Modern Prodigal (Movie Review)

Modern Prodigal (2019) - IMDb

Plot Summary

Brian Sanderson is an investigative reports who’s addicted to painkillers and never ceases in his quest to solve the mystery of his son’s untimely death to the same drug he’s hooked on. Even though his obsessions cause him to lose his dream job, Brian will stop at nothing to discover the truth of what really happened while also wrestling the demons inside his head. Ultimately, Brian will have to confront his dark past in order to face the future.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

After an odd opening sequences that seems to suggest Modern Prodigal is part of a crime series, weird gray lighting seems to dominate much of the film. Audio quality is also an issues as there are some obvious background sounds as well as too much dead air, even if the little soundtrack therein has some potential. Sets, locations, and props are are bit cheap-looking, and there are some unnecessarily tight shots and instances stationary camera work. Furthermore, the editing leaves something to be desired with awkward cuts and transitions, but the good news is that the production takes a turn for the better in the film’s second half that amends a lot of the earlier errors. However, this is only enough to raise this section to the halfway mark.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Surprisingly, the characters are one of the strongest aspects of Modern Prodigal as some of them possess subtle characteristics that make them come off as relatable and human; their dialogue is also not all bad since it establishes them as imperfect people. However, while some conversations are quite good, others are too obvious and over the top. Nonetheless, the narrative makes fairly good use of mystery concepts throughout the plot progression and does a reasonable job at concealing important facts and revealing them bit by bit throughout the film. While there are plenty of positive aspects, there are also nagging concerns with this story, such as the fact that it’s trying to cover too much ground in one screenplay. Much of its content would have been better suited for a series, and a sudden massive time jump at the movie’s conclusion leaves the viewer somewhat confused. Nevertheless, Modern Prodigal offers a lot of hope for this writing team’s future potential.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, the good aspects of this film’s plot are detracted from by a lot of over-acting in many of the screenplay’s important scenes. This includes quite a bit of overdone emotional performances and forced line delivery. While there is some good in this section, such as some good supporting cast members and better acting in the less dramatic scenes, better coaching could have lifted Modern Prodigal to a better level.

Conclusion

This film joins a sizable collection of Christian creations that had a lot going for them but never made the next step in to greatness. Much of this shortfall is due to financial constraints, but a lot of it can be blamed on a lack of collaboration or a tendency to force something to happen before it’s time. Ideas were never meant to be carried out alone, and sometimes, it’s just not the right season for them. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see what this creative team offers next.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

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

One Church (Movie Review)

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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

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

 

Chasing Grace [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The wounds between two brothers are only deepened on one tragic day when the daughter of one of them is tragically killed in an avoidable accident.  The brothers and their families are immediately divided by hate and grief, which sends all of the family members spiraling and searching for answers in all the wrong places.  Secrets are kept and vices are sought, and the only way out is through confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation.  Will they return to the faith their profess with these actions?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

It is clear that a lot of time went into making this production, as most elements are fairly professional.  Camera work is mostly good except for some inconsistently shaky moments.  Video quality is on standard, but sometimes there is some randomly poorly-lit scenes.  Audio quality is fine and the soundtrack is intriguing.  Sets, locations, and props are all realistic and appropriate.  The editing is okay, but there are some confusing cuts and transitions and isolate the story.  But overall, these are all minor errors and the production as a whole meets industry standards.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Chasing Grace depicts a very interesting story, even if it is too slow to develop.  It contains many realistic circumstances and accessible struggles, but it also has a lot of dead sequences that don’t hold the attention.  There are a lot of long and drawn out conversations, but the characters are fairly well-developed.  Yet there are too many under-developed and vague subplots due to a confusing and disorienting presentation of events that includes unnecessarily missing gaps of time.  Family problems are given a fair look, but many of the problems presented are fixed far too easily and in ways that would never work in real life.  The Christian message is good, though there are some moments of melodrama.  Overall, this is a really good plot effort, especially in developing the characters, but as usual, we strongly feel like it could have been more.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

This is a highly professional casting job and lends the best elements to this film, as each actor and actress is cast appropriately and coaching well.  Even Rusty Martin Jr. posts a good performance.  There are only some minor errors among this cast, mostly of slightly overdone emotions.  Otherwise, this is a job well done.

Conclusion

Chasing Grace joins the ranks of middle-ground Christian films that stand out in the market due to their successful attempts at creating quality films.  However, it has a handful of small issues that hold it back from being all that it could be.  A character-driven story needs deep characters and a seamless plot that flows without confusion.  This is certainly difficult to pull off, especially when you have a lot of other elements to think about, but it is definitely possible and worth it in the end.  Films like this one are something to build off of for the future, so it will be interesting to see what the Catalyst team has planned next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Uncommon [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Aaron Chase’s brother dies in a school shooting, his family moves to a new area in the hopes of starting over.  He ends up going to Rosewood High School, whose arts department budgets have been slashed due to overall budget cuts.  The students in those departments are disappointed and seek to put on their own show.  Aaron gets involved and decides to stand up for the faith he has been hiding, even though an evil atheist teacher is trying to stop him at every turn.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For what it’s worth, Liberty Counsel and JC Films made sure Uncommon looked good on the surface.  Video quality is clear and camera work is professional.  Audio quality also meets industry standards, although the soundtrack is bloated and full of cheesy songs.  Sets, locations, and props demonstrate that time was put into them.  Yet editing is quite poor, as there are far too many musical montages and filler scenes that appear to just be filling up the runtime rather than imparting real content.  Essentially, care was put into making this production look good, which is fine, but it’s just not enough when it comes to substance.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

As is to be expected, Liberty Counsel and JC Films construct a false reality where religious persecution is rampant in public schools—to a degree that is unrealistic and requires half-truths to be told—and which is full of heavy-handed propaganda messaging and narration to drive their points home.  Atheists are extremely offensive strawmen, while Christians are downtrodden and overly perfect.  Dialogue only forces the plot along, which is actually quite boring and melancholy when all is said and done.  There is an attempt to be complex and different with some of the plot elements, but it’s not enough to make up for the outright twisting of reality that has to be done to make this movie’s message work.  Basically, when all is said and done, Uncommon simply boils down to a sophisticated version of God’s Club.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Another interesting element to Uncommon is that time and care were also put into the casting and acting.  This is a semi-professional cast, yet they appear to be coached fairly well.  There are some awkward moments and unrealistic emotions, but on the whole, this is actually not that bad of a performance by this cast.  If only this truth could translate to other films.

Conclusion

Uncommon is an anomaly.  Usually movies that have small-minded plots like this one are terrible in all areas, yet time and care were spent on production and acting.  It proves that anything can be done if you put your mind to it.  Just think if this type of effort was put toward other movies that have better plots than this.  But in the end, Christians overall need to steer clear from these types of plots for like forever, unless they’re going to portray real persecution that happens anywhere except the Western world.  We need to change the mentality that ‘the atheists’ are always around the corner trying to snipe us and just live out our faith the way God wants us to.  Jesus didn’t constantly gripe at or sue the Pharisees or Romans for religious persecution, and He had plenty of His ‘rights’ violated.  God’s work can proceed whether or not you have your Bible club in a public school.  People need to know that Christians care, and with stuff like this being put out there, it’s really hard to see that Christian leaders care about anything except ‘getting back’ at atheists.

 

Final Rating: 4 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

 

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

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