A Murder of Innocence (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

When Albert and Aimee Anderson move to a small town to pastor the local church, they expect all the typical things of a small town church, but nothing in their lives ever prepared them for what happened soon after they arrived. After discovering the dead bodies of their two newest and closest friends, the Andersons are left reeling in the aftermath as they entire church turns to them for guidance during this dark time. However, answers escape them as the culprit seems elusive and the townspeople grow restless and anxious. Will evil ever be brought to justice? Will they be able to recover a sense of normalcy?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a whole, A Murder of Innocence has a mostly fine production, including good video quality and fine sets, locations, and props, even if they are a bit limited in scope. A lot of the time, the audio is extremely quiet and muffled, and the soundtrack is either lacking or overpowering. Also, camera work is inconsistent–sometimes shaky and sometimes fine. Further, the editing is a concern as there are many awkward fadeouts throughout after scenes have gone on too long while some scenes have very quick transitions that cut things off. It seems like there was more content or some that wasn’t usable, so a lot of it appears to relate to post-production issues. Overall, this is just an average production, which isn’t quite up to modern standards.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Although it initially was a good idea to use a true story to try something a bit different, yet much time is wasted on silent montages and clunky dialogue as everything feels very scripted and robotic, especially the ‘perfect’ Christian characters. Instead of actual character development, we’re just left with offensive gender stereotypes that paint women as less intelligent than men. Besides this, the plot is largely based on very shallow concepts and doesn’t appear to comprehend reality very well. Throughout the story, there’s a mysteriously odd tone like it’s concealing some great secret, but it all comes to nothing substantial. If you’re going to write mystery plot, you need to make sure you’ve done your homework to make criminal investigations realistic and believable. It feels like there’s too much going on here that the writers don’t quite understand, which creates the odd mysticism. Besides this, a vast majority of the scenes are slow and dour without much balance or adequate character engagement as the plot drags on and on and chases fruitless rabbit trails. After using up over an hour teasing a possibly forthcoming purpose via dramatic dialogue and randomly extra subplots, there’s little to show for the effort. While it’s commendable to try a suspense plot centered around mental health in rural areas, the very steep character arcs and magical fixes in the final minutes really do the film in, especially since there’s nothing to hold the audience’s interest or make the film worthwhile. Without a central focus, the movie meanders and flounders until a conclusion.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Much like the other elements of the film, the acting is a bit stifled and lifeless as it comes off as over-practiced. In conjunction with the audio problems, the line delivery itself is very soft and almost muted most of the time. However, the acting is at least average in most places without any majorly glaring errors or standout performances. Though there is some unnecessary drama, this section rounds out a basically vanilla effort.

Conclusion

The good thing is that Christian entertainment is becoming broader and braver as time goes on. There was a time when mystery suspense dramas like A Murder of Innocence would have been unthinkable in some Christian circles, but thankfully, there are at least attempts to be more creative and diverse. However, there are still things to work on, most notably plot and character content. This was based on a true story, so it’s not really acceptable to have such poor characters, along with an aimless storyline. Next time, before making a Christian film, it would be better to count the cost and make sure there’s enough creativity and purpose behind it. The only stories that will be transformative are the ones that feel like real life.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

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My First Miracle [2016] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Angelica, a sixteen-year-old girl, is battling a rare form of cancer around the holiday season, and her family is struggling financially.  She keeps crossing paths with a boy on the run from his past and a fellow cancer patient who tries to cheer her up.  With everything going wrong for her family, as well as the boy she keeps meeting up with, for the holidays, could a miracle for just right around the corner for them?

Production Quality (2 points)

My First Miracle is basically a standard inspirational production with good camera work and good video quality, even if there’s some inconsistent audio throughout.  As a whole, the audio is mostly fine, but the soundtrack is a bit generic.  Sets, locations, and props are standard and good, and the editing is a bit average.  As a whole, this production is above average without anything specific or significant to stand out about it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

My First Miracle follows the predetermined mold for an inspirational quasi-Christian Christmas movie as narration is disguised as characters ‘thinking’ even though the attempts at psychological elements are noted.  It’s cheesy how the same characters keep crossing paths at Christmastime, and musical montages are used to fill the runtime.  There are too many slightly unrealistic coincidences that drive the plot along, and there are plenty of filler scenes and references to the disease-at-Christmastime plot conventions.  While there are some attempts to develop characters, most of the dialogue is pedestrian.  In addition, the storyline follows a very predictable progression and even includes odd medical concepts and silly magical Christmas elements.  To top things off, the epilogue fixes basically all the problems just in time for the holidays.  In short, this is just another throwaway plot that had some potential that was wasted.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The acting is definitely one of the strongest points of this film as there aren’t any glaring errors throughout.  Even still, there’s also nothing particularly dynamic about the cast although they are mostly professional.  Coaching is evident as emotional and line delivery are good with only a few minor issues.  In the end, this is just another average Christmas film to play in the background.

Conclusion

Streaming services have created a good home for films like this one because they are safe and benign and can be played while other things are being accomplished.  If you’re going for this type of film, this is definitely a model to follow.  However, if you want something more dynamic and culture-changing, this definitely isn’t the type of film for you.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Grandma’s House [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Grandma Margie’s family is a wreck even though she is always praying for them and imparting her fundamentalist wisdom to them.  She lets any and all of them come to live with her in her huge house–as long as they abide by her strict rules.  She aims to fix them up from their problems before sending them back out into the evil world.  With so many things going on in her house, she can hardly keep up, and neither can we.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Surprisingly, this film, which by all outside factors seems like a small church film, has an above-average production quality.  This is manifested in good video quality and good camera work, as well as professional audio quality, even if the soundtrack is very generic.  There are some random dark scenes, however, and sets, props, and locations are fairly limited by the nature of the plot and the resources available.  The editing can be oddly choppy at times despite the fact that there are useless filler scenes throughout.  Some scenes seem cut short while others drag on too long.  With the sheer amount of content shoved into this film, it’s no wonder things get confusing.  However, on the whole, this production is better than expected.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Grandma’s House is a forum to push a very close-minded and fundamentalist worldview on the audience that has an offensive view of women and a slew of quick fixes for all of your neighborhood problems.  While the movie takes an honest look at real family issues and other realistic problems, it refuses to probe the reasons behind the wrong actions and instead settles for cheap spiritualized platitudes and Bible-verse-bandaging.  The story assumes that people just need to stop acting bad and start acting legalistic in order to be ‘fixed.’  Thus, each character is designed to represent an issue rather than a person, which makes them empty and simplistic.  Dialogue is mostly expository and issue-pushing, and there is too much heavy-handed narration.  In the end, everything is fixed without any good explanation or realistic understanding of how issues progress.  

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While most of the cast members in this film are average in their performances, Loretta Devine is particularly annoying, similar to her infamous Caged No More role.  Other cast members are not the worst at acting, but they are not the best either.  There are some attempts to coach them, but there are just too many extreme emotions, including yelling and screaming outburst.  At times, line delivery comes off as too practiced, but there are enough good moments here to justify an average score.

Conclusion

Movies like this one know what they want to push on their audience or simply tell some specific audience what they want to hear.  It’s fine to want to discuss important issues in the context of a film, but treating people like pawns or one-dimensional problems doesn’t do any service to your cause.  Most people will see right through such attempts, which will only further contribute to the negative image of Christianity that films like Grandma’s House seek to reinforce for some reason.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Camp Cool Kids (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Spence’s older brother Zach never wants him around because he embarrasses him, but their mother wants them to stick together now that their father has died.  Zach is headed to summer camp and Spence is supposed to go with him, but Spence is afraid.  However, Spence’s grandfather convinces him to go and Spence soon finds out that there’s a whole world out there if he will face his fears and not let his overactive imagination get the best of him.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a new production, there are obviously a lot of positive elements here.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all on standard.  The soundtrack is a little silly and it is quite excessive as it dominates the film, especially with the many montages that make up this movie.  Sets, locations, and props, however, are professional and appropriate.  Yet there are some unnecessary ‘silly’ special effects that cloud things, not to mention the fact that there’s really no editing in this film.  In the end, this is a typical new baseline production; it’s good to have a new baseline, but production isn’t the only thing you need.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It’s unclear what the true purpose or intention of this movie is supposed to be.  Is it a kids’ movie?  It sure seems like one.  Characters are very lazily presented through lame attempts at dialogue and comedy.  There is really no plot to speak of, as the story mostly consists of a lot of silliness, quirkiness, and montages to fill time.  The Christian message presented is very plastic and forced.  In the end, there is little overarching or driving purpose to anything that happens in this film, so it’s hard to understand why it was made or what audience it is intended to reach.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Lisa Arnold and company are reliable in putting together a good cast that mostly knows and cares about what they are doing.  There are no glaring errors among this cast—just some uninspiring and seemingly uninterested performances.  Then again, the cast members really didn’t have much to work with.  The whole film seems like an afterthought.

Conclusion

In the not-too-distant past, a film would have been a basement dweller due to low production quality and unprofessional acting.  Yet the new professional industry standards of Christian film have been raised, and thus raise films like this from the ash heap.  But that doesn’t mean that they are any more justified—it just means more money was spent on them.  Thus, we have to ask why.  We know Lisa Arnold and her team mean well and are capable of great things, so why did they make this film?  It seems like the money could have been spent better on a different idea.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Out of the Darkness [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Eli is a troubled man with a strained relationship with his father.  The only person who shows him love, his ailing grandmother, is dying, thus leaving him seemingly alone in the world.  He continually has conflicts with his wife and threatens to leave her because of their financial struggles.  One night, he storms off into the woods and quickly finds himself lost—however, not all is at it seems.  He is about to undergo a psychological experience he will never forget as he will have to decide who he is and where he stands with God.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, as a rookie production, Out of the Darkness starts out very raw, with inconsistent audio quality that emphasizes background noises and odd lighting that gives the film an odd feel.  There are also some strange special effects that make the move seem cheap.  Camera work is random and inconsistent, although the video quality is okay.  Moreover, some production elements improve as the movie goes on, but the editing is always poor, as the strangest scenes are included in the final cut.  This is overall a disjointed effort that needs a lot of rework.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though Out of the Darkness portrays some unfortunately realistic circumstances and characters, it does in a very disorganized and confusing manner.  As previously mentioned, the oddest elements and sequences are included that have no bearing on the ultimate point and only serve to waste time.  Once the plot gets more interesting, it presents some creative psychological elements that need way more explanation and exploration.  It feels like as it is, this plot is a rough draft of an idea that needs more development, yet somehow this was approved as the final draft.  It needs more content, more coherency, and more complexity for it to be any better, because, though it’s a good idea, it’s still an unfinished idea.  To top things off, the ending suggests way too many quick fixes for problems.  In the end, there is potential here, but it needs to be skillfully mined.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Though this cast has experience behind it, they don’t always show it.  They need way more coaching, as their emotions are very forced and amateurish.  Line delivery is okay, and both line and emotional delivery have some slight improvement throughout, which prevent this section from being hopeless.  But the bottom line is that not enough effort was put into this film to make the most out of what was provided.

Conclusion

The Justice Pictures team appears to be making attempts to have creative and different plot structures, but they need better characters to pull them off.  They also need to maximize their resources better and employ coaching for their cast members.  If they made just slight changes to their approach, they would find themselves getting better, which would lead to more investment, etc.  A lot of times, it’s the little problems that hold film makers back from being truly great.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Where is Good? (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Hannah Bailey has always wanted a child.  She and her husband, who is a pastor, have prayed and always supported pro-life causes, but they can never have one of their own.  Carla Owens is a detective determined to bring an elusive yet serial rapist to justice, all while battling unforeseen medical problems.  Then, the unthinkable happens that brings these two women together with a common goal.  Yet in the midst of it all, where is God when He says all things will work together for good?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, the production of Where is Good? is fairly professional, but there are some issues that keep it average.  Video quality and camera work are on standard.  However, there is too much blank audio quality and dead air, as well as an inconsistent soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and are utilized well.  However, the editing is somewhat amateurish as scenes either cut back and forth too quickly, chop off at awkward points, or lag too long.  These errors make for a confusing experience and drag down the overall quality.  Thus, this production must be rated as average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

From the beginning on, Where is Good? appears to be trying to push a very clear point, and this is accomplished by using juvenile, obvious, and sometimes grasping dialogue.  Unfortunately, though there is a lot of it, the dialogue does nothing to help the characters feel accessible or realistic.  Some very interesting issues are raised and explored throughout this plot, but they are portrayed in a very simplistic manner that causes the story to seem unrealistic and contrived.  There are too many disjointed subplots that cause the storyline to lack focus, even though the purpose is clear.  Too many flat, dry sequences cause the runtime to extend too far and overstay its welcome.  However, even though things are all over the place for almost two hours of this film and the presentation of these issues is amateurish, for roughly the last ten minutes of the film, an interesting twist materializes that casts the entire story in a new light.  Unfortunately, it’s too little too late and this idea is mostly wasted.  It would be interesting to see this plot rewritten, because there is some potential here that it mostly left on the proverbial field.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While there are some bright spots among this mostly amateur cast, there are quite a few issues that reflect poor acting coaching.  Sometimes line delivery is too forceful and dramatic, while other times it is too breathy.  Emotions are inconsistent, and there is far too much yelling.  In the end, it just comes out as average.

Conclusion

Where is Good? joins the growing list of Christian films that desperately need a remake because of the innovative and creative ideas they carry in damaged packaging.  There are many unique concepts locked inside of seemingly incomplete films that need to be either partially tweaked or completely refurbished so that they can have full impact on the entertainment field.  One day, perhaps some of them will be remade, but at the very least, future film makers can learn from the their mistakes and not repeat them.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Touched by Grace {The Senior Prank} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a high school class is given the decision to vote for a ‘popular’ girl for homecoming queen or a Grace, a girl with Down’s syndrome, the latter wins in a shocking upset.  One of the ‘popular’ girl’s friends, Cara, accidentally befriends Grace and her friend Brandon as they try to find Grace a partner for the homecoming dance.  Cara finds herself torn as her ‘popular’ friends try to ostracize Grace and as she begins developing feelings for Brandon.  In the end, the entire school will be faced with the reality that special need people are just like everyone else and they should be treated thus.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

With an obviously limited budget, Touched by Grace sometimes does the best it can with what it has, but other times it does not.  The sets are quite limited, but this is not entirely a negative issue due to the small scale plot.  They are realistic, which is important.  The camera work and video quality are quite good for a production this small.  The soundtrack is average; we would have liked to see more here.  There is much positive to say about this small time production, but the biggest issue is the editing.  There is virtually no editing present in Touched by Grace.  Too many scenes are long and drawn out, making for a disappointing experience.  All in all, there are both positive and negative aspects to this film, which is very frustrating.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

There was so much potential in this movie.  It’s based on a great idea and has believable elements.  It could have been very touching had more time been spent on character development.  Sometimes the dialogue is meaningful, and other times it’s not.  There is far too much understatement in this film; sometimes things happen for no reason.  A common mistake in Christian film is overstating the obvious, but Touched by Grace has the opposite problem.  More needed to be emphasized regarding the important issue of treating special needs people as equals.  Where this movie could have been heartfelt, it just came off as somber.  The main redeeming quality is the effective end that the movie was obviously written for.  The end was powerful enough to make this movie something great had the remainder of the plot been adequate.  In short, it’s a disappointing plot and one that desperately needs a remake.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

With a largely amateur cast, the actors and actresses sometimes come off as awkward, but other times they shine.  Ben Davies as a high school student doesn’t really work and he definitely needed more coaching.  On the flipside, the casting of special needs people was a score as they were some of the best cast members.  Overall, this cast wasn’t bad, but it could have been a winning cast with better coaching.

Conclusion

Touched by Grace receives half of an x-factor point for presenting an important issue in a semi-meaningful way.  Overall, while this movie was sometimes heartwarming, it was also frustrating to watch, knowing just how much potential it could have achieved.  This is not one of those Christian productions that has no heart or care behind it.  We truly believe that the creators sincerely cared about this issue and wanted to make a movie about it.  Their heart was in the right place, but their film inexperience derailed it.  Inexperience is probably not their fault either—it’s a tough world out there for independent Christian filmmakers.  This is why it’s all the more important for Christians to come together and pool their resources to produce quality over quantity.  Just think of what would have happened if two stupid Christian movies were defunded and the money was given to this one.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

A Matter of Faith (Movie Review)

Yes, this really did happen in this movie

Plot Summary

When Rachel Whitaker heads off to a ‘secular’ university to pursue a degree in pharmacology, she is immediately met with a challenge to her Christian faith as a biology professor informs the class that human life evolved from apes.  Though she wavers in her convictions, her father quickly discovers her dilemma and confronts the professor, only to have the professor challenge him to a university debate on the issue of creationism versus evolution.  As Rachel tries to talk her father out of the debate, he finds support from an unlikely ally as he digs deeper into the intrigue surrounding the professor.  In the end, which side will triumph?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

For its many faults, at least A Matter of Faith scored one point for production quality.  This is awarded for clear video quality and pretty good camera work.  However, this is where the positivity ends.  Audio quality is okay throughout, but some scenes are louder than others.  The sets and locations are pathetic and scream low budget.  The surroundings feel very plastic, like the characters are living in a textbook suburban city with no feeling at all.  The soundtrack is glaringly amateurish.  Finally, the editing is deplorable, just splicing a bunch of random scenes together that we’re supposed to believe are related in some way.  Unfortunately, this isn’t where the negativity ends.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Haven’t we had enough of the plot where the student is singled out for their faith by an atheist professor, especially with allegations of copying flying around?  A Matter of Faith seems to go out of its way to create a false dichotomy between ‘creationism’ and ‘evolution’ and throws ‘science’ around like a Frisbee.  The subtle message in the title seems to suggest that the creators don’t care about facts, just about destroying the atheist viewpoint at all costs.  Don’t get me wrong—there’s plenty of problems with ‘evolution’ and we need a meaningful dialogue on this topic, but this film only insults people who oppose its worldview and attempts to scare those who might agree with it.  Besides the philosophical concerns, there are many other problems wrong with this plot, which is actually just a collection of disjointed and unrelated snippets and scenes, mostly infused with an out of touch portrayal of life at a ‘secular’ university.  The storyline does not flow at all as it hops from one thing to the next.  The characters therein are highly stereotypical of a fundamentalist Christian worldview, depicting a controlling father figure, a wallflower mother, a confused younger woman, a heroic younger man, ‘bad boys’, and that evil atheist professor—basically the cast of Princess Cut on a college campus.  The premise of the film is trumped up and makes a strawman of the atheist.  However, the one thing that keeps this plot from going in the tank is a slightly interesting character concept that is wasted by the overbearing ‘plot’.  But in short, A Matter of Faith is a mess that doesn’t even seem to try to be discreet or polite to those who oppose its viewpoint.

Acting Quality (0 points)

This film has accomplished a rare feat.  Whereas many independent Christian films are notorious casting actors and actresses without giving them any coaching, the cast of A Matter of Faith seems to be coached too much.  This is evident in a general sense of over-acting, such as overdone enunciation of words and overly practiced body language.  Cast members say their lines like they’re reading cue cards for a public service announcement.  In an attempt to avoid glaring errors, the Christiano crew actually did not come out any better by turning their cast members into robots.

Conclusion

Did the Christiano brothers actually expect to convert anyone to their viewpoint with this film?  Is asking someone who believes in evolution if any of their family ancestors looked like apes (yes, that’s in there) truly a productive tactic to use?  Is attacking psychology out of left field a winning strategy?  We find it hard to believe that A Matter of Faith will even grow any Christians in their faith, as many are still confused as to what the real dichotomy between Biblical creationism and Darwinism (the truly dangerous philosophy) is.  Creating a strawman out of ‘evolution’ is counter-productive and confuses people.  Real people cannot relate to the events of this film, so it is likely that it will do nothing more than further fuel the fire of contempt between fundamentalist Christians and atheists.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points