Tortured for Christ (Movie Review)

 

Plot Summary

Pastor Richard Wurmbrand and his wife Sabina were active in Lutheran ministry in Romania during the 1970s Communist takeover of Eastern Europe.  The Communist regme sought to corrupt the church by ‘uniting’ the denominations as a political body rather than as a ministry.  Richard and Sabina dared to stand up against the tyranny both by speaking against it and by illegally proselytizing their faith to Romanians who struggled under the heavy yoke of the Communist government.  Because of these infractions and because they helped harbor wanted Christians, Richard was arrested and tortured for his faith.  He languished for fourteen years in a cruel Communist prison, but he did not give up his faith in Christ.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though this production was somewhat low-budget, there is still a very clear commitment to making it as authentic and gritty as possible.  Video quality and audio quality are among these good production elements.  Although there are some moments of oddly poor lighting, the sets, locations, and props are very realistic and demonstrate great attention to detail and great care to make the surroundings as realistic as possible.  This is definitely the best that could have been done with the funding available, which is all we ask of productions.  Though there is some choppy editing throughout, it’s obvious that this creative did all they could with this production, which is all a film maker needs to do.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Another thing film makers can do to ensure a mostly successful effort is to use good source material.  The story of Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand is a very poignant and unfortunately true narrative that definitely deserved to be made into a movie.  However, one has to question whether the high amount of heavy-handed narration was necessary since it greatly stunts character growth and plot development.  Even still, the serious commitment to have each character speak in the original Romanian dialect is very intriguing to say the least as it further shows care for realism and attention to detail that we rarely find in Christian film.  Moreover, because of the narration that punctuates and explains a majority of the scenes, the movie comes off as too much of a random collection of loosely connected scenes rather than an engaging story about real people we can relate to.  There are also a few too many docu-drama elements.  Nevertheless, the strong content of this story keeps the plot from being worse than it could have been as the tragic realities of religious persecution at the hands of tyrannical regimes is brought to the big screen.  Thus, many audiences will find this movie to be worthwhile.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Although most of the cast members are not allowed to fully act due to the high amount of narration that only allows for rare moments of dialogue, the portions they do act in are definitely great.  The culturally authentic casting and the good use of the original language is also a huge plus.  Emotions are mostly good with only a few instances of being slightly overdone, but on the whole, this is the best area of the film, and it rounds out a job well done.

Conclusion

Christian films are still getting better by using source material and by being committed to great productions.  This creative team is off to a great start in their movie-making careers, so it will be very interesting to see what they come up with next.  Until then, Tortured for Christ is an above-average film that carries a great message and a stirring theme packaged in a realistic production that will make a lasting impression on many who watch it.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

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Stephen’s Test of Faith (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Stephen doesn’t like to be picked on by bullies at school because of his Christian faith.  When he complains about it to his father, his dad decides to tell him three stories of Christian martyrs in history, including the stoning of Stephen from the book of Acts.  Thus, when Stephen falls asleep that night, he has three dreams about the three stories, in which he is also a character.  Will his visions teach him how to not be afraid of the atheist bullies at his school???

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Though Voice of the Martrys has crafted quality productions in the past, Stephen’s Test of Faith is not one of these.  This film contains somewhat cheap and limited sets, props, and locations, which doesn’t bode well for the historical parts.  There is also some poor lighting throughout.  Further, this production has some odd camera angles and slightly shaky camera work, although the video quality is fine.  Audio quality is also fine, even though the editing is somewhat poor.  Overall, the low quality of this production, combined with the shortness of its duration, makes its creation slightly unjustified.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

This is combined with the fact that its premise is very unusual and almost insulting.  Equating real martyrdom and persecution with getting made fun of by immature kids at school is very odd and off-putting.  Did Voice of the Martyrs mean to tell kids they don’t have it as bad as people who are killed for their faith?  That’s almost worse.  Either way, it’s a mishandling of first-world problems.  Besides this, the story of this film has a disorienting progression and sequencing, which is helped by its short time frame.  Even so, the plot jumps from one thing to the next as it tries to cover far too much content in a small amount of time.  It seems like it is unable to focus on any one thing, and this makes the characters too one-dimensional and swept along by the plot’s circumstances.  Unfortunately, though Voice of the Martyrs might have meant well with this film, it’s a swing and a miss.

Acting Quality (1 point)

For the most part, this cast tends to be dominated by child actors that have an annoying delivery style.  Other cast members tend to be too forceful and dramatic, while others are unsure of themselves.  However, not all is bad in this cast as there are some good moments, yet this is not enough to save this film from itself.

Conclusion

With films like Bamboo in Winter, Behind the Sun, The Eastern Bride, and Closure, Voice of the Martyrs is usually able to capture the real struggles of persecuted Christians around the world, but trying to transpose these struggles onto the first world problems in modern America is just wrong.  This may have not been intentional, but it came off that way in Stephen’s Test of Faith.  We have to be careful not to demean the actual persecution Christians experience outside of the Western world by trying to make our minor issues into persecution.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

The Eastern Bride (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Pete de Jaeger is a successful South African businessman who never before considered the plight of the underground Christian church in the Middle East until he is forced to watch it play out before his eyes.  However, his girlfriend is skeptical of Asian persecution of Christians as she embarks to complete a news story on the modernization and Westernization of China.  Yet together, the two of them discover worlds they never thought existed as they try to help their fellow Christians around the world.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As an early 2000s, limited resources production, The Eastern Bride is fairly good.  Though it begins with some blurry video quality, this improves throughout.  Some camera work is also shaky at first and changes for the better.  Audio quality is fine throughout the soundtrack makes attempts to be culturally authentic.  The best portion of this production are the realistic and accurate sets, locations, and props, since this was likely difficult to pull off.  Yet editing is a concern as there is a lot of disjointed content here.  But in the end, this is at least an average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though this story likely means well and has a lot of potential, it’s difficult to understand at times.  Is it about persecution in China or persecution in the Middle East?  It’s likely about both, but cramming them both into one film is ill-advised.  There is too much random, meandering content that makes the film take a while to get to the point.  As it is, there are too many ideas to fit into the short runtime.  While it seems like the characters begin to be developed and are mostly believable, we don’t get to see enough of them, mostly because there are too many to introduce into this short of a story.  This is a large-scale idea that needed at least two different movies to support it.  It could also be a series, especially since the ending comes off as very unfinished.  In summary, it’s clear that the writers meant well and knew what they were talking about; it’s possible that they didn’t know just how big of an idea they had here.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As usual for the Open Doors International films, the cast of The Eastern Bride is culturally authentic and mostly well-coached.  At times, however, the cast members can be too practiced in their line delivery and emotional delivery.  Yet this is a very good, above-average effort all around.

Conclusion

Ideas like The Eastern Bride, Bamboo in Winter, and Behind the Sun are much bigger than their movies allow them to be.  What if each of these ideas took place in a mini-series format?  If the budget made it possible, the impact would be much larger.  But then again, the same could be said for many lost-in-the-shuffle Christian films.  Perhaps one day ideas like these will be brought back out and improved through better funding and plot writing.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Bamboo in Winter (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Su Ming decides to find out for herself what the Christians who live near her Chinese village believe, she discovers a new opportunity in life to have faith that she never thought was possible.  She is drawn to the teachings of Christ and asks the local preacher every question she can think of.  However, though she finally surrenders to Christ, she does not expect the governmental persecution that follows.  As she sees other Christians giving their lives for the sake of Jesus, Su Ming will have to decide whether or not she will one day do the same.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though Bamboo in Winter is an archaic 1990s production, it is actually not half bad, considering the time period and the limited resources.  Video quality is a bit blurry at times and audio quality is sometimes poor.  Camera work, however, is fine, yet the soundtrack is outdated.  However, considering the time period, the sets, locations, and props are very realistic and culturally accurate.  It’s clear that attention was given to this area, and there are other production improvements throughout.  Finally, the editing is okay, which rounds out an overall average production, yet it is certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Though the first half of this story is dominated by a lot of narration, it is still a unique, realistic, and believable storyline, even if it is a very short idea.  Better care is given to developing the characters in this plot than in most movies newer than it.  This is done through effective dialogue and authentic circumstances.  The audience can appreciate what the characters are experiencing for this reason.  The ending is also thought-provoking and non-typical.  Overall, though it is short in duration, this story has a great message that probably deserves to be reused in the future.

Acting Quality (2 points)

It’s surprising that a Christian film of this age had the resources to assemble such a culturally authentic cast.  It also seems as though each cast member is coached well as line delivery is mostly good and emotions are believable.  There are just some small errors here pertaining to over-practiced lines, but this is not enough to hold this section back.  In the end, this film is real standout in its time period.

Conclusion

This idea either needs to be remade or a newer, upgraded version needs to be created.  With a little more complexity and improved production quality, this could be a Hall of Fame worthy movie.  Regardless of all of this, Bamboo in Winter will always serve as an example of what can be done, even with a limited budget, if the film creators actually put care and thought into what they are doing.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Closure [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Cyrus grew up in an affluent Iranian household, yet because his parents were secretly Christians, they eventually were found out by secret government agents seeking to shut down the Christian house churches of the country.  Cyrus’ father was taken away and executed for his faith, which left a profound effect on Cyrus as he grew up.  Now with a family of his own, he finds that God wants him to face the pain of his past in order to move forward in God’s will for the future.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Though this is a little know production team with somewhat limited funding, Closure exhibits high production quality and demonstrates a lot of care for professionalism.  Video quality is excellent; the only error to point out in this production is some unprofessional camera work and angles.  Audio quality is excellent and the soundtrack is appropriate.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and culturally accurate.  Finally, editing is good and presents the story well.  In the end, it’s clear that those associated with Voice of the Martyrs care about making high quality films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though this is an intriguing realistic story, it relies too much on narration and contains a lot of large time jumps.  Thus, these two elements stunt character development and keep dialogue from being all that it could be.  The plotline is somewhat simplistic and linear with not enough complexity.  It tends to hop from one high point to the next and fill the gaps with narration.  Yet the story is good nonetheless and many will find it to be enjoyable.  It carries a powerful message and has an effective ending that is worth waiting for.  In the end, these writers have a lot of potential that needs some refining.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

It’s extremely difficult to cast a film about Iran due to a likely shortage of culturally authentic cast members, yet this cast is chosen excellently.  Not only this, but they are also good at acting, including line delivery and emotional delivery.  The only nitpick to point out here is the fact that making some of these cast members look older with makeup and hair color is not effective.  But in the end, this is a respectable and professional effort that should be applauded.

Conclusion

With this film, Voice of the Martyrs has shown that they know how to put together a professional film that carries an effective message that many audiences will enjoy.  They demonstrate more care in making their films than a majority of Christian film makers.  Only minor errors hold this film back from being Hall of Fame.  It should be interesting to see if they make any more films in the future, because they have a lot of promise.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Behind the Sun [1995] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a young Muslim convert to Christianity returns home to Iran from America, he wrestles with how he is going to tell his staunch Islamic family and community about his conversion to ‘treason’.  He is also trying to understand God’s call on his life and to continue to grow in his newfound faith.  As he comes to grips with the persecution of Christians in his country, he must decide whether he will run back to safety or face the hard road in front of him.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Though the production of Behind the Sun is archaic, it is good for its time frame.  Camera work is shaky and video quality is somewhat grainy.  Yet audio quality is fine, even though the soundtrack could use a little improvement.  The strongest point of this production is the highly culturally realistic sets, locations, and props throughout the film.  Editing is okay, but there are some abrupt cuts and transitions.  Overall, this film was unfortunately made in a time frame that did not allow for better production, so a remake might be in order.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Behind the Sun addresses a storyline that is often never addressed in Christian film and does so in a realistic way.  The characters are interesting, but we would like to see a little more development from them, yet we can appreciate the struggles they encounter.  What they need a little more backstory and dialogue to help deepen them as people.  We would also like to see some of the subplots developed more to give the film more content and effectiveness.  As it is, the story is engaging but would be better with a more flowing plot and fewer leaps in logic.  Too much of the story is told through headlines and not enough through dialogue.  However, the ending is interesting and is worth a watch.  We only wish it could have been better.

Acting Quality (2 points)

International films are notoriously difficult to cast due to limited resources, but this team did an excellent job finding cast members that fit the depicted culture properly.  Costuming is also authentic.  The acting is also great, except for a few bouts of extreme emotions.  Otherwise, the acting and casting is the strongest point of this film.

Conclusion

Behind the Sun is an obscure Christian film, yet it carries with it a lot of potential.  Had it been better funded and had the plot been written a little more complex, it could have been Hall of Fame.  As it is, it seems a bit rushed since it was perhaps not completely intended to be a Christian film to be sold on the market, but rather an awareness-raising project.  However, think of the impact it could have had if a little bit more time had been invested in it.  Perhaps one day someone will remake it or make one similar to it.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points