Holyman Undercover (Movie Review)

The Split Personality of David A. R. White
The Split Personality of David A. R. White
Nobody believes that stupid beard is real
Our reaction to this movie

Plot Summary

When Roy, a ‘young’ Amish man, supposedly turns 18, it’s time for him to go on his ‘Rumma Shpringa’, the time when all Amish ‘young’ folks go out into the world to hopefully discover how evil the world is and come running back to their drab lifestyle.  But Roy is determined to not only find his long-lost uncle, who disappeared to Hollywood on his ‘Rumma Shpringa’, but also to witness to the heathen of the world about Jesus Christ.  But what he finds instead is a cold world with no care for the things of God.  Roy finds his uncle, who advises him to jump into the show business in order to covertly share the gospel.  Roy runs into all sorts of odd characters along the way, including a producer he’s attracted to, who entices him to play Satan on a daytime soap opera.  But the further he does into the showbiz game, the more Roy finds himself compromising all he has been taught.  Which set of values will prevail?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

If Holyman Undercover has anything going for it, it does have pretty good video quality.  But that’s where the positivity ends.  Camera work is all over the place, obviously trying to be ‘funny’ and ‘comedic’.  Audio quality is fairly consistent, but cheesy sound effects interrupt it.  The sets and locations are purposely cheap-looking, and the surroundings are clownish, like they’re from a comic book.  I could go on about how the editing is poorly done, but it doesn’t really matter because it’s all purposeful.  This film was purposely created to be ridiculous, and that’s exactly what it is.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

Watching Holyman Undercover is a surreal experience unlikely to be replicated by anything else—expect for Me Again.  From slurs against the Amish to blatant and rude Hispanic stereotypes to gigantic strawmen of Hollywood insiders, this film really takes the cake.  As the split personality of David A. R. White, manifested in his two-character acting role, jumps from one random schizophrenic scene to the next, the audience can only laugh and look on at this train wreck of a creation.  Yet if you look past the zany madness that is this storyline, you can see truth emerging from the cracks.  This is a wild and embellished retelling of how the Whites began their film careers.  Coming from a strict Mennonite upbringing, David A. R. White must have felt like he was confined and not allowed to create, yet his stint in Hollywood has given him a chip on his shoulder the size of Kansas (pun intended) that makes him feel like the entire world is against Christians.  But in his usual extreme black and white thinking, the false dichotomy between overly strict Christians and hopelessly evil ‘worldly’ people is far outside of reality.  There is nothing real about this plot, and we believe that it was never intended to be real.  This is a sick satire, borne from the damaged emotions of David A. R. White, yet it is a window into what makes him tick.  But in the midst of trying to be over-the-top hilarious, there is zero coherency to this madness.  It would certainly be one thing if this creative wonder had a consistent thought across the continuum, but it does not.  There is no understanding of what and why goes on, or what is coming next.  It’s basically an embarrassing failed attempt at parody.  On the flipside, it’s a shame that a drug commercial satire idea got wasted in this movie.  Otherwise, Holyman Undercover can be seen as nothing more than a big joke that wasted over a million dollars.

Acting Quality (-1.5 points)

This clownish bunch of cast members is only lacking in Tommy Blaze, Morgan Fairchild, and David Blamy.  The actors and actresses have obviously been instructed to act as zany and stereotypical as possible, from the mentally ill ‘uncle’ David A. R. White, to the robotically mindless Andrea Logan White, to the histrionic Jennifer Lyons, to the egotistical Fred Willard, etc., etc.  Also, nothing beats Carey Scott trying to be a European maître d’.  David A. R. White has basically let himself out of the box in this one and acts as maniacal as he possibly can.  There is truly no seriousness here and a lot of lines seem adlibbed.  Emotions are blown out of proportion and line delivery is either lazy or forced.

Conclusion

The mind boggles as to how and why the Whites acquire so much money for films like this one.  Just think—what if the million and a half dollars blown on this train wreck was put toward a film that actually needed it, one that could have actually used the money for something good.  This is perhaps the real travesty with this film and with PureFlix in general.  Sinking millions of dollars into dead end films designed to make fun of stereotypes is a terrible use of God’s blessings.  This is why we continue to call the White and PureFlix out: wasted money and wasted potential.  Hopefully, one day, the tide will finally change and Christian movies will be something to be proud of.

 

Final Rating: -2 out of 10 points

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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

The Confession [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Leaving her Amish family behind in order to discover who she truly is in the world, Katie Lapp soon discovers that the Englisher life is harder than she anticipated.  She tries to work a restaurant job while searching for the mother she never met, Laura Mayfield-Bennet.  As a wealthy woman with a terminal illness, Laura is wary of leaving too much for her husband, Dylan, to gamble away like he has before.  She longs to find the long lost daughter she gave up years before, but she gives up all hope until one day, a miracle seemingly occurs.  Has her daughter really returned to her or has her husband pulled another one of his tricks?  In the midst of the confusion, Katie Lapp must keep her head above water and trust that God is in control.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Michael Landon Jr. and Brian Bird always seem like they are on the cusp of production greatness, and The Confession inches closer to production perfection, improving from the standard performance of The Shunning.  Camera work is highly professional, as is video quality.  Sound quality is good across the board.  The sets and locations are more realistic and diverse than the previous installment and give the film a tangible feel.  Yet two areas—the soundtrack and the editing—keep this production from being all it could be.  For one, The Confession utilizes a vanilla Hallmark-ish soundtrack that doesn’t inspire much.  For another, there are some lapses of editing, namely some odd assumptions, leaps in logic, and plot holes.  For the most part, the editing is fine, but there are just enough errors to create a small amount of confusion.  But in the end, this is actually a really good production and showcases what the Landon Jr. crew can do.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The Confession is more complex than The Shunning and it is really an interesting storyline.  The structure is unique and is mostly not one that is commonly used.  The conflict is slightly simple, but at least it’s not a copy of a copy of a copy.  Characters feel more real in the second movie than in the first one, and this is probably because of some more meaningful and deeper dialogue.  But there are a few silly moments that keep the character development from being all that it could be.  Elsewhere, as previously mentioned, there are some plot holes and leaps and logic that are inserted just to keep the plot moving to a desired conclusion.  For instance, how did replacement servant never arrive from ‘the agency’ and expose Katie for not being the replacement servant?  This allows the plot to progress forward to its desired conclusion with a dramatic will-signing scene.  For the most part, the error finding in this film is a little bit nitpicky, but we would have preferred to see the plot progress more naturally and not so carefully orchestrated.  Also, the ending of the film is quite confusing and isolating, obviously just setting up for the next film.  In the end, The Confession is an enjoyable plot with a touching message—it’s just too bad it wasn’t better because it definitely could have been.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Usually, changing a handful of the cast members in the middle of a trilogy isn’t a good idea, but it actually helps this franchise.  Katie Leclerc is a much better Katie Lapp and makes her character feel more authentic.  Elsewhere, emotional delivery and line delivery are much improved.  Everyone is cast very appropriately.  For the most part, Landon Jr. and company avoid their usual over-costuming mistakes.  Unfortunately, a handful of minor errors keep the acting quality from being perfect, but it is still a formidable effort.

Conclusion

Landon Jr., Bird, and their comrades have always demonstrated an ability to adapt Christian novels into films, and The Confession is probably their second best.  It’s oh-so-close to being Hall of Fame due to its professional feel and slightly creative plot, but several minor issues become a perfect storm to keep this from happening.  Unfortunately, only major plot reconstruction would have made it any better.  Yet it is good how it is and many people will enjoy this film.  Therefore, we can’t help but wonder that Hallmark’s production absence from this film somehow made it better.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

The Shunning [2011] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Katie Lapp’s life is about to change.  As a young Amish woman, she is coming of age and has been chosen by Hickory Hollow’s bishop to be his wife in order to raise his two children following the death of his wife.  But Katie is struggling with her Amish identity and wonders if there is another life for her outside of Lancaster County, as she secretly plays non-Amish music on her worldly guitar.  She also misses her true love, Daniel Fisher, after his tragic death.  What’s more, a mysterious Englisher woman has been asking around Lancaster County for Katie by name.  Everything comes to a head as Katie finally must choose between the life she has grown up in and the life she wants to find outside of Hickory Hollow.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The Shunning has all the typical marks of a Michael Landon Jr.\Brian Bird production: good video quality, professional camera work, vanilla editing, a clichéd setting and surroundings, and unrealistic costuming.  Landon Jr. and Bird have always known how to invest in quality camera work and video quality, but they unfortunately let too many other things fall by the wayside.  This plot is sleepy enough as it is, but the editing does nothing to help this fact.  Slow transitions between scenes and long fadeouts tempt the viewer to fast forward.  There are also too many scenery sequences that could have been used instead to build characters.  Also, it’s really hard to know if the portrayal of the Amish in this film is realistic or if it’s embellished.  Yet there are enough positive elements to lift this production about average status, but we await the day when the Landon Jr.\Bird team finally goes all the way, as they clearly have the means to do.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from Beverly Lewis’ popular novel by the same name, The Shunning just carries the entire identity of a stereotypical Amish plot.  As previously mentioned, some of the elements are likely realistic, but we can’t help but think that some real Amish people would feel offended by some of the portrayals.  There is little meaningful plot content as this film is obviously just setting up for the second installment of the trilogy.  Character development is shallow and dialogue is vanilla.  If so much time was going to be spent on preparing for the next film, it was an absolute must for characters to be deep and meaningful by the time the credits rolled.  Unfortunately, this did not happen.  On the brighter side, the use of flashbacks in this film are effective and creative.  The subplot overlay is intriguing and breathes new life into the film about halfway through.  Overall, while there are some interesting points, this plot really doesn’t hold the attention and it’s difficult to know what audience this movie would draw interest from.  As we’ve mentioned in the past, Landon Jr. specializes in bringing Christian novels to the big screen, but too often, the books are better than the movies.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

With obviously practiced ‘Amish’ accents, dialogue from the cast members is often hard to understand without captioning.  Yet the acting is not terrible and is sometimes quite good.  Emotions are sometimes over the top and other times realistic.  It’s not that this movie was cast wrong—they are not coached good enough.  Therefore, this is just another average contribution to the movie.

Conclusion

The Shunning is one of those movies that, when analyzed, is really not that bad, but it carries an intangible air to it that makes it extremely forgettable.  Landon Jr. and Bird have the ability and potential to make a huge difference in the Christian\inspirational movie field, but they constantly settle for second best.  There are plenty of other more meaningful, creative, and complex Christian novels that desperately need to be made into screenplays, and Landon Jr. and company have demonstrated the willingness and ability to do this.  What Christian film needs is game changers, not the status quo keepers.

 

Final Rating: 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 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

 

Love Finds You in Sugarcreek (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Rachel Troyler loves being a police officer in the small town of Sugarcreek, Ohio, but she still carries emotional baggage from past hurts.  That’s why she suspicious of a stranger who comes to town with a broken down truck and a sick son.  She becomes protective of her Amish aunts when they decide to take the man and his son in at no charge except for repairs to their dilapidated inn.  Rachel senses that there is something more to the stranger than meets the eye, and she is right.  Little does she know that she is caught in the middle of a high-stakes mystery involving top sports figures.  Yet despite her suspicions and self-protection, she finds herself falling for the mysterious runaway.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

One consolation to this film is that the production is not terrible.  It is actually quite decent—the editing is professional and the camera work shows skill.  There are no glaring errors related to sound and video quality.  The main caveats to point out here are the cheap and limited sets, so it seems like the crew did the best they could with what they had.  Overall, the production is above average, but not perfect.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Does this really have to be a romance?  The plot seems to work well as an average mystery.  Just because a fleeing athlete comes to town doesn’t mean that a local female police officer has to fall in love with him.  One breath of fresh air that this movie brings to the scene is a plot that includes Amish characters that don’t shun anyone or get shunned.  Surprisingly, most of the characters have some depth to them when it comes to their motivations and behaviors—many of them are authentic.  But unfortunately, the dialogue is just regular and the villain is very cheesy.  As previously mentioned, the mystery is just average but it seems like the most of made of it.  There are no real twists and turns—those looking for a straightforward Christian movie will find it here.  Overall, there are not overly negative elements in Love Finds You in Sugarcreek, but there are neither enough elements to make it truly creative.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Amish acting often comes off as stereotypical, but Sugarcreek tends to avoid these issues.  Overall, the cast is professional and seems to be semi-coached.  But at the same time, the lines and emotional delivery are a tad dry.  It’s already been said in this review, but the theme must be continued—the acting in this film is just average.

Conclusion

It is fitting that Sugarcreek receives a final score of five out of ten, a clean average score.  Box Office Revolution anticipated a much worse rating from any film associated with the stodgy yet empty novel saga Love Inspired.  The best was done with what was offered in this film, and it can stand as an example of how to make the best possible ‘Love Finds You’ movie.  But at the same time, we must still request that more diverse movies be contributed to the Christian movie scene.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points