Christmas For a Dollar (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Christmas Dragon (Movie Review)

It’s magic!

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

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

Acting Quality (1 point)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

The Letter Writer (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

A teenage delinquent, Maggie Fuller really has no direction in life but to mess around at school and try to market herself as an artist, along with her boyfriend.  But the day that she receives a mysterious letter from a stranger telling her how much potential she has as a good person was the day that changed her life forever.  Maggie’s new purpose is to discover the person who sent her the letter in order to ask him what he meant and why he sent it to her.  Little does she know that her journey will lead her life in a whole new direction.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

The low production quality really derails this movie.  From the get go, it is evident that The Letter Writer is low budget.  The video is grainy and the camera work cuts corners.  The sound quality is okay, but the musical score is distracting.  On the bright side, outside scenes are filmed fairly well.  Yet issues with editing plague the film.  There are too many wasted scenes and take away from the overall point of the story.  Some scenes last too long and others make it unclear what is actually happening.  One particular element, an assisted living choir singing a hymn, occurs far too often throughout the movie.  In short, had The Letter Writer been afforded a better crew, this could have been a great film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The Letter Writer is based on true events, and its premise is very original and creative.  This sort of plot has never been attempted, which makes it even more disappointing.  The central message of the movie—giving encouraging letters to strangers—is its strongest point, yet it seems underemphasized, almost like the writers didn’t know what they had.  The characters are also understated, driven by vanilla dialogue.  Some philosophically provoking conversations occur, but there is also some odd theology included.  As previously mentioned, there are too many wasted scenes that accomplish nothing—these could have been replaced with sequences enhancing the characters and the important message of the film.  But alas, we are only left to wonder what could have been.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

This cast definitely had potential that was not properly coached.  While the acting is not glaringly awful, it is too obviously amateurish to be awarded too many points.  Like other elements of the movie, line delivery and emotional expression are understated and do not leave a lasting impact.

Conclusion

The fact that The Letter Writer began as a short film even more demands that the movie should have been better.  Christian Vuissa was sitting on a gold mine, but he only scratched the surface.  In different hands and\or with a better surrounding team, this could have been Hall of Fame worthy.  In summary, The Letter Writer joins the ranks of Christian movies that desperately need to be recreated.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points