Two Weeks by Karen Kingsbury

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Author’s Note: We were provided with an ARC of this novel in exchange for a  fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Karen Kingsbury’s newest Baxter series novel tells the story of Ashley and Landon’s son Cole and a young woman named Elise. Cole is just starting his senior year in high school, and has big plans to be a pre-med major at Liberty University by the next school year. Elise is a hurting young woman who has just moved to the area and is staying with her eccentric aunt and uncle. Cole has a stable family life, good friends, and a strong faith in Christ. Elise has never known her father, and her mother has worked full-time – sometimes at multiple jobs – for as long as she can remember, leaving her little time to spend with Elise.
Elise’s dream is to be an artist – a dream her mother disapproves of. She doesn’t see how God could love her after the bad choices she has recently made. Cole has never been interested in dating and wants to wait to start a relationship towards the end of his college years. That changes on the first day of school. He finds himself drawn to Elise and her difficulties – a fact that soon leads him to more involvement than he bargained for. Elise soon spills her secrets to him – she just left an abusive relationship and thinks she could be pregnant – and both of them are left floundering. Cole seeks God for wisdom, while Elise retreats deeper inside herself. In the end, God orchestrates a divine plan that involves healing many hearts, and leading some back to Him. First, there are several positives to this novel. I was impressed at Kingsbury’s apparent spiritual growth as an author which was reflected throughout the story. Her examples of God’s perfect plan for each person’s life are relatable and encouraging to the reader. Additionally, her characters’ commitment to prayer is the central theme of the novel. (spoiler) I also liked that Cole and Elise do not end up married. In comparison, there are also some flaws. First, the Baxter family theme is a bit repetitive at this point. Second, at times the novel lapses into the information-dump style of writing. Finally, the product placement for LU is not exactly subtle and could be offensive to some. Therefore, Kingsbury earns an above average score in this section.

Character Development (2.5 points)

Kingsbury’s commitment to character development is mostly upheld in this novel. Cole and Elise’s characters are shaped by their past experiences, and both are pretty realistic and have a clear purpose in the story. The secondary characters are also quite good because they add continuity and depth to the plot. Furthermore, Kingsbury does a good job of connecting her characters together without being too predictable. One special note here is that the characters are used to present the Biblical view of the unborn in a down-to-earth manner. The unexpected plot twist with one of the minor characters is also quite good. Additionally, the flaws here include a bit of melodrama -a norm for this author – and some characters who feel like copies of one another. Needless to say, Kingsbury earns an above average score here as well.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

In conclusion, Kingsbury earns a full point in originality for writing a novel unlike most I have read from her before. She avoided most of her usual pitfalls and turned out a poignant read that is sure to inspire many readers. For this reason, I feel that this novel could either be a part of the Baxter Family TV Series already in progress, or a standalone film. As a film, it could promote the Biblical view on life before birth as a drama/coming of age storyline. The casting would have to be on point, for the characters drive the plot. Good production quality is also a given, not to mention good continuity. It may also need a bit of editing and some more everyday dialogue. In the hands of a proven or budding filmmaker, this could be a great pro-life film.

Wish List Rating: 6 out of 10 points

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Maggie’s Christmas Miracle (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

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

Production Quality (2.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

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

Acting Quality (2 points)

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

Conclusion

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

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

The Baxters, Season 1 (2020)

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with Roma Downey and Ali Cobrin on set of "The Baxters"

Currently being filmed, expected sometime in 2020

Writers: Karen Kingsbury, Christina De Leon, Marilyn Fu, Olumide Odebunmi

Directors: Rachel Feldman

Producers: Roma Downey, Mark Burnett, Will Packer, Christopher Boyd, Brendan Bragg, Rick Christian, Ashlee Cohen, Karen Kingsbury, Kevin Mann, Dominic Ottersbach,

Starring: Trevor Donovan, Ali Cobrin, Brandon Hirsch, Taylour Paige, Roma Downey, Kai Caster, Ted McGinley, Masey McLain, Cassidy Gifford, Damien Leake, Asher Morrissette, Josh Plasse, Sheila Cutchlow, Victor Rodriguez, Jaime Primak Sullivan, Jake Allyn, Orel De La Mota, Emily Peterson

Plot Synopsis: A series of short episodes based on Karen Kingsbury’s famous Baxter family book series that chronicles the trials and tribulations of a large family with six adult children.

Karen Kingsbury: A Thousand Tomorrows

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Karen Kingsbury is perhaps one of the most intriguing Christian authors of all time. Kingsbury is a very widely-read Christian author who has written many popular novels. In fact, some of her books have even hit the big screen. Kingsbury has the talent to write meaningful novels that make a difference in the world of Christian fiction, and at times, she has come through with novels that take on challenging subjects and portray them in a positive light. However, at other times she tends to be a bit melodramatic. While most of her books lead up to important, poignant life lessons, some of them take a long time to get there, or get lost along the way. The Cody Gunner Series has always been my favorite series by Kingsbury, as its gives the reader a first-hand perspective on subjects that many writers are afraid to take on. The first book in the series, A Thousand Tomorrows, deals with subjects such as broken families, love, anger, life challenges, faith, friendship, disease, prayer, and God’s redeeming love. The opening chapter introduces the reader to the main characters; Cody Gunner and Ali Daniels. Cody is a fearless young man who channels his energy through the famous sport of bull riding. Every time he gets on a bull he does not feel fear, rather anger at his father for leaving their family. The audience sees a legend in bull riding, but reality is a broken young man who is angry at the world. Cody’s self-centered world is suddenly shattered with the entrance of a beautiful, mysterious young woman, Ali Daniels. Ali, like Cody, appears to have it all together on the surface, but in reality, she is just as broken as he is. Ali may be beautiful, but her beauty hides a well-kept secret that is becoming increasingly difficult to keep under wraps. Drawn together through pain and heartbreak, and a deep inner desire for unconditional love and freedom, Cody and Ali hold on to each other and dream of a better future. Ultimately, they dream of a cure for both of their problems. Will Cody and Ali discover that God is the only One who loves us unconditionally? Will their love survive in the face of adversity? To answer these questions, read the book!;) A Thousand Tomorrows would make a great Christian film or miniseries, as there is ample content found both in this book and the sequel to supply a plot for a film or films. However, the writer/director/producer would have to build on what Kingsbury has supplied, and make this book more than just another Christian romance movie.

Like Dandelion Dust (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When the Campbells adopted little Joey from the struggling Porters, they thought it was forever.  But when the Porters get back on their feet after Joey’s father gets out of jail, they file to regain custody of their son.  Heartbroken, the Campbells do everything they can do to keep their only son, but they cannot prevail.  Therefore, they resort to a drastic measure that could land them in prison, but they are committed to protecting their son from evil.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

As a pilot production from Jon Gunn and company, this production quality is not what it could be.  But on a shoestring budget, it is not that bad.  Camera work is sometimes shaky and video quality and lighting are sometimes poor.  The standard soundtrack is sometimes loud enough to cover up dialogue, but audio quality is mostly fine.  For a first-time effort, the sets and locations are quite realistic, even the international ones.  The editing is a pretty good effort considering what they had to work with.  In the end, every movie maker has to start somewhere, regardless of the budget or resources.  When put in that perspective, Like Dandelion Dust is an applaudable effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Based on a novel by Karen Kingsbury, this plot is somewhat slow to develop and has one too many flat scenes and dead spots.  Yet the story is true to the book and depicts unfortunately realistic happenings.  Too much time tends to be spent on trashy elements, although what happens therein is believable.  This film is a fair portrayal of real people and their struggles and highlights important issues with child welfare.  Dialogue is mostly accessible and helps to build the characters.  Unfortunately, the first three-fourths of the film may not hold the attention of most audiences.  However, once it gets to the point at the end, it suddenly becomes really good and is worth the wait.  Overall, Like Dandelion Dust improves at the end and shows great potential for the future.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This cast is semi-professional and mostly knows what they are doing.  Through they are small, they have some bright spots, such as well-played and believable emotions.  Their line delivery can be wooden at times, but overall, this is a good effort that shows talent in casting.

Conclusion

It is always good to choose a book plot for your first film, but we have to wonder if this was the best Karen Kingsbury book to choose.  The story is intriguing as a book, but it doesn’t translate very well to the big screen.  Yet nonetheless, it is a good effort and something to build off of for the future.  There is great potential in this team and we can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

A Time to Dance [2016] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

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

Acting Quality (0 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

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

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Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (.5 point)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

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

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Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (1 point)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (0 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points