My Broken Horse Christmas (Movie Review)

Image result for my broken horse christmas

Plot Summary

John always likes to go with his father to pick out a new horse every year, and he knows his father is good at picking out the best horses.  However, this year, his father acquires a crazed unruly mare and decides that she belongs to John so that he can train her.  John is dejected at this prospect because he feels like he’ll never be able to fix his new broken horse.  Nevertheless, this father persists in forcing him to train it, which leads to surprising results.

Production Quality (3 points)

John Lyde and his Covenant Communications and Mainstay Productions teams are consistently committed to quality productions even though their films are not traditional length.  This commitment to good quality is evident in crisp video quality, professional camera work, and good audio quality.  The soundtrack is interesting and engaging, and the sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized for the historical time period.  In the end, though the editing is a bit average, this production doesn’t have any major problems, which warrants a perfect score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Lyde and his team always prize shorter stories over long and drawn out films that have no interest, and basing this short film off of a Christian novella was definitely a good idea to acquire source material.  Because of this source material, the plot is slightly more creative and different than most Christmas films, but it seems to contain a lot of odd messaging that appears to glorify patriarchal attitudes.  The father character is likely realistic in his portrayal, but the story seems to pass along messaging that he is a wise and all-knowing character.  Other characters need better development through more substantial dialogue, which one would think would come from basing a short film off of a novella.  Since it’s so short, we needed to see very streamlined character development, but the plot instead lags behind and chooses to focus on pushing lessons on the audience that really don’t make much sense and on forced Christian messages that don’t seem to apply to the characters’ situations.  Some portions don’t appear to be very rooted in reality, and the abrupt and rushed ending causes the story to be over before much happens.  In short, while this could have been an honest and raw character biopic, it was reduced to a quasi-sermonizing piece that pushes messages that are hard to comprehend.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As a whole, there aren’t many acting problems in this film, which is a consistent component in John Lyde’s creations.  The casting and coaching appear to be professional, and for the most part, emotions and line delivery are natural.  However, this section isn’t perfect before of some slightly 
over-dramatized parts and some weak child acting, but in the end, this rounds out an another above average film for the Mainstay\Covenant team.

Conclusion

It’s absolutely a great idea to use Christian novels and novellas as source material for Christian films, especially since there are so many options to choose from.  This high number of selection opportunities makes it odd when obscure novellas like this one was chosen, especially when it’s not clear what My Broken Horse Christmas actually wants us to learn.  It’s a visually appealing yet substantially vague experience that will likely and unfortunately be easily forgotten.  John Lyde has always been right on the cusp of greatness, so it’s time for him to take the next step into dynamic creations.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

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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

 

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

 

Christmas For a Dollar (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In the middle of the Great Depression, the Kamp family is struggling to get by, but Mr. Kamp won’t let his older children get jobs.  Norman, the crippled brother, wants to see a horse owned by a local grumpy rich woman.  All the schoolchildren want to win a special box from the teacher for doing the most good deeds, even though they are all sure the local bullies are cheating in the contest.  Will they be able to have an enjoyable Christmas together?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As is the case for most of John Lyde’s productions, Christmas for a Dollar is respectable and above average.  This includes good video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack is a bit generic, but it’s fine.  Sometimes the sets, props, and locations are limited, but they are mostly good.  Also, the editing lags at times, but on the whole, every part of this production shows good effort, which is all we can ask for, especially considering the resources available.  John Lyde is consistent in rolling out good productions.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, also like other films from John Lyde and his team, the plot is this movie is fairly limited in its scope and tends to lack overall purpose.  While the characters show some realism and honesty, it’s hard to know where the story is going since there are several different rabbit trails it follows without really discovering a driving or underlying theme.  The characters could have been something, but some of the awkward dialogue holds them back.  Like other movies from this creative team, Christmas for a Dollar contains a lot of nice ideas that don’t come to full fruition.  This story needed a bit more work before going to production.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Despite the unrealistic costuming, this cast was definitely trying.  They overcame a rough start of awkward and forced lines and emotions to improve throughout the latter half of the film.  They seem like they are receiving some good coaching most of the time and really seem like they care about their roles.  This is more than can be said of most casts.

Conclusion

John Lyde and his creative team certainly care about their movies: this much is evident.  However, too often, their ideas get lost in translation and do not fully come through.  Films like this one tend to come off as nice little kids’ movies with no mass appeal outside of a small audience.  It’s a shame, because it seems like they could go further a lot of the time with their ideas.  Maybe one day soon they will finally break through to the next level, because they certainly have the ability to do so.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Christmas Dragon (Movie Review)

It’s magic!

Plot Summary

After her parents are kidnapped, Ayden and her new orphan friends will have to retrieve the magical orb that keeps Father Christmas alive and will have to save the Christmas Dragon from being killed.  Will they be able to prevail against the evil creatures and people that are chasing then?  Will everyone be able to find out what the true meaning of Christmas is?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

It’s very hard to make a fantasy movie on a low budget, so it should probably be avoided.  Nonetheless, while The Christmas Dragon has some good production elements, it also has some glaringly bad ones.  As usual, video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  Yet there are many obviously cheap special effects used throughout, including a lot of poorly animated overlays.  Unfortunately, the fantasy props used are among the worst; it also does not help that the sets and locations are fairly limited.  One consolation is that the editing in this film is fine, which keeps this production from being below average.  In the end, fantasy productions require a lot of funding, so a low budget will always be exposed by this type of film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

First off, it’s very hard to discern how The Christmas Dragon is really a Christmas film, but at least John Lyde and his team are trying to do something different.  However, it still seems like he and his team are better than this silliness.  With no clear Christian message or purpose to guide it, this storyline meanders along as a vague allegory that simply copies concepts (very poorly) from popular fantasy stories.  The characters are too one-dimensional and not dynamic at all.  They seem to be pawns in the plot, and their dialogue is stunted by action sequences.  Allegory and fantasy plots need a driving purpose that keep them from going off the rails, and some creativity is not discouraged either.  Unfortunately, this movie lacks these parameters.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Besides having the most terrible makeup jobs ever, these cast members are forced to don obviously homemade costuming (and sometimes stupid masks) that attempts and fails to make them look like mythical creatures.  Elsewhere, emotions are either too dramatic or too matter-of-fact.  There is too much yelling and forced drama, as well as poor action acting.  While some roles are poorly cast, there are some good moments here that keep this section from being any worse.  In the end, the potential here was not fully reached.

Conclusion

A word to the wise: do not make a fantasy movie with this sort of budget and don’t make one just to rip off other ideas and to smash Christmas into it for no good reason.  John Lyde and his team usually produce quality content, but this movie is an exception because they overextended themselves with a complex production.  Fantasy plots need to be well-planned from the beginning, and if they are, they can be very dynamic.  Perhaps John Lyde and his crew will continue to improve in the future.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Come Unto Me [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Samuel and Mary make their living stealing from others because as young orphans, they have no one to turn to.  However, while on the run from the Romans one day, they are sheltered by a woman they have never seen before.  After talking with her and her carpenter son, Samuel and Mary are intrigued by them and want to know more about them.  Yet little do they know that the woman’s son, Jesus, is about to embark on the ministry work of His Father in order to change the world.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Come Unto Me is the best production yet in this short film series, including high video quality and audio quality, along with great camera work and soundtrack work.  There is still a concerted commitment in this series to use realistic and high quality outdoor locations and props, which is a huge plus.  This is mainly what sets these films apart from your average Bible play movie.  There are really no concerns to point out here except for some small editing concerns pertaining to scenes that overstay their welcome.  Yet on the whole, this is another great production effort that continually shows needed improvement.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, the plot takes a small step back in this film as the cumbersome dialogue returns and Jesus is still portrayed as a lofty and inaccessible individual.  There is also too much talk about off-screen events without showing them.  Indeed, a majority of this film is sitting around talking without developing the characters well enough.  Nevertheless, despite the someone boring progression of the film, there are a lot of interesting ideas here that need further development.  It’s possible that this could only be done in a series format, because the short film series has likely run its course at this point.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The acting remains relatively stable in this third installment as the same positives and negatives as before are present.  Costuming is good, and the cast members are still not completely culturally authentic.  Though there are still some moments of unnecessary drama, this cast is less theatrical than the others, which shows coaching improvements.  Thus, in the end, Come Unto Me rounds out another average film.

Conclusion

The good thing about John Lyde and his team is that they are focused on quality Bible films rather than churning out a bunch of cheap Bible plays.  Thus, they are definitely on the right track here.  Yet it still seems like No Ordinary Shepherd, He Knows My Name, and Come Unto Me are already set up to be a miniseries.  There are already three episodes made—now others just need to be filled in to create continuity.  Series’ and miniseries’ are likely the future of Christian entertainment, so we’re still waiting for someone to step up and show what they can do.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points