A Christmas Tree Miracle {Random Acts of Christmas} (Movie Review)

How'd I get stuck with this guy?
How’d I get stuck with this guy?

Plot Summary

When well-to-do David George is laid off from his job right before Christmas, he and his wife agree not to tell their three children until after Christmas to see if he can find a new job.  But as his job search becomes more and more fruitless and the money begins to run out, the George family begins to find themselves running out of options.  Confused and frustrated, they are forced to vacate their house and seek shelter elsewhere.  Though they are at the end of the rope, little do they know that things are about to turn around for them.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Everything about A Christmas Tree Miracle is a mixed bag.  While the video quality is sometimes blurry and outside scenes are not shot very well, the camera work is mostly okay.  Audio quality is good, but the obligatory Christmas soundtrack is wearing.  There are actually quite a few sets and locations used, but some of the outside ones seem fake.  Finally, the editing is just okay yet falls short of what it could be.  There seem to be too many useless scenes and the first half of the plot is spoiled before it even begins.  In all, this is an average production effort that should have been better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Essentially the Christmas version of Stand Strong, A Christmas Tree Miracle sports a surprisingly complex plot, even though it has many bizarre undertones and random twists and turns.  For example, sometimes things happen just because they need to happen.  One of the main characters is a creepy and schizotypal Santa Claus figure.  Though some plot occurrences are believable, others are just too far outside of reality.  If the writers wanted this movie to be meaningful, why does it have such strange elements?  The storyline oscillates back and forth between potentially interesting and laughable.  Elsewhere, there is too much annoying narration throughout.  Though the characters have some basis of believability, they seem unfinished and at times cartoonish.  Overall, there is just a general feel to this movie that you can’t really put your finger on.  It almost makes you want to like it, but it’s just too silly to be good.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Like other parts of the movie, the acting is sometimes tolerable while other times it is smart alec and over the top.  Some cast members come off as trying to make fun of the film.  Others are more professional.  Emotions are inconsistent but line delivery is mostly on par.  Basically, just another average effort.

Conclusion

A Christmas Tree Miracle is one of those odd movies that seems better than its rating.  Yet we cannot in good faith rate it any higher when it has so many goofy elements and logical inconsistencies.  The idea is interesting and might even be worth a remake.  The creators seem semi-genuine in what they are doing and produced a good amount of content to back it up.  However, this film just isn’t up to par with what it should be.  They should have spent less time on quasi-fantastical ideas and more time trying to bring this story into the real world.  But perhaps they have better things in store for the future.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

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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

 

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

Beyond the Mask (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

William Reynolds is not a good man.  As an unofficial contracted ‘enforcer’ for the East India Company, he has committed many undocumented international crimes.  That’s why his boss, Charles Kemp, enlists him and his partner to steal and replace an incriminating Parliamentary report that could shut down the entire company for unethical business practices.  However, after this mission is complete, William intends to put his criminal life behind him.  Little does he know that Kemp has other plans for him.  After secretly surviving a failed attempt on his life, Reynolds is forced to take on the identity of the man who foiled the murder—a young vicar headed to a local parish.  It seems easy until Reynolds must fabricate a knowledge of the Scriptures and come to grips with his newfound love for a local girl who has no idea who he really is.  What Reynolds learns is that life in hiding is anything but straightforward, especially during the tumultuous political times of pre-Revolutionary War England and America.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

Burns Family Studios did an excellent job on the production of this adventure epic movie, including camera work, special effects, and historical costuming.  It would have been very easy for this type of large scope movie to be cheaply produced, but this was not the case.  The editing must have been very tricky, given the time that the movie covers, but it is done fairly well.  There are virtually no errors here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

However, the same cannot be said about the plot.  Box Office Revolution believes talented writer Paul McCusker bit off more than he could chew with this historical epic.  The movie covers at least two years of highly important content, and it walks the line of being too fast paced and being just good enough.  In some respects, the plot moves too fast to develop the characters, but in other respects, it is a very exciting movie full of intriguing plot twists.  It is creatively woven around historical events, yet BOR wonders if Mask should have been two movies or even a miniseries.  At the same time, BOR realizes that money is always an issue with independent Christian films, so it is likely that McCusker and Burns Family Studios did the best they could with what they had.  In short, the only real errors in this aspect of the movie are the fast paced plot and some small yet unrealistic action scenes.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Andrew Cheney and Jon Ryhs-Davies are obviously well-seasoned actors, and they are coached well.  However, the ‘amateur’ actors are also coached very well.  BOR noted that staff positions on the production of this movie were devoted to acting coaching, something that other Christian productions need to take note of.  There are virtually no acting errors in Beyond the Mask.

Conclusion

In short, there are two ways of looking at Beyond the Mask, much like the masks of William Reynolds.  Either McCusker and Burns Family Studios did the best with what they had or they did not do enough.  BOR chooses to adopt a position in between these two options.  Beyond the Mask is clearly above average and Paul McCusker has always been known as an excellent story writer.  The movie is a breath of fresh air in the Christian movie industry and has made BOR very excited to see the future movies of Paul McCusker and Burns Family Studios.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points