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Christmas Grace (2013)
Christmas Grace is a Christian film that is not too preachy, very family-oriented, and has a nice message that is not exclusive to Christianity. It takes place over several Christmas seasons, but that's about the only parallel made to that holiday. In other words, if you are looking for a film that shows everyone opening gifts on Christmas morning, huge family dinners on Christmas Eve, Santa, etc, you are not going to find it here. This is a great story of overcoming life's obstacles, staying the course, FORGIVENESS, and spirit. The story bleeds the true meaning of Christmas spirit, but not in the materialistic, modern definition. I figured it best to write this as there is little in the way of plot advertisement on IMDb.
Lets break it down a bit:
1) LOW budget. Way LOW. I recognized the two lead actors from other indie movies, but most of this cast is comprised of unknowns. The post-production end could have been tighter, as it appeared to have some audio-dubbing issues. Mind you, very minor issues, but one happens in the very beginning, and if you catch it as I did it distracts you for a minute.
2) The acting is solid. Fortunately, most of the dialogue belongs to the two leads, Gary (Ryan-Iver Klann), and Mr. Tollman (Tim Kaiser). They did a wonderful job carrying this film, though the verbiage seemed a bit cheesy at times. That being said, this film did win a film festival award for 'Best 4-14' film, which tells me it may have been written in a such a way that 4-14 year-olds will comprehend and enjoy it.
3) The music was nice, very festive, and relevant. It captured the nature of the film, and though this film was clearly LOW budget, the musical side of things felt very professional. Well done!
4) Most of the supporting cast did a fine job. According to IMDb, for many of these actors it very well may have been their first picture. For the most part, they did a fine job. Story note: I did find it a bit strange that characters that appeared to be close friends with Gary and Susan at the beginning of the film literally vanished later in the film. Now, the film takes place over a few Christmas seasons, but you would expect to see some familiar faces in the last few scenes, especially because they take place in a very public place.
5) Rich Swingle is in it, which means you can't go wrong!
All-in-all I must say, what a nice film. It made me feel great after watching it, and really made me think about a few things in my life that I should maybe change. I appreciate the genre, one that is focused more on message than turning profits. So for the acting, I give it an 8/10, Technical 7/10, Music 10/10, Story 9/10, and Effort considering the budget, 9/10----Overall 9/10----
Now that you know what to expect, give this one a shot!
Rumors of Wars (2014)
Listen, I really hate to be that kind of person to give 'the lone star', but this film is really, really rough. Aside from the wardrobe and make up departments, the rest fell on their faces. The story felt disjointed, the special effects were poor, and the acting...well...
Attention Christian film makers. I know you all feel that the message of the story is the most important thing. Well, you are wrong. Sure you need a solid message, but how you communicate that message is more, or at least equal to, the importance of the message itself. If you all insist on using Ben Davies, at least persuade him to invest in some acting lessons. He is so robotic, so unconvincing it seems like he either just got the script the day of filming or has zero life experiences to draw on. One other thing: Stop casting Eric Roberts, period. Look him up on IMDb, as of right now he has 75+ films in progress. He is seriously taking every script that comes across his desk. He has faded into irrelevance because of his poor judgment. He is not a name that will boost your film sales, so just stop...please.
On the upside, the supporting cast were all pretty good. But their performances were over shadowed by too many issues.
American Hustle (2013)
This is really a solid picture.
All the performances were brilliant, but especially those of Bale and Renner. I have never seen either of them in roles such as these, and to me they were the most believable, at times crazy organic, characters that stole the show. Bale in the very least should get an Oscar nomination. Renner is so damn good, it was refreshing to see him step away from the action flicks. Even the minor players did a fantastic job, including Louis CK adding a surprisingly amazing acting performance. We know he's funny, but who knew he could act! Listen, the story is great. I had all my questions answered and nothing was left on the table. Yes, the story is a little lazy in some points, slow in others, but those few moments didn't distract from the environment that you were drawn into. Great script and direction.
I guess my only gripe holding me at an 8 out of 10 stars was the performances of Cooper and Lawrence. Don't get me wrong, they were both really great, but their performances felt at times a bit copycat. Cooper didn't bring anything new to the role, I felt like I had seen him play this role a dozen times (look at his body of work before you disagree). There were even a few moments where I felt like he was trying too hard. Lawrence was the same for me. I understand she has an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook, and that was well deserved, but this time she bit off more she can chew. Her character was inconsistent with her accent, and along with her Silver Linings costar Cooper, her performance at times felt forced and unbelievable. There is one particular scene where Lawrence and Bale are fighting in their kitchen that will make you cringe. She goes way over the top, making it cheesy. Thankfully, Bale kept the scene together, which is why I am sure it didn't end up on the 'cutting room floor'.
Amy Adams was solid and I found her to be as equally mesmerizing as she was visually stunning. The film is called American Hustle because you never are entirely sure who is hustling who, and to me Adams was the most convincing. You never knew whose side she was on.
Great art direction, wardrobe, and decent acting. The story was fun and interesting, and I am sure it will rake in some well-deserved awards.
47 Ronin (2013)
Well I, like many of you, rubbed my eyes in disbelief and confusion as to why and how Keanu could ever get cast in such a role. Although I am a huge fan of Hiroyuki Sanada's as well as the historic Samurai culture, it was more a morbid curiosity about Keanu that made me go see this film.
First off, this film is visually beautiful. From the backdrops to the wardrobe to the make-up, I felt myself drawn into the environment of the film as if I was there. Very organic set design.
The story was solid and I was left with only a few questions, which nowadays isn't bad. They did a nice job touching briefly on plot points and back story that could have left them with too many holes in the script.
Now the acting. Sanada should have got first billing as he carried the film. I found myself only really caring about his character, and for me he delivered a truthful, believable and remarkable performance. As far a Keanu, he really did a decent job. Fortunately, though he yields a ton of screen time, much of the dialogue isn't his. Visually he fit the role, as an actor he did it justice. Yes there could have been better, but even I had to give the guy a break and admit he did fine. The Shogun played by Tagawa was also very convincing, and Asano as Lord Kira was brilliant casting. Overall, the casting department should be given serious props.
Now, watching the trailer and even glancing at the poster can be a little misleading. They display a giant villainous Samurai in metallic armor and a creepy guy with his face painted as a skull. Don't get me wrong, they do make all-to-brief appearances in the film, I am just not sure why they advertised these two as if they were dominant characters. In fact, the biggest let down for me was the very anti-climactic final battle featuring that large Samurai. Don't blink...you might miss it. The ending however, was worth the admission, trust me! At any rate, solid 7 out of 10. Visually stunning, brilliant art direction, good acting, decent story and very few 'holes'. Apologies on being a bit vague, but I do not want to give any spoilers.