A Christmas Snow (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Kathleen hates Christmas and thus likes to make her restaurant staff work all the time on the holidays.  But she likes Andrew, so she decides to help watch his Christmas-loving (and slightly obnoxious) daughter, Lucy, while he completes a business trip before the holiday.  So when Kathleen and Lucy get snowed in with a random guy who saved Kathleen from some hoodlums in a parking lot, Kathleen thinks her life is over, especially when they are forced to play board games that remind her of her parents.  Will they ever be able to make it through the day?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

The good thing about this film is that is has high production quality.  Tracy Trost and her team are usually committed to this, and it shows again in A Christmas Snow.  The positive elements include good video quality and camera work, as well as adequate audio quality and an okay soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are fine and are mostly utilized well.  There are really no glaring errors to note here.  There are just some small issues pertaining to some choppy cuts and transitions, but this is not enough to derail the production.  On the whole, this is an applaudable effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the plot of this film.  It is based on a stereotypical holiday-hating-character-is-forced-to-like-the-holidays-because-of-some-outside-event plot sequence.  It would be one thing if the characters were fine, since this is a character-based plot, but that is not the case here.  The main character in particular is quite obnoxious, as are some of the supporting characters.  This is mostly due to absurd dialogue and ridiculously forced comedy, such as statements like ‘chickatarian.’  There is really nothing creative about this story as it depicts a collection of random characters stuck in a house during the holidays again.  While there are some attempts to use flashbacks to build the characters, they fall flat.  The character arcs are far too steep, and the Christian message is too vague.  Unfortunately, this is a swing and a miss.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

For a majority of the film, the lead actress and the child actress of this film are quite annoying, in keeping with the characters they play.  This is demonstrated through forceful emotions and stiff line delivery.  They are clearly trying too hard, while other cast members just come off as off-beat.  Needless to say, this movie will be remembered for the wrong reasons.

Conclusion

There was a good idea behind this movie, this much must be noted.  Trying to develop a grumpy character through establishing flashbacks can be a great way to present a nice holiday story, but A Christmas Snow does it all wrong.  Unfortunately, although the production was good in this film, it was wasted on a poorly written story and off-putting acting.  Maybe next time, Tracy Trost and her team will improve upon their past films.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Ace Wonder: Message from a Dead Man (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Ace Wonder, aka Gator Moore, always loves a good mystery and seeks to solve whichever ones come in front of him so that justice may be served.  While traveling with his family on vacation, when their camper breaks down in a small Tennessee town, Gator accidentally stumbles upon a family with a mystery that needs solving.  Derek Morton’s grandfather died unexpectedly and left behind a cryptic message that cause many to suspect he was crazy.  However, Gator believes there is something bigger afoot and enlists his siblings to assist him in solving the case.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

After The Widow’s Might, it was difficult to see what the future of HeuMoore Productions was.  However, with Ace Wonder: Message from a Dead Man, the HeuMoore team has demonstrated adequate improvement.  Video quality is professional, and camera work is fine except for some weird camera angles that attempt to be suspenseful.  Audio quality is great and the original soundtrack is creative without SINGING.  Sets, locations, and props are good but somewhat limited.  There are some cheesy special effects utilized, but animation is actually used effectively and enhances the film.  Finally, editing is quite good, thus rounding out an overall average production.  This is definitely a great effort for an underfunded project, and it is great to see this team continually improving.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though there is some potential to this Ace Wonder plot, it is still a mostly formulaic suspense\mystery storyline.  The story is based on too many coincidences, mystery clichés, and clues being found at opportune times.  Though there is way too much narration, the dialogue and characters are actually good, which shows that this team is trying to make a good film.  This story would be way better with a little more creativity and real plot twists, as well as a less fundamentalist portrayal of women.  Mysteries are certainly a hard genre to write, since it’s easy to fall into cheesy coincidences, so they might consider trying a different genre next time.  Overall, it is great to have a different genre in Christian film for once, and this team certainly has the potential and wherewithal to go further in their careers to do something great.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Though Ace Wonder uses a lot of the same cast members from The Widow’s Might, there are others that make for a greatly improved acting experience.  It seems like all of the cast members from the previous film have honed their skills better.  This category is actually the most improved as there are really no glaring errors except for a few minor missteps.  Once again, this gives great hope for the future.

Conclusion

Coming back from the horrific Widow’s Might couldn’t have been easy for HeuMoore Productions, but on the whole, despite their unusual worldview that needs broadening, the Moore team really seems like they are trying this time.  They definitely put forth more effort in the production and acting departments and it is encouraging that they are showing improvements, especially since they are committed to breaching different genres in Christian film.  The biggest blessing of Ace Wonder was the lack of cast members singing.  Now if they can continue to hone their plot creativity and shed some of the odd components of their worldview, they will really be on the track to greatness.  After The Widow’s Might, I never thought I would be saying this, but the HeuMoore team has great potential for the future.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Like Dandelion Dust (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When the Campbells adopted little Joey from the struggling Porters, they thought it was forever.  But when the Porters get back on their feet after Joey’s father gets out of jail, they file to regain custody of their son.  Heartbroken, the Campbells do everything they can do to keep their only son, but they cannot prevail.  Therefore, they resort to a drastic measure that could land them in prison, but they are committed to protecting their son from evil.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

As a pilot production from Jon Gunn and company, this production quality is not what it could be.  But on a shoestring budget, it is not that bad.  Camera work is sometimes shaky and video quality and lighting are sometimes poor.  The standard soundtrack is sometimes loud enough to cover up dialogue, but audio quality is mostly fine.  For a first-time effort, the sets and locations are quite realistic, even the international ones.  The editing is a pretty good effort considering what they had to work with.  In the end, every movie maker has to start somewhere, regardless of the budget or resources.  When put in that perspective, Like Dandelion Dust is an applaudable effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Based on a novel by Karen Kingsbury, this plot is somewhat slow to develop and has one too many flat scenes and dead spots.  Yet the story is true to the book and depicts unfortunately realistic happenings.  Too much time tends to be spent on trashy elements, although what happens therein is believable.  This film is a fair portrayal of real people and their struggles and highlights important issues with child welfare.  Dialogue is mostly accessible and helps to build the characters.  Unfortunately, the first three-fourths of the film may not hold the attention of most audiences.  However, once it gets to the point at the end, it suddenly becomes really good and is worth the wait.  Overall, Like Dandelion Dust improves at the end and shows great potential for the future.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This cast is semi-professional and mostly knows what they are doing.  Through they are small, they have some bright spots, such as well-played and believable emotions.  Their line delivery can be wooden at times, but overall, this is a good effort that shows talent in casting.

Conclusion

It is always good to choose a book plot for your first film, but we have to wonder if this was the best Karen Kingsbury book to choose.  The story is intriguing as a book, but it doesn’t translate very well to the big screen.  Yet nonetheless, it is a good effort and something to build off of for the future.  There is great potential in this team and we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Unlimited [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When an old friend of his reaches out to him to give him a second chance, Simon takes the opportunity to cross the south border into Mexico, but soon finds himself on the run from a drug cartel.  With his passport stolen, Simon is forced to take refuge in a local orphanage, where he learns of his friend’s untimely death.  Strange things are happening around him and the only way he can solve the mystery is to face dark past he is running from.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s clear that a lot of thought and time was put into making the production of Unlimited.  Shot on an authentic location with realistic sets, this film is very quality.  Video quality is crisp, and audio quality is flawless, including an excellent culturally relevant soundtrack.  However, there is some out-of-place shaky camera work that makes no sense, considering the quality of the rest of the production.  The editing is error-free, thus making this a top-notch production that should be commonplace in Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though Unlimited is based on creative ideas and concepts, the plot itself is a fairly typical and formulaic suspense storyline.  The characters are fairly realistic, but they tend to fit too easily into predictable predetermined molds.  However, though the progression is predictable, the story is still crafted well and is very engaging.  There is a lot of professionalism here and with this much positive, we really wish the plot scope wasn’t so limited by mediocrity.  There is so much to offer here, yet we feel that full potential was unfortunately not reached.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Unlimited is cast very well with highly professional cast members.  However, just because they have ‘big names’ like Robert Amaya and Fred Thompson, they do not neglect acting coaching, which has a clear presence.  Line delivery and emotional delivery are on point.  The cast is also culturally authentic.  There are no errors here.

Conclusion

It’s a shame that Unlimited couldn’t take that next small step forward onto the Hall of Fame, but this is still an enjoyable movie nonetheless.  While the plot is not super creative, it’s in a different genre than usual and shows just how much we need a breath of fresh air like this in Christian film.  We can’t wait to see more from Gundersen Entertainment and others that have unique ideas like this.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Midnight Clear [2006] (Movie Review)

Hold on, it's another movie calling
Hold on, it’s another movie calling

Plot Summary

Lefty is a drunken no-account who has been fired from his job, is living in his car, and is going through a divorce.  Desperate for money, he begins planning a robbery.  Eva is a shut-in widow who feels like no one in the world cares about her or would miss her if she died.  Kirk owns a convenience store but feels like he’s not making a difference in the world.  Mary is left raising her son alone when her husband has a car accident that leaves his brain permanently damaged.  Mitch is a youth pastor who is tired of going through the motions and wants to impact someone’s life for God.  All of these stories intersect at Christmastime and learn valuable lessons.

 

Production Quality (0 points)

With just under a million dollars spent on this work, there is no reason why it is so poor, but it is.  The video quality is grainy and the camera angles are awkward.  The audio quality is poor and the soundtrack is stock Christmas stuff.  The sets and locations are cheap with nothing special about them.  With so many subplots to juggle, the editing is not very good as it chooses to waste time on blank and empty scenes.  Essentially, there is really not much to say here because the production is so empty and disappointing.  This should have been way better than this for the money spent on it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

As previously mentioned, there are too many subplots in this storyline, therefore they are disjointed and do not flow together well.  They are all just crammed into the film for the sake of making the film long enough.  Due to the number of them, character development is left by the wayside; we barely get to know any of these people as the movie jumps from one subplot to another.  This leaves the characters flat, supported by uninspiring and boring dialogue.  Also, to connect some of the subplots together, odd coincidences are employed to give it that Christmas-miracle-feel.  While there are some slightly interesting ideas here, there is no heart behind them.  There are too many off-the-wall elements present that come off as abrasive.  The ending is predictable and leaves much to be desired.  In short, Midnight Clear was a half-idea forced to happen because Christmas, of course.

Acting Quality (0 points)

With a small cast of people that have at least an average amount of talent (not sure about Stephen Baldwin), Midnight Clear is supported entirely by its actors and actresses.  However, with no acting coaching, this is not a good thing.  While there are no glaring acting errors, everything about the acting is just like the rest of the film: flat and boring.  There are little to no believable emotions and line delivery is pedestrian.  I suppose that description pretty much sums up the movie.

Conclusion

Of all the Jerry B. Jenkins stories to bring to the big screen, one of the most obscure and boring was chosen.  There are better choices that have nothing to do with holiday cheer.  While the message behind Midnight Clear has some substance to it, this is not conveyed properly in the film.  This one either needed a serious rework in pre-production or it needed to be abandoned altogether.  Just having another cheap Christmas movie on the market is not what this world needs.

 

Final Rating: 0 out of 10 points

 

The Redemption of Henry Myers (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Henry Myers never wanted to kill anyone, but since he got caught up with the wrong guys, he feels like he has to fight to survive in the wild west.  When a heist goes awry and leaves someone dead, Myers isolates himself from the world.  However, he can’t keep his demons from haunting him.  On the run from his old partners coming to collect, Henry becomes wounded and suddenly wakes up in the care of a farming family.  They have no idea who he is or what he’s done, and he fears that his past will come back to haunt him if he sticks around too long.  Little does he know that he has just been given a second chance.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Echolight has always had a commitment to quality productions, and Henry Myers is no exception.  The action-based camera work is done very well and the video quality is clear.  Lighting is consistent throughout, including outside shots.  Realistic historical surroundings are showcased through well-constructed sets and locations.  The soundtrack is highly appropriate for the genre and mostly stays away from mediocrity.  The biggest problem to highlight here is that there’s not enough editing.  There are too many wasted scenes and silly musical montages.  Nonetheless, Echolight sets a consistent standard in quality productions that should be in every Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this film opens very strong with an attention-grabbing and action-packed prologue, it quickly fades to disappointment as we are handed the highlights from the Love Comes Softly series, the Erin Bethea remix.  As previously mentioned, far too much time is wasted on ‘inspirational’ scenes.  Too many things happen off screen and are not well explained.  This predictable western plot is copied and pasted from Stock Plots Incorporated and the characters rigidly fit into stereotypical molds.  There’s the bad guy trying to be good, the really bad guys who only do bad, the young Christian widow, the grumpy son who misses his father, the overly happy daughter, and of course, the sheriff.  Things happen just because they’re supposed to and characters are swept along by the plot towards an inevitable and vague conclusion.  What’s more, silly western slang dialogue peppers the script and is quite distracting.  The one redeeming quality of the plot, besides the strong beginning, is its potential to be something great.  This could have been an epic film, but it simply wasn’t.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This is actually a decent acting from Erin Bethea, but still had her cringe-worthy moments. On the flipside, the costuming is very professional and we are spared ridiculous makeup and hair jobs present in most Christian westerns.  However, there are too many mumbled lines and emotion are often too extreme.  This really could have been a better acting job.

Conclusion

The greatest sin in Christian film, besides making too many useless movies, is leaving potential on the table.  This movie was branded as a western epic, and if you watch the beginning sequence, you can believe it.  But as you continue to watch the film, you become more and more disappointed.  Epic need twists and turns, deep characters, and a landmark climax.  Henry Myers has a great message, but it’s just not enough.  If you want to go all the way as a filmmaker, don’t leave anything on the field.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Hoovey (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jeff and Ruth Elliot are living their ideal life on a Midwestern farm with two great teenagers before everything starts to change for them.  Their lives are forever altered when their son Eric “Hoovey” collapses during basketball practice, thus leading to a medical examination revealing a brain tumor.  Hoovey is not given long to live at first, but he is given a second chance by having the tumor removed, leaving him a fraction of what he used to be.  Unable to play basketball anymore due to danger and having to relearn motor skills, Hoovey and his family are also suddenly faced with possibly losing their dream farm to the bank.  As a family, they will have to pull together in order to face the challenges ahead.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Echolight Studios has a commitment to producing quality Christian films, and Hoovey is no exception.  The camera work is clearly professional, along with the video and sound quality.  Disability plots are difficult to pull off because they require unique props, but Hoovey does it with ease.  The only negative points to raise here are slightly isolating editing and some generally inauthentic surroundings.  For the most part, the editing is good, but there are some parts that are confusing.  The same goes for the surroundings—sometimes it seems like this film is taking place in a realistic Midwestern setting, while other times it does not.  But in the end, there are only minor issues and Hoovey passes the production bar.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Stories based on true events are almost always more complex than an average inspirational plot.  Hoovey proves this.  Believable events happen to the characters and unexpected twists occur.  Not everything turns out neat and tidy.  However, since this is a character-based plot, the deepening of the characters throughout the film is important.  Unfortunately, this does not occur to the extent it needed to.  Dialogue is pretty good, but it rarely delves below surface conventions into deeper character development.  The plot uses narration as a crutch far too often.  Also, the Christian message is not very clear—in the end, the audience is just left with a feel good story rather than a life-changing message.  In summary, the plot of Hoovey is average—it started out with a lot of potential on its side, but it only found part of all it could have been.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is clearly a professional cast and they are coached fairly well.  Emotions, for the most part, are believable.  However, sometimes line delivery is slightly lackadaisical.  Some of the casting choices don’t seem to fit very well.  But these are just small issues—the important thing is that Echolight followed through on their commitment to produce quality Christian films.

Conclusion

Every Christian studio should be committed to rolling out quality movies on a very regular basis.  Some are willing but not able, while others are able but not seemingly not willing.  Hoovey broke into mainstream markets, which makes it even more of a shame that it did not carry with it a stronger Christian message.  Had it delivered a meaningfully obvious but not preachy Christian message, Hoovey likely would have made it in the Hall of Fame.  But regardless, it is still an enjoyable film and is worth a watch.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Dustin, Albert, and Mark are friends who stick together and solve the deeper problems of their 1970s small town.  But one particular summer, they find themselves with a deficit of activities save for fishing and mowing lawns.  That’s when they inadvertently cross paths with Jonathan Sperry, an elderly local man who takes it upon himself to teach them fundamental principles for living—including the truth about Christianity.  Unknown to any of the three friends, their lives will forever be changed by the secrets they learn from the enigmatic Mr. Sperry.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Jonathan Sperry had a higher-than-usual budget, and it mostly reflects in the production quality.  The camera work is pretty good, especially considering the high amount of outside scenes.  The video quality is solid, as is the sound quality.  Sets and locations were well chosen and props give the film an authentic historic feel.  The musical score could have been better.  The real thing lacking here is a game-changing factor.  The editing is considerably good, but each production element just doesn’t quite live up to top standards.  Something intangible is missing, yet it cannot be denied that Jonathan Sperry is still a step above most Christian films when it comes to production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from true events, the plot of Jonathan Sperry has a lot of great elements.  The characters are authentic and many will be able to relate to them.  The dialogue is simple yet profound.  The events and circumstances they experience are believable and accessible.  The storyline is non-linear and has some minor twists and turns.  There is a clear Christian message throughout.  Yet this being said, one could consider Jonathan Sperry to be overly realistic and too slow for viewing.  There is some truth to this.  The film lacks a dynamic punch that will really capture the widespread attention of audiences.  Great care was obviously taken to be realistic, and this care shows, but we have to wonder if it is too authentic for its own good, so to speak.  Nevertheless, the movie offers a poignant lesson for those who watch it and those who likely calm artistic plots will not find themselves disappointed.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Similar to production, an air of professionalism is very evident.  The actors and actresses are coached fairly well.  Since the cast is small, it carries a large weight, and it does not necessarily stumble under it.  However, there are some minor errors that could have been corrected and thus keep it from being all that it could be.  But nonetheless, the acting puts many Christian movies to shame.

Conclusion

There is a place for movies like Jonathan Sperry in the Christian film world, but unfortunately, films like this one will never be blockbuster.  The truly unfortunate thing is that movies like this one are not the baseline of Christian-themed movies.  This should be the starting point, not the improvement.  Regardless, Sperry is something to build off of if only to showcase that the Christiano brothers understand the common man and that the only place they can go from here is up.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points