Washington’s Armor (2020?)

Coming in 2020 from Capernaum Studios and Tammy Lane Productions

Writer(s): Andrew Librizzi

Director(s): Tammy Lane

Producer(s): Theresa Hayes, Tammy Lane, Aaron Burns

Cast: Stephen A. Elkins, Ashley Bratcher, Alex Ryan Brown, Nick Caldwell, David Dittmeier, Amanda Joy Erickson, Andrew Flagg, Jeremy Gauna, Eddie T. Gomez, Jourin Hannah, Micah Lynn Hanson, Ryan T. Johnson, Wayne Matychuk, Willie Mellina, Nathan D. Myers, Jeff Pearson, Darrell Philip, Sophie Proctor, William Row, Nicolas Shook, Todd Terry, Kevin Toy, Colton Vaughn, Kimberly Gail Williams, Tim Ross

Plot summary: Follows the trajectory of George Washington as a boy and a young man as he develops his relationships and ideals.

Vindication, Season 1 [2019] (Series Review)

Plot Summary

Detective Travis always wants to bring the criminals of his small Texas town to justice. However, he’s not always right, and he can’t do it all on his own, despite what he believes about himself. Through every twist and turn of each case, the detective learns something new about himself and about life, but the ultimate challenge of his work and life involves his daughter and her checkered past. Thus, when she comes to stay with him and his wife, he’s sure she’s got something to hide. However, he could have never foreseen the end result of this.

Production Quality (1.5 points)
For a relatively low-budget series, Vindication is definitely trying when it comes to production. The video quality is great throughout, and the camera work is respectable. Sets, locations, and props are mostly fine, but the audio is sometimes too quiet. At first, there’s basically no soundtrack, but this tends to improve as the series goes on. While there are some creative story overlays and plot criss-crossing throughout, the editing can be fairly choppy at times. Sometimes, scenes start and stop at awkward places, and some portions seem unnecessary. However, this element also tends to improve with time. In the end, this is an average production that shows commendable effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)
What an absolute roller coaster of a storyline. It’s difficult to know where to begin with this; in the first two-thirds of the series, many of the cases are either fairly unrealistic or extremely simplistic. Some contain improbable circumstances just for the sake, it seems, of being unique and tricky. Others contain lots of coincidences and convenient turns; many of them include partially or mostly inappropriate content seemingly just because. While being edgy and realistic is a good quality to have in Christian entertainment (rather than white-washing humanity), there’s a fine line to walk between authentic and trashy. As a side note, some of the ‘crimes’ that are actually ‘twists’ are substantially questionable and borderline ‘vindicate’ the wrong types of behavior. Elsewhere, the suspense elements don’t seem to jive with reality even though there are some interesting psychological elements throughout. Besides the head-scratching partially objectionable content included, the treatment of police ethics and criminal procedure throughout the series would be offensive to many real police officers. Rules are callously broken with no resource, and while it would be one thing to portray a rogue cop in a negative light for the purpose of being realistic, it’s another thing to downright condone unethical practices in the name of doing the right thing, including mixing personal vendettas against certain people and in favor of family members with police work. The detectives’ time is spent on petty misunderstandings that would likely draw the attention of higher authorities due to their frivolous use of resources and questionable methods of arresting people with little reasonable suspicion. These two major problem areas (inappropriate content and offensive portrayal of procedure) are almost enough to totally derail the series from the get-go, especially when these issues are combined with a lot of blank and empty dialogue and cheap Christian messaging throughout the first two-thirds of the season. Odd portrayals of women and minorities throughout the series are also concerns to contend with, but the recurring subplot between the main character and his daughter keep the narrative on life support long enough to get to the final two episodes of the season, which almost save the writers from themselves. It’s clear that the entire series was made for this storyline, and the daughter is the only notably interesting character in the entire creation. The last two episodes are so starkly different from the other ones (except for the disregard for jurisdiction and other questionable practices in the name of being police with agendas) that it seems like an entirely different idea, yet the thinly-developed characters still shine through due to their lack of depth in the first eight episodes. Had they been properly built in the first two-thirds of the season via real cases and authentic circumstances, we would be looking at a totally different concept. As they are, the last two installments include very effective flashbacks that take a good look at hard issues effecting many people. In doing so, the final ‘villain’ is fairly realistic, and the partial conclusion of the subplot between the father and daughter is mostly authentic and believable. Nevertheless, despite the acceptable ending, it doesn’t cover over the multitude of sins committed by the rest of the storyline.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)
Acting isn’t a glaring problem throughout the series even if many cast members come off as very robotic and overly practiced. However, this is likely not a talent problem or a coaching issue because the lines they are given are usually uninspiring. This is evident since acting seems to improve as dialogue gets a slight upgrade in the latter third of the season. Although makeup is terrible at first, this seems to get better too. The key standout performance from every episode she’s in comes from Emma Elle Roberts as she sets herself apart as a truly talented actress with potential beyond this series. In the end, this is neither the best nor the worst acting from a Christian season.

Continuity Quality (1.5 points)
As previously mentioned, the only significant continuity throughout season one of Vindication involves the storylines of the central character’s family, especially his interactions with his daughter and her checkered past. However, these recurring subplots are fairly good in the midst of a mostly typical recurring crime drama style. Still, it would have been preferable to see some other interwoven subplots that were worthwhile to follow.

Conclusion

The creators of Vindication are trying to do something, but there are too many elements of season one that are way off base. The use of edgy content is commendable for a crime series, but it would be nice to see better standards of propriety when it comes to dealing with sensitive topics. For another, a lot of significant research needs to be conducted before anyone creates a drama centered around criminal procedure and police work because it can be easy to make careless mistakes. Further, there needs to be a better look at mental and behavioral health issues beyond simplifying them and reducing them to trite Christian sayings and prayers. In the end, this concept may work better as a larger-scale federal investigative storyline rather than confining it to a small town with unusual half-mysteries. To summarize, the creators have potential somewhere in here, but there’s too much blocking out the light.

Final Rating: 5 out of 14 points

One Church (Movie Review)

Image result for one church christian movie

Plot Summary

Cornelius Barlow is a devious politician who has had a vendetta against organized religion ever since his daughter was killed by a cult. Instead of eradicating religion, however, once he becomes President of the United States, he decides to make his own united religion by bringing all faiths together and by forcing them to work together. Unfortunately, this doesn’t go as simply as he planned as he faces opposition from a secret resistance who claims that they know the only truth of salvation: Jesus Christ. Will their numbers be able to survive the coming persecution?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

One Church is one of those Christian suspense films that bites off more than it can chew in the production department. This is evident by the shaky camera work, the loud soundtrack and sound effects, and the inconsistent audio that is sometimes muted. There are also a lot of tight shots and a weird aspect ratio, along with some randomly blurry camera shots and odd camera angles. Some scenes also cut off very abruptly as if this is an early cut that wasn’t finished. However, not all is bad in this production as there are some elements that are fine throughout, such as the sets, locations, and props, which keep this production from being below average. Even still, if the funding and resources aren’t there for a good suspense plot, it’s better to not make it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

While this is an interesting attempt at a different type of plot, it’s based too much on far-fetched concepts and ‘bad’ characters that are total strawmen and get worse as the film progresses. The premise also progressively become more unrealistic, and large time jumps hurt any hope there was of plot and character growth. Time is mostly spent on montages, which leaves characters shallow and the purpose of the film unclear. One thing happens after the next in very rapid fashion, and expository dialogue is used as a shortcut. There are too many vague ideas that are started without backup or follow-through, and sequences of boring activities are used in place of actual conversations between characters that could help us get to know them as people. In the end, the story ends in a very awkward and abrupt fashion that makes it even more unclear why this movie was even made.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, the acting is fine without any major problems, even though it’s underwhelming and vanilla at times. Sometimes, dialogue is slightly mumbled, and line delivery is under-performing at times. It seems like some cast members become more and more dramatic as the film goes on, and other case members don’t do enough to make up for these poor performances. However, the early acting does enough to keep this section average, which rounds out an overall blah movie.

Conclusion

The JC Films team still hasn’t found itself in movie-making. They are disjointed and disconnected from both reality and relevance in the film world. They have a lot of ambitions and want to try different things (sometimes), but they have no foundation or basis for what they do. This likely won’t change until they begin retaining real screenwriters and actually put their funding and resources to good use.

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

Andy’s Rainbow (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Rayne is caught shoplifting, she is given the choice between juvenile detention and community service.  She opts for community service and is assigned to a local home for special needs teenagers who have nowhere else to go.  She is immediately befriended by a resident named Andy, much to her chagrin, who constantly shows an interest in her as a person, something no one has ever done before, especially her drunk father.  Will Rayne’s walls come down and will she learn to love another person?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

It’s clear that the effort that went into this film was honest and caring.  The budget was likely limited in this effort, however, which keeps the production from being all that it could be.  Video quality is fine, as is camera work.  Yet there are some minor audio issues, although the soundtrack is fine.  Sets and locations are somewhat limited and are sometimes oddly lit, but they are mostly realistic.  There are some odd special effects throughout, but they really appear to be trying.  Editing is just average but is better than most films.  Overall, this is an applaudable effort that will hopefully yield better results down the road.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though this story is quite simplistic and linear, it’s an honest look at real people and is a realistic portrayal of people and the struggles they endure.  Special needs people are given a good platform and character backstories are believable and demonstrate and connection to the real world.  Thus, character development is mostly good, even if the dialogue isn’t as creative as it could be at times.  The writers definitely meant well with this plot, yet it needs a little more development and complexity to be dynamic.  The ending is very touching and shows that this creative team isn’t afraid to take risks.  It will be interesting see what they write up in future projects.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though this is a semi-amateurish cast, they post some good performances.  However, there are some forced emotions and line delivery throughout.  Yet like the rest of this film, it seems like they mean well and have a general grasp on what they are doing.  Some upgraded coaching would make them dynamic.

Conclusion

Andy’s Rainbow is another one of those low-budget first-time films that desperately needs a remake because it presents realistic and honest characters that the audience can connect with.  Yet the plot needs an upgrade, as does the acting coaching and the production.  With these minor changes, this creative will make a big difference in the Christian film world.  Hopefully they will be able to have the resources to make a better project soon.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Waiting for Butterflies (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

While she is dying on her deathbed, Carolynn Archer begs her family to promise to resolve their differences and to put their bitterness and unforgiveness aside.  All of it stems backs to a tragedy that Carolynn’s daughter blames her nephew John for.  However, when John returns to town due to his grandmother’s ailing state, encouraged by his girlfriend, he decides to heed his grandmother’s advice and begin to set things right, if possible.  What he discovers in his quest makes him view life in an entirely new way.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though this is a little known production team, Waiting for Butterflies demonstrates a mostly professional effort.  Video quality and camera work are what they should be.  Though there are some seemingly unnecessary yet minor audio issues, the soundtrack is very intriguing.  Sets, locations, and props are authentic and appropriate.  Finally, though there are also some minor issues with editing, mostly pertaining to some lagging scenes and time fillers, this is a respectable production that definitely deserves recognition.  This shows a lot of promise for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Though this story begins somewhat slow and confusing, it’s a slow burn that you have to stick with until the end.  As the plot unfolds fairly well, characters are pretty well-developed through complex dialogue.  Though there are some dangling subplots that need some tidying up, this is actually a tragedy plot that avoids being too melodramatic and carries a very profound message.  The realistic struggles and circumstances of believable people are portrayed throughout.  However, there are one too many dead sequences that cause there to be too much potential left on the field.  There are also some quick fixes that are introduced near the end to fit within the runtime.  However, this is a very respectable plot that is hard to come by these days, so it gives great hope for future films from this creative team.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The acting is probably the strongest point of this film, as this is Jason Burkey’s best performance outside of an Erwin Brothers film.  Other cast members also post good performances.  The only errors to point out here are some over the top emotions.  Otherwise, this is another professional section of this film.

Conclusion

It’s disappointing that Waiting for Butterflies has a collection of minor errors that keeps it from landing a spot on the Hall of Fame, but it is still an interesting movie that is likely worth your time.  There is a lot of good here and certainly of lot of potential for the future.  With some tidied-up production and a more seamless plot, this creative will be making waves in Christian film.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

My Name is Paul [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

What if the story of the Apostle Paul took place in the near future, when the government cracks down on religious freedom and forces the true Christians underground?  Paul seeks out Christians to bring into custody to further his status among the government, but a profound experience causes him to turn around and change his ways by joined the very people he once tried to stamp out.  Now he is on the run from his former employers and the Christians are wary about trusting him.  Will the Way be able to prevail in the face of grave opposition?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

It is clear that many attempts were made in this film to craft a very professional action-based production, which is something we rarely see in Christian film these days.  Video quality is what it should be and camera work is great, especially in the action scenes.  Audio quality is mostly good and the soundtrack is intriguing.  However, sometimes there are some oddly lit scenes, as if the producers are trying to be too artistic, and the indoor sets sometimes suffer from lack of creativity.  Yet the outdoor locations are very well-constructed.  The editing sometimes leaves something to be desired, as some scenes lag too long while others are cut short.  But in the end, this is a commendable effort and one that will hopefully yield even better fruit in the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

It’s definitely not easy to take on such a large Bible-story-set-in-the-future concept, especially with all of the characters that are involved.  Sometimes it’s too awkward for the writers to try to force parallels; it might have been better to keep the associations looser.  However, there is still lots of good plot content—perhaps too much content for a film less than two hours long.  This is a highly complex story that sometimes gets lost in itself and may have been better suited for a miniseries, since there are a lot of ideas crammed into such a short time frame.  This is a good problem to have, yet it leaves too many disjointed subplots in its wake.  The characters are pretty good, even if they are limited in scope.  The biggest red flag to raise here is the very confusing and isolating ending that is hard to explain or understand.  In the end, this story desperately needed to be a series in order to be truly effective.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The casting and acting is clearly the strongest point of this film, as there are no errors to speak of.  This is a very large cast, yet they are all very talented and cast very appropriately.  Emotions are believable and line delivery is on target.  The cast members make this film as good as it is.

Conclusion

We realize it’s hard to make an independent series or miniseries, but with the PureFlix on Demand platform, things have been made easier.  More budding film makers need to take advantage of this resource to boost their brand so that we can see some actually worthwhile Christian series come to light.  Regardless, with some production tweaks, more funding, and continued casting success, this creative team is going to go big places.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Redemption of the Commons (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Victor Clay tried to make it on his own in the business world, but he soon finds himself bankrupt, evicted, and living in his van.  With no more options on the table and not enough money, Victor decides to return to the Commons, where he grew up, in hopes of a new beginning.  But what he finds is a struggling community with no real options.  Will he be able to use what he has learned to help them all succeed?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Redemption of the Commons is another one of those slightly under-funded productions the raises the question of its own necessity.  While video quality and camera work are good, there is far too much dead air in this film, as well as inconsistent audio quality.  However, the soundtrack is at least interesting.  Sets, locations, and props are quite realistic, even if they are little uncreative.  As is common for this type of movie, there is no obvious editing as content is presented at face value.  In the end, this production is passable, but it could have been more.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Redemption of the Commons is trying to inspire, but it does not inspire much.  As narration guides the story along, there are too many confusing subplots, empty sequences, and time-filling montages.  The plot follows a formulaic return-to-struggling-hometown-plotline in which the returning character is down on his luck in his ‘city’ life but then uses his ‘city skills’ to fix the problems of the small town.  But even this small town seems tiny—the premise and scope of this story is almost insignificant as it really only focuses on one neighborhood.  All the characters fit into predetermined molds and do nothing to hold the attention of the audience.  Dialogue is very flat and empty.  The storyline is extremely linear and leads to an inevitably ‘fixed’ and patched-up conclusion that really teaches nothing useful.  Unfortunately, there is really nothing good to say here.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Though this cast is realistic and raw, it also includes some slight cultural stereotypes.  There is some good here, but there are too many lazy performances and uninteresting acting.  Emotional and line delivery don’t seem to be taken seriously enough.  This rounds out an overall disappointing effort.

Conclusion

Films like Redemption of the Commons likely mean well, but the idea is almost doomed from the start.  Is there really a market for this sort of predictable plot anymore?  As Christian film makers, we need to be reaching higher and aiming to be better than the mainstream market, rather than constantly letting the mainstream market dictate creativity.  We should be the leaders in creativity, and so far, we are unfortunately not.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 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