Christmas Oranges (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Rose is an orphan girl who lives in Mrs. Hartley’s orphan home.  However, when Mrs. Hartley and some of the children die of illness one fateful month, all of the orphans are sent to other places.  Rose and some of her friends are sent to live in the orphanage of the angry Mr. Crampton, who has strict rules and doesn’t want children messing around with his stuff.  However, the more Rose learns about Mr. Crampton, the more she learns that he is hurting during the holiday season and needs someone to love him.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As usual for John Lyde and his creative teams, Christmas Oranges is a professional production.  This is evidenced by good video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is somewhat generic, but it is fine for the genre.  Locations are mostly fine, even though there are few of them, but the sets are limited in scope.  There are also some random scenes that are poorly lit for no clear reason.  However, on the flip side, the editing is surprisingly effective.  On the whole, this is a high quality effort that has become commonplace from this group.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

In a different turn from other stories from John Lyde and company, Christmas Oranges has a uniquely substantial plot that contains the accessible struggles of relatively believable characters.  Though there is narration that hurts things, the child characters are actually pretty good, even if the orphan premise is slightly cheesy.  There are also some silly ‘kids’ sequences and montages, along with some strawman characters.  However, for the most part, the dialogue and the ideas therein are mostly meaningful and do their best to avoid cliched Christmas concepts involving orphans.  Probably the best element of this storyline is its use of realistic character backstories to humanize the ‘bad’ characters.  On the whole, while this movie did not go as far as it could have, it is still enjoyable and is worth a watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

While most of the cast members are definitely professional, this section still tends to be a mixed bag.  Some cast members seem to be overdoing their performances just a bit.  However, on the whole, emotions are realistic, and line delivery is on point.  As a side note, costuming is historically authentic.  Overall, this rounds out a very professional effort.

Conclusion

The Covenant Communications\Paulist Productions\Mainstay Productions collaboration has been working for years to make respectable films, and for the most part, they have succeeded.  However, they have been plagued by an inability to get over the last proverbial hill that stands between them and film greatness.  Nonetheless, they have all the tools necessary to do so.  Thus, we believe that sometime in the near future, they will finally break through and make that dynamic film that has alluded them for years.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

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The Last Straw [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The McDonald family is full of screaming kids, and now they have taken on a trouble making relative for the holidays whose family doesn’t care about her.  As the kids perform all of their silly escapades, the shunned relative tries to fit into the neighborhood and meets a random boy next door whom she automatically likes, of course.  Then Mrs. McDonald, at the end of her rope, decides to institute a contest to see who can do the most deeds so they can put straw in their nativity manger.  It’s just another holiday tale.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For the most part, Rob Diamond and his team know how to put together a respectable production.  Video quality and audio quality are what they should be, even though the soundtrack is fairly generic.  There are some random moments of shaky cam, however.  Yet sets, locations, and props are fine, albeit somewhat limited.  There are also some minor editing concerns, but there are really no glaring errors.  On the whole, this is an above average effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the plot.  Besides being an extremely limited idea full of silly asides and manufactured drama, it is mostly eccentric.  The characters tend to be overdone yet not well developed, even though they spend a lot of time sitting around and talking.  With no clear purpose or direction, sometimes it seems like this story is a joke.  The ‘struggles’ of the characters are impossible to appreciate.  There is also a cheesy forced romance.  Overall, this is really not a complete enough idea to make a full-length film; the priorities of this film needed to be reevaluated.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Besides being very awkward at times, the cast members have a tendency to be overly happy and loud in most scenes.  Emotions are very plastic and laughably fake.  There is far too much shouting and yelling throughout, especially from the child cast members.  However, there are plenty of good moments, as well as improvement throughout, which saves this section from being zero.

Conclusion

In summary, it’s very hard to justify the making of this film.  It is based on a very thin idea, and it seems like it was rushed into being made without stopping to think about where this plot was even going.  Stories like this need to be seriously slowed down and evaluated for necessity and quality.  Until this happens on a consistent basis, we will keep having films like this put out.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 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

 

He Knows My Name (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ever since Rebekah’s father died tragically, Rebekah’s mother has not let her do much of anything.  Rebekah wants to go with her neighbor Isaac to see the miracle-working man named Jesus, but Rebekah’s mother doesn’t trust anyone.  Rebekah is only left to listen to her blind grandfather’s stories about being an innkeeper with no room for a young pregnant couple from Bethlehem.  One day, Rebekah finally gets her chance to meet Jesus and her life is changed forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

He Knows My Name demonstrates production improvement over No Ordinary Shepherd.  There is still some odd lighting in some scenes, the sets, locations, and props are all very high quality, especially the realistic locations.  Likewise, video quality and camera work also demonstrate high quality, along with the audio quality and soundtrack.  There are really only some minor production errors to address here which typically pertain to some editing concerns.  The presence of one too many lagging scenes raises some small issues, but it’s not enough to derail this production.  Improvement is what we look for across time, and this film shows it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Again, we wonder if the plots of No Ordinary Shepherd and He Knows My Name could have been combined somehow, yet this film clearly has a good message and effort behind it.  This second installment is more well-thought-out than the first as the characters are slightly more accessible and less lofty than before.  However, the portrayal of Jesus has still not improved as he seems like a character on another plain of thought from the others.  The dialogue, especially Jesus’, still tends to be a bit archaic and isolating, but there are better attempts here.  Overall, this seems like a more true-to-life story than the first, and it shows a continued effort to improve, which is all we can ask for.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The acting also shows improvement, even though the cast members are still completely culturally authentic.  Yet the realistic costuming is still present and the cast members appear to be more well-coached than before.  There are some small trip ups pertaining to theatrics, but on the whole, this upward trend is encouraging to see.

Conclusion

In many ways, this unofficial short film series plays out more like a miniseries should.  This why I have to wonder if it would do better in a miniseries format rather than a short film format.  Miniseries’ certainly receive more attention than short films.  Besides, we really don’t have a notable Bible miniseries on the market.  With the advent of more streaming service options, there is really no reason why we don’t have more series’ like this.  Perhaps one day we will.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

No Ordinary Shepherd (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Saul is a crippled shepherd boy who longs to meet the mysterious, miracle-working man all of Judea talks about.  Saul remembers the stories his father told him about being a shepherd and witnessing the heavenly host of angels tell him and his friends about the coming of the Messiah.  Saul’s father saw the baby Who was called the Messiah, and wondering if he could be the same miracle-working man everyone talks about.  Little does Saul know that he will be given an opportunity to see Him face to face.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though a lot of good effort was put into this short film, most notably the historically realistic props and locations, there are still some issues that keep it from being all that it could be.  There is too much soft light throughout, as well as one too many dark scenes.  The sets are also somewhat limited.  However, video and audio quality are fine, as well as the camera work and the soundtrack.  Also, the editing is surprisingly good, even though this is almost too short of a film.  In the end, this production shows good effort and is at least average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Sometimes it is better to just make one short idea to get started with film making.  An extended and protracted film can waste a lot of time and resources.  However, since this is such a focused movie with limited time, the characters need to be given a lot more intense attention.  They need to be more accessible rather than a collection of lofty Bible figures that use too much archaic dialogue.  Also, the use of narration should never be used as a crutch in a short film.  In the end, it is clear that this film means well and carries a good message, so the effort is definitely applaudable.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This cast starts out tending to be too theatrical in their delivery and not natural enough in their emotions.  However, there is some improvement throughout, even though the case members are not culturally authentic.  But perhaps this was all they had to work with.  The good thing is that the costuming is realistic and avoids looking like a Bible play.  Thus, this rounds out another average section that demonstrates good effort.

Conclusion

With three installments in this short film series, it seems like they could have been synthesized into one film.  Yet one can understand why a responsible film maker would begin their work with a short film—indeed, there are many films that should also be in the short film category.  Therefore, in the end, this is a commendable film that shows great potential for the future.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points