The Love Letter [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Parker is an entertainment columnist and is best friends with Aaron.  However, Parker is perpetually single, and Aaron just got engaged to a girl he hasn’t know very long.  Parker has mixed feelings about her best friend’s relationship, but Parker’s mother is determined to matchmake her daughter to someone.  Parker isn’t interested in her mother’s attempts, but she finds herself falling love with Aaron, which poses a number of problems for them.  Will they be able to sort it all out before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Although UP usually demonstrates high production standards, The Love Letter seems to slip to the sitcom level of productions.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are fine, even if the soundtrack is stock.  The main element that gives this production a sitcom feel is the use of limited sets, locations, and props, as well as the many references to offscreen locations that were much more complex than inside people’s houses.  Furthermore, the editing of this film is lacking as too many scenes lag on with no real purpose or connection.  In the end, while this production is average, it seems like the creators were just phoning it in.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

This feel of being phoned in definitely carried over to the plot as well.  It seems like the writers were barely trying with this plot, as it is full of cheesy comedy sequences and empty characters.  The premise is very trumped up and juvenile.  A majority of the dialogue is trite and silly, and the Christian message is vague and seems like it was added in later.  There is barely enough content to sustain a full-length film here as the same things happen over and over again.  The characters just sit around and talk without ever accomplishing much, like a ninety-minute sitcom that’s not even funny.  As previously mentioned, there is a lot of offscreen content that is only talked about, and the story rushes towards a predictable and neat conclusion.  Basically, not much effort was put towards this film in general.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As a small cast, every little thing shows.  Sometimes the cast members are too forceful and awkward in their delivery, and other times they are overly practiced and amateurish.  However, they are not all bad and have enough good moments to make this section average.  However, not much about this film impresses at all.

Conclusion

Channels like UP are definitely in the business of producing as much content as possible to fill the time slots, which is why we get stuff like this.  It’s quite disingenuous to call this film Christian, and it really contributes nothing to the field of Christian entertainment.  Unfortunately, films like this are easily forgotten and probably rightly so.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

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Somebody’s Child (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Though Constance is going through dialysis and is waiting for a kidney donor match, she knows that God has been good to her.  Her son Douglas always takes care of her and she loves her grandson.  However, she harbors a secret from her past that hardly anyone knows about.  Yet little does she know is that God is about to set into motion events that will reconcile the past and bring redemption to them all.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Gary Wheeler is always reliable in crafting a professional production.  There are very few errors to speak of in the production of this film.  Video quality is excellent, as it camera work and audio quality.  The soundtrack is good, even if it’s a little pedestrian.  Sets, locations, and props are professional and appropriate for the film.  The only small error to point out here pertains to some minor editing issues that cause the plot to be confusing.  Yet in the end, as a made-for-television movie, this production is what it should be.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, as a made-for-TV movie, Somebody’s Child lacks creativity in an attempt to be safe and marketable.  Though the idea behind it is interesting and though the circumstances the characters experience are realistic, this story is still too underdeveloped.  Dialogue is very generic, thus making the characters one-dimensional.  This is a character-based plot, which means we need deep characters, yet this is not the case here.  There is too much wasted time in this plot and not enough scenes that develop the characters—it feels like they are just swept along in the plot without any feeling.  Finally, the ending is very rushed and seemingly unfeeling.  Unfortunately, though this movie had everything going for it, the story fails to come through.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

As a professional cast with obviously good coaching, there are very few errors to speak of here.  Sometimes emotions aren’t what they should be, but they mostly are.  Line delivery is always on point, even if the cast member doesn’t have a very good line to work with.  Overall, Somebody’s Child is a professional film that falls short of greatness.

Conclusion

Many audiences will enjoy this film, but we are always looking for films that take that next step out of mediocrity (even professional mediocrity) and become a great, difference-making film.  With this type of funding and platform, this was possible here, but the plot needs a lot of beefing up in order for this to be case with Somebody’s Child.  Hopefully in the future opportunities like this will no longer be wasted.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

The Perfect Summer (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Jake and his mom move from Chicago to Hawaii to start a new life with her father, Jake is less than thrilled about the change of pace.  He has to adjust to new surroundings and new people who do not always accept him.  He also has to endure his eccentric grandfather, who tries to rebuild their relationship.  Jake is ready to give up when he discovers that he has a thing for surfing and that his grandfather can teach him.  Perhaps the worst summer ever for Jake will turn into the perfect summer.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The Perfect Summer is such a clean, stock made-for-television film.  From the opening sequence to the loudest soundtrack ever to lots of nature footage, this movie checks all the boxes of mediocre production quality.  While the video quality and camera work are fine, the poor audio quality is very distracting as it picks up all kinds of unwanted sounds.  However, the sets and locations are fairly professional and interesting.  Finally, the editing is standard and moves the plot along at a predictable pace.  In short, this production is average, but we’ve come to expect more from professional television channels.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The Perfect Summer is a predictable inspirational cookie-cutter plot depicting a city character moving to a remote location and having to adjust to a different culture with limited internet access.  The constant jokes about the internet and other forced comedy gets really old.  The local characters are stereotypical; none of the characters are developed enough for there being so few of them.  This film’s premise is a fairly thin sports\training story complete with lots of music videos, empty conflicts, and a typical romantic subplot.  Unfortunately, the Christian message seems manufactured and plastic.  However, this story has a slightly realistic ending and sort of redeems it to a point.  But otherwise, if you’ve seen this kind of movie before, you’re probably not missing anything.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This cast is actually the best part of the film, even though Eric Roberts is involved.  He is strange and overdone as usual and singlehandedly holds this section back.  His presence poisons the entire film.  But the rest of the small cast is okay, though there are some slightly over emotions and cultural stereotypes.  In the end, this is a good effort, but we would have liked to see a little more from this professional team.

Conclusion

This plot has really been done before, may too often.  Channels like UP and the like need to be brave enough to take a risk with a different plot.  What’s it going to hurt?  They have the resources to make pretty much any kind of inspirational plot they want, so why not go for broke?  The Perfect Summer is one of those forgettable movies that you might watch while flicking the TV channels and then forget about in a few days.  With the money and abilities companies like this have, they need to set the bar higher for themselves and do something original and memorable.  It’s fine to make clean entertainment, but why get stuck in mediocrity?

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

The Trial [2010] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Kent “Mac” McClain’s wife and sons are tragically killed in a car accident, he just wants to end it all.  However, he is interrupted by a phone call and is given a new purpose by the person on the other end: to revive his law practice by taking on a special capital punishment case.  So he assembles a team and begins investigating, but the deeper he digs, the more fishy and complicated things become.  Mac soon finds himself not only fighting for the life of his defendant, but for his very own.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The good thing is that Robert Whitlow does not settle for low to average quality productions when it comes to bringing his books to the big screen.  Video quality and camera work are very professional.  Sets and locations are realistic.  Audio quality is good, although the soundtrack is pedestrian.  Finally, the editing is sometimes effective in being suspenseful, but other times it is too choppy and exposes some missing time.  It seems like there is content missing that was cut from the original take due to length.  However, this is not done very well, as will be highlighted next.  But in the end, Whitlow, Gary Wheeler, and crew know how to put together a respectable production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Whitlow clearly knows legal procedure and is the right person to be writing legal suspense.  The premise of this plot is therefore realistic and is filled with fairly believable, down-to-earth characters and pretty good dialogue.  However, as previously mentioned, there needs to be more useful content included and few melancholy scenes.  Also, Whitlow has a tendency towards overdone drama, which is also present in The Trial.  Finally, there are a few too many coincidences in this plot and a rushed cheesy end that happens because it needed to.  The cheesy villain is given too much time to monologue about their evil plan, although it’s unclear why they did what they did.  All in all, this is once again a respectable effort, but perhaps not the best Whitlow book to choose for a movie.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Acting is this film’s strongest suit as each cast member fits his or her character perfectly.  There is also a presence of clear acting coaching, which is likely the influence of Gary Wheeler, a student of the Kendrick brothers.  Although there are some minor errors that keep this section from being perfect, this casting job shows how it’s done.

Conclusion

The saddest part about this film is that, based on the market availability of Christian movies, films like The Trial seem really good.  In reality, this should be the baseline of quality, not the improvement.  While it is not good enough to be Hall of Fame, The Trial is good enough to be interesting, although it may not capture the attention of many audiences.  Gary Wheeler has a lot of potential as a creator and needs to keep trying until he makes that breakthrough to greatness.  He has great hope for the future.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Movies That Are So Bad They’re Not Even Worth Our Time, Christmas Edition (MTASBTNEWOT Christmas)

In our vast Christian entertainment viewing experience, we sometimes come upon films that we can hardly justify writing a full review for.  Therefore, for your convenience, so you don’t have to go watch those free films that invade your suggested watch list in on-demand video services, we’ve provided a quick overview here.  For now, here’s a collection of Christmas films that fall into this category.

 

It’s very hard to explain

Beverly Hills Christmas

This is barely a Christmas movie at all except that it’s based on the typically bizarre magic premise you find in many knockoff holiday films.  Dean Cain and a Meryl Streep lookalike star in this movie that’s filled with wacko works-based theology and abstract vague fantasy lingo and concepts.  Apparently some dead woman has to get into heaven by making her spoiled brat daughter act good, so she decides to bring a nice kid back to life by shooting lightning into his skull even though Dean Cain told her not to touch people.  It’s a shame this off-the-wall movie wasted a decent character arc and a remotely interesting idea.

 

Look, a rose!

Natalie’s Rose

Also barely a Christmas film (or a Christian one), this time about a horse named—guess what—Rose.  Basically, this movie wastes an hour of your time on farm footage and sitting around talking before coming to the shocking conclusion: the horse is a “special” horse that turns into a rose.  [ENTER GIANT FACEPALM HERE].  No joke.  The production is terrible and most people won’t even make through the entire slogfest to see the main character having hallucinations about glowing horseback riders at night.  How this garbage gets made is beyond us.

 

DAX!

The Heart of Christmas

When you use kids with cancer as props and parade vain Christian actors and actresses in front of the camera in some kind of lame attempt to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in a shameless commercial soliciting you for money, we don’t have much respect for you.  Sure, St’ Jude’s does some great things and helps families in need, but can’t we just have a normal movie without all the advertising, drama, and pageantry?  They didn’t even try to make this true story a realistic plot.  It’s really shameful when you have characters telling you to make donations.

The List [2007] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Renny Jacobsen never really knew his father, so he doesn’t feel anything when he receives word of his death except how large his inheritance is.  That’s why he is devastated when he discovers the unusual and unorthodox contents of his father’s will—he cannot receive any of his money unless he joins a secret society known as the Covenant List.  In route to joining The List, Renny crosses paths with Jo, an unlikely potential List member.  Together, they discover that there is more to the secret society than they thought.  Renny must choose the truth before it is too late and before everything he holds dear slips away from him.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Distributed by a large company, The List has decent production quality.  The video quality is pretty good and the sound quality is consistent.  The sets and locations are diverse and well-constructed.  The film has an overall professional feel, but there are some editing problems.  Some scenes last too long while others are cut too short for the audience to really understand what is going on without reading a lot into it.  There are too many cross-fades and fadeouts.  Overall, the production is above average yet has some errors that hurt it from being all it could be.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from the novel by Robert Whitlow, the plot is more complex than most Christian movies.  It explores a genre unique to Christian movies—legal suspense—and does not follow the typical legal fiction storyline.  There is a lot of interesting content as the plot explores spiritual warfare, something many Christian films would never dare to touch.  However, it is not handled in the best way and comes off as overly sensational.  Too much time is spent early in the movie educating the audience on the complex inner workings of the secret society and not enough time is spent on redemptive qualities, which are rushed through and tacked on at the end of the movie.  Because of the high amount of plot content, dialogue often gets neglected, thus leaving stock characters.  Two hours was not enough to cover the scope of this plot properly.  In short, there is a lot of creative content here that was not utilized properly.  More could have been made of this film.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The acting is somewhat professional.  There are no glaring errors except for obviously overly practiced and fake Southern accents.  But at the same time, there is no truly dynamic acting that makes this film interesting.  When it comes down to it, the acting is average, thus garnering an average score.

Conclusion

Robert Whitlow has some interesting plots that should be depicted on the big screen, but The List was likely not the best book to choose, since it was first novel.  Secret societies, spiritual warfare, and legal suspense need to be incorporated in various ways into Christian films, but there is a time, a place, and a way for everything.  Even plots like The List are more complex than your average inspirational film, but it still not the greatest.  That’s why it has been awarded an average score.  Nonetheless, we applaud efforts to bring unique movies to the Christian scene and anticipate more to come.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

War Room (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Elizabeth Jordan, on the surface, has an ideal life—a good job, an expensive house, a husband with a high salary, and a nice daughter.  However, something isn’t right, something is just missing.  She can’t really seem to get along with her husband anymore, he seems distant and preoccupied with other women, and she barely knows her daughter anymore.  Everything changes for Elizabeth when she meets her new realty client, Miss Clara.  Miss Clara subtlety pricks into Elizabeth’s personal life just enough to make Elizabeth interested in finding out what Miss Clara’s secret to happiness is.  After talking long enough, Elizabeth discovers that her life is not alright and that Miss Clara’s secret weapon is worth a try.  The secret weapon?  A war room, or a prayer closet.  Miss Clara teaches Elizabeth to fight for herself and for her family on her knees so that God can fight for her rather than her fighting for herself.  Little did they know that the battle had only begun.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

In the same vein as Courageous, the production quality of War Room is high.  Despite this being the first Kendrick movie away from Sherwood Baptist Church, nothing in the area of production quality changed between Courageous and War Room.  While there are no real action scenes in War Room, the diversity of sets is still present.  The soundtrack fits into the film neatly.  The editing and the production give the movie a close to home feel, which seems to be what the creators were going for.  In short, this is business as usual for the Kendricks.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The plot of War Room follows a typical non-linear Kendrick plot with minor twists and turns—one that defies conventional plot structure.  In the beginning, the plot depicts realistic struggles of accessible characters paired with a clear Christian message, which is a hallmark of the Kendrick brand.  Dialogue is mostly effective in building character motive and driving character arcs, and the message is obviously a powerful one, but there is a point where the storyline of this film overstays its welcome through multiple moments that seem like the end and through stop-and-start sequences that lag on a bit too long with the purpose of driving home how the characters have become seemingly perfect.  Thus, while there is plenty of good in this plot and while there is no doubt of the film’s success, we needed a bit more realism in the arcs of the characters.  However, the message of War Room is still worthwhile.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

In the first movie away from the Sherwood acting pool, there are no concerns here.  The actors behave just as all actors do under the tutelage of a Kendrick movie crew.  The delivery of lines is solid and the emotions are believable.  This type of movie is heavily dependent on the acting quality, and they did not disappoint.  A continued under-appreciated aspect of Kendrick films is their commitment to diversity of casting.  This is huge, since Christian movies should be better than mainstream movies.

Conclusion

The Kendricks have a brand, and they are sticking with it.  War Room feels like a redux of Fireproof with better cast members and a less textbook message, but the up-and-down career of the Kendricks continues in this rendition.  They know their audience, they have the marketing skills down, and they have the name recognition to basically do whatever they want from here on out and still have box office success.  War Room takes another spot on the Hall of Fame, but we have to wonder if the Kendricks will branch out in their post-Sherwood career or if they will continue to churn out more high-quality but safe films.  We are banking on the latter, but we will be looking for them to do something more creative in their next film.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points