When Hope Calls, Season 1 (Series Review)

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It’s like When Calls the Heart on an obscure streaming service!

Plot Summary

When Lillian and Grace, two orphan siblings, agreed to travel to a new town to run an orphanage, they had no idea what would be in store for them. Of course, they probably could have made an educated guess since they went from Hope Valley to a basic copy of this fantastical borough. This new town has equally important aspects as Hope Valley, such as the obligatory town doctor, the expected general store, and of course, a predictably hair-gelled Mountie just waiting to get hitched. What else could fans of When Calls the Heart want besides another series on the cable channel rather than on a streaming service nobody uses?

Production Quality (1.5 points)
The budget for When Hope Calls (WHC) is clearly lower than When Calls the Heart (WCTH), and this is most strikingly obvious in the poorly constructed town set that looks like a bunch of clapboard buildings plopped in the middle of a mowed-over field. The structures’ false fronts are also too much. This aside, must like WCTH, WHC is limited to just a few select sets, props, and locations, and there are some cheap special effects on top of this. Nonetheless, the production is aided by typically fine video quality, audio quality, and camera work, even if the soundtrack is pedestrian and boring. The editing tends to lag at times, such as leaving scenes running too long, but this production is overall just average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)
Much like its parent show, not very significant happens throughout the course of the WHC “plot.” The only remotely interesting elements are used up by the third episode as the series devolves into typical small-town romance nonsense. If it’s possible, the characters are much more blank and cardboard in WHC than in WCTH even if they are less sappy in the former. This is created by a lot of stiff and awkward attempts at conversations as some characters seem to be mysteriously concealing things that are never revealed while others seem to wonder why they are even there. The dialogue is very stock and phoned-in, which creates wooden characters, and the so-called comedic elements are beyond cheesy. Any struggles the characters experience can’t be adequately related to because they seem so plastic and forced. Elsewhere, the town setup is shockingly unrealistic on a historical level, and the Christian themes are very shoehorned in. In the end, with no driving purpose or actual point, the first season’s story is basically just a lot of trumped-up drama with nothing substantial to back it up.

Acting Quality (1 point)
In keeping with Michael Landon Jr.’s common practices, the cast of WHC appears to be as fake as WCTH’s (except not as over the top). This includes how they interact with each other as well as what they look like. On appearances, none of them look historically accurate except for some slight attempts at realistic costuming. When it comes to acting, line delivery seems laborious for some cast members while others seem bored with their roles. Emotions overall seemed forced and unnatural. Some cast members show potential in different roles but don’t live up to their full potential. In the end, this section’s rating is basically expected.

Continuity Quality (.5 point)
As previously mentioned, the best potential for engaging continuity is quickly discarded in the beginning and replaced with drab procedural recurrences. In the middle and at the end of the season, many of the episodes run together and feel like the same thing is happening over and over again. Then, this is culminated with an awkwardly forced climax and alleged cliff-hanger ending in the final episode. Basically, this season doesn’t have much going for it.

Conclusion

What else is there to say? Shows like When Hope Calls have a specific purpose in mind and do whatever it takes to fulfill that purpose. The storylines are predetermined, the production is as cheap as possible, and the cast is as pageantry as expected. All of these criteria are tailor-made for a reason, so we have to commend MLJ and company for at least being consistent in their poor novel adaptations. Why not try to capitalize on the success of a series like When Calls the Heart? However, what is it ultimately accomplishing besides creating more sub-par Christian entertainment?

Final Rating: 3 out of 14 points

Maggie’s Christmas Miracle (Movie Review)

Image result for maggie's christmas miracle

Plot Summary

Maggie has always hated Christmas ever since her father left the family during the holiday season.  Ever since then, she’s sought to control everything around her, especially her young son’s life.  However, when his grades begin dropping, she is forced to entrust him to the care of an after-school tutor, but Maggie soon finds that she isn’t like what she expected from a tutor.  Will she decide to open up her heart over the holiday season to love again?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As expected, Maggie’s Christmas Miracle is a typically fine Hallmark production with good video quality and camera, as well as good audio quality.  The soundtrack is predictably generic but not as bad as usual.  The sets, locations, and props are fine, but the Christmas decor is expectedly overwhelming and beyond belief.  Further, the editing is average, and thus, everything in this production is standard and expected from the Hallmark assembly line of Christmas films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though Hallmark movies are always better when using source material, especially from authors like Karen Kingsbury, there are still plenty of typical elements in Maggie’s Christmas Miracle.  While Karen Kingsbury characters run circles around typical Hallmark fare, there are still a lot of cheesy feel-good elements throughout this plot.  However, the dialogue is mostly good enough to develop character motive and personality, even if the plot is extremely predictable with a cookie-cutter romance plot where two people who don’t like each other at first are thrown together at Christmastime.  The story includes all the expected turns and conventions, and all of the stereotypes are too easily fallen into.  Since this is a character-based plot, we needed to see deeper character growth than this, and we also would have liked to see relationship twists and turns that were more based on past and present personality and behavior issues rather than on unrealistically stupid miscommunication problems (see The Bridge).  Unfortunately, the story gets worse as it goes on as cheap Christian messages are awkwardly inserted and end up hurting any good portions of dialogue there may be.  Essentially, the source material is helping this plot to be more than it would otherwise be, but there’s still a lot more that could have been accomplished here.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As expected, the casting and acting of this film is mostly professional with typical Hallmark elements, such as some overdone makeup.  For the most part, the line delivery and the emotions are natural, but there are some portions that are a bit too sappy.  However, as a whole, this cast is professional enough to know what they’re doing and to produce an above-average performance.

Conclusion

If Hallmark only used books and true stories as source material from here until eternity, the channel would be a much better place for it.  However, this is highly unlikely to happen.  Even still, there is enough good in Maggie’s Christmas Miracle to make it a passable holiday film to watch if you want a safe, benign movie that’s not too old and not too cheesy.  Also, if you like Karen Kingsbury novels, this film is definitely for you.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

When Calls the Heart, Season 5 (Series Review)

Why are we still here?

Plot Summary

When Constable Jack Thornton returns from the North back to the nice little town of Hope Valley, everyone expects him to finally marry Elizabeth Thatcher, which the series has been building up for way too many seasons now.  Thus, the TV couple finally ties the knot and is married long enough for Elizabeth to get pregnant, and Michael Landon Jr. and company follow this up by the long-awaited and long-expected death of the male lead, which leaves Elizabeth (shockingly) free to love again.  Elsewhere in Hope Valley, the other characters are doing the same things they always did with no significant alterations in their character arcs (except Jesse is a good guy now or something like that), but when you have a rabid fan base and unlimited season renewals, why would you try anything creative as a writer?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

If anything improved in this season of When Calls the Heart, it’s that the production got slightly better.  Video quality is still crisp, and camera work is still professional, but the sets and locations seem to have improved somewhat.  Props are pretty much the same old stuff.  The soundtrack is that same recycled and very tired and uncreative score that can be found in pretty much any other Hallmark production.  Further, the editing is pretty standard in Season 5, and overall, there’s not much keeping this production from being nearly perfect (except for the soundtrack), which shows you that it pays to have a good budget.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

What was Season 4 about?  I already forgot.  The railroad?  Anyways, I challenge any Heartie to tell me what Season 5 is actually about except for completing Michael Landon Jr.’s favorite romantic chase storyline with the female lead’s marriage, pregnancy, and eventual husband’s death.  Shocking turn of events, I know.  Well, Hearties can be consoled that Michael Landon Jr. is known for rebuilding the romantic chase for the young widow by introducing a new love interest later in the series.  By killing off Jack and freeing Daniel Lissing from this nonsense, Landon Jr. and company opened up a whole new world of storylines to pursue for at least three or four or five more seasons, so you can rest easy!

Acting Quality (1 point)

Are we still here?  These same old tired cast members are still old and tired.  Erin Krakow, Lori Loughlin, Daniel Lissing, Kevan Smith, Pascale Hutton, et al. haven’t changed much since last season.  Michael Landon Jr.’s approach to casting, acting, and makeup is no better than it’s always been.  However, there are a few bright spots from some of the peripheral cast members that keep this section from being zero.  Nevertheless, most of Landon Jr.’s casting work seems like a plastic surgery pageant.

Continuity Quality (1 point)

At least this season creates a story arc that is somewhat interesting, which is the loss of Jack.  It was really the only card this show had left to play, so now this move opens up a whole new world of plot possibilities.  However, I don’t expect many of them to be any good.

 

Conclusion

As I predicted months ago, after wasting away at least two seasons kicking the can down the road ad nauseum and trolling with his typically pageantry and empty characters that are ripped off from a Janette Oke novel series that doesn’t even remotely resemble the dollhouse show this series has become, Michael Landon Jr. has finally come full circle with his favorite storyline of all: the young widow plot.  As can be seen throughout the Love Comes Softly series, including Love Comes Softly and Love’s Unending Legacy, Landon Jr. is infatuated with the chase of a romance, but once the couple marries and has some kids, it’s time to kill off the husband between movies and introduce a new romantic chase for the young widow.  It’s no surprise to see the long overdue exit of Jack Thornton from this series, especially since Daniel Lissing probably has better things to do.  Expect next season to introduce Elizabeth’s new love interest and her new chase after the grief has subsided (please bring back Charles).  Also, since we’re going to keep mindless renewing this troll-fest, let’s go ahead and experiment with some other cast members this show needs right now.  I vote for Erik Estrada, Morgan Fairchild, Kris Kristofferson, and Corbin Bernsen, to name a few.  Cast-member-guessing is the only thing keeping this show interesting at this point.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 14 points

 

Noah’s Ark [1999] (Series Review)

Plot Summary

If Hallmark is to be believed, Noah lived in Sodom with Lot and constantly tried to stop people around him from fighting wars.  Then a strange version of God decided to scare Noah into building an ark to save him and his white family.  Once on the ark, the storm comes, and Noah and her family are all stuck there.  Thus, they begin acting crazy and absurd until it’s finally all over with.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Who knew Hallmark dabbled into Bible series in the 1990s?  For the most part, the production of Noah’s Ark is fine, especially when it comes to video quality and camera work.  However, there are some random lapses of audio quality throughout, along with a loud soundtrack.  Sets and locations are also somewhat limited considering the intended scope of this film, but props are fine.  There are also some very cheap special effects and obviously fake backgrounds, but the editing is surprisingly fine, and other elements show some improvement throughout.  In the end, this is just an average production, but there are a lot of other issues to point out in this series.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1.5 points)

When a Bible movie or series begins with a disclaimer telling you that they took creative license with a historical account, they are basically telling you to get ready for a whole lot of crazy.  What is the actual point of altering historical accounts for fun?  What if somebody altered more recent historical accounts for personal enjoyment?  Trying to squeeze Lot, Sodom, and Gomorrah into the story of Noah is just all wrong and cripples this series before it even begins.  Besides these obvious problems, the portrayal of God in this series is downright strange and bizarre, but this is only a part of this series’ overall weirdness.  There are other bizarre characters and insinuations, fueled by strange dialogue and useless asides that waste time.  Along with this comes several off-the-wall attempts at comedy and some totally head-scratching drug-trip moments that come close to making this debacle a parody.  In short, there really isn’t much good to say about this section.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Like many attempts at bringing Bible stories to life, Noah’s Ark gives no care to cultural authenticity in casting, mixing American and BRITISH cast members of recognizable names to sell this show.  Besides this, the cast is overall too dramatic, even though they do have plenty of good moments.  The costuming is also fine, but it’s not enough to make this section any more than average.

Continuity Quality (1.5 points)

Though this ‘series’ only has two episodes, the continuity is mostly fine.  There are some interesting character arcs and story arcs, but the many blatant content errors are complete inexcusable.  Thus, this mishandling of historical fact brings this whole series down in flames.

Conclusion

Too often, Bible movies and series become about Hollywood trying to make some quick bucks on a Christian audience.  But don’t get too high and mighty, Christian film makers—you do it too.  Even Christians sometimes take great ‘creative’ license with historical accounts (see The Book of Esther).  The bottom line is that there are so few good Bible movies and series on the market, and this is an absolute travesty.  Biblical films and series should be the best of the best, not a laughingstock.  We’re still waiting for this day to come.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 14 points

 

The Christmas Blessing (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (3 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

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

Acting Quality (2 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

The Christmas Shoes (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (3 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

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

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

The Note III: Notes From the Heart Healer (Movie Review)

For some reason, we needed another one of these

Plot Summary

After famous feel-good columnists Peyton MacGruder and Kingston Danville get married, they are suddenly the new parents of a child who was left on their doorstep by a young and desperate mother.  Unsure of what to do, they turn to the authorities and accidentally get the struggling mother in trouble.  Peyton than feels bad about what she did and tries to rectify it.  Will she be able to save this hurting family before they hate her forever and ruin her reputation as a columnist?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Much like the other installments of this unnecessary series, The Note III is a very standard Hallmark production with no surprises or deviations.  Video quality, audio quality, and camera work are all what you can expect from a made for television film.  The soundtrack is what you can expect from a Hallmark movie.  Sets, locations, and props are fine.  The only small issue to raise here is the slightly choppy editing, but that comes with this territory.  On the whole, this is a fine production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It’s beyond asking the question as to why we needed another one of these lame rip-off sequels, but does it really matter?  The Christian message, whatever there was before, diminishes throughout this series until it’s unrecognizable in this third film.  At this point, it’s impossible to understand how these plastic ideas even relate to the original Angela Hunt novel or why these stories are put in this trilogy.  They could have been shoved into any Hallmark movie on the assembly line, and they probably actually were.  Note From the Heart Healer is a cheesy, cliched story with basically no purpose or direction.  The characters are fake and plastic, mostly due to manufactured and uninteresting dialogue.  If it seems like this review has been put on repeat, it’s because Hallmark pushed repeat and replicate on this inept trilogy.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As previously mentioned in the other reviews, Ted McGinley is unbearable and ruins whatever cast he is in.  This cast tends toward the more modern plastic cast that Hallmark favors these days, but at least they are not all bad.  Emotions are inconsistent, depending on the cast member.  The same can be said for line delivery, which makes this an average section.

Conclusion

Hallmark is Hallmark, plain and simple.  They take an idea and run with it.  Sometimes they run it into the ground and even twist it, especially if a Christian novel is in the mix.  Creativity isn’t even an option as an idea is ripped off and #Hallmarked.  Thus, as this trilogy thankfully comes to a close, there’s nothing else that can really be said here.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Christmas Card [2006] (Movie Review)

Love finds you in a Christmas card

Plot Summary

When Sergeant Cody Cullen receives a Christmas card from a church group, he is compelled to find the woman responsible for the project after he gets back to the States.  When he finds her, Faith Spelman, and her family, he never thought he would fall in love with her.  But little did he know that he is stuck in the Hallmark universe, where loves pops up in the most “unlikely” places and in the most unrealistic ways.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As usual for Hallmark, the production quality is high, which is the main thing that sustains their brand.  Actually, The Christmas Card has some of the most complex sets and locations for a Hallmark movie.  However, they are still filled with lots of Christmas decorations.  Otherwise, this production checks all of the other boxes, including video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  It also includes a silly holiday soundtrack, but what else is new?  Finally, the editing is mostly standard and uneventful.  Overall, this is business as usual for Hallmark.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

The Christmas Card is basically the textbook Christmas Hallmark love story in all the usual cheesy ways.  Let’s see how it goes: a couple is thrown together through some ‘funny’ or ‘cute circumstance (in this case, a literal Hallmark card), and they find that they have a lot in common with each other only to discover some earth-shattering news that ‘tears’ them apart for like one scene.  Then they come back together, and everything is fixed.  The characters stepped right out of the Hallmark plot factory, and the circumstances they go through are manufactured, along with their stock dialogue.  The premise is trumped up, as usual, and the Christian message is forced into it to expand the audience influence.  Things happen because they need to in route to an inventible conclusion.  Once again, this is business as usual for Hallmark.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast avoids the usual plastic look of most Hallmark casts, they tend to be too stoic and practiced in their emotions and their line deliveries.  However, there are plenty of good elements here as the cast is overall professional.  At least this is a palatable cast, compared to other efforts from this channel.

Conclusion

Another day, another Hallmark Christmas movie.  The plastic Christian message is optional depending on who it’s targeting.  Films like this are the embodiment of click-bait, or rather watch-bait.  But the one thing you can say for Hallmark is that they almost always nail their productions.  Some Christian film makers could take a cue from this.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

The Note II: Taking a Chance on Love (Movie Review)

Love the smiling faces!

Plot Summary

David Danville, the son of popular columnist Kingston Danville, doesn’t want to go to college on a sports scholarship because he wants to be an artist, but he is afraid to tell his father.  Thus, he tells his father’s girlfriend, Peyton MacGruder, which causes a conflict between them that confuses Peyton’s thoughts of love for Kingston.  What’s more, her latest column mystery is making her wonder if true love even exists and if it’s even worth it or something.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Taking a Chance on Love is once again a typical Hallmark production, with a few more quirks than usual.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are fine as usual, but the soundtrack tends to be odd and annoying at times.  Sets, locations, and props are also mostly realistic with some minor issues.  The main problem is that editing tends to be confusing as this story is trying to be cut for a television length.  However, many of these small issues can be easily overlooked, which makes this yet another business as usual production for the Hallmark team.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Although the first installment in this ‘series’ had some amount of substance, this highly unnecessary and forced sequel lacks it in every way.  The premise is very shallow and thin as it unsuccessfully tries to piggy-back on the success of the first film.  This story is full of silly conflicts and romantic subplot clichés that are inevitably and easily resolved within the allotted time frame.  Thus, the storyline overall is very empty, as are the characters.  Cheap dialogue is used to speed the plot along and build the cheesy romance.  The end result is a cringeworthy collection of plastic people.  The other big issue is that there is barely any potential in this dead-end plot idea, not to mention the fact that not much happens here.  Essentially, this film’s necessity is highly suspect.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Much like other casts that involve Ted McGinley, this one is very underwhelming.  Besides Ted’s usual annoying and plastic presence, most emotions from the cast are fake and manufactured.  Line delivery is extremely measured and robotic.  However, not all is bad here, and there are at least a few good moments from the supporting cast members that keep this section from being nothing.  Yet it doesn’t help the fact that this movie is basically pointless.

Conclusion

Sometimes movie companies will do anything to squeeze a sequel out of a slightly successful idea.  In this case, the Hallmark crew just transposed the cheesiest possible romance story idea onto a flimsy premise and injected familiar characters into it.  This is a very low-effort film with no risk-taking or creativity.  The plastic nature of the people involved is very off-putting and annoying, which rounds out another day in the Hallmark business.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

The Note [2007] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After an airplane tragically falls from the skies and kills many who were involved, struggling local reporter Peyton MacGruder discovers a note at the crash site that leads her to some investigative journalism about the note’s author and intended recipient.  Thankfully, she has the help of office love interest Kingston Danville to help sort out this holiday mystery.  You never know when or where love’s going to find you at Christmas time!

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As usual for a Hallmark Christmas movie, The Note has a high-quality production.  Video quality, audio quality, and camera work are all on par with what they should be.  The soundtrack is about what you can expect for a Hallmark holiday creation.  Sets, locations, and props are all professional, and Christmas decorations are even kept to a happy medium.  There are just a few minor errors throughout, like some awkward transitions, but it’s only nitpicking.  As a whole, this is a great production that is mostly the norm in made for television films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

As the Hallmark team decides to borrow a plot from acclaimed author Angela Hunt, The Note is unsurprisingly more creative than most Hallmark plots, even though this is not Hunt’s strongest storyline in the least bit.  However, the characters at least bear a semblance of realism due to some good dialogue, even if the plot tends to be based on too many coincidences.  Even so, there are a lot of great messages and ideas throughout this story.  Yet there are one too many moments that come off as a little too cheesy, as well as the inclusion of too many random, disconnected scenes.  Yet on the whole, this is perhaps the best Hallmark has to offer in the plot department.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Another common pitfall in Hallmark movies pertains to the casting and acting.  Any cast that involves Ted McGinley is rarely good, but at least the other cast members besides him are fine, even though he tends to drag down an entire movie with his plastic and overly fake demeanor.  Yet there are enough good and honest moments from the other cast members to make this section at least average.  The one thing that can be said is that it’s not as bad as usual.

Conclusion

Bringing Christian novels to life is almost always a great idea because the plot is already written, and these plots almost always involve some different and non-typical elements.  Angela Hunt is certainly a great author to choose from.  However, production companies are still usually safe in the plots they choose and don’t go too far outside of the norm.  In the end, companies like Hallmark have advertisement spaces to sell, so they don’t want to be too risky.  Perhaps the advent of more Christian-based streaming services will allow more creative content to flourish.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

The Ten Commandments [2006] (Series Review)

Another crazy young, white, British Moses

Plot Summary

Moses, a Hebrew, grew up in Egypt, raised by the royal family, but after being driven from the land for committing a crime, he was forced to live in the desert among the Midianites.  He though his lot in life was to live among the Midianites forever, but God had other plans as He called Moses to go back to Egypt to free His chosen people, the Hebrews, from slavery.  Reluctantly, Moses went back to be the deliverer of his people and to witness God’s wonders.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

It’s clear that a lot of time and money was put into this made-for-television miniseries.  Video quality and camera work are professional, as are audio quality and soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and historically authentic.  However, there are some cheap special effects throughout that put a damper on things.  Also, although this miniseries is nearly three hours long, the editing is still poor as some content is cut off while other content is given too much time.  However, overall, this is a respectable and well-funded effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, that’s where the complements end.  It seems like anytime a mainstream company, even when they are joined by a Christian company, tries to make a Bible production, it fails miserable.  There are obviously exceptions to this (The Passion of the Christ and Nativity Story), it happens a lot.  This rendition of The Ten Commandments is filled with incessant heavy-handed narration that tries to force the audience to get to know the characters too quickly.  Narration also serves as a bridge for the plot, which speeds by at breakneck pace, while at the same time committing unnecessary historical and Biblical inaccuracies.  Though it’s ambitious to take on so much content in a miniseries, it’s almost too much content to handle, especially when time is spent on strange and seemingly useless portions of this story, in addition to all the unnecessary extra-Biblical content.  Besides these issues, there is a lot of cheesy sensationalism through this series, including a strange portrayal of God.  Thus, historical truth is freely edited and added to as the writers see fit.  Basically, where this could have been an interesting series, it fails.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Once again, this series is another instance of culturally inauthentic casting, including blatant BRITISH cast members and actors with ages that do not match the historical character they are plating.  Besides these issues, line delivery is quite poor, even though these are supposed to be professional actors and actresses.  Sometimes they are too dramatic and forceful with their emotions.  Makeup is also a huge problem as it is mostly overdone.  In the end, this is another disappointing section.

Continuity Quality (1 points)

Though there are some interesting character buildups throughout this series, their age progression is not historically correct.  Some success is found here in using the series format to create character arcs, even as the story arcs are already written for them.  Time transitions are also intriguing, but as previously mentioned, they usually move way too fast to try to cover too much time.  In the end, this miniseries leaves a lot of potential behind.

Conclusion

There is little to no point in trying to rewrite history in order to sell entertainment, whether it’s on the big screen or the TV screen.  When you already have the story laid out for you in a historical document, what’s the point of altering it?  What would someone think if a creator altered a different historical account that’s not in the Bible?  The Bible is not something to play with and change for convenience.  But don’t get too cocky, Christian film makers—you’ve done it too.  Perhaps one day we will have a high quality Biblical series or miniseries that will be worth celebrating.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 14 points

 

When Calls the Heart, Season 4 (Series Review)

Happy plastic people

Nurse Carter’s still here for some reason

Can’t forget about Rip

Plot Summary

After the marriage of Lllllllee and Rosemary, stuff just sorta keeps happening in Walnut Grove Hope Valley.  Rosemary has a daily ‘funny’ escapade and continues to parody herself until she becomes a perfect character like the others.  The town counselor, Abigail, tries to take over the mayor’s office from the breathy Gowen while she’s still trying to run her café.  That odd fake-looking guy named Bill is still hanging around being mysterious and doing sheriff stuff.  Elizabeth and Jack are still performing their endless and painful will-they-won’t-they dating dance until the writers finally get tired of it and decide to send Jack to the north to fight the good fight.  A railroad subplot is introduced (I wonder where that idea came from) to try to keep this television series on life support.  But who cares what happens anyway—ratings are up and a fifth season is on its way already, so who are we to talk?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Much like Season 3, the production of When Calls the Heart has remained relatively stable since the early, low-budget days passed.  Video quality and camera work are professional as always.  Audio quality is standard, but that same old stupid soundtrack gets really old, especially when you hear it on other Hallmark movies.  Sets and locations are extremely limited as the series further settles into its small town feel.  There’s no branching out here, that’s for sure.  Editing also standard and very phoned in as each episode follows and mindlessly predictable progression.  They stretch out, one after the next, like indistinguishable zombies in Michael Landon Jr.’s makeup jobs.  What more can we say?  The money is clearly spent pretty wisely, but for what?

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

In a change from Season 3, this season’s storylines bring some minor complexity to the screen, especially where the railroad is involved.  However, the writers overplayed their hand with the railroad characters and made them too evil in some kind of weird attempt to make the breathy Gowen a nice guy.  Regardless, the railroad intrigue is resolved far too easily and dispensed with as quickly as it was introduced.  Besides this, Season 4 is full trite subplots and asides: Elizabeth helps a troubled child with something, Rosemary always has a new scheme, the fake-looking Bill is mysterious, Abigail is the town hero, Lllllllee does business stuff, Pastor Hogan does protective stuff, Cody is a middle school boy, Jesse is still hanging around for some reason, and Jack has to ‘fight the good fight’, as we are reminded in nearly every episode.  Too many characters are fixed and too many conflicts are easily resolved.  Random ‘mysterious’ characters are introduced to only be discarded or used as more fodder for manufactured drama.  Overall, with tons of inconsistently used characters and a host of overused ones, Season 4 of this series overall lacks direction and focus, but what else is new?  The writers are clearly either trolling or phoning it in because they don’t have to try.  Why try something risky when safe pays so well?

Acting Quality (1 point)

New season, same old cast full of fake-looking plastic people and Hallmark retreads.  No emotions are believable and everything seems manufactured and childish.  There’s nothing new to talk about here except for the fate of Daniel Lissing.  Is this an elaborate scheme to generate attention or just the loss of a main actor?  Only time will tell.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

As noted in last season, Season 4 has no plot or character arcs that should be commonplace in recurring series’.  Most characters are static or become more perfect.  There are no plot twists or character complexities.  Though the railroad storyline had potential to be complex, it simply did not reach its full potential.

Conclusion

When Calls the Heart has long been a series that has lost its way.  Living off of the old days at the beginning of the series and constantly reminding us through flashbacks what these cast members used to look like before they became #Hallmarked, Landon Jr. and company are just phoning in episode after episode as their sappy series gets mindlessly renewed time and time again.  But what does it matter as long as they have a faithful following who are intent to grab on to anything of remote substance produced by the pharmaceutical-backed mother channel that still tries to pretend like it’s about greeting cards.  It still remains true that When Calls the Heart fills a huge void of wholesome entertainment that no one else seems to be able to fill with anything more substantial than this.  So here we sit, in mediocrity and safeness.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 14 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

 

Hidden Places [2006] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Eliza Wyatt, a young frontier widow, is still trying to pick up the pieces after her husband died and left her and her two children with an apple farm to run.  She has no one to turn to except her wise friend Aunt Batty, that is, until a mysterious hobo named Gabe Harper suddenly appears on her land.  Thanks to Aunt Batty, Gabe begins working on the tree farm despite Eliza’s suspicions of him.  But little by little, she begins to open up her heart to both Gabe and God as time starts to run out for her farm.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Hallmark has rarely shirked their responsibility to craft quality productions, but Hidden Places is a step above the norm for them.  Video quality and camera work are flawless.  Audio quality is great, although the soundtrack is stock.  Most importantly, outdoor scenes are filmed well in authentically historical sets and locations.  Props are also authentic.  Really the only complaint to raise here pertains to editing, as there are too many useless scenes while some seems are cut too short.  Otherwise, this is a respectable production that should be the norm in Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Lynn Austin is clearly one of the best Christian authors in the field, yet Hidden Places is not her best book.  While this film correctly captures her undeniable character development and great dialogue it’s still a stereotypical save-the-farm plot combined with a frontier romance story involving a young widow.  However, the viewer can appreciate the struggles of the characters and their deep back stories, as well as this film’s strong Christian message.  Yet the plot is still based on too many coincidences.  There is some missing off-screen content as the story rushes through some parts while lagging at others.  Finally, the end is too predictable and simplistic compared to the rest of the plot.  In short, while this is a mostly enjoyable movie, it seems like it could have been more.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is a professional cast compared to other Hallmark frontier casts, mostly because costuming is kept realistic and low-key.  Emotions are believable and line delivery is on point.  The child actors and actresses are better than usual.  However, this cast is held back from being all that it could be by too much mediocrity.  In the end, it is a great effort, but once again, it seems like there could have been more.

Conclusion

Cramming the depth of Lynn Austin characters and storylines into ninety minutes for the sake of a TV movie simply does not work.  Though she is clearly a talented writer, she needs to be unleashed from the confines of Hallmark and her plots need to be allowed to unfold progressively rather than forcefully to stay within the allotted runtime.  However, there’s no denying that Hidden Places is an enjoyable film and many will find it so.  But next time, please please please choose a different Lynn Austin novel (see our Box Office Wish List column 😉 to bring to the big screen and let it be all that it’s meant to be without confining it.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

Love’s Complicated {My Life As a Doormat} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Leah lives a very controlled and scheduled life.  She does the same things with her safe boyfriend, tries to write, and lets people tell her what to do all the time.  But something is missing.  When her publisher asks for deeper writing, Leah feels inadequate.  But her life changes forever when her boyfriend signs her up for a conflict management course under the guise that he will be attending with her.  Though she is angry at first, she slowly begins to see just how much her life can change.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As we have said before, Hallmark knows how to invest in a proper production.  In this film, camera work is flawless and video quality is crisp.  The audio quality is good but the soundtrack is standard for Hallmark.  Sets and locations are realistic.  The biggest issues to raise here are the editing problems.  The editing causes the film to be choppy and confusing.  Otherwise, this is a baseline production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Love’s Complicated, which is the Hallmarked title of My Life As a Doormat, is probably as good as a Hallmark plot is going to get, and they only have Rene Gutteridge to thank for her ideas, witty dialogue, and believable characters.  Though the plot still fits into the stereotypical and formulaic Hallmark romance storyline and progression, it is developed to its fullest extent.  The premise vacillates between cheesy and intriguing but is still enjoyable due to some genuine comedy.  However, there appears to be too much missing content as the plot tends to hop from highlight to highlight.  In the end, this is a good plot and makes the movie worth watching.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As usual for Hallmark, the casting totally derails this film from being all that it could have been.  Most of the cast members are over-costumed and generally average in their emotional delivery.  However, their line delivery is very robotic and measured.  The biggest drag is the lead actress, who was clearly not suited to play an introvert.  Though not all is bad here, the acting overall puts a strain on this otherwise fine movie.

Conclusion

Hallmark should really consider having Rene Gutteridge regularly write more of their plots.  She has a true gift of character development, enough for her storyline to survive Hallmarking to an extent.  Love’s Complicated also has good production support to a point, but the acting really holds this film back.  In a romantic comedy, the cast is everything, and this group just didn’t deliver.  Nonetheless, Gutteridge’s plots and characters are always enjoyable and many will find this movie to be so.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

Love’s Christmas Journey (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

After Ellie King loses her husband and daughter in a strange tornado, she decides the visit her brother, Aaron Davis, for Christmas.  When she arrives in the generic-looking Western small town that looks like all the others in this series, she meets all the stereotypical characters, including Sean Astin the sheriff.  Of course, what would this Love Comes Softly movie be without a replacement romance for the poor widow Ellie?  But even Christmas is threatened when Aaron hits his head on a rock (hmm, sounds familiar…) and is lost to the wilderness.  What will they ever do?

 

Note: This two-part film has been reviewed as one because we cannot differentiate the two parts

Production Quality (.5 point)

As the Love Comes Softly series endlessly drags on with more and more sequels, prequels, and specials that have long since departed from the original novels, we have to wonder at this point what Janette Oke thinks of Hallmark’s total dismantling of her work.  In keeping with usual Hallmark style, Love’s Christmas Journey has some good production qualities, such as clear video quality and good camera work.  The sets and locations are okay, but as previously mentioned, are clearly recycled from past films, but this time with Christmas decorations!  The soundtrack is as stock as it comes.  The editing is designed to drag this movie out into a nearly three-hour runtime, so there are plenty of wasted scenes.  In short, this is what you can expect from a Hallmark Christmas film—some money spent on production, but otherwise very empty.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Whoever is in charge of letting these movies get on television decided that since they needed to force a Christmas Love Comes Softly film to happen, then they needed to recycle the old standby plot of the saga: a young widow moves to a new place to start a new life and meets a new man.  Seriously, how many times are they going to do this one?  First it was Marty, then Missy, then Belinda, and now some sister of Missy’s named Ellie.  Besides this nonsense, the characters are extremely empty-headed and mindless, fueled by forced and awkward dialogue.  The first half of the movie (the original first part), is a huge waste of time, spent on preparing for the next half by introducing trite and petty conflicts that have no consequence whatsoever.  Throughout the movie, there are many factually unrealistic elements (what else is new?), such as the audacity of including Santa Clause in this plot.  No, seriously: Santa is a character.  And nothing can beat the cheesiest Christmas end in the world: snowing on Christmas Eve.  Essentially, Hallmark just phoned this one in because they can.

Acting Quality (0 points)

This is just more of the same garbage.  The cast members are extremely fake and plastic.  Natalie Hall in particular acts like she’s had a lobotomy most of the movie, taking forever to recite her lines, like she keeps forgetting what she’s supposed to do.  The emotions of the cast members are equally plastic.  In typical Love Comes Softly style, costuming and makeup are overdone and unrealistic for the time period.  But what else can we say without constantly repeating ourselves?

Conclusion

Love’s Christmas Journey is a textbook case from that all important manual from the executive offices of Hallmark: How to Make Another Hallmark Christmas Film.  First, find a plot to rip off; it can be a stock plot or it can be a loose idea stolen from an unsuspecting Christian author.  Second, find the most plastic cast members available and shower them with makeup and costuming.  Third, find a reusable set that fits the genre and inundate it with Christmas cheer.  Now just film the movie as fast as possible to get it ready for television!  Once again, with the resources and platform they have at their disposal, Hallmark squanders opportunity after opportunity to make a real difference in the film world.  But we doubt they will ever learn.

 

Final Rating: .5 out of 10 points

 

A Time to Dance [2016] (Movie Review)

Why are we even here?

Plot Summary

Abby and John fell in love in high school, went to college together, got married, and came back to the small town where they grew up.  They raised a family together, but now they are growing apart.  They are ready to file for divorce when their daughter comes home from college suddenly engaged to her boyfriend.  Not wanting to spoil her time, they decide to hold off until she gets married.  However, Abby’s father uses this time to step into their business to find out what’s really going on between them.  Forced to work together for their daughter’s wedding, Abby and John begin to relive why they fell in love in the first place.  But they must rekindle their romance before time runs out.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Not to be deterred from their endless factory model of manufacturing inspirational films ripped off from popular authors, Hallmark always spends the money on production quality.  Clear video quality is evident, as is professional camera work.  Audio quality is consistent throughout, but there’s the ever present generic melancholy-serene Hallmark soundtrack to listen to throughout the scenes.  While the sets and locations seem above board, they are actually quite limited and dressed up to have that ‘magical’ Hallmark look.  As will be expounded upon shortly, the editing is lazy and sloppy, leaving the viewer with a half-effort plot.  In other words, A Time to Dance is business as usual for Hallmark.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Anything good about this plot can be credited to Karen Kingsbury, not Hallmark.  The otherwise interesting novel A Time to Dance has officially been #Hallmarked.  What was an intriguing plot about a highly pertinent issue facing many Christians—namely broken marriages—has been transformed into a mellow and boring snoozefest full of the typical Hallmark emptiness and the unrealistic fairy tale alternate realities.  Complete with cardboard characters that spew obvious dialogue designed to drive the plot along, viewers who choose to watch this disaster will be dragged out over a nearly one hundred minute runtime of melancholy delay of the inevitable just to have the so-called conflict resolved in five minutes or less.  The conflicts therein are extremely empty, as are the relationships between the characters.  We can’t appreciate or understand anything they’re going through because it doesn’t seem real.  There is far more telling than showing; for example, we are told about things that happen off screen or are informed of things that happened in the past rather than being provided with a flashback.  Also, the Christian message is very manufactured and plastic.  I could go on and on, but the same old truth remains: Hallmark has no regard for preserving good plot ideas, they only care about making money.

Acting Quality (0 points)

What else is new?  The acting is forced and stiff.  Line delivery is very awkward and sometime monotone; emotions are almost nonexistent.  As usual, every cast member has far too much makeup and look like either washed up wannabes or desperate wannabes.  The Hallmark acting rule is to throw a bunch of big names in the film so the commercials will catch people’s attention but to do nothing to actually coach them.  But at this point, we don’t expect anything different.

Conclusion

Hallmark has a real chance to bring great Christian novels to life.  They have the resources, they have the connections, and they have the marketing to do this well.  But instead, they settle for half-measures to improve their profit margins.  People desperately want to see wholesome entertainment, and Hallmark claims to provide this, but they are short on delivering it.  A Time to Dance could have been an inspiring Christian film on an important topic, but instead, it just became another forgettable show of Hallmark pageantry.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

The Reckoning [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Now that she is now the rightful owner of her late mother’s charity foundation, Katie Mayfield sets out to make a difference in the Englisher world she is now a part of.  Everything in her life seems to be lining up perfectly, especially when her boyfriend, Justin, proposes marriage to her, which she accepts.  But as she becomes more immersed in the affluent lifestyle she inherited and becomes closer to Justin, she realizes that some things are just not meant for her.  Katie becomes especially confused when her childhood boyfriend, Daniel Fisher, whom she thought was dead, suddenly reappears in her life.  Despite her disgust at him, he reminds her of things she had almost forgotten about herself.  In the end, Katie will have to come to a reckoning of who she really is in order to move forward in the direction God wants her to go.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As per usual Hallmark conventions, there are enough positive production elements in The Reckoning to make this the strongest point of the film.  The camera work is professional and the video quality is solid.  The audio quality is above par.  For the most part, the sets and locations are realistic but not very diverse.  The surroundings seem fairly realistic, but sometimes they are forced.  The soundtrack is stock Hallmark music, but what do you expect at this point.  The biggest problem here is the editing, which is choppy and isolating.  A lot of contradictory content is crammed into ninety minutes, especially when you take into account the previous arcs of this trilogy.  Transitions between scenes are awkward—the general flow of the movie is disjointed.  In other words, The Reckoning is just another slapped together Hallmark production that looks good on the outside but lacks inner substance.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

From where The Confession left off, The Reckoning begins upending the continuity of the storylines and abandoning original themes.  What is left in the aftermath is another run-of-the-mill Hallmark love triangle with an obvious conclusion.  While Katie Mayfield seems like the same character she was before, all other characters from previous films are drastically transformed into caricatures with obvious roles in an inevitable plot.  Believability and authenticity are stripped from the characters, leaving them as empty shells to be played in Hallmark’s money game.  One interesting thing that is addressed in this film is the values conflict between Katie and Justin, but why is Justin made out to be such a rigidly godless character with no basis?  If Katie wanted to get away from the strict Amish ways, why did she vaguely return to them by the end of the trilogy?  What was even the point of her leaving?  Basically, The Reckoning feels like a cheaply rushed and forced conclusion to an otherwise okay film trilogy.  Little thought was put into this work, because who can dare to stop the Hallmark machine from churning out another cheesy inspirational movie?

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Katie Leclerc, the only returning cast member, is also the only good actress in this film.  The Lancaster County Trilogy has already been plagued by lack of cast continuity, but The Reckoning really takes the cake.  A majority of the replacement actors and actresses bear no resemblance whatsoever to previously portrayed characters.  It’s like they’re not even trying.  In addition, no effort is placed on acting coaching, as line delivery and emotional delivery are very flat and straightforward.  Also, these characters have been #Hallmarked with overuse of makeup and costuming.

Conclusion

This is, in short, a disappointing end to a trilogy that had a lot of potential.  Instead of trying to follow closer to the original novel or at least putting some amount of thought into portraying the characters as realistic, another good idea gets swept along in the wake left by Hallmark’s pursuit of money.  The powers that be of Hallmark constantly treat their viewers as stupid, seemingly thinking that their mindless movie content and gross alterations will go unnoticed because people just want to watch another Hallmark movie.  We beg to differ and choose to believe that audiences are better than this, which means that production companies need to offer better options than this.  Instead of constantly churning out stupidly forgettable movies and ruining otherwise good storylines, Hallmark needs to put their money to good use and provide a platform for those who are truly gifted and creative—without inserting their own agenda into it.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

The Confession [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Leaving her Amish family behind in order to discover who she truly is in the world, Katie Lapp soon discovers that the Englisher life is harder than she anticipated.  She tries to work a restaurant job while searching for the mother she never met, Laura Mayfield-Bennet.  As a wealthy woman with a terminal illness, Laura is wary of leaving too much for her husband, Dylan, to gamble away like he has before.  She longs to find the long lost daughter she gave up years before, but she gives up all hope until one day, a miracle seemingly occurs.  Has her daughter really returned to her or has her husband pulled another one of his tricks?  In the midst of the confusion, Katie Lapp must keep her head above water and trust that God is in control.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Michael Landon Jr. and Brian Bird always seem like they are on the cusp of production greatness, and The Confession inches closer to production perfection, improving from the standard performance of The Shunning.  Camera work is highly professional, as is video quality.  Sound quality is good across the board.  The sets and locations are more realistic and diverse than the previous installment and give the film a tangible feel.  Yet two areas—the soundtrack and the editing—keep this production from being all it could be.  For one, The Confession utilizes a vanilla Hallmark-ish soundtrack that doesn’t inspire much.  For another, there are some lapses of editing, namely some odd assumptions, leaps in logic, and plot holes.  For the most part, the editing is fine, but there are just enough errors to create a small amount of confusion.  But in the end, this is actually a really good production and showcases what the Landon Jr. crew can do.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The Confession is more complex than The Shunning and it is really an interesting storyline.  The structure is unique and is mostly not one that is commonly used.  The conflict is slightly simple, but at least it’s not a copy of a copy of a copy.  Characters feel more real in the second movie than in the first one, and this is probably because of some more meaningful and deeper dialogue.  But there are a few silly moments that keep the character development from being all that it could be.  Elsewhere, as previously mentioned, there are some plot holes and leaps and logic that are inserted just to keep the plot moving to a desired conclusion.  For instance, how did replacement servant never arrive from ‘the agency’ and expose Katie for not being the replacement servant?  This allows the plot to progress forward to its desired conclusion with a dramatic will-signing scene.  For the most part, the error finding in this film is a little bit nitpicky, but we would have preferred to see the plot progress more naturally and not so carefully orchestrated.  Also, the ending of the film is quite confusing and isolating, obviously just setting up for the next film.  In the end, The Confession is an enjoyable plot with a touching message—it’s just too bad it wasn’t better because it definitely could have been.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Usually, changing a handful of the cast members in the middle of a trilogy isn’t a good idea, but it actually helps this franchise.  Katie Leclerc is a much better Katie Lapp and makes her character feel more authentic.  Elsewhere, emotional delivery and line delivery are much improved.  Everyone is cast very appropriately.  For the most part, Landon Jr. and company avoid their usual over-costuming mistakes.  Unfortunately, a handful of minor errors keep the acting quality from being perfect, but it is still a formidable effort.

Conclusion

Landon Jr., Bird, and their comrades have always demonstrated an ability to adapt Christian novels into films, and The Confession is probably their second best.  It’s oh-so-close to being Hall of Fame due to its professional feel and slightly creative plot, but several minor issues become a perfect storm to keep this from happening.  Unfortunately, only major plot reconstruction would have made it any better.  Yet it is good how it is and many people will enjoy this film.  Therefore, we can’t help but wonder that Hallmark’s production absence from this film somehow made it better.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

The Shunning [2011] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Katie Lapp’s life is about to change.  As a young Amish woman, she is coming of age and has been chosen by Hickory Hollow’s bishop to be his wife in order to raise his two children following the death of his wife.  But Katie is struggling with her Amish identity and wonders if there is another life for her outside of Lancaster County, as she secretly plays non-Amish music on her worldly guitar.  She also misses her true love, Daniel Fisher, after his tragic death.  What’s more, a mysterious Englisher woman has been asking around Lancaster County for Katie by name.  Everything comes to a head as Katie finally must choose between the life she has grown up in and the life she wants to find outside of Hickory Hollow.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The Shunning has all the typical marks of a Michael Landon Jr.\Brian Bird production: good video quality, professional camera work, vanilla editing, a clichéd setting and surroundings, and unrealistic costuming.  Landon Jr. and Bird have always known how to invest in quality camera work and video quality, but they unfortunately let too many other things fall by the wayside.  This plot is sleepy enough as it is, but the editing does nothing to help this fact.  Slow transitions between scenes and long fadeouts tempt the viewer to fast forward.  There are also too many scenery sequences that could have been used instead to build characters.  Also, it’s really hard to know if the portrayal of the Amish in this film is realistic or if it’s embellished.  Yet there are enough positive elements to lift this production about average status, but we await the day when the Landon Jr.\Bird team finally goes all the way, as they clearly have the means to do.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from Beverly Lewis’ popular novel by the same name, The Shunning just carries the entire identity of a stereotypical Amish plot.  As previously mentioned, some of the elements are likely realistic, but we can’t help but think that some real Amish people would feel offended by some of the portrayals.  There is little meaningful plot content as this film is obviously just setting up for the second installment of the trilogy.  Character development is shallow and dialogue is vanilla.  If so much time was going to be spent on preparing for the next film, it was an absolute must for characters to be deep and meaningful by the time the credits rolled.  Unfortunately, this did not happen.  On the brighter side, the use of flashbacks in this film are effective and creative.  The subplot overlay is intriguing and breathes new life into the film about halfway through.  Overall, while there are some interesting points, this plot really doesn’t hold the attention and it’s difficult to know what audience this movie would draw interest from.  As we’ve mentioned in the past, Landon Jr. specializes in bringing Christian novels to the big screen, but too often, the books are better than the movies.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

With obviously practiced ‘Amish’ accents, dialogue from the cast members is often hard to understand without captioning.  Yet the acting is not terrible and is sometimes quite good.  Emotions are sometimes over the top and other times realistic.  It’s not that this movie was cast wrong—they are not coached good enough.  Therefore, this is just another average contribution to the movie.

Conclusion

The Shunning is one of those movies that, when analyzed, is really not that bad, but it carries an intangible air to it that makes it extremely forgettable.  Landon Jr. and Bird have the ability and potential to make a huge difference in the Christian\inspirational movie field, but they constantly settle for second best.  There are plenty of other more meaningful, creative, and complex Christian novels that desperately need to be made into screenplays, and Landon Jr. and company have demonstrated the willingness and ability to do this.  What Christian film needs is game changers, not the status quo keepers.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

What Audiences Want

Per the Calgary Herald, When Calls the Heart fans, also known as #Hearties, are very much in love with the Hallmark series because it’s family friendly and wholesome.  At the beginning of the show, there was an attempt to craft meaningful characters, and fans still hold on to this, even though character quality has significantly decreased since the inaugural season.  Michael Landon Jr. right hand man Brian Bird has said before that their show fills a deep desire in fans for wholesome entertainment.

So what does this mean?  It means that however cheesy and disappointing WCTH may become, they still have a devoted fan base because there’s nothing else. WCTH exists in a vacuum.  They were obviously trying harder at first because they had to, but now they don’t have to try because there’s no competition in their genre.  This is a sad reality, because there is so much potential in WCTH alone, but we firmly believe that this genre of TV series is largely untapped.  What if there were even better family-friendly weekly series on television and on-demand services?

Christian and inspirational viewers may like certain aspects of non-family-friendly entertainment (this definition is very broad and subjective), they still desperately want wholesome entertainment.  So where are the Christian creative geniuses?  Entertainment still remains to be another area where western Christians have allowed other ideas to fill the vacuum.  The inspirational genre is starved for quality creations.  Hallmark, despite their flaws, would likely approve any series that marketed well and was crafted for their target audience.  The vast world of on-demand entertainment remains untapped by Christians.

What we need is a generation of creative Christians to rise up and redeem entertainment by making better entertainment.  Due to financial constraints, they would obviously have to start out small, but it’s better to start somewhere than nowhere.  If God wants you to create redemptive entertainment, then He will provide.  We must be open to what God wants us to create, because as we have seen, entertainment has a profound effect on western culture and even the entire world.  Christian entertainment has too long been dominated by low-quality and propaganda-ridden sediment, and it’s time for that to change.

The Ultimate Legacy {The Gift of a Legacy} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a wealthy woman approaches Hamilton’s firm to construct a legal inheritance process similar to that of Red Stevens’ due to her terminal illness, Hamilton and Miss Hastings enlist Jason Stevens as a special consultant (?).  Within a month, the woman dies and her wild grandson, Joey, inherits her fortune and the famous Anderson House—with stipulations: he must agree to live at Anderson House for a year and complete a series of ‘gifts’ in order to receive his inheritance in full.  Skeptical and frustrated, Joey decides to play along with the will’s demands and suddenly find himself enjoying life in a whole new way.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

To put it frankly, the once respectable Ultimate Gift saga has been #Hallmarked.  The only positive aspects of this entire film is the decent camera work and video quality.  Otherwise, it’s all a wash.  The film is plagued by choppy and rushed editing, as disoriented viewers are taken on a roller coaster ride from one high point to the next.  The sets and surroundings are severely limited, rivaling Hidden Secrets for how long a random collection of unrelated characters can hang around a house together and be united by completing projects related to said house.  The sound quality is average and the soundtrack is typical Hallmark.  In short, corners were obviously cut in order for this made-for-television film to happen.  There is literally no justification for it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Anything that was bad about The Ultimate Life has been taken to new lows.  Ultimate Legacy is the most obviously ridiculous stupid rip off of an original film in the history of Christian film.  Peppered with childish references to Gift and overt copycat concepts of the first installment, Legacy makes for a sadly comedic experience.  The movie is based on an unrealistic premise of people hanging around a house with nothing better to do than devote all of time to another unusual inheritance project.  Legacy is also based entirely on legal and ethical issues by shoehorning Jason Stevens into the plot, who should have no business whatsoever in the Anderson inheritance case.  A perpetually angry character later chides a fellow character for not adhering to attorney-client privilege.  The irony!  Speaking of characters, they are either empty shells from better movies gone by or useless and unexplained caricatures driven by empty and amateurish dialogue.  Other dialogue consists of isolating architectural lingo and the plastic insertion of a trite Christian message.  The plot has no direction whatsoever except to poorly mimic as much of Gift as possible through a rushed and choppy timeline.  The ending is beyond silly and follows Hallmark’s latest habit of departing from typical inspirational conventions to exchange them for empty fluff.  To sum this disaster up, forcing a third movie installment to occur should never happen, especially when it’s built entirely off of overtly and badly copying the original idea.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Hallmark brings with them their typical casting baggage: overdone makeup and zero coaching.  The actors and actresses from previous installments are painfully forced into this film and are joined by a new head-scratching cast that doesn’t seem to know why they are there.  Line delivery is lazy for the older cast members and forced for others.  Emotions are overblown by some, while others seem dazed and confused the whole time.  In short, no thought or effort was put into this casting job.

Conclusion

If Hallmark and PureFlix wanted to be partners in crime for the destruction of a film legacy (pun intended), they could have done so without forcibly inserting previously better characters into their creation.  At least let us leave those characters in a more palatable place (I never thought those words would describe The Ultimate Life) rather than drag them down into Christian movie Sheol (look it up).  The legacy (yes, I did it again) of Jim Stovall’s creative ideas is forever marred by two film conglomerates who now make money off of trolling their audiences.  The best thing we can do now is pretend like Life and Legacy never happened and remember better days, such as the original Hall of Fame movie The Ultimate Gift.  One day we hope that inspirational film giants such as Hallmark and PureFlix will no longer be able to get away with such unethical activity as this film.

 

Final Rating: .5 point out of 10 points

When Calls the Heart, Season 3 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

Following the shocking proposal of Charles, both Jack and Elizabeth are left confused about the true nature of their relationship.  They must sort out how they really feel about each other, even in the midst of other controversies, including Bill Avery’s dark secrets, the constant schemes of Henry Gowen, and the town’s new adaptations to the logging industry.  Also, new and budding romances are aplenty in the newly christened Hope Valley, along with new colorful characters.  Like always, the people of Hope Valley will have to navigate each new challenge together and keep remembering that hope is just around the corner.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

So, for starters, the production quality of When Calls the Heart diminishes significantly in Season 3.  The camera work stays the same as always, but the sets and locations are severely limited, with obvious reuses of them.  The characters rarely do anything outside of the winding street of Walnut Grove Hope Valley.  As usual, the costuming and makeup is worse than ever, making it impossible for the audience to believe that these people are supposed to be low to middle class frontier people.  The musical score is abysmal and the editing is all over the map, mostly settling for an episode-by-episode approach.  There’s nothing wrong with this, but as will be discussed later, it disrupts the original purpose of this show.  In short, corners were cut in this season, demonstrating an overall lack of regard for quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Not only is the Season 2 ‘cliffhanger’ resolved with lightning speed, it is quickly replaced with one mindless storyline after another.  People do this and that, Harriet Olson Rosemary schemes stuff, the town has events, people come and go, and Jack and Elizabeth continue a mind-numbing and painful dance of on and off romance.  The Hamilton characters are kicked out; we’re not sure if this was a blessing or a curse.  Bill Avery, once a promising double agent character, is reduced to a washed up guy who hangs around town.  Henry Gowen continues his usual bad guy stuff and generally accomplishes nothing.  Ever the town counselor, Caroline Ingalls Missy LaHaye Abigail acts like she’s doing things like running a diner and riding horses and taking care of orphans.  Elizabeth attempts to teach and play acts a hard working frontier woman while Jack does Mountie stuff.  Lots of things are talked about that happened off screen.  The Christian message is long gone by now, replaced with trite Joel Osteen sayings from Abigail and Pastor Hogan.  Shallow subplots are introduced and quickly resolved.  Overall, there is zero creativity in this season and the much-anticipated season finale climax fizzles out with the New Year’s fireworks at the beginning.  The writers give us no reason whatsoever to want another season, because there is no direction whatsoever anymore in this series.  But in the upside down world of Hallmark, Michael Landon Jr. and company trolled the ‘#Hearties’ for an entire season of false pretense and proved that they could do whatever they wanted and still get renewed.  The mind boggles.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

The acting has been on a downward trend since the first season, but Season 3 reaches new lows.  The starring cast demonstrates they have no intention to try to be good at acting, nor do they have to try.  Any air of professionalism demonstrated in previous seasons is gone, replaced with mindless line delivery and forced emotions.  Every scene seems very staged and fake, just actors and actresses saying lines they don’t really care about.  The only thing that keeps this portion from being zero is some slightly interesting acting from certain cast members.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

As previously mentioned, the original purpose of When Calls the Heart has been washed away in that flash flood or that mud slide.  The continuity collapsed along with the mine (again).  There is no driving purpose to Season 4.  Once this show’s strongest point, the continuity has been completely abandoned in favor of a mindless stretch if silly episode that accomplish next to nothing.

Conclusion

This was such a disappointing season to endure.  There was so much potential in this show, but it has been tossed by the wayside.  It’s so sad to know that an opportunity to create truly quality and far-reaching Christian entertainment has been squandered in favor of more fake and manufactured ideas.  We get that from Hallmark all the time—why not change things up?  The viewers are not stupid, so why treat them that way?  Creators need to think better of their audiences and give them shows that provoke the imagination and challenge the status quo, not lull them to sleep or incite undue laughter.  It is clear that they knew they could do whatever they wanted and still get renewed, and it is likely that Season 4 will still be heavily watched.  But we at Box Office Revolution are still waiting for someone to use Hallmark resources for a better purpose: to create a show or movie series that is dynamic and truly changes things up.  We sincerely believe this is what God has called some Christians to do, and we wait to promote and support whoever will accept the challenge.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 14 points

 

When Calls the Heart, Season 2 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

With the high-stakes trial against the corrupt Henry Gowen’s coal company brewing in Coal Valley, Elizabeth Thatcher, Jack Thornton, and Abigail Stanton all have other issues of their own to deal with.  Just as she and Jack begin growing closer together, Elizabeth feels a pull from her well-to-do family in Hamilton to come back them.  She soon feels her relationship with Jack become clouded by an old childhood friend.  Jack’s troublesome brother resurfaces and forms an ill-advised connection to Elizabeth’s family.  As Abigail discovers the hard truth about Bill Avery, she also receives word of a family member she never knew she had.  With new and sometimes frightening things on the horizon, the people of Coal Valley must band together and be prepared to face the unexpected.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Despite increased popularity and an obviously increased budget, Season 2 of When Calls the Heart does not gain any more ground in production quality.  For what it’s worth, it doesn’t lose any ground either.  Camera work is the same, including great angles and video quality.  Sound quality is the same, and unfortunately, so is the vanilla soundtrack.  The introduction of new surroundings—Hamilton—is both a blessing and a curse.  As they progress, series should change and do different things as to not get stuck in a location rut, but Hamilton also brings with it a license for Michael Landon Jr. and company to commit one of their favorite errors—pageantry and over-costuming.  Characters in both Coal Valley and Hamilton are transformed, almost into dolls.  It would be one thing to pose a distinction between rich city characters and frontier characters, but this does not occur.  In other issues, the editing does not improve in Season 2, as it is still equally choppy as Season 1.  In short, Landon Jr. and company once again fall into the typical Hallmark trap: pretty good production with overdone and unrealistic costuming.  This puts a damper on a series with huge potential.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The season begins on a strange note by discarding an otherwise interesting wildcard character and by quickly and easily resolving the coal mine trial without any real suspense or appreciation.  It’s like the writers were just trying to rush to something else, but it’s not clear what they were rushing to.  The Hamilton subplots are intriguing, but it’s hard to feel like there’s any real meaning or purpose behind them.  Season 2’s central plot and subplots not only water down the original Christian message, but they also feel shallow.  For the most part, the original characters remain mostly intact, but the newer characters are not developed as they should be.  Bill Avery perhaps has the most interesting character arc and shows potential for the next season.  However, Season 2 ends on a head-scratching note with a slightly forced cliff hanger that only seems to be begging Hallmark for a renewal.  In summary, while there was great potential in a Season 1 follow-up for further character development, Season 2 falls flat and does not meet expectations.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Despite a largely similar cast to Season 1, Season 2’s cast takes the foot off the brakes, so to speak, and seems to not try as hard as before.  Several actors and actresses, including Erin Krakow and most of the Hamilton characters, seem to be overplaying their roles and forcing emotion.  Some actors and actresses remain the same, but the biggest issue here is that no one improves.  This should be the case in a television series.

Continuity Quality (1.5 points)

Within the season, Season 2 is fairly consistent as far as internal subplots.  It is hard to discern its overall arc except for indecision.  However, the relationship between Season 1 and Season 2 is disjointed.  The increased budget popularity seemed to make the writers think that they did not need to preserve the honest originality of Season 1, because they didn’t.  This was a disappointment.

Conclusion

There was much anticipation and expectations following the unprecedented success of When Calls the Heart, Season 1, yet Season 2 failed to meet these.  As a season itself, it was about average, and would have been fine as another pilot season.  But sophomore seasons should build of the successes of the first, eliminate mistakes, and overall improve, not start over at square one.  The writers have given themselves an interesting choice and framework to work within for Season 3, and it will be interesting see how it goes.  This concept has loads of potential in its corner—time will tell how it plays out.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 14 points

 

When Calls the Heart, Season 1 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

Elizabeth Thatcher always dreamed of helping students in struggling western America towns, but when she arrives in Coal Valley, she realizes that her privileged eastern life has not prepared her for the task at hand.  Recently hit with the tragedy of the local mine collapsing and killing most of the men in town, the survivors, mostly widows, are still reeling and trying to come to grips with their new lives.  Elizabeth is tasked not only with teaching children who just lost their fathers but also with adapting to the new unfamiliar and rugged surroundings that stand in stark contrast to how she grew up.  She finds solace in her friendship with Abigail Stanton, the strongest of the widows, who is determined to bring the mine owner to justice for the death of her husband and son.  Elizabeth’s life is also complicated by her budding relationship with local Canadian Mountie Jack Thornton, who has been sent to investigate the nature of the mine collapse.  Elizabeth, Abigail, and Jack must not only grapple with the challenges in front of them, but must also discover that love is not what you expect at first.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

It’s definitely about time that someone started making good Christian television series.  There’s no better way to start than to adapt from a talented Christian author with established novel series.  As far as production goes, the first season of When Calls the Heart has meager beginnings but a lot of good honest and raw material.  The camera work is professional, including good angles and video quality.  For the most part, in a break with previous habits of Michael Landon Jr. and his crews, the costuming is mostly realistic to the time period and setting.  The setting and surroundings are realistic, even if the sets are somewhat limited.  The musical score is just average.  The editing needs some work, since there are unnecessary rabbit trails, but this is to be expected of these sorts of TV shows.  The main point is that for a pilot season in mostly uncharted territory, season one was mostly a production success.  With a few small things tweaked, it could have been perfect.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Though season one slightly departs from the original plot structure crafted by Janette Oke, it is not a major mistake at this point.  The overall plotline stays mostly faithful to Oke’s original purposes.  Within the overarching plot, there are multiple subplots, as expected from a TV show, some of which are quickly resolved and others of which are intriguing.  Throughout this season, the main characters—Elizabeth, Jack, and Abigail—are fairly well developed through witty and believable dialogue.  The circumstances and events that the characters experience are realistic.  In the end, this section is held back from being, once again, by a host of small issues, such as underdeveloped or stereotypical supporting characters and subplots not reaching their full potential.  Even with this, the plots are very interesting watch and the end of the season makes the viewer want more.  In short, Season 1 ended on a high note and left the door open for greater things to be achieved.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The cast of Season 1 is a mixture of professional and semi-professional.  For the most part, the actors and actresses deliver their lines well and demonstrate believable emotion.  Unfortunately, some of the supporting cast leaves something to be desired and the main cast does not live up to their full potential.  As is the case with the remainder of the season, small issues plague the acting and keep it from being its best.  But despite these small problems, the cast shows great potential for future seasons.

Continuity Quality (3 points)

When it comes to within-season continuity, Season 1 achieves a perfect score.  The driving purpose of the season is to discover the truth behind the mine disaster, and this is not wavered from.  Character arcs are both static and dynamic, a perfect balance.  By the end of the season, it feels like the characters are different than they were at the beginning, without compromising personality traits.  This should be the goal of continuity.  Season 1 sets the standard for continuity quality.

Conclusion

When Calls the Heart, Season 1 has almost everything we can ask from a pilot season: above average characters, intriguing plotlines, realistic surroundings, a professional cast, and a driving purpose.  Small alterations to plot and\or character quality would have changed everything for Season 1 and would have made it Hall of Fame, something to truly be proud of.  But even as it is, Season 1 is enjoyable and will forever be a landmark achievement in the history of Christian TV shows and series.  It created anticipation of another season and proved that Christian shows can be quality.

 

Final Rating: 9 out of 14 points

 

The Bridge, Part 2 [2016] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Seven years after her father’s secret manipulation of her relationship with Ryan Kelly, Molly Callens transfers away from Franklin, Tennessee, finishes her college degree, and joins her father’s company and prepares to become its CEO.  Meanwhile, Ryan travels the country as a successful backup musician.  In Franklin, Donna and Charlie find themselves faced with financial ruin when storm damage threatens to take The Bridge away from them forever.  Then they are hit with an even worse tragedy, causing them to reach out to everyone whose lives they’ve touched.  This prompts Ryan and Molly to return to Franklin and reunite with a common goal: to save The Bridge.  Little do they know that their relationship might be rekindled too, even seven years later.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

There is a marked improvement in production quality from Part 1 to Part 2.  The camera work improves; it seems like more time was spent on it.  The sets are not as limited, but there are still excessive Christmas decorations everywhere.  However, the musical score is no better and the editing is still below par.  Time is better utilized in Part 2, but it still feels like important things have been discarded for the sake of typical Hallmark elements.  Overall, The Bridge, Part 2 is back to usual Hallmark production quality, but no better than that.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Writing a second part seven years later is an interesting concept, but it’s not presented properly.  Why did it have to be seven years?  Why not three, just enough for Molly to finish school?  It seems like everything except Molly’s schooling and Ryan’s musical career was paused during the seven year lull.  How did Molly and Ryan never ever discuss their falling out during those years, or even re-think their relationship?  Nevertheless, Part 1 ends with Christmas, and viewers are transported seven years later—to another Christmas!  Thus, this plot is littered with trite Christmas concepts.  The Christian message is only slightly more pronounced than before.  Since no character development was attempted in Part 1, the characters cannot be appreciated in Part 2.  The dialogue is still wooden and robotic.  The characters are still swept along by circumstances rather than affect their circumstances with their personality-driven choices.  The Bridge quickly descends into the typical save-the-bed-and-breakfast plot and rushes to an expected conclusion.  But even with that, the inevitable end of the plot is quite understated and confusing.  In short, this plot once again has some potential that is washed away in a tide of Hallmark nonsense.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

One consolation here is that the helium from the previous installment has been discarded and replaced with typical amateurish acting.  Line delivery is still robotic and forced and emotions are still not felt, but there is slight overall improvement.  However, there are still makeup problems and too much costuming.  In short, an all-too-common Hallmark casting performance.

Conclusion

As another aside, was it necessary to play Part 2 on Easter 2016 when there are still overt Christmas themes?  Why not play both of them in December 2015?  Where Part 1 was rushing to get to Part 2, the latter part is business as usual for Hallmark.  Karen Kingsbury’s talent as an author is lost in this two-part disaster, all thanks to Hallmark.  Some may criticize us for being so hard on this inspirational entertainment network, but their commitment to fakeness and fantasy over reality cannot be ignored.  With the amount of money they spend on movies per year, they should be turning out some serious quality content.  We can only imagine what quality movie creators like the Kendrick brothers, the Erwin Brothers, or the Burns Family especially could do with a three-hour two-part movie.  It’s highly likely that a large network like Hallmark will never pay any attention to these meager blog posts, but we continue our clarion call to the Christian movie culture nonetheless: produce quality and creativity that’s better than the mainstream, not the same old thing over and over again.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

The Bridge, Part 1 [2015] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Following a tragic personal loss, Charlie and Donna Barton are driven to pursue their dream: owning and operating a bed and breakfast.  They lease a beautiful property and begin renovating it and open it for business, calling it The Bridge.  They seek to make personal connections with their customers through hospitality and real books.  The Bartons are able to see many personal stories unfold, including the developing love between Molly Callens and Ryan Kelly.  Though Molly and Ryan are from very different worlds, they find common ground in making future goals and in discovering their true purposes in life.  As they grow closer together, little do they know that their relationship is about to be tested to its fullest.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Hallmark is usually known for their high production quality, but corners were obviously cut in The Bridge, Part 1.  For starters, there is far too much soft lens camera used, like they are trying to cover up things.  This only lends to the overall plastic feel of the film.  However, there is some good camera work that mostly saves the production from being horrible.  The sets are severely limited, only showing The Bridge over and over again, a couple of house and outside scenes, and that old truck.  The editing is very confusing, dropping viewers in the middle of circumstances with no explanation.  The 90 minutes of runtime are very poorly utilized.  The Bridge also makes use of Hallmark’s most annoyingly loud soundtrack.  In short, this film was obviously thrown together just for the sake of making it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The Bridge is not up to par with a typical Karen Kingsbury plot, and it can be understood why, since the movie departs from the original book concepts.  In this forced two-part movie, there is far too much repetition.  With 90 minutes to work with, the characters should be very deep and believable.  They are not.  Rather than being authentic, they are swept along by the plot without any control over their circumstances.  They make unexplained decisions, such as poor communication at convenient times, and are affected by coincidences just to extend the plot.  Besides this, the characters have a strange obsession with The Bridge and the Bartons have an unexplained perceptiveness.  The Christian message is watered down and replaced with trite Christmas superstitions and a crusade against ‘downloads’.  The only consolation in Part 1 is that there is a small amount of potential in the plot concept, yet it is squandered.  The end makes no sense and is anti-climactic, thus making this entire movie a waste of time.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Hallmark has coached some infamous casts before, but this collection takes the cake.  Filled with overly syrupy happiness, the actors and actresses seem like they are snorting helium.  With constant overdone smiling, they robotically deliver their lines with no emotion.  This is not to mention the very amateurish makeup jobs.  There is really nothing good to say here.

Conclusion

We maintain that Hallmark contacted popular Christian author Karen Kingsbury and instructed her to write a plot that closely follows the mindless romance storyline they are so deeply obsessed with.  Hallmark essentially used Kingsbury’s popularity among Christians to spin out another two-part movie about their typical themes.  They are obviously convinced that their audience constantly wants to see mindless romances time and again.  This movie was forced to be two parts, thus totaling up three hours of runtime, which was totally washed down the drain.  Karen Kingsbury is not at fault here—this is just another typical Hallmark disaster.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

Love’s Resounding Courage {Love’s Everlasting Courage} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After settling into their new lives together, Clark and Ellen Davis had a daughter named Missie and all seemed well for them.  However, things are about to change for them, as a drought threatens to destroy their very livelihood.  Their financial struggles prompt Ellen to take on extra work in town as a seamstress.  Clark’s parents also come to assist them however they can.  However, the new work begins to take a toll on Ellen’s health, and soon Clark must decide what he is going to do as he is faced with an impending tragedy.  Will he stand strong in his faith or turn away?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

In keeping with most Hallmark movies, the production quality of Love’s Resounding (Everlasting) Courage is above average.  The camera work is solid, along with the video and sound qualities.  The sets and locations are above average and the surroundings give off a truly authentic frontier feel.  The biggest caveat here, besides the typical too-modern costuming, is the sloppy editing.  Events sometimes happen too quickly and other times seemingly out of order.  However, this is a very well produced film, which really make it a shame that the plot is way off base.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

From the get go, it seems like Courage is going to be a really good movie about frontier struggles and the tragedy that shaped Clark Davis as a character for the remainder of the saga.  For the most part, this happens.  We need more plots like this that realistically demonstrate the tragic and hard things in life that everyone is faced with from time to time.  The dialogue therein is pretty good, and the characters are obviously flawed.  However, this plot receives a very low score because the obligatory new romantic subplot inserted into this film—the one between Ben and Sarah that was discussed in the inaugural Love Comes Softly film—completely undermines the intent of this entire franchise!  In Courage, their love doesn’t comes softly and they don’t marry out of ‘sheer need’, but for love.  There would be nothing wrong with this, except that, rather than just follow the original storyline that fans know, Hallmark elected to settle for a predictable romance that utterly strips the franchise of its purpose.  Evidently, they thought that audiences wouldn’t notice or care.  When will production teams begin to treat audiences better than this?

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Much like Love Begins, the acting demonstrates typical Hallmark elements.  As usual, the makeup and costuming do not exactly reflect historical authenticity.  The line delivery is neither great nor terrible.  Emotions can be felt by the audience.  In short, this section is business as usual.

Conclusion

Resounding Courage is a problematic movie.  On one hand, it has a very interesting premise with a lot of potential.  But on the other hand, it completely destroys the original premise of the Love Comes Softly series by inserting a new convenient romance just for the fun of it.  The longer this film franchise dragged on, the worse it became, to the point of turning the entire purpose on its ear.  This is exactly what will happen when creative teams deviate so far from the original purpose of a novel series to the point that they are just reusing the same concepts over and over again rather than provide audiences with fresh ideas that can be found in the pages of the very books the movies are based off of.  This is the end of Box Office Revolution’s Love reviews for now, so we will leave it with this note: make more Christian books into movies, but please, we beg of you, stay true to the books.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Love Begins [2011] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After getting involved with the wrong people and getting involved in a fight that damages a local café, Clark Davis ends up in a jail cell alone when his partner in crime escapes.  Since Clark stays behind when he could have left, the local sheriff decides to have mercy on him and give him a chance to work off the damage he caused.  Clark ends up helping two sisters, Ellen and Cassie Barlow, with their struggling farm, since their parents passed away and left them with all the work.  Before he knows it, Clark finds himself interested in the Christian beliefs of Ellen and finds himself falling in love with her.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

With Hallmark taking full control of these Love Comes Softly spinoffs, the production quality improved slightly.  The camera work is solid, as is the video quality, including good outside shots.  The sound quality is consistent throughout.  The sets and locations are authentic, but slightly limited.  The costuming is pretty good, but there are still some historical time period errors, such as excessive makeup and hairdos.  The editing is above average, yet there is not much content to work with.  But overall, this is not a cheaply made production and certainly could have been a lot worse.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

After silently departing from Janette Oke’s original plotlines in the original Love Comes Softly movie franchise, Hallmark has now manufactured a sequel using characters implied in the books or younger versions of main characters.  Perhaps it was better to be honest and upfront about inventing a concept loosely based on novels, since Love Begins isn’t really that bad of a plot.  It’s not overly cheesy, yet it is also not very creative.  The dialogue is fairly stock and seems to drag on, since this plot is quite shallow for content.  Thus, the characters need more deepening.  Yet the events that happen are realistic and relatable.  Nothing outlandish will be found here—Love Begins is a simple, straightforward Hallmark romance that mostly avoids a cheesy identity.  While there is nothing very creative here, it is at least an average plot.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This is a very small cast, and their acting is certainly not horrible.  The acting overall definitely reaches the average mark.  Some actors and actresses needed to be coached better so that they were more authentic acting.  As previously mentioned, there are some unrealistic costuming and makeup issues, which seem to be a plague in Hallmark frontier movies.  In the end, average is a word that sums up Love Begins.

Conclusion

Unable to resist the urge to continue to spin out more made-for-television movies loosely based on Janette Oke’s creative concepts, Hallmark did not commit glaring errors in Love Begins.  Rather, they settled for a down-home inspirational romance that many people will find enjoyable.  Yet the real question remains: how many more of these types of movies does the market really need?

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Love Finds a Home (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Dr. Belinda Owens agrees to let her now-pregnant medical school friend Dr. Annie Watson stay with her while Annie’s husband goes out of town for a short-term job.  Believing that his wife needs help, Lee Owens sends for Annie’s controlling mother-in-law, who is impressed with her natural midwife advice, as opposed to Belinda’s medical training.  In the midst of this, Lee feels himself torn between worrying about his wife’s desire for a child and his new apprentice’s interest in his adopted daughter Lillian.  In the end, they must all learn to work together as they face a medical emergency and other small town tragedies.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As the main Love Comes Softly series comes to a close, the production is no better than it ever was, only coming in at average.  The video quality is just okay, and the camera work is stock.  The musical score is generic.  The sets and locations are pretty good, but are still quite limited.  Costuming and makeup are not terribly authentic.  The editing is not up to par, but as we will see next, there really wasn’t much to work with.  In summary, the production quality of Love Finds a Home is not as bad as it could be, but with the resources available to Hallmark, it should be better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

There is no way to quantify what the true plot of Finds a Home is.  There is no driving storyline or compelling arcs.  This story is a collection of recycled inspirational frontier scenes and incidents, interspersed with discussions on medical lingo.  There are too many disjointed subplots thrown together, so that the movie hops from one thing to the next without creating a common theme or giving the audience a reason to keep watching.  In this final installment, Love Comes Softly boils down to a generic family-friendly cable show or a frontier television program rerun.  The dialogue is straightforward and non-compelling, thus creating cardboard characters.  A bunch of stuff happens and gets resolved just in time for the movie to be over.  It doesn’t even end like a typical Love movie, but just stutters to an inevitable conclusion that leaves the viewer wondering what happened to this movie saga that once had such great potential.

Acting Quality (1 point)

With the complete exit of Dale Midkiff and Erin Cottrell from the franchise, the acting is certainly not terrible, but neither is it dynamic.  Line delivery is procedural and emotions are absent.  As previously mentioned, the vanity of these ‘frontier’ characters does not cease.  In the end, poor acting, combined with bad plots, ultimately was the demise of this otherwise epic saga.

Conclusion

The Love Comes Softly saga limped to a close with this eighth installment, another movie that borrowed the title and some character from a Janette Oke book and completely disregarded the original plot that was far more interesting than another generic Hallmark movie.  Gone are epic journeys and conflicts, just another small 19th century town filled with people doing stuff.  Having finally fulfilled a commitment to rip off all eight of Oke’s better novels, Hallmark then set their sights on a new money-making venture: prequels and sequels!

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

Love Takes Wing (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Following the tragic death of her husband, Belinda Simpson travels to a small town in Missouri to both visit her medical school friend and to become the town’s doctor.  However, the townspeople do not know what to think about having a woman doctor.  Also, Belinda discovers that the town is currently embroiled in a cholera epidemic that they cannot seem to control.  Teaming up with a local blacksmith she might be falling for, Belinda also feels compassion for an orphan girl who reminds her of herself at that age.  In the face of adversity, Belinda must stand up and fight for what she believes in.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

With an entirely different production team, the Love Comes Softly saga takes a different turn and loses its original intent to put a good face on poorly constructed plots.  There is a significant drop in production quality, with barely average video quality, unprofessional camera work, poor lighting, and inconsistent sound quality.  Props and costuming become obviously cheap in Love Takes Wing.  Historical authenticity hovers around the same level it has been throughout the latter half of the franchise.  The only thing that keeps the production from being terrible is the okay editing and the fact that the whole thing could really be worse.  At this point, with the complete departure of Michael Landon Jr., it is extremely obvious that Hallmark is just fulfilling a contract or some type of commitment to force movies bearing titles of Janette Oke books to happen.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It has been stressed throughout this series of reviews that Hallmark and company took great creative license with Oke’s original plots, but Love Takes Wing hits a new low by replicating the basic plot structure of Love’s Unending Legacy.  This structure is as follows: the female lead’s husband from the previous film dies between movies, prompting the female lead to move to a different town, where she finds a widespread conflict to solve with a new broken male lead she will marry in the end after an empty and meaningless courtship.  Also, the female lead adopts an orphan girl.  At this point, it’s painfully obvious that Hallmark is addicted to itself and to its obsession for creating empty romances and courtships that inevitably end in a ‘fairytale’ wedding before the audience can even determine whether or not their basically empty marriage will even last (essentially, that’s the state of marriage in America).  But I digress.  In short, there’s really nothing else to discuss here—overtly copied plots get automatic zero points, especially when it’s contained within the same movie saga.

Acting Quality (1 point)

On a more positive note, the acting quality slighting improves in this installment.  The costuming and makeup is not so extravagant.  Dale Midkiff’s absence is refreshing.  However, there are still obvious problems, such as the poor Belinda replacement.  If you’re going to replace an actress, at least try to keep some measure of continuity so the audience doesn’t have to guess who’s who.  Overall, the acting isn’t really that great in Takes Wing, which warrants another low score.

Conclusion

It should be noted that avid Love Comes Softly didn’t even fully enjoy Love Takes Wing.  Hallmark apparently thinks people want to see the same exact plot over and over again.  In our opinion, production companies should think better of their audiences and not dumb entertainment down to such levels.  As the Love Comes Softly series sputters to an end, we offer this advice to Christian film-makers: please, please, please be original with your plots.  God has given us creativity, let’s use it wisely.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

Love’s Unfolding Dream (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Raised by her new family, Belinda Tyler is now ready to set out and make a life for herself, even though the culture she lives in frowns upon women pursuing professional careers.  She is finally and begrudgingly allowed by the local doctor to assist him in a small role, and she gets a ‘big break’ one day when a wealthy yet elderly woman has a stroke in the middle of town and is confined to bed.  Belinda becomes her nurse and physical therapist, but that’s not the only task on her mind—a young lawyer has come to town to ready some inherited property for sale, and the two of them clash over their views of women’s roles in society.  Little do either of them know that their carefully chosen paths are about to be altered forever.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Another unnecessary installment in the Love Comes Softly series, another quasi-inspirational director.  The story of Unfolding Dream’s production is much like the latter installment.  The video quality and camera work are solid.  The sound quality, however, is sometimes inconsistent.  The historical surroundings are fairly well done, but they are obviously limited in scope, as the same sets are used excessively.  As will be discussed in depth later in this review, the costuming and makeup are particular horrible in this film.  Finally, the editing is uneven, pasting stock scenes together in an attempt to create a movie.  In short, there is really nothing new here—at this point, the saga settled into average production quality and awful plots and acting.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though Michael Landon Jr. returned to the writing department, things did not improve.  It cannot be understated that the original intent of Janette Oke’s work has been completely abandoned and replaced with a shallow inspirational ‘plot’.  ‘Plot’ is relative because a collection of random empty sequences depicting silly stereotypical frontier characters is not a true storyline.  Characters go here and there, from one place to the next, with no real plot flow.  Dialogue is very hollow, thus forming plastic characters.  The “excuse for Drew to go to the doctor” device is highly overused.  While discussing the roles of frontier women is an interesting topic, it cannot be properly appreciated in the context of this film.  The only other thing that keeps this plot from being zero is the intriguing underdeveloped subplot between Belinda and Mrs. Stafford-Smythe.  Yet there are also other useless subplots shoved into the storyline, likely to increase the movie’s runtime.  Therefore, less than a full point must be awarded here.

Acting Quality (0 points)

It doesn’t really get any worse than this.  From exotic frontier hairdos to extravagant makeup to fake country accents, the overall acting quality barely escaped negative points.  The continued commitment of Dale Midkiff and Erin Cottrell to this franchise derails it.  There is no acting coaching employed; too many supporting characters come off as robotic.  Due to the poor acting, the audience cannot relate to these characters.

Conclusion

As the saga slugs on, it becomes increasingly apparent that the writing team didn’t have that many ideas.  Rushing up and forcing new romances and courtships into every new movie demonstrates lack of creativity and borderline obsession.  The question must be asked again: was the original Janette Oke plot really so bad that this was used instead?  We think not, and would advise future novel adaptations to do their best to stay faithful to the original story, unless they can find a way to improve it.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

Love’s Unending Legacy (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Following the tragic death of her husband Willie, Missy LaHaye moves back to the town her parents, Clark and Marty Davis, live in order to try to start a new life.  She is determined to insulate herself from anymore heartache by taking care of her son Matty and by quietly settling into another teaching role.  However, her carefully constructed world is disrupted when an orphan train comes to town looking for new parents to take in starving orphans and when Missy finds herself falling for the town sheriff, a broken man who also wants to protect himself from hurt.  Little do they know that out of sadness can come new beginnings.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

With the exit of Michael Landon Jr. from the franchise, the production quality diminished considerably.  While the camera work, video quality, and sound quality are still above par, there are other problems to contend with.  The sets are obviously limited as some things take place off screen and some surroundings don’t really even capture what they’re meant to capture.  The costuming is partially unrealistic as some characters never seem to get dirty and obviously have modern hairdos.  Furthermore, the editing can best be described as stop and start—the story does not flow well, as we will see next.  In short, Michael Landon Jr. still knows how to produce a film well, and his absence is felt in Love’s Unending Legacy.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

At this point, the Love Comes Softly franchise completely abandons the original intent of the novel saga and begins to attempt to excessively replicate the original series storyline—a youngish widow falls in love with a hurting man who she really didn’t like at first and who likely had a ‘romance hurt’ in the past.  We really don’t understand why Janette Oke continued to rubber stamp this series since it undermines her better novels.  Love’s Unending Legacy is wrought with bizarre lines, forced dialogue, and unrealistic happenings.  There is really no good dialogue and the dialogue that exists is very head-scratching.  “[Dancing] is an excuse to get your arms around a pretty woman” is not exactly a wholesome Christian line.  Besides this, the end of the plot is predictable and neatly-fixed-up—yet it is not even accessible by audiences since there is really no feeling put into it.  The only positive to raise here is some potential with the orphan train story, but that’s it.  In short, we have to wonder why the original novel plot could not have been at least adapted in some small fashion when this is the alternative.

Acting Quality (0 points)

As previously mentioned, the costuming and makeup on the ‘good’ actors and actresses is unrealistic for the time period.  The actual acting is very unusual, like some characters were allowed to improvise most of their lines.  Other actors and actresses are left looking robotic because of an obvious absence of coaching.  There is really nothing good to say here.

Conclusion

The big question Unending Legacy raises is ‘Why?’  With the departure of Michael Landon Jr., who at least partially adhered to Oke’s original books and brought above average production quality, was it realty worth making four more movies that borrow characters and titles from the novels and use them with large creative license?  Unending Legacy doesn’t even have a good enough plot to justify the departure from the book—if it did, then this will be an entirely different review.  An eight-movie saga is hard enough to craft successfully; four movies was likely enough.

 

Final Rating: 2 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

Your Love Never Fails {A Valentine’s Date} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Laura Connors is a high-powered executive in New York with demands at her job while at the same time trying to be a mother to her lonely daughter, Kelsey.  Laura would like to forget that she is still technically married to her husband Dylan, who still lives in a small town in Texas.  But she can’t forget that fact when the local court has ordered her to appear over Valentine’s Day weekend to settle her unknown marital status and questionable custody arrangements.  She is forced to leave behind an important business deal in order to face a judge who never liked her and a husband she wants to forget.  But what she doesn’t realize is that this is exactly what she needs—to slow down and remember the values she has been ignoring for years.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

The one consolation in this film is that the video is clear and the oft-used outside scenes are not butchered.  However, this is the extent of positivity to mention.  The sets and locations are quite cheap and lackadaisical.  The movie is populated with Texas stock footage of locations we never see the characters go, accompanied by a cheesy country music soundtrack.  The makeup is overdone.  In short, Your Love Never Fails fulfills the bill of a typical Hallmark movie—easy to watch on the surface, but absolutely nothing underneath.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

This movie is a typical, very overdone small town plot complete with typical small town dialogue like “I remember when you used to…” and “She never liked me after I did such and such…” and “You look so different since I last saw you!”  Thus, the characters are very empty and seem clueless to reality.  We are not certain if this is supposed to be funny, but any attempted comedy fails miserably.  The Christian message that is inserted into the movie comes off as very manufactured and forced.  The entire premise of the story is unrealistic and slightly improbable, just to fulfill the requirement of a Christian-themed movie taking place during Valentine’s Day.  Surprisingly, the central idea of the film—repairing a broken marriage—is interesting but has no substance whatsoever.  It is hard to even connect with the struggles of the characters are see them as real people.  The bottom line is that the idea behind Your Love Never Fails should have been handed to a more thoughtful team.

Acting Quality (0 points)

The clichés seemingly never end, as the actors and actresses sport obviously fake Southern accents.  As previously mentioned, the makeup is terrible, making all the characters look plastic.  The delivery of lines is too bubbly—even when characters are supposed to be sad, it is hard to believe that they are actually sad.  Thus, the emotions are contrary.  In short, there is really not much good to say here.

Conclusion

Your Love Never Fails is a different romance than most Hallmark films, as it portrays two characters already married.  If we are to have more romances on the market, then film-makers might as well do different things than having two random people thrown into an improbably situation together and portraying them as hating each other before falling madly in love with each other, all in the span of a week or less.  The struggles of American marriages are real, but Your Love Never Fails only makes a flippant mockery of them.  This idea needs to be used again in a better way.  After all, who’s going to complain about another copycat romance?

 

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

 

When Calls the Heart [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Elizabeth Thatcher is restless in her American white upper class family structure and longs to make a true difference in life.  She is tired of being sheltered by an extravagant and risk-free lifestyle in the east and longs to teach struggling children in the west.  But her family is opposed to this prospect and seeks to thwart her goals.  Yet as Elizabeth seeks to understand their opposition, she stumbles upon a family secret involving an aunt who shares her name who also had a heart for struggling western schools.  In trying to discover how she can leave her mark on the world, Elizabeth finds that God has uniquely equipped her for adventures she never imagined.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Michael Landon Jr. usually puts on a good production.  The camera work is professional, including in different lighting scenarios.  Good locations and sets are chosen that are neither cheap nor unrealistic.  The costuming and makeup are not overdone like Landon has done in the past.  The video and sound quality are solid.  The editing is pretty good, considering that two stories are being overlaid.  But the editing also leaves something to be desired as there are some plot holes.  But in the end, this film’s production is quite good.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

When a movie mixes two different plots together connected by the reading of a diary, it usually means that there is not enough content in either subplot.  This is slightly true in this Janette Oke novel adaptation, but it seems to work out well enough.  Yet it cannot be ignored that putting two plots together undermines character development in both.  Dialogue is limited because of the combination, but it is still not a completely bad plot.  There are some interesting points and slight twists throughout.  Events that occur are authentic and believable.  The premise of the movie is very interesting, but the end of the movie is confusing.  Was this meant to be the first in a series of movies?  At the time of this writing, there are no plans for a sequel.  The ending could have been written in such a way so that a sequel was not necessary—as it is, it seems incomplete and slightly unprofessional.  Whatever the intention was, this is an average plot that needed further developing, yet it is not horrible on its face.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This is a semi-professional cast, yet they are not terribly dynamic.  They do fairly well in delivery and expression, but they still leave something to be desired.  The actors and actresses do not change the movie for the better, but neither do they derail it.  Average is a word that sums up this film as a whole.

Conclusion

It is likely that Michael Landon Jr.’s development of the When Calls the Heart television series cut this potential movie saga short, but we cannot understand why he planned to make both, each with different actors and characters and with entirely different premises.  This movie, we believe, had more potential than the television series, although there is nothing wrong with creating more miniseries.  The bottom line is that the When Calls the Heart film seems like an afterthought and feels like more could have been done with it had more effort been applied.  As it is, it’s a fine movie, but it is not Hall of Fame worthy.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points