When Calls the Heart, Season 6 (Series Review)

We don’t speak of her anymore

Plot Summary

And once again we return to the fake small town known as Hope Valley for another fruitless season of people living in the dream world crafted by the series creators. Hardly anybody remembers Jack the Mountie anymore except for the fact that he and Elizabeth were married long enough to produce an instant child who’s coincidentally named after him. While Daniel Lissing willingly left the show, which was last season’s biggest news, Lori Loughlin was literally handcuffed, removed, and totally scrubbed from the show. The shadow of her scandal looms over the sixth season, especially with how Hallmark mishandled the whole ordeal and drew unnecessary attention to the problems. As a whole, Abigail’s awkward exit from the show and the subsequent complete rewrite of the show is the most interesting things that happened, but why are we not surprised? Michael Landon Jr. always planned to subject Erin Krakow to his favorite young-widow-starts-sort-of-dating-again treatment as he always has, so there’s nothing left to do but once again point out the same old flaws this series commits and count down the minutes for the Hearties to descend on my little blog post to vehemently defend all things wholesome in the face of such heartless (lol) criticism.

Production Quality (2 points)
What’s a Hallmark production without the same carbon-copy lineup of good camera work and video quality, acceptable audio quality, and that predictable, nauseatingly bubbly soundtrack? When Calls the Heart part VI checks all the proverbial boxes in this category, and it’s getting very difficult to differentiate any of the seasons from each other (except for the first two). Hope Valley still consists of the same old sets, locations, and props that are no doubt re-purposed for other Hallmark productions and are designed to make the audience believe this is a real Western town. Also, there’s still that tiny forest area Bill goes to dramatically reveal another part of his vastly complex yet noticeably cagey backstory. The only complaint for this section (besides their doing the same thing with no noticeable changes or improvements) is that we still don’t have a set for the beauty salon where the female characters get their hair done (although we might have gotten a quick glimpse at it in the finale).

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)
As we’ve said before, ever Hamilton took over Hope Valley, nothing has ever been the same. We just get the same old helium-infused characters spinning in circles as they retrace old plots steps over and over again. The only chances we have to get outside of the Hope Valley crossroads are Bill’s forest trips to tell us another part of his ever-fluctuating history, but now that we have a new Mountie, I guess we’ll have some trips to that bridge or something. Elsewhere, Elizabeth keeps us wondering why she’s even still in the series as her heart (lol) is passed around like a football and only exists for Michael Landon Jr. and company to continue their fetish of pairing a woman with a law enforcement character just long enough for her to get pregnant before killing said man near the end of the movie\series or even in between installments. Seriously, how is Elizabeth and Lucas vs Nathan any different from Charles vs Jack (except that Marcus Rosner was an essential addition to the show yet was stolen from us)? Elsewhere, the town is littered with many empty-minded side romances that they desperately want us to care about (although Aren Buchholz is quickly becoming one of the most important aspects of the entire series). Even Rosemary is losing her luster as a satirical comic relief who reminds us how un-serious the whole ordeal is as the writers are muting her character to go all dark and brooding because of [WHOOPS SPOILER]. And then there’s that whole situation with Abigail. Ironically, just before Lori Loughlin was led away by the police, her character made a hilariously funny reference to how Bill needed to bring some random bad guy to justice, and this is definitely the defining moment of the entire season. Loughlin’s scandalous shadow looms large over the poor town; even after the writers awkwardly tried to erase her from the universe’s memories, everything was clunky following the hiatus. Subplots awkwardly start and stop with no real conclusions. Scenes between Elizabeth and Lucas seem directly copied from Beauty and the Beast (yes, he gave her a library). Gowen is as uneven as ever (seriously, what do the writers expect from him at this point?). They all seem lost without Abigail to guide them in their everyday lives, but alas, she and Cody (awwww he left too!) has bigger fish to fry in court “back east.” Thus, with nothing really new to say here besides the same garbage we’ve seen from the past two indiscernible seasons, Hearties only have this incoherent stream of consciousness to parse through as they rush from Facebook to “own” the author of this post with zingers better suited for a clickbait news site.

Acting Quality (0 points)
For the most part, the acting of this season is as sappy as ever, but there are a handful of instances, especially near the end, that feel very muted and more scripted than usual. This is no doubt that this is due to some of the redone footage after Loughlin’s untimely exit, and the cast members were likely just emotionally distraught over her absence. Overall, there’s really nothing new to write home about (although Elizabeth does quite a bit of writing these days), and this section is award no points because we expect better than this after six seasons.

Continuity Quality (0 points)
As previously mentioned, some of this season’s subplots seem to disappear from the writing with no warning, which is a likely byproduct of the rework done following Loughlin’s arrest. Otherwise, it’s just typical plug and play romances as the writers introduce one after another to the point where you can’t hardly tell the different between them. Also, as a side note, at least a third of the subplots in season six relate in some way to the upcoming summer spinoff show When Hope Calls, which is possibly where many characters will escape to once When Calls the Heart finally runs out of steam.

Conclusion

Oh yeah, so there’s a seventh season coming up. MLJ has at least two more seasons to use Elizabeth’s indecisiveness and lack of personality as a carrot to dangle in front of his rabid fans, but sooner or later, they’ll get tired of this song and dance. With Loughlin’s scandal-ridden exit, this series is already running on fumes and has only been sustained by constant romance bait-and-switch. I mean, is anybody the least bit annoyed with how they treat Elizabeth? Anyhow, this has been another WCTH review from your favorite reviewer in which I didn’t talk about much substantial and just sort of rambled on about random things I thought of while I binge-watched this season. Begin commenting now……………………….

Final Rating: 2 out of 14 points

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When Calls the Heart, Season 6 (May 2019)

erin krakow, kavan smith, jack wagner

New episodes of WCTH are returning May 5 and 6, 2019, season 6 will continue to air on Sundays

Season 6 Revision Info

Writer(s): Brian Bird, Michael Landon Jr., Kevan Smith, Jack Wagner

Director(s): Brian Bird, Michael Landon Jr.

Producer(s): Brad Krevoy, Brian Bird, Michael Landon Jr., Alfonso H. Moreno, Neill Fearnley, Eric Jarboe, Susie Belzberg, Michael Shepard, Jimmy Townsend, Annie Brunner, Derek Thompson, Elizabeth Stewart, Lori Loughlin, Erin Krakow, Amanda Phillips Atkins, Vicki Sotheran, Greg Malcolm

Starring: Erin Krakow, Lori Loughlin, Pascale Hutton, Jack Wagner, Kavan Smith, Mark Humphrey, Erica Carroll, Carter Ryan Evancic, Eva Bourne, Chris McNally, Kevin McGarry, Rob Estes, Jocelyn Hudon, Morgan Kohan, Aren Bucholz, Martin Cummins

Plot Synopsis: Following Jack’s tragic, yet heroic death, Elizabeth finds comfort in her good friends Abigail, Rosemary, and the rest of those air-headed females whose names escape me at the moment. Michael Landon Jr. has finally filled his father’s large shoes by creating a romance-ending-in-husband’s-death-and-wife’s-convenient-pregnancy plot. As if this isn’t enough, the characters will find a way to inject each and every episode with feel-good platitudes, without forgetting to emphasize at every possible occasion that Elizabeth is a single MOM. Plus, there is the exciting and totally unexpected news that Elizabeth has not one, but two new love interests! Sigh, which one will she pick!?!?!?!

Our prediction:

Marcus Rosner Picture

Dedicated Hearties are looking forward to more of the same old thing, non-Hearties are looking forward to more mindless humor, and critics everywhere can’t wait for the many opportunities this season will bring for Hallmark parodies.

When Hope Calls (August 2019)

Hey look its Jack and Elizabeth! Oh wait….
Bill? Is this you as a youth?

Premiering August 30, 2019 on Hallmark Movies Now and and airing on Fridays until October 25

Writer(s): Larry Bambrick

Director(s): Mike Rohl

Producer(s): Mike Rohl, Brian Bird, Larry Bambrick, Derek Thompson

Starring: Jocelyn Hudon, Morgan Kohan, R. J. Hatanaka, Greg Hovanessian, Wendy Crewson, Kate Moyer, Isaak Bailey, Annastasia Boston, Michael Copeman, Jeremy Cormier, Neil Crone, Liam MacDonald, Laurie Murdoch, Riley O’Donnell

Plot Synopsis: When Hope Calls will follow sisters Lillian and Grace as they open an orphanage in the 1916 Western town of Brookfield. Undoubtedly, it will be full of feel-good platitudes, dime-store romances, weddings, pregnancies, childbirth, love triangles, best friend characters, convenient fatal illnesses or epidemics, and absolutely no real conflict or negativity. We wait with baited breath for this series to keep revealing itself.

When Calls the Heart, Season 5 (Series Review)

Why are we still here?

Plot Summary

When Constable Jack Thornton returns from the North back to the nice little town of Hope Valley, everyone expects him to finally marry Elizabeth Thatcher, which the series has been building up for way too many seasons now.  Thus, the TV couple finally ties the knot and is married long enough for Elizabeth to get pregnant, and Michael Landon Jr. and company follow this up by the long-awaited and long-expected death of the male lead, which leaves Elizabeth (shockingly) free to love again.  Elsewhere in Hope Valley, the other characters are doing the same things they always did with no significant alterations in their character arcs (except Jesse is a good guy now or something like that), but when you have a rabid fan base and unlimited season renewals, why would you try anything creative as a writer?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

If anything improved in this season of When Calls the Heart, it’s that the production got slightly better.  Video quality is still crisp, and camera work is still professional, but the sets and locations seem to have improved somewhat.  Props are pretty much the same old stuff.  The soundtrack is that same recycled and very tired and uncreative score that can be found in pretty much any other Hallmark production.  Further, the editing is pretty standard in Season 5, and overall, there’s not much keeping this production from being nearly perfect (except for the soundtrack), which shows you that it pays to have a good budget.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

What was Season 4 about?  I already forgot.  The railroad?  Anyways, I challenge any Heartie to tell me what Season 5 is actually about except for completing Michael Landon Jr.’s favorite romantic chase storyline with the female lead’s marriage, pregnancy, and eventual husband’s death.  Shocking turn of events, I know.  Well, Hearties can be consoled that Michael Landon Jr. is known for rebuilding the romantic chase for the young widow by introducing a new love interest later in the series.  By killing off Jack and freeing Daniel Lissing from this nonsense, Landon Jr. and company opened up a whole new world of storylines to pursue for at least three or four or five more seasons, so you can rest easy!

Acting Quality (1 point)

Are we still here?  These same old tired cast members are still old and tired.  Erin Krakow, Lori Loughlin, Daniel Lissing, Kevan Smith, Pascale Hutton, et al. haven’t changed much since last season.  Michael Landon Jr.’s approach to casting, acting, and makeup is no better than it’s always been.  However, there are a few bright spots from some of the peripheral cast members that keep this section from being zero.  Nevertheless, most of Landon Jr.’s casting work seems like a plastic surgery pageant.

Continuity Quality (1 point)

At least this season creates a story arc that is somewhat interesting, which is the loss of Jack.  It was really the only card this show had left to play, so now this move opens up a whole new world of plot possibilities.  However, I don’t expect many of them to be any good.

 

Conclusion

As I predicted months ago, after wasting away at least two seasons kicking the can down the road ad nauseum and trolling with his typically pageantry and empty characters that are ripped off from a Janette Oke novel series that doesn’t even remotely resemble the dollhouse show this series has become, Michael Landon Jr. has finally come full circle with his favorite storyline of all: the young widow plot.  As can be seen throughout the Love Comes Softly series, including Love Comes Softly and Love’s Unending Legacy, Landon Jr. is infatuated with the chase of a romance, but once the couple marries and has some kids, it’s time to kill off the husband between movies and introduce a new romantic chase for the young widow.  It’s no surprise to see the long overdue exit of Jack Thornton from this series, especially since Daniel Lissing probably has better things to do.  Expect next season to introduce Elizabeth’s new love interest and her new chase after the grief has subsided (please bring back Charles).  Also, since we’re going to keep mindless renewing this troll-fest, let’s go ahead and experiment with some other cast members this show needs right now.  I vote for Erik Estrada, Morgan Fairchild, Kris Kristofferson, and Corbin Bernsen, to name a few.  Cast-member-guessing is the only thing keeping this show interesting at this point.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 14 points

 

2017 Box Office Revolution Awards

Every year, movies are released and cast members show off their talents.  Writers and directors showcase their creativity.  Films are separated into roughly three groups: the truly talented, the potentially great, and the others.  At Box Office Revolution, we believe it is our prerogative to annually recognize those movie makers and players who have the ability to bring revolution to Christian entertainment.

 

Staff Choice Movie of the Year: The Case for Christ

Runners-up: Altar Egos, Because of Gracia, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone

 

Reader’s Choice Movie of the Year: A Question of Faith

Runners-up: The Case for Christ, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, Let There Be Light

 

Staff Choice Actor of the Year: Robert Amaya (Altar Egos)

Runners-up: Mike Vogel (The Case for Christ), Max Morgan (Altar Egos), Brett Dalton (The Resurrection of Gavin Stone)

 

Staff Choice Actress of the Year: Moriah Peters (Because of Gracia)

Runners-up: Erika Christensen (The Cast for Christ), Anjelah Johnson-Reyes (The Resurrection of Gavin Stone), L. Scott Caldwell (The Case for Christ)

 

Staff Choice Director of the Year: Jon Gunn (The Case for Christ)

Runners-up: Dallas Jenkins (The Resurrection of Gavin Stone), Tom Simes (Because of Gracia), Sean Morgan (Altar Egos)

 

Staff Choice Writer of the Year: Andrea Gyertson Nasfell (The Resurrection of Gavin Stone)

Runners-up: Sean Morgan (Altar Egos), Brian Bird\Lee Strobel (The Case for Christ), Tom Simes (Because of Gracia)

 

Staff Choice Soundtrack of the Year: The Case for Christ

Runners-up: Because of Gracia, Altar Egos, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone

 

The Case for Christ [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Lee Strobel was an acclaimed newspaper reporter who had seemingly reached a new level in his career with his in-depth research pieces.  Everything in his life seemed perfect, until his wife Leslie began talking to a Christian nurse who saved the life of their daughter and became a Christian herself.  Lee’s staunch atheism was immediately challenged by his wife’s beliefs, even though she had become a better person as a result.  Thus, Lee set out to disprove the faith of his wife by attacking the core tenets of Christianity and skeptically investigating the truth behind them.  However, the deeper he went into his investigation, the less faith he had in atheism.  He would eventually have to come to grips with what he really believed and make a decision that would change his life forever.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

After years of wandering in the proverbial wilderness, Jon Gunn and his team, aided by the new standards of PureFlix, have finally found the promised land.  The Case for Christ is a flawless production in every aspect and is an example of what we should see in every film.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are error free.  The soundtrack is highly authentic and appropriate for the time.  Sets, locations, and props are exquisite and demonstrate great care for historical accuracy.  Finally, editing is excellent as montages are kept to a minimum and each scene transitions seamlessly.  Basically, this is your textbook perfect production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

What better plot to use than a real-life story that many audiences can relate to for multiple different reasons?  Not only is this film about real people, but they are actually portrayed as real people through meaningful dialogue and realistic circumstances.  This film could have easily descended into an information-saturated and message-heavy dump that tried too hard to push its point, but that is not the case here.  Both the atheist and the Christian characters are portrayed extremely well and the highly relevant message is presented in such a way that it is both clearly understood and easily received without being pushed in your face.  In the hands of a different writer, this idea could have gone south very easily.  Yet it did not, and Brian Bird proves that with good content, he can go great things.  The only nitpick to raise here is some slight choppiness, but it’s not a big deal.  The bottom line is that this is an excellent plot and one well worth your time.

Acting Quality (3 points)

You can hardly ask for a better cast than this, as each member fits their character excellently.  There are zero acting errors to point out as every performance is executed with near perfection.  Emotions are highly believable and line delivery is on point.  This rounds out an excellent film.

Conclusion

In conjunction with Brian Bird, Jon Gunn has finally discovered his true talent and has struck gold.  He put previous disappointments behind him and found a way to become a great film maker.  All we ask of film makers is to show steady and consistent improvement, and Jon Gunn has done just that.  He was also afforded a great opportunity to tell the amazing true story of Lee Strobel and to have better funding due to the better decisions made by the PureFlix leadership.  This film gives Jon Gunn, Brian Bird, and the rest a platform to build off of to do even greater things.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

 

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

 

Captive [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As a struggling meth addict, Ashley Smith is trying to get her life together so that she can regain custody of her young daughter.  She is intent on starting a new life for herself, but she is still wrestling with the demons of her past.  Her life is turned upside down one night when she is taken hostage by a madman who has been making his way across the state of Georgia, leaving murder victims in his wake.  Ashley is sure her life is over, until she begins to see a new side to the killer.  In the span of a tense 12 hours, Ashley finds she has more in common with him than she previously thought and tries to teach him (while teaching herself) that his life has more meaning than just crime.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Plenty of money was dedicated to this ‘pop-up’ film, and it mostly pays off.  The sets, locations, and props are very realistic and capture the true story well.  The soundtrack is highly effective for the suspense genre and is not typical of Christian film.  However, there are some minor issues that keep this movie from being all that it could be.  For one, the use of the suspenseful shaky cam idea is a bit overused.  While the video quality and lighting are mostly good, there are some scenes where it is not.  Finally, there are too many dead scenes where nothing is accomplished except for staring.  Overall, this is a pretty good production that puts a lot of bad movies to shame, but with the money and backing it had, it should have been better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

When in doubt about writing a plot, use a true story.  It’s almost always better to portray real events than fictional ones, unless you’re really good at writing complex plots.  Real life is far more complex than fiction.  Captive meaningfully portrays real events and real struggles people go through.  Uncomfortable realities such as drug addiction and recidivism are handled properly.  The characters are developed fairly well through above-average dialogue, but we would have liked to see more here.  Some of the characters need more obvious backstories that perhaps could have been portrayed through flashbacks.  The idea behind this plot seems stretched out a little too long and but the end, the storyline has overstayed its welcome.  For this story to be as long as it was and fully interesting the entire time, it needed deeper content.  But as it is, this is an enjoyable plot that is sure to leave its mark.

Acting Quality (3 points)

In a change from most Christian films, the acting is easily this film’s strongest aspect.  Emotions are portrayed extremely well.  Cast members showcase diverse acting skills such as effectively pretending to be high.  Mental illness is portrayed poignantly.  Intense and suspenseful scenes are played professionally.  This is a casting and acting job to be proud of and one that can serve as a textbook example of how to act.

Conclusion

Like it’s always good to see real life portrayed in film, it’s also great when a Christian movie finally breaks into a new genre.  Suspense is underused in Christian movies and is hardly done well.  Captive makes a statement and will always serve as an example to follow, but we always think of what could have been.  This creation was so close to the Hall of Fame and we hate to see potential go to waste.  But still, many will find enjoyment in this film as it effectively delivers its intended message.  We are intrigued to see if this team will produce anything else in the future.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

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

What Audiences Want

Per the Calgary Herald, When Calls the Heart fans, also known as #Hearties, are very much in love with the Hallmark series because it’s family friendly and wholesome.  At the beginning of the show, there was an attempt to craft meaningful characters, and fans still hold on to this, even though character quality has significantly decreased since the inaugural season.  Michael Landon Jr. right hand man Brian Bird has said before that their show fills a deep desire in fans for wholesome entertainment.

So what does this mean?  It means that however cheesy and disappointing WCTH may become, they still have a devoted fan base because there’s nothing else. WCTH exists in a vacuum.  They were obviously trying harder at first because they had to, but now they don’t have to try because there’s no competition in their genre.  This is a sad reality, because there is so much potential in WCTH alone, but we firmly believe that this genre of TV series is largely untapped.  What if there were even better family-friendly weekly series on television and on-demand services?

Christian and inspirational viewers may like certain aspects of non-family-friendly entertainment (this definition is very broad and subjective), they still desperately want wholesome entertainment.  So where are the Christian creative geniuses?  Entertainment still remains to be another area where western Christians have allowed other ideas to fill the vacuum.  The inspirational genre is starved for quality creations.  Hallmark, despite their flaws, would likely approve any series that marketed well and was crafted for their target audience.  The vast world of on-demand entertainment remains untapped by Christians.

What we need is a generation of creative Christians to rise up and redeem entertainment by making better entertainment.  Due to financial constraints, they would obviously have to start out small, but it’s better to start somewhere than nowhere.  If God wants you to create redemptive entertainment, then He will provide.  We must be open to what God wants us to create, because as we have seen, entertainment has a profound effect on western culture and even the entire world.  Christian entertainment has too long been dominated by low-quality and propaganda-ridden sediment, and it’s time for that to change.

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

 

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

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

The Last Sin Eater (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Cadi Forbes has lived all her life in a Welsh immigrant settlement deep in the Appalachian Mountains, isolated from the world outside.  She has lived in fear, as have the people in her settlement, and now she has a terrible secret to guard.  Not only that, but she has risked trouble on her life by laying eyes on the forbidden sin eater—the cursed individual who must atone for the sins of those who die in the settlement.  Seeking a way to end it all, a mysterious girl guides Cadi to listen to a stranger preach to the forest about a hope she has never heard before.  She is now more curious than ever to learn about the stranger and even the identity of the cursed sin eater.  But what will it cost her in the end?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

The production of The Last Sin Eater is excellent, with only minor problems.  The camera work is good, as is the video quality.  The only issue to raise is the inconsistent lighting in some scenes, though it could be argued as realistic.  The audio quality is overall good, though the soundtrack could be a little more inspiring.  There are diverse sets and the Appalachian scenery is realistic.  Some of the flashback content seems a little low quality, perhaps on purpose.  In the end, this production is done very well.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)

This is likely Michael Landon Jr’s best movie to date, but it can be credited to the writing genius of foundational Christian author Francine Rivers.  Her book that inspired this movie is among her best, and Landon’s adaptation is seamless.  The plot ties realistic historical events to an excellent fictional story built around believable characters.  The superstition is woven wonderfully with Biblical elements.  The characters are realistic and flawed, driven by true-to-life dialogue.  There are twists and turns in the plot, and the end is slightly unexpected.  In short, this excellent plot can be attributed to the genius authorship of Francine Rivers and to the honest adaptation of Michael Landon Jr.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

For a cast of largely little known actors, they perform quite well.  The line delivery is mostly accurate, though it seems forced at times.  Sometimes the Welsh accents seem fake, but other times they do not.  Despite these small issues, there are no extremely negative elements where the acting is concerned.  This cast is a good example of what can be done with the proper coaching.

Conclusion

There are plenty of lesser and well known Christian novels that can and should be adapted for the screen.  Where many movie plots are stock, there are plenty of Christian works of fiction that could be portrayed through video instead of more bland inspirational films.  The Last Sin Eater is an example of what can happen when an excellent novel is adapted correctly into a movie.  This film should be a blueprint for many more movies in the future.

 

Final Rating: 8 out of 10 points