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

 

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Break Away [2012] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Francois is a hard worker, but when he suddenly loses his job in the struggling Johannesburg economy, he is at a loss as to how he is to provide for his family.  He feels like God gives him an idea to start his own bicycle delivery business, and he does so, aided by a friend.  But as his financial situation goes from bad to worse, out of desperation, he decides to enter a cycle race in the hope of winning money.  Will he be able to recover what he has lost and keep his family from poverty?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though a lot of good efforts were made with this production, there are still some pesky errors that hold it back.  Camera work and video quality are good, especially in the actions scenes, even though there are some odd camera angles throughout.  However, audio quality is sometimes poor, including a random soundtrack and outside noises.  Yet sets, locations, and props are quite good and authentic.  Also, the problem areas do tend to improve throughout, which is a plus.  The editing is also a mixed bag, with some good moments and some poor moments.  Overall, this is a good first-time independent production and something to build off of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Break Away is based on a realistic and interesting story, even if it is somewhat boring at times.  There are unfortunately too many montages that fill up the runtime, thus hurting the development of the characters and causing dialogue to be shallow and stunted.  There are quite of few interesting subplots besides the main plot that warrant further explanation.  It’s difficult for this plot to hold the attention as it is, even though the struggles of the characters can be appreciated on some level.  Though it’s sometimes overly dramatic, it’s clear that this creative team meant well in writing this.  Once again, this is something to build off of.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As a semi-amateur cast, these actors and actresses do a decent job, even if they are a little stuffy and robotic at times.  Sometimes lines are mumbled, but emotions are mostly believable.  In the end, this is an average performance to round off a decent effort.

Conclusion

It’s never easy to make a movie of your own, especially since funding is hard to come by for international films.  Regardless, all that matters in this sort of situation is that you do your best, and it seems like, for the most part, this was done in Break Away.  It always feels like plots are suffering in Christian film, however.  Sometimes it’s better to use a plot that’s already written, but perhaps one day, the stories that are told in Christian movies will be more creative and engaging.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Find a Way [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a locally popular high school football player and role model is taken to the hospital with sudden medical complications, the entire small town finds themselves lost and confused.  The head coach’s family is having hidden problems and other families are suffering from hidden secrets and sins.  The school counselor tries to help wherever anyone will let him, but most people will not let him into their world.  However, slowly but surely, walls begin to come down so that healing can start.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For the most part, Find a Way is a professional production.  Camera work is mostly good, even though there are some random moments of shakiness.  Audio quality is in the same boat, with some inconsistency and a stock soundtrack.  Yet sets, locations, and props are highly professional and well-constructed.  Editing is also fairly good, which is a change from the norm in independent inspirational films like this one.  Overall, this is a respectable effort that could be a stepping stone to greater things.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, Find a Way does fall into the typical pitfalls of independent film making when it comes to its plot.  This story is somewhat limited from the start, but it contains interesting ideas and realistic circumstances that need further development.  It sometimes has a one-track mind and wastes a lot of time on trite asides, which stunts character development and makes them one-dimensional.  Sometimes it is difficult to discern what this story is supposed to be about due to the multiple under-developed subplots presented here.  There are important issues explored here pertaining to broken families, but they are not handled very well due to lack of real focus.  Also, all the problems are basically solved in unrealistic fashions, which teaches the audience nothing.  It’s sad to see reality cheapened because this story could have been really interesting.  But once again, we are left wondering what could have been.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though sometimes lines are mumbled and some actors and actresses are awkward, this cast posts mostly professional performances.  Emotions are believable and each cast member seems to fit their character well.  This is another respectable effort that could be a sign of greater things to come.

Conclusion

Find a Way is one of those frustrating movies that contain s creative and realistic ideas that will likely never really be seen by a wide audience because it will be lost in the endless swirl of independent Christian films that are constantly being produced.  It is not bad enough to be remembered for its badness and it’s not good enough to truly make a difference.  But perhaps this is only the beginning of good things still to come from this creative team.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Rumors of Wars (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As Roxy, a college student, witnesses the slow but sure takeover of a one world government, she chronicles her thoughts, beliefs, and discoveries in a detailed journal that is eventually discovered by agents of the new world order.  Shaw 408, the agent who discovers the journal, is unsure of his role in the takeover regime and finds himself intrigued by the journal’s contents.  As Zurn, the leader of the new regime, tightens his grip on the world by ordering everyone to receive a microchip inserted under their skin, the world descends into chaos.  Who will survive?

 

Production Quality (3 points)

It’s clear that the Bearfruit Films team has a commitment to high quality productions, as their effort on Rumors of Wars shows in every production element.  Video and audio quality are error-free.  The original soundtrack is effective and appropriate.  The apocalyptic sets, locations and props are excellent.  The action-based camera work, which is often difficult to execute, is done quite well.  Finally, there are no obvious editing errors, thus making this a perfect production job.  This is rarely found, so we greatly anticipate Bearfruit’s future work.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Rumors of Wars is a unique brand of apocalyptic storyline that actually doesn’t bite off more than it can chew by trying to cover tons of apocalyptic high points.  Instead, the story stays in a controlled atmosphere to build a good dystopian premise without jumping through time too quickly or zooming all over the world.  The mixing of the past and present subplots is interesting and is done fairly well.  However, this overall concept needs a little more explaining and development.  The characters are most okay, but some of the villains are cheesy.  Surprisingly, the antichrist character is actually different and creative.  Finally, Rumors of Wars does commit a key apocalyptic error in creating a passive-aggressive this-might-be-continued-someday ending.  But otherwise, there is a lot of potential here and room to grow.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Full of recognizable actors and actresses, this cast is a mixed bag.  Sometimes they are over the top and other times they are very much on point.  For example, this is not T. C. Stallings’ best performance, but Ben Davies is better than usual.  It’s different from cast member to cast member, thus making this an overall average performance.

Conclusion

This whole idea would work so much better either as a series of films or as a miniseries.  There are a lot of creative ideas and concepts hidden in here that require further development, which necessitates more time and money to do this.  We hope that one day this movie concept can be continued or remade in some fashion.  Regardless, Bearfruit Films has a talented team, so it will be interesting to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

When Calls the Heart [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Elizabeth Thatcher is restless in her American white upper class family structure and longs to make a true difference in life.  She is tired of being sheltered by an extravagant and risk-free lifestyle in the east and longs to teach struggling children in the west.  But her family is opposed to this prospect and seeks to thwart her goals.  Yet as Elizabeth seeks to understand their opposition, she stumbles upon a family secret involving an aunt who shares her name who also had a heart for struggling western schools.  In trying to discover how she can leave her mark on the world, Elizabeth finds that God has uniquely equipped her for adventures she never imagined.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Michael Landon Jr. usually puts on a good production.  The camera work is professional, including in different lighting scenarios.  Good locations and sets are chosen that are neither cheap nor unrealistic.  The costuming and makeup are not overdone like Landon has done in the past.  The video and sound quality are solid.  The editing is pretty good, considering that two stories are being overlaid.  But the editing also leaves something to be desired as there are some plot holes.  But in the end, this film’s production is quite good.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

When a movie mixes two different plots together connected by the reading of a diary, it usually means that there is not enough content in either subplot.  This is slightly true in this Janette Oke novel adaptation, but it seems to work out well enough.  Yet it cannot be ignored that putting two plots together undermines character development in both.  Dialogue is limited because of the combination, but it is still not a completely bad plot.  There are some interesting points and slight twists throughout.  Events that occur are authentic and believable.  The premise of the movie is very interesting, but the end of the movie is confusing.  Was this meant to be the first in a series of movies?  At the time of this writing, there are no plans for a sequel.  The ending could have been written in such a way so that a sequel was not necessary—as it is, it seems incomplete and slightly unprofessional.  Whatever the intention was, this is an average plot that needed further developing, yet it is not horrible on its face.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This is a semi-professional cast, yet they are not terribly dynamic.  They do fairly well in delivery and expression, but they still leave something to be desired.  The actors and actresses do not change the movie for the better, but neither do they derail it.  Average is a word that sums up this film as a whole.

Conclusion

It is likely that Michael Landon Jr.’s development of the When Calls the Heart television series cut this potential movie saga short, but we cannot understand why he planned to make both, each with different actors and characters and with entirely different premises.  This movie, we believe, had more potential than the television series, although there is nothing wrong with creating more miniseries.  The bottom line is that the When Calls the Heart film seems like an afterthought and feels like more could have been done with it had more effort been applied.  As it is, it’s a fine movie, but it is not Hall of Fame worthy.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

A Long Way Off [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jake Abraham feels stifled in his life.  Even though he has a guaranteed job working for his father’s successful farming business, he never has enough.  His conflicts with his brother and desire to experience the world drive him to quit his job and ask his father for his inheritance.  His father gives him what he wants, thus sending Jake on a quest to acquire all the pleasure he can get and to use his money to make a name for himself in ‘important’ circles.  But no matter how many perks he buys for himself and how many rich people he hangs out with, nothing ever satisfies the hole in his soul.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

For starters, the most positive element of this movie’s production is the clear video quality.  This make the movie look good on the surface.  However, the beauty is only skin deep, so to speak.  The camera angles are confusing at times and the editing is isolating.  There are many unnecessary scenes of characters walking around and staring.  Some scenes seem like they were not properly cut for the final draft.  The sound quality is inconsistent; some scenes are substantially quieter than others.  In addition, there is an unprecedented number of eccentric product placements that are no doubt funding this low quality production.  In short, it’s just the same song, different verse for an independent Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

There are interesting nuggets of quality mired in this cheap plot.  The integration of a famous parable into a semi-believable real world situation is noble.  However, it gets washed away in a river of wasted time.  In an attempt to be realistic, there are too many suggestive elements that could have been presented in a more tasteful manner without tarnishing the movie.  The characters are very shallow and wooden, prodded by cheap and cheesy dialogue that was obviously not edited or proofread.  The end is very rushed, leaving some characters and subplots in awkward positions.

Acting Quality (0 points)

A majority of the actors are very awkward.  Their lines seem very forced and intended comedy falls flat.  Some lines are downright perplexing and seem impromptu.  Jason Burkey has been better in other movies, which reflects the lack of acting coaching in A Long Way Off.  Robert Amaya is a fine actor, but he only has two scenes.  Some alleged fight scenes have a Three Stooges feel to them.  Unfortunately, there is nothing good to say here.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, this type of movie is becoming the norm in Christian movie circles.  Creators have seeming good ideas and intentions and decide to rush a direct-to-DVD release, funded by quasi-Christian product placements.  No time or thought are given to developing a quality plot with realistic characters, and no care is taken to coach the actors.  The production is sloppy en route to forcing another Christian movie into the market.  These ill-advised actions only further hurt the cause of Christian movies, lowering overall quality and causing people to laugh at whatever Christians make.  It’s time for someone to stand up and end this assembly line production and replace it with truly quality Christian movies that can be upheld rather than shunned.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points