Heavens to Betsy 2 (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

After Betsy had a unique experience in which God allowed her to live in an alternate version of her life due to her pleadings, she was able to return to her normal life and chronicle her journey under the guise of a fictional work. Her novel made her moderately famous overnight and even attracted unexpected attention from publishers and media outlets. However, this new popularity will come at a price as Betsy will have to decide if she’s going to come clean about the true origins of her story.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Although it’s a 2019 production and should be higher quality than this, Heavens to Betsy 2 is a mostly average one. Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all fine and standard, but the soundtrack is generic and cheesy. The sets, locations, and props are fairly limited and come off as cheap. The editing is very basic as it presents the content at face value without any complex techniques. As a whole, it’s a very pedestrian offering that is neither good nor bad, yet it really doesn’t have a place in the current entertainment field. To top things off, silly magical elements really put the nail in the coffin for this plot that was really doomed from the start.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

After a long rehashing of the previous film many people don’t know about, this unnecessary sequel launches into expectedly cringeworthy comedic sequences very similar to the ones we saw in the first one. Much of the dialogue is trying way too hard to be funny, and many of the scenes are downright pointless. As if it doesn’t have anything better to do, this installment decides to go down a localized media persecution rabbit hole in order to keep the story on life support. However, this idea comes off all wrong as the ‘villain’ character is actually remotely funny for the right reasons. It’s commendable for a Christian creator to want to create a universe of characters, but are these the ones people really want to know better? There are too many coincidences in this story-world as everyone knows about the main character’s book, and lot of the conversations feel dragged out and inflated for runtime purposes. The storyline is overall aimless and lacks substantial themes as it just presents a random collection of scenes that don’t seem fully rooted in reality. In a somewhat bizarre concluding sequence, the screenwriters appear to address the logical problems of the first film, but the explanations only create more questions and inconsistencies.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Like the production, the acting of Heavens to Betsy 2 is very run-of-the-mill and expected. Some cast members tend to overdo their roles and overplay their emotions while others appear unsure of what they’re doing. In the end, with no dynamic performances or standout roles either good or bad, this section also gets an average rating.

Conclusion

One big question we have to ask about this film is why it was even made. Rarely is a sequel justified, especially when the original film was so low-key. Sequels should be about exploring new horizons with characters who are already well-developed and deserve further screentime. Unfortunately, films like Heavens to Betsy 1 and 2 don’t rally have much to offer and will easily be forgotten as time goes on. If screenwriters are interested in trying to develop characters over time, a series would likely be a better forum for this venture.

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

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Grace and Gravity (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

While on a business trip in the United Kingdom, an American man takes a photography hike only to be shocked by a man waiting on a bridge who intends to jump to his death. The American decides to awkwardly climb up the impossibly tall bridge with no other way to get on it, for he intends to share the Gospel with the British man before he ends it all. However, the American doesn’t know what he’s in for as the two men embark on the longest quasi-philosophical debate involving Bruce Marchiano since the original Encounter film.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Since it has very limited sets, locations, and props, Grace and Gravity doesn’t make any major mistakes in the production category, but it doesn’t make any waves either. Video quality and audio quality are both fine accordingly, yet the soundtrack is very generic. Camera work is also adequate, but the presence of weird technological sound effects and other cheap elements put a drag on things. To cap things off, the editing is very basic and almost non-existent, which essentially gives us an average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Did we really need another film that’s basically a long-winded conversation between Bruce Marchiano and another person? It’s bad enough that this movie is full of forced dialogue and long, drawn-out portions, but there’s hardly anything to this so-called plot. It’s intent on kicking the can down the road by wasting time as it grasps for content and produces menial flashbacks that give us little insight into character motive. While there are some slight attempts at talking about real issues, they come off as inadequate and empty. This idea is awkwardly forced to be something it’s not as there are a handful of totally dead scenes, which makes the story very fruitless as it slogs on. Further, the worldview is bit odd, and the ending sequence is highly unusual and unrealistic. In summary, with no characters to work with in a character-based plot, we’re left with a lame attempt to do something (not sure what).

Acting Quality (0 points)

With only two main cast members, they carry the weight of the film. Unfortunately, they fumble the ball often. While Marchiano is slightly better than past roles, his delivery still comes off as overly theatrical and practiced. The acting as a whole is very stilted and cardboard. There are too many scenes of only one or two cast members doing all the talking, and there are some cringe-worthy sequences of painfully forced emotions. In the end, this rounds out a very disappointing effort that had little going for it.

Conclusion

Grace and Gravity really is just another version of The Encounter, just without an obvious Jesus character. It seems like Bruce Marchiano always includes his contract that he needs a certain amount of speaking time in the film, including a hefty imparting of wisdom (see The Encounter 2 and Alison’s Choice). To many audiences, this delivery of content will be very off-putting and appear purposeless. There just isn’t anything substantial for this film to offer beyond half-baked philosophical explorations that do little to relate to the struggles of real people.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

Road to Emmaus [2010] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After the death of Jesus, two men were on the road to Emmaus when they were suddenly met by a (perfect?) stranger Who appeared both know little about recent events and yet know so much about the Jewish Law and Prophets.  As the (perfect) stranger talked with them, they became hopeful over what He had to say, but they had no idea that their encounter (lol) with Him would change their lives forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Beginning with recycled footage from The Visual Bible: Matthew, Road to Emmaus is essentially an add-on to The Visual Bible saga.  As such, the production is relatively the same, except the constantly moving camera work that gets dizzying at times.  Otherwise, video quality, audio quality, and soundtrack are all fairly standard.  Sets, locations, and props demonstrate the usual attempts at authenticity.  There are some abrupt cuts that keep the editing from being all that it could be, but Road to Emmaus is generally another above-average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

While this is an interesting idea for a short film since this is a Biblical story that often receives little attention, it is still just a short film, unfortunately.  As such, it employs unnecessary narration that is not in the typical word-for-word model, as well as information-heavy dialogue that doesn’t help to build the characters and mostly tries to force the plot along.  The conversations therein are too obvious and push an obvious message rather than letting the characters try to naturally develop as real people.  It would have been more interesting, in my opinion, to frame the entire Gospel story into this one story through the use of flashbacks, but that would have required a feature length film.  For the most part, this rendition of Road to Emmaus is fine, even if it has a below average plot.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Like The Visual Bible: Matthew, Road to Emmaus has mostly fine acting, even though the cast is not completely culturally authentic.  However, emotions and line delivery are good, even though they tend to be slightly over-practiced at times.  There are some slightly theatrics, and Marchiano is not in his better role in this film, but costuming to good, and there are enough positive elements to make this section above average.

Conclusion

As previously mentioned, the story of the road to Emmaus could have been more effectively utilized as a present-day anchor for flashbacks to other aspects of the Gospel as Jesus explains the Law and the Prophets to the two travelers.  However, as this rendition is, it mainly just feels like a tack-on where it could have been the main thing.  Perhaps another film maker will remake it in the future.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

A Candle in the Dark: The Story of William Carey (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

William Carey always knew that God had called him and his family to be missionaries in a foreign country, but he never expected God to open a door in unreached India.  Unlike English missionaries before them, Carey and his family immersed themselves in the culture of the people rather than try to impose religious culture on people.  In getting to know the people and meeting their everyday needs, God opened doors of opportunity for them, but their stay in India was certainly not without hardships.  Through it all, God was faithful to them.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Although this production is somewhat cheap and under-funded as a curriculum companion, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not all that bad.  Sometimes the sets look fairly cheap, but outdoor locations and cultural props are fine.  Video quality, audio quality, and camera work are all fine as well, even if the soundtrack is a bit generic.  While the editing is a bit odd at times, there is definite improvement throughout this production, which is enough to warrant an above-average score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The story of William Carey is a great historical account to present in the form of a film, but this rendition tends to make the characters a bit too lofty than they should be.  This is done through dialogue that is too formal and unnatural, as well as some whitewashing of family struggles.  There is also a crutch of narration through journaling that moves the story along too quickly.  The time jumps stunt character growth as the story just tries to hit all the high points.  However, it is clear that this plot means well, and it does become more realistic as it goes on.  There are plenty of good marks here, and the ending is appropriate.  It just seems like it could have been presented in a more accessible fashion.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Plenty of care was given to making the costuming historically and culturally authentic.  There are also good efforts to have culturally authentic cast members.  However, sometimes the acting can be too theatrical and programmed.  There are one too many dramatic moments, but there are also plenty of other good moments that outweigh the negatives.  For the most part, emotions are realistic, thus warranting an above-average score here.

Conclusion

It’s frustrating when Christian films like this are so ‘Christianese.’  This curriculum clearly had an agenda to push, so it’s surprising that the film turned out this well.  As Christians, however, we’ve got to get out of our little boxes and make truly great movies that will make a difference.  We can really do without even more cute little Christian films.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Mister Scrooge to See You! (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

What if a year after his transformation, Ebenezer Scrooge, with the help of Jacob Marley, was randomly transported through time to the modern era, where the descendant Jacob Crachit was being just as miserly was Scrooge once was?  Puzzled by modern things, Scrooge tries to fulfill his mission to save a struggling small town diner from the cold heart of Crachit.  Will he be able to do it in time?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Much like other productions from Salty Earth, Mister Scrooge has its share of drawbacks.  Video quality is fine, as usual, as is audio quality, except for some weird echoes for dramatic effects.  The soundtrack is generic.  However, there are some very cheap special effects throughout that make for an odd experience.  There are also some cheesy props to contend with, as well as limited sets and locations.  Furthermore, as is to be expected, the editing is relatively choppy.  Thus, this is just another low-quality production with too much ambition.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It’s one thing to craft a creative take off of a familiar story, but this film goes a bit too far.  The intertwined past\present plots are too confusing to follow, and creating a cinematic universe for the characters of the famous Charles Dickens novel is problematic.  What’s the point of the unexplained time travel elements?  As we’ve said before, all time travel should be avoided in stories.  Besides this, Mister Scrooge is just a blatant retread of the former story, just with a Christian spin and a worn out save-the-diner plot.  There are also too many strawman characters, including a cheesy and stereotypically evil anti-Christmas businessman villain.  In addition to this is mindless dialogue, forced comedy, and too many head-scratching moments to take this movie seriously.  It’s very hard to understand what was meant by this plot.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Most of the time, this cast is overplaying their roles, as if they do not trust the audience to understand what they are doing.  This comes off as annoying, as do the plastic emotions.  However, there are a few good moments here, such as Torry Martin playing Santa.

Conclusion

We can understand the desire to be creative and to offer a unique take on a familiar story, but this is just all wrong.  You can’t be so different that you isolate your audience.  Besides this, the production is too low quality, and the acting is too off-putting for the film to truly be taken seriously.  Most of the time, it’s difficult to understand what exactly Salty Earth is going for, but maybe one day they will find their niche.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Savior [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

What if Mary and Joseph lived in modern day Britain rather than the fantasy world of British Judea?  What if the Magi were random business people who read about it all in the newspaper?  This unique movie reimagines the Christmas story in a way that even BBC has not thought of yet.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

This film is basically a small church production, and thus it has its share of quality concerns.  This includes a lot of shaky camera work and sequences of odd lighting.  While video quality is fine, there are also a lot of strange close-up shots of cast members that are off-putting.  There are also some minor background sound issues to content with, as well as some weird sound effects and not enough soundtrack.  As is customary for these types of productions, sets, locations, and props are fairly limited and low-budget.  Furthermore, the editing has some signs of amateurism.  In the end, this is a nice try, but not good enough.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

At least since they had a lot of British people at their disposal, they decided to go ahead and commit to the idea properly by setting the story in modern day Britain rather than in an imaginary location like British Judea.  But even so, there are plenty of problems that come of these sorts of modern-day Bible allegory things, as usual.  For one, time progresses far too quickly to the point of stunting proper character growth.  Thus, they come off as stiff and unnatural due to rushed, uninspiring dialogue.  There are also too many unrelated asides that waste time, as well as a lot of boring conversations that do nothing to help the characters.  The ending is confusing and isolating, thus hurting any chance of meaningful impact.  In short, while it is always problematic to transpose Biblical events over modern-day circumstances, the plot doesn’t have to be this drab, boring, and confusing.

Acting Quality (1 point)

As an amateurish cast, these cast members would have benefitted from upgraded coaching.  Most of the time, they come off as flat and forced.  There is too much melodrama and yelling throughout.  However, there are some good moments that redeem this section from being worse.  Yet this film overall struggles to find identity.

Conclusion

When a Biblical event is recast in a modern setting, a lot of care needs to be taken and a lot of planning needs to be employed.  This is not a venture to take lightly.  Even so, we don’t try to reconstruct other historical events into modern venues, do we?  This method of storytelling is somewhat questionable, but even if you’re going to use it, it has to be done right, not haphazardly, as this movie was.  Better luck next time.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

For Love’s Sake [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Mary Walker’s husband dies in a car wreck, she begins to sink deeper and deeper into depression and suicide attempts.  She eventually loses custody of her two sons, even though she refuses to allow her atheist in-laws to take care of them.  They are instead sent to a Christian children’s home that quickly becomes the center of controversy, due to the suicide of one of the children there.  But the Walker family forges a relationship with a Christian therapist that gives them a ray of hope for the future.

 

Production Quality (0 points)

It is hard to comprehend why For Love’s Sake was funded or created.  With very poor video quality and unprofessional camera work, this film looks like it was made in the time period it is portraying.  Audio quality is no better, including a cheap soundtrack.  The sets and locations also look cheap and the entire movie has a feeling of being dark and grey.  The editing is very amateur, with many wasted scenes and missing pieces of the plot.  Unfortunately, there is really nothing good to say here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

As previously mentioned, tons of content happen off screen, as the budget was clearly too low to include complex scenes.  The entire storyline has an unhealthy obsession with suicide and an incorrect portrayal of mental illness.  The plot is very melancholy and depressing itself, and sometimes downright creepy.  There are some disturbing scenes that we don’t consider to be family friendly.  Besides all this, some of the characters are atheist strawmen and all the characters have very forceful and annoying dialogue.  There is no way to appreciate the struggles of these characters—they are all wooden and dark.  While it is commendable to address mental illness in film, this is not the way to do it.

Acting Quality (0 points)

As with the rest of the film, the cast members are drab, dank, and dour.  They are either cold and unfeeling or so depressing that they make you feel depressed yourself.  As they mire in the slough of despond, line delivery is all wrong.  The costuming and makeup is also low budget.  In summary, this is another one of those zero-point slogs.

Conclusion

Mental illness needs to have its cultural stigmatism removed from it, and film is a good tool to do this with.  However, For Love’s Sake is the example of how not to portray mental illness.  This film only reinforces stereotypes and paints the mentally ill as weird and unfixable.  Besides that, it also puts more salt on the wound between Christians and atheists by making atheists out to be horrible people.  Everything about this movie is just all wrong and the one consolation is that it’s likely no one will ever watch it.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points