Just Let Go [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Chris Williams loves his family, but when they are all either tragically killed or injured in a senseless drunk driving wreck, he struggles with why God would allow such a thing to happen to him and his family.  He and his two sons wrestle with grief, anger, and survivor’s guilt as they try to navigate the new and ugly life they have been given.  Will Chris ever be able to let go and forgive the privileged young man who took his family from him?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Unfortunately, it’s rare you see a production this high quality in the Christian realm.  Video quality, audio quality, and camera work are all what they should be.  The car wreck scenes are constructed excellently, even though this is likely very difficult to pull off properly.  Other sets, locations, and props are also well-created.  The soundtrack is very creative and appropriate.  The only small issue to point out here is a minor editing concern pertaining to some scenes lagging too long.  But in the end, this is a highly respectable production that other films should be modeled after.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

This film is based off of a powerful true story, yet you have to make it all the way to end to make things worthwhile.  The body of the film contains too much heavy-handed narration, as well as a heavy dose of melodrama that is hard to take in.  It’s difficult for the middle of the movie to hold the attention as it is too brooding and contains too many repeated sequences.  Though there is not quite enough dialogue throughout, there are a lot of interesting artistic elements, as well as a realistic portrayal grief, trauma, and mental health.  There are also good psychological and legal elements, but we would have liked to get to know the characters a little better without so much extreme emotion.  Even though the Christian message is unnecessarily muted and vague, the ending is definitely worth waiting for and makes this film what it is.  In the end, this is a great story with a lot of great elements, yet it could have been presented a little bit better.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Much like the production of this film, this cast is quite professional and well-coached.  Though they have some brief moments of being underwhelming and one too many dramatic touches, this is a very wall-cast and well-acted film.  This caps off a respectable and commendable effort.

Conclusion

These types of movies are very frustrating because they have almost everything going for them, yet there are some small issues that keep them from being all that they could be.  There are so many good things that can be learned from a movie like this, and it is definitely something to build off of for the future.  Many audiences will still enjoy this film, and it’s definitely worth your time.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

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Unidentified [2006] (Movie Review)

Strange invaders…

Plot Summary

Keith and Brad work for a magazine that is more prominent its own mind and when they are sent by their supervisor to investigate some UFO claims in some obscure small town in Texas, they can’t believe it.  They think it’s all pointless, especially when the locals refuse to talk about the sightings.  But when their friend Darren invites them to take a different look at the UFO phenomena, their whole world is turned upside down.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Sometimes the Christiano brothers put together a respectable production, but not in Unidentified.  The okay camera work is the only positive quality to speak of.  The video quality is quite cheap and there are too many cheesy special effects littering the film.  Though the plot goes all over the country, the sets and locations are fairly limited and mostly focus on the office set.  Finally, the editing is extremely choppy in a failed attempt to be dramatic.  In short, there are not enough redeeming qualities to make up for the rest of the nonsense in this movie.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

The Christiano brothers might as well have not even tried to make this a fiction plot, because it’s mainly a docu-drama filled with regurgitated UFO documentary talking points.  There are tons of disjointed subplots that are nearly impossible to follow and that are based entirely on coincidences.  Things happen because they need to as the dialogue is filled with information dumps and consists of long and drawn out conversations.  There is also tons of off-screen content.  A clear agenda is being pushed here, placing this plot in the propaganda category.  Even though there may be some truth to what is being said here, it comes off as disingenuous and is mostly clouded with legalism.  As usual, opposing worldviews are treated offensively, thus warranting negative points.  Finally, this film has the weirdest end since Decision that you have to see to believe.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Except for a few small positive elements, this cast is very unprofessional.  It’s not only a very awkward cast, but they are not coached very well at all.  Their line delivery and emotional delivery are overly practiced and robotic.  Some cast members come off as lofty.  In short, this rounds out a very embarrassing effort.

Conclusion

It is clear that the Christiano brothers have a legalistic agenda to push both in this film and in others like Time Changer and A Matter of Faith.  The sad thing is that spiritual issues like the ones alluded to in Unidentified need to be discussed on Christian film, yet people like the Christianos are the only ones who seem to do this, and always in the wrong way.  There is some truth to the UFO phenomena, but no one is going to learn it from this film.  Unidentified only serves to further solidify a Pharisaical and sometimes bizarre image in Christian film, especially Christian sci-fi, which is a needed genre.  Who will stand up to reverse this trend?

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

 

Hometown Legend [2002] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In a struggling small town in rural Alabama, a high school is struggling in many ways, not only financially, but also emotionally.  But now that a famous football coach is back in town to revive the team, locals have a new reason to hope.  A teenager running from home finds sanctuary in this town as he uses his work ethic to get onto the football team in route to turning his life around via a university football scholarship.  But when trouble strikes again, the townspeople will have to decide whether or not they will give up or rise up.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

With a modest budget behind it, Hometown Legend certainly spent the money pretty well.  Sports movies have to be able to nail the action shots and the outside scenes, and this film does that, including respectable camera work.  As usual, the video quality and audio quality both pass the test.  The soundtrack is a bit too pedestrian and borderline Hallmark; this is something that needed a change.  Another common theme in these types of films is weak editing, and Hometown Legend also has this attribute.  A movie like this one needs a strong edit, and this simply does not happen, as some scenes carry on longer than they should while others are underdeveloped.  In short, Hometown Legend is a very average film in pretty much every way.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

While Jerry B. Jenkins’ original novel is memorable, the film adaptation does not capture its authenticity.  Where the characters are down to earth in the book, they fail to be in the movie.  The underdevelopment of these characters is likely due to the number of flat scenes throughout the film.  The storyline of Hometown Legend is neither cheesy nor dynamic—it’s very static and safe.  A plot like this one needed to have an abstract yet down-to-earth feel to it, but it does not.  It’s too generic and does not stand out in a crowded genre.  There aren’t enough plot twists and the ending is anti-climactic.  In short, where this plot could have been great, it falls short.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This movie is cast fairly well; people are placed in appropriate positions.  Emotions are fairly believable and line delivery is pretty good.  However, in keeping with the other aspects of this film, there is really nothing dynamic here, even though there could have been.  This is really the theme of the movie.

Conclusion

Hometown Legend portrays the simplicity of small town life in Alabama—with a stereotypical diner and a high school football team to cheer for.  It lives up to its simple message in every way, with a simple production, a simple storyline, and simple acting.  There’s nothing wrong with simple.  In fact, simple can be groundbreaking and profound.  However, this movie is a little too simple and does not touch the authentic thread that it needed to.  Many will find it enjoyable and it’s not half bad, but we would love to see a remake, because it can definitely be greater than this.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Revelation Road 3: The Black Rider

Plot Summary

Two years after the Rapture, the enigmatic Josh McManus has a mission to do good and to right wrongs, even when it seems like evil is winning.  His latest mission takes him to a strict and legalistic settlement that tolerates no crime in order to gain medical attention for an injured girl.  In exchange for both of their lives, Josh must carry out a dangerous mission: search for a mysterious and troublemaking vagrant known as the Shepherd and bring him back so the settlement leader, Drake, can exchange him to his superiors for more life saving supplies.  In route to searching for the Shepherd, Josh and his unwanted tagalong, Sofia, must battle multiple villains and come to grips with what they truly believe about Jesus and His plan for the world.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Despite previous production struggles, Bradley Dorsey and Gabriel Sabloff have greatly improved this franchise.  The camera work improves dramatically in The Black Rider, as does the sound quality.  The surroundings and sets are innovative and creative.  Gone are ridiculous special effects, including that weird lightning!  This would have been a stellar production were in not for a collection of small issues—no doubt White influences.  For example, the CGI that is used is very amateurish.  Action scenes are overall not produced well, and there are too many of them, which is an editing problem.  The scope of the plot is so vast that precious time does not need to be wasted on silly fight scenes.  Yet these such portions squeezed out the deepening of plot creativity.  Nonetheless, this is the type of production that Pureflix has been trying to stab in the dark for years.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The abysmal non-plot of The Beginning of the End seems like a distant memory after viewing The Black Rider.  There is a unique psychological edge to this plot and creative concepts that give the film deeper meaning beyond car chases and gunfights.  An entire new cast of characters is introduced, and it actually works.  A new world is introduced two years after The Sea of Glass and Fire, and it’s better than before.  But this new world is a double-edged sword—it’s too big for the scope of this film.  If more of this world had been explained in The Sea of Glass and Fire, we would have a framework to understand, but this did not happen.  Foreign plot devices such as the ominous ULC are forced upon viewers without explanation.  However, the city-state government system works well in this apocalyptic setting and gives the movie that epic backdrop David A. R. White has been searching for.  Moreover, there are other speculative concepts that are introduced and not fully explained.  Yet the gospel message is philosophically communicated far better than ever before in a Pureflix movie, and all without forcing the message down the audience’s throats.  There is unfortunately still wasted time on childish fighting scenes.  The escapades of Josh McManus, a surprisingly good character, border on unrealistic and sometimes coincidental.  Some of the many villains in this movie are laughable, while others are believable.  Each character is crafted through mostly effective dialogue.  The ending of this plot is also a double-edged sword: it both introduces a key psychological element and confuses the audience.  It both isolates the viewer and makes them want more.  Any further discussion is beyond the scope of this review, but the bottom line is Dorsey and Sabloff really have something going here, something that needs to be continued.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Hands down, The Black Rider is David A. R. White’s best acting work to date.  Bradley Dorsey also contributes an excellent role to the film, perhaps his best.  Unfortunately, there is still some cheesy acting from certain cast members.  Kevin Sorbo in a thrift store disaster getup and sporting a fake insert-ethnicity-here accent is just too much to bear.  Action acting is still B-grade.  Other small issues plague an otherwise great casting job, such as that dumb sheet the Shepherd wears.  Otherwise, costuming is fairly responsible.  Line delivery is sometimes effective and sometimes forced.  Emotions are mostly believable.  In short, everything about this film is give and take: for every cheesy element, there is an excellent element, and vice versa.

Conclusion

The Revelation Road saga is a cinematic freak of nature—a film franchise with a redemption arc of its own that closely mirrors the rise of Josh McManus, the surprising crowning achievement of David A. R. White’s acting career.  Nonetheless, The Black Rider is a constant tug of war between the C-grade action of The Beginning of the End and the psychological creativity of The Sea of Glass and Fire.  The third installment suffers from the wasted time of the first two installments, where this time could have been used to build a better backstory instead of shoving in all into one movie, intending to fix a broken series in one stroke.  But The Black Rider is proof that broken sagas can be fixed.  Therefore, we are surprisingly anticipating the release of Revelation Road 4.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points