of Tulsa is to get to a certain point that the writers wanted to get to, but to do so, they move very fast and commit a number of errors. An entire subsection of problems relates to violating reality for the narrative’s sake. For instance, the foster care system is portrayed in unrealistic ways in this movie. Some characters bend rules to make things happen, and there are a lot of seemingly purposeful ethical problems that have to occur for the plot to reach its forced conclusion. Besides these unforced concerns, the story generally meanders without purpose, filled with blank scenes that waste time and add no value. It sometimes seems like things keep going in circles just to fill time, which doesn’t justify a nearly two-hour runtime. The titular character is basically perfect, but her co-lead makes random decisions without logical reasons, and he suddenly changes for no reason. Though unexpected flashbacks suddenly appear in the screenplay’s second half that provide potential for character motive, they’re too little too late. There are not a few unearned dramatic moments, and unexpected things sometimes happen just because the writers’ agenda needs them to take place. Whatever they were trying to convey is lost in translation and poorly communicated, leading to a rushed conclusion that leaves the viewers empty. Hence, Tulsa joins a long line of forgettable Christian films.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, the acting is actually the strongest aspect of this movie. Despite some portions being unsure, other parts are fine. Line delivery and emotional performances are mostly believable and on point. However, it’s not enough to lift Tulsa from the basement.

Conclusion

It’s 2020, and low quality Christian entertainment continues to be a mainstay in the field. We’re long past the days where generic inspirational movies with passable productions and casting can be the market standard. It’s time for the next generation of film makers to turn the arena on its ear by doing something different. When the right people allow God to correctly apply their talents, things will finally begin to change.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Blackbear {Submission} [2019] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

Production Quality (1.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

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

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

The List [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jack Stone was dealt a bad hand as a foster kid, but he decided to strike out on his own and not let it get him down.  With hard work and determination, he completed law school and passed the bar before landing himself a lucrative job at a top law firm.  He always abided by his list of goals, and one of them was to start a family, so once he finally found the woman of his dreams, they become frustrated when they cannot have children.  But one day a miracle occurs, yet Jack consistently puts his work first.  Eventually, he will have to face the ultimate choice of what is important in his life.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The List unfortunately had a limited budget, as most startup films do.  There is shaky camera work and one too many dark lighting scenes.  Audio quality is seemingly inconsistent, including a loud soundtrack.  Sets and locations are fairly realistic.  As for the editing, there are too many awkward cuts and transitions in pursuit of cramming tons of content into this film.  However, it seems like more money was given to the second half of the film, as the production quality overall improves as the movie goes on.  With that being said, it might have been better to make this film shorter so that money was saved and used more wisely.  In the end, this is an average effort and is commendable for a pilot.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

It was very difficult to concisely summarize the plot of this film above because this story tries to cover so much content all at once.  Beginning with a collection of unexplained and random scenes, The List grows and changes as the story jumps all over the place with no continuity.  In an attempt to be an epic, all focus and purpose are lost in pursuit of covering ground and making time pass.  There are also too many failed attempts at comedy and other wasted scenes that do nothing to build characters.  Things just randomly happen and the empty and mindless characters are swept up in them.  They need much more development and deepening through better dialogue.  The only thing that keeps this plot from being a zero is the good message that is hidden somewhere in here.  With this, there are loads of untapped potential that make for a disappointing watch.

Acting Quality (1 point)

As a slightly amateurish cast, sometimes the performances here can be lazy and goofy.  At other times, the cast members seem robotic and overly coached.  Thus, emotions are sometimes hard to connect with and lines are sometimes delivered awkwardly.  But there are also good aspects to this cast as they show some potential for the future.

Conclusion

Epics are very hard to make and should be seldom attempted unless there is a really good (and probably true) story for the plot to build on.  Characters must be developed even though time is passing quickly, and this is a difficult feat to pull off.  If the creative team is not prepared to make an epic perfect, it can easily become a huge failure.  Sometimes it’s better to stick with small ideas, especially if you are still trying to hone your film making skills.  However, this team has potential for the future and we look forward to what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points