Christmas Wander (Movie Review)

Christmas Wander | MovieTickets

Plot Summary

Amelia Pittman wanted to be independent, but trouble with her business, along with nursing home troubles, has forced her to reconnect with her father over the holidays in a most unconventional way. Believing that he has the key to finding a substantial sum of money that he stole when he was younger, Amelia drags her dementia-suffering father across the country in hopes of jogging his memory. However, what they find along the way isn’t what Amelia initially expected.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Despite a somewhat limited budget, Christmas Wander has an overall good production. Video quality, camera work, and audio are all at or above industry standards. The soundtrack is also creative as it uses typical Christmas music in unique ways. Sets, locations, and props are realistic, and the only concerns to note are some minor editing issues, such as awkward fadeouts and lagging scenes. However, on the whole, this production warrants a high score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Using a creatively comedic premise, this plot stands apart from your average Christmas movie fodder. The comedy therein is actually organic as it arises from the natural flow of dialogue, which also develops good characters, including motive and personality. Flashbacks are also efficiently used to craft realistic characters who are flawed and accessible. Though most of the storyline is initiated by character choices, some some slight coincidences keep the plot alive. Although the narrative as great themes and lessons, leading to characters learning something, the vague ending and slightly cheesy conclusion put a damper on the potential that was here. As the plot comes to a close, it tends to fall flat and lose its focus as if the writers ran out of ideas. This fact, combined with the convenient turns that keep the story alive, prevents this section from getting a higher score than it could have even though this narrative was a mostly enjoyable experience.

Acting Quality (3 points)

It’s clear that this film’s strongest point is its acting. The cast members are solid and honest in their performances without committing any glaring errors. Emotions are believable, and line delivery is on point. Thus, this rounds out a very good screenplay that could have been much better.

Conclusion

Christmas Wander had a lot going for it, and it’s still a good movie to watch. However, it’s hard to overlook how it could have been much more than it is. With a better conclusion and more clear direction for the characters, this would have been a Hall of Fame film. Nonetheless, it’s still a fine holiday screenplay and one that can be learned from.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

A Christmas Wish [2011] (Movie Review)

A Christmas Wish

Plot Summary

Martha Evans has been abandoned by her husband, so her only option is to pack up the kids and start a new life somewhere else. However, money is tight, so she’s forced to look for work along the way. She settles in a small town working at a struggling diner, but times are hard for everyone. Martha’s oldest daughter is intent on her mother finding the true meaning of Christmas, but will it be too late before Martha sees the light?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s clear from start to finish that A Christmas Wish has a well-funded production. Video quality, camera work, and audio are all on par with industry standards. Locations and props are good while sets only have a few minor concerns in them, such as being a bit too cluttered and cramped. Further, editing is fine save for a few small issues. Overall, however, this is a top-notch production worthy of a high score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

For a Christmas film, this plot actually contains accessible characters and struggles that can be easily related to. The people feel authentic and have believable motivations through good dialogue. Nonetheless, conversations could be a bit better and less expository, which would allow for deeper personalities in the characters. Similarly, the backstories need more comprehensive explanations, and there’s so much content that some of it takes place offscreen. Scenes and sequences aren’t as efficient as they could be, which is an issue when there’s so many characters and subplots to deal with. Side tangents distract from the main themes, making this feel more like a series than a movie. Wastes of time like these make it hard to understand why some of the characters quickly develop such close and personal relationships with one another, and some things randomly change without good reasoning. Despite some cheesy Christmas elements, the story contains a very accessible message about praying and not giving up no matter what. There’s still plenty of potential here even though the rushed conclusion fixes everything without logical buildup. Thus, at least one point is warranted here.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

In keeping with the well-funded nature of this screenplay, the acting is professional. Many of the cast members assume their characters very well, even if there are a few overdone performances. Despite a few awkward moments with lines and emotions, the acting is good enough to receive a high score.

Conclusion

As a whole, A Christmas Wish is a better version of a small-town plot due to the accessible quirkiness of the characters. It’s actually a shame that it’s not longer than it is. This begs the question why this wasn’t the pilot of a recurring TV series. The characters were enough to justify at least one season, and a Christmas special like this film could have garnered interest for it. However, instead of this idea, we’re just left with a good screenplay that’s awkwardly stuck between the terrible parts of Christian entertainment and the truly memorable creations.

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

Lucy Shimmers and the Prince of Peace (Movie Review)

Lucy Shimmers and the Prince of Peace | 2020 | Scarlett Diamond, Vincent  Vargas, Adam Hightower - YouTube

Plot Summary

Lucy Shimmers is dying of a terminal illness, and her parents are at a loss. Nonetheless, Lucy doesn’t view death as the end and wants to do everything she can do to make the most of her short time left. Thus, she decides to follow the dreams that she believes God has given her and reach out to other patients at the hospital, even those no one else cares about.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

This film’s strongest area is its professional production, which is demonstrated by great video quality, camera work, and use of sets, locations, and props. The audio quality is acceptable despite a generic soundtrack and some loud background sounds. Similarly, the editing is good although there are a few minor continuity errors. In the end, however, these concerns are small and don’t prevent a high score from being awarded here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The plot Lucy Shimmers is actually based on some fairly authentic characters who are built via intriguing dialogue and conversations, but this area could still be deeper than it is. One detracting aspects is the unusual magical elements of communicating with dead people, which the narrative relies on when it needs to. Also, the story seems to kick the proverbial can down the road trying to get to a certain point by spending time on wasteful montages rather than developing the characters further. This inefficient use of scenes is only compounded by some unrealistic HIPAA violations and ‘bad’ characters who seem too vindictive for no reason. Other implausible occurrences happen just because the writers want them to, and some character actions need better justification besides the desire to reach predetermined conclusion. As a whole, the plot seems to become more unrealistic as it goes, leading to a rushed finish that’s almost interesting because it’s different. Nonetheless, it leaves too many unanswered questions and wastes the potential that this movie had to present an out-of-the-box idea using mostly accessible characters and their struggles. Therefore, with some small positive that’s short-circuited by a lot of unforced errors, only a small score is warranted here.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As a whole, the acting in Lucy Shimmers is above average. Despite slightly muted emotions, the line delivery is believable. Some performances seem overly practiced, but others are spot-on. The acting tends to improve with time, allowing the positive to outweigh the negative and warrant a good rating for this section.

Conclusion

Screenplays like this one clearly mean well and want to offer an authentic message. However, with the market being saturated with these types of films, it’s hard for new ones to make an impact. Because of this overcrowded genre, movies like Lucy Shimmers have to go above and beyond to set themselves apart, which can be done through deep character development. Only then will they be able to truly make a difference.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

We Three Kings [2020] (Movie Review)

We Three Kings (2020) | Trailer | Rebecca St. James | Michael W. Smith |  Nise Davies - YouTube

Plot Summary

The Fay children have had a hard time ever since their mother died, but they can’t wait for their Uncle Henry to arrive for Christmas. He’s trying to add a scandalous new song to the church’s hymnbook despite the resistance he’s getting. The oldest Fay daughter is trying to organize the local Christmas pageant at church, which is what her mother used to do. Will everyone be able to accomplish these things in time for the holiday?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a whole, We Three Kings sports a professional production. This is shown by good video quality, camera work, and audio. Historical accuracy is also a big plus, as seen in the authentic sets, locations, and props. Essentially, there are no real errors in this section except for some minor editing concerns. However, this appears to be partially related to the plot. Thus, a high score is granted here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, it’s hard to follow this narrative at the beginning due to its substantial time jumps. This, combined with Shakespearean dialogue, hurts character development, making them seem very stiff and stilted. Scenes go from one thing to another without clear connection or direction, and conversations seem to go in circles and talk about the same things all the time. Because of this, it’s hard to connect with the cardboard cutout characters who never seem to have normal human reactions or emotions. For this reason, it’s unclear why should we care what these people are doing or going through. Therefore, despite the good use of source material, there’s hardly any potential in this plot, which is insufficient given that the story’s framework was already written for the creators.

Acting Quality (1 point)

To fit with the Shakespearean characters, the acting in We Three Kings is very theatrical. Many performances are too stilted due to overly practiced and enunciated line delivery. Additionally, emotions come off as mechanical and robotic. However, some of the acting is acceptable, and the historically authentic costuming is a plus. Nonetheless, the singing leaves something to be desired, which leaves this section with a meager rating.

Conclusion

Many more film makers need to be adapting historical accounts, but this movie is an example of how even that approach can go wrong. Taking shortcuts with writing and acting can easily derail even the best source material. Having a good idea isn’t enough; screenplays are very complex things that require a lot of effort and collaboration. Perhaps, one day soon, the Christian entertainment factory will finally produce quality over quantity.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Miracle on Christmas (Movie Review)

Amazon.com: Miracle On Christmas: Erin Bethea, Jason Burkey, Brett Varvel,  Micah Lynn Hanson, Kimberly Cruchon Brooks, Thomas Bonifield: Movies & TV

Plot Summary

Mary isn’t having a good holiday season: it’s been a year since her dad died, and now, Mary’s husband, James, has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Nonetheless, Mary wants to hide this from her mother and siblings, who are coming over for Christmas. On top of it all, James brings a total stranger, Harry, to the celebration. However, Harry turns out to be more than anyone thought and offers new hope during the hard times.

Production Quality (2 points)

At the very least, Miracle on Christmas meets the minimum requirements for modern productions. There aren’t many concerns to note here, and this section has many positives, including good video quality, camera work, and audio quality. The generic soundtrack leaves something to be desired, however, but the sets, locations, and props are acceptable. The main issues in this area pertain to continuity errors, cheesy special effects, and sparse editing. These seems to be evidences of a thrown-together creation, but this part of the film is still above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Using a stream-of-consciousness style of storytelling, this plot presents one thing after another without much continuity between scenes. It’s also hard to connect with characters as many conversations go round and round without accomplishing anything, and dialogue is generally inadequate at building characters. It goes without saying that the angel character is very creepy and overly focused on even though it’s unclear why he even needs to be there except to unnecessarily complicate matters. With no clear themes or central focus, this narrative is essentially a bunch of random scenes strung together, and it’s difficult to feel like the happenings are realistic. While the storyline drags on and on without proper payoffs, time is wasted on useless musical montages, angel monologues, and juvenile animations that accomplish nothing. Therefore, with no potential, zero points can be awarded here.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Although the acting of Miracle on Christmas isn’t all bad, there are many instances of very awkward acting. This include over-the-top and forced emotions as well as overdone line delivery. Several cast members are trying way too hard to either make themselves known or be very theatrical in their performances. Thus, this section rounds out an overall underwhelming effort.

Conclusion

Kevan Otto continues to randomly release low-quality screenplays without warning and without justification. This movie is just another installment in a long line of disappointments that further damage the reputation of Christian entertainment. With no clear direction or purpose, there’s really no reason why Miracle on Christmas should have been made, making it another example of why people continue to be suspicious of Christian creations.

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

The Gift of Christmas [2020] (Movie Review)

The Gift of Christmas (TV Movie 2020) - IMDb

Plot Summary

After George and Allen Barnett went across country to fulfill their father’s dying wishes, both brothers came back changed men. For the holidays, George asks him brother for a favor: bringing home the prodigal daughter of George’s friend. As such, Allen and the woman embark on their own cross-country journey of good deeds, learning a lot about each other along the way.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a whole, the production in this film is average. This is due to clear video quality yet inconsistent lighting: some shots are either poorly lit or overly lit. Camera work and audio quality are acceptable except for some background echoes, and a generic soundtrack sometimes covers up other sounds. There are also some obvious overdubs and continuity errors that seem avoidable. Further, the editing is passable, but some scenes linger too long. Thus, due to the mixed bag, a middle-of-the-road score is warranted.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Much like its predecessor, The Good Journey, The Gift of Christmas fails to adequately engage its audience. This is due to cardboard characters that are built with expository dialogue rather than the deep conversations that are needed to support a character-based plot. Vague and blank sequences don’t offer much interest, and many scenes simply waste time. Some concepts seem under-explained, and the overall messaging teaches that simply going to church fixes everything. Despite some slightly interesting ideas that are very slow to develop and somewhat aimless, the narrative wanders around until everything is magically fixed in the end. It’s hard to believe the resolutions, and it makes matters worse that the vague story doesn’t hold the attention. Hence, with no tangible potential, no points can be awarded here.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The acting of this is fairly vanilla. There aren’t any particularly bad performances to point to, but no standouts can be found either. At times, the emotions and lines are robotic and stilted. However, other times, the acting is acceptable. Thus, this run-of-the-mill section rounds out an overall underwhelming effort.

Conclusion

Did anyone really ask for a sequel to The Good Journey? Many audiences never even knew that the first movie existed, much less a Christmas installment. These two screenplays are the perfect example of making entertainment just for the sake of it. Some slightly interesting ideas were included, but nothing was enough to truly engage the viewer. Half-hearted attempts are still hurting the field’s reputation, which means we still need quality over quantity.

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

The Greatest Gift Ever Given (Movie Review)

The Greatest Gift Ever Given (2020) - IMDb

Plot Summary

Paul Hanson just wants to close a business deal before Christmas so that he can make the money that his family needs. However, one thing after another begins to go wrong on his business trip, and Paul becomes more and more angry at God. He’ll have to rediscover the true meaning of Christmas in order to move forward with his life.

Production Quality (1 point)

Like we’ve said many times in the past, poor production quality is no longer acceptable in 2020. However, The Greatest Gift Ever Given has this same problem. Though camera work and video quality are fine, audio quality is consistent. One example of this is the never-ending cheap soundtrack that rarely fits the situation. Elsewhere, sets and props don’t adequately represent what they’re supposed to portray, and locations are generally cheap and limited. Further, there’s basically no editing, which rounds out an overall underwhelming effort in this section.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Despite being a relatively short movie, many of the narrative’s conversations repeat over and over again like the writers just wanted to fill time with copied statements. Generic boring sequences waste time, and riveting activities of daily living bore the audience. Due to bland and unoriginal dialogue, characters lack substance or depth, swept along in a plot that makes things unnaturally happen because the creators want them to. However, despite these problems that make the story’s first half seem useless and cause the viewers to lose interest, some interesting concepts introduced in the second half, which is too late. This creates wasted potential because there was something good here that could have been further explored if done the right way. The plot’s writers obviously meant well but needed a lot of guidance on follow-through and presentation. Thus, despite some slight positive, the negative drags down this section too much to warrant any points.

Acting Quality (1 point)

As a whole, the acting in this film is vanilla. Sometimes, the cast members try too hard, but they are otherwise very regular and standard in their performances. Line delivery and emotions are a bit uneven and unsure at times, and some scenes feel very staged, but it’s not all bad. There are a handful of positive moments that keep this section above water.

Conclusion

It’s evident that this movie’s creators really meant well and had a pretty good message to offer. However, this is never enough. It’s easier to write than to make a full screenplay that’s quality. Perhaps a short film would have been a better option for The Greatest Gift Ever Given since this would have reduced the budget and provided better focus for the main ideas.

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

The God Cafe (Movie Review)

Amazon.com: the God café: Steve Brown, Joe Herrera, Jorge Diaz, Clint  Patterson

Plot Summary

When a worship pastor is facing a crisis in his marriage and his career, he feels like he’s at the end of his rope. The minister wonders if his faith is even real, which is why he’s suddenly visited by mysterious men who claim to be from history. They show the pastor what the true meaning of Christmas is, but the minister will have to decide for himself.

Production Quality (.5 point)

Starting off with odd lighting and tinted filtering, the production quality of The God Cafe is quite low. Cheap special effects and overlays clutter the viewing experience despite acceptable video quality. Sub-par audio is accompanied by a generic soundtrack. Limited sets, locations, and props are supplemented by embarrassing fake backgrounds, and some odd camera angles further contribute to this section’s problems. Additionally, the editing is marred by sudden and abrupt flashes and transitions, which disorients the audience. In the end, only a very meager score can be awarded here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Despite the fact that this plot is centered around the inherent problems with celebrity worship pastors (a pertinent discussion that needs to be had), it’s unclear why certain apostles from church history have to visit the protagonist to clear things up. What’s more, the story is frequently interrupted with random, out-of-context songs just because it’s a Christmas musical, I guess. Dialogue is basically a general regurgitation of Bible reading, making the story a long informational diatribe. As such, character development is thrown out the window in favor of a constant stream of facts and references to offscreen content. In the end, besides being a an alternate redux of The Perfect Gift, The God Cafe accomplishes next to nothing, which is the reasoning for zero points in this section.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Between forceful line delivery and manufactured emotions, this section is overall subpar. It seems the cast members are trying to be too interesting, which just comes off as annoying. As a whole, the performances are too theatrical, but there are some bright spots that keep the acting from being a total loss. The amount of positive is enough to warrant a point in this area.

Conclusion

Films like The God Cafe don’t even begin with a sound plot structure, just a vague idea that could be interesting. This isn’t sufficient for a Christian movie, so it’s long past time for collaboration to be the norm in the field. No one can make a movie on their own, and everyone has different talents to bring to the table. If God wants you to make a screenplay, He’ll supply the team and the resources that you need, so you don’t have to try to force more films to happen that will likely fail.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

Hope for Christmas (Movie Review)

Hope For Christmas (2018) #GLCFF2019 @GLCFF - YouTube

Plot Summary

Pastor Greg randomly wins a shopping spree for Christmas Eve, but this causes him to be late for the service he has to run because he and his staff get stuck in an elevator with a pregnant woman who suddenly goes into labor! Will they be able to get back to the church in time to help those in need?

Production Quality (.5 point)

With shaky cam and terrible special effects, the production of this film leaves a lot to be desired. Although video quality is fine and the audio quality is acceptable, the soundtrack is quite generic. Sets, locations, and props are very cheap and limited. Further, the editing is very weird due to the fact that some scenes are extremely short with shocking fadeouts. Other sequences drag on for no reason, so this section can’t be award more than half a point.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Much like Diary of a Lunatic: Trew’s Calling, Hope for Christmas brings up a lot of problems that exist within the American church establishment, but many of the satire and parody elements are bizarre and isolating. A lot of the plot elements are completely unexplainable as they either try way too hard to be funny or waste true comedic potential. The narrative lacks focus as it tries to explore an overwhelming amount of topics at once, which causes one thing to happen after another without continuity. Random instances happen for no particular reason, and there are simply too many characters and subplots. Obvious dialogue and conversations try to obsessively hammer the same concepts into the audience’s brains. However, this fact is even worse because the story is very purposeless and aimless. Hence, no points can be awarded here.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Surprisingly, the acting is the strongest aspect of this movie although it leaves much to be desired. Some cast members appear to be trying too hard in their performances. Lots of crosstalk muddles scenes; emotions and line delivery is mostly uneven across the board. However, not all is bad here, which is sufficient to warrant a point but not enough to save this screenplay from itself.

Conclusion

Greg Robbins and company always have something to offer, but their packaging is all wrong. It’s understandable and relatable to discuss the problems within the American church establishment. However, doing so in a such an offbeat way delegitimizes the message. This doesn’t even mention the fact that low quality films continually undermine the reputation of Christian entertainment. We’ve said this all before, and there’s nothing new this holiday season.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

Our Father’s Keeper (Movie Review)

Our Father's Keeper (2020) - IMDb

Plot Summary

When David Roberts is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, the entire family is forced to adjust. Two of his sons are at odds with each other due to the fact that one of them has a checkered past. David’s wife is forced to take a job to make ends meet. Thus, the already-strained family is pushed to the limit when David suddenly goes missing just before Thanksgiving. This forces the family to work together in order to find David before it’s too late.

Production Quality (2 points)

In keeping with the recent trends of Christian entertainment, Our Father’s Keeper has a professional production quality. This is shown by good video quality and camera work. The soundtrack is a bit generic, however, and the audio has some moments that could be better. Nonetheless, sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized. Perhaps this section’s biggest downfall is its choppy editing, which includes premature cutoffs and abrupt transitions. Moreover, despite the negatives, this production does enough to warrant an above-average score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

This film presents a very very intriguing story of the mental decline that can come about due to Alzheimer’s disease. It contains fairly realistic and accessible characters who are based on average or better dialogue. Many of them have, at minimum, partially developed personalities and motivations. However, at times, the narrative gets side-tracked on useless tangents, such as one too many side characters. Despite its creative undertones, the plot needs more fleshing out for tighter story telling. Elsewhere, there’s good subtle Christian messaging that restrains itself from being either heavy-handed or vague, but the main themes, which are very thought-provoking, come up a bit late in the game. At times, things occur that are too convenient for where the writers are trying to steer the story, and some scenes tend to fill time instead of doing something useful. This leads to a slightly rushed ending that tries to fix problems without good explanations, but it doesn’t diminish the fact that there’s plenty of potential in this screenplay.

Acting Quality (2 points)

One of this movie’s highlights is an excellent portrayal of tragic mental decline through the mode of acting. This is very difficult to pull off without being cheesy, but Craig Lindquist does well with this. While some cast members try too hard to force lines and emotions, most of them are either average or good in their performances. Despite inconsistent makeup work, there are many bright spots in this section that garner an above-average score.

Conclusion

Our Father’s Keeper is another film that needs a remake because of its high bar of potential that wasn’t adequately met. The raw creativity of this narrative was enough to set it apart from the run-of-the-mill noise with Christian entertainment, but a handful of errors kept it from being all that it could have been. Hopefully, in the coming days, this type of movie will be the worst that the Christian market has to offer. We look forward to seeing what this production team has planned next.

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

The Farmer and the Belle: Saving Santaland (Movie Review)

Movie – The Farmer and The Belle

Plot Summary

Belle Winters is a model who’s been told that she’s aging out of the business. Thus, she decides to revisit a place from her childhood to find the secret to true beauty, which she believes was found on a bracelet she left behind. However, when she returns, she once again crosses paths with the pen pal she thought forgot about her. In seeing him again, what Belle finds is unexpected.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Despite being average, The Farmer and the Belle isn’t quite good enough for a 2020 production. Video and audio quality are good, and sets, locations, and props are acceptable. However, camera work is randomly shaky at times. The generic soundtrack is sometimes too obvious for the situations it’s played in. Editing is quite choppy as some scenes cut off prematurely. Nonetheless, there’s some improvement as the film goes on, but it’s still just run-of-the-mill.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Surprisingly, this plot begins with good attempts to develop character motive via a flashback prologue. Though the often-expository dialogue leaves a lot to be desired, there’s actually a basic narrative focus, including obvious themes albeit slightly juvenile ones. The tongue-in-cheek comedy is sometimes funny and sometimes not. At times, things happen simply because the writers want them to, and convenient turns transpire simply to suit the story’s purposes. The middle of the plot wastes a lot of time, seemingly kicking the can down the road, and a few sequences seem too staged and forced to exist. Overall, there is some potential in this section, but the contrived nature of the narrative and the lack of strong characters holds it back from being all that it could be.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Due to the back and forth nature of this section, the final score comes out as average. At times, the acting is professional while other times, it isn’t. Line delivery and emotions are overall inconsistent. Some scenes are more dramatic than others, but it’s not all bad. In the end, this mixed bag caps off an mostly underwhelming effort.

Conclusion

Movies like Saving Santaland are neither bad enough to be remembered nor good enough to be upheld. In the end, this screenplay is likely to fall into the same bin with other forgettable Christmas offerings that clamor for the attention of audiences. It’s definitely possible that holiday films are more likely to be viewed, so why not give the watchers something to remember rather than forget?

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

The Least of These: A Christmas Story (Movie Review)

Image result for the least of these a christmas story

Plot Summary

Rose and Katie have been homeless ever since escaping from an abusive relationship, and Rose struggles to make ends meet for her and her daughter. Working as a waitress at a local diner causes her to cross paths with Charlie, who acts as a Salvation Army Santa Claus just outside the restaurant. However, while their friendship gets off to a rocky start, Charlie feels like God wants him and his wife to reach out to the single mother who’s fallen on hard times. Together, they all discover what it truly means to help the needy at Christmastime.

Production Quality (2 points)

The production of The Least of These starts out a bit rough with some cheap sets, props, and locations as well as some inconsistent lighting. There are also some awkward cuts, fade-outs, and slight continuity errors in the beginning. However, the production does improve as it goes, which suggests a positive change of direction. This includes demonstrating good camera work and video quality throughout. Also, the audio quality is great, including a well-constructed soundtrack. Further, all other elements that were previously below par show marked improvement by the film’s conclusion, which helps this section get over the average mark.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

From the beginning of the narrative, The Least of These takes a rare look at little-considered Christmas themes like the connection between the concept of Santa giving gifts to good children and following a works-based religion. Neither of these ideals holds up when someone is homeless due to fleeing an abusive situation. Elsewhere, the writers put forth realistic attempts to present some problems there are with traditional Christmas ideas while at the same time showing the authentic struggles of real people. This includes giving actual attention to detail of how the working homeless population functions on a daily basis and of how Christians can practically assist them if God prompts them to do so. As a whole, the plot feels like it’s based on real happenings of real people, and the dialogue definitely aids this pursuit. However, the storyline isn’t without its flaws; it can be a bit slow at times, and it struggles to hold the audience’s attention. Though the story is definitely trying to be real, some scenes feel like unnecessary filler, and the ending is basically typical. Also, the Christian message can be a bit muted at times, even though this isn’t always bad. In the end, this screenplay shows tons of potential for future projects, especially character-based explorations, so it will be interesting see what a little collaboration can do for this creative team.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As a whole, the acting isn’t bad at all as many of the cast members appear to be really striving to do their best in assuming the roles of the characters. While they are not always dynamic in their performances, they are mostly professionals and do well enough in emotional portrayals and line delivery. Moreover, this section is kept from being perfect by some isolated scenes where the acting is very awkward and some makeup that is a bit crazy a times. Nonetheless, this section rounds out a commendable and honest effort, which is all we ever ask for.

Conclusion

For future projects, this creative team would definitely benefit from further collaboration to enhance their talents. Also, creating a series may be a better way to showcase their characters and to more efficiently use their budget. In summary, The Least of These is an average movie

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Joseph, Close to Jesus {Joseph of Nazareth} (Movie Review)

Image result for joseph of nazareth movie

Plot Summary

Joseph never chose to be the earthly stepfather of the Messiah, but by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, he accepted his role to take care of Mary and the Christ Child for as long as God wanted him to. Joseph was there before, during, and after the birth of Jesus, so he had a unique perspective on Yahweh’s plan to save humanity from sin.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Like many other Lux Vide\Trinity Broadcasting Network biblical presentations, the production of Joseph, Close to Jesus is typically fine. It has authentic sets, locations, and props, along with good video quality and audio quality. As a whole, it seems realistic even though the action scenes sometimes employ wild camera work and though some shots are unnecessarily close. The soundtrack is a bit generic and dramatic at times, but most aspects of this production are acceptable. The editing sometimes leaves something to be desired due to some lagging scenes and quick cuts, but on the whole, this is at least an average effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

From start to finish, Joseph of Nazareth adopts a very quick and forceful plot progression as the story is forced forward at a breakneck pace that doesn’t let things naturally develop or allow time for characters to be deepened. Besides this poorly constructed premise, Joseph comes off as a basically perfect and all-knowing character even though he appears a bit crazed at times. In focusing on his inaccessible qualities, some key biblical scenes are brushed over or portrayed in extremely vague ways, which confuses the audience. Other scenes are very muted and blank, and dialogue in general leaves much to be desired. Elsewhere, there are a handful of fantastical and ethereal elements that cause spiritual themes to be painted either in a magical light or as untouchable. In summary, the combination of the speedy storyline and the general oddness of some of the characters and plot points prevents this section from having any points.

Acting Quality (1 point)

While some cast members appear to be culturally authentic, many of them, especially the lead ones, are not and obviously belong to cultures other than those who lived in first century Judea. Moreover, while the costuming of all characters is fine, the acting is extremely theatrical and dramatic. It feels like many of them are putting on a play rather than trying to become the characters, which further gives this film an air of elitism and other-worldliness. Further, emotions are inadequately depicted, and some lines are very forced, which rounds out a disappointing effort.

Conclusion

Joseph, Close to Jesus had a lot going for it since it promised to provide a unique perspective on the Nativity and on Jesus’ early years. However, it committed many unforced errors and was more devoted to making the Bible seem like a Shakespearean experience rather than a Spirit-inspired historical account that still has profound application for us today. Unfortunately, this was the case for most Scriptural entertainment prior to The Passion of the Christ. Thankfully, in recent years, God has provided the market with better options for accessible biblical depictions of the First Christmas on both the big screen (The Nativity Story) and the small screen (The Chosen). These offerings are much more interesting for your family to enjoy this holiday season.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

A Christian Carol (Movie Review)

Image result for a christian carol movie stan severance

Plot Summary

Carol is a businesswoman in pursuit of high-level success, and she totally hates Christmas and religion in general. She wishes no one would ever celebrate the holiday, but one night, she’s visited by three angels who aim to change her mind about the season. Will she see the error of her ways before it’s too late???

Production Quality (-2 points)

It’s very difficult to express how bad this production actually is as it commits some very unforced errors. For one, the lighting is either very dark, much too bright, or soft and distracting. Shaky camera work is consistently present, and audio quality is quite poor, which is evidenced by background sounds, echoes, cheesy sound effects, obvious overdubs, and a cheap soundtrack. It goes without saying that other special effects are horrible, including awful CGI that tries to cover up the fact that the budget wasn’t adequate enough to support historical settings. In a similar vein, the sets, props, and locations are very low quality as things don’t portray what they’re supposed to portray. Further, the editing is bad, which rounds out a negatively rated production that seemed to go out of its way to demonstrate ineptitude.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

From the get-go, the story is hampered with childish narration and tripped up with the worst strawman characters that don’t exist in a Timothy Chey movie. The narrative’s entire premise is based on a first-world problems message of contrived religious persecution at Christmastime, including an unrealistic portrayal of people being forced to work on Christmas Day. Dialogue and conversations are very unsubstantial and don’t do enough to prevent this section from going in the red due to its hard-to-believe outlook on reality. The plot is typically constructed according to the original Christmas Carol storyline, which isn’t bad in and off itself. However, creativity and authenticity are greatly lacking in A Christian Carol. Further, the end of the film randomly pivots to Rapture fear-mongering that doesn’t fit with the rest of the tale. In summary, a lack of real-world portrayals derails this idea before it ever gets off the ground.

Acting Quality (0 points)

To round out an embarrassing effort, the acting is mostly forceful with a lot of overly practiced and unnatural lines. Emotions cannot be felt, and cast members are not adequately coached. Though they didn’t have much to work with, they don’t assume the characters very well, and there’s unfortunately nothing positive to note here, which is why it warrants zero points.

Conclusion

It’s admirable to want to make a small church film, but something that’s this low quality does not need to be released to the public. Budgets can be tight, but does that really mean you need to force a movie to happen? There are so many things that go into making a good film, and making another awful one is not only crowding the market but further hurting the reputation of Christian entertainment. Please make sure God actually wants you make the movie you want to make…sometimes, it requires waiting for the right time to come.

Final Rating: -3 out of 10 points

Christmas Princess (Movie Review)

Image result for christmas princess up movie

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

Christmas Manger (Movie Review)

Image result for christmas manger movie

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)

Image result for beyond the farthest star

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)

Image result for silent night 2012 christian movie

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)

Image result for maggie's christmas miracle

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)

Image result for my first miracle movie

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)

Image result for secrets in the snow

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)

Image result for my broken horse christmas

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