The World We Make (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

The Grove family has had their share of heartache over the past few years, but family friend Jordan Bishop has always been a constant support for them. However, the dynamics begin to shift when Jordan and Lee begin to develop a relationship after the grief seems to settle. Many discourage them from getting involved, and the small town seemingly works against their being together. Together, they experience unexpected prejudice and bias while discovering that they had more hiding below the surface than they previously realized.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a 2019 film, The World We Make is the type of respectable production we should be seeing time and again. There are very few flaws to point out here save for the slightly awkward editing near the end of the film (likely due to large story scope). Camera work, video quality, and audio quality are all basically flawless even though most scenes are filmed outdoors. The sets, locations, and props are extremely authentic and well-utilized; on-location shooting is definitely a big plus. Although the soundtrack could be a bit more than it is, this is a very high-level effort for a partially low-budget film, which goes to show what a little experience and proper collaboration can do for a movie.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Brian Baugh has always been committed to developing raw and real storylines based on accessible characters (I’m Not Ashamed). While The World We Make is one of his calmer tales, it’s nonetheless refreshing and believable. While the scope of this story may be a bit narrow, it’s nonetheless true-to-life and demonstrates great understanding of real people. The central romance is deeper than what we usually see in these types of films because it feels more believable and everyday. There are some very important themes explored, including grief avoidance, small town prejudice, and racial ostracizing. Characters make realistic decisions based on personality and motive rather than on plot necessity, and the storyline has a few slightly unexpected turns. As a whole, this is a very enjoyable plot to witness, and while it could have been a bit better since the ending is fairly rushed and somewhat cutoff, it’s still great as it is, which is enough to push this film over the top and onto the Hall of Fame.

Acting Quality (3 points)

There are virtually no flaws in the acting department. Caleb Castille owns another starring role, and Kevin Sizemore adapts a unique character that suits him. Gunnar Sizemore is a supporting role, but he could be a new rising star. Further, Gregory Alan Williams demonstrates a much more effective role than he’s played in the past. Overall, there is clear acting coaching present here as emotions and lines are authentically delivered, which rounds out a very commendable effort.

Conclusion

Although The World We Make could have been a bit more dynamic than this, it mostly reaches its fullest potential as a film. There are a few nitpicks, but in the grand scheme of things, Brian Baugh is continually setting himself apart as a master of characters, which seems to give him a better proclivity for series writing rather than movie writing. Indeed, not counting this year, we’ve had a longstanding drought in Christian series, so with new opportunities coming available (VidAngel), we may be poised to seeing a breakout in creators like Baugh directing their talents toward series rather than only films. Regardless of what happens, The World We Make is another good addition to the Hall of Fame and is one you’ll definitely want to make time for.

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

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God Bless the Broken Road (Movie Review)

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I need a loan from the pawn shop!

Plot Summary

When Amber’s husband is killed in an overseas bombing while on tour in the Middle East, her entire life seems to come apart piece by piece. She struggles to support her and her daughter in a small town because she obviously didn’t get any military benefits from the government. She also pushes everyone away and doesn’t go to church anymore, but thankfully, a semi-bad-boy race car driver has crashed in town because he needed some time off from doing whatever it was he was doing before. This gives him time to do stuff with all the kids in town, which is where he becomes obsessed with Amber’s daughter and eventually Amber herself. However, Amber still is struggling financially to the point where she needs an old-fashioned loan from the pawn shop. Will the madness ever end?

Production Quality (2 points)

As per usual for most recent Harold Cronk and PureFlix productions, God Bless the Broken Road has a fine, generic one to offer with nothing particularly special or negative about it. The sets, locations, and props are somewhat limited, but camera work, video quality, and audio quality are all fine. The vanilla soundtrack leaves something to be desired, and the editing is poor because of the nature of the story, but on the whole, this is a fine attempt. However, this brand of production is also becoming very common place in Christian entertainment, so it’s time for deep-pocketed outfits like PureFlix to show us a little something more.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-2 points)

Regardless, any good this film has to offer is totally negated by the total nonsense of this plot. At times, it feels copied from a Karen Kingsbury novel since this idea has been done so much before, but it’s actually worse because of the logical inconsistencies and flimsy premise. Too many unrealistic things happen that don’t appear to be rooted in reality, and this makes a mockery of real problems people may face in life. Most of the scenes are cheesily forced to convey a certain point in typical PureFlix Obvious style. An example of this is an old standby: awkward sermonizing of lessons they want the audience to be force-fed. Another instance is shown through the most generic dialogue and conversations that were surely purchased (or stolen) from Acme Stock Dialogue, Inc. The characters are just pawns in the inevitable progression of the plot as convenient turns happen to drive home certain agendas. Perhaps the worst part of it all is the fact that every horribly overused inspirational cliche is car-crashed into this one epic fail of a film…an exploration of how this is done would require a completely separate analysis. As a whole, God Bless the Broken Road is just another example of PureFlix Drama wherein every scene has to be an emotional climax as the characters are just extremely stereotyped caricatures designed to represent issues rather than people. If you’re looking for a corny Christian movie all-in-one deal, this one will be worth your money and time. Otherwise, avoid it like the plague.

Acting Quality (1 point)

While plastic white people take center stage to bore us with bland performances (in their defense, they weren’t given much to work with in the line department), better cast members are forced to take backseat as they watch the madness unfold before them and likely wonder when they’ll ever make a big enough break to no longer be trapped in PureFlix World. Main cast members come off as dead-faced and emotionally blank a lot of the time, which makes the forced emotional climaxes of the plot even worse. In the end, there’s some good here, but this sections rounds off an overall unacceptable effort in today’s Christian entertainment world.

Conclusion

If we wanted the sappiest, most unrealistic Hallmark film we could find, we would watch this film because it at least isn’t constantly interrupted by drug commercials. But who’s got that kind of time? Instead, let’s hope films like God Bless the Broken Road will become less and less commonplace as Christian audiences demand more quality from Christian entertainment creators. We’ve finally gotten to where above-average productions are commonplace, so it’s time to let the writers be the writers when it comes to screenplays.

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

Maggie’s Christmas Miracle (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

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

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

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

Acting Quality (2 points)

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

Conclusion

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

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Born to Win [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Leon Terblanche was always told by his father that he would never amount to anything.  When he and his mother fled the abuse of his home only to abandon him at a hotel, Leon found himself as the only white child in a segregated African community during apartheid in South Africa.  However, the government discovered him there and took him away to be passed from home to home before he was able to strike out of his own and begin working for the railroad.  During his whole life, Leon was always angry and resentful towards his father, even after he married and began a family of his own.  He medicated this anger with alcohol, but when everything hit a breaking point, he was forced to choose between his own ways and the ways of the God he always pushed away.

Production Quality (2 points)

Despite their landmark production Faith Like Potatoes, Global Creative Studios did not have as much production success in Born to Win.  The video quality, camera work, and action shots are fine in this film, and the audio is fairly good, but there are several other issues to contend with.  While sets, locations, and props are sometimes fine and realistic, there are some very obvious fake backgrounds that put a damper on things.  Plenty of time and effort was put into this production, including a good soundtrack, but there are a handful of small things that hold it back from being all it could be.  The most glaring problem that hurts the film is the severely choppy editing, and this is also related to the plot problems.  Moreover, this production is mainly above average, but it’s still a letdown after the success of Faith Like Potatoes.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Frans Cronje and his team have always been committed to telling the great and true stories of real people with real struggles, and this commitment is still evident in Born to Win.  However, despite the great source material, the presentation of it is quite poor.  This is most notable due the extreme amount of heavy-handed narration that greatly hurts character growth and plot development.  The narration is mainly used to plug up the plot holes created by the breakneck time jumps that are present in the story.  These two factors combined make it nearly impossible for characters to develop as the dialogue is stunted and choppy.  Despite the little time available, there are still lots of wasted scenes, and though there is plenty of content to work with in the real story, there is little to no story organization as it jumps from one thing after the next.  Too much ground is attempted to be covered without the effective use of flashbacks or actual dialogue.  The lack of substantial dialogue and character development makes it very difficult to appreciate the otherwise meaningful struggles of the characters due to the wasted time and large gaps, and viewers are told things that are hard to believe due to poor development.  Unfortunately, it all boils down to a flat ending with little meaning because of this.  It’s too bad because there was tons of potential here for a great message to be shared.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Though the acting appears to begin well, it tends to get worse as the film goes on, especially as cast members are forced to play multiple age brackets that they are not exactly suited for.  Line delivery and emotions can be awkward at times, and there is an overall need for more coaching.  There are times when emotions are lines are too forced, and there are one too many scenes of poorly executed yelling and screaming.  Overall, this caps off a mostly disappointing effort that had so much going for it.

Conclusion

The Cronje creative team has definitely shown the height of their potential, but it’s possible they tried to do too much on their own in Born to Win.  Faith Like Potatoes obviously had a better collaborative effort behind it, which is an important lesson to learn in film making.  One success does not equal constant success; it’s something has to be continually worked for, and it’s definitely not easy.  However, it’s totally worth it in the end, especially when you have good stories that need to be told.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Unbroken: Path to Redemption (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After surviving months being stranded at sea and being tortured in a cruel Japanese prison camp, Louis Zamperini was finally returned home as a war hero.  His family celebrated his safe return, but little did anyone know that the war still raged in Louis’ mind.  His lead torturer, The Bird, never left his dreams, and hate burned inside of him.  Louis decided to drink to cover up the madness in his head, but this got him into trouble, so he was given a chance to start over on a vacation in Florida.  It was there that he met his future wife, and he felt like his life was finally in a good spot.  They married soon after, but the war did not cease in Louis’ mind as it continued to rage and push his marriage to the brink.  There was only one way to end the war–only if Louis was willing to surrender.

Production Quality (3 points)

Harold Cronk has had decent productions in the past, but he and his team really went all out for this one.  They obviously put a lot of time and effort into crafting extremely authentic and historically accurate sets, locations, and props.  This is not just another cheesy PureFlix ripoff because time and money were spent on attention to detail and one making it look real.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are also extremely professional, but these should be a given in higher budget films like this one.  Further, the soundtrack of Unbroken: Path to Redemption is very impactful as Cronk made a wise decision to depart from the typical Will Musser soundtrack PureFlix films usually have.  Finally, the editing in this film is very good as it handles a large amount of content very well.  In summary, this is a rare find as a perfect PureFlix production, and it is definitely a breakout film for Cronk and his team.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Despite what some critics may say, it was an excellent idea for this film to pick up where the Hollywood version left off because this second half of the story is much better than the first.  Hopefully, this film launches Christian entertainment into a new era of effectively using source material to produce great films.  The time jumps in Unbroken: Path to Redemption are handled very well without narration, and the dialogue is very well-crafted and well-constructed in order to build the characters into real, accessible people.  It goes without saying that the psychological elements in this film are exquisite and are perhaps the best in Christian film to date.  The use of flashbacks is wonderful, and the portrayal of PTSD is very accurate and on point.  Further, the plot progression is handled well, and the messaging is effective without being too over the top.  The only issues to raise with this plot relate to some slightly wasted time at the beginning of the film that is felt later when the ending comes off as a bit rushed, but this is really nitpicking because the story is presented very well and is definitely a breath of fresh air to Christian entertainment.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

It was absolute genius to cast Will Graham as Billy Graham in this film, and this is the sort of expertise we need to see more of in Christian films as we hopefully progress to a new era of Christian entertainment.  Elsewhere in this film, the acting is slightly awkward in the first few scenes, as if they were test scenes, but the acting quickly and dramatically improves as time goes on.  Samuel Hunt has a surprise breakout role as Zamperini, and he does a great job playing multiple different roles as the same character.  Conversely, Merritt Patterson cements a great role as the lead actress in this film.  Overall, each cast member owns his or her respective role very well and seems very comfortable in it.  This rounds out an excellent movie that is definitely worth your time.

Conclusion

Unbroken: Path to Redemption earns an x-factor point for portraying psychological elements very well and for having re-watchability qualities.  Much like Jon Gunn did in The Case for Christ, Harold Cronk and his team have found a new voice by effectively adapting source material into Christian film.  This is exactly what we need to be seeing more of by letting someone else take the screenwriting duties.  Building an authentic production and casting great actors and actresses is also key to success.  Unbroken: Path to Redemption will have far-reaching effects and is definitely worth your time to go see.

Final Rating: 9 out of 10 points

Forever My Girl (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Liam and Josie were in love all throughout high school, and many felt like they were destined to be together forever.  However, when they were on the verge of pledging their lives together forever, Liam experienced several life-changing moments.  First, his mother died suddenly, and Liam was discovered as a country artist and became successful almost overnight.  Thus, Liam left Josie behind without saying goodbye.  Now, after several years of fame and success, Liam has gotten into trouble with his drinking habit and has been advised to lay low for a while.  Thus, he returns to his hometown to live with his father, who is a pastor, and Liam is shocked at who he finds waiting for him there.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a modern, standard inspirational film, Forever My Girl checks all of the right production boxes.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is a bit generic and uncreative, but the sets, props, and locations are all realistic, appropriate, and professional.  The only other minor issue to point out here is the fact that the editing isn’t the best it could be, but as a whole, this is a very high quality production that we have come to see as commonplace in recent Christian films, and it’s a trend we definitely need to see continue.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though it is based on a novel, Forever My Girl unfortunately follows a predictable and stereotypical storyline that has been done many times before.  The return-to-hometown plot has many different iterations, and this one is just the star-returns-to-the-hometown version.  However, the presentation of this predictability is not entirely annoying and does make some good attempts at being realistic, such as a good attempt to explore family systems and some general efforts to create believable characters and situations.  Even so, the characters need to be a bit deeper through better dialogue, and the main character’s inevitable arc is a too steep.  Nevertheless, the message of the movie is fine, and many audiences will find it to be a good movie.  It’s definitely ten times better than your average Hallmark throwaway.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though the lead actor and the lead actress seem confused and uncoached a lot of the time, the rest of the cast members make up for their deficiencies.  It’s unclear whether or not their characters are meant to be written that way, but it seems like the lead cast members could have contributed a bit more than they did.  However, the other members of the cast demonstrate great line delivery and realistic emotions, which is enough to bring this section over the average mark.  As a whole, this movie is good enough to be watchable.

Conclusion

It is definitely good idea to model movies after novels; if a film like this had not had a story written for it in a book, it likely would have been much worse.  This is definitely a practice we need to see more of on the coming days.  Hollywood has already figured out that using source material is the key to successful entertainment, so it’s time for Christian film makers to follow suit because if they put their minds to it, they can definitely do it better.  There is plenty of Christian source material to use, so it’s a great chance to keep using it.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Summer of ’67 (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In the years of the Vietnam War, families faced many different unique challenges posed by the international conflict.  Milly and Gerald have recently been married, but they have been forced to live with Gerald’s eccentric mother due to financial challenges.  Milly’s sister Kate is torn between the pro-war and anti-war efforts due to her mother’s past suicide.  When Gerald and Kate’s on-and-off boyfriend Peter are called to the war front for various reasons, Milly and Kate must both live with Gerald’s eccentric mother Joanna as the world around them seems to be falling apart.  Together, they must rekindle the faith they were always taught in order to make it through.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Sharon and Fred Wilharm of Mainstreet Productions have always had a commitment to building authentic productions.  Summer of ’67 is no exception, as they demonstrate a clear attention to specific historical detail in the props, sets, and locations.  Video quality and camera work are also quite professional.  Audio quality is mostly fine as well, although the soundtrack can sometimes be too loud and somewhat out of place.  As they are still transitioning from making silent films, some adjustments like this can be expected.  Also, the editing can be a bit choppy at times, which can cause the story presentation to be confusing.  Overall, with just a few more tweaks, the Wilharms are very close to mastering professional productions, especially those in need of historical authenticity.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, as Mainstreet Productions used to only make silent films, the plot of Summer of ’67 is not really what it could be.  It comes off as a loose collection of ideas that need better synthesis and organization.  The good thing is that the story does unfold without narration, but some of the dialogue is slightly expository.  Outside of a few interesting conversations, unfortunately, the dialogue does not do enough to build the characters as people.  Some scenes are too short and not explained very well, and time seems to jump from one thing to the next without very clear coherency or organization.  Thus, a lot of the characters come off as shallow, even though they have potential, and a lot of story ideas seem unfinished.  While the ending is very interesting and realistic, the lead-up is not quite enough to hold the attention of the audience.  Overall, it’s clear that the Wilharms really care about trying to making great films; they are just not quite there yet in the plot department.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Another adjustment from making silent films is obviously going to be acting coaching.  While this cast is mostly fine and has a lot of potential, there are one too many scenes where the cast members don’t appear to know what they are doing.  Some of the acting is too stilted and robotic in both line and emotional delivery.  As a good note, this might be Mimi Sagadin’s best role, but she needed a bit more screen time than she was given.  On the whole, this section is mostly average.

Conclusion

We know that the Wilharms really do mean well in their films, and the historical authenticity of this production has great value.  It’s definitely going to be an adjustment to move from silent to non-silent films, so growing pains are to be expected.  However, since the Wilharms have always been committed to improving however they can, we believe that Summer of ’67 is something that can be built off of for future improvement.  Perhaps next time, if a more substantial plot is crafted, the next Mainstreet film could be Hall of Fame.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Samson [2018] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Samson was chosen to be a judge of Israel by Yahweh, but he did not always do as he was supposed to do.  He was anointed by God with superhuman strength when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, but when he disobeyed, there were serious consequences.  God used Samson to deliver His people from the oppressive Philistines, and He used an imperfect man to accomplish His will in the most extraordinary ways.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

PureFlix has clearly come a long way since the abysmal production days of The Book of Esther and the half-hearted production of movies like Apostle Peter and the Last Supper.  This newer rendition of Samson boasts a surprisingly high production quality, which is manifested in gritty and realistic elements that are not afraid to make the characters get dirty.  Action scenes are filmed very well with good camera work.  Video quality is crisp, and sets, locations, and props are very well-constructed and culturally authentic.  The editing is also good, but this production is held back from being all that it could be by weird cuts and dramatic zooms that are reminiscent of Revelation Road and by very obvious CGI architectural shots.  However, on the whole, Samson is a huge step forward for PureFlix Bible productions.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Right off the bat, the plot of Samson is hamstrung by immediate and unwanted narration.  Accompanying this story crutch is a typically PureFlix ‘creative license’ that they give themselves to do whatever they want with historical narrative.  As this film was shamelessly pushed as a ‘Christian superhero’ flick, it is full of mostly mindless action scenes and is actually quite violent for a Bible film–even rivaling The Bible miniseries for gory content.  With so many battle scenes and bodies flying around, there is no room for character development as dialogue is instead used to fill time, dump information, and force the story along in the direction the writers wanted it to go in.  In molding the story however they wanted, the PureFlix collective whitewashed the obvious mistakes of Samson the historical figure and made this movie into some kind of romance-revenge plot.  However, in some ways, they made some interesting connections between the true events of Samson’s life, which keeps this section from being zero, but they took too much ‘creative license’ with historical fact to be acceptable.  Regardless, we have no idea who Samson is as a character due to massive time jumps, and the recurring villain character is beyond cheesy.  In the end, plot was basically tossed by the wayside in the making of this pandering film.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Somewhere out there, there is a Christian movie consultant who constantly advises film makers to cast BRITISH people as Middle Eastern characters.  Sure, Middle Eastern cast members can be somewhat difficult to find, but what is the idea behind casting people with such obviously culturally inauthentic accents?  I’m sure with this budget PureFlix could have found some authentic cast members.  This consistent problem aside, the acting of this film is mostly fine except for the overly dramatic moments and forced emotions that are apparent here.  Also, it goes without saying that PureFlix consulted with Timothy Chey on how to give PhilistIne characters the worst possible makeup jobs.  On the whole, this section is average.

Conclusion

What to do with another Bible film?  Samson fulfills the gritty category, and the production is fine, but the other categories are greatly lacking in what is needed.  With a budget this big, better cast members could have been employed and better screenwriters could have been retained.  Then again, it’s doubtful that PureFlix actually cares about making a truly quality film.  Samson was just another attempt at a cash grab–PureFlix adapts with the times as needed to do the bare minimum to get enough audiences to pay for a ticket.  Now most people have forgotten this film even happened.  Oh well.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

I Can Only Imagine (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Bart Millard always loved to sing, but he grew up in a broken home.  His mother left while he was young, and his father beat him and told him he would never amount to much.  When Bart failed high school football due to injuries, he and his father spent as little time around each other as possible.  Out of this, Bart began singing in high school plays and was told that he had a special talent for the stage.  This led Bart to pursue a career in Christian music, but life on the road was hard.  When he was forced to make a pivotal decision at a crossroads in his career, Bart was finally faced with having to go back to reconcile with the person he came to hate the most: his father.

Production Quality (3 points)

What else can be said about the talent of the Erwin Brothers at this point?  They have clearly mastered production quality, especially when it comes to historical epics.  The attention to detail in I Can Only Imagine is exquisite.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are flawless.  With Brent McCorkle involved, the soundtrack is always going to be a hit.  Sets, locations, and props in I Can Only Imagine are excellent and demonstrate wonderful historical authenticity.  This content-packed epic is edited nearly to perfection.  In short, it’s rare to have a perfect production, but the Erwin Brothers are still schooling the industry in how it’s done.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)

Naturally following their epic film Woodlawn, the Erwin Brothers seem to have found a niche in biopics.  The story of Bart Millard is one that is absolutely worth being told, especially since so many people are familiar with MercyMe and their original breakout hit single, which is the title of this film.  What some audiences may not expect is the profound and timely message this film has to offer.  This film is more than just another inspirational film to grab cash from a willing audience.  In typical Erwin fashion, I Can Only Imagine is the film the western church needs now.  Besides this, the characters are very realistic, authentic, and easy to access via believable dialogue and back stories.  Each character is flawed and gray rather than black and white.  There are really no errors to point out here as the Erwins have masterfully captured another poignant true story in the context of film.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The Masters of Casting did their homework once again in crafting a cast that was true-to-life to the real people behind the story.  Each actor and actress is cast appropriately and assume their roles very well.  Costuming is excellent and correct for the time period.  Dennis Quaid likely posts one of the performances of the year as a very complex three-part role.  In the end, there are little to no errors to raise about this film, which has become the norm of the Erwin brand.

Conclusion

I Can Only Imagine receives an x-factor point for presenting an extremely important issue in a realistic way.  Audiences will flock to this film on the basis of its title recognition alone, but many will receive a message they least expected, yet one that the church as a whole desperately needs.  Many, many Christians and those associated with the church are running from parts of their lives that are broken and are not always their fault because they do not know how to deal with them.  I Can Only Imagine brings this paradigm to front and center at a time when the message of redemption for broken families needs to be heard.  Also, in keeping with their perfect record, the Erwins have notched another one on the Hall of Fame and have possibly taken the top spot of Christian film.

Final Rating: 10 out of 10 points

The Love Letter [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Parker is an entertainment columnist and is best friends with Aaron.  However, Parker is perpetually single, and Aaron just got engaged to a girl he hasn’t know very long.  Parker has mixed feelings about her best friend’s relationship, but Parker’s mother is determined to matchmake her daughter to someone.  Parker isn’t interested in her mother’s attempts, but she finds herself falling love with Aaron, which poses a number of problems for them.  Will they be able to sort it all out before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Although UP usually demonstrates high production standards, The Love Letter seems to slip to the sitcom level of productions.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are fine, even if the soundtrack is stock.  The main element that gives this production a sitcom feel is the use of limited sets, locations, and props, as well as the many references to offscreen locations that were much more complex than inside people’s houses.  Furthermore, the editing of this film is lacking as too many scenes lag on with no real purpose or connection.  In the end, while this production is average, it seems like the creators were just phoning it in.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

This feel of being phoned in definitely carried over to the plot as well.  It seems like the writers were barely trying with this plot, as it is full of cheesy comedy sequences and empty characters.  The premise is very trumped up and juvenile.  A majority of the dialogue is trite and silly, and the Christian message is vague and seems like it was added in later.  There is barely enough content to sustain a full-length film here as the same things happen over and over again.  The characters just sit around and talk without ever accomplishing much, like a ninety-minute sitcom that’s not even funny.  As previously mentioned, there is a lot of offscreen content that is only talked about, and the story rushes towards a predictable and neat conclusion.  Basically, not much effort was put towards this film in general.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As a small cast, every little thing shows.  Sometimes the cast members are too forceful and awkward in their delivery, and other times they are overly practiced and amateurish.  However, they are not all bad and have enough good moments to make this section average.  However, not much about this film impresses at all.

Conclusion

Channels like UP are definitely in the business of producing as much content as possible to fill the time slots, which is why we get stuff like this.  It’s quite disingenuous to call this film Christian, and it really contributes nothing to the field of Christian entertainment.  Unfortunately, films like this are easily forgotten and probably rightly so.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

The Note III: Notes From the Heart Healer (Movie Review)

For some reason, we needed another one of these

Plot Summary

After famous feel-good columnists Peyton MacGruder and Kingston Danville get married, they are suddenly the new parents of a child who was left on their doorstep by a young and desperate mother.  Unsure of what to do, they turn to the authorities and accidentally get the struggling mother in trouble.  Peyton than feels bad about what she did and tries to rectify it.  Will she be able to save this hurting family before they hate her forever and ruin her reputation as a columnist?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Much like the other installments of this unnecessary series, The Note III is a very standard Hallmark production with no surprises or deviations.  Video quality, audio quality, and camera work are all what you can expect from a made for television film.  The soundtrack is what you can expect from a Hallmark movie.  Sets, locations, and props are fine.  The only small issue to raise here is the slightly choppy editing, but that comes with this territory.  On the whole, this is a fine production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It’s beyond asking the question as to why we needed another one of these lame rip-off sequels, but does it really matter?  The Christian message, whatever there was before, diminishes throughout this series until it’s unrecognizable in this third film.  At this point, it’s impossible to understand how these plastic ideas even relate to the original Angela Hunt novel or why these stories are put in this trilogy.  They could have been shoved into any Hallmark movie on the assembly line, and they probably actually were.  Note From the Heart Healer is a cheesy, cliched story with basically no purpose or direction.  The characters are fake and plastic, mostly due to manufactured and uninteresting dialogue.  If it seems like this review has been put on repeat, it’s because Hallmark pushed repeat and replicate on this inept trilogy.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As previously mentioned in the other reviews, Ted McGinley is unbearable and ruins whatever cast he is in.  This cast tends toward the more modern plastic cast that Hallmark favors these days, but at least they are not all bad.  Emotions are inconsistent, depending on the cast member.  The same can be said for line delivery, which makes this an average section.

Conclusion

Hallmark is Hallmark, plain and simple.  They take an idea and run with it.  Sometimes they run it into the ground and even twist it, especially if a Christian novel is in the mix.  Creativity isn’t even an option as an idea is ripped off and #Hallmarked.  Thus, as this trilogy thankfully comes to a close, there’s nothing else that can really be said here.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Note II: Taking a Chance on Love (Movie Review)

Love the smiling faces!

Plot Summary

David Danville, the son of popular columnist Kingston Danville, doesn’t want to go to college on a sports scholarship because he wants to be an artist, but he is afraid to tell his father.  Thus, he tells his father’s girlfriend, Peyton MacGruder, which causes a conflict between them that confuses Peyton’s thoughts of love for Kingston.  What’s more, her latest column mystery is making her wonder if true love even exists and if it’s even worth it or something.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Taking a Chance on Love is once again a typical Hallmark production, with a few more quirks than usual.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are fine as usual, but the soundtrack tends to be odd and annoying at times.  Sets, locations, and props are also mostly realistic with some minor issues.  The main problem is that editing tends to be confusing as this story is trying to be cut for a television length.  However, many of these small issues can be easily overlooked, which makes this yet another business as usual production for the Hallmark team.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Although the first installment in this ‘series’ had some amount of substance, this highly unnecessary and forced sequel lacks it in every way.  The premise is very shallow and thin as it unsuccessfully tries to piggy-back on the success of the first film.  This story is full of silly conflicts and romantic subplot clichés that are inevitably and easily resolved within the allotted time frame.  Thus, the storyline overall is very empty, as are the characters.  Cheap dialogue is used to speed the plot along and build the cheesy romance.  The end result is a cringeworthy collection of plastic people.  The other big issue is that there is barely any potential in this dead-end plot idea, not to mention the fact that not much happens here.  Essentially, this film’s necessity is highly suspect.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Much like other casts that involve Ted McGinley, this one is very underwhelming.  Besides Ted’s usual annoying and plastic presence, most emotions from the cast are fake and manufactured.  Line delivery is extremely measured and robotic.  However, not all is bad here, and there are at least a few good moments from the supporting cast members that keep this section from being nothing.  Yet it doesn’t help the fact that this movie is basically pointless.

Conclusion

Sometimes movie companies will do anything to squeeze a sequel out of a slightly successful idea.  In this case, the Hallmark crew just transposed the cheesiest possible romance story idea onto a flimsy premise and injected familiar characters into it.  This is a very low-effort film with no risk-taking or creativity.  The plastic nature of the people involved is very off-putting and annoying, which rounds out another day in the Hallmark business.

 

Final Rating: 3 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

 

The Path of the Wind (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Lee Ferguson has just been released from prison, so he intends to get his life back on track by getting a job and making a living for himself.  But he did not expect to meet a girl like Katie, who is a Christian and challenges him to do better in life.  However, outside circumstances and their own feelings get the best of them as they let their relationship go further than they intended.  Will they be able to reconcile before God?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

From start to finish, The Path of the Wind is a very cheap production in every way except for camera work.  Video quality is blurry, and there is odd lighting throughout.  Much of the audio is obviously overdubbed, there are loud outside noises, and the soundtrack is uninspiring.  Sets, locations, and props are very limited.  Furthermore, there is really no substantial editing to speak of.  Essentially, the creation of this film has to be called into question due to the severe lack of funding and due to the unusual nature of the plot.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The first three quarters of this plot are completely aimless as it is mostly a pointless exploration of people wallowing around in their own problems.  Thus, characters are overly realistic, and even though there are some pertinent life issues raised, they are not handled very well as edgy content is mishandled.  Dialogue does nothing to help the characters, and there are a lot of disjointed subplots with not much coherency.  However, while the ending is somewhat unexplained and unusual, it actually tends to make a powerful point that saves this plot from being totally inept.  But on the whole, this movie either needed to be totally scrapped or totally reworked.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Hands down, the worst part of this film is the acting.  Every cast member is very amateurish, as evidenced by their very stiff and unfeeling approach to acting.  Barely any emotion is even exhibited here, and line delivery is overly practiced and awkward.  Some characters seem highly stereotyped by their casting.  Unfortunately, there is very little to mention about this film.

Conclusion

You can’t base your entire film on one good idea.  Presentation is everything.  When you mishandle content, create a film with an abysmal budget, and do nothing to assist struggling cast members, your movie is doomed from the start.  In the future, film makers need to make sure not to force their ideas out there without the proper backing.  If God wants your movie to happen, we strongly believe He will help you do it in a quality way.

 

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

 

A Strange Brand of Happy (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

David Weathersby has no clear direction in life, especially after being fired from his job by his hotshot boss, who is impressed with himself.  He feels like he doesn’t have any purpose and decides to languish away, so his roommate decides to introduce him to a random life coach he ran into so David can find a fresh purpose for himself.  But this introduction only creates a problematic love triable between David, his old boss, and the life coach.  Will this silliness ever be resolved?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

In a change from previous Rebel Pilgrim productions, such as Hope Bridge and the awful Fenced Off, A Strange Brand of Happy at least has an above-average production.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all fine.  The soundtrack is a bit silly, however, and there is some odd soft lighting throughout.  There are also a lot of cheesy animated interludes that give the movie a juvenile feel.  Also, a lot of the sets are relatively limited, as well as the props, and there are no real locations.  Finally, editing is just average and contributes to a slightly above-average, but not quite all-the-way-there production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Full of cheesy and quirky characters, this story is just a childish romantic ‘comedy’ based on a silly and manufactured love triangle.  Nearly all the humor is very forced and dry and is thus not funny.  There is too much pointless goofiness throughout, including silliness for the sake of being silly.  At times, this story feels like a joke, and it contains some very vague Christian themes.  With no real direction or purpose, this plot is just a bunch of random content assembled in a formulaic and predictable fashion, with a side of weird edgy elements and a very strange tone throughout.  Any meaning that is tried to be inserted at the end is too little too late, thus making for mostly a waste of time.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This cast is very stiff and wooden in their delivery, as well as awkward.  There is definitely not enough coaching here, although there are some good moments to note.  However, there is a lot of odd makeup work throughout, as well as some unnecessary yelling throughout.  In the end, this rounds out an overall low-average and basically low-effort film.

Conclusion

Rebel Pilgrim certainly knows how to make a strange brand of movies.  What exactly are they going for?  They’ve attempted the dramatic emotional exploration in Hope Bridge and the stupid comedies in Fenced Off and A Strange Brand of Happy, but what do they really have to show for it?  They also present a strange brand of Christianity in their films, so perhaps the title of this movie is not by accident.  Are they actually just trolling like The Asylum to see what some money they can make off of their efforts?  Your guess is as good as ours.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

New Life: Nouvelle Vie (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Ben and Ava first met as kids and next door neighbors, they never thought they would one day be married and be trying to start a family of their own.  But it happened and just when they can’t believe that things could get better—they get worse.  Not only does Ava miscarry, but she also receives devastating news that changes her life forever: cancer.  Will their relationship be able to survive the roller coaster disease?  Will Ava’s dreams ever be fulfilled?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a newer production, it is clear that New Life is professional on pretty much every front.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all top-notch.  The soundtrack is actually creative and enhances the film.  Sets, locations, and props are well-funded and diverse.  The only minor issue to raise here, as usual, pertains to some small editing problems, such as choppiness and lack of clarity.  But in the end, this is a nearly model production that we will hopefully see more and more of in the coming years.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

So Erin Bethea wrote a cancer movie.  It’s actually not as bad as it may sound on its face, despite the forced awkward comedy from Erin Bethea and Jonathan Patrick Moore.  There is also way too much heavy-handed narration from Moore’s character and way too many montage sequences.  Yet despite these issues, New Life is actually a fairly realistic portrayal of life events encapsulated in a somewhat interesting storyline.  Though the characters and their dialogue need to be deepened, there is a lot of potential here.  The massive time jumps are also a drag, but the realistic ending is worth the wait.  Though this movie’s message is not explicitly Christian, it is still meaningful.  In the end, there are definitely a lot worse stories than this one, so you might find it to be worth your time.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

What could go wrong when you put Erin Bethea and Jonathan Patrick Moore in co-starring roles?  A lot, actually, as they exhibit very over the top emotions and forced, awkward line delivery.  However, the rest of the cast is actually pretty good despite their antics.  If pretty much anyone else was put in the co-starring roles (except for maybe the Whites or the Camerons or anything involving Tommy Blaze or Matthew Florida), this cast could have been perfect.

Conclusion

Had Erin Bethea not starred in this film (and probably not Moore either), this could have been a Hall of Famer.  There is a lot of good here, more than I expected there to be, but it needed to be written for someone else to act in.  Regardless of her past mistakes, it’s possible that Erin Bethea did learn a thing or two from the Kendricks, so it will be interesting to see if she has any plans for future film projects.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Coffee Shop [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Donovan has always loved her dream job as the owner of a local coffee shop, but she fears that her mortgage is about to cause her dream to end prematurely.  What’s worse is a hotshot playwright comes to town and starts off completely on the wrong foot with her, all the while Donovan’s sister is trying to get her to run back to the boyfriend who left Donovan for a big time Chicago job.  Will Donovan be able to sort out all the confusion in time to save her dreams?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Up Entertainment has perfected the Hallmark model of putting out a consistent amount of films with fairly professional production quality in each one.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is a bit too generic, however, which fits this genre to a T.  What also typically comes with this sort of made for television movie is relatively good sets, locations, and props, yet some minor editing issues that plague it, all in the name of making the runtime trim.  All of these typical elements are present in Coffee Shop, making it seem like it was made on an assembly line.  Overall, though the production is great, there are plenty of other predictable elements to point.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this story is trying a bit harder than most made for TV romantic comedies, Coffee Shop is still an extremely typical story about a jilted girlfriend who has to save her ______ and then both her old boyfriend and a new well-groomed man whom she doesn’t like at first but grows to like show up in the small town she lives in with other quirky characters.  Though some of the characters demonstrate attempts to be creative, probably mostly the influence of the Erwin brothers, there are just too many predictable elements for this section to warrant any more points.  The entire plot follows a predictable progression and the end can be seen from the beginning.  In the end, it’s hard to see the justification for yet another one of these sorts of films.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Despite all of other issues, the Erwin brothers still do their thing and win out when it comes to casting and acting coaching.  There are virtually no errors in this section as line delivery is on point and emotions are very natural.  UP and Hallmark should consider hiring the Erwins as permanent casting help.

Conclusion

We realize the machine of cable television demands certain movies that fit into certain molds, so perhaps there is really no solution to this problem until cable is no longer relied upon as a source of entertainment revenue.  Creative Christian film makers need a better outlet for their films so that they can showcase their talent outside of the confines of a revenue-seeking machine.  Perhaps one day we will see more of these sorts of films on streaming services such as PureFlix.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Pawn’s Move (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Jimmy unexpectedly inherits the secretly wealthy estate of his eccentric antique-collecting mentor, he doesn’t quite know what to do with it.  Therefore, in order to escape from people who only want him for his money, he decides to take a trip to the small town where his mentor grew up so he can sort things out.  But what he finds there is unexpected and reveals a side of himself he never thought he had.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a first-time, limited-funding production, Pawn’s Move is raw and honest.  Camera work is mostly good, as is video quality.  However, lighting is sometimes inconsistent and audio quality tends to pick up a lot of background noises.  Yet the soundtrack is okay.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and authentic, even if they are a bit limited.  Finally, the editing also needs some improvement, even though it shows plenty of potential.  In the end, this is an average and honest production that definitely showed potential for the future, as we saw in The Matchbreaker.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Much like their second film, the Vetter Brothers’ freshman effort Pawn’s Move is artistic and creative.  It utilizes quirky yet believable characters in a muted romantic comedy setting.  Yet despite the huge amount of potential here, this story is severely underdeveloped and understated.  The characters are accessible, yet they need more exploration.  Comedy is subtle, and sometimes too subtle.  Overall, there are too many random ideas floating around in this plot that need better organization, but it was a great start that led to better things.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though this amateur cast is somewhat awkward, they are definitely trying.  Sometimes it seems like they need a little more direction than they are being given.  They would have definitely benefitted from upgraded coaching, especially when it came to emotional expression.  Yet nonetheless, like the rest of this film, it showed promise for the future.

Conclusion

There are few film makers that can pull off comedy properly because true comedy requires an understanding of flawed and human characters, as well as superb dialogue.  While Pawn’s Move does not necessarily fully meet these requirements, it is still a step in the right direction.  All film makers, even the best, sometimes have meager beginnings, so the important thing is to keep moving forward and to keep trying to improve.  The ones who do this are set apart from the rest and make a real difference.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

In Over My Head (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Nathan is the spoiled young adult of a well-to-do business family who believes he can do whatever he wants.  But his world comes crashing down one day when both of his parents suddenly are killed in a car accident, leaving Nathan to run the family business and take care of his two younger siblings.  Nathan is forced to rely on the faith he always thought was silly to make it through.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

With a clearly limited budget, it’s difficult to see the justification for this film.  The sets and locations are quite cheap and limited, although the props are okay.  Video quality and camera work are also fine, but audio quality is not.  There are too many loud background noises and a loud yet generic soundtrack that covers up things.  The transitions are also too abrupt and choppy to make any sense.  In short, the money used for this production should have been saved for a different film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

The entire premise of this forced and juvenile comedy is very thin and flimsy.  There is a lot of fake drama yet not enough real plot content as the story jumps all over the place as a collection of random ‘goofy’ scenes.  The characters are very one-dimensional thanks to lame and empty dialogue.  The Christian message presented is very plastic and lazy.  There is also a very cheesy love triangle subplot that takes up a lot of this film’s time.  But it’s not like there were any better ideas to include here.  Basically, it’s very difficult to understand how movies like this are made.

Acting Quality (0 points)

While these cast members may mean well, their performances do not always reflect this.  They are a lot of times very robotic and overly practiced.  Their emotions are hard to connect with.  Since this is such a small cast, any errors are automatically amplified.  It’s hard to see anything positive here.

Conclusion

What if struggling film companies like Strong Foundation saved all of their money for one good film rather than making a handful of cut-rate cheap films that will never have any impact on the market?  We are sure people like the ones behind these sorts of films do mean well in what they are doing, they just need more direction in their work.  Yet perhaps they can build on mistakes like this one and become better as a result.

 

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

 

The Music in Me [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Jessica leaves the small town she grew up in to pursue her musical dreams, she never thought she would get a second chance with the people she once knew.  But she is given that second chance when she is down on her luck and offered the position of choir director at the church she once called home.  Little does she know that she can turn their whole music program around, plus get a well-groomed man on the side.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Up Entertainment has proven that they know how to fund and executed a production, even if their plots continually suffer for creativity.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all on professional standard in The Music in Me.  However, the ‘original’ soundtrack that includes the main actress singing is awful.  Also, sets and locations are sneakily limited.  Some other small shortcuts are taken, but the editing is mostly fine.  In the end, Up has borrowed from the Hallmark model and has learned how to churn out made-for-TV films that look pretty good on the surface.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though there are some half-hearted attempts to develop the characters and there is like one character that’s not stereotypical, everything else from The Music in Me has already been done on Hallmark, ten times over.  It’s the same old prodigal character returns to their hometown shtick, with all of the predicable character molds to fill.  Dialogue is very stock and there are too many attempts at forced comedy.  The Christian message is plastic and trite; it seems like this film is only Christian because it needs to reach a certain audience.  In the end, there is nothing new here, this is business as usual, same old, same old, move along, nothing to see here…

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though there is a slight air of professionalism among this cast, they all look fake, like they were just rejected from a Hallmark audition.  Did we mention that the singing is grating?  The singing, especially from the main actress, is grating and cringeworthy.  Besides this, it seems like a lot of these performances are phoned in.  Like we said, there’s nothing new here.

Conclusion

Up has the ability to do something different, to stand out from Hallmark by using their money to fund a creative plot.  But no, they choose to fall into the same old patterns.  Sometimes they try, like with Love Finds You in Charm, but this time they have not.  Perhaps one day someone will be able to use a platform like this to produce a great idea that is actually worth watching on TV.  I wonder how long we’ll have to wait for that to happen.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Because of Gracia (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Chase Morgan is going to be a senior in high school, but he never feels like he’s been able to make a difference in life.  He is content to just hang out with his best friend OB and not really be noticed by anyone, but when a new girl, Gracia, comes to school, she turns his world upside down and he feels like he has to get to know her, even though he is terrified.  But as they grow closer and become friends, they discover that they have the ability, through their faith in God, to change their world together.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The collaboration of Film Incito, Check the Gate Productions, and Five Stones Films is a lethal combination in crafting a flawless production.  Because of Gracia demonstrates exactly what a modern Christian production should be, from excellent video quality to professional camera work to seamless audio quality.  The soundtrack is also very well-constructed and appropriate for the genre.  Sets, locations, and props are also without flaw.  The editing is nearly perfect as well as the story is presented in an inviting fashion.  In the end, Lisa Arnold and her production team have finally struck gold with this film, and the sky is the limit from here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

New screenwriter Tom Simes has debuted his skills with a worthwhile plot.  Though the story is somewhat limited and tends to be a stereotypical high school romance, the characters carry the story very well and make it enjoyable.  Dialogue is mostly creative and complex, thus serving to build the characters.  The biggest issues to point out here are a lot of unnecessary heavy-handed narration and quite a few ‘silly’ sequences that keep some characters and subplots from being further explored.  It’s great that we know the main characters well and that they are not black-and-white in their construction, but we would like to get to know the supporting characters just as well.  Also, the epilogue that is tacked onto the end of this film really puts a damper on an otherwise excellent point that is shared at the end.  Nonetheless, Because of Gracia isn’t afraid to deal with some very real and serious topics in a realistic fashion, so the creative team must be applauded for this.  In the end, this is definitely a good plot to start out with since it shows further potential for the future, and it is still enjoyable as it is.

Acting Quality (3 points)

You can hardly ask for a better cast than this.  Moriah Peters and Chris Massoglia are excellent in their roles, as are Ben Davis, Masey McClain, and the rest.  The collective minds behind this film really hit a home run with this cast, as each cast member assumes their character flawlessly and even improves upon what is written for them.  Emotions are very believable and line delivery is excellent, which demonstrate the presence of acting coaching.  In the end, this section punctuates a very worthwhile film.

Conclusion

We should be seeing movies like Because of Gracia come out every month from Christian film makers.  This proves that with time, adequate funding, effort, and care, any film can be Hall of Fame.  With the right combination of producers, directors, and writers, greatness can happen.  Movie making, more often than not, should be a team approach, and hopefully Christian film makers are learning this now.  When it releases to the public, this film is definitely worth everyone seeing.  It lends great encouragement to the slow but sure turnaround and upward trend of Christian film.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

The Beautiful Beast [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Isabelle Elliot is a spoiled heiress to a fortune that she has no idea how to manage properly.  She does whatever she wants with the money she has at her fingertips but always makes sure to keep her only normal friend close to her.  She convinces this friend to go with her on a spontaneous ski trip to Switzerland, but a disagreement leaves Isabelle stranded in the cold.  She wanders around until she finds a mysterious cabin and takes shelter inside.  There she meets a reclusive man who confuses her but also intrigues her.  Will he be able to teach Isabelle what really matters in life?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For a SunWorld production, this one isn’t half bad.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are find, even if there isn’t enough of a soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are actually pretty good considering the source.  The biggest issue here is that the editing is choppy, as usual for this sort of film.  There isn’t much content to begin with, but to present it like this is unprofessional.  But in the end, we’ve come to expect these sorts of things from these types of films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The Beautiful Beast is based on a very stereotypical and predictable idea that utilizes a thin, forced, and even juvenile thrown-together romance premise.  Though there are several somewhat interesting conversations, the characters still need deepening beyond their cheesy romantic story stereotypes.  We need to be able to feel like this is a real story and not some silly knock-off fairy tale that it’s lamely named after.  As it is, the character arcs and the predictable progression are too steep to be believable.  On top of all this, the Christian message is cheap and forced, like it was added in later to make this a “Christian film.”  In the end, the only way to fix this sort of plot is to build deep and realistic characters, but this did not happen in this film.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast is small, they are mostly professional in their performances.  Line delivery is on point, but emotions are sometimes over the top in attempts to be comedic.  But in the end, this is a decent casting and acting job.

Conclusion

Regardless, it’s really hard to see the justification for this sort of film.  The idea has been done before—too many times—so unless you’re going to improve an old idea, don’t use it.  This film is really just a representation of the need for an inspirational\quasi-Christian film, so somebody manufactured an overused plot and found some cast members to be in.  There’s nothing creative or innovative here—just pure business.  This is definitely not the way to make a movie that will actually make a difference.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Pitching Love and Catching Faith {Romance in the Outfield} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Heather and Tyler meet on a softball field in the heat of a game and of course don’t like each other at first until they are randomly thrown together in a quirky relationship in which Tyler doesn’t want to kiss her until the right time.  Heather makes it her goal to kiss him, but she soon discovers that his faith is more important than she realized.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a freshman production, this confusingly-titled movie is pretty good.  Video quality is professional, as is the camera work, even though there is some unnecessarily poor lighting.  Audio quality is fine, but the soundtrack leaves something to be desired.  Sets, locations, and props are fine but slightly limited.  Finally, the editing is too amateurish, including very choppy cuts and transitions that make the viewing experience confusing.  But in the end, this is fine for a first-time effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It seems like this film with the long title was pitched (haha) to Hallmark, UP, INSP, or even the abysmal ION in the hopes of a TV deal, but there were no home runs (lol).  It has all the trademarks of Hallmark cheesiness, including a cheap Christian message and the most juvenile romantic plot ever.  Every romance cliché and conversation in the book of stock romances is used in this film.  The plot progression is so predictable that it seems like someone wrote it in their sleep.  Their nothing new or creative here as two empty and cardboard characters are inevitably thrown together into a plastic romance full of forced drama, fake breakups, and an unhealthy obsession with kissing.  Maybe even Hallmark was tired of this.  Then again, maybe not.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Though this cast is not all bad, it is a small cast, thus amplifying the errors.  Most cast members are very awkward and flat.  Many of them are unsure in their line delivery, while emotions are forced and stiff.  This is definitely not a good way to top off a textbook romance movie.

Conclusion

It seems like a Christian message was slapped onto this film just to sell it to a certain market.  There’s really no other reason why it should be considered Christian.  Regardless, there is nothing whatsoever creative about this movie.  Thus, there is zero justification for its creation as it clutters an already-crowded field and genre.  The last thing we need is more of these plastic romances.  But last time I checked Hallmark, there’s still plenty more to come.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Reading Kate (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Michael O’Neil is down on his luck and all alone, except for this daughter.  But when he receives word that his estranged separated wife, Kate, is dying of a chronic disease, he jumps at the chance to discover how much money she has.  Yet in meeting her again and reconnecting with her, he begins fulfilling her final wishes and discovers that the two of them still have something in common.  As Michael reads Kate books to honor her, their conversations turn to eternal things and nature of the afterlife.  They must both make significant decisions that will impact their lives forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

After several years of struggling productions, the Kelly’s Filmworks team has finally discovered a winning formula.  Though this film is entirely black and white, it definitely adds to the experience and makes it a unique standout.  Video quality and audio quality are majorly improved from past films.  Camera work is still artistic at times, but Jefferson and Kelly Moore have finally embraced their true artistry.  The original soundtrack is very interesting and creative.  Sets and locations are somewhat limited in this film, but that is justified given the story.  The biggest issue here is the editing, as there are one too many montages.  Yet in the end, the production of Reading Kate demonstrates real improvement and gives great hope for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

After several years of dead-end plots, Jefferson and Kelly Moore have finally discovered who they truly are as film makers, and this is reflected in the characters they play.  They have embraced their personalities and have let them flow into the dialogue of these characters.  This dialogue builds them into realistic people that we can connect with and relate to.  However, the overuse of montages keeps us from getting to know these characters at a deeper level, which is sometimes we would have liked to see happen in this film.  Yet nonetheless, Reading Kate is an honest, character-driven story that draws on the true talents of Jefferson and Kelly Moore.  There is some dry comedy throughout, yet some of it is funny.  It offers a unique Christian message and intriguing psychological elements that make the viewer think.  Though the ending is somewhat abrupt, yet also thought-provoking.  In the end, while there is still a little work to do, we are excited about the direction the Moores have chosen to go with their plots.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Though this film utilizes many of the typical Kelly’s Filmworks actors and actresses, there demonstrate significant improvement in their performances.  This is actually the most improved category, as Jefferson Moore sheds his old personas and trades them for an embracing of his true self.  Kelly Moore also finally demonstrates her acting talents that we never had a good chance to see before.  Two-character conversation films are hard to effectively act in, but the two of them work well together.  Though there are some minor line delivery issues that keep this section form being perfect, this is still something to be excited about.

Conclusion

Sometimes it takes film companies a little longer than others to find themselves and to find where they fit in the industry.  Though we have been critical of the work of the Moores in the past, the good thing is that they did not give up and kept trying.  The progression of 1 Message, Pieces of Easter, and now Reading Kate demonstrates concerted improvement, which is all we ask of film makers.  Now that the older days of low-quality films are behind them, we can’t wait to see what the Moores have in store next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Redemption of the Heart [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Alex Montoya has backslidden from his Christian faith, and now he finds himself under the weight of financial debt.  Desperate for money, he agrees to help his friend scam church members for money using a false charity front.  However, a kind man named Jacob soon sees through their scheme, yet wants to offer Alex a second chance.  Will Alex turn away from his double life and back to the faith he was raised in?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Though the video quality of this production is okay, it is really the only good element to it.  Camera work is fairly shaky and audio quality is relatively poor.  The soundtrack is loud and amateurish.  Sets and locations are mostly limited and need a little bit more work done on them.  Furthermore, the editing leaves something to be desired as there are too many montages and extended flat scenes.  Overall, there just seems like there’s a lot of corners being cut in this production, which is unacceptable in a film this new.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Redemption of the Heart follows a very predictable and stereotypical plot line.  Things happen because the pre-determined plot mold determined that they needed to happen; thus, the characters are swept along in inevitability.  Yet sometimes the premise is too vague, making it hard for the audience to understand what is happening some of the time.  There is a lot of off screen content mentioned, along with a lot of confusing dialogue that creates cardboard characters.  There is an attempt at a plot twist at the end, but it is introduced so late that it only leaves the viewers scratching their heads.  In the end, this story is so formulaic that it is unlikely to be easily remembered.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, many of these cast members look very fake and unnatural.  A majority of the line delivery is very stilted and awkward, with some of the lines being very indiscernible.  Any emotions seem very forced and empty.  Alas, this section rounds out another disappointing effort.

Conclusion

Redemption of the Heart is one of those films that will be forgotten shortly after it is watched.  It is a prime example of why it’s never a good idea to slap together a project just for the sake of releasing another Christian film.  The market doesn’t need to be flooded with more and more half-hearted attempts at Christian movies.  We say this all the time, but it still remains true: taking your time on a movie to make it quality, making sure you have the proper funding, writing a complex plot with good characters, and coaching your cast members well always, always, always pays off in the end.

 

Final Rating: .5 out of 10 points

 

I’m in Love With a Church Girl (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Miles Montego has everything money can buy, but he is restless and is under investigation by the federal government.  When he talks a Christian friend of his, he is inadvertently introduced to a girl he cannot stop thinking about.  The only problem is she is an outspoken Christian while Miles hasn’t been to church since he was a kid.  But in order to pursue her, he begins to play the part of a Christian, all the while running from his past as a drug dealer.  Eventually, it will all catch up to him so what choice will be make?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Though there was a modest amount of money behind this project, it doesn’t seem like it was spent very well.  Camera work is fine, as is video quality, but there are one too many poorly lit scenes here.  Audio quality is fine, but the soundtrack is very standard and typical.  Sets and locations are fairly cheap and limited and have room for improvement.  There are too many product placements in this film, which make it seem plastic.  Finally, the editing is not the best as there are too many montages and wasted scenes.  In the end, while there is some good here, it simply isn’t up to standard.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this film was based on a true story, this story is not necessarily portrayed well.  There is too much narration that serves as a crutch to move the plot along.  Dialogue is mostly okay, but characters tend to be too one-dimensional and need further depth.  There is also some suggestive content that could have been avoided.  The purpose behind this film is also questionable—the idea here could send a wrong message about ‘missionary dating’.  It doesn’t really seem like the seriousness of the issues presented here are really grasped.  Though there is a somewhat good message of redemption, its conclusion and quite forced and rushed—it’s very hard to appreciate what is going on here because it all seems too surface.  Unfortunately, this was not the best way to portray a true story.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Though this is a ‘big name’ cast, and though there are some bright spots, there is too much over-acting and there are too many awkward performances in this effort.  A lot of the cast members seem forcibly cast to the point where they don’t seem real.  Of course, Stephen Baldwin is as ridiculous as can be expected.  Also, costuming and makeup is largely overdone in most of the cast members.  Essentially, this film is a case of too much of the wrong thing.

Conclusion

True stories are great in film—they can portray real people that audiences can connect with and learn from.  However, I’m In Love With a Church Girl crafts an unusual message that can confuse Christians when it comes to dating.  We certainly aren’t about to get into a debate over this topic in this forum, but we definitely have to be very careful when it comes to becoming emotionally involved with non-Christians.  Besides this, the gospel is presented, perhaps unconsciously, as a quick-fix method for problems and is thus cheapened.  But maybe next time this team will improve.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Until Forever {Undying Faith} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

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

Acting Quality (2 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

A Place in the Heart [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Jason Burkey’s heart is broken by a girl he thought he would spend the rest of his life with, he gives up a basketball scholarship (as he is frequently reminded) and does the most natural thing anyone would do: run away to live on a remote island with his reclusive father, Kevin Sorbo.  But seven years later, Kevin Sorbo get tired of the island and decided to buy a sombrero and live the rest of his days on a boat.  So Jason Burkey is forced to go back to the hometown he bitterly left behind and finds everything very similar to the way he left it.  He’s still angry at Ben Davies and won’t talk to him, but he slowly finds that the plans he originally had may not have been the best for him—including that basketball scholarship!

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

On the surface, like many productions, A Place in the Heart seems fine.  Video quality and camera work are on par.  Sets, locations, and props are acceptable.  However, audio quality is inconsistent—sometimes too loud and other times too soft.  The soundtrack is regularly too loud and is at times juvenile.  As for editing, there are too many awkward transitions and there is too much choppy content as the film jumps from one thing to the next.  In the end, this production is just average, but it seems like it could have been much more than this.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Loosely based on The Great Gatsby, A Place in the Heart has a mild amount of complexity, yet this complexity is detracted from by a lot of amateur elements.  Narration used as a crutch to fill in the missing parts of the plot that are due to unnecessary time jumps, even though it is a stereotypical return-to-hometown style plot.  Parts of the premise are forced, unrealistic, and based too much on coincidences, while there are tons of manufactured dramas and childish sequences.  Dialogue is very stiff and stilted, including very unusual statements and asides, thus creating very awkward and wooden characters.  However, despite all of these issues, the second half of the film is slightly better than the first half, and contains a partially interesting message and point if you make it that far.  But in the end, the only reason for any plot twists is the fact that this plot is borrowed from other sources.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Any small amount of good that is accomplished in this film is totally derailed by this awful casting job.  Any cast that includes Jason Burkey, Kevin Sorbo, and Ben Davies without coaching is sure to be a disaster.  Every character is represented by a very awkward cast member that exhibits mumbled lines, fake emotions, and generally poor line delivery.  Unfortunately, this film shows that good intentions can be greatly hurt by poor casting.

Conclusion

Romance is a very difficult genre to write because it can very easily become a high-school-level of cheesy.  Regrettably, A Place in the Heart commits almost every common romance error all at once.  On top of this, the production isn’t what it should be and the casting is deplorable.  Movies like this are painful to see because they are so prominent in Christian film.  This is not what the face of Christian film should look like, as we have said time and again.  Yet hopefully, slowly, this trend is changing.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Hidden Places [2006] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Eliza Wyatt, a young frontier widow, is still trying to pick up the pieces after her husband died and left her and her two children with an apple farm to run.  She has no one to turn to except her wise friend Aunt Batty, that is, until a mysterious hobo named Gabe Harper suddenly appears on her land.  Thanks to Aunt Batty, Gabe begins working on the tree farm despite Eliza’s suspicions of him.  But little by little, she begins to open up her heart to both Gabe and God as time starts to run out for her farm.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Hallmark has rarely shirked their responsibility to craft quality productions, but Hidden Places is a step above the norm for them.  Video quality and camera work are flawless.  Audio quality is great, although the soundtrack is stock.  Most importantly, outdoor scenes are filmed well in authentically historical sets and locations.  Props are also authentic.  Really the only complaint to raise here pertains to editing, as there are too many useless scenes while some seems are cut too short.  Otherwise, this is a respectable production that should be the norm in Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Lynn Austin is clearly one of the best Christian authors in the field, yet Hidden Places is not her best book.  While this film correctly captures her undeniable character development and great dialogue it’s still a stereotypical save-the-farm plot combined with a frontier romance story involving a young widow.  However, the viewer can appreciate the struggles of the characters and their deep back stories, as well as this film’s strong Christian message.  Yet the plot is still based on too many coincidences.  There is some missing off-screen content as the story rushes through some parts while lagging at others.  Finally, the end is too predictable and simplistic compared to the rest of the plot.  In short, while this is a mostly enjoyable movie, it seems like it could have been more.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is a professional cast compared to other Hallmark frontier casts, mostly because costuming is kept realistic and low-key.  Emotions are believable and line delivery is on point.  The child actors and actresses are better than usual.  However, this cast is held back from being all that it could be by too much mediocrity.  In the end, it is a great effort, but once again, it seems like there could have been more.

Conclusion

Cramming the depth of Lynn Austin characters and storylines into ninety minutes for the sake of a TV movie simply does not work.  Though she is clearly a talented writer, she needs to be unleashed from the confines of Hallmark and her plots need to be allowed to unfold progressively rather than forcefully to stay within the allotted runtime.  However, there’s no denying that Hidden Places is an enjoyable film and many will find it so.  But next time, please please please choose a different Lynn Austin novel (see our Box Office Wish List column 😉 to bring to the big screen and let it be all that it’s meant to be without confining it.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Love’s Complicated {My Life As a Doormat} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Leah lives a very controlled and scheduled life.  She does the same things with her safe boyfriend, tries to write, and lets people tell her what to do all the time.  But something is missing.  When her publisher asks for deeper writing, Leah feels inadequate.  But her life changes forever when her boyfriend signs her up for a conflict management course under the guise that he will be attending with her.  Though she is angry at first, she slowly begins to see just how much her life can change.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As we have said before, Hallmark knows how to invest in a proper production.  In this film, camera work is flawless and video quality is crisp.  The audio quality is good but the soundtrack is standard for Hallmark.  Sets and locations are realistic.  The biggest issues to raise here are the editing problems.  The editing causes the film to be choppy and confusing.  Otherwise, this is a baseline production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Love’s Complicated, which is the Hallmarked title of My Life As a Doormat, is probably as good as a Hallmark plot is going to get, and they only have Rene Gutteridge to thank for her ideas, witty dialogue, and believable characters.  Though the plot still fits into the stereotypical and formulaic Hallmark romance storyline and progression, it is developed to its fullest extent.  The premise vacillates between cheesy and intriguing but is still enjoyable due to some genuine comedy.  However, there appears to be too much missing content as the plot tends to hop from highlight to highlight.  In the end, this is a good plot and makes the movie worth watching.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As usual for Hallmark, the casting totally derails this film from being all that it could have been.  Most of the cast members are over-costumed and generally average in their emotional delivery.  However, their line delivery is very robotic and measured.  The biggest drag is the lead actress, who was clearly not suited to play an introvert.  Though not all is bad here, the acting overall puts a strain on this otherwise fine movie.

Conclusion

Hallmark should really consider having Rene Gutteridge regularly write more of their plots.  She has a true gift of character development, enough for her storyline to survive Hallmarking to an extent.  Love’s Complicated also has good production support to a point, but the acting really holds this film back.  In a romantic comedy, the cast is everything, and this group just didn’t deliver.  Nonetheless, Gutteridge’s plots and characters are always enjoyable and many will find this movie to be so.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

The Matchbreaker (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Ethan Cooper is fired from his day job, he picks up an unlikely freelance job when a friend of his parents’ pays him to break up her daughter from her boyfriend.  She then refers Ethan to other parents who want their daughters’ boyfriends gone.  His business booms almost overnight until he is hit with two difficult cases: one set of rich parents want their son to give up his ‘low class’ girlfriend and one mother refers Ethan to break a girl up from her boyfriend—only the girl turns out to be Ethan’s childhood crush.  He will have to decide whether or not to proceed with his heart or his head.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The Vetter Brothers and Wesley Elder clearly have a commitment to quality and professional production that is demonstrated throughout The Matchbreaker.  Video and audio quality are crisp and the camera work is effective.  Sets and locations are highly realistic and enhance the movie.  The soundtrack is also great and down to earth.  Finally, the editing is flawless and drives the point home.  In short, there are no real errors here and it’s refreshing to see more and more new film makers committed to starting off with quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Caleb Vetter, Wesley Elder, Torry Martin, and Marshal Younger certainly make up an excellent writing team.  The comedy in The Matchbreaker is quite good, as is most of the dialogue.  Thus, the characters are all very believable and excellently developed.  However, this storyline is somewhat simplistic and straightforward, leaving it with little potential to work with.  But despite this, it is developed to its fullest extent.  There’s also some minor narration to contend with, but it’s not a big deal.  In the end, though the plot is this movie’s weakest area, it does not keep it from being a movie worth watching as there is plenty of real humor to enjoy.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Like the production, there are no errors to point out with this casting job.  Each character is cast to perfection and each cast member executes their role flawlessly.  Comedy acting takes true to talent to avoid being too obvious, and this cast delivers.  This is a job well done.

Conclusion

There is clear talent in the collaboration of the Vetter Brothers, Wesley Elder, Marshal Younger, and Torry Martin.  The Matchbreaker demonstrates a commitment to high production and acting quality.  While we would like to see a more complex storyline and a deeper Christian message, there is great potential in this team for the future.  People like these creators prove that independent Christian films can be quality if the right dedication and talent are applied.  We can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 7 out of 10 points

 

Full disclosure: We were provided by the creator with a copy of this film in exchange for a fair and honest review

Me and You, Us Forever (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Dave is left behind and divorced by his wife, he begins to think about what could have been.  As he begins to pine after an old high school girlfriend of his, one of his friends advises Dave to go to a church support group for divorced people.  There he meets a creepy woman who takes it upon herself to vicariously live Dave’s life and to help him in going back to meet the old girlfriend he’s pining after.  As Dave finally plans to go meet her, the suspense builds as he drives back and forth outside her house and borderline stalks her.  Will he ever get to talk to her again?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

This awkwardly-titled film has one good merit, and this is some production quality.  While the video quality and camera work are good, as well as some of the sets, it’s beyond us why anyone would spend money on such a useless piece of entertainment.  Audio quality is also okay, but the soundtrack is snore-inducing.  There was clearly no editing in this film as tons of useless and empty footage was included, probably in an effort to make this painful slog longer than it was.  Besides a few production high marks (which should be standard), this movie is all downhill from here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

In perhaps the most useless and pathetic plot we have ever seen, immature conflicts dominate the silly dialogue as a bunch of middle aged people whine about what could have been in high school.  As the scenes progress from melancholy to melodramatic to boring, nothing really happens as we are forced to witness Dave drive around, go to work, talk on the phone, go to support group, and hang out with a creepy and desperate woman.  Sometimes there are huge gaps without a single spoken word as characters just stare at things while the piano music plays.  Besides all this, there is no way to make this sort of plot interesting or palatable, so why make it at all?

Acting Quality (0 points)

As usual for Christiano casts, the cast members are overly practiced in their line delivery.  The emotions are empty and they generally leave much to be desired.  Unfortunately, the cast is so small, there is really no potential here.

Conclusion

What was even the point of making this plot?  The idea literally has no potential and is so absurd that we have to question whether going after (married!) old flames should even be encouraged among Christians.  Was this really all the Christiano brothers could come up with?  We would expect something much more sanctimonious and pious than this.  Where is the potential in watching a middle aged man pine after his old girlfriend, who’s now married?  Don’t even get me started about using divorce support groups as a dating service.  We can’t even comprehend the motive behind this film and must just leave it as a useless movie you shouldn’t waste your time on.

 

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

Love’s Christmas Journey (Movie Review)

Registering...
Registering…

Plot Summary

After Ellie King loses her husband and daughter in a strange tornado, she decides the visit her brother, Aaron Davis, for Christmas.  When she arrives in the generic-looking Western small town that looks like all the others in this series, she meets all the stereotypical characters, including Sean Astin the sheriff.  Of course, what would this Love Comes Softly movie be without a replacement romance for the poor widow Ellie?  But even Christmas is threatened when Aaron hits his head on a rock (hmm, sounds familiar…) and is lost to the wilderness.  What will they ever do?

 

Note: This two-part film has been reviewed as one because we cannot differentiate the two parts

Production Quality (.5 point)

As the Love Comes Softly series endlessly drags on with more and more sequels, prequels, and specials that have long since departed from the original novels, we have to wonder at this point what Janette Oke thinks of Hallmark’s total dismantling of her work.  In keeping with usual Hallmark style, Love’s Christmas Journey has some good production qualities, such as clear video quality and good camera work.  The sets and locations are okay, but as previously mentioned, are clearly recycled from past films, but this time with Christmas decorations!  The soundtrack is as stock as it comes.  The editing is designed to drag this movie out into a nearly three-hour runtime, so there are plenty of wasted scenes.  In short, this is what you can expect from a Hallmark Christmas film—some money spent on production, but otherwise very empty.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Whoever is in charge of letting these movies get on television decided that since they needed to force a Christmas Love Comes Softly film to happen, then they needed to recycle the old standby plot of the saga: a young widow moves to a new place to start a new life and meets a new man.  Seriously, how many times are they going to do this one?  First it was Marty, then Missy, then Belinda, and now some sister of Missy’s named Ellie.  Besides this nonsense, the characters are extremely empty-headed and mindless, fueled by forced and awkward dialogue.  The first half of the movie (the original first part), is a huge waste of time, spent on preparing for the next half by introducing trite and petty conflicts that have no consequence whatsoever.  Throughout the movie, there are many factually unrealistic elements (what else is new?), such as the audacity of including Santa Clause in this plot.  No, seriously: Santa is a character.  And nothing can beat the cheesiest Christmas end in the world: snowing on Christmas Eve.  Essentially, Hallmark just phoned this one in because they can.

Acting Quality (0 points)

This is just more of the same garbage.  The cast members are extremely fake and plastic.  Natalie Hall in particular acts like she’s had a lobotomy most of the movie, taking forever to recite her lines, like she keeps forgetting what she’s supposed to do.  The emotions of the cast members are equally plastic.  In typical Love Comes Softly style, costuming and makeup are overdone and unrealistic for the time period.  But what else can we say without constantly repeating ourselves?

Conclusion

Love’s Christmas Journey is a textbook case from that all important manual from the executive offices of Hallmark: How to Make Another Hallmark Christmas Film.  First, find a plot to rip off; it can be a stock plot or it can be a loose idea stolen from an unsuspecting Christian author.  Second, find the most plastic cast members available and shower them with makeup and costuming.  Third, find a reusable set that fits the genre and inundate it with Christmas cheer.  Now just film the movie as fast as possible to get it ready for television!  Once again, with the resources and platform they have at their disposal, Hallmark squanders opportunity after opportunity to make a real difference in the film world.  But we doubt they will ever learn.

 

Final Rating: .5 out of 10 points

 

Belle and the Beast: A Christian Romance (Movie Review)

Please love me, I'm desperate
Please love me, I’m desperate

Plot Summary

Eric Landry is known as a ruthless businessman who stays locked up in his mansion all day yelling at people.  Belle Watson is the nicest, most hard working young woman you can think of.  But when Eric threatens to have Belle’s father fired for breaking some stupid vase, Belle confronts the businessman and strikes a deal with him: she will work for him to pay off her father’s debt, in addition to all the other things she does.  Though they frequently argue, Belle and Eric slowly begin to like each other and this attraction could grow into something more!

 

Production Quality (0 points)

Belle and the Beast is a different than usual production for WisenQuest, but it is still not any good.  The video quality is still grainy and there are odd camera angles.  Audio quality is just okay and the soundtrack is underwhelming.  It seems like every scene uses a different set just for the sake of it, like they actually had a lot of sets at their disposal and they decided to flaunt it.  But it doesn’t help anything, as many of the scenes therein are useless and only expand the movie’s runtime, even though plenty of pertinent details occur off screen.  Thus, in can be inferred that little to no editing took place as a part of this production.  In fact, it’s difficult to understand how and why productions like this one keep getting made.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Beginning with the canned narration sequence at the beginning and ending with an empty and trite attempt at forced romance, Belle and the Beast is scripted and copied from just about any cheesy family-friendly romance you can think of.  Besides the constant shoehorning of ‘beast’ themes and the vague business premise and lingo, there’s the boy meets girl and they don’t like each other scene, the boy and girl have a fight scene, the girl finds something important about the boy’s troubled past scene, the girl complains to her female friend about the boy who she supposedly doesn’t like scene, the boy and girl talk backstory scene, boy and girl have a soft ‘accidental’ romantic scene…need I go on?  I didn’t even cover the boy and girl break up over a misunderstanding caused by the girl’s strawman alternate love interest (pictured above) scene.  Then there’s the obligatory get back together kissing scene.  The stereotypical progression of this plot is downright laughable.  Programmed with stock dialogue, the comical characters are swept up in a grand design far bigger than themselves…it was written in some Hallmark storyboarding room decades ago to be copied by all.  Needless to say, this model never needs to be replicated again.

Acting Quality (0 points)

This stereotypical cast really had no clue how to handle emotional delivery.  The wannabe Hallmark actor Matthew Davis ranges from wild, over-the-top yelling to vanilla line delivery.  Other cast members do a terrible job at trying to be sad.  The acting is overall stiff and empty, and the makeup jobs are typically horrible.  I didn’t even fully cover how the presence of Caitlyn E. J. Meyer in a film totally makes the experience bizarre, but you get the point.

Conclusion

What is to be learned from films like Belle and the Beast or any other WisenQuest work?  There are so many like it on the market; this is just an example of others passed over.  While true love should be portrayed in Christian film, it needs to be done in a manner that is realistic and believable.  Crafting a fantasy tale and trying to call it the real world is just doing a disservice to everyone.  There’s nothing wrong with romance, but please make an attempt at realism.  If you want a blueprint, look to films like Old-Fashioned.  All we can hope is that more like that film will be made in the future.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

 

One Night With the King {The Call of Destiny} (Movie Review)

 

This costume is awfully heavy
This costume is awfully heavy

Quick! I need more eyeliner!
Quick! I need more eyeliner!

Plot Summary

The story of Esther is a Cinderella story of the ancient world.  Ordered by the king to audition to be his new queen, the young Hadassah, a devout Jewess, is reluctant to go.  Her uncle Mordecai encourages her to go in the Lord’s strength, but to conceal her Jewish identity for her safety.  Forced to undergo a year of beauty treatments before seeing the king, Esther forms a bond with the eunuch in charge of the process, who quickly discovers that she is different from the other girls.  But little does Esther know that she is about to be swept up into a bigger plan to save her people—a plan that only Yahweh could orchestrate.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

In the era of Fox Faith, money was certainly spent on some aspects of production, such as camera work and video quality.  The audio quality is also passable, and the soundtrack is slightly intriguing.  However, there are many other negative production elements that detract from this, such as weird special effects.  While time is obviously spent on the sets, locations, and props, there is an air of great extravagance in every part of this production.  Everything is taken to an ornate extreme; over-decoration clutters the sets.  This is a unique problem as they spent their money in the wrong ways.  As for the editing, it is also overdone in an attempt to be very dramatic.  Some scenes are replayed over and over again from different angles, just for dramatic flair.  Many scenes drag on too long, trying to drive a theatrical point home.  As will be covered next, time is spent in all the wrong ways.  While the funds were obviously present to make this a great production, they were grossly misappropriated.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

For starters, narration is used far too much to fill the gaps of this plot that the writers did not feel like filling with substantial content.  As previously mentioned, some portions of the storyline are rushed while others have too much time spent on them.  The historical account of Esther is altered in some ways for the convenience of the plot, even though the two-hour runtime proves they have no time constraints.  Instead, the writers crowd out real content with embellishment and the frivolous pursuit of meaningless subplots.  Trivial asides that have nothing to do with the original story are given far too much screen time.  Though there is some positive to find here in the complexity of the storyline, it is far too complex to the point that it cannot be easily understood.  Petty and unimportant events are portrayed as extremely dramatic as the writers squeeze forced drama out of everything.  The dialogue is empty and confusing, thus creating bland and mindless characters.  This is such a disappointment because the resources were here to make a truly great movie, but they were greatly squandered.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

We are all for casting unknowns, but with the money this team had to spend, couldn’t they have found a more professional cast?  The acting is very empty and it seems like no coaching is present.  Some lines are over-pronounced and over-enunciated, while others are mumbled.  Emotions are not believable but instead are over-dramatized.  But the money was spent on other things, of course, such as over-the-top makeup jobs.  Most of the main characters have a different extravagant costume for every scene.  The one positive to note here is that at least the cast is mixed-race rather than all British, but that’s about it.

Conclusion

Branded as a Biblical epic, One Night With the King had the tools available to it to be truly great.  Had the money been spent properly, we could be placing this film on the Hall of Fame.  Had the complex plot been honed better and the historical elements been properly handled and portrayed, we would be applauding this effort rather than denouncing it.  The lesson that can be learned from this experience is that it’s not the money you have, it’s how you spend it.  Just throwing money at a production doesn’t cut it.  It takes true talent to spend money wisely and know when to stop.  Yet frugality was not a word in this creative team’s vocabulary.  Next time, stop trying to impress us with shining objects and focus on substance.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Island of Grace [2010] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

While in route on a business trip, Mark, Megan, and Chris survive a plane crash in the south Pacific and find themselves stranded on an abandoned island.  Forced to fend for themselves in the wild, they wonder if anyone will ever find them.  Megan finds herself torn between the two men as she tries to conceal her Christian faith to impress Mark, even though Chris, an outspoken Christian, does not want her to.  In the end, they will all have decisions to make that will impact their lives forever.

 

Production Quality (0 points)

While the effort is nice to film at a different than usual location, namely an island, this choice actually does more harm than good.  This is mostly due to the extremely loud and constant outdoor background noise in the island scenes, which mostly consists of incessant wave and waterfall noises.  Besides this, other sets are quite limited and the usage of props is cheesy.  The video quality is below average and the camera work uninspiring.  Besides the terrible audio quality previously mentioned, the soundtrack is very pedestrian.  Finally, there is no editing present—what you see is what you get.  Despite the unique concept behind the film, there was little to no justification for this film being made.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Though this plot is trying to depict a serious survival situation, this idea is treated flippantly as a majority of the movie is spent hashing out a superficial high school love triangle while on a deserted island.  Important issues are portrayed in a petty way and are overshadowed by silly relationship issues.  Thus, the content is very shallow, as is the dialogue.  Even though the plot focuses on primarily three characters for over an hour, we don’t get to know any of them very well—they are just people reciting lines and being swept along by circumstances.  There are no plot twists and the ending is as superficial as the rest of the storyline.  In short, what started out as an interesting idea quickly devolved into unimportant fluff.

Acting Quality (0 points)

With the tiny amateur cast that carries the movie on their shoulders, they needed to come through, but they did not.  Coaching is obviously absent as line delivery is very lackluster.  Emotional delivery is plastic and uninspiring.  Costuming is okay but nothing groundbreaking.  The bottom line is that this film failed in every category.

Conclusion

We kind of feel sorry for the creators of Island of Grace because they could be nice people.  Unfortunately, another film with another petty portrayal of relationships is not what the market needs, especially if it’s trying to depict a survival situation.  This genre should be gritty and suspenseful, not light and laughable.  If God gives you the opportunity to make a film, you should leave it all on the field and make a mark on the field.  This is what mainly frustrates us—film makers not taking their calling seriously, because it is certainly a calling if God has given you the opportunity to create.  Please do not take it lightly and seek to make a difference.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

 

2 to Tangle [2013] (Movie Review)

I think you mean the 'coincidence of faith'
I think you mean the ‘coincidence of faith’

Plot Summary

Jessica finds herself torn between dumping her no-account boyfriend Tom and trying to fix him.  But then the unthinkable happens (one hour into the film): Tom tragically dies in a car accident, leaving Jessica and his family heartbroken.  But then Tom starts appearing to Jessica after his death.  Is she being haunted by an apparition masquerading as her dead boyfriend?  Is she going crazy and seeing things?  She will have to find out if she ever expects life to go back to normal.

 

Production Quality (0 points)

Starting off, this production is less than quality, to say the least.  The camera work is very shaky and the video quality is quite grainy.  Audio quality is inconsistent, especially in the outdoor scenes, and the soundtrack is very cheap-sounding.  The sets and locations are amateurish and the lighting is terrible in a majority of the scenes.  The fades and transitions between the scenes are very awkward, sometimes cutting off characters before they are done talking.  For that matter, all of the editing is quite choppy, sometimes making scenes drag on too long and sometimes not allowing scenes to run their full course.  In other words, while money was obviously tight with this effort, there was little to no justification for creating it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

If you watch the trailer for 2 to Tangle, it partially spoils the ‘suspenseful’ plot twist this film pretends to conceal.  But if you watch the movie for roughly twenty minutes, the entire ‘twist’ is full revealed without leaving anything to the imagination.  Besides this, the ‘twist’ isn’t even realistic or feasible in the real world.  While there is quite a bit of content in this overall cheap creation, it’s just a bunch of shallow subplots spliced together with no real coherent thought.  Many elements defy logic and sense, including juvenile ‘coincidences’.  There are too many bizarre tangents and rabbit trails that do nothing except expose the wacked out worldview of the writers.  This film’s characters are extremely immature in their behavior and spout empty, programmed dialogue.  Furthermore, the ending is anti-climactic and trumped up.  Basically, 2 to Tangle is a ‘clever’ idea gone awry.

Acting Quality (0 points)

The creators of this film likely just cast some of their friends and people they knew, because it’s a horrible casting job.  While there’s nothing wrong with amateur casts, coaching must always be present for it to make any sense.  An actor playing two different characters should rarely be done.  Line delivery in this film is wooden and forced.  Emotions are very empty, even when the characters are working overtime to make us believe they are happy or sad.  It just doesn’t work.

Conclusion

What do the makers of films like 2 to Tangle really expect?  To make a truly great movie, regardless of the size of your budget, you have to put thought into what you do.  If God has called you to make a movie, then He will give you the resources you need to make a great one, but you have to put forth work and effort.  Independent film making is a tough business and sometimes unrewarding, but putting in the work and prayer to make a quality film pays dividends.  Movies like 2 to Tangle just seem disingenuous and lackadaisical, which is the last thing we need in the field of Christian film.  Next time, please give it a little more thought, because the reputation of Christian film lives and breathes by you.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

Healed by Grace [2012] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Riley Adams is a talented dancer, but when she is involved in a car accident, her life changes forever.  Now partially paralyzed and being forced to relearn speech and motor skills, Riley feels like her life is over since she can no longer dance like she used to.  However, she soon discovers a special form of physical therapy involving horses that changes her entire perspective on life.  Through the newfound therapy, she not only finds a new lease on life, but a new chance at faith and love.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

With obviously limited resources, Healed by Grace is plagued by cheap production problems.  Video quality is grainy and camera work is shaky.  The sets and locations are fairly limited, but the usage of props is pretty good.  The soundtrack is okay, but we would have liked to hear something more dynamic.  There is really no editing present here; if there had been editing, this production probably would have improved.  However, there is care and thought put into this film, making it stand apart from your average sloppy and thrown-together Christian movie.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Despite its obvious production flaws, Healed by Grace demonstrates heart and effort.  The creators actually seem to care about what they are doing, despite their limited resources.  The plot’s message is very touching and realistic.  Though the plot is slightly simplistic, it’s based on a believable premise and is a generally interesting idea.  The dialogue is pretty good and the characters have interesting arcs.  Though there is little content here, the writers did the best they could with what they had.  We would have liked to see a little more complexity, but it’s definitely a good start.  Some things happen off screen, obviously due to budget constraints.  The ending is authentic but we would have liked to see a little more.  Overall, this is a great starter effort with room for improvement.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though the cast is very amateur, they are trying harder than most.  They demonstrate a willing attitude to act well, even though they sometimes fall short.  It’s not easy to effectively act like you are disabled from a car wreck, but the main actress pulls this off well.  Line delivery and emotional delivery are average.  Costuming is realistic throughout.  Overall, this is an applaudable effort.

Conclusion

In summary, Healed by Grace is a true-to-life story that is accessible by Christian audiences.  Though many facets of the film are amateur, the creators still show that they care about what they are doing rather than just slapping a horrible film together and sticking the name ‘Christian’ on it.  It’s hard to make independent Christian films, especially starting out.  What’s important is that you, as a Christian film maker, give it your best effort and leave the results up to God.  If He has called you into film making, He will give you the resources you need.  You just have to be faithful and do your absolute best.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Like a Country Song (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jake Reeson is an aspirational country artist trying to find ‘the big break’ in Nashville.  He’s running from a broken family life and checkered past, always thinking that the next gig and the next drink are the answer to his problems.  However, when he begins to rediscover loved ones from his past that he thought he left behind, the emptiness of his life is finally exposed and he is left dazed and confused.  The only way forward is to determine what he’s going to do with the Christian faith some of his loved ones are trying to introduce him to.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Like a Country Song, in keeping with other Skipstone productions, is a real mess that really could have been something.  The video quality is clear, but the camera work is shaky.  The sets and locations are pretty good, but they could be better.  This creative team usually prides themselves in creating innovative soundtracks, and they usually do.  In some parts, this soundtrack is quite interesting, but it other parts, it feels shoved down your throat.  The live music element is interesting but not used properly, including the stupid title track.  Sometimes artistic elements become too abstract and isolate the viewer.  Also, editing is very much absent from this film as long staring scenes are allowed to stay and many points are understated.  In short, this was a production that had a lot going for it but never found the mark.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

This film is basically an incomplete idea.  Focusing on behavioral and family issues is commendable, but not when the characters are underdeveloped and empty.  We cannot appreciate the potentially meaningful struggles these characters experience because we cannot connect with them as real people.  There is far too much melodrama and not enough redemption.  Issues are resolved too easily with no real explanation as to how they were resolved.  The little dialogue that is in this film is filled with information dumps and clichés.  The timeline of the story jumps all around with no real explanation.  On the positive side, there are some slightly creative albeit unfinished spiritual elements in the storyline.  But this does not make up for the other issues, especially the very confusing ending.  In the end, any meaning that could be derived from this plot is forced upon you and is not conveyed in a redemptive way.  It’s just another wasted idea.

Acting Quality (0 points)

In an attempt to build a ‘star-studded’ cast, the production team struck out on quality.  For starters, all the makeup jobs are horrible.  Cast members either exhibit extreme over the top emotion or monotone nothingness.  Too many lines are mumbled.  Billy Ray Cyrus really never needs to be cast in the film, as he gives off the appearance of druggie the entire time.  Joel Smallbone constantly trying to mask his Australian accent is also annoying and unnecessary.  There is really nothing good to highlight here.

Conclusion

Sigh.  We have to wonder why this film was not cut or reworked during the storyboard process, if there was one.  All we can figure is that they got these ‘big name’ cast members to agree to a vague idea and then ‘had’ to go with it for the sake of making another Christian movie.  Redemption plots have huge amounts of potential, as do movies involving original soundtracks.  However, these concepts in and of themselves are not enough to carry a film.  You need more than this.  The day Christian movie makers learn this for good is the day that the entertainment world is finally turned on its ear.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

Heart of the Country [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Faith left her rural North Carolina home to pursue her musical dreams in New York City, she never expected to meet the man of her dreams—or so she thought.  After a whirlwind romance and marriage to Luke Carraday, they are horrified to discover that the investment firm he worked for came under audit by the federal government, landing all employees in jail, including Luke.  Dazed and confused and with no one to turn to, Faith returns home and finds her ailing father the same as he always was.  Though Faith’s sister is not excited about her coming back, Faith’s whole family supports her no matter what happens.  However, none of them foresee the events that about to unfold—events that have the potential to change the direction of their lives forever.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

With a modest budget, Heart of the Country did pretty much all they could do with the money they had.  The video quality is excellent and the camera work is professional.  Sound quality is consistent throughout, and the soundtrack is fairly good, even though it’s dominated by Jana Kramer, the lead actress.  The sets and locations are relatively diverse—jumping back and forth from New York City to rural North Carolina works very well.  There is an overall authentic feel to the surroundings.  The only caveats to raise with this film are some minor editing issues.  Though flashbacks are utilized wonderfully, there are some choppy elements of the production that derail its pursuit of perfection.  But these minor issues aside, this is a formidable production model to be proud of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

From the beginning, the plot of Heart of the Country is unique and outside of the norm.  Few movies ever attempt to depict a newlywed couple’s struggles—most movies retreat after the wedding vows are said and we never hear from them again.  The premise of this film is a brave idea that deserve resounding applause.  As previously mentioned, flashbacks enhance this film and make it what it is.  The characters are fairly believable, though they could use a little more development in this character-based plot.  For the most part, this plot avoids the usual return-to-your-hometown clichés.  Unfortunately, the Christian message is quite muted and needed to be a little more meaningful.  Another problem is a number of wasted scenes that could have been used to develop characters and deepen the storyline.  Some elements are understated while others are overstated.  The end is meaningful even though it is slightly expected.  Overall, this is an above average plot that had the potential to be even better.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is a formidable cast made up of B-grade cast members.  They seem to be coached fairly well.  Line delivery is above average, as are emotions.  One big drawback here is that most of the cast members make excessive use of makeup and costuming.  In the end, this is a respectable acting job.

Conclusion

We’ve said it before, but we really wish that films like Heart of the Country were the baseline of inspirational film.  It includes a unique idea, professional production, believable characters, and commendable acting.  We also wish films like this one would go all the way and achieve Hall of Fame status.  But nonetheless, films like this one are still enjoyable and definitely worth your while.  It’s unfortunately still a rare find in the industry.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

In-Lawfully Yours {Jesse and Naomi} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Jesse catches her husband Chaz cheating on her, she immediately files for divorce.  But as they are trying to finalize the details, Chaz’s father dies, leaving his mother in turmoil as she fights against an evil company trying to buy her house so they can tear it down. Jesse feels an obligation to take care of her ex-mother-in-law as her ex-husband tries to hurry her out of her own home.  As she helps her ex-mother-in-law pack up her belongings, Jesse finds herself falling for Ben, the local pastor, who is actually her ex-brother-in-law and used to be married to her ex-husband’s sister.  But as the two of them grow closer, Chaz works to stir up the small town of Bethel Grove against them, possibly threatening to end their relationship forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

In-Lawfully Yours checks the box of having a nice surface appearance.  Money was obviously spent on camera work, video quality, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is a silly ‘small town’ composition, but it’s obviously a jab to stupid Hallmark soundtracks.  The sets and locations are pretty good for this type of movie and obviously showcase the ‘small town’ elements this movie is trying to make fun of.  The biggest problem here is the editing.  Even if you’re creating a satire, this does not mean that editing should be ignored.  In-Lawfully Yours is just a random collection of spliced together ‘funny’ scenes with little continuity between them.  In short, this film meets the minimum production standard Christian films should meet, but this does not mean that it’s flawless.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

In-Lawfully Yours is obviously an attempt at satirizing a stereotypical Hallmark small town romance film.  The problem is that the satire is not completely committed to.  At times, the satire is painfully obvious, though not always funny, yet at other times, satire is arbitrarily abandoned.  Dialogue is purposely nonsensical, ripe with offhand swipes and nods to cheesy movie concepts.  But sometimes meaning is awkwardly forced into the dialogue.  Characters are noticeably empty, but they don’t live up to their full comic potential.  Satirical scenes and concepts, like the infamous interrupting-church-services bit from Hidden Secrets, are vastly overused to the point of embarrassment.  This aside is actually the entire purpose of this plot, and its overuse is cringe-worthy.  In the end, everything is neatly fixed in purposefully childish ways.  Essentially, In-Lawfully Yours is a poor man’s Christian Mingle.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, satires still need good acting.  Throwing your cast members into scenes without giving them coaching is no better than Hallmark.  Had the acting been better, this film might have actually been funny.  Emotions are either stale or over the top.  Line delivery is mostly lazy.  It’s disappointing that the acting wasn’t better, because I think there was potential here.

Conclusion

Corbin Bernsen has become somewhat infamous for creating subtle parodies of Hallmark movies, but In-Lawfully Yours tries a bit too hard.  Where Christian Mingle was organic satire, this new film wears out the same concepts over and over again and forces comedy down your throat.  It could have been interesting—tongue-in-cheek references to small town movie clichés are perfectly adequate when executed properly.  But when it comes to satire, familiarity breeds contempt.  Silly Hallmark concepts deserve to be made fun of, but this one is just too repetitive to be funny.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

A Time to Dance [2016] (Movie Review)

Why are we even here?

Plot Summary

Abby and John fell in love in high school, went to college together, got married, and came back to the small town where they grew up.  They raised a family together, but now they are growing apart.  They are ready to file for divorce when their daughter comes home from college suddenly engaged to her boyfriend.  Not wanting to spoil her time, they decide to hold off until she gets married.  However, Abby’s father uses this time to step into their business to find out what’s really going on between them.  Forced to work together for their daughter’s wedding, Abby and John begin to relive why they fell in love in the first place.  But they must rekindle their romance before time runs out.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Not to be deterred from their endless factory model of manufacturing inspirational films ripped off from popular authors, Hallmark always spends the money on production quality.  Clear video quality is evident, as is professional camera work.  Audio quality is consistent throughout, but there’s the ever present generic melancholy-serene Hallmark soundtrack to listen to throughout the scenes.  While the sets and locations seem above board, they are actually quite limited and dressed up to have that ‘magical’ Hallmark look.  As will be expounded upon shortly, the editing is lazy and sloppy, leaving the viewer with a half-effort plot.  In other words, A Time to Dance is business as usual for Hallmark.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Anything good about this plot can be credited to Karen Kingsbury, not Hallmark.  The otherwise interesting novel A Time to Dance has officially been #Hallmarked.  What was an intriguing plot about a highly pertinent issue facing many Christians—namely broken marriages—has been transformed into a mellow and boring snoozefest full of the typical Hallmark emptiness and the unrealistic fairy tale alternate realities.  Complete with cardboard characters that spew obvious dialogue designed to drive the plot along, viewers who choose to watch this disaster will be dragged out over a nearly one hundred minute runtime of melancholy delay of the inevitable just to have the so-called conflict resolved in five minutes or less.  The conflicts therein are extremely empty, as are the relationships between the characters.  We can’t appreciate or understand anything they’re going through because it doesn’t seem real.  There is far more telling than showing; for example, we are told about things that happen off screen or are informed of things that happened in the past rather than being provided with a flashback.  Also, the Christian message is very manufactured and plastic.  I could go on and on, but the same old truth remains: Hallmark has no regard for preserving good plot ideas, they only care about making money.

Acting Quality (0 points)

What else is new?  The acting is forced and stiff.  Line delivery is very awkward and sometime monotone; emotions are almost nonexistent.  As usual, every cast member has far too much makeup and look like either washed up wannabes or desperate wannabes.  The Hallmark acting rule is to throw a bunch of big names in the film so the commercials will catch people’s attention but to do nothing to actually coach them.  But at this point, we don’t expect anything different.

Conclusion

Hallmark has a real chance to bring great Christian novels to life.  They have the resources, they have the connections, and they have the marketing to do this well.  But instead, they settle for half-measures to improve their profit margins.  People desperately want to see wholesome entertainment, and Hallmark claims to provide this, but they are short on delivering it.  A Time to Dance could have been an inspiring Christian film on an important topic, but instead, it just became another forgettable show of Hallmark pageantry.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

The Reckoning [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Now that she is now the rightful owner of her late mother’s charity foundation, Katie Mayfield sets out to make a difference in the Englisher world she is now a part of.  Everything in her life seems to be lining up perfectly, especially when her boyfriend, Justin, proposes marriage to her, which she accepts.  But as she becomes more immersed in the affluent lifestyle she inherited and becomes closer to Justin, she realizes that some things are just not meant for her.  Katie becomes especially confused when her childhood boyfriend, Daniel Fisher, whom she thought was dead, suddenly reappears in her life.  Despite her disgust at him, he reminds her of things she had almost forgotten about herself.  In the end, Katie will have to come to a reckoning of who she really is in order to move forward in the direction God wants her to go.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As per usual Hallmark conventions, there are enough positive production elements in The Reckoning to make this the strongest point of the film.  The camera work is professional and the video quality is solid.  The audio quality is above par.  For the most part, the sets and locations are realistic but not very diverse.  The surroundings seem fairly realistic, but sometimes they are forced.  The soundtrack is stock Hallmark music, but what do you expect at this point.  The biggest problem here is the editing, which is choppy and isolating.  A lot of contradictory content is crammed into ninety minutes, especially when you take into account the previous arcs of this trilogy.  Transitions between scenes are awkward—the general flow of the movie is disjointed.  In other words, The Reckoning is just another slapped together Hallmark production that looks good on the outside but lacks inner substance.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

From where The Confession left off, The Reckoning begins upending the continuity of the storylines and abandoning original themes.  What is left in the aftermath is another run-of-the-mill Hallmark love triangle with an obvious conclusion.  While Katie Mayfield seems like the same character she was before, all other characters from previous films are drastically transformed into caricatures with obvious roles in an inevitable plot.  Believability and authenticity are stripped from the characters, leaving them as empty shells to be played in Hallmark’s money game.  One interesting thing that is addressed in this film is the values conflict between Katie and Justin, but why is Justin made out to be such a rigidly godless character with no basis?  If Katie wanted to get away from the strict Amish ways, why did she vaguely return to them by the end of the trilogy?  What was even the point of her leaving?  Basically, The Reckoning feels like a cheaply rushed and forced conclusion to an otherwise okay film trilogy.  Little thought was put into this work, because who can dare to stop the Hallmark machine from churning out another cheesy inspirational movie?

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Katie Leclerc, the only returning cast member, is also the only good actress in this film.  The Lancaster County Trilogy has already been plagued by lack of cast continuity, but The Reckoning really takes the cake.  A majority of the replacement actors and actresses bear no resemblance whatsoever to previously portrayed characters.  It’s like they’re not even trying.  In addition, no effort is placed on acting coaching, as line delivery and emotional delivery are very flat and straightforward.  Also, these characters have been #Hallmarked with overuse of makeup and costuming.

Conclusion

This is, in short, a disappointing end to a trilogy that had a lot of potential.  Instead of trying to follow closer to the original novel or at least putting some amount of thought into portraying the characters as realistic, another good idea gets swept along in the wake left by Hallmark’s pursuit of money.  The powers that be of Hallmark constantly treat their viewers as stupid, seemingly thinking that their mindless movie content and gross alterations will go unnoticed because people just want to watch another Hallmark movie.  We beg to differ and choose to believe that audiences are better than this, which means that production companies need to offer better options than this.  Instead of constantly churning out stupidly forgettable movies and ruining otherwise good storylines, Hallmark needs to put their money to good use and provide a platform for those who are truly gifted and creative—without inserting their own agenda into it.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

Saving Sarah Cain (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Sarah Cain used to be a successful column writer, but lately she’s been experiencing writer’s block.  To make matters worse, her Amish sister, whom she hasn’t spoken to in years, suddenly dies, leaving Sarah as the legal guardian of her five Amish nieces and nephews.  In a moment of desperation, Sarah writes a column about the children and accidentally stumbles upon success.  Therefore, she agrees to take the kids to her Chicago apartment in order to secretly continue writing about them.  The five children discover that they are in the midst of culture shock when they must assimilate into big city life on a steep learning curve.  In the end, they will all have to be honest with themselves and each other in order to find the lives they were meant for.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a part of the Fox Faith era of Christian film, Saving Sarah Cain enjoyed increased production success compared to movies before it.  The camera work is good, but the video quality could be better.  The sound quality is a little above average while the use of music throughout is actually really good.  This is something more Christian films need to do effectively.  The set and locations are believable and diverse.  The editing is pretty good, though there are some parts that leave you scratching your head as to what is actually going on.  Overall, there is really not much else to say regarding Sarah Cain’s production; it all comes out as just average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from the innovative Amish novel The Redemption of Sarah Cain by Beverly Lewis, this film almost captures the original purpose of the book, but not entirely.  The elements are there, but there just isn’t much feeling in this movie.  The characters are portrayed as very one-dimensional, not putting forth the depth they should in this highly character-driven plot.  Since the storyline is so linear, the characters have to take up the slack, but they do not go as far as they need to.  This is likely because the dialogue is very pedestrian and safe.  Safe is actually a good word to use to describe this film.  No risks are taken and no rewards are reaped.  While it is an interesting fish-out-of-water tale, it’s not dynamic enough or deep enough to warrant a higher score.  While there are some interesting psychological elements and backstory throughout, the ending is enough to put a damper on anything creative in the rest of the movie, as it leaves viewers wondering what they were supposed to learn from it.  This film is basically a nice try, but not good enough.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, the acting really drags down the characters.  Most of the characters are cast very poorly; some seem like they are forced into roles not suited for them.  There is the usual touch of Michael Landon Jr. evident in over-costuming the cast members, including those playing Amish characters.  Emotions are overplayed throughout and line delivery is forced most of the time.  While there are some funny moments, the acting is overall a disappointment.

Conclusion

Honestly, this is an instance when the book is better than the movie.  The movie removes meaningful elements from the novel, which is probably why they ended up with the paint-yourself-in-a-corner ending they did.  In addition to being safe, Saving Sarah Cain is also forgettable.  Were it not for its creative use of music (it’s sad that other better movies are not doing this), we probably wouldn’t even remember this film.  While it has plenty of potential, it is a very forced screenplay that unfortunately had little to no impact on Christian films.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Love Finds You in Valentine (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Kennedy Blaine, a recent law school graduate, inherits her family’s Valentine, Nebraska ranch property, she is faced with the requirement to visit the property before she tries to sell it.  When she arrives, she finds two caretakers who loved her parents, even if the young man is a bit rough around the edges.  Kennedy also receives a treasure as a part of her father’s passing: the diary of her mother, which chronicles their story of forbidden love.  While in Valentine, Kennedy must not only face shady characters trying to get their hands on her property, but also long lost relatives who won’t give her the love she wants.  Before she knows it, Kennedy finds herself caught up in the excitement of her parent’s ranch—and the mysterious young caretaker who constantly haunts her.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For the most part, Up Entertainment has mastered the art of creating a professional-looking made-for-TV film.  The camera work is excellent, as is the video quality.  The sound quality is good, especially in outdoor scenes.  Sets and locations are diverse, making for realistic surroundings.  The sad thing is that this otherwise perfect production is usurped by issues that are easily fixed by a team this professional: editing and soundtrack.  The soundtrack is quite silly and sounds borrowed from Hallmark.  As for the editing, not enough care is taken to generate interest from the audience.  There are too many wasted segments of scenery and horseback riding, especially when these parts could be used for better purposes.  But in the end, Up schools made-for-TV productions on how to do it right and they should be looked to for advice.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

As previously mentioned, if the scenery and horse segments had been toned down and used for deeper plot and character development, this movie would have landed on the Hall of Fame.  As it is, there is a framework of complexity that is rarely seen on television.  We only wish there had been a deeper utilization of the few yet intriguing flashbacks.  The characters are a little more than one-dimensional, but they struggle to make themselves special in a world of stock romance characters.  The dialogue is above average, but not much more than that.  There are several unrealistic elements in the premise and some odd plot holes.  There is a slight feel of a silly small town film.  The Christian message is too soft for this type of movie—it could have been more meaningful than this.  Finally, the end is forced and tacked on.  There was no reason to insert an unwanted ‘suspenseful’ climax into this film, especially since it’s not even realistic.  This is perhaps the biggest detractor to the plot.  In the end, Valentine left a lot of potential lying on the table.  Next time, Up needs to play their cards better.

Acting Quality (3 points)

With no glaring errors, the acting is the strongest element to Valentine.  Line delivery is professional and emotions are believable.  The actors and actresses enhance the characters they are given.  This acting job is better than some films that make the Hall of Fame.  Yet it also stands as another example of disappointment and wasted potential in this movie.

Conclusion

Up Entertainment has mastered the art of creating an inspirational romance movie that is more than a romance.  Now, it’s time for them to take it to the next level by being more innovative when it comes to the plot.  Charm came closer to crafting a complex plot, but this was partly due to its loose adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.  Romance writers need to take a page from Rik Swartzwelder’s playbook and create a romance plot that is deeper and more complex than usual.  Viewers desperately want this, even if they don’t realize it.  We need romance that means something beyond surface feelings.  Unfortunately, though it is more enjoyable and realistic than a Hallmark movie, Valentine misses the mark on this front.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

When Calls the Heart, Season 3 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

Following the shocking proposal of Charles, both Jack and Elizabeth are left confused about the true nature of their relationship.  They must sort out how they really feel about each other, even in the midst of other controversies, including Bill Avery’s dark secrets, the constant schemes of Henry Gowen, and the town’s new adaptations to the logging industry.  Also, new and budding romances are aplenty in the newly christened Hope Valley, along with new colorful characters.  Like always, the people of Hope Valley will have to navigate each new challenge together and keep remembering that hope is just around the corner.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

So, for starters, the production quality of When Calls the Heart diminishes significantly in Season 3.  The camera work stays the same as always, but the sets and locations are severely limited, with obvious reuses of them.  The characters rarely do anything outside of the winding street of Walnut Grove Hope Valley.  As usual, the costuming and makeup is worse than ever, making it impossible for the audience to believe that these people are supposed to be low to middle class frontier people.  The musical score is abysmal and the editing is all over the map, mostly settling for an episode-by-episode approach.  There’s nothing wrong with this, but as will be discussed later, it disrupts the original purpose of this show.  In short, corners were cut in this season, demonstrating an overall lack of regard for quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Not only is the Season 2 ‘cliffhanger’ resolved with lightning speed, it is quickly replaced with one mindless storyline after another.  People do this and that, Harriet Olson Rosemary schemes stuff, the town has events, people come and go, and Jack and Elizabeth continue a mind-numbing and painful dance of on and off romance.  The Hamilton characters are kicked out; we’re not sure if this was a blessing or a curse.  Bill Avery, once a promising double agent character, is reduced to a washed up guy who hangs around town.  Henry Gowen continues his usual bad guy stuff and generally accomplishes nothing.  Ever the town counselor, Caroline Ingalls Missy LaHaye Abigail acts like she’s doing things like running a diner and riding horses and taking care of orphans.  Elizabeth attempts to teach and play acts a hard working frontier woman while Jack does Mountie stuff.  Lots of things are talked about that happened off screen.  The Christian message is long gone by now, replaced with trite Joel Osteen sayings from Abigail and Pastor Hogan.  Shallow subplots are introduced and quickly resolved.  Overall, there is zero creativity in this season and the much-anticipated season finale climax fizzles out with the New Year’s fireworks at the beginning.  The writers give us no reason whatsoever to want another season, because there is no direction whatsoever anymore in this series.  But in the upside down world of Hallmark, Michael Landon Jr. and company trolled the ‘#Hearties’ for an entire season of false pretense and proved that they could do whatever they wanted and still get renewed.  The mind boggles.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

The acting has been on a downward trend since the first season, but Season 3 reaches new lows.  The starring cast demonstrates they have no intention to try to be good at acting, nor do they have to try.  Any air of professionalism demonstrated in previous seasons is gone, replaced with mindless line delivery and forced emotions.  Every scene seems very staged and fake, just actors and actresses saying lines they don’t really care about.  The only thing that keeps this portion from being zero is some slightly interesting acting from certain cast members.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

As previously mentioned, the original purpose of When Calls the Heart has been washed away in that flash flood or that mud slide.  The continuity collapsed along with the mine (again).  There is no driving purpose to Season 4.  Once this show’s strongest point, the continuity has been completely abandoned in favor of a mindless stretch if silly episode that accomplish next to nothing.

Conclusion

This was such a disappointing season to endure.  There was so much potential in this show, but it has been tossed by the wayside.  It’s so sad to know that an opportunity to create truly quality and far-reaching Christian entertainment has been squandered in favor of more fake and manufactured ideas.  We get that from Hallmark all the time—why not change things up?  The viewers are not stupid, so why treat them that way?  Creators need to think better of their audiences and give them shows that provoke the imagination and challenge the status quo, not lull them to sleep or incite undue laughter.  It is clear that they knew they could do whatever they wanted and still get renewed, and it is likely that Season 4 will still be heavily watched.  But we at Box Office Revolution are still waiting for someone to use Hallmark resources for a better purpose: to create a show or movie series that is dynamic and truly changes things up.  We sincerely believe this is what God has called some Christians to do, and we wait to promote and support whoever will accept the challenge.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 14 points

 

Love Finds You in Charm {Amish Abduction} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Emma Miller is given the choice to leave her small Amish community in order to help her recently widowed aunt in Charm, Ohio, she jumps at the chance to try something new in her life.  She longs to see the world beyond the confines of her Amish life, and even though her aunt is also Amish, she sees the small Ohio town as an opportunity to experience the world she has never lived in.  But as soon as she steps foot in Charm, she meets a quiet Amish man named Noah, who is also helping her aunt in her time of need.  Emma is both intrigued by Noah but also intent on exploring the English world.  Little does she know that she will soon be faced with a choice that will determine her very future.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

This movie saga based on Love Inspired novels has demonstrated an ability to create quality productions.  Love Finds You in Charm follows closely in the footsteps of Love Finds You in Sugar Creek in many ways, including production quality.  The camera work is very professional, including angles and the filming of outside scenes.  The sets and locations are considerably diverse for a small town plot.  There is an overall authentic feel to the surroundings.  However, the soundtrack is pretty typical for this sort of movie.  The biggest production error is choppy editing; this film was obviously forced to be made for television when the plot scope is actually larger than ninety minutes.  But this aside, Charm’s production is something to be proud of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

In the same vein of Sugar Creek, Charm has a down-to-earth, average romance plot that is neither Hallmark-horrible nor Rik Swartzwelder-good.  Once again, Amish characters are portrayed in a realistic light without even a hint of shunnings.  Yet unlike Sugar Creek, Charm has a deep well of potential that was not drawn out.  Charm is loosely based on the plot structure of the classic romance Pride and Prejudice, yet it lacks the depth of this tale.  Emma is a pretty good character, yet she needed fleshing out.  Unfortunately, most of the supporting characters are a bit stereotypical and\or too black and white.  The dialogue is believable, yet once again not taken to its fullest potential.  The biggest arching issue is that, as mentioned previously, there is too much content crammed into a ninety minute runtime.  The plot and the characters had the potential to sustain at least a two hour feature film.  The end is too abrupt and does not fully appreciate the characters crafted.  In the end, Charm has a fine plot, but it is such a shame to see this sort of potential go to waste.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For a cast of relatively little-known and small time actors and actresses, the Charm cast pulls of the job quite well.  Line delivery is professional and there are no truly glaring errors.  The biggest issue here is that emotions are not felt as much as they should be felt.  Overall, the acting is above average, but it is not dynamic.  But in the end, it is a step above most romances.

Conclusion

It is highly likely that Charm was limited by both budget and the pressure to create a TV movie.  Were the creators given more space, it is highly likely that this would have been a Hall of Fame movie.  Regardless, despite our low expectations from the beginning of this Love Inspired saga, the series appears to be improving as it goes along.  This is a great accomplishment and we are intrigued to see what will happen next.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

The Bridge, Part 2 [2016] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Seven years after her father’s secret manipulation of her relationship with Ryan Kelly, Molly Callens transfers away from Franklin, Tennessee, finishes her college degree, and joins her father’s company and prepares to become its CEO.  Meanwhile, Ryan travels the country as a successful backup musician.  In Franklin, Donna and Charlie find themselves faced with financial ruin when storm damage threatens to take The Bridge away from them forever.  Then they are hit with an even worse tragedy, causing them to reach out to everyone whose lives they’ve touched.  This prompts Ryan and Molly to return to Franklin and reunite with a common goal: to save The Bridge.  Little do they know that their relationship might be rekindled too, even seven years later.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

There is a marked improvement in production quality from Part 1 to Part 2.  The camera work improves; it seems like more time was spent on it.  The sets are not as limited, but there are still excessive Christmas decorations everywhere.  However, the musical score is no better and the editing is still below par.  Time is better utilized in Part 2, but it still feels like important things have been discarded for the sake of typical Hallmark elements.  Overall, The Bridge, Part 2 is back to usual Hallmark production quality, but no better than that.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Writing a second part seven years later is an interesting concept, but it’s not presented properly.  Why did it have to be seven years?  Why not three, just enough for Molly to finish school?  It seems like everything except Molly’s schooling and Ryan’s musical career was paused during the seven year lull.  How did Molly and Ryan never ever discuss their falling out during those years, or even re-think their relationship?  Nevertheless, Part 1 ends with Christmas, and viewers are transported seven years later—to another Christmas!  Thus, this plot is littered with trite Christmas concepts.  The Christian message is only slightly more pronounced than before.  Since no character development was attempted in Part 1, the characters cannot be appreciated in Part 2.  The dialogue is still wooden and robotic.  The characters are still swept along by circumstances rather than affect their circumstances with their personality-driven choices.  The Bridge quickly descends into the typical save-the-bed-and-breakfast plot and rushes to an expected conclusion.  But even with that, the inevitable end of the plot is quite understated and confusing.  In short, this plot once again has some potential that is washed away in a tide of Hallmark nonsense.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

One consolation here is that the helium from the previous installment has been discarded and replaced with typical amateurish acting.  Line delivery is still robotic and forced and emotions are still not felt, but there is slight overall improvement.  However, there are still makeup problems and too much costuming.  In short, an all-too-common Hallmark casting performance.

Conclusion

As another aside, was it necessary to play Part 2 on Easter 2016 when there are still overt Christmas themes?  Why not play both of them in December 2015?  Where Part 1 was rushing to get to Part 2, the latter part is business as usual for Hallmark.  Karen Kingsbury’s talent as an author is lost in this two-part disaster, all thanks to Hallmark.  Some may criticize us for being so hard on this inspirational entertainment network, but their commitment to fakeness and fantasy over reality cannot be ignored.  With the amount of money they spend on movies per year, they should be turning out some serious quality content.  We can only imagine what quality movie creators like the Kendrick brothers, the Erwin Brothers, or the Burns Family especially could do with a three-hour two-part movie.  It’s highly likely that a large network like Hallmark will never pay any attention to these meager blog posts, but we continue our clarion call to the Christian movie culture nonetheless: produce quality and creativity that’s better than the mainstream, not the same old thing over and over again.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

The Bridge, Part 1 [2015] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Following a tragic personal loss, Charlie and Donna Barton are driven to pursue their dream: owning and operating a bed and breakfast.  They lease a beautiful property and begin renovating it and open it for business, calling it The Bridge.  They seek to make personal connections with their customers through hospitality and real books.  The Bartons are able to see many personal stories unfold, including the developing love between Molly Callens and Ryan Kelly.  Though Molly and Ryan are from very different worlds, they find common ground in making future goals and in discovering their true purposes in life.  As they grow closer together, little do they know that their relationship is about to be tested to its fullest.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Hallmark is usually known for their high production quality, but corners were obviously cut in The Bridge, Part 1.  For starters, there is far too much soft lens camera used, like they are trying to cover up things.  This only lends to the overall plastic feel of the film.  However, there is some good camera work that mostly saves the production from being horrible.  The sets are severely limited, only showing The Bridge over and over again, a couple of house and outside scenes, and that old truck.  The editing is very confusing, dropping viewers in the middle of circumstances with no explanation.  The 90 minutes of runtime are very poorly utilized.  The Bridge also makes use of Hallmark’s most annoyingly loud soundtrack.  In short, this film was obviously thrown together just for the sake of making it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The Bridge is not up to par with a typical Karen Kingsbury plot, and it can be understood why, since the movie departs from the original book concepts.  In this forced two-part movie, there is far too much repetition.  With 90 minutes to work with, the characters should be very deep and believable.  They are not.  Rather than being authentic, they are swept along by the plot without any control over their circumstances.  They make unexplained decisions, such as poor communication at convenient times, and are affected by coincidences just to extend the plot.  Besides this, the characters have a strange obsession with The Bridge and the Bartons have an unexplained perceptiveness.  The Christian message is watered down and replaced with trite Christmas superstitions and a crusade against ‘downloads’.  The only consolation in Part 1 is that there is a small amount of potential in the plot concept, yet it is squandered.  The end makes no sense and is anti-climactic, thus making this entire movie a waste of time.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Hallmark has coached some infamous casts before, but this collection takes the cake.  Filled with overly syrupy happiness, the actors and actresses seem like they are snorting helium.  With constant overdone smiling, they robotically deliver their lines with no emotion.  This is not to mention the very amateurish makeup jobs.  There is really nothing good to say here.

Conclusion

We maintain that Hallmark contacted popular Christian author Karen Kingsbury and instructed her to write a plot that closely follows the mindless romance storyline they are so deeply obsessed with.  Hallmark essentially used Kingsbury’s popularity among Christians to spin out another two-part movie about their typical themes.  They are obviously convinced that their audience constantly wants to see mindless romances time and again.  This movie was forced to be two parts, thus totaling up three hours of runtime, which was totally washed down the drain.  Karen Kingsbury is not at fault here—this is just another typical Hallmark disaster.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

Love’s Resounding Courage {Love’s Everlasting Courage} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After settling into their new lives together, Clark and Ellen Davis had a daughter named Missie and all seemed well for them.  However, things are about to change for them, as a drought threatens to destroy their very livelihood.  Their financial struggles prompt Ellen to take on extra work in town as a seamstress.  Clark’s parents also come to assist them however they can.  However, the new work begins to take a toll on Ellen’s health, and soon Clark must decide what he is going to do as he is faced with an impending tragedy.  Will he stand strong in his faith or turn away?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

In keeping with most Hallmark movies, the production quality of Love’s Resounding (Everlasting) Courage is above average.  The camera work is solid, along with the video and sound qualities.  The sets and locations are above average and the surroundings give off a truly authentic frontier feel.  The biggest caveat here, besides the typical too-modern costuming, is the sloppy editing.  Events sometimes happen too quickly and other times seemingly out of order.  However, this is a very well produced film, which really make it a shame that the plot is way off base.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

From the get go, it seems like Courage is going to be a really good movie about frontier struggles and the tragedy that shaped Clark Davis as a character for the remainder of the saga.  For the most part, this happens.  We need more plots like this that realistically demonstrate the tragic and hard things in life that everyone is faced with from time to time.  The dialogue therein is pretty good, and the characters are obviously flawed.  However, this plot receives a very low score because the obligatory new romantic subplot inserted into this film—the one between Ben and Sarah that was discussed in the inaugural Love Comes Softly film—completely undermines the intent of this entire franchise!  In Courage, their love doesn’t comes softly and they don’t marry out of ‘sheer need’, but for love.  There would be nothing wrong with this, except that, rather than just follow the original storyline that fans know, Hallmark elected to settle for a predictable romance that utterly strips the franchise of its purpose.  Evidently, they thought that audiences wouldn’t notice or care.  When will production teams begin to treat audiences better than this?

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Much like Love Begins, the acting demonstrates typical Hallmark elements.  As usual, the makeup and costuming do not exactly reflect historical authenticity.  The line delivery is neither great nor terrible.  Emotions can be felt by the audience.  In short, this section is business as usual.

Conclusion

Resounding Courage is a problematic movie.  On one hand, it has a very interesting premise with a lot of potential.  But on the other hand, it completely destroys the original premise of the Love Comes Softly series by inserting a new convenient romance just for the fun of it.  The longer this film franchise dragged on, the worse it became, to the point of turning the entire purpose on its ear.  This is exactly what will happen when creative teams deviate so far from the original purpose of a novel series to the point that they are just reusing the same concepts over and over again rather than provide audiences with fresh ideas that can be found in the pages of the very books the movies are based off of.  This is the end of Box Office Revolution’s Love reviews for now, so we will leave it with this note: make more Christian books into movies, but please, we beg of you, stay true to the books.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points