A Love That Hurts (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Chris and Samantha are newlyweds who can’t wait to start a family.  However, their dream ends in heartbreak as their first child miscarries.  This tragedy pushes them apart as a couple and causes them each to seek fulfillment in all of the wrong places.  When another tragedy strikes their family, they will have to make a choice: will they grow apart or seek God to save their marriage?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

A Love That Hurts has a surprisingly above-average production for such a small budget.  Although there are some moments of echoed audio and some disorienting special effects, video quality and camera work are quite good.  Sets, locations, and props are slightly limited, but they are good considering what the creators had to work with.  Further, there are some abrupt cuts and transitions throughout, but as a whole, this is a very good production considering the tiny budget that was allotted for it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

While there are some good attempts to portray accessible characters with realistic struggles, the characters of this story really need to be deepened, not only because this is a character-based plot, but also because it would make the story more meaningful.  As it is, a lot of the dialogue is too obvious and forces the plot along.  Some characters are too robotic as they appear to be pawns in the plot, only serving the purpose of spoon-feeding the audience an obvious message.  This message comes off as a somewhat plastic version of Christianity, including an odd portrayal of women.  Also, some characters are ‘overly Christian’ or become perfect through quick resolutions and easy fixes to problems.  However, not all is bad here as the writers at least demonstrate a care for realism, even if the plot is sometimes boring and slow.  The ending is a bit forced and rushed, as well as somewhat vague and abrupt.  In the end, it’s clear the writers meant well here, even if the delivery was misguided.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this is an ‘amateur’ church cast, the cast members show a lot of potential and desire to do well.  There are plenty of good acting moments as real effort is evident.  The main issue to point out here is that sometimes the cast members appear to be overly practiced in their lines and emotions.  Some cast members could use a little more natural emotion, but as a whole, this film is an applaudable effort.

Conclusion

It’s rare to find a movie this highly rated with such a small budget.  Further, it is clear that this creative team was putting their great effort into making this a good project.  However, it seems like more could have been done in the plot department.  Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see if they produce any more content in the future.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

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Come Follow Me [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Jesus called Peter to follow Him, Peter never thought he would experience what he experienced.  Jesus called Peter to follow Him no matter what, but Peter faltered at the darkest hour of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Peter could not understand why Jesus was allowing Himself to be overpowered by evil, so he took matters into his own hands and found himself fallen away was Jesus was taken captive.  However, Jesus gave Peter a second chance after His Resurrection and led Peter to change the world for the sake of Christ.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a short film with a loose association to The Visual Bible, Come Follow Me is almost an afterthought, even though the production is mostly good.  Video quality, camera work, and audio are all on par with what they should be, even if the soundtrack is a bit odd a times.  There are some random bouts of odd lighting, but the sets, locations, and props demonstrate a lot of attempts at authenticity.  There are also some intermittent sequences of slow motion, and the editing is somewhat choppy, but on the whole, this production is good enough to be above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Although Come Follow Me is not a word-for-word rendition of the story, there is still unnecessary narration presented.  However, not being tied to the word-for-word model helps to develop the characters better, even though they could still use some deepening through more substantial dialogue.  It is good to see a portrayal of different aspects of familiar stories, even if some parts are overly dramatic.  As previously mentioned, this short version of the story of Peter is a bit rushed as it comes off as choppy and even flat at times.  It tends to only hit the high points, even though this could have been a feature length film, as there is plenty of Peter content to work with in the historical accounts.  Thus, this section can’t warrant very many points.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Unlike his original performances in The Visual Bible, Bruce Marchiano shows his darkly dramatic side in Come Follow Me, which is off-putting.  Other cast members also tend to be too dramatic and theatrical in their performances.  On the bright side, costuming is fine, and there are some attempts at cultural authenticity, even though this is not consistent throughout.  In the end, however, this film comes off a mediocre and forgettable.

Conclusion

There was a lot of untapped potential left at the table when it came to this film.  There are plenty of Peter movies on the market, but we could use one that truly captures Peter as a real person who can be related to by many.  The Bible and other historical accounts have plenty of content on Peter to use, so it’s up to a responsible film maker to use them well.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Different Drummers [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When an unlikely friendship develops between David, a boy with muscular dystrophy, and Lyle, a boy diagnosed with ADHD, David sets out to show Lyle that God really does exist.  As they collaborate on a science project contest that Lyle is determined to win, they form a close bond, and David finds a new purpose in life.  Though they get into various escapades and scrapes that are not easy to get out of, their coming of age journey is one that they will never forget.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For the most part, Different Drummers is a fine production that has a lot of high marks.  These include great video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  Though the soundtrack is a bit generic, it is not a detractor.  Sets, locations, and props are all what they should be and are utilized effectively.  Overall, this is a professional production that is only hurt by some awkward cuts and transitions.  However, this is not enough to keep this section from having a respectably high score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Different Drummers, in many ways, is too much of a ‘silly’ kids story, as it is a coming of age plotline.  As such, there are a lot of seemingly unnecessary goofy sequences that tend to just fill time.  However, this storyline also presents a realistic and believable portrayal of special needs people, as well as an honest look at the dangers that come about when children are over-medicated.  However, the Christian message is a bit too vague, even though dialogue is fairly well-constructed.  Even so, there isn’t much substantial content to work with here as the story tends to hop from one thing to the next without much focus, but this could be an extrapolation of the main character’s ADHD, so it may be excusable in some ways.  In the end, this story has a realistic ending, and it will be mostly enjoyable for many audiences, so it may be worth a watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The casting and acting of this film is mostly fine, considering the number of younger cast members.  Though there are some awkward performances (perhaps purposely) and some over the top emotions in some scenes, for the most part, this cast is professional.  Each cast member tends to be cast well, and line delivery is solid throughout.  This rounds out an above average film all around.

Conclusion

Films like Different Drummers should be more commonplace in Christian film than they are.  Funding is used well, the story is at least halfway interesting, and the acting is adequate.  Though there some clear steps that could have been taken to make this film a higher rating, as it is, many audiences will enjoy it.  Still, we can’t help but wonder the potential these sorts of films could have had.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Young Disciple, Season 1 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

Eli is done with the street life of being a gangsta.  He has found faith in Christ and wants to make a new life for himself and his family, but the old life keeps calling him back in the form of gang lord Prime, who has Eli’s brother in his clutches.  Will Eli be able to escape the bondage of the streets and live the life God wants him to live?  Will his brother be pulled into the old life Eli used to live?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, Young Disciple suffers from a severe lack of adequate funding, as well as mismanagement of the resources that were at hand.  This is evident in the cheap video quality and the weird camera angles, as well as the poor audio quality and the odd sound effects used throughout.  The lighting is also not what it should, as the sets and very cheap and limited.  There aren’t many locations to speak of, and the soundtrack is too loud at times.  While there is some improvement throughout the season, it’s not enough to overcome this series’ very rough beginning.  Also, the editing is very raw, thus rounding out an underwhelming effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

While Young Disciple attempts to portray realistic characters and the struggles and circumstances they go through, the delivery is lacking.  While the creators of this series likely meant well with what they were doing, the presentation very much hurts their intentions.  Dialogue is too lazy, and most conversations tend to meander and even repeat themselves over time.  Too many scenes appear to be grasping for content rather than trying to develop the characters.  Besides this, there are too many side characters and subplots that are hard to follow or understand.  The storyline of this series is confusing and is too disorganized to be understood easily, even though there was plenty of potential here.  Unfortunately, this series just misses the mark all the way around.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Though this amateur cast is definitely trying, they really would have benefitted from some much-improved coaching and development.  There are too many sequences of yelling and juvenile arguing.  Too often, emotions seem very flat and pedestrian.  Line delivery is inconsistent at best.  It’s unfortunate that this section continues to demonstrate the theme of mismanagement in this series.

Continuity Quality (.5 point)

Besides the oddly abrupt episode endings, Young Disciple has story and character arcs that are very hard to follow, even though they can be interesting at times and actually demonstrate some potential.  Moreover, this series tends to adapt the one-thing-after-the-next episode model that creates a storyline without much continuity.  Thus, this rounds out an overall disappointing experience.

Conclusion

Though Young Disciple was underfunded, this does not mean it had to be this bad.  It seems like the writers were trying to make something big in the storyline, but its delivery is off the mark.  Had this plot been much stronger and had there been more continuity in the series, Young Disciple could have overcome its shortcomings and stood out as a creative series.  As it is, it certainly deals with some pertinent issues that need to be portrayed in Christian films and series, but not like this.  Perhaps they will have better luck next time.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 14 points

 

The Carpenter’s Miracle (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Though John Camdenis is just an average carpenter who doesn’t think much of himself, when his touch appears to bring a dead boy back from the dead, the small town he lives in immediately becomes ground zero for media attention and controversy.  He appears to perform more miracles, but he has no idea what to do with his newfound abilities.  John wants to go back to the way things were, but now it’s no turning back for him or the boy who came back to life.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Though this is a made-for-TV production from UP, there are some surprising production errors here.  While video quality is fine, there is a high amount of shaky camera work throughout this film, probably for dramatic effect.  However, it doesn’t come off right.  There are also some awkward camera angles that give off a feel of the camera being moved around manually.  Nonetheless, there is a lot of great attention to detail when it comes to sets, locations, and props, especially the medical elements.  The soundtrack is also very interesting, as the audio quality is also good.  Finally, the editing is mostly fine, and overall, this production is above average, despite the odd oversights.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

At first, the plot of The Carpenter’s Miracle is hard to understand, but it doesn’t get much better from there.  The plot is presented in a very confusing fashion, and it is very unclear what is meant to be learned from this story.  It is only very vaguely Christian as the underlying message is mostly unknown, except for several obvious Easter themes.  Sometimes it seems like the story is hiding some great secret from you, but no clarity is ever offered.  Is the main character supposed to be Jesus or not?  Did he perform miracle or get involved in coincidences?  Besides these unanswered questions, the characters are too one-dimensional due to stilted and under-developed dialogue.  Furthermore, the ending is very head-scratching, thus completing a very unusual experience of a film.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast tends to be professional and mostly means well, there are a handful of awkward moments, especially in the beginning.  However, there is a lot of potential here, and the acting overall improves as the film goes on.  Emotional delivery is particularly believable and realistic.  In the end, however, this punctuates a unique experience that is difficult to quantify.

Conclusion

One can understand why UP would want to make another made-for-TV film to tap into a Christian audience, but this is an unusual choice.  Why not make the message more obviously Christian or at least try to offer some clarity as to what the underlying point of this story is?  Instead, we are left with more questions than answers, yet many people probably won’t ever know this film exists.

 

Final Rating: 4 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 Debacle (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Larry and Vaughn have been long time friends, but Vaughn has never felt like he was worth much of anything, especially after he gets laid off from his job.  Larry, on the other hand, is overconfident in himself and has many ideas of what he should be doing, such as rescuing damsels in distress.  However, neither of them could have expected to be transported back in time to a Western town in need of heroes.  If Larry and Vaughn can save the town, they will have completed their quest, but if they do not, they will be trapped in history forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Surprisingly, a lot of time and money was put into this production.  This is shown in the good video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  Though the soundtrack is a bit silly and is sometimes too loud, the sets, locations, and props are excellently constructed and utilized for this genre.  However, there are some awkward cuts and transitions that are likely included to make the movie ‘goofy.’  However, on the whole, this is an above average production that does not fit with the rest of the film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

From the beginning to the end, this appropriately-named film is trying way too hard to be funny with cringeworthy comedy moments and eye-rolling escapades.  Not only is the premise completely absurd, but it is full of cheesy Western elements and other asides that make no sense at all.  The Christian message is forced, cheesy, and empty.  This ridiculous story feels like it has been made for the sake of being made, since it has basically no purpose at all.  The characters are dumb due to the half-hearted dialogue, not to mention the fact that the villain concept is very stupid.  Essentially, there’s really nothing good to say about this plot except that it was good when it was over.

Acting Quality (1 points)

Besides the absurd self-casting and acting (Joshua Zirger from Fenced Off should have never been cast again), the cast members over-play and overdo everything.  Line delivery is drawn out, and emotions are laughable.  Though there are some okay moments, most sequences from this cast are annoying as they tend to make fools of themselves.  Unfortunately, there’s not much good to say about this film.

Conclusion

Basically, this movie is a debacle.  Whether or not they intended it to be so appropriately named is beside the point.  Making this sort of comedy that’s in your face and completely obvious is never a winning idea.  Also, the childish time travel notions and cliched Western tropes are very old and worn out.  The only advice that can be offered here is to try something totally different next time.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

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

Acting Quality (2 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Christmas For a Dollar (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

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