Christmas Princess (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Donaly Marquez is glad her foster family adopted her and her siblings, but she will carries inside of her the stigma of being a foster kid, and she still can’t shake the painful memories of her drug-addicted mother that continually make her feel inadequate. However, she’s always wanted to try out to be a Rose Bowl Parade Princess, so when she gets the opportunity, she jumps at the chance. Will she be able to overcome the past that wasn’t her fault or will she not allow herself to shine?

Production Quality (3 points)

In keeping with most UP Entertainment films, Christmas Princess exhibits a highly professional production, starting with great video quality and camera work. The audio quality is also on-point, and the soundtrack is effectively composed. Also, the sets, locations, and props are very much well-constructed and well-utilized, which contributes further to the professional of the film. Further, the editing is flawless, which rounds out a basically perfect production that should be the standard for made-for-TV inspirational films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

It’s always clear that using source material from true stories that allow the audience to connect with believable and realistic characters is the key to having a good plot. Christmas Princess, though the title suggests otherwise, is a great example of what can be done when real-life events are depicted in the context of a movie that seeks to build accessible characters through great dialogue and an exquisite use of flashbacks and other psychological elements. The conversations do a lot to build character motive and personality, which in turn makes them feel like actual people that audiences can relate to. It’s rare to see such a consistent use of flashbacks to build the storyline in this type of film, but it’s extremely refreshing, especially in a Christmas film about a topic that could potentially be very sappy. Instead of this, however, the writers took the professional and realistic route that allows many different people to relate to this true story, so it’s definitely worth your time. The only drawbacks to mention here relate to some slow parts and montages, but as a whole, this is the best that could have been done with this story, which is all we ever ask.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Though this is not a ‘blockbuster’ cast, each cast member does a great job assuming his or her respective character role, and the cultural authenticity is refreshing. For the most part, line delivery is on point, and emotions are believable, even though there are a few weak moments. Even so, this acting and casting work is very professional and rounds out a very surprisingly worthwhile Christmas film.

Conclusion

Sometimes good films come from the most unexpected of places, but it still remains that true stories make some of the best films. When the writing is left to a talented writer or to real life, the production team can focus on maximizing the other elements of the film, and it’s clear the UP TV is outpacing other inspirational channels with quality content like this film. As this Christmas season comes to a close, this is another movie to add to your collection.

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

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The Carpenter’s Miracle (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Though John Camdenis is just an average carpenter who doesn’t think much of himself, when his touch appears to bring a dead boy back from the dead, the small town he lives in immediately becomes ground zero for media attention and controversy.  He appears to perform more miracles, but he has no idea what to do with his newfound abilities.  John wants to go back to the way things were, but now it’s no turning back for him or the boy who came back to life.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though this is a made-for-TV production from UP, there are some surprising production errors here.  While video quality is fine, there is a high amount of shaky camera work throughout this film, probably for dramatic effect.  However, it doesn’t come off right.  There are also some awkward camera angles that give off a feel of the camera being moved around manually.  Nonetheless, there is a lot of great attention to detail when it comes to sets, locations, and props, especially the medical elements.  The soundtrack is also very interesting, as the audio quality is also good.  Finally, the editing is mostly fine, and overall, this production is above average, despite the odd oversights.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

At first, the plot of The Carpenter’s Miracle is hard to understand, but it doesn’t get much better from there.  The plot is presented in a very confusing fashion, and it is very unclear what is meant to be learned from this story.  It is only very vaguely Christian as the underlying message is mostly unknown, except for several obvious Easter themes.  Sometimes it seems like the story is hiding some great secret from you, but no clarity is ever offered.  Is the main character supposed to be Jesus or not?  Did he perform miracle or get involved in coincidences?  Besides these unanswered questions, the characters are too one-dimensional due to stilted and under-developed dialogue.  Furthermore, the ending is very head-scratching, thus completing a very unusual experience of a film.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast tends to be professional and mostly means well, there are a handful of awkward moments, especially in the beginning.  However, there is a lot of potential here, and the acting overall improves as the film goes on.  Emotional delivery is particularly believable and realistic.  In the end, however, this punctuates a unique experience that is difficult to quantify.

Conclusion

One can understand why UP would want to make another made-for-TV film to tap into a Christian audience, but this is an unusual choice.  Why not make the message more obviously Christian or at least try to offer some clarity as to what the underlying point of this story is?  Instead, we are left with more questions than answers, yet many people probably won’t ever know this film exists.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Dax is a spoiled rock star who is in trouble with the law and his publicist, so he needs publicity stunt to make him look good so that his merchandise will begin selling again.  Thus, he flippantly agrees to grant the Christmas wish of a desperate fan by staying with them over Christmas holiday.  Little does he know that he has been chosen to stay with a conservative pastor’s family in a small rural town in order to fulfill the wish.  But love will probably find him there, so what’s he complaining about in the UP universe?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

UP has been able to successfully replicate the Hallmark production model by having respectable productions.  Once again, Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas checks all the needed production boxes, including fine video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is about what you can expect, and the sets and locations are slightly limited.  There are also plenty of Christmas props.  The editing is mostly fine except for the stupid title cards throughout.  Otherwise, this is a model production that comes with the territory of made-for-TV movies.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Yawn.  What else can we possibly say about this thoroughly worn out plot concept?  A troubled rich city character gets stuck in a small town (actually more like one house) with a conservative group of characters, and he reconnects with his childhood or something and finds ‘unexpected’ love.  In some ways, rendition seems like a satire or just pure click-bait.  Characters are too empty due to stock dialogue as the circumstances sweep them along in inevitability.  The Christian message is very vague and is designed to pander to Christian audiences.  As expected, the progression is extremely predictable as two people are thrown together, don’t like each other at first, like each other after small talk, have their relationship get complicated by a strawman alternate love interest, get ‘torn apart,’ and then get thrown back together again to patch things up in the last few minutes before the credits roll.  I think that about sums it all up.

Acting Quality (2 points)

UP has done a better job than Hallmark has at assembly mostly professional casts.  They appear to actually coach their cast members and attempt to make them seem realistic.  There are a handful of minor errors throughout this case that keep it from being perfect, but on the whole, it is a respectable effort.

Conclusion

Another day, another Christmas film from the movie factory.  What is left to be said about companies like UP and Hallmark?  They have to please the investors, so they roll out safe, predictable films that will be watched once during the holidays and then be forgotten.  The plots are mindless, and they look good on the outside, so the mission is accomplished, and it’s on to the next one.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 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

 

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

 

The Perfect Summer (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Jake and his mom move from Chicago to Hawaii to start a new life with her father, Jake is less than thrilled about the change of pace.  He has to adjust to new surroundings and new people who do not always accept him.  He also has to endure his eccentric grandfather, who tries to rebuild their relationship.  Jake is ready to give up when he discovers that he has a thing for surfing and that his grandfather can teach him.  Perhaps the worst summer ever for Jake will turn into the perfect summer.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The Perfect Summer is such a clean, stock made-for-television film.  From the opening sequence to the loudest soundtrack ever to lots of nature footage, this movie checks all the boxes of mediocre production quality.  While the video quality and camera work are fine, the poor audio quality is very distracting as it picks up all kinds of unwanted sounds.  However, the sets and locations are fairly professional and interesting.  Finally, the editing is standard and moves the plot along at a predictable pace.  In short, this production is average, but we’ve come to expect more from professional television channels.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The Perfect Summer is a predictable inspirational cookie-cutter plot depicting a city character moving to a remote location and having to adjust to a different culture with limited internet access.  The constant jokes about the internet and other forced comedy gets really old.  The local characters are stereotypical; none of the characters are developed enough for there being so few of them.  This film’s premise is a fairly thin sports\training story complete with lots of music videos, empty conflicts, and a typical romantic subplot.  Unfortunately, the Christian message seems manufactured and plastic.  However, this story has a slightly realistic ending and sort of redeems it to a point.  But otherwise, if you’ve seen this kind of movie before, you’re probably not missing anything.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This cast is actually the best part of the film, even though Eric Roberts is involved.  He is strange and overdone as usual and singlehandedly holds this section back.  His presence poisons the entire film.  But the rest of the small cast is okay, though there are some slightly over emotions and cultural stereotypes.  In the end, this is a good effort, but we would have liked to see a little more from this professional team.

Conclusion

This plot has really been done before, may too often.  Channels like UP and the like need to be brave enough to take a risk with a different plot.  What’s it going to hurt?  They have the resources to make pretty much any kind of inspirational plot they want, so why not go for broke?  The Perfect Summer is one of those forgettable movies that you might watch while flicking the TV channels and then forget about in a few days.  With the money and abilities companies like this have, they need to set the bar higher for themselves and do something original and memorable.  It’s fine to make clean entertainment, but why get stuck in mediocrity?

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Paper Angels [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Lynn Brandt and her two children, Thomas and Sara, leave her alcoholic husband behind, they find themselves free from pain but low on funds.  As they struggle to make ends meet, Lynn realizes that she will not have enough money to give her kids Christmas gifts.  So when she hears about a charity that will help kids whose families cannot afford Christmas gifts, she jumps at the chance.  Kevin and Jenny Morrell cannot wait to have their first child, even as he tries to hide the fact that his business is struggling.  Jenny decides that they need to help someone else for Christmas and chooses two children to buy gifts for.  All of their lives intersect during the Christmas holiday in ways they never could have planned.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The good thing about Up Entertainment is that they care about making respectable productions.  The camera work in Paper Angels is mostly good and the video quality is on par.  The sets and locations are realistic and down to earth—Christmas decorations are used wisely.  However, the audio quality could be better as it is sometimes inconsistent and the soundtrack is just stock.  The editing could also use a little improvement by cutting out some wasted filler scenes.  But overall, this is another good effort from Up.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Though this is sort of a generic ‘good cause’ storyline, we strongly believe the writers’ hearts were in the right place.  The plot is a little safe and pedestrian, but the creative work of Travis Thrasher can be seen in the non-typical Christmas subplots.  The characters feel like realistic people in that we can connect with their circumstances and understand what they’re going through.  As previously mentioned, this holiday film is not ‘overly-Christmas’ but treats the situation normally.  While the plot is mostly down to earth, there are a few cheesy elements that feel forced and unnecessary.  The end is slightly predictable, but the thought does count.  Overall, this type of plot should be the baseline of Christian film.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This cast has their good moments and bad moments.  Sometime they seem a little too wooden and insincere, while other times they are fine.  However, as a professional company, acting should be an area where Up has little to no problems as they should employ professional acting coaches.  We kind of expect better here.

Conclusion

If anything, Paper Angels highlights the need for more Travis Thrasher movies.  He’s got the resume and the content to be adapting his novels to screenplays, if anyone will have him.  He has ties to both PureFlix and Up, so rather than spin out another generic Christian movie plot, somebody needs to pick up one of Thrasher’s books and bring it to life.  Paper Angels is only the tip of the iceberg of what he has to offer.  Nevertheless, this film can also serve as an example for how simplistic Christian movies should be.  We would like to never see a film that goes below this threshold.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Love Finds You in Valentine (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Kennedy Blaine, a recent law school graduate, inherits her family’s Valentine, Nebraska ranch property, she is faced with the requirement to visit the property before she tries to sell it.  When she arrives, she finds two caretakers who loved her parents, even if the young man is a bit rough around the edges.  Kennedy also receives a treasure as a part of her father’s passing: the diary of her mother, which chronicles their story of forbidden love.  While in Valentine, Kennedy must not only face shady characters trying to get their hands on her property, but also long lost relatives who won’t give her the love she wants.  Before she knows it, Kennedy finds herself caught up in the excitement of her parent’s ranch—and the mysterious young caretaker who constantly haunts her.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For the most part, Up Entertainment has mastered the art of creating a professional-looking made-for-TV film.  The camera work is excellent, as is the video quality.  The sound quality is good, especially in outdoor scenes.  Sets and locations are diverse, making for realistic surroundings.  The sad thing is that this otherwise perfect production is usurped by issues that are easily fixed by a team this professional: editing and soundtrack.  The soundtrack is quite silly and sounds borrowed from Hallmark.  As for the editing, not enough care is taken to generate interest from the audience.  There are too many wasted segments of scenery and horseback riding, especially when these parts could be used for better purposes.  But in the end, Up schools made-for-TV productions on how to do it right and they should be looked to for advice.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

As previously mentioned, if the scenery and horse segments had been toned down and used for deeper plot and character development, this movie would have landed on the Hall of Fame.  As it is, there is a framework of complexity that is rarely seen on television.  We only wish there had been a deeper utilization of the few yet intriguing flashbacks.  The characters are a little more than one-dimensional, but they struggle to make themselves special in a world of stock romance characters.  The dialogue is above average, but not much more than that.  There are several unrealistic elements in the premise and some odd plot holes.  There is a slight feel of a silly small town film.  The Christian message is too soft for this type of movie—it could have been more meaningful than this.  Finally, the end is forced and tacked on.  There was no reason to insert an unwanted ‘suspenseful’ climax into this film, especially since it’s not even realistic.  This is perhaps the biggest detractor to the plot.  In the end, Valentine left a lot of potential lying on the table.  Next time, Up needs to play their cards better.

Acting Quality (3 points)

With no glaring errors, the acting is the strongest element to Valentine.  Line delivery is professional and emotions are believable.  The actors and actresses enhance the characters they are given.  This acting job is better than some films that make the Hall of Fame.  Yet it also stands as another example of disappointment and wasted potential in this movie.

Conclusion

Up Entertainment has mastered the art of creating an inspirational romance movie that is more than a romance.  Now, it’s time for them to take it to the next level by being more innovative when it comes to the plot.  Charm came closer to crafting a complex plot, but this was partly due to its loose adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.  Romance writers need to take a page from Rik Swartzwelder’s playbook and create a romance plot that is deeper and more complex than usual.  Viewers desperately want this, even if they don’t realize it.  We need romance that means something beyond surface feelings.  Unfortunately, though it is more enjoyable and realistic than a Hallmark movie, Valentine misses the mark on this front.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Love Finds You in Charm {Amish Abduction} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Emma Miller is given the choice to leave her small Amish community in order to help her recently widowed aunt in Charm, Ohio, she jumps at the chance to try something new in her life.  She longs to see the world beyond the confines of her Amish life, and even though her aunt is also Amish, she sees the small Ohio town as an opportunity to experience the world she has never lived in.  But as soon as she steps foot in Charm, she meets a quiet Amish man named Noah, who is also helping her aunt in her time of need.  Emma is both intrigued by Noah but also intent on exploring the English world.  Little does she know that she will soon be faced with a choice that will determine her very future.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

This movie saga based on Love Inspired novels has demonstrated an ability to create quality productions.  Love Finds You in Charm follows closely in the footsteps of Love Finds You in Sugar Creek in many ways, including production quality.  The camera work is very professional, including angles and the filming of outside scenes.  The sets and locations are considerably diverse for a small town plot.  There is an overall authentic feel to the surroundings.  However, the soundtrack is pretty typical for this sort of movie.  The biggest production error is choppy editing; this film was obviously forced to be made for television when the plot scope is actually larger than ninety minutes.  But this aside, Charm’s production is something to be proud of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

In the same vein of Sugar Creek, Charm has a down-to-earth, average romance plot that is neither Hallmark-horrible nor Rik Swartzwelder-good.  Once again, Amish characters are portrayed in a realistic light without even a hint of shunnings.  Yet unlike Sugar Creek, Charm has a deep well of potential that was not drawn out.  Charm is loosely based on the plot structure of the classic romance Pride and Prejudice, yet it lacks the depth of this tale.  Emma is a pretty good character, yet she needed fleshing out.  Unfortunately, most of the supporting characters are a bit stereotypical and\or too black and white.  The dialogue is believable, yet once again not taken to its fullest potential.  The biggest arching issue is that, as mentioned previously, there is too much content crammed into a ninety minute runtime.  The plot and the characters had the potential to sustain at least a two hour feature film.  The end is too abrupt and does not fully appreciate the characters crafted.  In the end, Charm has a fine plot, but it is such a shame to see this sort of potential go to waste.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For a cast of relatively little-known and small time actors and actresses, the Charm cast pulls of the job quite well.  Line delivery is professional and there are no truly glaring errors.  The biggest issue here is that emotions are not felt as much as they should be felt.  Overall, the acting is above average, but it is not dynamic.  But in the end, it is a step above most romances.

Conclusion

It is highly likely that Charm was limited by both budget and the pressure to create a TV movie.  Were the creators given more space, it is highly likely that this would have been a Hall of Fame movie.  Regardless, despite our low expectations from the beginning of this Love Inspired saga, the series appears to be improving as it goes along.  This is a great accomplishment and we are intrigued to see what will happen next.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Love Finds You in Sugarcreek (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Rachel Troyler loves being a police officer in the small town of Sugarcreek, Ohio, but she still carries emotional baggage from past hurts.  That’s why she suspicious of a stranger who comes to town with a broken down truck and a sick son.  She becomes protective of her Amish aunts when they decide to take the man and his son in at no charge except for repairs to their dilapidated inn.  Rachel senses that there is something more to the stranger than meets the eye, and she is right.  Little does she know that she is caught in the middle of a high-stakes mystery involving top sports figures.  Yet despite her suspicions and self-protection, she finds herself falling for the mysterious runaway.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

One consolation to this film is that the production is not terrible.  It is actually quite decent—the editing is professional and the camera work shows skill.  There are no glaring errors related to sound and video quality.  The main caveats to point out here are the cheap and limited sets, so it seems like the crew did the best they could with what they had.  Overall, the production is above average, but not perfect.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Does this really have to be a romance?  The plot seems to work well as an average mystery.  Just because a fleeing athlete comes to town doesn’t mean that a local female police officer has to fall in love with him.  One breath of fresh air that this movie brings to the scene is a plot that includes Amish characters that don’t shun anyone or get shunned.  Surprisingly, most of the characters have some depth to them when it comes to their motivations and behaviors—many of them are authentic.  But unfortunately, the dialogue is just regular and the villain is very cheesy.  As previously mentioned, the mystery is just average but it seems like the most of made of it.  There are no real twists and turns—those looking for a straightforward Christian movie will find it here.  Overall, there are not overly negative elements in Love Finds You in Sugarcreek, but there are neither enough elements to make it truly creative.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Amish acting often comes off as stereotypical, but Sugarcreek tends to avoid these issues.  Overall, the cast is professional and seems to be semi-coached.  But at the same time, the lines and emotional delivery are a tad dry.  It’s already been said in this review, but the theme must be continued—the acting in this film is just average.

Conclusion

It is fitting that Sugarcreek receives a final score of five out of ten, a clean average score.  Box Office Revolution anticipated a much worse rating from any film associated with the stodgy yet empty novel saga Love Inspired.  The best was done with what was offered in this film, and it can stand as an example of how to make the best possible ‘Love Finds You’ movie.  But at the same time, we must still request that more diverse movies be contributed to the Christian movie scene.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points