Christmas Princess (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Donaly Marquez is glad her foster family adopted her and her siblings, but she will carries inside of her the stigma of being a foster kid, and she still can’t shake the painful memories of her drug-addicted mother that continually make her feel inadequate. However, she’s always wanted to try out to be a Rose Bowl Parade Princess, so when she gets the opportunity, she jumps at the chance. Will she be able to overcome the past that wasn’t her fault or will she not allow herself to shine?

Production Quality (3 points)

In keeping with most UP Entertainment films, Christmas Princess exhibits a highly professional production, starting with great video quality and camera work. The audio quality is also on-point, and the soundtrack is effectively composed. Also, the sets, locations, and props are very much well-constructed and well-utilized, which contributes further to the professional of the film. Further, the editing is flawless, which rounds out a basically perfect production that should be the standard for made-for-TV inspirational films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

It’s always clear that using source material from true stories that allow the audience to connect with believable and realistic characters is the key to having a good plot. Christmas Princess, though the title suggests otherwise, is a great example of what can be done when real-life events are depicted in the context of a movie that seeks to build accessible characters through great dialogue and an exquisite use of flashbacks and other psychological elements. The conversations do a lot to build character motive and personality, which in turn makes them feel like actual people that audiences can relate to. It’s rare to see such a consistent use of flashbacks to build the storyline in this type of film, but it’s extremely refreshing, especially in a Christmas film about a topic that could potentially be very sappy. Instead of this, however, the writers took the professional and realistic route that allows many different people to relate to this true story, so it’s definitely worth your time. The only drawbacks to mention here relate to some slow parts and montages, but as a whole, this is the best that could have been done with this story, which is all we ever ask.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Though this is not a ‘blockbuster’ cast, each cast member does a great job assuming his or her respective character role, and the cultural authenticity is refreshing. For the most part, line delivery is on point, and emotions are believable, even though there are a few weak moments. Even so, this acting and casting work is very professional and rounds out a very surprisingly worthwhile Christmas film.

Conclusion

Sometimes good films come from the most unexpected of places, but it still remains that true stories make some of the best films. When the writing is left to a talented writer or to real life, the production team can focus on maximizing the other elements of the film, and it’s clear the UP TV is outpacing other inspirational channels with quality content like this film. As this Christmas season comes to a close, this is another movie to add to your collection.

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

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Christmas Manger (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Jessica ran away from home as a teenager after she did something she would regret forever, but now, after living with an abusive boyfriend for several years, she finds herself running back home for help. However, when she arrives on the farm she once lived on, she finds that all is not well nor how she left it. As she struggles to begin a new life, she discovers that she will need to return to her childhood faith in order to move forward.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As should be the case for all recently-made Christian films, Christmas Manger demonstrates high production quality, as evidenced by good video quality and camera work. Though the audio can be quiet at times due to not having enough soundtrack, the sets, locations, and props are adequately used and well-constructed. Besides a few one-off lighting issues in some scenes, which may be by design, the editing is good, which rounds out a great production that we should see become more and more commonplace as we move into a new year of Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Andrea Gyertson Nasfell has always been good at writing plots that portray real and accessible characters in believable life situations. This is paired with dialogue that is mostly good at building character personality and motive, but we really needed to see a bit more from the conversations among the characters in order to develop them a bit further since this is a highly character-based plot. While there are some great character back stories, flashbacks would have been helpful to enhance them. However, this return-to-hometown for Christmas plot does a great job with avoiding most of the cliches that come with this genre, and it’s a more meaningful Christmas movie than usual, even if the story is a bit simplistic. As a whole, this is an enjoyable story with no glaring errors but nothing truly dynamic either.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

This film also has surprisingly good acting, including Andrea Logan White’s arguably best performance to date as she excels at playing herself. Other cast members are also effective and comfortable in their roles, even if a few random cast members tend to put a damper on things to keep this section from being perfect. In the end, however, this is a professional acting job to round out a professional and adequate film.

Conclusion

Films like Christmas Manger should be the norm and the baselines in Christian film (especially Christmas movies) rather than the exception. Hopefully, as we close out another year of Christian entertainment, we are beginning to see more of this, which will presumably lead to more dynamic and groundbreaking films from Christian creators. Movies like this one was a good launching pad to begin with, so it will be good to see Andrea Nasfell continue to release quality content that is memorable and culture-changing.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

Beyond the Farthest Star (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Anne Wells hates that her family has been forced to move to a podunk Texas town. Her father is a pastor who demands perfection from his family, and she hates him for it. Anne always does her best to get into trouble and to do whatever she wants because she wants to know if God really cares about her and what the actual purpose of life is. She escapes into her music, and her father escapes into his work as he runs from the ghosts of his past. When their family is faced with several life-changing decisions, which way will they go?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s clear that this film has a professional production that was given a lot of care and effort, which is evidenced by good video and audio qualities, as well as skilled camera work. Sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized, even if there are a few unnecessarily dark scenes. Further, the soundtrack is highly effective and engaging. The only drawback to point out here is some choppy editing, but this is also due to the large amount of story content. As a whole, this is a very respectable production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

As Beyond the Farthest Star is based on good source material, it demonstrates a very profound understanding of the real problems facing real people, especially the struggles of people whose personalities are not appreciated by the church. This plot has an exquisite use of flashbacks to develop character motive and backstory, and the content of the flashbacks is extremely believable. Through the flashbacks and dialogue, there are excellent efforts to develop the characters and to develop the interactions between teenagers and adults. However, this plot is almost schizophrenic with its presentation because one minute, the dialogue is great, only to have it undermined with an out-of-left-field scene that makes no sense. There is a strange lack of understanding of certain aspects of reality, such as the acquiring of confidential documents. There is also a highly unnecessary religious freedom\persecution subplot to contend with that wastes tons of time and puts a damper on everything. Further, there is narration present throughout the story in the form of journaling, and sometimes it is tolerable because of its philosophical nature, but other times, it gets in the way and takes up valuable time. Thus, even though there is a large amount of content in this complex storyline, not every scene is used very well as some are unnecessary and contain some edgy content. Even still, there is tons of potential in this plot and in the people who wrote it because it’s not afraid to expose hidden ministry problems and to use unashamed small town satire. The message therein is excellent and very worthwhile, but there are too many dramatic scenes with no break, and the cheesy ending tends to fix everything, even if the climax scene is effective. Basically, Beyond the Farthest Star is a giant mixed bag of potential, some of which panned out, so it’s likely worth your time.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

For the most part, the acting of this film is sharp and adept as each cast member appears to comfortably assume their respective character roles. Emotions are believable, and line delivery is on point. There are only a few minor issues throughout that pertain to some overdone drama and seriousness, but this section rounds out a very respectable film.

Conclusion

Movies like Beyond the Farthest Star are both engaging and difficult to watch because it’s clear that there is a massive amount of potential with this type of idea. A movie about rebels from Christian families combined with hidden ministry problems is exactly what we need now, but there is too much confusion in this film that holds it back from reaching its highest possibilities. Even so, this movie is worth a watch this holiday season, and it bodes well for any future projects from this creative team.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

Silent Night [2012] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

In 1818, Joseph Mohr was transferred to the small Austrian town of Oberndorf to be the assistant priest at the parish there.  He wants to make a difference wherever he goes, but he feels like the leaders of the Catholic Church don’t allow him to fully minister to the common people of the town.  The powerful people in the parish want everyone in the congregation to look nice on the outside, but Joseph has a heart for the poor and the outcast.  As he ministers to people against the will of his superiors, God inspires Joseph to write a Christmas song to encapsulate the season.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

When working with the Mainstay Productions team, the Covenant Communications team always showed a consistent commitment to high-quality productions, so this is also evident in Silent Night.  Besides the good video quality and camera work, this film demonstrates great attention to historical and cultural detail through realistic and accurate sets, locations, and props.  There is also a very effective cultural soundtrack; the only errors in this production pertain to some very poor lip-syncing and obvious overdubs when the the cast members are supposed to be singing, but this is the only real error in this production, which is otherwise quite good.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The story behind the Christmas carol Silent Night is a great true story to base a film on, and this one does a very good job of honestly portraying the two sides of the Catholic Church.  The other good thing is that Silent Night avoids falling into the trap of only basing the film on the idea behind it rather than developing characters through dialogue.  For the most part, the characters in this story are accessible and can be related to due to the dialogue that reveals their personalities and motivations.  However, there are quite a few slow parts throughout that detract from the movie’s dynamic value.  Since the film is mostly dialogue-based, it might have been better to include a few more engaging conversations and to develop the ancillary characters a bit better.  Even so, there are several very good scenes near the end that help us understand the characters better, even if the very end of the film (the predictable singing of the title song) falls a bit flat and is anti-climatic.  In the end, this is a great story model to follow and is one that can be built off of for future work.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

As a whole, this case has great authentic accents and cultural costuming, which keeps with the earlier themes of production quality in this film.  For the most part, line delivery and emotional delivery are fine, but some parts are too dramatic or seem a bit unnatural.  However, there is plenty of good here, and this rounds out a very well-done film.

Conclusion

On paper, Silent Night is a great film, but it just doesn’t have that final push it needed to make it a dynamic Hall of Fame film, which is unfortunate because it has plenty of good going for it.  Even still, this is a movie that many will enjoy because it is well-made and well-funded, and it has a great story to tell.  Thus, this is a good one to add to your holiday list.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Maggie’s Christmas Miracle (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Maggie has always hated Christmas ever since her father left the family during the holiday season.  Ever since then, she’s sought to control everything around her, especially her young son’s life.  However, when his grades begin dropping, she is forced to entrust him to the care of an after-school tutor, but Maggie soon finds that she isn’t like what she expected from a tutor.  Will she decide to open up her heart over the holiday season to love again?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As expected, Maggie’s Christmas Miracle is a typically fine Hallmark production with good video quality and camera, as well as good audio quality.  The soundtrack is predictably generic but not as bad as usual.  The sets, locations, and props are fine, but the Christmas decor is expectedly overwhelming and beyond belief.  Further, the editing is average, and thus, everything in this production is standard and expected from the Hallmark assembly line of Christmas films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though Hallmark movies are always better when using source material, especially from authors like Karen Kingsbury, there are still plenty of typical elements in Maggie’s Christmas Miracle.  While Karen Kingsbury characters run circles around typical Hallmark fare, there are still a lot of cheesy feel-good elements throughout this plot.  However, the dialogue is mostly good enough to develop character motive and personality, even if the plot is extremely predictable with a cookie-cutter romance plot where two people who don’t like each other at first are thrown together at Christmastime.  The story includes all the expected turns and conventions, and all of the stereotypes are too easily fallen into.  Since this is a character-based plot, we needed to see deeper character growth than this, and we also would have liked to see relationship twists and turns that were more based on past and present personality and behavior issues rather than on unrealistically stupid miscommunication problems (see The Bridge).  Unfortunately, the story gets worse as it goes on as cheap Christian messages are awkwardly inserted and end up hurting any good portions of dialogue there may be.  Essentially, the source material is helping this plot to be more than it would otherwise be, but there’s still a lot more that could have been accomplished here.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As expected, the casting and acting of this film is mostly professional with typical Hallmark elements, such as some overdone makeup.  For the most part, the line delivery and the emotions are natural, but there are some portions that are a bit too sappy.  However, as a whole, this cast is professional enough to know what they’re doing and to produce an above-average performance.

Conclusion

If Hallmark only used books and true stories as source material from here until eternity, the channel would be a much better place for it.  However, this is highly unlikely to happen.  Even still, there is enough good in Maggie’s Christmas Miracle to make it a passable holiday film to watch if you want a safe, benign movie that’s not too old and not too cheesy.  Also, if you like Karen Kingsbury novels, this film is definitely for you.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

My First Miracle [2016] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Angelica, a sixteen-year-old girl, is battling a rare form of cancer around the holiday season, and her family is struggling financially.  She keeps crossing paths with a boy on the run from his past and a fellow cancer patient who tries to cheer her up.  With everything going wrong for her family, as well as the boy she keeps meeting up with, for the holidays, could a miracle for just right around the corner for them?

Production Quality (2 points)

My First Miracle is basically a standard inspirational production with good camera work and good video quality, even if there’s some inconsistent audio throughout.  As a whole, the audio is mostly fine, but the soundtrack is a bit generic.  Sets, locations, and props are standard and good, and the editing is a bit average.  As a whole, this production is above average without anything specific or significant to stand out about it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

My First Miracle follows the predetermined mold for an inspirational quasi-Christian Christmas movie as narration is disguised as characters ‘thinking’ even though the attempts at psychological elements are noted.  It’s cheesy how the same characters keep crossing paths at Christmastime, and musical montages are used to fill the runtime.  There are too many slightly unrealistic coincidences that drive the plot along, and there are plenty of filler scenes and references to the disease-at-Christmastime plot conventions.  While there are some attempts to develop characters, most of the dialogue is pedestrian.  In addition, the storyline follows a very predictable progression and even includes odd medical concepts and silly magical Christmas elements.  To top things off, the epilogue fixes basically all the problems just in time for the holidays.  In short, this is just another throwaway plot that had some potential that was wasted.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The acting is definitely one of the strongest points of this film as there aren’t any glaring errors throughout.  Even still, there’s also nothing particularly dynamic about the cast although they are mostly professional.  Coaching is evident as emotional and line delivery are good with only a few minor issues.  In the end, this is just another average Christmas film to play in the background.

Conclusion

Streaming services have created a good home for films like this one because they are safe and benign and can be played while other things are being accomplished.  If you’re going for this type of film, this is definitely a model to follow.  However, if you want something more dynamic and culture-changing, this definitely isn’t the type of film for you.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Secrets in the Snow (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

When a snowstorm hits unexpectedly, six teenagers are trapped at Eastbrook High to wait it out.  None of them want to be there, and each of them as a secret to hide.  As time goes on, frustrations and stress increase, which causes the secret stories to come to light one by one.  However, the storm also continues to worsen, which threatens their safety.  Will they be able to make it out before it’s too late?

Production Quality (2 points)

Although it appears the budget was somewhat limited, Secrets in the Snow has a mostly good production, including fine audio, video, and camera quality.  However, the soundtrack is a bit generic and loud at times, and the sets, locations, and props are understandably limited by design, even though they are well-utilized for the most part.  There is also some inconsistent lighting, as well as some randomly shaky moments of camera work, but the editing is good.  As a whole, this is an above average production that could have been slightly better than it was.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

John and Brittany Goodwin have always attempted to develop their characters through backstories, so the effort to do this in this film is definitely commendable.  However, since this is a heavily character-based plot with almost nothing but the characters to hold it up, we needed to see much deeper character development and growth through meaningful conversations and flashbacks.  The dialogue therein needed to be less shallow and less scripted, and there are too many wasted scenes on activities that don’t build characters or help us to understand who they are as people.  Even still, this is a non-typical and mostly creative plot structure that demonstrates the true potential the Goodwins have as both screenwriters and film makers.  As they continue to grow in their careers, we expect great things from what they have to offer as they continue to deepen their character development over time because we know that they mean well and want to do their best.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Like other parts of this film, the cast members also mean well, but some of the line delivery and emotions come off as overly practiced and not natural enough.  Some performances seem to stilted and measured while some lines appear to be read.  However, there is plenty of positive here as most of the cast members appear to be comfortable with their character roles and seem to be committed to the process.  As a whole, this is an average film, which is great for a debut.

Conclusion

After this film and If You’re Gone, the Goodwins and their team are definitely on the cusp of something great.  Once they are able to deepen their characters and refine their plot structures, they will definitely be a force to be reckoned with since they have already rectified their production and acting shortcomings.  As the Goodwins continue to produce their own source material for films, we anticipate better things from them in the near future.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

My Broken Horse Christmas (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

John always likes to go with his father to pick out a new horse every year, and he knows his father is good at picking out the best horses.  However, this year, his father acquires a crazed unruly mare and decides that she belongs to John so that he can train her.  John is dejected at this prospect because he feels like he’ll never be able to fix his new broken horse.  Nevertheless, this father persists in forcing him to train it, which leads to surprising results.

Production Quality (3 points)

John Lyde and his Covenant Communications and Mainstay Productions teams are consistently committed to quality productions even though their films are not traditional length.  This commitment to good quality is evident in crisp video quality, professional camera work, and good audio quality.  The soundtrack is interesting and engaging, and the sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized for the historical time period.  In the end, though the editing is a bit average, this production doesn’t have any major problems, which warrants a perfect score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Lyde and his team always prize shorter stories over long and drawn out films that have no interest, and basing this short film off of a Christian novella was definitely a good idea to acquire source material.  Because of this source material, the plot is slightly more creative and different than most Christmas films, but it seems to contain a lot of odd messaging that appears to glorify patriarchal attitudes.  The father character is likely realistic in his portrayal, but the story seems to pass along messaging that he is a wise and all-knowing character.  Other characters need better development through more substantial dialogue, which one would think would come from basing a short film off of a novella.  Since it’s so short, we needed to see very streamlined character development, but the plot instead lags behind and chooses to focus on pushing lessons on the audience that really don’t make much sense and on forced Christian messages that don’t seem to apply to the characters’ situations.  Some portions don’t appear to be very rooted in reality, and the abrupt and rushed ending causes the story to be over before much happens.  In short, while this could have been an honest and raw character biopic, it was reduced to a quasi-sermonizing piece that pushes messages that are hard to comprehend.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As a whole, there aren’t many acting problems in this film, which is a consistent component in John Lyde’s creations.  The casting and coaching appear to be professional, and for the most part, emotions and line delivery are natural.  However, this section isn’t perfect before of some slightly 
over-dramatized parts and some weak child acting, but in the end, this rounds out an another above average film for the Mainstay\Covenant team.

Conclusion

It’s absolutely a great idea to use Christian novels and novellas as source material for Christian films, especially since there are so many options to choose from.  This high number of selection opportunities makes it odd when obscure novellas like this one was chosen, especially when it’s not clear what My Broken Horse Christmas actually wants us to learn.  It’s a visually appealing yet substantially vague experience that will likely and unfortunately be easily forgotten.  John Lyde has always been right on the cusp of greatness, so it’s time for him to take the next step into dynamic creations.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Christmas Dress (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Mary and Leland Jeppson feel like they won’t have a good Christmas because the year has been hard on their finances, and they won’t be able to give their children anything good unless the shipment comes in from the big city, which a snowstorm has put in jeopardy.  However, the courage of a local boy who likes their oldest daughter might be able to make it happen if he and his father can brave the storm and make it back safely.  Will everyone be able to have a good Christmas after all?

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Even for short films like this one, the Covenant Communications team is mostly committed to having an at least average production.  This is evident in the fine video and audio quality, as well as the average camera work.  The most obvious problems are the somewhat cheap and limited sets, locations, and props.  However, it’s definitely evident they are trying in this production, even though the otherwise good soundtrack can be too loud at times.  Further, the editing is average, which rounds out an overall average effort that actually could have been a bit better due to its limited runtime.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, with such a small scope to work with, the drama of the plot overtakes the characters and doesn’t allow them enough space to be developed properly.  This is caused by flat dialogue and unclear conflict that makes it hard for the audience to properly relate to the struggles of these characters who may otherwise have realistic problems.  While the Christian messaging is good and somewhat accessible, the short and limited nature of the plot is too cheesy and makes it hard to justify this short film’s creation.  Basically, it’s a nice, safe story that’s mainly benign and without any true impact.  We like to see more than this from Christian films.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While these is evidence that this cast means well and is trying, there appears to be a lack of coaching.  This issue seems to cause some acting to be slightly awkward and to create a lot of robotic line delivery.  The costuming is also a bit cheap and cheesy because it doesn’t entirely fit the time period, but there’s enough positive in this section to make it average.  As a while, however, this film isn’t much to write home about.

Conclusion

In Christian entertainment, short films definitely have their place, but they really need to be more dynamic than this.  This can be done through deep character growth and meaningful plot development.  Shorter films mean smaller productions, so resources should be allocated more responsibly with them.  In the end, it’s already hard for short films to make a full impact, so extra effort should be put into them to make this happen.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Christmas Ranch (Movie Review)

What?? A horse movie without the horse’s name in the title??

Plot Summary

Lizzy is a bad teenager girl whom her parents can’t handle during the holiday break, so they sentence her to live with her aunt on her remote and rural horse farm during the Christmas break.  Her parents are always busy with work, and Lizzy hates being somewhere that doesn’t have good cell phone coverage.  To make matters worse, Lizzy discovers that her aunt is about to default on her mortgage, which is due for payment for Christmas Eve!!!!!  Thus, Lizzy suddenly makes a miraculous behavioral change and teams up with a local country boy to save the day!

Production Quality (2 points)

Surprisingly, it appears as though thought and effort were put into this production, which is evidenced by fine video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The sets, locations, and props are fine, although they could be a bit more engaging.  However, the soundtrack is fairly generic, and there are constant Christmas chimes sound effects that litter the listening experience.  Further, editing is just average, which rounds a good production on paper, but it simply doesn’t do enough to be truly transformational.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Has this plot seriously never been done before?!?  This is seriously one of the worst plot stereotypes featuring one of the worst character stereotypes as a bad teenage girl is forced to live in the country on a horse farm with no cell phone coverage, where she meets a local country guy.  Said teenage girl hates everything until she’s magically fixed by the horse and the guy, and there’s also a save-the-farm-with-a-racehorse plot to boot.  Seriously, since when are mortgages due on Christmas Eve?  Besides the fact that this story has been done before and has no potential, the dialogue is extremely uninspiring, which causes the characters to be flat and cardboard.  Since the plot always has everything going wrong with it, the best a screenwriter can do is at least attempt to craft good characters using engaging conversations, flashbacks, and motives, but, of course, this is not done.  On top of this, the corny Christmas premise of this plot is forced, as if they decided to add it in at the last minute; further, the Christian messages are awkwardly inserted into the film.  ‘Bad’ characters are magically fixed when the plot needs to them to be without any real arcs, and the runtime is filled up with training montages until everything is perfectly fixed in the last 10-15 minutes.  Basically, there’s not much good to mention here.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While some cast members in this film are fine, others are drab, and this movie has some of the worst teenager acting ever.  Emotions are extremely forced, and line delivery seems very unnatural.  However, there are enough okay portions of this section to warrant an even score, but it isn’t enough to save this movie from itself.

Conclusion

What is truly gained in films like these?  Rehashing and reusing same-old, worn-out story ideas is a drag on the industry.  Rather than force and rush through another half-baked idea, we need future Christian film makers to give us truly dynamic entertainment that’s rooted in high quality productions, engaging storylines, and authentic acting.  Otherwise, we’re not making any difference at all.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Megan’s Christmas Miracle (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Meghan and her father were forced to move to West Virginia when he lost his job, she absolutely hated it.  However, in the future, as she looks back upon this time, she likes how she was able to teach some local girls how to dance and how she was in a Christmas play that year.  She was able to reestablish her relationship with her father, which still affected her as she grew older.

Production Quality (.5 point)

Megan’s Christmas Miracle, though it’s a 2018 production, is one of the cheapest-looking in recent memory.  Although video quality is fine, the camera work is a wild ride that includes bizarre camera angles and roving shots that are dizzying.  Besides this, the limited sets and locations are very cheaply lit, like this was literally filmed in somebody’s extra house, and the props are also lacking.  There’s also weird audio quality with obvious background sounds and barely any soundtrack, and there is no editing to speak of or any substantial transitions between scenes.  This rounds out a very poor production effort for 2018.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It was a monumental struggle to even fabricate anything to write for the plot summary of this film because it’s so wanting for content that it’s sad.  With basically no storyline or plot concept to work with, the characters are extremely empty and cheesy due to flat and uninspiring dialogue.  Other than predictable Christmas concepts and stereotypical small-town and ‘bad teenager’ characters, there is little to sustain this movie’s painful runtime other than drab conversations and riveting activities of daily living (ADL’s).  For a brief moment, some confusing ‘magical’ elements are teased out of left field before they disappear just as soon as they came.  Essentially, as one thing after the next happens with no organization or continuity, there is little to no nope of potential in this ‘story.’

Acting Quality (1 point)

Understandably, a majority of the cast members in this film seem bored and uninterested with the job they’ve been subjected to, and who wouldn’t be with this little amount of lines to work with?  No coaching is evident as lines are half-heartedly delivered and as emotions are flippant.  While some cast members appear to actually care about this film enough to put forth some sort or effort, it’s only enough to keep this section from being zero, which surprisingly makes this area the best of the film.

Conclusion

What exactly is this film going for?  I feel like we ask ourselves this question a lot when reviewing Christian films – especially Christmas ones.  It would be one thing if Megan’s Christmas Miracle was from the early 2000s, but 2018 films are expected to be higher quality than this with the recent upgrades and newfound advantages for independent Christian films, especially in the area of production.  A production this bad is unacceptable in this new era, so any production below average is basically an automatic disqualifier because there’s no more excuses.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

The Christmas Reunion (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a group of four unlikely friends from high school reunites in the small town of Cave City, Kentucky, for a brief Christmas reunion, they suddenly get stranded by the snow and are forced to recount the old days they had together.  However, Cave City is falling apart at the seems as it gets bought up by some Eastern Syndicate – even the old diner!!  Will they ever be able to save the small town from ruin?

Production Quality (1 point)

In this 2016 production, there are many elements that should not be for one this new.  This includes poor audio quality that sometimes echoes, as well as a cheesy holiday soundtrack that sometimes overpowers the scenes.  There are also very cheap and limited sets, locations, and props, including an overpowering amount of Christmas decor.  The only good areas of this production that keep it from being zero points are the fine video quality and camera work.  However, the editing is fairly poor, and the use of special effects is cheesy, which keeps this at a one-point production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

In keeping with his past script-writing practices, Chip Rossetti includes 
extremely stilted and unnatural dialogue throughout this story that makes the characters seem like robots.  Another commonly used Rossetti theme that’s present in this film is the heavy-handed small town values that are under attack by big city corporations.  Paired with this are 
constant return-to-small-town conversations and plenty of exposition through conversations that might as well be narration.  All of these elements severely cripples any potential for character growth and reduces it to a church play feel.  Besides this, there is really little to not plot potential here at all as the characters are cardboard cutouts instead of people.  Instead of trying to develop the characters, the storyline seems to grasp at anything it can do to fill time with except for actually developing characters, and this includes poorly constructed flashbacks.  As extremely convenient dialogue forces the plot along, the audience is forced to listen to the message that small town values fix everything even while big city evils try to destroy them.  Essentially, there is little interesting to mention here.

Acting Quality (1 point)

In keeping with the way the lines are written, the delivery of them is also extremely practiced and measured, as if the cast members are robots.  Acting is either overdone or underwhelming, and while it’s fine sometimes, it’s mostly very wooden and stilted.  There is such a thing as over-coaching, and Chip Rossetti’s teams have consistently done this in nearly all their films (except Fathers).

Conclusion

Chip Rossetti has an unusual production model to say the least.  He advertises 3-5 movies throughout the year, and one of them might be released, but the rest disappear into the black hole while one or two other random films pop up on PureFlix on Demand with no warning or marketing.  We have to give it to Chip, however: he never gives up on making more films.  Nevertheless, all of this film-making experience should have amounted to something better than a two-point half-baked Christmas film by now.  There’s something to be said for doing the same thing over and over again with no results.

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

Clara’s Ultimate Christmas (Movie Review)

Image result for clara's ultimate christmas

Plot Summary

Clara wants to have the ultimate Christmas or something, but her dad is always working on ‘projects’ and ‘contracts’; he even has to fly out to finish a project in NEW YORK on CHRISTMAS EVE!!!!!!  Thankfully, Clara has plenty to keep her busy with her VLOG and her dog, which keeps getting lost.  She also hangs out with her awkward cousin, uncle, and aunt while her mother sees how bored she can be with this movie.  The real question with this film is can it get any less creative?

Production Quality (1 point)

As Clara’s Ultimate Christmas is basically an enhanced collection of home videos, production is greatly lacking.  This is manifested in random and off-the-wall camera angles and shaky camera work.  While video quality is fine, audio quality is inconsistent as there is basically no soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are severely limited for good reason since the entire movie basically takes place in one house.  In keeping with the home video theme, editing is virtually non-existent, which rounds out a very poor production score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

The home video theme continues with basically no plot content as Clara’s Ultimate Christmas is essentially Clara’s and her family’s activities of daily living (ADL’s), including eating breakfast, playing with dolls, walking the dog, crafting, cooking, vlogging, and talking on the phone.  I don’t know about you, but one-sided phone conversations aren’t what Christmas is all about.  In pursuit of ADL’s, characters and dialogue fall flat as we don’t really know these characters as real people but as pawns in the chess game played by the Hallmark Holiday Syndicate.  Granted, this isn’t a Hallmark movie, but the plot might as well be.  Every scene is squeezed and stretch to manufacture any possible content out of it, and the Christian messages are extremely vague and forced.  Essentially, there’s nothing good to say here since there’s nothing to this ‘plot’ at all.

Acting Quality (0 points)

The horrific child acting in this film is almost enough on its own to make this section negative, but the vanilla acting from other cast members just makes it zero.  Since this cast is so small, errors are greatly pronounced, especially when the child acting is forced through a strainer.  The adult cast members come off as very awkward and uncomfortable in their interactions with each other, and some cast members seem very bored with the film.  Emotions are either over the top or too bland, and line delivery is mostly lazy.  As a whole, there’s really very little good to say about this ‘film.’


Conclusion

It’s great that Bridgestone gives independent Christian film makers chances to get their content out there, and it’s been helpful for films like Altar Egos that people disregard for no reason, but movies like Clara’s Ultimate Christmas have literally nothing going for them.  There’s no purpose or point to them, and they just used worn-out and recycled ideas that nobody cares to see again.  Maybe we will see fewer and fewer of these sorts of films moving forward.

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

Saving Faith [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Faith Scott and her uncle Donny live in the struggling small town of Clifton, Tennessee.  Everything’s closing down in town, and people are either strapped for cash or leaving the area.  Thus, the theater that has been in their family for years is on the brink of foreclosure, which is the delight of the evil local businessman Peter Marsh.  Thus, Faith and Donny decide to schedule a desperation attempt to save the theater: a Christmas in June show featuring big names in Christian music.  Will it be enough to save the theater and even the town from extinction?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The good thing for Chip Rossetti is that he has shown great production improvement over his movie career.  This fact is also evident in Saving Faith, as evidenced by great video quality and camera work.  Sets, locations, and props are mostly fine, if not a little quaint.  However, the soundtrack can be too loud at times, and there are a handful of unnecessary background sounds, as well as some cheesy sound effects and special effects.  Moreover, the editing is pretty good, thus rounding out a slightly above-average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, there is little to nothing creative about the plot of Saving Faith as it follows a stereotypical save the _____ with a holiday show plotline.  The progression of the story is very predictable, as are the characters involved.  A good portion of the characters are also cheesy and generally eccentric, such as the head-scratching Elvis character (no, it’s not The Rev).  The villain is also ridiculous and over the top; each character fits into a predetermined small-town mold: the local eccentric, the local business owner, and the local evil bank guy.  While there are some attempts to have a good Christian message, all the problems are very easily solved in the end.  The romantic subplot is also awkwardly predictable.  In short, there aren’t many positives to note here.

Acting Quality (1 point)

For the most part, the acting of this film is awkward and overplayed.  It is at least good to see Jenn Gotzon and Jim Chandler star opposite each other as a couple.  There are some good moments in this cast, but for the most part, unfortunately, it is mostly bland or silly.  Thus, this rounds out an unfortunately disappointing and pedestrian film.

Conclusion

There truly is little point in constantly perpetuating this same small-town narrative over and over and over again.  If we need more of that, we can always watch Hallmark.  There is no creativity or authenticity in this concept, unless a film maker wants to explore some legitimate reasons behind collapsing small towns.  Constantly making movies about the ‘good old days’ in the name of Christian film is disingenuous and worn out.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

The Ride: A Christmas Eve Parable (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a burned out and bored taxi driver picks up a troubled character late at night on Christmas Eve, he just wants the night to be over.  However, as the night goes on, the taxi driver becomes more intrigued and even concerned about the nature of his passenger’s journey.  He tries to engage the passenger in conversation, but this is mostly unsuccessful.  Will he be able to get through to him before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As an early film from Vertical Church, The Ride demonstrate production efficiency and quality, even in a shorter film.  Even before The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, this church has been committed to high quality films.  This is evident in this film’s great video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is also creative.  Sets, locations, and props are appropriate for the film.  The only nitpick to point out here pertains to the editing, as there are a few dead scenes that stand out in the short film.  But this isn’t much to notice, and this film is presented in a very professional fashion.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though sometimes it is better to make a short film for a small idea, it is possible that The Ride is one instance in which this was not the case.  It seems like there was more content that could have been included in this plot, especially since the two main characters that are focused on are fairly well developed.  This is done through efficient dialogue that builds their backstories realistically.  The circumstances therein are believable and realistic.  Both serious and comedic moments are presented effectively.  However, as previously mentioned, we really wanted to see more from these characters, and perhaps other ones as well.  Moreover, it seems like this plot was written to be a short film, which is perfectly fine.  On the whole, this story shows just what Dallas Jenkins is capable of.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Rather than settle for only using inexperienced cast members from the local church, Dallas Jenkins and his team cast more experienced actors for the main roles.  Kirk B.R. Woller and Brad Heller are excellent in their respective roles.  This is possibly Brad Heller’s best role outside of Mom’s Night Out.  Overall, though this is a tiny cast, there are no acting errors to point out here.

Conclusion

Sometimes starting out small is better.  Dallas Jenkins made feature length films before this one, like Midnight Clear and What If, yet the former of these was not very good.  It’s possible that with the creation of short films, Dallas and his team were able to hone their skills better and produce a much better film in The Resurrection of Gavin Stone.  Moreover, as it is, The Ride demonstrates a lot of positive aspects that will make it an enjoyable film for many people this holiday season.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Christmas Oranges (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Rose is an orphan girl who lives in Mrs. Hartley’s orphan home.  However, when Mrs. Hartley and some of the children die of illness one fateful month, all of the orphans are sent to other places.  Rose and some of her friends are sent to live in the orphanage of the angry Mr. Crampton, who has strict rules and doesn’t want children messing around with his stuff.  However, the more Rose learns about Mr. Crampton, the more she learns that he is hurting during the holiday season and needs someone to love him.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As usual for John Lyde and his creative teams, Christmas Oranges is a professional production.  This is evidenced by good video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is somewhat generic, but it is fine for the genre.  Locations are mostly fine, even though there are few of them, but the sets are limited in scope.  There are also some random scenes that are poorly lit for no clear reason.  However, on the flip side, the editing is surprisingly effective.  On the whole, this is a high quality effort that has become commonplace from this group.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

In a different turn from other stories from John Lyde and company, Christmas Oranges has a uniquely substantial plot that contains the accessible struggles of relatively believable characters.  Though there is narration that hurts things, the child characters are actually pretty good, even if the orphan premise is slightly cheesy.  There are also some silly ‘kids’ sequences and montages, along with some strawman characters.  However, for the most part, the dialogue and the ideas therein are mostly meaningful and do their best to avoid cliched Christmas concepts involving orphans.  Probably the best element of this storyline is its use of realistic character backstories to humanize the ‘bad’ characters.  On the whole, while this movie did not go as far as it could have, it is still enjoyable and is worth a watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

While most of the cast members are definitely professional, this section still tends to be a mixed bag.  Some cast members seem to be overdoing their performances just a bit.  However, on the whole, emotions are realistic, and line delivery is on point.  As a side note, costuming is historically authentic.  Overall, this rounds out a very professional effort.

Conclusion

The Covenant Communications\Paulist Productions\Mainstay Productions collaboration has been working for years to make respectable films, and for the most part, they have succeeded.  However, they have been plagued by an inability to get over the last proverbial hill that stands between them and film greatness.  Nonetheless, they have all the tools necessary to do so.  Thus, we believe that sometime in the near future, they will finally break through and make that dynamic film that has alluded them for years.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Faith-Filled Christmas (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The Fairway family has three generations of people who want to serve people at Christmastime.  Simon and Emily, the grandparents, live in a retirement facility, and they want to minister to those around them in the time they have left.  However, their trouble-making friend Byron wants to put on a senior Olympics at the facility while the heavy-handed superior is away.  Simon’s and Emily’s adopted son Walter and his wife Ruth have opened their home to foster children, and they have unique struggles to handle during the holidays as they have to deal with biological parents.  Yet all of them find different ways to show the love of Christ to those around them.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Although this is an ‘indie’ production, it is a clear that a lot of work went into it.  This shows up in great video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is also engaging, although it tends to get in the way at times by covering up dialogue.  Sets, locations, and props are also well-constructed and well-used.  The only other issues to point are some minor editing issues, such as lagging scenes and dead sequences.  However, as a whole, this is a great effort that shows great potential for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

This good effort also spills over into the plot, as there are lots of good ideas in it.  For the most part, the characters are realistic and believable due to well-thought-out dialogue.  However, there are also too many characters and too many subplots going on here.  With so much content, more organization was in order, yet not enough was given.  Though there are some moments of good comedy, there are also some moments of flat humor.  Also, a lot of the time, this movie plays out more like the premiere of a series rather than a film.  It has a very episodic feel rather than the proper arc of a movie plot.  Nonetheless, it’s good to experiment with your first film, as long as it’s not horrible, to see what you’re good at.  Thus, it seems like this was accomplished in this plot.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Though this cast is only semi-professional and contains ‘amateurs,’ the cast members only commit minor errors.  Emotions are believable, and line delivery is usually on point.  The only slight drawbacks here pertain to some measured or awkward line delivery, but it’s not much to write home about.  In the end, this rounds out a very good indie effort that will be something to build off of in the next project.

Conclusion

These days, freshman films seem to be getting better, especially with regards to production quality.  Creative teams like this one have more resources at their fingertips than before, and this particular group did a great job with the inexperienced cast members.  Though some areas of the plot were suffering, with some future tweaks, they could be dynamic story writers.  In the end, it is encouraging to see indie films that give hope for the future.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Believe [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Matthew Peyton has tried to keep his father’s struggling factory afloat, but with the unions bearing down his neck and the economy tanking in the small town he lives in, it may be too late for him, even with Christmas just around the corner.  One night, when Matthew is attacked by angry workers, he is left for dead yet tended by a community of homeless people he never knew existed in the city.  They change his outlook on life and give him a new hope for the holidays that he thought he had lost.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a modern production, Believe is mostly high quality and professional.  Video quality is great, and camera work is good except for some unnecessarily odd camera zooms at dramatic moments.  Audio quality is good, however, as is the soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and appropriate for the film.  However, there are some confusing special effects throughout, and the editing is generally disorienting as time goes back and forth without warning.  Nevertheless, it is clear that this production team wanted to make a good film, so they mostly succeeded on this front.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Believe is one of the most complex yet disorganized Christmas plots I have ever witnessed.  It begins with unusual apocalypse undertones that depict a small town falling apart almost like a disaster film.  There is a lot of information dump dialogue to ‘catch the audience up,’ yet a lot of it is politically charged and agenda-driven.  At first, the drama seems manufactured as characters are seemingly swept along in uncontrollable circumstances like stand-ins for plot devices.  The story is also heavily centered around a stereotypical Christmas pageant that can save everything.  The protagonist is hated by almost everybody, which is another premise that seems very forced.  However, the plot pulls itself out of the nosedive in the middle as some really interesting issues and ideas are brought to light in what could have been a very unique and creative Christmas film.  However, the sheer number of ideas packed into this film cripples its influence, especially since the storyline returns to predictability and extremely quick problem-fixing and conflict-resolving for the final sequences.  Regardless, there is a lot of potential here that could be reworked into a different film.  The complexity at least keeps the viewer interested.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, this cast is professional and well-coached.  There are some moments when they are too practiced and forced in their emotions and line delivery, but this is not enough to derail the positive efforts.  On the whole, like other parts of this film, this casting and acting is what is needs to be to keep things interesting.

Conclusion

Many audiences will likely enjoy Believe, and it’s not really that bad of a movie.  But it needs some serious reorganization, along with a final sequence rework.  Too much is trying to be accomplished in this film, but we can never fault wanting to handle a lot of content when most films—especially holiday ones—suffer for any shred of substantial content.  Still, it would be interesting to see a remake of this film because there is definitely tons of potential here.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Miracle Maker: A Christmas Tale (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In a small village filled with problems at Christmas time, a rumor is being spread around town that the Miracle Maker is coming who will be able to fix all of their problems.  The pastor is uninspired and frustrated with his mother’s stubbornness.  A large family is having financial struggles.  Others have their own personal issues they want to be fixed.  Thus, they all believe that the Miracle Maker is coming to town to fix their problems just in time for Christmas.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

John Lyde and his creative teams have always demonstrated commitment to crafting professional productions in their films.  This is demonstrated in clear video quality, fine audio quality, and good camera work.  However, the soundtrack needs some work to not be silly and holiday-ish.  The sets and locations are somewhat limited at times, but the props are definitely trying.  Furthermore, the editing is slightly choppy in some parts, but is fine in another parts.  In the end, this is yet another great production from this creative team.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

John Lyde and his teams have also been consistently trying to create good plots.  However, at the beginning of Miracle Maker, the characters can some off as slightly theatrical and manufactured due to too many silly caricatures.  The dialogue is unnatural at first, yet it improves as the story goes on, thus causing the characters to improve as well.  The use of flashbacks is also effective in helping the characters become more realistic.  Yet there are other issues to point out here, such as one too many montages and a general lack of focus and direction in this story.  While there are a lot of very interesting ideas and concepts contained within this plot, they need to be organized more clearly.  There are too many coincidences that the plot is based upon, and the odd Biblical allegory within is somewhat confusing and presented in a juvenile way.  In the end, while there are plenty of positive point here, everything is fixed too easily in the end, yet there is almost always some good in the plots produced by this creative team.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, the costuming in this film is realistic and authentic.  Similarly, the acting seems to mean well, even if they do need a bit more coaching to bring out their fullest potential.  There are times when the cast members are unsure or too stoic, but there are plenty of good elements here that make this section above average.

Conclusion

On the whole, Miracle Maker comes out as another average movie.  Some will enjoy this film, and there are plenty of reasons to be interested in it.  John Lyde and his team always have tons of potential in their work, but they never quite seem to make it all the way.  Perhaps one day soon they will use all of the potential they have and put it towards a great and dynamic film.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

The Christmas Blessing (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After becoming disillusioned with his job after a failed surgery, Nathan Andrews decides it’s time to take some time off of work to go back to his hometown to see his dad.  But he decides to hide the true nature of his visit as he goes around town helping people.  He stumbles across a random woman several times, and the two of them fall madly in love.  Nathan also meets back up with his lawyer friend who helped him buy his dying mother a pair of shoes, which are now missing.  Will Nathan be able to make peace with his past and reconcile his work over the holidays?

 

Production Quality (3 points)

Much like the preceding film, The Christmas Shoes, The Christmas Blessing is basically a pristine production with no real errors.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all fine.  The soundtrack is fairly typical, but the sets, locations, and props are good, even if there are a lot of Christmas decorations.  Finally, the editing is standard with no real errors.  It’s rare that we see a perfect production, but at least in this era, Hallmark put their full efforts towards this front.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Also much like the film that comes before this one, The Christmas Blessing is almost a totally pointless plot.  It has a predictable return-to-hometown to stumble upon a random romance at Christmas spiel, all of which seem very forced and manufactured.  This is evident in very obvious and programmed dialogue, which in turn creates one-dimensional characters that only serve as stand-ins for the plot’s inevitable purpose.  There is also a dose of a buying-a-building subplot here, along with a troubled character subplot.  With all of this going on, the progression is very rushed and based on coincidences in route to a predictable conclusion before the television time is up.  The Christian message is also very muted and mostly only based on the previous film.  Basically, the only reason to make these sorts of films is just to have more content to play on TV.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast is mostly professional, in keeping with Hallmark’s usual standards, there are some moments when the cast members seem to be trying too hard.  Sometimes lines come off as overly practiced, and emotions can sometimes be overly ‘interested.’  But on the whole, this section is above average and is on industry standard.

Conclusion

These two films are made for the sake of having Christmas films based on a recognizable Christian song in order to grab the attention of some audiences for a short amount of time.  In the grand scheme of things, movies like this are extremely forgettable and will be lost in time.  We need films that are dynamic and timeless, not more mindless holiday fodder.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

The Christmas Shoes (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

With his mother dying of cancer at Christmastime, Nathan Andrews just wants to buy his mother one last present before she goes to heaven.  However, his family doesn’t have enough money do to the healthcare treatments.  His path crosses with disgruntled lawyer Robert Layton, who wants nothing to do with Christmas since his marriage and family are seemingly falling apart.  Will Rob take the opportunity to spread holiday cheer before it’s too late for Nathan’s mom?

 

Production Quality (3 points)

As a Hallmark production in their movie ‘heyday,’ The Christmas Shoes is basically a textbook example of a professional one.  Though many elements of it are typical, including plenty of Christmas décor and props, there are no real errors to point out here, which is a rarity.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all predictably good.  The soundtrack is a bit too Christmasy, but what it can be expected.  Sets and locations and realistic and professional.  Editing is also fine.  Overall, this is certainly a production to be proud of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

As a Hallmark movie based on a popular Christian Christmas song, one can see the obvious pitfalls here.  For one, the story is told in narration before it even begins.  Even so, it is still a typical Christmas story about a busy and cold character who hates Christmas for some reason but learns to care again for some reason or another.  This is also mixed in with a diseased character at Christmastime, plus a literal save the farm plot to boot.  Also, don’t forget the Christmas pageant!  Overall, this is a touching idea, and the characters and their struggles can somewhat be related to.  However, they still tend to fit into their stereotypical and seemingly predetermined molds.  There are good issues raised about common family problems, but they are resolved way too easily.  This story fights being sappy and even plastic at times, which is unfortunate, because this could have been something.  In the end, many audiences will like this story, but it’s just one too many.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Once again, this section is highly professional and well-cast.  The only issues to raise here pertain to some minor drama and moment of yelling.  But on the whole, emotions are realistic, and lines are delivered well.  This rounds out an above-average effort of a film that many will enjoy.

Conclusion

Movies like this one are problematic because they are popular and have plenty of good elements.  However, they are also fairly limited in scope and creativity.  If a predictable storyline is going to be used, the least that can be done is to make the characters very deep and rich due to superb dialogue and an effective use of flashbacks.  However, Hallmark likely isn’t in the business of creativity, so carry on, I guess.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Rust [2010] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Former pastor James Moore, who is running from his faith and his career, returns to his hometown to discover it the grounds of a dark mystery and closely held secrets that has put one crazy man in prison for arson.  With nothing left to lose and nothing else to do, Moore decides to take it upon himself to solve the mysterious case that was too open and shut.  As he looks at all the angles of the fire and the events of that night, Moore finds himself turning to God again as he rediscovers the faith he left behind.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Corbin Bernsen and his teams have always been committed to high production quality.  Rust is the earliest example of this commitment, as it sports great video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is also intriguing.  Sets, locations, and props, for the most part, are professional.  The only issues to point out here pertain to some choppy editing and some slightly poor lighting in some parts.  But otherwise, this is a professional and model production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

From the beginning of his foray into Christian film, which was this film, until now, Corbin Bernsen’s creative motivation has always been an enigma.  What is he ever going for?  Rust adopts the mysterious and semi-dark approach that was seen later in Beyond the Heavens.  Neither film truly makes much sense or has any driving purpose behind it.  Yet the mystery portion of Rust is intriguing and somewhat engaging.  The characters, while a bit eccentric, are also interesting in their own way, sometimes due to unique and cryptic dialogue.  Movies like this one always seem to be hiding something, like a private joke or secret, but they never let us in on the puzzle.  At least the ending is slightly unexpected, even though it takes a somewhat predictable path to get there.  If there were some more clarity in this plot, it could have been interesting and more highly rated, because there was a lot of potential here.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Much like the production of this film, the acting quality is professional and above average.  For the most part, actors and actresses are cast appropriately, and their line delivery is on point.  Sometimes emotions tend to be a bit forced, but they are good as a whole.  There are also some other moments of underwhelming performances, but they are not enough to keep this section from being highly rated.

Conclusion

Corbin Bernsen always has a lot of potential in his films.  He usually maintains high production and acting quality.  However, he is also committed to plots that are seemingly purposely unusual.  Rust is no exception to this trend, especially since it is his first Christian film.  One can understand why ‘secular’ film makers want to dip into the Christian market, but we have never understood Bernsen’s odd approach to movie making, despite his quality productions.  Yet perhaps we will never understand.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Christmas Lodge (Movie Review)

Love finds you at a Christmas lodge

Plot Summary

Mary Tobin loves her family’s Christmas Lodge out in the country, away from the big city, but with her grandfather dying, she is told by the lodger’s caretaker that the family business is in trouble if thing don’t turn around fast.  Mary drags her city boyfriend out to the lodge, who hates it there, which prompts Mary to begin falling for the caretaker of the lodge, since he likes the outdoors and stuff.  Will they be able to save the lodge together?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As usual for this type of film, Christmas Lodge has a typically fine production.  This include good video and audio quality, even though there are some random moments of shaky camera work.  The soundtrack is fairly standard.  Sets and locations are mostly limited to a handful of options, perhaps due to the plot’s limited scope.  Props are fine, however, and the editing is surprisingly okay.  In the end, Christmas Lodge is a very run-of-the-mill, standard production that is commonplace in the Christmas genre.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

As if this plot idea has never been done before, here is another go at it!  It is a predictable return the hometown plot to find a forced romance in the hometown instead of the alternative yet unreasonable ‘city’ relationship storyline.  Also, a save the bed and breakfast plot is shoved into it as well, along with some typical holiday stuff.  Though there is a lot of stereotypical hometown dialogue, and though the characters are basically flat, there are some attempts here to at least make them realistic.  Also, though this is a slightly more realistic version of this plot idea, everything revolves around the lodge and is much too formulaic.  The Christian message is vague, and there are too many cheesy romantic conventions, including a juvenile conflict that is fixed in the last five minutes.  At this point, all we can ask is how many more of these will be made?

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Surprisingly, the acting is the strongest point of this film.  The cast members appear to be comfortable in their roles and are definitely above average in their performances.  There are just some minor errors to point out, mostly due to some underwhelming performances.  However, it must be considered that there was not much content to work with here.  Considering this, the acting work is great.

Conclusion

Christmas Lodge is just a very safe and typical holiday film that plays on the television in the background.  On paper, it is a strong film, but it is certainly not a dynamic one.  If you’re going to use this worn out plot line, there are still better things you can do with it, such as craft deep and complex characters through realistic and character-building dialogue.  However, it’s also easy to settle for another stock Christmas movie.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

The Theory of Everything [2006] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Doug Holloway’s charter plane business is struggling, and his marriage is strained by busyness.  On top of all of this, he receives word that his biological father is having medical complications and may be ruled psychologically incompetent.  When Doug arrives at his father’s house, he discovers that he is half-crazy and is obsessed with solving his theory of the universe before he dies so that he can know whether or not God exists.   Will he find out before it’s too late for him?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The Theory of Everything begins as a very rough production, including some unusually crazy camera work and strangely poor lighting.  There are also some odd sound effects and an odd soundtrack.  Another strange element is the unusual use of overlaid and disorienting audio throughout.  This goes without mentioning the wild cuts and transitions that make for a confusing experience.  However, the good thing is that there is production improvement throughout, even though it has a lot of strange elements in the beginning.  These factors are hard to overlook, but at least the production becomes more palatable as it goes on.  Ultimately, it is an average production that needs some further work.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The best thing you can say for this plot is that it is trying to be different.  However, in doing so, it is too confusing.  It includes random Christmas elements and a lot of other random ideas that need severe organization.  At times, there are far too many things going on at once.  Thus, the story tends to lack focus and overall purpose.  The characters begin flat, but they do become more realistic as the story finds a better focus in the second half.  For the most part, dialogue is fine.  However, despite the improvement near the end, things become too rushed, which is a product of the whirlwind beginning.  In the end, it comes off as an incomplete idea in need of some serious direction and reorganization.  While this was a creative idea, unfortunately, it needs a major rewrite in order to become understandable.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Like the other elements of this film, the acting begins a bit raw and under-coached, yet it shows definite improvement as it goes on.  The cast members settle into their roles better as the movie progresses, even though there are some annoying arguing sequences.  Yet for the most part, emotions are realistic and line delivery is on point, thus rounding out an above average section.

Conclusion

Regardless, this film cannot shake its rocky start, and it thus falls short of what it could be.  However, these ideas are good enough to be used in a different context, with better production quality and a more organized storyline.  Thus, The Theory of Everything joins the ranks of films that are almost there and are thus in need a remake or a redo.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Dax is a spoiled rock star who is in trouble with the law and his publicist, so he needs publicity stunt to make him look good so that his merchandise will begin selling again.  Thus, he flippantly agrees to grant the Christmas wish of a desperate fan by staying with them over Christmas holiday.  Little does he know that he has been chosen to stay with a conservative pastor’s family in a small rural town in order to fulfill the wish.  But love will probably find him there, so what’s he complaining about in the UP universe?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

UP has been able to successfully replicate the Hallmark production model by having respectable productions.  Once again, Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas checks all the needed production boxes, including fine video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is about what you can expect, and the sets and locations are slightly limited.  There are also plenty of Christmas props.  The editing is mostly fine except for the stupid title cards throughout.  Otherwise, this is a model production that comes with the territory of made-for-TV movies.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Yawn.  What else can we possibly say about this thoroughly worn out plot concept?  A troubled rich city character gets stuck in a small town (actually more like one house) with a conservative group of characters, and he reconnects with his childhood or something and finds ‘unexpected’ love.  In some ways, rendition seems like a satire or just pure click-bait.  Characters are too empty due to stock dialogue as the circumstances sweep them along in inevitability.  The Christian message is very vague and is designed to pander to Christian audiences.  As expected, the progression is extremely predictable as two people are thrown together, don’t like each other at first, like each other after small talk, have their relationship get complicated by a strawman alternate love interest, get ‘torn apart,’ and then get thrown back together again to patch things up in the last few minutes before the credits roll.  I think that about sums it all up.

Acting Quality (2 points)

UP has done a better job than Hallmark has at assembly mostly professional casts.  They appear to actually coach their cast members and attempt to make them seem realistic.  There are a handful of minor errors throughout this case that keep it from being perfect, but on the whole, it is a respectable effort.

Conclusion

Another day, another Christmas film from the movie factory.  What is left to be said about companies like UP and Hallmark?  They have to please the investors, so they roll out safe, predictable films that will be watched once during the holidays and then be forgotten.  The plots are mindless, and they look good on the outside, so the mission is accomplished, and it’s on to the next one.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Breaking the Press (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The Conagheys could never have children, so they decided to adopt a pair of twin boys who was in need of a home.  As proud members of a small community in Texas that greatly valued high school basketball, the Conagheys encouraged their two boys, Josh and Matt, to get involved.  However, one became better than the other and became tired of being stuck in the small town team.  Instead, he wanted to play for the better team in the next town.  The Conagheys decide to let him live with his aunt so he can attend the other school, but at what cost will is come at?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For the most part, Breaking the Press has a fairly professional production with no glaring errors.  The sports filming is definitely great, include good action shots and camera work.  Video quality and audio quality are what they should be.  The soundtrack is a bit generic, but it is adequate.  Sets, locations, and props are on par with what they should be.  The biggest issue to point out here is the poor editing, including abrupt cuts and transitions, as well as musical montages.  But this is not enough to derail this section, which is nearly perfect.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, the storyline of Breaking the Press is not very creative at all.  For starters, there is too much narration, which of course stunts natural character and story development.  The time jumps certainly don’t help this either.  The whole thing is just a typical and formulaic sports storyline mixed with a predictable prodigal son storyline.  There is really no creativity here, and the characters come off as plastic and manufactured.  Also, sports montages are commonplace, along with a random Christmas inclusion in the middle of the film.  Edgy content is not handled very well either.  On the whole, this just seems like someone trying to pander to Christian audiences.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Yet this cast is mostly professional and is definitely above average.  The only thing holding back this section are the overdone moments and overly practiced lines.  Yet for the most part, emotions are realistic.  This rounds out an overall average film effort.

Conclusion

It’s hard to get more formulaic than movies like Breaking the Press.  Throwing a prodigal son story into the inspirational sports genre does not exactly excite.  Creativity is very minimum here, and it seems like this is a low-effort attempt to grab some quick cash from a Christian audience.  If you are going to make a typical story, the least you can do is to craft realistic and accessible characters.  But once again, a film is left wanting.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Rogue Saints (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Nick and Dylan have always been best friends, but they lost connection for several years.  Now they have restarted their friendship after years of traveling, and they have a plan to pull off the ultimate heist to get rich.  Rumor has it that a valuable diamond is hidden beneath a certain church, so Nick and Dylan decide they need to be the one to unearth it and collect the prize.  However, they will have to invent a clever cover story in order to gain access to what they need to find the diamond.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For a relatively small-time church film, Rogue Saints is a surprisingly efficient production.  This is most notable in the interesting and well-constructed sets, locations, and props.  Video quality, camera work, audio quality, and are also all what they should be.  The soundtrack is unique and creative.  The biggest issues to raise here pertain to some oddly unnecessary elements, such as an overuse of split screens and juvenile animation overlays throughout the production.  The editing is also quite wild and sometimes schizophrenic.  But on the whole, this is a one-of-a-kind production that is at least above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

While this story is trying to be different in some ways, in others way, it is not so different.  There are slight attempts at creativity, even if the premise is somewhat flimsy.  The comedy is at least partially funny, even if it is somewhat formulaic and predictable.  The progression of the plot is also basically predictable and contains stereotypical characters that could use some upgrading through more developed and meaningful dialogue.  There aren’t really any twists as this storyline is basically linear.  However, there is definitely a lot of potential here, and Rogue Saints is certainly a good start in the comedy genre for future reference.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast mostly contains ‘amateurs,’ they are actually fairly professional.  They certainly have their quirky moments and can tend to overdo the comedy at times, but as a whole, this is a respectable performance.  Emotions and line delivery are each what they should be.  This completes an overall average effort by this freshman film effort.

Conclusion

There aren’t many films that are comparable to Rogue Saints, which is a fact that is both good and bad.  It is a unique film and shows a lot of potential for the future, if they choose to go further in film making.  This is where new film makers should begin rather than in the basement of Christian film.  Even so, this movie is a good blueprint for how to begin in Christian movie making, but hopefully it is not where creative teams will get stuck.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

The Christmas Card [2006] (Movie Review)

Love finds you in a Christmas card

Plot Summary

When Sergeant Cody Cullen receives a Christmas card from a church group, he is compelled to find the woman responsible for the project after he gets back to the States.  When he finds her, Faith Spelman, and her family, he never thought he would fall in love with her.  But little did he know that he is stuck in the Hallmark universe, where loves pops up in the most “unlikely” places and in the most unrealistic ways.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As usual for Hallmark, the production quality is high, which is the main thing that sustains their brand.  Actually, The Christmas Card has some of the most complex sets and locations for a Hallmark movie.  However, they are still filled with lots of Christmas decorations.  Otherwise, this production checks all of the other boxes, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  It also includes a silly holiday soundtrack, but what else is new?  Finally, the editing is mostly standard and uneventful.  Overall, this is business as usual for Hallmark.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

The Christmas Card is basically the textbook Christmas Hallmark love story in all the usual cheesy ways.  Let’s see how it goes: a couple is thrown together through some ‘funny’ or ‘cute circumstance (in this case, a literal Hallmark card), and they find that they have a lot in common with each other only to discover some earth-shattering news that ‘tears’ them apart for like one scene.  Then they come back together, and everything is fixed.  The characters stepped right out of the Hallmark plot factory, and the circumstances they go through are manufactured, along with their stock dialogue.  The premise is trumped up, as usual, and the Christian message is forced into it to expand the audience influence.  Things happen because they need to in route to an inventible conclusion.  Once again, this is business as usual for Hallmark.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast avoids the usual plastic look of most Hallmark casts, they tend to be too stoic and practiced in their emotions and their line deliveries.  However, there are plenty of good elements here as the cast is overall professional.  At least this is a palatable cast, compared to other efforts from this channel.

Conclusion

Another day, another Hallmark Christmas movie.  The plastic Christian message is optional depending on who it’s targeting.  Films like this are the embodiment of click-bait, or rather watch-bait.  But the one thing you can say for Hallmark is that they almost always nail their productions.  Some Christian film makers could take a cue from this.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Christmas on Salvation Street (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After his wife dies, Noah Davis decides to accept the invitation of a friend to become the pastor of a California street mission that serves the poor.  One of his daughter objects to the idea, while the other one goes along with whatever he says.  While in the urban areas of southern California, the Davis family ministers to the forgotten and the lost and finds themselves in some harrowing situations with a local gang and some foster kids.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, the production of Christmas on Salvation Street is average.  Video quality is good, but audio quality is inconsistent since it is sometimes too loud and sometimes has too many echoes.  Camera work is also good, but there are some cheap looking sets and limited locations.  However, there is improvement in these areas throughout the film.  The editing is also fine except for one too many montages and reused scenes.  On the whole, as previously mentioned, this production is average and definitely has some room for improvement.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

At first, the story behind this movie is an interesting idea, but it is seemingly too vague at first.  It is difficult to understand the motivations of the characters as the plot tends to meander with no real focus.  The dialogue also tends to be a bit pedestrian.  Most of the time, Christmas on Salvation Street seems more like the installment of an already-existing series or the beginning of one rather than a standalone film.  While sometimes it is unserious, it is clear that the writers meant well with this film, even if the idea is incomplete.  It’s also hard to see how this needed to be a Christmas film, and things tend to be too easily fixed in the end.  But at least there was an effort here to make it somewhat interesting.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Sometimes the cast members can be a bit too enthusiastic about their lines and emotions, but they settle in as the film progresses.  As time goes on, the cast members become more natural in their roles.  Emotions and lines, for the most part, are delivered effectively, which rounds out a nearly average film.

Conclusion

Films like Christmas on Salvation Street are problematic because they show potential to do more than actually deliver on.  Movies like this do not dwell in the basement of Christian film, but they are not in the top group either.  There are a lot of movies like this that don’t quite go the distance, but perhaps one day, their creators will break through and change the film world with more quality movies.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Last Straw [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The McDonald family is full of screaming kids, and now they have taken on a trouble making relative for the holidays whose family doesn’t care about her.  As the kids perform all of their silly escapades, the shunned relative tries to fit into the neighborhood and meets a random boy next door whom she automatically likes, of course.  Then Mrs. McDonald, at the end of her rope, decides to institute a contest to see who can do the most deeds so they can put straw in their nativity manger.  It’s just another holiday tale.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For the most part, Rob Diamond and his team know how to put together a respectable production.  Video quality and audio quality are what they should be, even though the soundtrack is fairly generic.  There are some random moments of shaky cam, however.  Yet sets, locations, and props are fine, albeit somewhat limited.  There are also some minor editing concerns, but there are really no glaring errors.  On the whole, this is an above average effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the plot.  Besides being an extremely limited idea full of silly asides and manufactured drama, it is mostly eccentric.  The characters tend to be overdone yet not well developed, even though they spend a lot of time sitting around and talking.  With no clear purpose or direction, sometimes it seems like this story is a joke.  The ‘struggles’ of the characters are impossible to appreciate.  There is also a cheesy forced romance.  Overall, this is really not a complete enough idea to make a full-length film; the priorities of this film needed to be reevaluated.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Besides being very awkward at times, the cast members have a tendency to be overly happy and loud in most scenes.  Emotions are very plastic and laughably fake.  There is far too much shouting and yelling throughout, especially from the child cast members.  However, there are plenty of good moments, as well as improvement throughout, which saves this section from being zero.

Conclusion

In summary, it’s very hard to justify the making of this film.  It is based on a very thin idea, and it seems like it was rushed into being made without stopping to think about where this plot was even going.  Stories like this need to be seriously slowed down and evaluated for necessity and quality.  Until this happens on a consistent basis, we will keep having films like this put out.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Saint Street (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Percy believes that he has to work long hours in order to be more successful in his business so that his family has more possessions.  Yet his family just wants to see him from the holidays.  One fateful night, when he insists on driving all night to a family gathering, a car accident changes his life and his family’s lives forever.  Will Percy be able to find faith and hope in the tragedy’s wake?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Overall, Saint Street is a fine production, including good video quality and camera work.  Audio quality is fine except for some odd sound effects; however, the soundtrack is fine.  Sometimes lighting is also not what it should be, but there is improvement throughout.  For the most part, sets, locations, and props are what they should be.  At first, the editing is a bit disorienting, but this also improves throughout.  In the end, this is an above-average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

At the beginning, Saint Street is a typical businessman-is-forced-to-slow-down Christmas plot, combined with some ‘magical’ elements.  However, it is sometimes hard to follow, and it tends to have too much wasted time without enough substantial content.  It seems like most of the time it’s just trying to get to the end, and it has some slightly obvious allegorical content.  However, there are some good psychological elements, as well as a good message.  Yet the characters come off as cheesy and under-developed due to unsubstantial and underwhelming dialogue.  While things tend to happen because they need to, the ending is at least interesting and thought-provoking.  Yet this movie still leaves a lot to be desired.

Acting Quality (1 point)

At first, there is a lot of overdone acting and forced, unnatural emotions.  However, some improvement is shown throughout as coaching seems to improve in some areas.  Yet there are some other unusual performances by some cast members that do not change.  In many areas, it seems like Saint Street leaves a lot of potential on the ground.

Conclusion

These types of psychological Christmas plots can sometimes be predictable and worn out, but they usually contain enough elements to be interesting.  Some audiences will still enjoy Saint Street, and there is something everyone can learn from it.  There is just a collection of lingering issues that keeps it from being all that it could be.  Perhaps Rob Diamond and his team will continue to improve in the future.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Christmas With a Capital C (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Dan Reed is just a nice Christian mayor of a small Alaskan town, but when his old high school rival\friend, Mitch Bright, comes to town, Mitch just wants to mess up Christmas for everybody.  Mitch is mad that Dan took his girl in high school, so Mitch decides to take it out on Dan by suing the town for having a manger scene on public property.  Will the war on Christmas never end?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

In keeping with most PureFlix films, Christmas With a Capital C is mostly fine, including good video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is what one can expect from a Christmas film.  Some sets are limited, but there are some good outdoor locations that redeem this.  The prop choices are mostly fine, but there is a slight over-abundance of Christmas décor.  Furthermore, there is one too many montages in this film, yet the editing is mostly standard.  In the end, this production is just one of those assembly line PureFlix deals.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

With so many cooks in the crowded PureFlix plot kitchen, Christmas With a Capital C has a little bit of everything in it.  For the most part, it contains every cheesy war-on-Christmas and fake persecution cliché you can possibly shove into one movie.  The film mostly takes up arms in the religion freedom battle in a small town by using propaganda about the opposing side, but there are some surprising moments of sanity when some characters wisely suggest that maybe fighting for manger scenes on public property isn’t going to save people.  However, this is quickly derailed again by cheesy and formulaic subplots, including juvenile romances, that are driven by obnoxious characters and manufactured dialogue.  Unfortunately, any good that was meant in this film is covered up with madness.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This film has another one of those crazy PureFlix casts that is memorable for the wrong reasons, even though it doesn’t contain the usual suspects.  Ted McGinley is his usual fake self, while Brad Stine takes the opportunity to adlib in over the top and unhinged ways.  For some reason, Nancy Stafford allowed herself to be dragged into this nonsense, yet she is always a standout.  Other cast members are also fine and make up for the loony moments that dominate the performances.

Conclusion

Why do we need to constantly roll out movies that ‘fight’ against ‘political correctness’ and try to ‘win back’ religious freedom?  Since when does not being able to display a manger scene on government property persecution?  What if a Muslim ideal was displayed on government property?  One character points out the futility of fighting this fight in light of trying to spread the gospel to people who are hurting, and this contribution is no doubt the sanity of Andrea Nasfell.  However, any good she wanted to accomplish in this movie is drowned out by the militant agenda of PureFlix.  As long as Christian leaders continue to prioritize fighting for political power and influence over doing the real work of Christ, culture will continue to go in the opposite direction.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

The Note [2007] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After an airplane tragically falls from the skies and kills many who were involved, struggling local reporter Peyton MacGruder discovers a note at the crash site that leads her to some investigative journalism about the note’s author and intended recipient.  Thankfully, she has the help of office love interest Kingston Danville to help sort out this holiday mystery.  You never know when or where love’s going to find you at Christmas time!

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As usual for a Hallmark Christmas movie, The Note has a high-quality production.  Video quality, audio quality, and camera work are all on par with what they should be.  The soundtrack is about what you can expect for a Hallmark holiday creation.  Sets, locations, and props are all professional, and Christmas decorations are even kept to a happy medium.  There are just a few minor errors throughout, like some awkward transitions, but it’s only nitpicking.  As a whole, this is a great production that is mostly the norm in made for television films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As the Hallmark team decides to borrow a plot from acclaimed author Angela Hunt, The Note is unsurprisingly more creative than most Hallmark plots, even though this is not Hunt’s strongest storyline in the least bit.  However, the characters at least bear a semblance of realism due to some good dialogue, even if the plot tends to be based on too many coincidences.  Even so, there are a lot of great messages and ideas throughout this story.  Yet there are one too many moments that come off as a little too cheesy, as well as the inclusion of too many random, disconnected scenes.  Yet on the whole, this is perhaps the best Hallmark has to offer in the plot department.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Another common pitfall in Hallmark movies pertains to the casting and acting.  Any cast that involves Ted McGinley is rarely good, but at least the other cast members besides him are fine, even though he tends to drag down an entire movie with his plastic and overly fake demeanor.  Yet there are enough good and honest moments from the other cast members to make this section at least average.  The one thing that can be said is that it’s not as bad as usual.

Conclusion

Bringing Christian novels to life is almost always a great idea because the plot is already written, and these plots almost always involve some different and non-typical elements.  Angela Hunt is certainly a great author to choose from.  However, production companies are still usually safe in the plots they choose and don’t go too far outside of the norm.  In the end, companies like Hallmark have advertisement spaces to sell, so they don’t want to be too risky.  Perhaps the advent of more Christian-based streaming services will allow more creative content to flourish.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Joseph and Mary (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Joseph was tasked with being the earthly father of Jesus, the Messiah, while Mary was chosen to be the biological mother of the Savior.  However, they were just ordinary people who wanted to follow what the Lord wanted for them.  They watched as Jesus grew up before their eyes, and they were also apparently preoccupied with the life of a random rabbi who was their friend.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a new Bible production, Joseph and Mary is mostly respectable.  It’s clear that care was given to the authenticity of the production, even though the sets are somewhat limited and reused a lot.  Nevertheless, props are appropriate, and the outdoor locations are great.  This film checks all the typical boxes of good video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is adequate.  The only other problem to raise is the choppy editing that poorly handles the large amount of content in this movie.  But in the end, John Patus and the others at Leif Films are definitely improving over the years.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

So you want to make a movie about Joseph and Mary, yet you decide to use at least half of the runtime depicting an otherwise interesting story about a fictional rabbi who shadowed Jesus in the Lord’s early years.  This is a fine idea, but why not make the movie primarily about the rabbi?  Joseph and Mary are almost supporting characters in this story.  There is also unnecessary narration that hurts character development.  The healthy construction of the characters is also hindered by the rapid passage of time that follows the same characters as they keep meeting in the same places over several time periods.  There is also a tendency to hit the high points of the story rather than to settle down and let us get to know them as people.  The stoic and overly formal dialogue certainly does not help.  However, this film is an interesting perspective on the early years of Jesus through the eyes of a flawed and accessible character that is not Joseph or Mary.  Yet this good idea is somewhat soured by the strange ending sequence that leaves the audience wandering what this movie is supposed to teach us.  In the end, the Leif Films team is usually closed to good things, as evidenced in The Apostle Peter: Redemption, but they can’t seem to get there.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, there is not much good to say about the acting of this film.  For one thing, it is very poorly cast and lacks authentic cultural cast members.  Kevin Sorbo, a generic white guy, really has no business playing Joseph, besides the fact that he is awkward in this film.  Rather than being too BRITISH, this cast is too American.  The costuming is also somewhat cheesy, yet there are a handful of good moments that keep this section from being nothing.

Conclusion

Bible films are almost always problematic.  If the production isn’t a problem, it’s the casting.  If not that, then the plot suffers.  There are so many variables that have to be aligned in a Biblical film; after all, they are historical accounts.  Thus, they needed to be treated with more care.  We can’t have any more of these Bible plays coming out because even Christian audiences are getting tired of that.  We need dynamic authenticity, but perhaps the Leif Films team will keep trying and find the mark one day.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

A Christmas Snow (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Kathleen hates Christmas and thus likes to make her restaurant staff work all the time on the holidays.  But she likes Andrew, so she decides to help watch his Christmas-loving (and slightly obnoxious) daughter, Lucy, while he completes a business trip before the holiday.  So when Kathleen and Lucy get snowed in with a random guy who saved Kathleen from some hoodlums in a parking lot, Kathleen thinks her life is over, especially when they are forced to play board games that remind her of her parents.  Will they ever be able to make it through the day?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

The good thing about this film is that is has high production quality.  Tracy Trost and her team are usually committed to this, and it shows again in A Christmas Snow.  The positive elements include good video quality and camera work, as well as adequate audio quality and an okay soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are fine and are mostly utilized well.  There are really no glaring errors to note here.  There are just some small issues pertaining to some choppy cuts and transitions, but this is not enough to derail the production.  On the whole, this is an applaudable effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the plot of this film.  It is based on a stereotypical holiday-hating-character-is-forced-to-like-the-holidays-because-of-some-outside-event plot sequence.  It would be one thing if the characters were fine, since this is a character-based plot, but that is not the case here.  The main character in particular is quite obnoxious, as are some of the supporting characters.  This is mostly due to absurd dialogue and ridiculously forced comedy, such as statements like ‘chickatarian.’  There is really nothing creative about this story as it depicts a collection of random characters stuck in a house during the holidays again.  While there are some attempts to use flashbacks to build the characters, they fall flat.  The character arcs are far too steep, and the Christian message is too vague.  Unfortunately, this is a swing and a miss.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

For a majority of the film, the lead actress and the child actress of this film are quite annoying, in keeping with the characters they play.  This is demonstrated through forceful emotions and stiff line delivery.  They are clearly trying too hard, while other cast members just come off as off-beat.  Needless to say, this movie will be remembered for the wrong reasons.

Conclusion

There was a good idea behind this movie, this much must be noted.  Trying to develop a grumpy character through establishing flashbacks can be a great way to present a nice holiday story, but A Christmas Snow does it all wrong.  Unfortunately, although the production was good in this film, it was wasted on a poorly written story and off-putting acting.  Maybe next time, Tracy Trost and her team will improve upon their past films.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Christmas For a Dollar (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In the middle of the Great Depression, the Kamp family is struggling to get by, but Mr. Kamp won’t let his older children get jobs.  Norman, the crippled brother, wants to see a horse owned by a local grumpy rich woman.  All the schoolchildren want to win a special box from the teacher for doing the most good deeds, even though they are all sure the local bullies are cheating in the contest.  Will they be able to have an enjoyable Christmas together?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As is the case for most of John Lyde’s productions, Christmas for a Dollar is respectable and above average.  This includes good video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is a bit generic, but it’s fine.  Sometimes the sets, props, and locations are limited, but they are mostly good.  Also, the editing lags at times, but on the whole, every part of this production shows good effort, which is all we can ask for, especially considering the resources available.  John Lyde is consistent in rolling out good productions.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, also like other films from John Lyde and his team, the plot is this movie is fairly limited in its scope and tends to lack overall purpose.  While the characters show some realism and honesty, it’s hard to know where the story is going since there are several different rabbit trails it follows without really discovering a driving or underlying theme.  The characters could have been something, but some of the awkward dialogue holds them back.  Like other movies from this creative team, Christmas for a Dollar contains a lot of nice ideas that don’t come to full fruition.  This story needed a bit more work before going to production.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Despite the unrealistic costuming, this cast was definitely trying.  They overcame a rough start of awkward and forced lines and emotions to improve throughout the latter half of the film.  They seem like they are receiving some good coaching most of the time and really seem like they care about their roles.  This is more than can be said of most casts.

Conclusion

John Lyde and his creative team certainly care about their movies: this much is evident.  However, too often, their ideas get lost in translation and do not fully come through.  Films like this one tend to come off as nice little kids’ movies with no mass appeal outside of a small audience.  It’s a shame, because it seems like they could go further a lot of the time with their ideas.  Maybe one day soon they will finally break through to the next level, because they certainly have the ability to do so.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Christmas Dragon (Movie Review)

It’s magic!

Plot Summary

After her parents are kidnapped, Ayden and her new orphan friends will have to retrieve the magical orb that keeps Father Christmas alive and will have to save the Christmas Dragon from being killed.  Will they be able to prevail against the evil creatures and people that are chasing then?  Will everyone be able to find out what the true meaning of Christmas is?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

It’s very hard to make a fantasy movie on a low budget, so it should probably be avoided.  Nonetheless, while The Christmas Dragon has some good production elements, it also has some glaringly bad ones.  As usual, video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  Yet there are many obviously cheap special effects used throughout, including a lot of poorly animated overlays.  Unfortunately, the fantasy props used are among the worst; it also does not help that the sets and locations are fairly limited.  One consolation is that the editing in this film is fine, which keeps this production from being below average.  In the end, fantasy productions require a lot of funding, so a low budget will always be exposed by this type of film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

First off, it’s very hard to discern how The Christmas Dragon is really a Christmas film, but at least John Lyde and his team are trying to do something different.  However, it still seems like he and his team are better than this silliness.  With no clear Christian message or purpose to guide it, this storyline meanders along as a vague allegory that simply copies concepts (very poorly) from popular fantasy stories.  The characters are too one-dimensional and not dynamic at all.  They seem to be pawns in the plot, and their dialogue is stunted by action sequences.  Allegory and fantasy plots need a driving purpose that keep them from going off the rails, and some creativity is not discouraged either.  Unfortunately, this movie lacks these parameters.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Besides having the most terrible makeup jobs ever, these cast members are forced to don obviously homemade costuming (and sometimes stupid masks) that attempts and fails to make them look like mythical creatures.  Elsewhere, emotions are either too dramatic or too matter-of-fact.  There is too much yelling and forced drama, as well as poor action acting.  While some roles are poorly cast, there are some good moments here that keep this section from being any worse.  In the end, the potential here was not fully reached.

Conclusion

A word to the wise: do not make a fantasy movie with this sort of budget and don’t make one just to rip off other ideas and to smash Christmas into it for no good reason.  John Lyde and his team usually produce quality content, but this movie is an exception because they overextended themselves with a complex production.  Fantasy plots need to be well-planned from the beginning, and if they are, they can be very dynamic.  Perhaps John Lyde and his crew will continue to improve in the future.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Mister Scrooge to See You! (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

What if a year after his transformation, Ebenezer Scrooge, with the help of Jacob Marley, was randomly transported through time to the modern era, where the descendant Jacob Crachit was being just as miserly was Scrooge once was?  Puzzled by modern things, Scrooge tries to fulfill his mission to save a struggling small town diner from the cold heart of Crachit.  Will he be able to do it in time?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Much like other productions from Salty Earth, Mister Scrooge has its share of drawbacks.  Video quality is fine, as usual, as is audio quality, except for some weird echoes for dramatic effects.  The soundtrack is generic.  However, there are some very cheap special effects throughout that make for an odd experience.  There are also some cheesy props to contend with, as well as limited sets and locations.  Furthermore, as is to be expected, the editing is relatively choppy.  Thus, this is just another low-quality production with too much ambition.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It’s one thing to craft a creative take off of a familiar story, but this film goes a bit too far.  The intertwined past\present plots are too confusing to follow, and creating a cinematic universe for the characters of the famous Charles Dickens novel is problematic.  What’s the point of the unexplained time travel elements?  As we’ve said before, all time travel should be avoided in stories.  Besides this, Mister Scrooge is just a blatant retread of the former story, just with a Christian spin and a worn out save-the-diner plot.  There are also too many strawman characters, including a cheesy and stereotypically evil anti-Christmas businessman villain.  In addition to this is mindless dialogue, forced comedy, and too many head-scratching moments to take this movie seriously.  It’s very hard to understand what was meant by this plot.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Most of the time, this cast is overplaying their roles, as if they do not trust the audience to understand what they are doing.  This comes off as annoying, as do the plastic emotions.  However, there are a few good moments here, such as Torry Martin playing Santa.

Conclusion

We can understand the desire to be creative and to offer a unique take on a familiar story, but this is just all wrong.  You can’t be so different that you isolate your audience.  Besides this, the production is too low quality, and the acting is too off-putting for the film to truly be taken seriously.  Most of the time, it’s difficult to understand what exactly Salty Earth is going for, but maybe one day they will find their niche.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Savior [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

What if Mary and Joseph lived in modern day Britain rather than the fantasy world of British Judea?  What if the Magi were random business people who read about it all in the newspaper?  This unique movie reimagines the Christmas story in a way that even BBC has not thought of yet.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

This film is basically a small church production, and thus it has its share of quality concerns.  This includes a lot of shaky camera work and sequences of odd lighting.  While video quality is fine, there are also a lot of strange close-up shots of cast members that are off-putting.  There are also some minor background sound issues to content with, as well as some weird sound effects and not enough soundtrack.  As is customary for these types of productions, sets, locations, and props are fairly limited and low-budget.  Furthermore, the editing has some signs of amateurism.  In the end, this is a nice try, but not good enough.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

At least since they had a lot of British people at their disposal, they decided to go ahead and commit to the idea properly by setting the story in modern day Britain rather than in an imaginary location like British Judea.  But even so, there are plenty of problems that come of these sorts of modern-day Bible allegory things, as usual.  For one, time progresses far too quickly to the point of stunting proper character growth.  Thus, they come off as stiff and unnatural due to rushed, uninspiring dialogue.  There are also too many unrelated asides that waste time, as well as a lot of boring conversations that do nothing to help the characters.  The ending is confusing and isolating, thus hurting any chance of meaningful impact.  In short, while it is always problematic to transpose Biblical events over modern-day circumstances, the plot doesn’t have to be this drab, boring, and confusing.

Acting Quality (1 point)

As an amateurish cast, these cast members would have benefitted from upgraded coaching.  Most of the time, they come off as flat and forced.  There is too much melodrama and yelling throughout.  However, there are some good moments that redeem this section from being worse.  Yet this film overall struggles to find identity.

Conclusion

When a Biblical event is recast in a modern setting, a lot of care needs to be taken and a lot of planning needs to be employed.  This is not a venture to take lightly.  Even so, we don’t try to reconstruct other historical events into modern venues, do we?  This method of storytelling is somewhat questionable, but even if you’re going to use it, it has to be done right, not haphazardly, as this movie was.  Better luck next time.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

The Borrowed Christmas (Movie Review)

More delicious cookies!

Plot Summary

John Dale is all alone this holiday season, so he wants to manufacture his Christmas by going to a random store and ordering them to buy all kinds of things that are necessary for him to enjoy an artificial holiday experience, including paying off people from the local ‘actors guild’ to play along with his games.  Will they be able to put together his borrowed Christmas before it gets too late?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

From the ridiculous opening sequence to the end, this production is very cheap-looking.  While camera work and video quality are fine, the audio quality has a lot of issues, including dead portions and unnecessary background noises.  The soundtrack is also a cheesy Christmas one.  The sets, props, and locations are also very limited and underwhelming.  Finally, there is really no editing to speak of as all of the content is just presented at face value.  In short, there is really not much good to say about this movie as a whole because it seems like most of the time that it is trying its best to not be interesting.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Besides the absurd Christmas premise, The Borrowed Christmas is probably the most anti-conflict film we have ever seen, Christmas or not.  The story is very boring, childish, and extremely contrived.  Even so, there are strange attempts to be overly dramatic for no reason at all.  Also, the characters come off as extremely cheesy and plastic due to bubbly and overly happy dialogue.  It’s really hard to understand how this idea even came to be, especially due to the fact that there is basically no conflict to drive this plot.  Thus, the story really has no clear purpose and only comes off as a silly church play.  Even though there may be some good ideas here, they are not presented properly at all.

Acting Quality (1 point)

For the most part, this cast is dry and generic, as well as too theatrical at times.  While they are fine at times, there are also some laughably random outbursts throughout.  Another unfortunate negative to note is some poorly done makeup.  However, not all is bad here, even though this movie still lacks overall purpose.

Conclusion

The Borrowed Christmas is basically a lesson in how to make a movie that completely lacks conflict.  Even most Hallmark movies have more conflict than this one—it’s kind of a requirement for plot writing.  Alas, especially in holiday films, story writing continues to suffer as it is substituted for silly and trite holiday ideas.  The time has come to move past these sorts of conventions and truly make a difference in the film world.  At least Chip Rossetti and his team showed improvement after the creation of this film.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

The Messenger’s Box (Movie Review)

It’s magical!

Plot Summary

Jake Casper is just a random teenager who stumbles upon a magical box while cleaning out his late grandfather’s attic.  He discovers a magic nail inside that was used to piece the hand of Jesus.  Since it’s Christmastime, Jake decides to go around and heal people with the magical power of the nail, even the most evil bully in town, who’s dying in a hospital bed.  But will Jake and his friends be able to get past the security guards to save him?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The Messenger’s Box has plenty of issues, but at least the production is mostly average.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all mostly fine.  However, the soundtrack is generic, and sets, locations, and props are somewhat cheap, even though there is definitely effort here.  Some flashbacks have an odd quality about them, and there are some cheesy special effects.  The most obvious error here pertains to the very abrupt scene chances and transitions, like this film was chopped together in post.  Basically, though there is effort here, it still only comes out as average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

This film has one of the dumbest magical Christmas device plots ever.  Everything about it is extremely juvenile and overly dramatic.  Even with all of this, there is still not much content to speak of as not much happens outside of the magical elements and the awkward forced comedy sequences.  Most of the dialogue is very forced and scripted, and a majority of it focuses on the magical plot device and other insignificant asides.  Thus, this creates characters that are all fixated on either the magical ‘thing’ or on the dumbest sidebar topics.  Besides this, they come off as uninspiring and flat rather than accessible and realistic.  Essentially, whoever dreamed up this stupid idea of a film needs to seriously revamp their movie making process.

Acting Quality (0 points)

To match their characters, this cast is very robotic, stiff, wooden, and empty in most of their performances.  Emotions are basically non-existent as everything is either very dramatic or very matter-of-fact.  Line delivery is overly practiced.  Unfortunately, there is very little positive to say about this extremely cheesy film.

Conclusion

Gary Bosek and his team obviously did not think this one through very well.  Using Crystal Creek people as cast members is one thing, but basing your entire plot on a stupid ‘Bible’ magical device in a Christmas context is a completely worn out idea and is so juvenile that it has no place in Christian film.  This is just all wrong as a movie and should have been scrapped from the beginning.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

Coming Home [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

John works too hard as a doctor and never leaves time to be with his family, but the sudden death of his father at Christmastime forces him and his family, along with his extended family, to slow down and focus on what’s really important.  But getting back together also brings back old memories and reopens old wounds from the past.  John will have to wrestle with his old bitterness in order to face the future in a better way.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

From the dizzying opening sequence to the end of the film, this production uses a strange amount of skycam footage as the camera constantly moves around, even during scenes.  While video quality is okay, it is really the only good element of this film.  Many of the scenes utilize extremely natural lighting, and the sets are strange and filled with tons of Christmas decorations and prominently displayed Catholic imagery.  There aren’t really any locations to speak of.  Audio quality, for the most part, is overdriven, and the soundtrack is a generic holiday one.  Basically this is a very poor production, but unfortunately, the negative does not stop there.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Filled with trite Christian dialogue, Coming Home is extremely shallow yet still is very heavy with message-pushing.  This is not a good combination.  The characters are either very flat or bizarre, thus creating a lot of unintentional comedy.  Besides these obvious errors, there are plenty of Christmas clichés throughout this plot, and it really does not have a clear purpose.  It is a character-driven plot, yet the characters totally drop the ball due to very bad dialogue.  While there might be a good idea in here somewhere, it really does not come through at all.  The presentation is all wrong, which causes this section to not produce any points.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Much like the plot and characters, the cast members also come off as very bland and dry.  Lines are very robotic and are at times mumbled.  Emotions are blank and stone-faced.  Also, a lot of the makeup is poor throughout.  In the end, there is really very little good to say about this movie.

Conclusion

First-time films are hard to pull off most times, but there are definitely ways to make the job easier for yourself.  One way to do this is to make the plot very engaging through realistic characters and accessible dialogue.  You can also do this by having a really good background idea that drives the movie and by making sure it is presented well.  You can also work on assisting your cast to not come off so boring.  Yet unfortunately, Coming Home does none of this, thus leaving us with a poorly created film.

 

Final Rating: .5 out of 10 points

 

Silver Bells [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Bruce Dalt is obsessed with his job as a local sports anchor.  He is also obsessed with his son getting a good basketball scholarship.  However, he lets his emotions get the best of him when he gets angry at a referee who made a call on his son, Bruce finds himself in the middle of a public relations nightmare.  His media employer determines that he needs to complete community service before he can come back to his job.  Thus, Bruce is stuck ringing a Christmas bell for the Salvation Army.  Will he be able to learn the true meaning of Christmas?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Silver Bells is a typically professional PureFlix and UP production collaboration.  As such, there are few errors to note here.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is a bit too holiday-ish, but it’s fine.  Sets, locations, and props are also fine, albeit filled with Christmas stuff.  There are also a lot of Salvation Army ‘product placements,’ but at least this is a good ministry to promote.  Finally, there are some small editing issues to note, but on the whole, this is a model production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, despite the influence of Andrea Nasfell, this plot suffers from a bout of forced comedy and cardboard cutout characters, including a stereotypical over the top holiday-hating character that is forced to like Christmas throughout the course of the film.  Also, the holiday-hating character constantly reminds the audience of his unexplained cold attitude towards Christmas.  Thus, the Christian message is quite cheap.  There is unfortunately nothing truly creative in this plot as it seems like it was manufactured in a Christmas plot factory.  Any issues raised are too easily resolved, and even though the Salvation Army has some great causes, it’s not enough to save this story from itself.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Mostly, the lead cast members trying too hard to convince the audience of who their characters are, much like many PureFlix movies.  In doing so, they come off as very disingenuous and plastic.  However, there are plenty of good moments from the supporting cast members that help this section from being nothing.  Emotions are overall average throughout, thus rounding out a nearly-average film.

Conclusion

Films like this one can’t help but be seen as just one made on the assembly line of holiday inspirational films.  If you’re going to reuse an old plot concept, at least make it was accessible and believable characters that audiences can relate to.  As it is, Silver Bells just seems like it’s trying to check the boxes so it can be a packaged made-for-television film.  We need more creativity than this, but the good thing is that Andrea Nasfell has shown that she has the ability to do this when she is supported properly.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Journey to Paradise (Movie Review)

Love finds you in Paradise?

Plot Summary

Channel 7 News (?) radio station is looking for a new associate producer since they are a privately-run station or something.  Thus, when a mysterious man named Joe shows up to apply for the job, all the people at the station, who have nothing better to do, speculate as to why the young man is in town and who they can try to matchmake him with.  But will his secret past come back to haunt him and ruin his chances at love?  Probably not.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, Salty Earth Pictures has earned a reputation for putting together cheap productions.  While video quality and camera work are okay in Journey to Paradise, there is strange soft lighting throughout that make for an ethereal experience.  The stereotypical holiday soundtrack is accompanied by weird background sounds, which makes no sense, considering there are basically no outdoor locations in this film.  There are only a few sets as it is, and they are filled with dumb Christmas props.  Finally, as is to be expected, there is really no editing present, thus making for a very drab experience.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

At times, it seems like this film is a total joke due to its cheesy, eccentric, and annoying characters that are built with empty, plastic holiday romance dialogue.  All of the comedy falls flat and makes this movie seem like a total joke or a satire.  The storyline is ridiculously typical and predictable, like it was taken from those stupid Love Finds You books.  A majority of the time is wasted with meandering nonsense as the inevitable romance is kicked down the road with silly coincidences and conventions.  This romance idea of a random guy coming to a small town and being thrown together with the first available girl he finds and then having a falling out before getting back together thing has been done ad nauseum already.  Furthermore, the Christian message that is forced into this nonsense is extremely manufactured and almost laughable.  In the end, why movies like this are continually made is beyond me.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Much like the characters they are stuck with, these cast members are awkward and unsure in their line delivery.  Emotions are very plastic, not to mention the fact again that comedy is very forced.  Unfortunately, while it’s not likely this cast had much to work with, it’s still not a good experience.

Conclusion

In some ways, it seems like Salty Earth Pictures means well, but they don’t have a very good way of going about it.  For the most part, their films come off as juvenile and silly.  Mixing Christmas romance clichés with them presentation style is the worst.  If you want this sort of nonsense, watch Hallmark—at least they have better productions or something.

 

Final Rating: .5 out of 10 points

 

Surrendered: The Story of Jay Harding (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jay Harding is tired of the way some of his family members pretend like everything is okay in their lives.  He is tired of family not acting the way he wants them to, especially when his kids sing in the car.  He feels like he works hard at his small business to provide for his family, but he feels like nobody every appreciates him.  Therefore, he decides that the only way to fix his family is to buy a bigger and more expensive house.  Little does Jay know that he will have to learn to surrender before things will change.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Surrendered is unfortunately another one of those films that PureFlix picked up in their earlier days that probably should not have been distributed.  This production has too much shaky camera work, even though there is clear video quality throughout.  There are too many odd zooms.  Audio quality is also inconsistent, and the soundtrack is too loud at times.  Sets, locations, and props are cheap and limited.  Further, the editing is fairly choppy and makes for a confusing presentation of events.  Unfortunately, there is very little good to say about this film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

This story is dominated by an extremely immature character that, while it’s unfortunately realistic, only makes this plot a slightly embarrassing unintentional comedy.  While there may be a good message in here somewhere, it comes off as shallow and empty.  There are some ‘perfect’ Christian characters that are equally as annoying as the lead due to their overuse of platitudes.  Nearly all of the dialogue from all the characters is very juvenile.  As the storyline meanders along and tosses in some random Christmas concepts, there is tons of wasted time and heavy-handed narration to tie things together.  An attempt is made at the end to pull the film up from the nose dive, but this isn’t enough to mitigate the overall train wreck.

Acting Quality (0 points)

To match the absurd characters, the cast members of this film are equally over the top and amateurish.  Some are even obnoxious at times as they fully embrace their characters.  Emotions and line delivery are both forced, thus making for a painful experience.  As has been expressed, there is very little good to note about this film.

Conclusion

We can understand the desire to make a film about realistic, imperfect people, but Surrendered takes this a step too far and makes the entire experience miserable.  Making characters this annoying and giving the cast no direction whatsoever make for a doubly bad experience.  Films like this are fodder for unintentional comedy and only serve to further embarrass the name of Christian movies.

 

Final Rating: .5 out of 10 points

 

Elevator to Salvation (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

On Christmas Eve night, two random guys, one of them your stereotypical evil Christmas-hating workaholic, get stuck in a weird construction elevator that constantly goes up and down infinitely and keeps trying to show them all kinds of strange things like notes falling from the ceiling and creepy hands reaching through the elevator doors.  This seemingly endless ride has no purpose or function except to waste your time with another bizarre Christmas movie.

 

Production Quality (-1 points)

Faith House Pictures has had bad production in the past, but Elevator to Salvation is hands-down their worst to date.  There is nothing good about it, and it is actually quite offensive.  Video quality is bad, and camera work is terrible.  Audio is abysmal, and the soundtrack is weird.  There are no sets, locations, or props to speak of except for a poorly constructed elevator.  The special effects are medieval and annoying.  Finally, the editing is highly disorienting.  Essentially, this production joins the special ranks of those that earned negative points for being especially offensive, which makes us wonder why and how Faith House continually makes films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

But that’s not all that is annoying about this weird film.  The premise is not only trumped up and ridiculous, but it is also downright bizarre and creepy.  What’s the point of trying to force half-hearted horror elements into this?  There is really no sense of understanding what is even going on in this so-called story.  The dialogue is very wacky and absurd, thus creating off-the-wall characters, even though there are basically only two of them.  The psychological elements are poorly delivered, and the ending makes zero sense, just like the rest of the ‘plot.’  There is no question that this is the strangest and most off-putting Christmas movie ever, except for things involving Kirk Cameron and British Bible characters.

Acting Quality (-1 points)

Much like the other parts of this train wreck called a movie, the acting is very forceful and annoying.  Watching these people try to act is like undergoing a painful surgical procedure.  Every line is like fingernails stretching a chalkboard due to forcefulness, mumbling, and general awkwardness.  In the end, this rounds out a very eye-rolling and face-palming experience that should never, ever be repeated.

Conclusion

Faith House has had some real doozies in the past, but Elevator to Salvation really takes the cake.  It goes beyond the typical bad movie conventions and crosses into the territory of unreasonably terrible and offensive.  So if you’re looking for a good holiday film, steer clear from this one.

 

Final Rating: -3 out of 10 points

 

No Ordinary Shepherd (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Saul is a crippled shepherd boy who longs to meet the mysterious, miracle-working man all of Judea talks about.  Saul remembers the stories his father told him about being a shepherd and witnessing the heavenly host of angels tell him and his friends about the coming of the Messiah.  Saul’s father saw the baby Who was called the Messiah, and wondering if he could be the same miracle-working man everyone talks about.  Little does Saul know that he will be given an opportunity to see Him face to face.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though a lot of good effort was put into this short film, most notably the historically realistic props and locations, there are still some issues that keep it from being all that it could be.  There is too much soft light throughout, as well as one too many dark scenes.  The sets are also somewhat limited.  However, video and audio quality are fine, as well as the camera work and the soundtrack.  Also, the editing is surprisingly good, even though this is almost too short of a film.  In the end, this production shows good effort and is at least average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Sometimes it is better to just make one short idea to get started with film making.  An extended and protracted film can waste a lot of time and resources.  However, since this is such a focused movie with limited time, the characters need to be given a lot more intense attention.  They need to be more accessible rather than a collection of lofty Bible figures that use too much archaic dialogue.  Also, the use of narration should never be used as a crutch in a short film.  In the end, it is clear that this film means well and carries a good message, so the effort is definitely applaudable.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This cast starts out tending to be too theatrical in their delivery and not natural enough in their emotions.  However, there is some improvement throughout, even though the case members are not culturally authentic.  But perhaps this was all they had to work with.  The good thing is that the costuming is realistic and avoids looking like a Bible play.  Thus, this rounds out another average section that demonstrates good effort.

Conclusion

With three installments in this short film series, it seems like they could have been synthesized into one film.  Yet one can understand why a responsible film maker would begin their work with a short film—indeed, there are many films that should also be in the short film category.  Therefore, in the end, this is a commendable film that shows great potential for the future.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Let There Be Light [2017] (Movie Review)

Image result for let there be light movie

Plot Summary

Dr. Solomon Harkins is the rising atheist star bent on destroying the faith of many because of a personal tragedy he endured that tore his family apart.  However, one night while driving drunk, he wrecks his car and has a near-death experience that rocks his worldview and alters his life’s course.  Will he be able to grapple with the new reality he has experienced or will he turn his back on God forever?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Because Sean Hannity has put his money behind this film, its production quality is almost automatically professional.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all flawless.  However, the original soundtrack is a bit much at times.  Nonetheless, sets, locations, and props are all realistic, adequate, and appropriate.  Everything demonstrates great funding and execution—the only nitpicks to raise here pertain to some minor editing concerns, as the film is presented in a choppy fashion.  But in the end, this film goes to show what funding can do to even the worst of Christian films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, big money from a Fox News personality means big message-pushing from that personality’s unusual worldview.  Though there is a tiny amount of potential in this film, it is quickly squashed by Sean Hannity’s ego and his attempts to combat ISIS with a cellphone app.  Dialogue is mostly absurd as characters are required to make a certain number of ISIS references, not to mention advertise Sean Hannity’s ratings.  Besides this, there is too much of a strawman-atheist-has-a-conversion feel to this film and the character arcs are way too steep for reality.  Though there could have been something to this, it just boils down to a hair-brained idea thought up in the Fox News echo chamber.  This is pandering at its finest.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though this cast is mostly professional, it is hurt by over the top theatrics and forced emotional sequences, especially Kevin Sorbo doing his best David A. R. White as an atheist impression.  Granted, some of these lines leave the cast members hamstrung with no hope of making anything good out of it (“Like a selfie for God”).  Overall, the Sorbos do a decent job with this, and it’s great to see them star opposite each other for once.

Conclusion

What is one to do with Sean Hannity?  Struggling film makers need his money to make their films great again, but with money comes long strings attached.  We believe that the original idea of this film meant well—before Fox News product-placed it to death.  This is the age-old dilemma of Christian films (and ministries for that matter).  But money or no money, an idea as absurd as a cellphone app that hijacks your phone’s flashlight feature in order to combat ISIS (even in North Korea!) should never, ever be placed on the big screen.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

Chasing the Star (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Prompted by the celestial sign of the star, three Magi set out from their homeland to the land of Israel to discover the promised Messiah.  Each of them had their own backstory and struggles and they faced many trials and roadblocks along the way, mostly the attempted sabotage of the evil King Herod.  They also experienced spiritual warfare and spiritual awakening as a result of their journey across the desert, and they were never the same again.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though there are a lot of attempts in Chasing the Star to be a professional production, there are also some issues that hold it back from being all that it could be.  Video quality and outdoor lighting are great, but there is some random shaky cam for dramatic effect that puts a damper on things.  However, audio quality is fine and the soundtrack is intriguing.  Outdoor locations are very well constructed and utilized, yet indoor sets and props are cheap-looking and limited.  Finally, the editing makes the film very disorienting and confusing as the plot jumps all around.  In the end, this is a good effort, but it seems like more could have been done.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

As previously mentioned, this story tends to jump all over the place in a very confusing fashion that leaves the audiences isolated.  There is also a lot of cryptic, archaic, and even cumbersome dialogue that causes the characters to come off as stuffy and Shakespearean.  A lot of content is also very vague and hard to understand, although there are some interesting psychological elements.  This story tends to be overly artistic, but the use of spiritual elements is better than that of Forty Nights, even if they are still portrayed as too dramatic and sensational.  It’s great to explore spiritual warfare, but not enough time is spent on real and meaningful content, although there are some good attempts to develop the Magi through flashbacks.  Yet it’s still hard to access them as people due to their dialogue.  However, the last ten minutes of this film improve a lot and almost make the experience worthwhile.  Nonetheless, there are still a lot of improvements to be made here.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Similar to Forty Nights, some of these cast members act downright creepy, while others are simply too dramatic or too stuffy in their delivery.  There are too many reminders of a Bible play in this film, yet there is sometimes okay acting, especially from Garry Nation.  The costuming is a bit unusual at times, but it tends to work.  Overall, much of this movie is a mixed bag.

Conclusion

Chasing the Star is another unfortunate waste of an interesting idea.  We desperately need creative Bible stories that are focused on spiritual and psychological elements, but not like this.  They need to have slightly improved production and deeper character development in order to be worthwhile.  Yet DJ Perry and his team appear to be improving with each film they make, so it’s possible that they are on the verge of something great.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Altar Egos (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Pastor John Bridges inherits his father’s church, he is given huge expectations by the congregation, who is led by his suspicious and controlling stepmother, Mary Margaret.  John’s wife Betsy wants him to look for a better opportunity, but John wants to follow in his father’s footsteps.  However, when Mary Margaret leads a church revolt against John, he decides to take matters into his own hands and enlists the help of his theatre-guru son to help him create an alter ego to convince his stepmother to reconcile.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

For the obviously low budget that was provided here and other limited resources, this is a highly impressive production.  This is a key example of what we want first-time film makers to do: use everything you have to the fullest potential, even if it’s small.  Every aspect of the production of Altar Egos is highly professional and there are no errors here.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all flawless, even though there are both indoor and outdoor scenes.  The soundtrack is a little goofy but it works for the comedy genre.  Sets, locations, and props are all realistic and authentic and demonstrate care.  Finally, the editing is good, although there is only a small amount of plot content to work with.  In the end, this production could have easily been another Flywheel, but it wasn’t.  New film makers are raising the standard for the market.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As with most church comedies (and Christmas comedies for that matter), the plot of Altar Egos is fairly limited in scope.  It follows a predictable progression and isn’t really all that creative.  However, the characters are highly believable since the dialogue is well-written.  The comedy is subtle instead of obvious and is actually truly funny.  Yet the comedy does run its course.  Though the message presented in this film is good, this movie tends to overstay its welcome with one too many extended sequences and montages.  As previously mentioned, you can see the ending from the beginning, but nevertheless, like all comedies, the characters make this movie what it is, thus making it worth your time.

Acting Quality (3 points)

You can hardly ask for a better casting and acting job than this for a first-time film maker.  Robert Amaya assume his first lead role very well, and even Erin Bethea is good as a quirky side character.  Victoria Jackson is always hilarious when she’s cast as an unserious and goofy character.  The new cast members also add a lot to this film as each of them assume their characters very well.  Basically, comedy is made or broken by the acting, and this cast passed the test.

Conclusion

Once listed in the Box Office Revolution Movie Purgatory, Altar Egos has made a comeback and has risen to the top of the market, leaving behind other 2017 films that were better funded and marketed.  This just goes to show you what can happen when a film maker really cares about the movie they are making and takes time and effort to make it happen the right way rather than just any way.  Altar Egos demonstrates top-notch production, despite low funding, as well as superb casting and acting.  Though the plot is a little thin at times, effort is put into dialogue and character development.  All of this spells a bright future for Sean Morgan and his team—so far, he’s the best Liberty University has to offer in the writing and directing department.  They should consider using him for their future projects.  Regardless, this film is certainly worth your time.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points