Finding Grace (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Alaska Rose has been a troubled youth ever since her mother left her life. Allie has gotten in and out of trouble, but now that she’s 18, the stakes have risen since a judge has ordered her to complete community service and to avoid run-ins with the law in order to avoid prison. Hence, Allie has been tasked with volunteering at a nursing home, which she immediately hates. However, as time goes, Allie discovers things about herself and about those around her that change her perspective on life.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

All throughout, Finding Grace is uneven in the production department, including some shaky camera work and poor audio quality, such as obvious background sounds and a generic soundtrack. While the sets, locations, and props are mostly okay, some of the lighting in scenes in inconsistent. Also, there is a lack of logical transitions between scenes and quick, abrupt cuts that make for a choppy editing experience. Although there is some improvement as the production progresses, it doesn’t do enough to get past the halfway mark.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

From start to finish, Finding Grace has a mostly typical premise and is based on very stereotypical characters due to vanilla dialogue and predictable circumstances. Most things done in this film have been done and seen before, yet it’s hard to understand what the purpose of some of the characters is. Many of the scenes are very vague and black such that they don’t properly present the story in way that the viewer can clearly understand. This makes it difficult to comprehend the actual point of the narrative and the focus of the plot since it just feels like a random collection of instances strung together for the sake of making a movie. The storytelling is all over the map since some characters have erratic personality changes and lack justification for some of their actions. However, after some sermonizing and meandering, the final third of the film tries to pull itself out of the nosedive by inventing important character motive out of thin air. It’s unfortunate that the idea behind why the characters act the way they do is actually very believable and well-concealed until its reveal since it was completely wasted on a train wreck movie that many audiences will give up on after about twenty minutes. Further, the screenplay concludes with some rather suspect legal procedures, which caps off a wasted effort.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Besides the other concerns with Finding Grace, many of the cast members force their emotional and line deliveries throughout the movie, and many lines actually come off as mumbled rather than clearly spoken. While it’s likely not their fault, a lot of the actors and actresses don’t seem to really understand what type of characters they are playing as they post lackadaisical and disingenuous performances that demonstrated boredom for the whole experience. However, based on the hacked-together script they were given, it’s very difficult to blame them. There is some potential in this section, which keeps it from being zero, but it overall puts the icing on a very bad cake.

Conclusion

While it’s evident that this film’s creators had an interesting idea concealed somewhere in this mess, this was one of the worst possible ways to package it. Even the best concepts can be greatly ruined by bad storytelling, which is the tale of Finding Grace. This fact, combined with the unforced production and acting errors, make for a very disappointing experience and can only be used as an example of how not to make a movie.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

My Broken Horse Christmas (Movie Review)

Image result for my broken horse christmas

Plot Summary

John always likes to go with his father to pick out a new horse every year, and he knows his father is good at picking out the best horses.  However, this year, his father acquires a crazed unruly mare and decides that she belongs to John so that he can train her.  John is dejected at this prospect because he feels like he’ll never be able to fix his new broken horse.  Nevertheless, this father persists in forcing him to train it, which leads to surprising results.

Production Quality (3 points)

John Lyde and his Covenant Communications and Mainstay Productions teams are consistently committed to quality productions even though their films are not traditional length.  This commitment to good quality is evident in crisp video quality, professional camera work, and good audio quality.  The soundtrack is interesting and engaging, and the sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized for the historical time period.  In the end, though the editing is a bit average, this production doesn’t have any major problems, which warrants a perfect score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Lyde and his team always prize shorter stories over long and drawn out films that have no interest, and basing this short film off of a Christian novella was definitely a good idea to acquire source material.  Because of this source material, the plot is slightly more creative and different than most Christmas films, but it seems to contain a lot of odd messaging that appears to glorify patriarchal attitudes.  The father character is likely realistic in his portrayal, but the story seems to pass along messaging that he is a wise and all-knowing character.  Other characters need better development through more substantial dialogue, which one would think would come from basing a short film off of a novella.  Since it’s so short, we needed to see very streamlined character development, but the plot instead lags behind and chooses to focus on pushing lessons on the audience that really don’t make much sense and on forced Christian messages that don’t seem to apply to the characters’ situations.  Some portions don’t appear to be very rooted in reality, and the abrupt and rushed ending causes the story to be over before much happens.  In short, while this could have been an honest and raw character biopic, it was reduced to a quasi-sermonizing piece that pushes messages that are hard to comprehend.

Acting Quality (2 points)

As a whole, there aren’t many acting problems in this film, which is a consistent component in John Lyde’s creations.  The casting and coaching appear to be professional, and for the most part, emotions and line delivery are natural.  However, this section isn’t perfect before of some slightly 
over-dramatized parts and some weak child acting, but in the end, this rounds out an another above average film for the Mainstay\Covenant team.

Conclusion

It’s absolutely a great idea to use Christian novels and novellas as source material for Christian films, especially since there are so many options to choose from.  This high number of selection opportunities makes it odd when obscure novellas like this one was chosen, especially when it’s not clear what My Broken Horse Christmas actually wants us to learn.  It’s a visually appealing yet substantially vague experience that will likely and unfortunately be easily forgotten.  John Lyde has always been right on the cusp of greatness, so it’s time for him to take the next step into dynamic creations.

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Love, Kennedy (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jason Hansen has a seemingly perfect family life, but tragedy strikes when his oldest teenage daughter Kennedy is diagnosed with terminal juvenile Batten disease.  As their family grapples with this new reality, they soon find that there is hope even in the hurt and that God does have a plan for Kennedy even if her life will be shorter than usual.  Together, they find that God’s plans are always greater than people’s plans.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

T. C. Christensen has always had a commitment to professional productions, and Love, Kennedy demonstrates this commitment by having good video quality, above-average camera work, and fine audio quality.  However, there are one too many musical montages as a lot of the film is saturated with music.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and appropriate, however.  The main thing that keeps this production from being all that it could be is the choppy editing that contributes to an awkward story-telling style, but for the most part, this production is above average and professional.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though it’s basically obvious the T. C. Christensen pushes Mormon messages in his films, at least he tends to craft films about real life stories and events.  Regardless, the true story of Love, Kennedy is unfortunately stifled by unnecessary heavy-handed narration, which also stunts character development.  Since these characters are based on real people, we need a chance to get to know the characters better, but this chance does not materialize.  Unfortunately, this makes the slight Mormon message-pushing more noticeable since the dialogue is rushed and empty.  It seems like the characters get swept along in the predictable plot progression without any choice of their own.  Elsewhere, Christensen includes his typical magical elements that are a bit much.  As a whole, Love, Kennedy is a nice try but not quite good enough.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Overall, the acting of this film is mostly fine with no obvious glaring errors.  However, the acting is not dynamic either, and there are a handful of minor issues that add up over the course of the film, such as some half-hearted performances and some odd portrayals of cast members.  Moreover, as a whole, this section is mostly above average and is better than a lot of films on par with it.

Conclusion

Christensen and his team outpace many other Christian groups in film making when they make clear efforts to build professional productions and to coach above-average acting performances.  The Mormon message-pushing may be off-putting and not much better than other Christian message-pushing (see: Christiano Brothers), but at least it’s packaged in a semi-acceptable way.  Nevertheless, this still isn’t good enough to get past the halfway mark, so maybe it will be better luck next time for the Excel Entertainment team.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Miracle Maker: A Christmas Tale (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

In a small village filled with problems at Christmas time, a rumor is being spread around town that the Miracle Maker is coming who will be able to fix all of their problems.  The pastor is uninspired and frustrated with his mother’s stubbornness.  A large family is having financial struggles.  Others have their own personal issues they want to be fixed.  Thus, they all believe that the Miracle Maker is coming to town to fix their problems just in time for Christmas.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

John Lyde and his creative teams have always demonstrated commitment to crafting professional productions in their films.  This is demonstrated in clear video quality, fine audio quality, and good camera work.  However, the soundtrack needs some work to not be silly and holiday-ish.  The sets and locations are somewhat limited at times, but the props are definitely trying.  Furthermore, the editing is slightly choppy in some parts, but is fine in another parts.  In the end, this is yet another great production from this creative team.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

John Lyde and his teams have also been consistently trying to create good plots.  However, at the beginning of Miracle Maker, the characters can some off as slightly theatrical and manufactured due to too many silly caricatures.  The dialogue is unnatural at first, yet it improves as the story goes on, thus causing the characters to improve as well.  The use of flashbacks is also effective in helping the characters become more realistic.  Yet there are other issues to point out here, such as one too many montages and a general lack of focus and direction in this story.  While there are a lot of very interesting ideas and concepts contained within this plot, they need to be organized more clearly.  There are too many coincidences that the plot is based upon, and the odd Biblical allegory within is somewhat confusing and presented in a juvenile way.  In the end, while there are plenty of positive point here, everything is fixed too easily in the end, yet there is almost always some good in the plots produced by this creative team.

Acting Quality (2 points)

For the most part, the costuming in this film is realistic and authentic.  Similarly, the acting seems to mean well, even if they do need a bit more coaching to bring out their fullest potential.  There are times when the cast members are unsure or too stoic, but there are plenty of good elements here that make this section above average.

Conclusion

On the whole, Miracle Maker comes out as another average movie.  Some will enjoy this film, and there are plenty of reasons to be interested in it.  John Lyde and his team always have tons of potential in their work, but they never quite seem to make it all the way.  Perhaps one day soon they will use all of the potential they have and put it towards a great and dynamic film.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Saint Street (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Percy believes that he has to work long hours in order to be more successful in his business so that his family has more possessions.  Yet his family just wants to see him from the holidays.  One fateful night, when he insists on driving all night to a family gathering, a car accident changes his life and his family’s lives forever.  Will Percy be able to find faith and hope in the tragedy’s wake?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Overall, Saint Street is a fine production, including good video quality and camera work.  Audio quality is fine except for some odd sound effects; however, the soundtrack is fine.  Sometimes lighting is also not what it should be, but there is improvement throughout.  For the most part, sets, locations, and props are what they should be.  At first, the editing is a bit disorienting, but this also improves throughout.  In the end, this is an above-average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

At the beginning, Saint Street is a typical businessman-is-forced-to-slow-down Christmas plot, combined with some ‘magical’ elements.  However, it is sometimes hard to follow, and it tends to have too much wasted time without enough substantial content.  It seems like most of the time it’s just trying to get to the end, and it has some slightly obvious allegorical content.  However, there are some good psychological elements, as well as a good message.  Yet the characters come off as cheesy and under-developed due to unsubstantial and underwhelming dialogue.  While things tend to happen because they need to, the ending is at least interesting and thought-provoking.  Yet this movie still leaves a lot to be desired.

Acting Quality (1 point)

At first, there is a lot of overdone acting and forced, unnatural emotions.  However, some improvement is shown throughout as coaching seems to improve in some areas.  Yet there are some other unusual performances by some cast members that do not change.  In many areas, it seems like Saint Street leaves a lot of potential on the ground.

Conclusion

These types of psychological Christmas plots can sometimes be predictable and worn out, but they usually contain enough elements to be interesting.  Some audiences will still enjoy Saint Street, and there is something everyone can learn from it.  There is just a collection of lingering issues that keeps it from being all that it could be.  Perhaps Rob Diamond and his team will continue to improve in the future.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

The Cokeville Miracle (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a madman and his wife entered a small Wyoming elementary school and took everyone inside hostage for an astronomical ransom, it seemed like all hope was lost.  As the hours ticked by and tensions rose, no one could have predicted how it all would end.  The crisis escalated and a seeming tragedy struck, but no one in Cokeville was prepared for what happened next.  The children of the school claimed a miracle had occurred, but many were skeptical at first—until they saw the evidence for themselves that God was at work.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The Cokeville Miracle is a raw production effort that starts out, unfortunately, very cheap-looking and drab.  This mostly pertains to some poorly lit scenes, some grainy video quality, and some poor special effects.  However, as the movie goes on, all production elements improve.  It’s clear that this team stayed within their means and did not over-exhaust their resources.  By the second half of the film, there are virtually no production errors, making this a very unique production.  Overall, it comes out as average, and since the production does get better as it goes, the film is saved from total disappointment.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)

We always say you can never go wrong depicting real life on the big screen, as long as it’s depicted properly.  The story of the miracles at the Cokeville Elementary School in 1986 is one that is worth portraying, but also difficult to portray since such a portrayal could easily become sensational and unrealistic.  However, this was not the case with this film.  Each character is realistic and believable—even the villains—and dialogue is effective in building the characters.  This type of story is not easy to craft properly, yet The Cokeville Miracle unfolds exquisitely and makes you stay until the very end.  Historical authenticity is preserved as this story makes everyone, even skeptics, think about the nature of modern day miracles.  In short, this is a film well-worth your time.

Acting Quality (3 points)

For an ‘amateur’ cast with not much notoriety, the cast of this film gave a slam dunk performance.  There are no acting errors here, even where there were potential pitfalls, such as villain acting and child acting.  Care was taken to preserve the original people who experienced this crisis firsthand.  Emotions are believable and line delivery is effective.  This rounds out a job well done.

Conclusion

While we would have loved to see higher production quality, this team did everything they could do with what they had, and that’s really all we ask of film makers.  Whatever God has given you, do the best you can with it.  The Cokeville Miracle proves you don’t need a big budget or big names to make a great movie.  All you need is a good story and the care enough to tell it properly.  ‘Little’ films like this one put ‘big’ ones to shame and demonstrate true greatness.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points