When Calls the Heart, Season 6 (Series Review)

We don’t speak of her anymore

Plot Summary

And once again we return to the fake small town known as Hope Valley for another fruitless season of people living in the dream world crafted by the series creators. Hardly anybody remembers Jack the Mountie anymore except for the fact that he and Elizabeth were married long enough to produce an instant child who’s coincidentally named after him. While Daniel Lissing willingly left the show, which was last season’s biggest news, Lori Loughlin was literally handcuffed, removed, and totally scrubbed from the show. The shadow of her scandal looms over the sixth season, especially with how Hallmark mishandled the whole ordeal and drew unnecessary attention to the problems. As a whole, Abigail’s awkward exit from the show and the subsequent complete rewrite of the show is the most interesting things that happened, but why are we not surprised? Michael Landon Jr. always planned to subject Erin Krakow to his favorite young-widow-starts-sort-of-dating-again treatment as he always has, so there’s nothing left to do but once again point out the same old flaws this series commits and count down the minutes for the Hearties to descend on my little blog post to vehemently defend all things wholesome in the face of such heartless (lol) criticism.

Production Quality (2 points)
What’s a Hallmark production without the same carbon-copy lineup of good camera work and video quality, acceptable audio quality, and that predictable, nauseatingly bubbly soundtrack? When Calls the Heart part VI checks all the proverbial boxes in this category, and it’s getting very difficult to differentiate any of the seasons from each other (except for the first two). Hope Valley still consists of the same old sets, locations, and props that are no doubt re-purposed for other Hallmark productions and are designed to make the audience believe this is a real Western town. Also, there’s still that tiny forest area Bill goes to dramatically reveal another part of his vastly complex yet noticeably cagey backstory. The only complaint for this section (besides their doing the same thing with no noticeable changes or improvements) is that we still don’t have a set for the beauty salon where the female characters get their hair done (although we might have gotten a quick glimpse at it in the finale).

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)
As we’ve said before, ever Hamilton took over Hope Valley, nothing has ever been the same. We just get the same old helium-infused characters spinning in circles as they retrace old plots steps over and over again. The only chances we have to get outside of the Hope Valley crossroads are Bill’s forest trips to tell us another part of his ever-fluctuating history, but now that we have a new Mountie, I guess we’ll have some trips to that bridge or something. Elsewhere, Elizabeth keeps us wondering why she’s even still in the series as her heart (lol) is passed around like a football and only exists for Michael Landon Jr. and company to continue their fetish of pairing a woman with a law enforcement character just long enough for her to get pregnant before killing said man near the end of the movie\series or even in between installments. Seriously, how is Elizabeth and Lucas vs Nathan any different from Charles vs Jack (except that Marcus Rosner was an essential addition to the show yet was stolen from us)? Elsewhere, the town is littered with many empty-minded side romances that they desperately want us to care about (although Aren Buchholz is quickly becoming one of the most important aspects of the entire series). Even Rosemary is losing her luster as a satirical comic relief who reminds us how un-serious the whole ordeal is as the writers are muting her character to go all dark and brooding because of [WHOOPS SPOILER]. And then there’s that whole situation with Abigail. Ironically, just before Lori Loughlin was led away by the police, her character made a hilariously funny reference to how Bill needed to bring some random bad guy to justice, and this is definitely the defining moment of the entire season. Loughlin’s scandalous shadow looms large over the poor town; even after the writers awkwardly tried to erase her from the universe’s memories, everything was clunky following the hiatus. Subplots awkwardly start and stop with no real conclusions. Scenes between Elizabeth and Lucas seem directly copied from Beauty and the Beast (yes, he gave her a library). Gowen is as uneven as ever (seriously, what do the writers expect from him at this point?). They all seem lost without Abigail to guide them in their everyday lives, but alas, she and Cody (awwww he left too!) has bigger fish to fry in court “back east.” Thus, with nothing really new to say here besides the same garbage we’ve seen from the past two indiscernible seasons, Hearties only have this incoherent stream of consciousness to parse through as they rush from Facebook to “own” the author of this post with zingers better suited for a clickbait news site.

Acting Quality (0 points)
For the most part, the acting of this season is as sappy as ever, but there are a handful of instances, especially near the end, that feel very muted and more scripted than usual. This is no doubt that this is due to some of the redone footage after Loughlin’s untimely exit, and the cast members were likely just emotionally distraught over her absence. Overall, there’s really nothing new to write home about (although Elizabeth does quite a bit of writing these days), and this section is award no points because we expect better than this after six seasons.

Continuity Quality (0 points)
As previously mentioned, some of this season’s subplots seem to disappear from the writing with no warning, which is a likely byproduct of the rework done following Loughlin’s arrest. Otherwise, it’s just typical plug and play romances as the writers introduce one after another to the point where you can’t hardly tell the different between them. Also, as a side note, at least a third of the subplots in season six relate in some way to the upcoming summer spinoff show When Hope Calls, which is possibly where many characters will escape to once When Calls the Heart finally runs out of steam.

Conclusion

Oh yeah, so there’s a seventh season coming up. MLJ has at least two more seasons to use Elizabeth’s indecisiveness and lack of personality as a carrot to dangle in front of his rabid fans, but sooner or later, they’ll get tired of this song and dance. With Loughlin’s scandal-ridden exit, this series is already running on fumes and has only been sustained by constant romance bait-and-switch. I mean, is anybody the least bit annoyed with how they treat Elizabeth? Anyhow, this has been another WCTH review from your favorite reviewer in which I didn’t talk about much substantial and just sort of rambled on about random things I thought of while I binge-watched this season. Begin commenting now……………………….

Final Rating: 2 out of 14 points

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Movie Renovation: Love Comes Softly

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Image result for love comes softly movie
Image result for love comes softly movie

Production Improvements

To start things off, Michael Landon Jr. is obviously capable of creating movies with high production quality. This being so, there is nothing glaringly wrong with this area of the film –  the camera work is professional and there is a clear respect for historical authenticity present throughout. As our founder pointed out in his original review, the only issues here are a commonplace soundtrack that adds virtually nothing to the story, and an average editing job. To remedy these issues, the filmmakers should have followed the already complete (and well-done) editing job found in Janette Oke’s book, Love Comes Softly (yes, this movie is actually supposed to be based on that story). Furthermore, they should have invested in a proven editor who had done an above average job in the past. Otherwise, there is nothing to be ashamed of here, thus making production the strongest element in the film. 

Plot and Storyline Improvements

If I was being generous, only about fifty percent of the content in this movie is accurate to Oke’s book. For example, the first couple of chapters in the novel clearly state that Marty’s husband’s name was Clem, not Aaron, and Missie turned two years old halfway through the book. In the movie she is at least ten. Sadly, this is the first of many errors. While Landon Jr. kept the basic idea of Marty and Clark’s relationship, it is like an empty shell with no heart. For starters, the dialogue between the two in the movie pales in comparison to the humorous and realistic interactions found in the book. The characters in the movie are somewhat stiff with rare displays of emotion -and the displays that are there are exaggerated and rather annoying – while the characters in the book are deep, complex, and human! Furthermore, Landon Jr. rejected the original plot structure for a simple tale that is similar to all his historical romance films. For instance, in the book Marty could not leave with the first spring wagon train because Missie caught the measles. In the movie, she left with the first one. In the book, Marty’s son Claridge (NOT AARON) choked on a button and had to be rushed to the doctor, and it was following this incident that Marty and Clark became a real husband and wife. In the movie, Clark chases after her wagon on horseback and throws out a cliche as his reason for leaving Missie alone at home: “A man loses his woman, he goes after her.” And because I’m on a roll, the original agreement between Clark and Marty was that she would establish a relationship with Missie, then take her and Claridge back East in the spring. In the movie Missie did not leave with Marty. Finally, as our founder pointed out in his review, Landon Jr. had no excuse for any of these errors, because he had both the budget and the run-time to use the original book content. 

Acting Improvements

The plot in the book relied on it’s deep and well-rounded characters, however, this was not the case in the movie. Let’s be honest, the only reason people watched this movie is because it had a familiar actress in the lead role and good production quality. This brings me to my first point. While Katherine Heigl is a fairly good choice for Marty, she does not meet her full potential under Landon Jr.’s tutelage – he only works with meek and air-headed female leads. Secondly, Dale Midkiff has to go. period. The Clark Davis in the book was twenty-five, maybe thirty. Clark in the movie is, by all appearances, at least forty.. For this and many reasons, he needs to be recast.  Thirdly, Theresa Russell is a terrible choice to play Ma Graham. Oh, you did not know that was her name? This is no fault of yours, in the movie her name is Sarah Graham. Ma Graham was at least fifty when Marty met her, and had thirteen children (a blended family). Sarah/Ma in the movie is shallow and always spouting inspirational cliches in times of difficulty. Ma in the book is a fountain of wisdom and spiritual depth. Fourthly, Corbin Bernsen is not a bad choice for Ben, and could be arguably the best actor in the film (shocking I know). Finally, all the actors are wearing too much makeup and have too clean of clothes for anyone to believe that they are living as pioneers out West. This area of the film could have been improved by removing Landon Jr.’s influence over the casting and hiring someone who actually knew what they were doing. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, because of all the glaring errors here, this movie deserves a remake. The original book content is worth it. For starters, Janette Oke should be a part of the filmmaking, especially the casting. The screenwriter should use the content in the book and make very few alterations. Michael Landon Jr. is obviously not the right person to make movies from books. Christian authors, beware. Yet, with the right person(s), and inclusion of Oke in the filmmaking, this movie could change the older generations’ perspective on romance plots. Oke had a gift for appealing to all the generations and creating diverse characters; her content should not be ignored just because Landon Jr. ruined it. 

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

 

Return to the Canadian West Series by Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan

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Janette Oke has recently returned to the world of Christian fiction and has been penning new novels with the assistance of her daughter, Laurel Oke Logan. In her newest series, Return to the Canadian West, she employs her usual writing style, along with a few new techniques that might interest younger readers. Some have said that Oke’s writing is almost too clean to be interesting, but I think that there is a place for innocent novels such as these in the Christian book world. At the very least one must admit that every one of the books in this series are way better than Hallmark’s depiction of her novels. Hallmark has twisted and ruined so many aspects of both Oke’s original Canadian West series and this new series that it is impossible for me to untangle their web of mistakes. In short, the famous When Calls the Heart TV series is a mockery of Oke’s novels and should not be taken as an accurate depiction of her stories. Any-who, before I get carried away…….So far Oke and Logan have penned three novels in this new series, and time will tell if they plan to create more. I would recommend this series to someone interested in inspirational/romantic fiction. The first book, titled Where Courage Calls, introduces the reader to a young woman named Elizabeth Thatcher. Elizabeth, or Beth, as she likes to be called, is a wealthy young woman who seeks a higher calling than the comfortable, luxurious life that Providence has granted her family. Beth feels that her calling is to be a teacher, and, despite her family’s protest, accepts a humble teaching position in a small mining town called Coal Valley. Initially she finds the people of Coal Valley to be a bit standoffish and suspicious, but she eventually finds a friend and a mentor in her landlady, Molly McFarland. This friendship leads her to become friends with a disabled miner named Frank Russo. Slowly Beth begins to embrace her new home and finds solace in her new friends……and in the attentions of a handsome Mountie named Jarrick. The second novel, titled Where Trust Lies, informs the reader that Beth has finished her first year of teaching in Coal Valley and is returning home to spend some time with her family. Beth arrived at this decision through much trepidation; she feels guilty for leaving behind the people of Coal Valley that have become so close to her heart. However, upon her return home she finds herself grateful for the opportunity to rest and recuperate. Unfortunately, this relaxation is short-lived, for Beth’s mother has planned a long and luxurious vacation that includes the entire family. Beth agrees to go out of obligation and the chance to reconnect with her sisters. She soon finds herself aboard a steamship full of people touring some of the most beautiful parts of the world. While the vacation is mostly enjoyable for Beth and her family, there is a deceiver in the mix. Through trial and temptation Beth will come to discover her true place in the world, an learn a valuable lesson about trust. The third and most recent novel is titled Where Hope Prevails, this novel falls into the typical plot of an inspirational novel: woman returns to small town to find that not only has everything changed, but that she has been virtually replaced. As you may have guessed, Beth returns home from her harrowing vacation to find that Coal Valley has hired another teacher; a man with no interest in God or her methods of teaching. They quickly form a rivalry, and through the experience Beth must learn that her real enemy is not any one person, but the devil, who will try anything to distract her from the voice of Jesus. As this is the main plot point, the matter of Beth’s wedding to Jarrick takes a backseat; this is something that may be disappointing to some readers. The authors attempt to add a plot twist at the end, and their effort is appreciated, as it adds a lot to the novel. However, this novel departs the furthest from Janette Oke’s usual above-par novels and leaves much to be desired. It seems rather fruitless to mention that this book series would make a good TV miniseries, as others have already tried and failed to produce such a creation. Yet, we here at Box Office Revolution can only hope that someone will redeem the horrors of Hallmark.

Seasons of the Heart Series: Winter is not Forever

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Winter is Not Forever makes it’s mark as the third installment in Janette Oke’s nostalgic Seasons of the Heart Series. As one of the final books in the series, it portrays the beginning of the end of Josh’s story, without being too rushed. This is an excellent example of a book that covers a large span of time, but doesn’t forget to add detail and depth. This book deals with topics like prayer, discovering one’s purpose, emerging adulthood, family relationships, friendships, loss, grief, love, and faith. The first chapter opens with Josh explaining that he has recently graduated from high school and is trying to discover what God would have him do from here. He questions God regarding what profession he should pursue, should he stay on the farm and care for the land, along with his ailing Grandpa and Uncle Charlie? Or should he leave all that he knows and pursue something completely foreign to him? Josh’s longing for a purpose is only heightened when one of his childhood friends leaves home to be a missionary in a foreign land. Josh misses his friend, and longs to do something similar. As life seems to keep passing him by, he considers his options and begins to test out ideas. Grandpa and Uncle Charlie surprise Josh by hiring a cook and a housekeeper, both about his age, to help out around the house. At first he resents the girls’ presence, but eventually learns to appreciate the work they do, and even builds lasting friendships with both of them. Josh’s answer from God, along with the tragic loss of someone he holds dear come nearly in unison. What profession has God chosen for him? Which one of his friends/family members was taken home to the Lord? What will Josh do now that he has a definite life calling? To answer these questions, read the book! Winter is not Forever can be considered a last farewell to Josh’s childhood, he becoming a man now, and must act as one. While some may say that this novel is simply a prelude to the next one, I think that it should be valued just as much as the others. Each novel portrays an important part of the main character’s life, and without the third book the reader would be left to wonder. However, I think that this novel and the final one in the series should be combined in the final episode of a Christian/inspirational miniseries, as the two combined best portray the main character’s adult life.

Seasons of the Heart Series: The Winds of Autumn

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In the previous post, I introduced you to Janette Oke’s Seasons of the Heart Series, and provided a brief summary of the first novel’s plot. The second installment in this beloved series is titled: The Winds of Autumn. This novel deals with subjects such as adolescence, Christianity, the theory of evolution, life struggles and victories, friendships, enemies, love, loss, grief, anger, bitterness, forgiveness, and grace. In the first chapter of this novel, Josh explains that their local schoolteacher has recently gotten married and left her position, so he is staying with his Aunt Lou and her new husband while the townspeople search for a new schoolteacher. Meanwhile, he and his friends are enjoying a break from their studies. However, with no schoolwork to occupy them, they quickly become bored. Josh and his three friends discuss what they should do in honor of this unexpected holiday, and quickly decide that they want to go on a camping trip. Now all they have to do is convince their families that it is a good idea. When only three out of the four friends receive permission to depart upon their great adventure, they debate whether or not to go at all, but eventually decide to press on without their unfortunate friend. The trip starts out glorious for the threesome, but quickly goes from bad to worse. Upon his return home, Josh learns that a new teacher has been selected, a middle-aged man…with an attractive daughter. Josh is personally selected by the teacher to be a tutor for his daughter, whose apparent weakness is mathematics. However, Josh soon discovers that his duties as a ‘tutor’ are not what he expected, this leads to an extended conflict between him and one of his friends. In the meantime, Josh’s Aunt Lou has an exciting announcement for the family, which ends only in grief for all of them. Confused, saddened, and angry at God, Josh tries to reconcile his faith with this tragic occurrence, and cannot seem to. Will Josh forgive God for allowing tragedies to happen? Will he stay strong through the storm? Will he ever resolve the conflict between him and his former friend? Read the book to find out.;)  As previously mentioned, in my opinion many Christian book series, including this one, would do well in a miniseries form on the big screen. For in a book series, the story doesn’t end with just one novel, it is slowly unfolded among the pages of several novels.

Janette Oke’s Seasons of the Heart Series: Once Upon a Summer

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Janette Oke is one of the most widely read and well loved Christian authors of all time, she is the first Christian author whose books I read and loved dearly, and the only author whom I ever contacted by mail (as a preteen) and received a reply from.:) Reading Oke’s novels is like talking to an old and dear friend, they have a warm and inviting nature that has attracted eager readers of all ages. Her books will always hold many fond memories for me. They will make you laugh, cry, and then repeat both all over again. Janette Oke revolutionized Christian fiction in her era, and opened up a whole new world for starved, and eager readers. She paved the way for meaningful Christian romance novels, and is an inspiration to many Christian writers today. In the past, certain people have attempted to make one of her book series into a film series, however, they failed; turning her most loved series into a laughingstock. This is why we here at Box Office Revolution believe that its time someone (besides Hallmark, who has tried and failed) discovered some of her lesser-known novels, and brought them to life on the big screen. Seasons of the Heart is an engaging four-book series that tells the story of a young boy growing up in a non-traditional family, and the struggles and joys he experiences. The first book in the series, Once Upon a Summer, deals with subjects such as grief, loss, childhood experiences, salvation, God’s love, change, family dynamics, and discoveries. Once Upon A Summer is a rare book that is appropriate for all ages, it appeals to children and preteens, and is nostalgic for adults. The first chapter opens with the main character, Josh, explaining the mysteries of his unique family unit. Josh explains that his grandmother died, leaving Grandpa to care for his young daughter alone. Soon after, Josh’s parents died tragically, leaving his Grandpa with an infant grandson and a toddler to care for alone. Thankfully, Grandpa’s brother, Uncle Charlie, moved in to help him out. Josh also divulges that he is angry at God for letting his parents die, and plans to never forgive Him. However, no one knows this secret, as he is afraid to voice his bitterness and anger regarding his parent’s death. Josh takes solace in his Aunt Lou, who has become a mother/sister figure in his life. Yet, there is one problem, Grandpa and Uncle Charlie are set on finding a husband for Lou, as she has come of age. Well, Josh can’t let that happen, he won’t let God take anyone else away from him! So, he devises a plan to scare off potential suitors. Throughout the book Josh makes many mistakes, and learns lessons that he will carry with him forever. Will Josh ever share his secret? Will he discover the depth of God’s love for him? Will Grandpa and Uncle Charlie ever find the right man for Aunt Lou? To discover the answers to these questions, read the book!;) Seasons of the Heart would, in my opinion, be best portrayed in a miniseries. The four novels flow together well and would most likely generate a more positive reception when presented as a whole, rather than being divided into individual films.

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

 

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

 

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 Abiding Joy (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (.5 point)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

Love’s Long Journey (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (3 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

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

Acting Quality (1 point)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Love’s Enduring Promise (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

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

Acting Quality (.5 point)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

Love Comes Softly (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

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

Acting Quality (1 point)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

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