When Calls the Heart, Season 4 (Series Review)

Happy plastic people

Nurse Carter’s still here for some reason
Can’t forget about Rip

Plot Summary

After the marriage of Lllllllee and Rosemary, stuff just sorta keeps happening in Walnut Grove Hope Valley.  Rosemary has a daily ‘funny’ escapade and continues to parody herself until she becomes a perfect character like the others.  The town counselor, Abigail, tries to take over the mayor’s office from the breathy Gowen while she’s still trying to run her café.  That odd fake-looking guy named Bill is still hanging around being mysterious and doing sheriff stuff.  Elizabeth and Jack are still performing their endless and painful will-they-won’t-they dating dance until the writers finally get tired of it and decide to send Jack to the north to fight the good fight.  A railroad subplot is introduced (I wonder where that idea came from) to try to keep this television series on life support.  But who cares what happens anyway—ratings are up and a fifth season is on its way already, so who are we to talk?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Much like Season 3, the production of When Calls the Heart has remained relatively stable since the early, low-budget days passed.  Video quality and camera work are professional as always.  Audio quality is standard, but that same old stupid soundtrack gets really old, especially when you hear it on other Hallmark movies.  Sets and locations are extremely limited as the series further settles into its small town feel.  There’s no branching out here, that’s for sure.  Editing also standard and very phoned in as each episode follows and mindlessly predictable progression.  They stretch out, one after the next, like indistinguishable zombies in Michael Landon Jr.’s makeup jobs.  What more can we say?  The money is clearly spent pretty wisely, but for what?

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

In a change from Season 3, this season’s storylines bring some minor complexity to the screen, especially where the railroad is involved.  However, the writers overplayed their hand with the railroad characters and made them too evil in some kind of weird attempt to make the breathy Gowen a nice guy.  Regardless, the railroad intrigue is resolved far too easily and dispensed with as quickly as it was introduced.  Besides this, Season 4 is full trite subplots and asides: Elizabeth helps a troubled child with something, Rosemary always has a new scheme, the fake-looking Bill is mysterious, Abigail is the town hero, Lllllllee does business stuff, Pastor Hogan does protective stuff, Cody is a middle school boy, Jesse is still hanging around for some reason, and Jack has to ‘fight the good fight’, as we are reminded in nearly every episode.  Too many characters are fixed and too many conflicts are easily resolved.  Random ‘mysterious’ characters are introduced to only be discarded or used as more fodder for manufactured drama.  Overall, with tons of inconsistently used characters and a host of overused ones, Season 4 of this series overall lacks direction and focus, but what else is new?  The writers are clearly either trolling or phoning it in because they don’t have to try.  Why try something risky when safe pays so well?

Acting Quality (1 point)

New season, same old cast full of fake-looking plastic people and Hallmark retreads.  No emotions are believable and everything seems manufactured and childish.  There’s nothing new to talk about here except for the fate of Daniel Lissing.  Is this an elaborate scheme to generate attention or just the loss of a main actor?  Only time will tell.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

As noted in last season, Season 4 has no plot or character arcs that should be commonplace in recurring series’.  Most characters are static or become more perfect.  There are no plot twists or character complexities.  Though the railroad storyline had potential to be complex, it simply did not reach its full potential.

Conclusion

When Calls the Heart has long been a series that has lost its way.  Living off of the old days at the beginning of the series and constantly reminding us through flashbacks what these cast members used to look like before they became #Hallmarked, Landon Jr. and company are just phoning in episode after episode as their sappy series gets mindlessly renewed time and time again.  But what does it matter as long as they have a faithful following who are intent to grab on to anything of remote substance produced by the pharmaceutical-backed mother channel that still tries to pretend like it’s about greeting cards.  It still remains true that When Calls the Heart fills a huge void of wholesome entertainment that no one else seems to be able to fill with anything more substantial than this.  So here we sit, in mediocrity and safeness.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 14 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

 

When Calls the Heart [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Elizabeth Thatcher is restless in her American white upper class family structure and longs to make a true difference in life.  She is tired of being sheltered by an extravagant and risk-free lifestyle in the east and longs to teach struggling children in the west.  But her family is opposed to this prospect and seeks to thwart her goals.  Yet as Elizabeth seeks to understand their opposition, she stumbles upon a family secret involving an aunt who shares her name who also had a heart for struggling western schools.  In trying to discover how she can leave her mark on the world, Elizabeth finds that God has uniquely equipped her for adventures she never imagined.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Michael Landon Jr. usually puts on a good production.  The camera work is professional, including in different lighting scenarios.  Good locations and sets are chosen that are neither cheap nor unrealistic.  The costuming and makeup are not overdone like Landon has done in the past.  The video and sound quality are solid.  The editing is pretty good, considering that two stories are being overlaid.  But the editing also leaves something to be desired as there are some plot holes.  But in the end, this film’s production is quite good.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

When a movie mixes two different plots together connected by the reading of a diary, it usually means that there is not enough content in either subplot.  This is slightly true in this Janette Oke novel adaptation, but it seems to work out well enough.  Yet it cannot be ignored that putting two plots together undermines character development in both.  Dialogue is limited because of the combination, but it is still not a completely bad plot.  There are some interesting points and slight twists throughout.  Events that occur are authentic and believable.  The premise of the movie is very interesting, but the end of the movie is confusing.  Was this meant to be the first in a series of movies?  At the time of this writing, there are no plans for a sequel.  The ending could have been written in such a way so that a sequel was not necessary—as it is, it seems incomplete and slightly unprofessional.  Whatever the intention was, this is an average plot that needed further developing, yet it is not horrible on its face.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This is a semi-professional cast, yet they are not terribly dynamic.  They do fairly well in delivery and expression, but they still leave something to be desired.  The actors and actresses do not change the movie for the better, but neither do they derail it.  Average is a word that sums up this film as a whole.

Conclusion

It is likely that Michael Landon Jr.’s development of the When Calls the Heart television series cut this potential movie saga short, but we cannot understand why he planned to make both, each with different actors and characters and with entirely different premises.  This movie, we believe, had more potential than the television series, although there is nothing wrong with creating more miniseries.  The bottom line is that the When Calls the Heart film seems like an afterthought and feels like more could have been done with it had more effort been applied.  As it is, it’s a fine movie, but it is not Hall of Fame worthy.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points