House [2008] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

On a stormy night in rural Alabama, two couples find themselves stranded at a remote and strange bed and breakfast that is run by three eccentrically creepy people.  The longer they are in the large, ominous mansion, the stranger circumstances become for the four of them.  They find themselves in a fight for their lives as they are stalked by a serial killer known as the Tin Man, who is bent on reminding each of them of their darkest secrets from their pasts.  Will they be able survive this evil night?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though House is adequately funded—more so than other Christian horror films, except for The Remaining—the production begins a bit rough.  This includes weird camera angles and moving camera work, probably for dramatic effecting.  There are also some wild cuts, as well as some odd sound effects and lighting for sensational effect.  However, video quality is fine, even if there are some cheesy special effects and zooms throughout.  Moreover, the Anberlin soundtrack is great, and the sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized.  Also, the editing is slightly effective, and other production elements improve as the film goes on.  Thus, this production ends up average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 points)

Though House is full of unnecessary sensationalism and cheesy horror elements, these concepts reflect the flaws of the original novel by Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker, which is actually not the best book that could have been chosen from them to turn into a movie.  In the beginning of this film, everything comes off as too dramatic and too pronounced.  However, it does get better as it goes as the film explores the intriguing psychological elements and concepts of this novel, including effective character backstories and a great use of flashbacks.  In some ways, the movie may be better than the book, even though there is still a need for more substantial dialogue.  Nonetheless, the climax still makes no sense and leaves too many unanswered questions.  However, some audiences will enjoy this movie, if the horror elements do not bother them.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though some cast members in this small cast are trying too hard to be dark and to have strange undertones, the acting of House is mostly fine.  There is also some weird makeup work, but for the most part, emotions are effective among this cast, even though there were a lot of difficult acting moments due to the use of special effects.  This rounds out a mostly average film.

Conclusion

While the premise of this plot is very creative, it still needs a better explanation with more clarity as to what is happening.  Sometimes, Christian horror films, like Scattered, are better at focusing on character backstories and effective flashbacks than other films, which is one thing that keeps the genre alive.  Nonetheless, there are better Ted Dekker books to use for movies, even if future Christian horror flicks will be hard pressed to get this type of funding again without proving itself as effective.  Unfortunately, this is something the Christian horror genre has yet to accomplish.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

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The Visitation [2006] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a stranger comes to a small town begins performing miracles, he gains an immediate following.  However, a Baptist pastor and his friends are skeptical of the man, especially as his work grows more and more sinister.  As the town descends into spiritual chaos and demons take over people’s minds, will the Christians be able to stand against the growing evil that threatens the very soul of their town—or they be sucked into evil themselves?

 

Production Quality (-1 points)

As an early 2000s Fox Faith production, this team had the resources to make this film at least somewhat professional.  However, the production is neither respectable nor presentable.  It’s an absolute wreck full of cheesy special effects, constant jumps, and epilepsy-inducing flashes.  Camera work is extremely shaky and video quality is very blurry.  The lighting is very inconsistent and the sets, locations, and props are very cheap-looking.  Finally, as previously mentioned, the editing is atrocious, which makes for an unpleasant experience.  In short, there is nothing good whatsoever to say here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1 points)

Frank Peretti was known in his time as a ground-breaking author who wasn’t afraid to breach different genres, but that doesn’t mean he always wrote good stories.  The Visitation is extremely thin on plot and character development in general.  It is beyond cheesy and includes tons of ridiculous horror elements that make for an extremely confusing and dizzying experience.  It’s really unfair to make someone watch this train wreck of a movie, as it jumps from one thing to the next, leaving the audience in a dazed wake.  It doesn’t even seem like this plot is trying to present a real story but is instead checking the box of having a Christian horror film for the sake of having it.  Needless to say, it doesn’t work—not in the least bit.

Acting Quality (0 points)

It’s probably safe to say that any cast that involves Randy Travis already has something wrong with it.  Otherwise, this cast is extremely dramatic, with lots of yelling and extreme emotions.  If they were going for a C-grade horror movie, they reached their goal on every single level.

Conclusion

It’s one thing to breach a new genre in Christian film, and it’s entirely another to butcher a film so badly that it creates a laughingstock.  Non-Christians might watch this film because it’s a horror flick, but they will find a total disaster with the name ‘Christian’ stamped on it.  To date, Christian horror is a genre that greatly suffers, but perhaps someone will turn it around one day…soon…

 

Final Rating: -2 out of 10 points

 

The Veritas Project: Hangman’s Curse (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The Veritas Project consists of the Springfield family—their job is to work with local law enforcement undercover in order to discover the origins of unusual happenings in small towns.  Their next job is to go undercover at a high school that seems to be haunted by the curse of a teen who hung himself inside the school one night.  Seemingly random deaths keep happening that are tied back to the hanging and to dark happenings at the school.  Will they be able to get to the bottom of it before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Like many early 2000s productions distributed by Fox Faith, Hangman’s Curse has its high points and its issues that keep it from being all it could be.  For example, the video quality is unnecessarily grainy and there is poor lighting throughout.  However, the sets, locations, and props are realistic and appropriate.  Audio quality is fine except for the cheesy soundtrack and the cheap sound effects that are dubbed on top of the normal audio.  There are also a lot of very juvenile horror-related special effects that are actually quite annoying.  Finally, the editing is fairly choppy as scenes end abruptly, off-screen content is referred to often, and transitions do not flow well.  In the end, it’s possible that this production team’s budget was not ready to handle a sci-fi\horror film, so they might should have rethought this effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though Frank Peretti knows how to craft an interesting enough Christian horror\sci-fi plot, Hangman’s Curse crams too much content into a short amount of time.  This stunts character develop and forces dialogue to be rushed and packed with information.  Sometimes the premise of this ‘horror’ concept is hard to believe and is even a little silly at times.  We are supposed to treat the issue as serious, but it is difficult to do so because it all seems too shallow.  There are too many very cheesy half-attempts at horror that are more annoying than effective.  Like too many sci-fi plots, this one relies too heavily on the ‘twist’ and the concept revealed near the end rather than actual character development.  It’s hard to care about what’s going on when it all rushes by so fast all in the name of solving the mystery in under two hours.  In the end, some will find this story interesting, but it does not appeal to every audience.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The casting and acting of this film are definitely its strong suit.  Though there is nothing truly dynamic about the cast members’ performances, they are also not detracting or negative.  Their emotions are mostly believable and their line delivery is professional.  This should be the baseline for acting in Christian film.

Conclusion

Frank Peretti has always been a genre pioneer in Christian entertainment.  He went where other Christians were afraid to go and opened up a whole new world for both writing and movies.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with his work, this particular film does not capture it well, and this could be due to the early days of Christian productions.  Perhaps if this film were made today, it would be better.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Though None Go With Me (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Elizabeth LeRoy grew up in a small town in the 1950s, but she considered her life to be boring.  That is, until the new young pastor came to town and began spending a lot of time with her.  They eventually fell in love, but as they were engaged, he was called off to fight in the Korean War.  Elizabeth waits for him, but when her father dies and she receives word of the death of her fiancé, she feels like she has no choice but to ask her lifelong friend Will for help.  With everything seemingly falling apart, will she be able to follow God’s plan for her life?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Made in the era of collaboration among Larry Levinson, Hallmark, and Fox Faith, Through None Go With Me is clearly a quality production.  Video quality and camera work reflect this professionalism, as do historically authentic sets and locations.  Audio quality is fine, except for the stock Hallmark soundtrack.  There is really nothing negative to highlight here except for some editing problems, mostly pertaining to excessive time jumps.  But overall, this is a great effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Based on Jerry Jenkins’ novel, the film is mostly fine, though there is a slightly altered plot.  However, since there are excessive time jumps, there is too much content that is passed over due to there being too much to start with.  Thus, information dump dialogue replaces natural plot progression.  Narration also serves as a crutch to bridge the gaps.  Everything is far too rushed as the story just hits the high points.  Character development is left in the dust as dialogue is empty and trite.  However, the plot does portray a somewhat realistic progression of life, even if the ending is slightly predictable.  In the end, it’s great to base films off of books, but don’t do it in such a way that the original point is lost.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though None Go With Me is a pretty standard early 2000s Hallmark casting job.  As such, there are plenty of good elements but others that weigh it down.  Some acting is effective while some of it is overdone, forced, or lazy.  Also, some costuming and makeup are unrealistic, another typical Hallmark pitfall.  But overall, this portion is pretty average.

Conclusion

Jerry Jenkins is a gifted writer, and thus, his stories should be portrayed on the big screen.  But they should not be done in this fashion, so that they are compressed and chopped up in pursuit of fitting into a comfortable ninety-minute, made-for-TV runtime.  A life epic cannot unfold like this and characters cannot be developed properly in this time span.  So when bringing novels to life, consider that you might need to do so in two parts, not all at once.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

One Night With the King {The Call of Destiny} (Movie Review)

 

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This costume is awfully heavy
Quick! I need more eyeliner!
Quick! I need more eyeliner!

Plot Summary

The story of Esther is a Cinderella story of the ancient world.  Ordered by the king to audition to be his new queen, the young Hadassah, a devout Jewess, is reluctant to go.  Her uncle Mordecai encourages her to go in the Lord’s strength, but to conceal her Jewish identity for her safety.  Forced to undergo a year of beauty treatments before seeing the king, Esther forms a bond with the eunuch in charge of the process, who quickly discovers that she is different from the other girls.  But little does Esther know that she is about to be swept up into a bigger plan to save her people—a plan that only Yahweh could orchestrate.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

In the era of Fox Faith, money was certainly spent on some aspects of production, such as camera work and video quality.  The audio quality is also passable, and the soundtrack is slightly intriguing.  However, there are many other negative production elements that detract from this, such as weird special effects.  While time is obviously spent on the sets, locations, and props, there is an air of great extravagance in every part of this production.  Everything is taken to an ornate extreme; over-decoration clutters the sets.  This is a unique problem as they spent their money in the wrong ways.  As for the editing, it is also overdone in an attempt to be very dramatic.  Some scenes are replayed over and over again from different angles, just for dramatic flair.  Many scenes drag on too long, trying to drive a theatrical point home.  As will be covered next, time is spent in all the wrong ways.  While the funds were obviously present to make this a great production, they were grossly misappropriated.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

For starters, narration is used far too much to fill the gaps of this plot that the writers did not feel like filling with substantial content.  As previously mentioned, some portions of the storyline are rushed while others have too much time spent on them.  The historical account of Esther is altered in some ways for the convenience of the plot, even though the two-hour runtime proves they have no time constraints.  Instead, the writers crowd out real content with embellishment and the frivolous pursuit of meaningless subplots.  Trivial asides that have nothing to do with the original story are given far too much screen time.  Though there is some positive to find here in the complexity of the storyline, it is far too complex to the point that it cannot be easily understood.  Petty and unimportant events are portrayed as extremely dramatic as the writers squeeze forced drama out of everything.  The dialogue is empty and confusing, thus creating bland and mindless characters.  This is such a disappointment because the resources were here to make a truly great movie, but they were greatly squandered.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

We are all for casting unknowns, but with the money this team had to spend, couldn’t they have found a more professional cast?  The acting is very empty and it seems like no coaching is present.  Some lines are over-pronounced and over-enunciated, while others are mumbled.  Emotions are not believable but instead are over-dramatized.  But the money was spent on other things, of course, such as over-the-top makeup jobs.  Most of the main characters have a different extravagant costume for every scene.  The one positive to note here is that at least the cast is mixed-race rather than all British, but that’s about it.

Conclusion

Branded as a Biblical epic, One Night With the King had the tools available to it to be truly great.  Had the money been spent properly, we could be placing this film on the Hall of Fame.  Had the complex plot been honed better and the historical elements been properly handled and portrayed, we would be applauding this effort rather than denouncing it.  The lesson that can be learned from this experience is that it’s not the money you have, it’s how you spend it.  Just throwing money at a production doesn’t cut it.  It takes true talent to spend money wisely and know when to stop.  Yet frugality was not a word in this creative team’s vocabulary.  Next time, stop trying to impress us with shining objects and focus on substance.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

Saving Sarah Cain (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Sarah Cain used to be a successful column writer, but lately she’s been experiencing writer’s block.  To make matters worse, her Amish sister, whom she hasn’t spoken to in years, suddenly dies, leaving Sarah as the legal guardian of her five Amish nieces and nephews.  In a moment of desperation, Sarah writes a column about the children and accidentally stumbles upon success.  Therefore, she agrees to take the kids to her Chicago apartment in order to secretly continue writing about them.  The five children discover that they are in the midst of culture shock when they must assimilate into big city life on a steep learning curve.  In the end, they will all have to be honest with themselves and each other in order to find the lives they were meant for.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a part of the Fox Faith era of Christian film, Saving Sarah Cain enjoyed increased production success compared to movies before it.  The camera work is good, but the video quality could be better.  The sound quality is a little above average while the use of music throughout is actually really good.  This is something more Christian films need to do effectively.  The set and locations are believable and diverse.  The editing is pretty good, though there are some parts that leave you scratching your head as to what is actually going on.  Overall, there is really not much else to say regarding Sarah Cain’s production; it all comes out as just average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from the innovative Amish novel The Redemption of Sarah Cain by Beverly Lewis, this film almost captures the original purpose of the book, but not entirely.  The elements are there, but there just isn’t much feeling in this movie.  The characters are portrayed as very one-dimensional, not putting forth the depth they should in this highly character-driven plot.  Since the storyline is so linear, the characters have to take up the slack, but they do not go as far as they need to.  This is likely because the dialogue is very pedestrian and safe.  Safe is actually a good word to use to describe this film.  No risks are taken and no rewards are reaped.  While it is an interesting fish-out-of-water tale, it’s not dynamic enough or deep enough to warrant a higher score.  While there are some interesting psychological elements and backstory throughout, the ending is enough to put a damper on anything creative in the rest of the movie, as it leaves viewers wondering what they were supposed to learn from it.  This film is basically a nice try, but not good enough.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, the acting really drags down the characters.  Most of the characters are cast very poorly; some seem like they are forced into roles not suited for them.  There is the usual touch of Michael Landon Jr. evident in over-costuming the cast members, including those playing Amish characters.  Emotions are overplayed throughout and line delivery is forced most of the time.  While there are some funny moments, the acting is overall a disappointment.

Conclusion

Honestly, this is an instance when the book is better than the movie.  The movie removes meaningful elements from the novel, which is probably why they ended up with the paint-yourself-in-a-corner ending they did.  In addition to being safe, Saving Sarah Cain is also forgettable.  Were it not for its creative use of music (it’s sad that other better movies are not doing this), we probably wouldn’t even remember this film.  While it has plenty of potential, it is a very forced screenplay that unfortunately had little to no impact on Christian films.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Passion of the Christ (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

In this landmark Biblical epic, the suffering of Christ is depicted on the big screen.  Beginning in the Garden of Gethsemane, continuing to the various trials and through brutal torture, the final hours of Jesus are shown as He struggles up the Via Delarosa to the final reckoning at the Place of the Skull.  Complete with flashbacks to Jesus’ previous ministry and windows into the spiritual battle surrounding the crucifixion, The Passion of the Christ was a game-changer in Christian-based film that opened up a whole new world by refusing to fall into the trap of cute and clean Bible movies.  The real passion of Jesus Christ was horrible and wonderful, and something that we as Christians should never take for granted.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

As a professional and talented director and screenwriter, Mel Gibson puts his gift to a greater good in The Passion.  The camera work is epic, including great angles and clear video quality.  Sound quality is exquisite and the sets and locations are diversely realistic.  Of course, the main element of the production—the gore—may seem excessive to some and may frighten young children, but it is necessary to show Christ’s suffering in this way because any other way would minimize His sacrifice for us.  First century Judea was violent and Jesus’ persecution was intensely awful, and The Passion captures this unfortunate reality.  Finally, the musical score greatly enhances the film.  In short, while Mel Gibson is not an exclusively Christian director by any means, he has shown Christians how to make a great production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

All Christians are familiar with the basic Biblical account of Jesus in the Garden, before the Sanhedrin, before Herod and Pilate, and on the cross.  But before this movie, we believe that many western Christians did not fully appreciate the depth of Christ’s suffering.  Some may consider The Passion to embellish and sensationalize the torture, but we believe otherwise.  A majority of this film is violent and gory, but for good reason.  The purpose of Christ’s suffering is clearly communicated.  The Biblical characters are realistic and are enhanced by flashbacks.  From the beginning to the end, The Passion highlights an important and too-often forgotten aspect to every Biblical narrative: the spiritual battle that takes place away from human eyes.  Jesus’ interactions with Satan are epic and make this movie all that it is.  Of course, there are slightly too many unnecessary elements to this plot, including unusual personal beliefs of Gibson, overly sensationalized subplots, and a slight deification of Mary.  These keep it from being all that it could be.  But nevertheless, the plot, though it covers a short period of time, is very deep and profound.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The decision to use Aramaic and Latin instead of modern English was a success.  Though some of the actors and actresses are American, most are actually Middle Eastern and Jewish, which is a huge step.  The cast is obviously coached well and perform well, though most of them are not blockbuster actors and actresses.  Emotional delivery makes this movie what it is.  In short, this cast proves that ‘big names’ aren’t always needed to make a great film.

Conclusion

The Passion of the Christ was an early indicator of Christian audiences’ hunger for quality Christian films.  Some churches were criticized for publicizing a ‘secular’ film, but Mel Gibson simply did something no one else would do—he shattered Bible movie stereotypes by crafting a gritty and terribly realistic screenplay on the ultimate act of love and suffering in human history.  As mostly sheltered Christians who sometimes take for granted the gross realities in the Bible, we all need to be reminded of how real and painful Jesus’ crucifixion was, lest we forget how monumental His sacrifice for us was.  It’s only a shame that The Passion was not a perfect film, yet it still lands on the Hall of Fame as one to be remembered and one that made a difference for Christian film forever.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

 

Love’s Abiding Joy (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Clark Davis makes a cross-country journey to visit the LaHaye’s cattle ranch, he finds a family trying to hold things together as they ride through tough financial times.  Problems are only compounded when the infant Kathy LaHaye dies suddenly of unknown causes.  Each family member is scattered from each other, dealing with grief in different unhealthy ways.  Willie is forced to take an extra job as the town sheriff as many local families are struggling to make ends meet under the firm grip of the cruel mayor Samuel Doros.  With so many negative circumstances pressing in around them, the Clark and the LaHayes will have to pull together and remember that the darkest times come right before the light.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Consistent with the previous Love Comes Softly films, the production quality of Love’s Abiding Joy is above average.  The video quality and sound quality are solid.  The camera work is professional.  However, there are some minor issues here, such as the stock musical score.  In keeping with a main Michael Landon Jr. error, the costuming, especially the makeup, is inconsistent with the historical period.  Also, the editing is very choppy, not giving any opportunity to truly engage in the story, as will be discussed further next.  But in sum, Abiding Joy looks good on the surface and is mostly good in this area.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

As previously alluded to, the plot seems like a collection of random scenes glued together.  It meanders without any real identity, forcing too many different issues together in one storyline.  In the midst of this, the tragic struggles of the characters cannot be connected with or accessed by the audience because they seem very shallow.  The dialogue is quite stock; no care is given to originality.  Each character is very procedural and stereotypical, including the cheesy villain.  Abiding Joy begins a new theme of the remainder of the Love Comes Softly series: forced extra romance subplots.  At this point, the original novel plots have been completely abandoned.  On a brighter note, this grief story had some great potential, but it was left untapped.  There is a slightly interesting twist at the end of the story, but it’s pretty much washed over by all the other negative elements.  Unfortunately, that’s the only good that can be said.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Abiding Joy marks the beginning of vain actors and actresses in this film franchise.  Dale Midkiff once again takes on a large role in this movie, and it’s not a good thing.  Other cast members portray annoying forced emotions and awkward line delivery.  Erin Cottrell has a lot of half-screamed lines.  The only good element to bring light to here is the presence of at least some good acting, though it’s just not enough.

Conclusion

Love’s Abiding Joy had just as much of an original idea behind the plot as Love’s Long Journey did, but the originality is left on the proverbial playing field.  We need more movies about the real struggles of families portrayed in realistic settings, but this film just doesn’t cut it.  There was a significant decrease in overall quality in this fourth Love Comes Softly installment, and unfortunately, it was the unhindered beginning of a major slide for the film saga.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

Love’s Long Journey (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Following their marriage, Willie and Missy LaHaye set off further west to begin a life of their own by building their own cattle ranch business.  They set out with no one but each other to lean on and begin forming relationships with people in the small settlement near their land.  Willie assembles a team of castoff ranch hands while Missy seeks to assist local Native Americans in their educational pursuits.  They are surrounded by hurting and hungry people who need what they have to offer, but little do they know that evil also lurks around the corner, wanting to steal what they have worked hard for.  The LaHayes will have to dig deep and cling to everything they learned back home in order to weather the storm.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

Love’s Long Journey marks the high point of the Love Comes Softly series in multiple ways, and especially in production quality.  The camera work, video quality, and sound quality are all solid.  This is the most authentic-looking Love movie when it comes to props, costuming, sets, and locations.  Great care was obviously taken to make this film as realistic as possible, and it shows.  Constantly dealing with farm animals on set is neither easy nor something you see often in Christian films, but Long Journey pulls this off without errors.  In short, the production of this film is flawless.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

While it is still not entirely accurate to the novel, Long Journey is the best flowing and dynamic plot of the film franchise.  The characters, although they still need some deepening.  It’s refreshing that there are some different characters in this plot that are not typical frontier romance characters.  In that vein, there is no new romance\courtship, but an actual portrayal of married life—what a concept!  While the dialogue as a whole is just average, there is some truly good humor throughout.  The end of this plot, though slightly predictable, is actually epic and has a unique twist to it.  However, the villains in this plot are extremely cheesy and unrealistic.  Also, we felt that the subplot between the two brothers needed to be explored further and to take on a larger role in the film.  But besides these small issues, this is a solid plot that deserves recognition.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This is where this movie loses Hall of Fame momentum.  Changing actors and\or actresses in the middle of a franchise is rarely a good idea, especially when it’s a downgrade.  We realize that sometimes you can’t retain actresses, but January Jones was a much better missy than Erin Cottrell.  Unfortunately, a majority of Cottrell’s lines seem forced and strained—she is the main reason this movie is not as good as it could have been, especially since she plays the central character.  But even still, this is the best acted movie of the franchise, with just average acting.  On a brighter note, Long Journey has an actually fair portrayal of Native Americans by using real Native American actors—another novel concept.

Conclusion

Love’s Long Journey is another one of those movies that really could have been something great.  It had all the tools—originality, great production, honest portrayal.  But one poor starring actor or actress can really spoil a movie; this film is an unfortunate example of this.  Regardless, this is an enjoyable movie that many people will find acceptable.  It was a symbol in its era of better Christian movies and it can be used as a blueprint today on how to—and not to—revive a franchise to greatness.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Love’s Enduring Promise (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Years after Clark and Marty Davis settled into their new life together, their family is prosperous and successful.  Missy Davis is a young woman now with a job and a mind of her own.  All seems well until tragedy strikes—Clark receives a serious injury in a wood-cutting accident, which sends the entire family into a search for answers and hope.  While taking care of Clark and praying for healing, Marty and Missy must work the fields in order to have the crops done in time for harvest.  At the end of their rope, they suddenly receive help from an unexpected source.  Little do they know that God has been watching over them all along and will allow them to be a part of His special plan.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Michael Landon Jr. and Hallmark, in this installment, continued to showcase production superiority over other Christian films of the era.  Love’s Enduring Promise has realistic sets and locations and great camera work.  The video and sound quality are solid, including well-filmed outside scenes.  The costuming is pretty good, with some minor issues regarding period authenticity.  The only other caveats to raise are some poorly created special effects and inconsistent editing.  At the beginning, the movie makes sense, but it becomes very rushed and choppy at the end, as will be explained next.  Nonetheless, the Love Comes Softly series, at this point, was still produced well.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

As previously mentioned, the first half of the movie is interesting and it feels like the audience will really be able to get to know Janette Oke’s characters.  However, once the major conflict is easily resolved, the plot meanders from there and comes to a predictable and forced conclusion.  Besides this, this film is an inaccurate adaptation of original novel that does not improve upon the original plot.  There are too many plot holes and unnecessary characters that only provide filler time.  The inevitable romance seems forced; it’s hard to really appreciate what’s going on because the characters are too shallow. While the dialogue is okay, the characters need to be deeper.  There is some real humor, but the Christian message is forced and not meaningful.  In short, this plot had a lot of potential to be different and interesting and to package a profound Christian message into a movie with authentic, accessible characters, but it only comes off as half-measures.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

The cast size increased for the second installment, but the quality decreased.  There are only a handful of good actors and actresses; the child actors are not coached well.  Line delivery is overly dramatic, like every line is supposed to be a deep spiritual truth.  But at the same time, emotions seem shallow.  Unfortunately, low quality acting derails an otherwise above average film.

Conclusion

Janette Oke’s beloved series has a mountain of good content where deep characters and realistic frontier struggles are concerned.  However, Michael Landon Jr. and team did not capture what they needed to capture.  Love Comes Softy could have been an epic saga, but we are only left to wonder what could have been.  Most audiences will be fine with Love’s Enduring Promise, mostly because of the era it was released in, but it needed something more.  In the future, we hope that this movie genre is redeemed from ‘just okay’ status.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

Love Comes Softly (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Taken to the unknown Western lands of America by her husband Aaron, Marty Claridge doesn’t know what to do when her husband dies in a tragic accident.  Alone in a strange land, she accepts the offer of a widower named Clark Davis to marry him for convenience until she can go back home to the East.  As she struggles to cope with her own loss and deal with Clark’s spirited daughter Missy, who is still dealing with the tragic loss of her mother, Marty slowly realizes that she will miss the Davis home when she has to leave.  She will have to decide what will prevail—her heart or her head.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For the most part, Michael Landon Jr. knows what he’s doing when it comes to production.  This was during the heyday of Fox Faith and Hallmark, and it is easy to understand what set inspirational semi-Christian films like this one apart from movies in its genre before it.  The video quality is clear and outside scenes are filmed well.  The camera work is professional.  Care was taken to make the surroundings and props authentic to the time period.  However, the musical score is stock and the editing is just average.  Too many events take place off screen, things that could have set this movie apart from other romances.  But in the end, the production is likely this film’s greatest asset.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from the first novel of Janette Oke’s famous series, Love Comes Softly is an intriguing plot.  This film is likely the most accurate to the original story of the whole movie franchise.  A marriage of convenience plot is not that uncommon, yet it was common for the frontier settlement time period.  Other authentic historical factors are captured.  The dialogue is good, but not great, but the characters are at the very least believable.  But with a simplistic commonly used plot, character deepening is greatly needed.  Unfortunately, Love Comes Softly, though it had the runtime to accomplish this, did not do it.  This is why the plot comes out of just average.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This was a small cast and was far better than many Christian film casts of the time, but it still was plagued with errors.  Some characters (as we will see later from Michael Landon Jr.) are too done-up for the time period, i.e., too much makeup and manicures.  But compared to later, Love Comes Softly was great in this area.  Yet other problems remain.  Only two or three actors are truly good.  Katherine Heigl and Dale Midkiff are okay in their roles, but they needed refining.  Once again, in a small-scope, simplistic plot, acting is essential, and this cast was only marginal.

Conclusion

Love Comes Softly marked the beginning of an era for Michael Landon Jr., Hallmark, and popular author Janette Oke.  Oke captured believable, seemingly common historical characters in her novels and brought them to life for audiences to enjoy.  However, the film franchise did not necessarily do this.  Love Comes Softly is a strong enough beginning and demanded stronger follow-ups.  But if you are looking for a well-produced, semi-typical Christian romance, this is the film for you, and you will not be disappointed.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Amazing Grace [2006] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

William Wilberforce, always a crusader for social justice at all levels, had never considered the evils of slavery in the British Empire until his friend William Pitt introduced him to a group of anti-slavery activists, or abolitionists.  After learning about the horrors that occurred on slave ships and on plantations in the West Indies, Wilberforce began using his influence in the House of Commons to put a stop to the evil practice through legislation.  What he did not anticipate was the pushback from the pro-slavery lobby.  After exhausting all his options, the source of Wilberforce’s motivation suddenly comes from an unlikely source—a blind pastor with a song that was destined to change cultures everywhere.

Production Quality (3 points)

Amazing Grace has obviously been produced by a top notch crew.  Many crews are wary of historical movies, likely because it is difficult to achieve the proper level of professionalism and to acquire the props, costumes, sets, and locations needed for an authentic film.  Amazing Grace accomplishes all of these very well, bringing this historical story to life without committing the usual errors.  The camera work is excellent, as are the video and sound qualities.  There is nothing negative to say here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)

Adapting a historical plot can be difficult, depending on how much content the writers want to cover—sometimes they can bite off more than they can chew.  However, it can also be a far better plot than most fictional plots, since it is based on true events, and both of these things can be said about Amazing Grace. Though it covers a lot of time, the character development is efficient and believable, which is very difficult to pull off.  This is due to great dialogue an a poignant message of social justice.  Sensitive elements are dealt with handily without sugarcoating reality.  Great care is given to historical accuracy while balancing effective storytelling.  This film has the true feel of a historical epic that has transformational application for us today.  Overall, this is a great historical narrative to adapt into a movie, and the end result is still masterful.

Acting Quality (3 points)

Since this is a professional and mainstream cast, we should not expect anything less than great.  As a side note, it is unfortunate that this cannot be said about predominantly Christian casts.  In Amazing Grace, each actor or actress fits their role very well—each has been cast very appropriately.  Line delivery is excellent, as is emotional expression.  Also, the costuming is historically accurate.  While there were a lot of potential acting pitfalls, none of them were fallen into.

Conclusion 

More movies need to be made on important historical topics such as the different facets and time periods of the abolitionist movement.  Though historical films often require sizable budgets and subject matter experts, this rendition handles these complications without blinking.  Amazing Grace needs to serve as a constant reminder of the types of movies that Christian film makers should be consistently rolling out.  Therefore, Amazing Grace receives an x factor point for re-watchibility and joins the ranks of perfect Christian films.

Final Rating: 10 out of 10 points

The Final Inquiry (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Tito Valerio Tauro, a Roman tribune, has been called from his post in Germania by the emperor himself in order to investigate the mysterious events surrounding the death of a Jewish rabbi in Judea.  Tauro elects to enter the province in secret, along with his German captive-turned-right-hand-man.  He comes into contact with people unlike any he has seen before, including a Jewish girl named Tabitha, who challenges him to look beyond Roman power and to look to other things, like love.  Tauro faces off with Pontius Pilate and rabid Jewish religious leaders in route to discovering the answers he is looking for.  Little does he know that he will find them in the places he least expected.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

On the surface, The Final Inquiry does not seem like a bad movie.  The production quality is average—the camera work is pretty good.  The sound quality is all right, but the video tends to be low quality.  The costuming is realistic, a contrast to many Biblical and historical independent films.  However, the editing is not up to par—this could be due the confusing and varied amount of plot content.  Overall, the production of this film is good, but not good enough.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

There are many interesting ideas packed into this film’s plot.  The concept of a Roman official investigating the death of Jesus is not necessarily new, but there is nothing inherently wrong with it.  However, the creators tried to force too much content and too many characters into this narrative.  There are too many subplots—not all of them are completed in the end; some of them just fall away.  Due to the large amount of characters, they all become shallow.  Some of the Biblical characters are downright creepy.  Most of the dialogue is forced and contrived.  Some scenes, especially those at the end, are very unrealistic and leave the audience wondering what actually happened.  It seems like multiple writers wrote this movie since it cuts back and forth without warning and changes tone in arbitrary places.  It is as if this is several movies that have been forced to be one movie.  In short, there are plenty of potentially interesting ideas in The Final Inquiry, but they are not delivered properly.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The acting is the strongest point of this movie, but that is not saying much.  The actors are not dynamic; they mostly avoid major mistakes.  Some of the acting has a cheesy air of ‘Biblical drama’, as if people in first-century Roman provinces could not talk normally.  Also, this movie commits the typical error of Bible movies by exchanging Middle Eastern actors for mostly white British actors.  In short, there are no real glaring errors here, but nothing game-changing either.

Conclusion

Having an interesting idea for a Biblical-historical movie is not enough—it must be followed through with.  Characters must be developed and the plot must be focused.  Tossing a collection of intriguing subplots together does not make a movie.  Where The Final Inquiry could have brought more interest to Biblical movies, it only causes more disillusionment and confusion.  Hopefully future film makers will learn from its mistakes.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

The Ultimate Gift (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jason Stevens has always had everything he ever wanted—at least everything that money could buy.  Growing up in a successful oil dynasty, he has never seen anything but money, fakeness, and broken relationships.  So when his patriarchal grandfather dies and the family gossip turns to who will get the largest share of the family fortune, Jason is uninterested and aimless in life.  However, his world takes a unexpected turn when his father’s lawyer informs him that he is the one who is to inherit the largest portion of the fortune—if he can pass a series of seemingly eccentric tests designed to help Jason learn what is most important in life.  As a result, Jason is forced to look at who he really is and what God really wants from him.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The production crew of The Ultimate Gift showed true talent in this film.  The camera work is excellent, including video quality and angles.  The sets and locations are quite varied.  The story is supposed to take place in at least two different countries, and this feat is pulled of well.  The editing is great considering the fact that there is a lot of content in this film that could have cheesily been strung together.  The series of gifts is not choppy and comes off naturally.  In short, there are no production errors.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

As previously mentioned, it must have been hard to weave this type of content together into a clean plot line.  Screenwriter Cheryl McKay actually improved Jim Stovall’s book in this adaptation, building on the characters and the storyline and making it more palatable.  Dialogue is not forgotten in this miniature epic, even though it is concise.  There are several interesting plot twists and things do not turn out as most inspirational plots would.  Comedy and realistic drama are mixed well throughout.  The only concerns to raise here are that some of the characters are slightly shallow and stereotypical.  Otherwise, the plot content is very strong.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The Ultimate Gift cast is made up of mostly mainstream and professional actors, but they do the job well.  They have obviously been coached well.  Each one is appropriate in their roles and does the best with what they have.  In short, there are once again no errors here.

Conclusion

While The Ultimate Gift is not a perfect film, it is certainly high on the list.  It deals with a very unique topic in a very unique way.  It would have been easy for the movie format to come off as amateurish, but this does not happen.  One caveat is that there is not an explicit Christian message, but there are plenty of Christian values displayed.  In short, this film is not only an enjoyable view, but it should also serve as a great example to anyone who wants to create an independent Christian film in the future.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

Home Run [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Cory Brand is a seemingly successful baseball player, but he has an anger problem on the field and an addiction problem off the field.  Following the advice of his agent, he decides to return to his hometown to reconcile with painful memories of the past.  As a part of the deal, his agent signs him up for an addiction counseling group at a local church in order to work through his issues.  Cory’s brother, still a resident of the hometown, takes him under his wing to help him, but Cory doesn’t want any help.  He shuns all help until he is forced to come face to face with the choices he has made and people he has hurt.  He must deal with his personal hurt and learn to love again if he expects to change his ways.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Home Run is produced fairly well, especially where the camera work is concerned.  The video is clear, but some of the shots are awkward.  The editing is confusing and it seems like there is a lot of unnecessary content in the film.  The flashbacks put a strain on the film, although flashbacks are usually a positive aspect to assist the film.  However, in Home Run, they are accompanied by annoying flashes that isolate the audience.  While the audio quality is good, the soundtrack is uninspiring. In short, the production of Home Run is a nice try, but not good enough.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

For starters, it is commendable to make a movie dealing with the troubled personal lives of athletes, along with highlighting addiction issues in popular culture.  The counseling aspect is interesting and the gospel message is well-communicated, but it also seems like an advertisement for Celebrate Recovery.  Outside of this, there is not much good to say.  As previously mentioned, the flashbacks are an interesting touch to give background to Cory’s character, but they are not done well and seem to repeat too much.  There are too many characters that are not well-developed; some characters are so vague that they are easily confused with other ones.  The dialogue is lackluster and contains unnecessary profanity.  Most of the subplot conclusions are hard to understand.  In short, Home Run was an interesting idea that never materialized.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

There is a severe absence of acting coaching in this film.  The acting is not glaringly bad, but there is little positive to bring up about it.  A lot of the delivery is forced and the emotions are not believable.  It seems like this movie would have been better with better acting.

Conclusion

Alcohol addiction is an uncomfortable topic that needs to be dealt with appropriately on the big screen, especially from a Christian perspective.  Proper counseling also needs to be portrayed as necessary for people from all walks of life.  Home Run attempts to do all of these things, but their attempts fall short.  It seems like they forced this movie to happen for the sake of the issues, but the only thing that happened was just another forgettable film with a Christian tag on it.

 

Final Rating: 3 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