The Christmas Hall of Fame

This holiday season, go check out these great films with your whole family!  Merry Christmas!

 

The Nativity Story

 

The Christmas Candle

 

Altar Egos

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The Ride: A Christmas Eve Parable (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a burned out and bored taxi driver picks up a troubled character late at night on Christmas Eve, he just wants the night to be over.  However, as the night goes on, the taxi driver becomes more intrigued and even concerned about the nature of his passenger’s journey.  He tries to engage the passenger in conversation, but this is mostly unsuccessful.  Will he be able to get through to him before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As an early film from Vertical Church, The Ride demonstrate production efficiency and quality, even in a shorter film.  Even before The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, this church has been committed to high quality films.  This is evident in this film’s great video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is also creative.  Sets, locations, and props are appropriate for the film.  The only nitpick to point out here pertains to the editing, as there are a few dead scenes that stand out in the short film.  But this isn’t much to notice, and this film is presented in a very professional fashion.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though sometimes it is better to make a short film for a small idea, it is possible that The Ride is one instance in which this was not the case.  It seems like there was more content that could have been included in this plot, especially since the two main characters that are focused on are fairly well developed.  This is done through efficient dialogue that builds their backstories realistically.  The circumstances therein are believable and realistic.  Both serious and comedic moments are presented effectively.  However, as previously mentioned, we really wanted to see more from these characters, and perhaps other ones as well.  Moreover, it seems like this plot was written to be a short film, which is perfectly fine.  On the whole, this story shows just what Dallas Jenkins is capable of.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Rather than settle for only using inexperienced cast members from the local church, Dallas Jenkins and his team cast more experienced actors for the main roles.  Kirk B.R. Woller and Brad Heller are excellent in their respective roles.  This is possibly Brad Heller’s best role outside of Mom’s Night Out.  Overall, though this is a tiny cast, there are no acting errors to point out here.

Conclusion

Sometimes starting out small is better.  Dallas Jenkins made feature length films before this one, like Midnight Clear and What If, yet the former of these was not very good.  It’s possible that with the creation of short films, Dallas and his team were able to hone their skills better and produce a much better film in The Resurrection of Gavin Stone.  Moreover, as it is, The Ride demonstrates a lot of positive aspects that will make it an enjoyable film for many people this holiday season.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Christmas Oranges (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

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

Acting Quality (2 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Faith-Filled Christmas (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The Fairway family has three generations of people who want to serve people at Christmastime.  Simon and Emily, the grandparents, live in a retirement facility, and they want to minister to those around them in the time they have left.  However, their trouble-making friend Byron wants to put on a senior Olympics at the facility while the heavy-handed superior is away.  Simon’s and Emily’s adopted son Walter and his wife Ruth have opened their home to foster children, and they have unique struggles to handle during the holidays as they have to deal with biological parents.  Yet all of them find different ways to show the love of Christ to those around them.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Although this is an ‘indie’ production, it is a clear that a lot of work went into it.  This shows up in great video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is also engaging, although it tends to get in the way at times by covering up dialogue.  Sets, locations, and props are also well-constructed and well-used.  The only other issues to point are some minor editing issues, such as lagging scenes and dead sequences.  However, as a whole, this is a great effort that shows great potential for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

This good effort also spills over into the plot, as there are lots of good ideas in it.  For the most part, the characters are realistic and believable due to well-thought-out dialogue.  However, there are also too many characters and too many subplots going on here.  With so much content, more organization was in order, yet not enough was given.  Though there are some moments of good comedy, there are also some moments of flat humor.  Also, a lot of the time, this movie plays out more like the premiere of a series rather than a film.  It has a very episodic feel rather than the proper arc of a movie plot.  Nonetheless, it’s good to experiment with your first film, as long as it’s not horrible, to see what you’re good at.  Thus, it seems like this was accomplished in this plot.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Though this cast is only semi-professional and contains ‘amateurs,’ the cast members only commit minor errors.  Emotions are believable, and line delivery is usually on point.  The only slight drawbacks here pertain to some measured or awkward line delivery, but it’s not much to write home about.  In the end, this rounds out a very good indie effort that will be something to build off of in the next project.

Conclusion

These days, freshman films seem to be getting better, especially with regards to production quality.  Creative teams like this one have more resources at their fingertips than before, and this particular group did a great job with the inexperienced cast members.  Though some areas of the plot were suffering, with some future tweaks, they could be dynamic story writers.  In the end, it is encouraging to see indie films that give hope for the future.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Believe [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Matthew Peyton has tried to keep his father’s struggling factory afloat, but with the unions bearing down his neck and the economy tanking in the small town he lives in, it may be too late for him, even with Christmas just around the corner.  One night, when Matthew is attacked by angry workers, he is left for dead yet tended by a community of homeless people he never knew existed in the city.  They change his outlook on life and give him a new hope for the holidays that he thought he had lost.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a modern production, Believe is mostly high quality and professional.  Video quality is great, and camera work is good except for some unnecessarily odd camera zooms at dramatic moments.  Audio quality is good, however, as is the soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and appropriate for the film.  However, there are some confusing special effects throughout, and the editing is generally disorienting as time goes back and forth without warning.  Nevertheless, it is clear that this production team wanted to make a good film, so they mostly succeeded on this front.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Believe is one of the most complex yet disorganized Christmas plots I have ever witnessed.  It begins with unusual apocalypse undertones that depict a small town falling apart almost like a disaster film.  There is a lot of information dump dialogue to ‘catch the audience up,’ yet a lot of it is politically charged and agenda-driven.  At first, the drama seems manufactured as characters are seemingly swept along in uncontrollable circumstances like stand-ins for plot devices.  The story is also heavily centered around a stereotypical Christmas pageant that can save everything.  The protagonist is hated by almost everybody, which is another premise that seems very forced.  However, the plot pulls itself out of the nosedive in the middle as some really interesting issues and ideas are brought to light in what could have been a very unique and creative Christmas film.  However, the sheer number of ideas packed into this film cripples its influence, especially since the storyline returns to predictability and extremely quick problem-fixing and conflict-resolving for the final sequences.  Regardless, there is a lot of potential here that could be reworked into a different film.  The complexity at least keeps the viewer interested.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, this cast is professional and well-coached.  There are some moments when they are too practiced and forced in their emotions and line delivery, but this is not enough to derail the positive efforts.  On the whole, like other parts of this film, this casting and acting is what is needs to be to keep things interesting.

Conclusion

Many audiences will likely enjoy Believe, and it’s not really that bad of a movie.  But it needs some serious reorganization, along with a final sequence rework.  Too much is trying to be accomplished in this film, but we can never fault wanting to handle a lot of content when most films—especially holiday ones—suffer for any shred of substantial content.  Still, it would be interesting to see a remake of this film because there is definitely tons of potential here.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Miracle Maker: A Christmas Tale (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In a small village filled with problems at Christmas time, a rumor is being spread around town that the Miracle Maker is coming who will be able to fix all of their problems.  The pastor is uninspired and frustrated with his mother’s stubbornness.  A large family is having financial struggles.  Others have their own personal issues they want to be fixed.  Thus, they all believe that the Miracle Maker is coming to town to fix their problems just in time for Christmas.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

John Lyde and his creative teams have always demonstrated commitment to crafting professional productions in their films.  This is demonstrated in clear video quality, fine audio quality, and good camera work.  However, the soundtrack needs some work to not be silly and holiday-ish.  The sets and locations are somewhat limited at times, but the props are definitely trying.  Furthermore, the editing is slightly choppy in some parts, but is fine in another parts.  In the end, this is yet another great production from this creative team.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

John Lyde and his teams have also been consistently trying to create good plots.  However, at the beginning of Miracle Maker, the characters can some off as slightly theatrical and manufactured due to too many silly caricatures.  The dialogue is unnatural at first, yet it improves as the story goes on, thus causing the characters to improve as well.  The use of flashbacks is also effective in helping the characters become more realistic.  Yet there are other issues to point out here, such as one too many montages and a general lack of focus and direction in this story.  While there are a lot of very interesting ideas and concepts contained within this plot, they need to be organized more clearly.  There are too many coincidences that the plot is based upon, and the odd Biblical allegory within is somewhat confusing and presented in a juvenile way.  In the end, while there are plenty of positive point here, everything is fixed too easily in the end, yet there is almost always some good in the plots produced by this creative team.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, the costuming in this film is realistic and authentic.  Similarly, the acting seems to mean well, even if they do need a bit more coaching to bring out their fullest potential.  There are times when the cast members are unsure or too stoic, but there are plenty of good elements here that make this section above average.

Conclusion

On the whole, Miracle Maker comes out as another average movie.  Some will enjoy this film, and there are plenty of reasons to be interested in it.  John Lyde and his team always have tons of potential in their work, but they never quite seem to make it all the way.  Perhaps one day soon they will use all of the potential they have and put it towards a great and dynamic film.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

The Christmas Blessing (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After becoming disillusioned with his job after a failed surgery, Nathan Andrews decides it’s time to take some time off of work to go back to his hometown to see his dad.  But he decides to hide the true nature of his visit as he goes around town helping people.  He stumbles across a random woman several times, and the two of them fall madly in love.  Nathan also meets back up with his lawyer friend who helped him buy his dying mother a pair of shoes, which are now missing.  Will Nathan be able to make peace with his past and reconcile his work over the holidays?

 

Production Quality (3 points)

Much like the preceding film, The Christmas Shoes, The Christmas Blessing is basically a pristine production with no real errors.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all fine.  The soundtrack is fairly typical, but the sets, locations, and props are good, even if there are a lot of Christmas decorations.  Finally, the editing is standard with no real errors.  It’s rare that we see a perfect production, but at least in this era, Hallmark put their full efforts towards this front.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Also much like the film that comes before this one, The Christmas Blessing is almost a totally pointless plot.  It has a predictable return-to-hometown to stumble upon a random romance at Christmas spiel, all of which seem very forced and manufactured.  This is evident in very obvious and programmed dialogue, which in turn creates one-dimensional characters that only serve as stand-ins for the plot’s inevitable purpose.  There is also a dose of a buying-a-building subplot here, along with a troubled character subplot.  With all of this going on, the progression is very rushed and based on coincidences in route to a predictable conclusion before the television time is up.  The Christian message is also very muted and mostly only based on the previous film.  Basically, the only reason to make these sorts of films is just to have more content to play on TV.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast is mostly professional, in keeping with Hallmark’s usual standards, there are some moments when the cast members seem to be trying too hard.  Sometimes lines come off as overly practiced, and emotions can sometimes be overly ‘interested.’  But on the whole, this section is above average and is on industry standard.

Conclusion

These two films are made for the sake of having Christmas films based on a recognizable Christian song in order to grab the attention of some audiences for a short amount of time.  In the grand scheme of things, movies like this are extremely forgettable and will be lost in time.  We need films that are dynamic and timeless, not more mindless holiday fodder.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

The Christmas Shoes (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

With his mother dying of cancer at Christmastime, Nathan Andrews just wants to buy his mother one last present before she goes to heaven.  However, his family doesn’t have enough money do to the healthcare treatments.  His path crosses with disgruntled lawyer Robert Layton, who wants nothing to do with Christmas since his marriage and family are seemingly falling apart.  Will Rob take the opportunity to spread holiday cheer before it’s too late for Nathan’s mom?

 

Production Quality (3 points)

As a Hallmark production in their movie ‘heyday,’ The Christmas Shoes is basically a textbook example of a professional one.  Though many elements of it are typical, including plenty of Christmas décor and props, there are no real errors to point out here, which is a rarity.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all predictably good.  The soundtrack is a bit too Christmasy, but what it can be expected.  Sets and locations and realistic and professional.  Editing is also fine.  Overall, this is certainly a production to be proud of.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

As a Hallmark movie based on a popular Christian Christmas song, one can see the obvious pitfalls here.  For one, the story is told in narration before it even begins.  Even so, it is still a typical Christmas story about a busy and cold character who hates Christmas for some reason but learns to care again for some reason or another.  This is also mixed in with a diseased character at Christmastime, plus a literal save the farm plot to boot.  Also, don’t forget the Christmas pageant!  Overall, this is a touching idea, and the characters and their struggles can somewhat be related to.  However, they still tend to fit into their stereotypical and seemingly predetermined molds.  There are good issues raised about common family problems, but they are resolved way too easily.  This story fights being sappy and even plastic at times, which is unfortunate, because this could have been something.  In the end, many audiences will like this story, but it’s just one too many.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Once again, this section is highly professional and well-cast.  The only issues to raise here pertain to some minor drama and moment of yelling.  But on the whole, emotions are realistic, and lines are delivered well.  This rounds out an above-average effort of a film that many will enjoy.

Conclusion

Movies like this one are problematic because they are popular and have plenty of good elements.  However, they are also fairly limited in scope and creativity.  If a predictable storyline is going to be used, the least that can be done is to make the characters very deep and rich due to superb dialogue and an effective use of flashbacks.  However, Hallmark likely isn’t in the business of creativity, so carry on, I guess.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Rust [2010] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Former pastor James Moore, who is running from his faith and his career, returns to his hometown to discover it the grounds of a dark mystery and closely held secrets that has put one crazy man in prison for arson.  With nothing left to lose and nothing else to do, Moore decides to take it upon himself to solve the mysterious case that was too open and shut.  As he looks at all the angles of the fire and the events of that night, Moore finds himself turning to God again as he rediscovers the faith he left behind.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Corbin Bernsen and his teams have always been committed to high production quality.  Rust is the earliest example of this commitment, as it sports great video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The soundtrack is also intriguing.  Sets, locations, and props, for the most part, are professional.  The only issues to point out here pertain to some choppy editing and some slightly poor lighting in some parts.  But otherwise, this is a professional and model production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

From the beginning of his foray into Christian film, which was this film, until now, Corbin Bernsen’s creative motivation has always been an enigma.  What is he ever going for?  Rust adopts the mysterious and semi-dark approach that was seen later in Beyond the Heavens.  Neither film truly makes much sense or has any driving purpose behind it.  Yet the mystery portion of Rust is intriguing and somewhat engaging.  The characters, while a bit eccentric, are also interesting in their own way, sometimes due to unique and cryptic dialogue.  Movies like this one always seem to be hiding something, like a private joke or secret, but they never let us in on the puzzle.  At least the ending is slightly unexpected, even though it takes a somewhat predictable path to get there.  If there were some more clarity in this plot, it could have been interesting and more highly rated, because there was a lot of potential here.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Much like the production of this film, the acting quality is professional and above average.  For the most part, actors and actresses are cast appropriately, and their line delivery is on point.  Sometimes emotions tend to be a bit forced, but they are good as a whole.  There are also some other moments of underwhelming performances, but they are not enough to keep this section from being highly rated.

Conclusion

Corbin Bernsen always has a lot of potential in his films.  He usually maintains high production and acting quality.  However, he is also committed to plots that are seemingly purposely unusual.  Rust is no exception to this trend, especially since it is his first Christian film.  One can understand why ‘secular’ film makers want to dip into the Christian market, but we have never understood Bernsen’s odd approach to movie making, despite his quality productions.  Yet perhaps we will never understand.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

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