Love Begins [2011] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After getting involved with the wrong people and getting involved in a fight that damages a local café, Clark Davis ends up in a jail cell alone when his partner in crime escapes.  Since Clark stays behind when he could have left, the local sheriff decides to have mercy on him and give him a chance to work off the damage he caused.  Clark ends up helping two sisters, Ellen and Cassie Barlow, with their struggling farm, since their parents passed away and left them with all the work.  Before he knows it, Clark finds himself interested in the Christian beliefs of Ellen and finds himself falling in love with her.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

With Hallmark taking full control of these Love Comes Softly spinoffs, the production quality improved slightly.  The camera work is solid, as is the video quality, including good outside shots.  The sound quality is consistent throughout.  The sets and locations are authentic, but slightly limited.  The costuming is pretty good, but there are still some historical time period errors, such as excessive makeup and hairdos.  The editing is above average, yet there is not much content to work with.  But overall, this is not a cheaply made production and certainly could have been a lot worse.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

After silently departing from Janette Oke’s original plotlines in the original Love Comes Softly movie franchise, Hallmark has now manufactured a sequel using characters implied in the books or younger versions of main characters.  Perhaps it was better to be honest and upfront about inventing a concept loosely based on novels, since Love Begins isn’t really that bad of a plot.  It’s not overly cheesy, yet it is also not very creative.  The dialogue is fairly stock and seems to drag on, since this plot is quite shallow for content.  Thus, the characters need more deepening.  Yet the events that happen are realistic and relatable.  Nothing outlandish will be found here—Love Begins is a simple, straightforward Hallmark romance that mostly avoids a cheesy identity.  While there is nothing very creative here, it is at least an average plot.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This is a very small cast, and their acting is certainly not horrible.  The acting overall definitely reaches the average mark.  Some actors and actresses needed to be coached better so that they were more authentic acting.  As previously mentioned, there are some unrealistic costuming and makeup issues, which seem to be a plague in Hallmark frontier movies.  In the end, average is a word that sums up Love Begins.

Conclusion

Unable to resist the urge to continue to spin out more made-for-television movies loosely based on Janette Oke’s creative concepts, Hallmark did not commit glaring errors in Love Begins.  Rather, they settled for a down-home inspirational romance that many people will find enjoyable.  Yet the real question remains: how many more of these types of movies does the market really need?

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

The Ultimate Life (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jason Stevens has inherited his grandfather’s massive fortune, but he has lost his way in life.  He is successful at putting the money to good use helping others, but he seems to never have any time for his longtime girlfriend Alexia, who he does not realize has plans of her own.  On top of this, Jason’s family is suing him for the family fortune.  When he wakes up one day and suddenly finds Alexia has left the country, he doesn’t know what to do.  Therefore, he goes to his old friend Hamilton, who produces the diary of Jason’s grandfather so Jason can learn from his grandfather’s mistakes before he repeats them.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

The video quality is clear, but unfortunately, that’s all that can be said for the production of The Ultimate Life.  The sound quality varies depending on the type of scene.  The camera work is also very random—sometimes good and sometimes shaky.  The sets and locations are pretty good and fairly historically accurate, but some of them are unprofessionally presented.  Perhaps the worst part is the editing.  It is already difficult enough to transpose a past plotline onto a present day plotline, but The Ultimate Life comes off as very choppy and hard to follow.  The scenes are all over the place, sometimes depicting a vague World War II battle and sometimes depicting an awkward 1940s high school (the actors seem too old for high school though) dance.  The bottom line is that where the resources were available to make this a successful movie, they were not utilized.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

This plot is meant to be another book adaptation, but it is nothing like the book that bears the same name.  However, there wasn’t really much to work with in the book anyway.  In this film, the life of Red Stevens is displayed at breakneck speed, thus not allowing any time for character development.  While this could have been a very interesting tale of success, decline, and corruption, the story sputters along like an old car.  It seems like multiple different movie ideas were spliced together into one, since the story hops along through time, only hitting the highlights and those moments that can be easily connected to the first installment in the series.  The dialogue is mindless, and thus, the characters are empty.  The only good thing to highlight here is that this plot had potential—the story of Red Stevens is not necessarily a happy one, but it could have been used as an example of how to handle success and how to put family first.  But beyond this, there is nothing to say except that it seems like, rather than actually craft a meaningful plot to showcase an interesting topic, the crew thought up a whole bunch of tongue in cheek references to the more successful Ultimate Gift and transposed it on a post-Depression era backdrop.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

The actors and actresses are given no help.  Therefore, the line delivery is very forced and no emotional expression is authentic.  It seems like this cast could have been better than they are in this film, but nothing materializes.  As a side note, it is difficult to cast multiple actors for one character across a timespan, but The Ultimate Life handles this pretty well.  But unfortunately, that is the only good thing to mention.

Conclusion

The Ultimate Gift was a great film, and it is understandable why a prequel was requested.  There was a lot of good content that could have been covered.  Red Stevens’ character arc could have been showcased.  The Ultimate Life could have been a great film, but ‘could have’ is not a winning phrase.  After the success of Gift, Life had no excuses to be so poor, but it did.  This is unfortunate, and The Ultimate Life joins a long line of Christian films that could have been.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points