Hidden Places [2006] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

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

Acting Quality (2 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

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A Long Way Off [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jake Abraham feels stifled in his life.  Even though he has a guaranteed job working for his father’s successful farming business, he never has enough.  His conflicts with his brother and desire to experience the world drive him to quit his job and ask his father for his inheritance.  His father gives him what he wants, thus sending Jake on a quest to acquire all the pleasure he can get and to use his money to make a name for himself in ‘important’ circles.  But no matter how many perks he buys for himself and how many rich people he hangs out with, nothing ever satisfies the hole in his soul.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

For starters, the most positive element of this movie’s production is the clear video quality.  This make the movie look good on the surface.  However, the beauty is only skin deep, so to speak.  The camera angles are confusing at times and the editing is isolating.  There are many unnecessary scenes of characters walking around and staring.  Some scenes seem like they were not properly cut for the final draft.  The sound quality is inconsistent; some scenes are substantially quieter than others.  In addition, there is an unprecedented number of eccentric product placements that are no doubt funding this low quality production.  In short, it’s just the same song, different verse for an independent Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

There are interesting nuggets of quality mired in this cheap plot.  The integration of a famous parable into a semi-believable real world situation is noble.  However, it gets washed away in a river of wasted time.  In an attempt to be realistic, there are too many suggestive elements that could have been presented in a more tasteful manner without tarnishing the movie.  The characters are very shallow and wooden, prodded by cheap and cheesy dialogue that was obviously not edited or proofread.  The end is very rushed, leaving some characters and subplots in awkward positions.

Acting Quality (0 points)

A majority of the actors are very awkward.  Their lines seem very forced and intended comedy falls flat.  Some lines are downright perplexing and seem impromptu.  Jason Burkey has been better in other movies, which reflects the lack of acting coaching in A Long Way Off.  Robert Amaya is a fine actor, but he only has two scenes.  Some alleged fight scenes have a Three Stooges feel to them.  Unfortunately, there is nothing good to say here.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, this type of movie is becoming the norm in Christian movie circles.  Creators have seeming good ideas and intentions and decide to rush a direct-to-DVD release, funded by quasi-Christian product placements.  No time or thought are given to developing a quality plot with realistic characters, and no care is taken to coach the actors.  The production is sloppy en route to forcing another Christian movie into the market.  These ill-advised actions only further hurt the cause of Christian movies, lowering overall quality and causing people to laugh at whatever Christians make.  It’s time for someone to stand up and end this assembly line production and replace it with truly quality Christian movies that can be upheld rather than shunned.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points