Reviews

Review: The Good Book

February 10th, 2015


After almost a year, we're back with another written movie review! While we will continue reviewing movies every other week on our podcast, we will also be reviewing Christian films on our blog and on our Youtube channel.

When one thinks of silent films, they normally think back to the early 1900s, when movies were in black and white, had very grainy images, and the only concept of dialogue was slides with text interspersed throughout the film. However, in the late 20's and into the 30's as "talkies" or talking pictures became the newest and greatest form of visual entertainment, silent movies slowly faded away. With various exceptions like The Artist (2011), silent films are nearly non-existent in an age where big explosions, high-res graphics, and controversial language are the keys to selling tickets. What's even more rare than a silent film is silent Christian film. While the past few years have brought us a slew of new Christian media, few have dared tread into this difficult and seemingly obsolete area of filmmaking.

That's what make this film so unique.

The Good Book, released on February 2nd, goes off in a completely different direction than your average Christian film, attempting to tell a feature-length story completely without words. The whole film is accompanied solely by a musical score, not uttering a single word until a few testimonials during the credits.

First off, look at the pros of creating a silent film. Without having any dialogue, it negates the need for a lot of audio equipment. You don't need many of the traditional equipment pieces, such as a microphone, wind muff, boom pole, recorder, several cords, and so on. It takes a lot of different pieces to add sound to a film, both in production and post-production. Removing sound from your film makes it much more affordable and allows you to spend your budget on other places. Besides being cost-effective, it also transcends language barriers. While the majority of films need to be dubbed in other languages in order to reach an international audience, a silent film is understandable in any language. This way of breaking down a language barrier is also a wonderful ministry tool, as it really does work in almost any community, regardless of what language is spoken therein.

This film does an amazing job of utilizing these benefits, but unfortunately, it does also have a few problems. While a silent film may have worked for this particular story, acting in a silent film is exceedingly difficult. Actions in this movie had to be done very obviously in order to communicate what was transpiring in the film to the audience. Something as simple as a child sneaking out his bedroom, having his flashlight fail, and him resorting to a match and candle instead are all acted out very awkwardly and unrealistically. If it were acted out more realistically, however, the audience might have missed out on what was happening in front of them.

This was my main complaint with the film. While I was excited to see something different from a Christian film, I was a little disappointed to see how it was executed. What sounded like a great idea on paper did not translate very well into a finished product. The story is very simple and one-dimensional and the lack of dialogue didn't allow for very much depth or substance. The story also plays out in a serial-like timeline, focusing on one story for 10 minutes, then moving on to a completely different story for the next ten minutes. Rather than having the same characters throughout the entire movie, we were introduced to a completely new cast of characters every 10 minutes or so. This was rather jarring and kept me from getting very attached to any one character.

I want to be clear and say now that I don't disagree with the content of the film. I do believe that the Bible is powerful and very moving. I've seen God's Word impact many lives in my own experience and I strongly believe that it is 100% valid and the true Word of God. I was glad to see that this film had respect for the Bible and it was good to see it get some well-earned respect and praise.

While this movie may not have been the highest quality or told the most compelling story, I do commend the producers for trying to do something that has never been done before. As I mentioned above, I think it's amazing that they're trying to transcend the language barrier and make a film that is easily accessible to anyone from any background. There were some genuine moments and I did enjoy watching it. If you are tired of the "Christian film formula" and want to check out something a little bit different, I would wholeheartedly recommend The Good Book.

Review: When God Left the Building

April 12th, 2014

When God Left the Building Review

Today I had the opportunity to attend the last day of the Lifetree Film Fest in Loveland, CO. While I was there I was able to see a new Christian film by Group Productions, When God Left the Building. The synopsis of this film reads:

Though the vast majority (77%) of Americans identify themselves as Christians, they have largely stopped attending church. LESS THAN 20% of the population now makes it to church in a typical week. Some 4000 churches are closing every year. It’s a major and unprecedented social upheaval.

The film follows a church that has seen its attendance plunge from 900 to 40. In addition to external cultural factors that affect all churches, this church is disintegrating from the inside from a variety of human storms. A pastor who doesn’t know who or what God is. Fights over petty things. A faction of angry ex-members that devises a plan to take over the church.

Throughout the story, cameras also visit other dying churches—as well as innovative new forms of church that are thriving. These range from a ministry in a Pennsylvania pub to an outreach in Los Angeles that brings joy to skid-row moms.

By the end of the film, viewers will experience hope and a refreshing glimpse into how faith may be pursued in the future.

As the film rolls, we learn the story of a church in Newark, New York who watches their church attendance decrease and their church fall on the verge of death. The movie follows Tom Schultz, founder of Group
Publishing, as he tries to figure out why churches across America are dying. The film gives an insightful look into modern churches and does a magnificent job at showing all angles of the story.

From small, dying churches, to large and thriving mega churches they show a variety of different ways people are worshipping in our modern day. It also takes a hard look at what is going on churches today and why we are struggling to reach this new generation. We hear the testimonies of people who have left the church and why they refuse to come back. The film is not afraid to be brutal and honest with what isn’t working and I was so glad to see it wasn’t afraid to speak the truth.

One of the fascinating analogies drawn in this film is the similarity between the church and the Kodak film company. Kodak did not try to evolve into what it needed to be and remained set in its ways until it ultimately declared bankruptcy in 2012. In the same way, the church became an outdated relic and newer generations had moved on from attending. The film does an amazing job of showing how we can still be the body of Christ in the modern day without trying to adapt to fit in with the “world”. It takes a look at churches who have tried to evolve with the culture by adding flashy songs or high-tech special effects and ultimately decides that this isn’t the answer either. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it does an amazing job of showing truly effective ministries in the modern day that are real examples of the church actually succeeding.

The cinematography and video quality remain professional throughout the film and nothing ever stuck out to me as being odd or out of place. The movie flowed magnificently from one scene to the next and it had very smooth transitioning throughout. It was very professionally done documentary that maintained a high level of quality throughout.

I can say without hesitation that I enjoyed this film immensely. It had great interviews and interesting points and really encouraged and motivated me to take a hard look at how I view the church today. The film was very professional quality and did an excellent job of conveying a point to the viewer. All in all, I really had no problems with the film so I’m giving it a perfect 5/5 stars. Hopefully this film will be making its way to DVD soon and I would highly encourage you to pick it up and watch it with your family or quite possibly your entire church congregation. It would be an excellent film for whole church bodies to watch as it invites churches to examine themselves and figure out how they can be an effective body for Christ.

Review: Grace Unplugged

March 11th, 2014

Last week, while enjoying some time off for Spring Break, my whole family decided to rent and watch the new Christian film Grace Unplugged. We all gathered around to watch, and as the movie began to progress, I was surprised by what I saw.

Grace Unplugged tells the story of a young aspiring musician, Grace Trey, who finally receives her chance to become a big star. After sending in a demo song, she finds out that she will have the opportunity to go to LA and pursue her dream of becoming a recording artist. The only catch, however, was that she was going to have to run away from her Christian parents and leave her home behind. Eventually, she decides the only thing to do is rebel and begin a new life in California.
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As she enters into the music world and begins to become known as a superstar, she begins to find out what the true world of recording looks like. As she rises in fame, she is constantly pressured to write more songs, dress more provocatively, and compromise her morals time and time again. While she does leave her family behind in a rebellious rage, she begins to wonder if she is making the right choices in her life. The film follows Grace as she has to decide which way she will go and how she will plan her future.

While our family does casually watch movies all the time, it is a very rare occurrence that everyone stays to the end. Normally, one or two members wander off disinterested and turn their attention to other matters. However, as the film continued to run, I was pleasantly surprised to see that every single family member made it to the very end of the film. We all came away from the film saying we enjoyed it, and it was generally positive reviews around the room. I found that, for our family at least, the characters were very easily to relate to, especially since our whole family is the worship band at our church. I think with that background, we were able to enjoy the movie and easily relate to it from the beginning.

While there are a few odd parts throughout the movie that feel like awkward product placement, the whole film is enthralling and definitely kept everyone's attention. It is a pretty straightforward "prodigal son" type story, but there are still a few surprises throughout the film. I was also very happy to see how they were able to imply some of the damaging activities normally found in that kind of environment without having to show anything onscreen or in too much detail. The film stays clean all the way through, and minus a couple of immodest outfits, is perfectly family-friendly for all ages.

I would definitely recommend this film for anyone interested in Christian films, and I know I will especially recommend it to others in the worship leading environment. It's family-friendly and entertaining throughout, which is why I give this film a near-perfect 4.5/5 stars. I would highly recommend it!

What did you think of this film? Let us know in the comments below!

Unstoppable Movie Review

October 9th, 2013

Kirk Cameron Unstoppable Review

Last Thursday, my family and I were able to attend the second showing of Kirk Cameron's film Unstoppable. We were in a room filled with well over 150 people, all anticipating this new film we had been looking forward to for several months. As the theater began to darken, we all sat down in our seats and quickly quieted down. The film began to roll...

The beginning of the theatrical version of Unstoppable begins with Kirk Cameron interviewing a couple of men about Liberty University, a big Christian college who helped support this movie. After talking with them for around 10 minutes, he enters a large gymnasium packed with Liberty University students. Here he begins to talk some more, along with a few interviews and songs sung by Mandisa and Warren Barfield. After maybe a half an hour since the lights dimmed, the actual movie finally begins.

As the movie begins, Kirk Cameron tells the story of a 15 year old boy that he knew who died. He questions why God lets bad things happen to people, and journeys throughout the movie to find the answer. He decides to go back to the beginning of the bible and begins to tell the story of Adam and Eve's fall and the death of Abel and so on. The format of the movie is basically Kirk Cameron talking to the camera, with little segments of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel woven in. Eventually it deviates from that and has scenes of Kirk Cameron in various places, an oddly-placed "humorous" scene of a board meeting, and scenes of a funeral. Then, the movie ends with Kirk Cameron, wrapping up and making his point.

As our family left the theater, we all decided that we liked the movie, and there were some interesting points to be made, but we didn't feel that it had a very cohesive plot. It skipped rather oddly from bible story to bible story, and decidedly jumped over large, important parts of the bible. Some of the sections of the movie seemed thrown together, and there didn't seem to be a single line running through one story to the next. The whole movie deals with a very serious topic, and is very saddening when you learn of the 15 year old boy dying, and it just seems odd to throw a single scene into the center of the movie that tries to add a little comedic relief.

The camerawork in the movie was definitely phenomenal. There was an interesting point where you see Cameron realize why God lets bad things happen to people, and the camera turns from black and white to color, which added an interesting "aha" moment to the film. The overall quality of the film is superb and there was never any scene that took away from the overall quality. The bible scenes were well shot and very realistic, but in the opinion of my family, it was possibly a little too artsy. There was a lot of unnecessary blood and gore, and would definitely be a detractor for a family with young children wanting to see the film. The scene where Cain murders Abel was a little overly violent, and not particularly appropriate for young children.

Overall, the film was enjoyable, and our whole family enjoyed our outing to go see this Christian film. It was well shot and had some interesting points, but did have some strange and seemingly out of place scenes strewn throughout the film. I would encourage you to see this movie once it releases on DVD next year, as it is definitely worth your time. Clearly, Kirk Cameron worked very hard on this film and it definitely is of the highest quality. Even with a few unnecessary scenes and odd quirks, Unstoppable is a film that is definitely worth seeing.

Pilgrim's Progress - Journey to Heaven

July 25th, 2013

Pilgrims Progress - Journey to Heaven Movie Review

Pilgrims Progress - Journey to Heaven is a modern adaption of a book most everyone has heard about by John Bunyan. It follows a man named Christian and his journey to find the Celestial City, and the many obstacles he encounters along the way. The story is an impressive and thought-provoking allegory of the christian life, and it is interesting to see their take on this timeless story.

It is well worth noting how they added a new layer to the story by setting it in the modern world, and not simply retelling the story exactly how it was in the book. For example, in the beginning of the movie you see Christian living in a typical, modern-looking house and neighborhood.

The overall quality of Pilgrim's Progress is very good, with amazing effects and lots of well-done scenes. Between each scene or "obstacle" a map animation shows Christian's progress which is very fun to follow throughout the movie. It features many incredible video and animation effects, which definitely bring a more epic feel to the film.

The story and point of Pilgrim's Progress masterfully shows a Christian's journey from a life as a sinner to ultimate redemption and forgiveness in the end, if only you endure through the many trials of the world.

At about an hour and 45 minutes long, it is perfect for a fun, family movie night. It contains no objectionable language and only a few scenes featuring very brief violence and occasional appearances of demon-like creatures that might frighten younger audiences. All in all, this would be a very fun film to watch together as a family, and can prompt many discussion questions to discuss together as a family. With good acting, and an impressive adaption of an amazing story, I would highly recommend you add this film to your collection.

Review: GarageBand for ios

July 16th, 2013

GarageBand for ios review
The guitar instrument in GarageBand...

For many people, (myself included) one of the hardest things about making a movie is finding the perfect background music. Sure, stock sound effects can be found with a little bit of effort, but finding stock music is a little harder. Some music may sound good, but doesn't fit the scene. It may not have the right tone or mood, and it just sounds rather odd or awkwardly placed in the scene. 

One obvious solution is to hire a composer to write new music for you, but that can get very expensive very fast. If you want a fun, simple $5 solution, I would highly recommend the Garageband app for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. 

With GarageBand, you can play many different instruments and piece them together to create music. Using different instruments (including the very useful "strings" instrument) you can create simple background music that fits smoothly with your movie. You can take control to decide what goes where and not be limited to whatever the stock music sounds like. 

GarageBand for ios review
The very intuitive drum instrument. You can also switch to a drum machine, and other drum sounds (such as vintage drums, studio drums, etc.)

The app contains a wide variety of instruments, ranging from dozens of keyboard patches, to guitar (bass, acoustic, and electric), to drums, and even an entire strings section (which can be played individually or altogether). 

GarageBand for ios review
The easy to use keyboard with 80 different patches on it.

All of your recordings can be mixed together in an 8 track mixer where you can easily move around all of your recordings, fix small note mistakes, trim off sections, and make sure everything fits together. From there you can easily email yourself the file and add it your movie. 

GarageBand for ios review
The strings section of Garageband where you can easily add or remove parts of the orchestra.

While obviously this isn't going to replace a professional orchestra, it is a very easy way to create simple music that fits with your video. I would highly recommend it for simple videos, and it's very easy to use at home or on the go.

What do you think of this app? Have you used the Mac version of it? What do you think of either version? Let us know!

Review: Olympus VN-702PC Recorder

June 29th, 2013

For anyone looking for a good recorder to use with a microphone, such as a lapel microphone, look no further than the Olympus VN-702PC. We got this recorder a few months ago to record sermons at church, and it seems to be working okay now. We had a few problems at first, but that turned out to be a problem with the sound board, and not the recorder. I also tried doing a test of plugging my lapel microphone directly into the recorder through the 3.5mm mic jack and it came through in great quality.

The recorder has a record button, stop button, along with controls to go to the menu, rewind, fast forward, etc. It has a microphone jack so you can plug in an external mic or audio source. It also contains a convenient headphone jack so you can make sure the audio quality is coming through well. It has a slider power button on the side and also a slot to plug in a Micro SD card, although it contains so much internal memory we have not had reason to buy one yet.

We've been using it every Saturday for several hours for the past few months and have not yet had to change batteries, so battery life does not seem to be a problem. If you look carefully, you can find this recorder for under $50, so it won't break the bank either. So, if you're planning on simply plugging in a microphone into the recorder for whatever reason, this recorder should work perfectly for you.

You can find this recorder on Amazon or on the Olympus website. I would recommend this recorder very highly!

Review: Jericho - The Promise Fulfilled

June 7th, 2013

Sorry about the lack of posts the past few days. Our internet went out and we just got it back finally! Today we present for you another review of a great film you should definitely watch! It was wonderful to get to meet this incredible family and I'm sure there are many amazing things in store for them in the future!

Jericho – The Promise Fulfilled
Last week, while at the Homeschool conference in Omaha, one of the videos I had the opportunity to pick up was Jericho – The Promise Fulfilled, a thirty minute lego brick, stop-motion animation by Shatterpoint Entertainment. This movie tells of the two spies sent into Jericho and the destruction of the city. The entire video is completely stop-motion animation, which makes it a very enjoyable watch. I watched the entire thing (bonus features and all) the day we got back from the conference and couldn’t get enough of it!
Jericho begins right away, telling the story and introducing the characters, and you quickly become familiar with them. It was interesting to see how the creators really cared about the story and did research into it before simply writing the script. The story is very compelling and even very amusing at some points. There are some very hilarious jokes throughout the film and I can honestly say I laughed several times! The dialogue thoroughly explains everything that is going on, which makes it easy to follow along and keep up. The story is excellent and has a very nice pace to it throughout the film.

So, the story was good; but how about the quality of it? I’ve watched countless stop-motion videos (and even made a few myself!) that appear very choppy and just aren’t fun to watch. You can’t engage in the story as you’re too distracted with the choppiness and poor workmanship of the film. I was pleasantly surprised to find Jericho quite the opposite. The animations are incredibly smooth and you can tell that they took their time and did it right. Many people fall into the trap (me included!) of growing lazy when animating and start making the frames more and more choppy, but this never once happens in the film. I was utterly amazed by some of the scenes with the Jericho army and how time-consuming it must have been to move all of those soldiers frame by frame! One of the most impressive scenes takes place by a river made up of blue sand, and in every single frame, they had to move the sand to give the illusion of waves. Throughout the entire film, the animation is superb and extremely high quality.

The DVD itself is very well done with lots of unique features in addition to the movie. There are fun backgrounds on the DVD and lots of extra bonus features. You can find a blooper reel, with bloopers from the voice acting for the film, the trailer for the film, and even a 30 minute behind-the-scenes documentary. This documentary has many interviews and behind-the-scenes clips of how they did certain shots and so on. So, even when you’ve watched the movie and can’t get enough, there are more bonus features to keep you entertained afterward.

This is a very fun movie with lots of humor and a good storyline, and is perfectly suited for a family movie night. There’s no questionable content to worry about here at all. Everything is very clean and it has good, wholesome humor in it. The quality of the film is superb with smooth animation, beautiful-looking effects (like water bubbling in a water cooler) and nice-looking background scenery. The voice acting is fun, and it was neat to see how they even animated mouth movements to go with the voices. All in all, the film is absolutely amazing. I highly recommend it, and it would be a great thing to see for your next family movie night.

You can find out more about Shatterpoint Entertainment at www.shatterpointentertainment.com or follow them on Facebook or Twitter. Be sure to support them by purchasing Jericho: The Promise Fulfilled or their other DVD "Wars of Humanity, Parts I and II".

Review: iMovie for iOS

June 4th, 2013

iMovie for iOS App Review
The home screen on iMovie.

For the trip to Omaha, I downloaded a couple new apps to play with in the car. One of those that I've always been intrigued with trying was the iMovie app for iPod, iPhone, and iPad. I knew it wouldn't be nearly as advanced as the iMovie for Mac, but I've always wanted to try it. So, for $5, I took a chance and just bought it.

Upon opening the app, you find yourself staring at a big movie theater sign with all of your options below. As you make movies, they appear as little "posters" in the middle of the screen for you to scroll through. You have the option here to get help, create a new project, watch a movie in optimized full screen, share, download, and delete a movie. When you go to make your first movie, you have the option to create a movie or create a trailer. These are basically your two options for creating movies.

iMovie for iOS App Trailers section
The trailer theme selection - with 12 different themes!

The trailer section is extremely neat, as you have a list of different themes for your trailer, ranging from "fairy tale" to "swashbuckler" to "Bollywood". Once you select the theme for your movie, it gives you a list of default titles and captions that you can replace with your own text. You can change the title of the movie, all the title slides, and even the credits in the end of the movie! Then, you go over to the storyboard and it shows you all of the different shots you need to capture. Once you capture all of these shots, it puts the whole trailer together for you, giving you a very professional looking trailer!

iMovie for iOS App Movie Timeline Screen
The timeline where you can insert media.

The movie section allows much more customization, though it does not contain the range of preset effects found in the trailers section. Here you can add pictures and videos into one layer, sound effects into another layer, and background music in the bottom layer. It does contain a few neat effects, such as crossfades, a preset (yet customizable) Ken Burns effect, and it automatically mixes the audio to become quieter on videos with sound. It also allows you to record video or audio to be put directly into the video, without the need to go over to the camera app to record. It has some neat features, such as when you swipe down on a video clip it automatically splits it into two clips, but I found others somewhat difficult to figure out without the help of a Youtube tutorial.

All is not perfect in this iMovie app as it really does lack some extremely basic features found in even very simple movie programs. You cannot do any color correction to your footage, you can't slow down or speed up clips, you can't move around when the background music begins (it has to start at the very beginning) and even the titles can't be moved around. This app has been around for a while now, so I would have liked to have seen more features put into it by now. I was amazed, however, at how fast this app is. I'm running an almost 3 year old Windows 7, and I have to wait several seconds for each video clip to load when editing on it. My iPod 5th Generation had absolutely no problem keeping up with footage and in all my use of it, it only crashed once.

Basically, iMovie is a terrific app that is well worth a miniscule $5 with lots of fun tools to create simple movies. If you're in the car or stuck in a hotel with nothing to do (like me this past week) it is a terrific app to make very fun, simple movies or trailers. It allows you to do everything from shoot the content to upload it to Youtube, so for a beginning filmmaker it's fun to mess around with. However, if you want to make a really good movie that is several minutes long, or even a full-length movie, this is not the app for you. The amount of lacking features can really limit your creativity, and it would be wise to consider something else. But, the app is a lot of fun to play around with, and I'm sure I will get much use out of it over the years. My advice to anyone would be to get this app, but don't use it for any extremely big projects.

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