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Christian Movie News and Reviews

Month

April 2017

When Calls the Heart, Season 5 (pre-production)

Currently being planned

 

Writer(s):

Director(s): Brian Bird, Michael Landon Jr.

Producer(s): Brad Krevoy, Robin Bernheim Burger, Brian Bird, Michael Landon Jr., Susie Belzberg, Eric Jarboe, Michael Shepard, Jimmy Townsend, Vicki Sotheran, Greg Malcolm

Starring: Erin Krakow, Lori Loughlin, Pascale Hutton, Jack Wagner, Kavan Smith, Mark Humphrey, Daniel Lissing?

 

Plot Synopsis:

More stuff happens in Hope Valley.  Everyone wonders where Jack went.

When Calls the Heart, Season 4 (Series Review)

Happy plastic people

Nurse Carter’s still here for some reason
Can’t forget about Rip

Plot Summary

After the marriage of Lllllllee and Rosemary, stuff just sorta keeps happening in Walnut Grove Hope Valley.  Rosemary has a daily ‘funny’ escapade and continues to parody herself until she becomes a perfect character like the others.  The town counselor, Abigail, tries to take over the mayor’s office from the breathy Gowen while she’s still trying to run her café.  That odd fake-looking guy named Bill is still hanging around being mysterious and doing sheriff stuff.  Elizabeth and Jack are still performing their endless and painful will-they-won’t-they dating dance until the writers finally get tired of it and decide to send Jack to the north to fight the good fight.  A railroad subplot is introduced (I wonder where that idea came from) to try to keep this television series on life support.  But who cares what happens anyway—ratings are up and a fifth season is on its way already, so who are we to talk?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Much like Season 3, the production of When Calls the Heart has remained relatively stable since the early, low-budget days passed.  Video quality and camera work are professional as always.  Audio quality is standard, but that same old stupid soundtrack gets really old, especially when you hear it on other Hallmark movies.  Sets and locations are extremely limited as the series further settles into its small town feel.  There’s no branching out here, that’s for sure.  Editing also standard and very phoned in as each episode follows and mindlessly predictable progression.  They stretch out, one after the next, like indistinguishable zombies in Michael Landon Jr.’s makeup jobs.  What more can we say?  The money is clearly spent pretty wisely, but for what?

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

In a change from Season 3, this season’s storylines bring some minor complexity to the screen, especially where the railroad is involved.  However, the writers overplayed their hand with the railroad characters and made them too evil in some kind of weird attempt to make the breathy Gowen a nice guy.  Regardless, the railroad intrigue is resolved far too easily and dispensed with as quickly as it was introduced.  Besides this, Season 4 is full trite subplots and asides: Elizabeth helps a troubled child with something, Rosemary always has a new scheme, the fake-looking Bill is mysterious, Abigail is the town hero, Lllllllee does business stuff, Pastor Hogan does protective stuff, Cody is a middle school boy, Jesse is still hanging around for some reason, and Jack has to ‘fight the good fight’, as we are reminded in nearly every episode.  Too many characters are fixed and too many conflicts are easily resolved.  Random ‘mysterious’ characters are introduced to only be discarded or used as more fodder for manufactured drama.  Overall, with tons of inconsistently used characters and a host of overused ones, Season 4 of this series overall lacks direction and focus, but what else is new?  The writers are clearly either trolling or phoning it in because they don’t have to try.  Why try something risky when safe pays so well?

Acting Quality (1 point)

New season, same old cast full of fake-looking plastic people and Hallmark retreads.  No emotions are believable and everything seems manufactured and childish.  There’s nothing new to talk about here except for the fate of Daniel Lissing.  Is this an elaborate scheme to generate attention or just the loss of a main actor?  Only time will tell.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

As noted in last season, Season 4 has no plot or character arcs that should be commonplace in recurring series’.  Most characters are static or become more perfect.  There are no plot twists or character complexities.  Though the railroad storyline had potential to be complex, it simply did not reach its full potential.

Conclusion

When Calls the Heart has long been a series that has lost its way.  Living off of the old days at the beginning of the series and constantly reminding us through flashbacks what these cast members used to look like before they became #Hallmarked, Landon Jr. and company are just phoning in episode after episode as their sappy series gets mindlessly renewed time and time again.  But what does it matter as long as they have a faithful following who are intent to grab on to anything of remote substance produced by the pharmaceutical-backed mother channel that still tries to pretend like it’s about greeting cards.  It still remains true that When Calls the Heart fills a huge void of wholesome entertainment that no one else seems to be able to fill with anything more substantial than this.  So here we sit, in mediocrity and safeness.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 14 points

 

Until Forever {Undying Faith} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Michael Boyum was full of life and joy when Michelle first met him.  They grew to love each other and then the unthinkable happened: Michael began having health problems and was diagnosed with leukemia.  But they vowed to walk the journey together and to pray for God’s healing.  However, the longer it went and as the cancer kept coming back, they began to wonder what God’s real plan was.  Was God really listening or was there something they were missing?  Ultimately, they found that God’s plans were much higher than their own.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s very clear that much thought and care were put into this meaningful film that is based on true events.  This is evident in the wisely-spent production budget that yielded big results.  Camera work and video quality are flawless.  Audio quality is professional and the original soundtrack is creative and engaging.  Sets, locations, and props are extremely realistic.  It’s sad to say, but there are some minor editing issues that keep this production from being all that it could be.  But otherwise, Until Forever is a model production for independent film makers—you can hardly get any better than this.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Based on true events—you probably already know that we prefer this sort of plot because of realism—Until Forever demonstrates honesty and authenticity.  The struggles of the characters can be appreciated and connected with, yet they are not as deep as they could be.  This is likely due to under-developed dialogue, an overuse of narration, and too much silent dialogue that is covered over with musical montages.  There are also some peripheral characters and subplots that needed more exploration instead of that extra musical montage.  However, this film still demonstrates a great exploration of tough issues, including a fair and balanced philosophical conversation with the opposing point of view.  Even though the storyline follows a vague progression of time, the messaging is highly effective, as is the ending.  This is a touching story and is definitely worth a watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast clearly means well, they begin in a very awkward fashion—we are unsure as to how purposeful this is.  Nonetheless, it doesn’t really come off right, but they are saved by the fact that their performances do improve as the movie goes on, which is possibly due to improved coaching.  Emotions are realistic and easy to connect with.  On the whole, this is an above-average performance.

Conclusion

Until Forever should be a standard film in Christian entertainment, not an exception to the rule.  The market should be flooded with films like this, not the usual Christian-labeled garbage you stumble upon on video streaming services.  This film tells a real story in the most honest and meaningful way possible and spends time, effort, and money in doing so.  All we can ever ask from film makers is that they do the best they can with what God has given them, and the Linn family did this with Until Forever.  We can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Extraordinary (Fall 2017)

Coming to theaters Fall 2017

 

Producer(s): Dave Powers, Stephan Schultze

Director(s): Scotty Curlee, Stephan Schultze

Writer(s): Scotty Curlee, Cheryl McKay

Starring: Karen Abercrombie, Shari Rigby, Leland Klassen, Kirk Cameron, Lindsley Register, Ashley Bratcher, Chris Ashworth, Taylor Lyons, Alex Miller, Alex Bartz, Cameron Arnett, Jack Champion, Jamie Ridgeway, Genine Ware

 

Plot Synopsis:

David Horton is deeply committed to running America’s hardest runs, including the Appalachian Trail and the Trans-America Footrace. He pushes himself to the point of injury and exhaustion to do so. However, his commitment to running eats away at his commitment to his wife, Nancy. Not only does David’s body suffer physically, but his marriage and Nancy’s emotions suffer as well. Through medical problems and long separations, David and Nancy must navigate life together and learn to become the marriage partners God intends them to be.

Uncommon [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Aaron Chase’s brother dies in a school shooting, his family moves to a new area in the hopes of starting over.  He ends up going to Rosewood High School, whose arts department budgets have been slashed due to overall budget cuts.  The students in those departments are disappointed and seek to put on their own show.  Aaron gets involved and decides to stand up for the faith he has been hiding, even though an evil atheist teacher is trying to stop him at every turn.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For what it’s worth, Liberty Counsel and JC Films made sure Uncommon looked good on the surface.  Video quality is clear and camera work is professional.  Audio quality also meets industry standards, although the soundtrack is bloated and full of cheesy songs.  Sets, locations, and props demonstrate that time was put into them.  Yet editing is quite poor, as there are far too many musical montages and filler scenes that appear to just be filling up the runtime rather than imparting real content.  Essentially, care was put into making this production look good, which is fine, but it’s just not enough when it comes to substance.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

As is to be expected, Liberty Counsel and JC Films construct a false reality where religious persecution is rampant in public schools—to a degree that is unrealistic and requires half-truths to be told—and which is full of heavy-handed propaganda messaging and narration to drive their points home.  Atheists are extremely offensive strawmen, while Christians are downtrodden and overly perfect.  Dialogue only forces the plot along, which is actually quite boring and melancholy when all is said and done.  There is an attempt to be complex and different with some of the plot elements, but it’s not enough to make up for the outright twisting of reality that has to be done to make this movie’s message work.  Basically, when all is said and done, Uncommon simply boils down to a sophisticated version of God’s Club.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Another interesting element to Uncommon is that time and care were also put into the casting and acting.  This is a semi-professional cast, yet they appear to be coached fairly well.  There are some awkward moments and unrealistic emotions, but on the whole, this is actually not that bad of a performance by this cast.  If only this truth could translate to other films.

Conclusion

Uncommon is an anomaly.  Usually movies that have small-minded plots like this one are terrible in all areas, yet time and care were spent on production and acting.  It proves that anything can be done if you put your mind to it.  Just think if this type of effort was put toward other movies that have better plots than this.  But in the end, Christians overall need to steer clear from these types of plots for like forever, unless they’re going to portray real persecution that happens anywhere except the Western world.  We need to change the mentality that ‘the atheists’ are always around the corner trying to snipe us and just live out our faith the way God wants us to.  Jesus didn’t constantly gripe at or sue the Pharisees or Romans for religious persecution, and He had plenty of His ‘rights’ violated.  God’s work can proceed whether or not you have your Bible club in a public school.  People need to know that Christians care, and with stuff like this being put out there, it’s really hard to see that Christian leaders care about anything except ‘getting back’ at atheists.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Running Inside Out (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Since Kim does not live the way her strict and legalistic parents want her to live, she jumps at the chance to get out from under their thumb and takes her dream business job as soon as she graduates from college.  She thinks she has it made in life, especially when she meets her dream boyfriend.  She decides to take up running as a hobby.  However, all is not well as she becomes pregnant and her job is threatened by this.  Her family turns on her, except for her New Age-obsessed Aunt Sally.  She will have to decide what she is going to do with her unborn child before it’s too late.

 

Production Quality (0 points)

When you watch a horrible production like Running Inside Out, you wonder what standards PureFlix has for carrying a film.  This film has terrible camera work, with constant cuts and transitions that make for a dizzying experience.  Video quality is also grainy, and audio quality does not meet standard.  The soundtrack is sub-par.  Sets and locations are also quite poor, including several poorly filmed outside scenes.  As previously mentioned, the editing is horrific and confusing.  We understand the constraints of a limited budget, but we have seen more done with the amount of money allotted to this film.  Also, if the budget isn’t there, maybe you should reconsider if you’re supposed to make the film yet or not.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Similar to other social issue films, Running Inside Out carries an important pro-life message packed in a ridiculous fashion.  Though the situations characters find themselves in are realistic, it is difficult to connect with them as real people since they come off as empty and wooden due to poorly written dialogue.  Some characters, most notably Aunt Sally, are extremely bizarre and eccentric for no particular reason.  Also, as previously mentioned, the story is hard to follow as it jumps from one thing to the next.  While there are some attempts at good here, there is just too much bad that detracts from it.  It’s disappointing to see this type of idea go to waste.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, this cast reflects the eccentrically-crafted characters therein.  Some cast members act off-the-wall most of the time, and all of them are one-dimensional in their deliveries.  Sometimes it seems like they are putting forth a half-effort.  It’s possible that coaching could have improved this group, as there is some potential here.  But as it is, it’s simply not enough.

Conclusion

We have seen a lot of low-budget efforts in our times as reviewers, yet some film makers seem to be able to do better with less than some do with more.  We maintain that if you have a solid plot idea, the money will be there and will be enough to put you on the map—just look at the Kendrick brothers as an example.  If God wants you to make a film, all will be provided for.  We wonder sometimes if movies like Running Inside Out have been forced to happen just because.  Thus, the end result is not good.  Hopefully this team and others will learn from the mistakes of this film.

 

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

 

Deceived [2002] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a secret space observatory in Nevada picks up a mysterious and erratic signal from outer space, a powerful billionaire who owns the observatory forms a team made up of his spiritual guide, two investigative reporters, and his company’s computer technician to fly out to the observatory to find out what happened.  Some of them believe they have been contacted by intelligent beings from outer space, while others believe something more sinister is going on.  The signal also draws the attention of a specialized squadron of troops, some of whom have questionable abilities.  As they all meet up at the observatory, who will prevail?  Will they ever discover the truth of what is really out there?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As an early 2000s Cloud Ten production, Deceived is mostly average in its production quality.  the biggest detractors are the grainy video quality and poor lighting in most scenes.  There are also too many cheesy special effects that are used in an attempt to be different and sci-fi.  However, the sets, locations, and props seem realistic enough.  Audio quality is also fine and the soundtrack is intriguing.  Finally, the editing job is decent and overall rounds out an average production.  It certainly could have been better, but it could have also been worse.  However, there is not much we can say for the plot.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

With a cheesy sci-fi premise that’s full of technological mumbo-jumbo and empty dialogue, Deceived tries to be creative and different, yet misses the mark badly.  There is far too much time wasted on petty conflicts and not enough time spent on character development.  While some of the characters could be interesting, we barely get to know them in the midst information dump dialogue and monologuing.  The Christian characters are too perfect while the non-Christian characters are too flawed.  There are also too many spiritual elements that come off as a bizarre in an attempt to bridge the horror genre.  The ending is quite confusing and seems like the writers just ran out of ideas.  In the end, this is a very disappointing story that could have been interesting.

Acting Quality (1 point)

With a cast made up of semi-professionals, these cast members have their good moments, but unfortunately, the bad moments outweigh the good.  There are too many overly dramatic and theatrical performances.  Emotions are hard to connect with.  In the end, they do not live up to their full potential.

Conclusion

The early 2000s era of Christian film had some noble attempts to bridge different genres Christian film had never bridged before, and John Patus and Cloud Ten Pictures were on the forefront of this attempt.  However, for the most part, these attempts did not fulfill their fullest potential and settled for half-measures, probably because the market was so thin then.  Much has happened since these films came out, but they can certainly serve as an example of how and how not to expand Christian film into unique genres.  Yesterday’s disappointments can certainly be remedied in the future.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Skid [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Danny McSweeney never asked to co-pilot a plane full of eccentric characters so soon after his girlfriend broke up with him, especially when he has to co-pilot with a difficult female captain who seems to have no mercy for anyone, especially not for their high maintenance flight crew.  The stakes are raised when an airline investigator joins the flight to watch their performance.  Little do they know that besides carrying a Dutch prisoner, a man smuggling diamonds, a woman with her potbellied pig, a jilted ex-girlfriend, and a woman and her elderly mother, an airline spy has been assigned to audit the flight’s customer service.  But when push comes to shove and it comes to life or death situations, the real heroes will be seen.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Skid is truly an ambitious independent effort.  Though production elements are a little shaky at first, likely due to low budgeting in the early stages.  This includes some shaky camera work and odd camera angles, as well as a touch of low video quality and poor lighting.  However, all of this improves as the movie goes on.  Audio quality also improves throughout, and sports an interesting and creative soundtrack.  Though the sets are mostly limited to one airplane, they are used effectively and give off a realistic feel.  By the time the climax is reached, Skid feels like a full-fledged suspense film, despite its limited budget.  This production team should be proud of what they were able to accomplish.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Adapted from the genius of Rene Gutteridge, Skid brings a fresh genre perspective to Christian film.  Though it tends to jump all over the place at first due to the myriad of characters, things settle down as the movie goes on.  There are many characters, yet the plot is deeply dialogue-driven and creative.  This story is an example of why we desperately want to see more Christian novels brought to the big screen, especially novels from authors who put great effort into developing characters like Gutteridge does.  Plenty of genuine and somewhat eccentric comedy ensues in Skid and is captured effectively by the writers of this film.  The longer you stick with it, the better it gets, until it culminates in an extremely well-executed ending sequence.  Though the end is a little predictable, it’s still worth watching and brings fresh air to Christian film.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Though this cast is a little awkward at times, they really pull off a show-stopping performance to be so ‘little known’.  Each cast member assumes their character flawlessly, thus reflecting on excellent casting, especially with so many people to cast.  Like the rest of this film, the acting quality overall improves as the movie progresses, showing an ability to learn on the job.  Overall, this is the film’s strongest suit.

Conclusion

Skid is exactly the way a first-time project should be: making the best of a limited budget and demonstrating true creativity.  Using a book plot is always a great jump start to your career.  This film is your textbook raw beginning that lives up to its fullest potential and demonstrates greater abilities for the future.  We would love to see Tim and Vicki Brown and team do an action-adventure film in the future, although doing more Rene Gutteridge books is certainly a great idea too.  No matter where they go next, we have high hopes for them and wish them well.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Angela Elwell Hunt: The Velvet Shadow

Image result for the velvet shadow angela elwell hunt

The Velvet Shadow is the third installment in Angela E. Hunt’s four-part book series, The Heirs of Cahira O’Connor. In the two previous novels Kathleen O’Connor learned about two women in her famous lineage who broke free from the molds that society had placed them in, Anika and Aidan O’Connor. This time, Kathleen discovers the most recent woman in her lineage that made her mark on history; Flanna O’Connor. The Velvet Shadow deals with subjects such as war, racial tensions, rash decisions, grief, sacrifice, and love. Flanna O’Connor and her family lived in the Civil War Era, a time of great turmoil and confusion. Flanna was born into a wealthy family who had a prominent position in society. The tiresome and petty demands of this lifestyle have driven Flanna to her wits’ end, as she has never enjoyed catering to society’s expectation of how she is supposed to live. All this is regardless of the fact that there is an impending war between the Northern and Southern states. In the midst of it all, she has her own dreams and goals in life, the most important one being her long-held dream to become a doctor. However, both her gender and her position in society have made that goal virtually impossible to achieve. Flanna’s parents would like nothing more than for her to marry a man that she does not love, in whom they see all of the impeccable qualities of a matrimonial prospect. In a moment of desperation, a confused Flanna reluctantly agrees to become engaged to said man, however, she almost instantly regrets this decision. Seeing no way out of the path she has chosen for her life, Flanna decides to disguise herself as a man and join the Union Army, with the purpose of using her position as a soldier to care for the wounded, rather than kill others. As she journeys to battle with the Southern states, Flanna will discover that war is not what she expected, and neither is love. Will Flanna survive the perils of the Civil War? Will she find the one whom her soul loves? To answer these questions, read the book!:) This novel would make a great third installment in a four-part Christian/Inspirational miniseries. However, it would also be an excellent action-adventure/romance standalone film. There is really no way for Christian filmmakers to go wrong, if they choose to make movies out of timeless novels such as these!

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