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Secret at Arrow Lake
Modest Mystery

C. Thomas Howell anchors what would otherwise be a largely uncompelling story and cast. One weakly-staged and -played plot complication aside, there’s not an awful lot happening in this story that my three-sentence synopsis doesn’t convey. The pace is languid though not boring, and there’s just enough story to fill up the 83 minutes of running time without overstaying its welcome—though some of the scenes do feel a little repetitive. Ali Faulkner is enjoyable as Mia (even if her character could have been written more strongly and memorably) and the supporting characters are mostly distinctive. When all was said and done, I liked Secret at Arrow Lake because I like gentle mysteries—and Arrow Lake came up with a surprising resolution that didn’t feel forced.


The Encounter
What You Expect, But Not

I’m really not sure how much to say about The Encounter—because if I tell you why I liked parts of it, I’ll probably spoil most of the effect for you. In short, The Encounter is David A. R. White’s surprising, often humorous, and decidedly Christian-niche-market micro-budget take on the classic travelers-meet-mysterious-stranger story. If that’s all you need to know from me, stop right here. And remember that I said “I liked parts of it” and that my primary adjectives were “surprising” and “often humorous.” What makes David A. R. White’s take on this tale a particularly Christian-niche spin is his decision to blend the stock story with a semi-related niche staple: the mysterious stranger who is a stand-in for Jesus.


The Bill Collector
Pure Fun

Gosh, yes, I’m biased when it comes to director Cristóbal Krusen and his films. The good news for readers is that I’m telling you about it all up front; the bad news for Cris is that I’m typically harder on films when I know I’m reviewing material about which I am likely biased! The better news, all the way around, is that The Bill Collector is consistently entertaining, even when it dips into the come-to-Jesus moments that typify most PureFlix releases. At the heart of it all is an engaging performance by Gary Moore as Lorenzo Adams, a collection agency star who’s so effective only because he knows a thing or two (or three or four) about recalcitrant debtors.


Fatal Secrets
Mildly Surprising

Classical storytelling style dictates that the first third of the story provide expository information to gradually introduce the the story’s protagonist and antagonist and establish the central conflict. By contrast, director Meir Sharony does all this before any real storytelling even commences. In short, and I do mean short, Julia, a recently-divorced successful author and bookseller, has a lunch date go really bad. Having established this lickety-split, Sharony then languidly leads the audience toward the inevitable retributive showdown some 80 minutes or so later. On the one hand, this short-hand treatment of sexual brutality is both unsettling and off-putting. On the other, it’s kind of nice watching a revenge movie that doesn’t use the threat of sexual violence as a tension-building device.


Colin and Brad: Two Man Group
Not Surprisingly, It’s Funny

Colin Mochrie’s and Brad Sherwood’s live shows bears a lot resemblances to the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway? Fans will know that Sherwood has been one of the bright spots of the stateside version, and will in no way be disappointed in what they find in this 67-minute DVD. Personally, I’ve always preferred the original UK version of Whose Line. It also starred Mochrie and Ryan Stiles as part of the more-or-less rotating four-comic panel, but it was less concerned with sexual innuendo. I of course find myself laughing at crotch jokes and other suggestive humor—but I also know it’s terribly juvenile and an easy mark for stand-up comedy.


The Third Testament
Spooky, Kooky Genius

This is first-time feature producer/writer/director Matt Dallman’s ambitious alternate-present indie thriller, a preposterous, irresistibly compelling car-wreck of a yarn in which, essentially, the Jesus Seminar and Dan Brown fanatic conspiracy theorists win, theologically—and succeed in having the “Third Testament” of the Gnostic gospels canonized. Yes, you read that right. Part holy-roller tract, part skeptical Scripture debunker, and 100% “take that you neo-myth-making shysters” in-your-face comeuppance, The Third Testament has enough gall to offend just about everyone who’s thinking of embracing this film as “one of their own.” Who’s side is Dallman on, exactly?


Exam
Grades Higher Than Its Peers

There’s no reason at all why this film couldn’t be as easily enjoyed on a laptop as on, say, a big plasma screen. But wait, you say—isn’t that the opposite of what makes a movie a movie? No, it isn’t. Rather, I suggest that moviegoing audiences have tended to fall in love with merely “going out”—sharing an entertainment experience in a luxurious, almost decadent setting. And over the last thirty years or so, more emphasis has been placed on the experience (by audiences, exhibitors, and distributors alike) than on the art form. What Hazeldine does here is take us back to when films really relied on cinematic technique. This is taut storytelling in its ideal form, and Hazeldine pulls it off in fine fashion.


What If…
A Pretty Wonderful Film

Hooray! Executive Producer Jerry Jenkins, director/son Dallas Jenkins, and Pureflix have delivered the best Wonderful Life variation since, well, the original. Anchoring the whole affair is John Ratzenberger as Mike, a supernatural tow truck driver who’s good with hooks… and guidance from above. This may be the most appealing Ratzenberger has ever been on film, and that’s going back a long ways now. As Ben, Kevin Sorbo is no Jimmy Stewart, and I’m sure he doesn’t pretend to be. Yet by the end, when Jenkins gives us a final payoff that adds a decidedly new twist to the genre in an Abraham-and-Isaac sort of fashion, I had thoroughly enjoyed what he’d done with the character. Kudos to Pureflix for growing and maturing.


Respire
Almost Sucks the Life Out of Itself

The film tells the very intriguing story of a second-hand store owner who finds herself in possession of a box containing a long-lost and much sought-after vial… which in turn contains the soul of a brilliant scientist who once managed to develop a drug that would prolong life indefinitely. Before long, the shopkeeper—who is herself desperately clinging to life—begins channeling the scientist, and finds herself, as they say, drawn into a web of intrigue. Saying much more about the plot would kind of ruin the experience. I will only say that, as is usual with MTI releases that I request, I was pretty much going with it the whole way… right up until the pack of zombies started ripping apart the neighborhood. Oh, well.


Bad Day To Go Fishing
Reels You In

I’m tempted to say that Scot-born Spaniard Gary Piquer anchors this film with his performance as the impresario Orsini. But the real MVP here is Brechner himself with a remarkable feature film debut. From production design to score, from performances to script, the film is practically flawless. Even the flatter roles and weaker actors come to life in a context that allows them to flourish. By the time we reach the tragically foreshadowed climax, we know far more about these characters than their words have conveyed—and we likely care more about them than we did in The Wrestler, No Country for Old Men, or Down By Law, celebrated films from celebrated directors that Fishing might invoke.


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