Christmas Ranch (Movie Review)

What?? A horse movie without the horse’s name in the title??

Plot Summary

Lizzy is a bad teenager girl whom her parents can’t handle during the holiday break, so they sentence her to live with her aunt on her remote and rural horse farm during the Christmas break.  Her parents are always busy with work, and Lizzy hates being somewhere that doesn’t have good cell phone coverage.  To make matters worse, Lizzy discovers that her aunt is about to default on her mortgage, which is due for payment for Christmas Eve!!!!!  Thus, Lizzy suddenly makes a miraculous behavioral change and teams up with a local country boy to save the day!

Production Quality (2 points)

Surprisingly, it appears as though thought and effort were put into this production, which is evidenced by fine video quality, audio quality, and camera work.  The sets, locations, and props are fine, although they could be a bit more engaging.  However, the soundtrack is fairly generic, and there are constant Christmas chimes sound effects that litter the listening experience.  Further, editing is just average, which rounds a good production on paper, but it simply doesn’t do enough to be truly transformational.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Has this plot seriously never been done before?!?  This is seriously one of the worst plot stereotypes featuring one of the worst character stereotypes as a bad teenage girl is forced to live in the country on a horse farm with no cell phone coverage, where she meets a local country guy.  Said teenage girl hates everything until she’s magically fixed by the horse and the guy, and there’s also a save-the-farm-with-a-racehorse plot to boot.  Seriously, since when are mortgages due on Christmas Eve?  Besides the fact that this story has been done before and has no potential, the dialogue is extremely uninspiring, which causes the characters to be flat and cardboard.  Since the plot always has everything going wrong with it, the best a screenwriter can do is at least attempt to craft good characters using engaging conversations, flashbacks, and motives, but, of course, this is not done.  On top of this, the corny Christmas premise of this plot is forced, as if they decided to add it in at the last minute; further, the Christian messages are awkwardly inserted into the film.  ‘Bad’ characters are magically fixed when the plot needs to them to be without any real arcs, and the runtime is filled up with training montages until everything is perfectly fixed in the last 10-15 minutes.  Basically, there’s not much good to mention here.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While some cast members in this film are fine, others are drab, and this movie has some of the worst teenager acting ever.  Emotions are extremely forced, and line delivery seems very unnatural.  However, there are enough okay portions of this section to warrant an even score, but it isn’t enough to save this movie from itself.

Conclusion

What is truly gained in films like these?  Rehashing and reusing same-old, worn-out story ideas is a drag on the industry.  Rather than force and rush through another half-baked idea, we need future Christian film makers to give us truly dynamic entertainment that’s rooted in high quality productions, engaging storylines, and authentic acting.  Otherwise, we’re not making any difference at all.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Movie Renovation: Where Hope Grows

See original review here.

 

Production Improvements

For starters, like most films that need remakes, Where Hope Grows has a poor budget allocation.  The camera work needs a total rework, and the presence of a substantial soundtrack would have also helped things along.  Post-production elements, such as editing, also need to be renovated, as the way the plot is presented is a bit disorienting at times.  Overall, this film had a very indie feel to it, which is not always bad, but the lack of proper funding crippled this film’s full potential.

Plot and Storyline Improvements

The plot of Where Hope Grows also has some work to do.  There is a disproportionate amount of time spent on the woes of troubled characters.  Although this is a realistic approach, it’s not always done in a tasteful way.  This is billed as a family film, but the audience therein will likely be disappointed by the slightly overdone amount of edgy content that lacks a proper amount of redemption to help things.  Also, even though the characters are realistic in many ways, their dialogue needs deepening in order to assist the audience in relating to them better as people.  For example, some flashbacks could have aided us in understanding the motivations of the characters rather than having another scene of the main character acting drunk.  Also, as previously mentioned, the disorganization of this plot is a drag on the experience and blunts the full impact of the otherwise good ending.  Essentially, a total rewrite of this plot by the right person could have put this film on the Hall of Fame.

Acting Improvements

This film’s important message regarding special needs people is reinforced by the excellent casting of a special needs actor.  Though there are some overly heated emotional moments that could use some toning down, this section is overall the most reliable section of the movie.

Conclusion

Where Hope Grows was closer to greatness than a lot of films with twice its budget.  This level of commitment to raw, imperfect characters is hard to come by in the plastic Christian market.  However, there is a balance to find between extremely fake and extremely realistic.  Perhaps a future Christian film maker can use this film as a model for how to walk the line between the two in order to make a truly dynamic film.

 

Where Hope Grows (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Calvin is a down on his luck ex-pro baseball player who has been struggling to get his career back on track ever since he blew it in a big game.  He’s addicted to alcohol and has a strained relationship with his daughter.  He’s aimless in life until he randomly meets a young man with Downs syndrome working at a local grocery store.  Named Produce, he immediately forms an unlikely bond with Calvin and begins to unknowingly challenge him to live better.  In talking with Produce, Calvin begins to have a whole new outlook on life—one that doesn’t revolve around himself.  But as the challenges and struggles facing them get tougher, they will each have to choose how they are going to respond in order to determine where they will end up in life.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Where Hope Grows is severely under-funded.  It’s painfully obvious that one main camera is used and that it is not stationary or mechanically movable, as the shots frequently shake around.  The video quality is also B-grade, but not as bad as it could be.  The sound is inconsistent, but mostly stays good.  Perhaps one of the biggest production issues is the painful absence of a soundtrack.  If this film had a musical score, it would be greatly improved.  On the upside, the sets and locations are good; the crew demonstrates a commitment to making everything look realistic rather than getting stuck in a few cheesy sets.  However, the editing is unfortunately very confusing, making the storyline hard to follow.  Overall, the production shows that this film was not a throw together and it feels like the crew did the best they could with what they had.  We only wish they had more funds to work with.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

There is a lot of great content in this plot that doesn’t seem to live up to its full potential.  The concept of this film is very ingenious in an inspirational market that is flooded with pedestrian movies.  It accurately and realistically (sometimes too realistically) portrays real issues facing ordinary people, whether special needs people or ex-professional athletes and their families.  However, it is sometimes too hard to connect with the characters because the plot is too choppy to create an environment conducive to character development.  Dialogue is too inconsistent—sometimes profound and other times understated and isolating.  There are too many portions of the plot that are either too short or not explained well enough.  There are also too many points where the audience is tempted to turn off the movie because it’s too confusing or too raw.  But if you do make it to the end, there is actually a very creative intersection of the characters that partially makes it all worth it.  This portion of the film is the best because it is well thought out but it is also frustrating to watch, knowing how much better it could be.  Elsewhere, as previously mentioned, there is too much raw and sometimes crude content in this film—even though this definitely realistic, it should be presented in a more palatable way.  In summary, there are many ways in which Where Hope Grows could have been a better film and we really wish a remake would be made.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Surprisingly, the acting is the strongest point of this movie.  It is so rare to cast a special needs person in a film, so the casting of David DeSanctis is both groundbreaking and highly appropriate.  The remainder of the cast sometimes lives up the acting genius of DeSanctis and sometimes they do not.  Emotional delivery is pretty good throughout, but sometimes it is over the top.  Therefore, the acting quality is overall above average.

Conclusion

In Christian and inspirational film, there is a list of movies that are frustrating to watch because they exhibit far more potential than they produce.  These films should all be up for remakes, and Where Hope Grows is one of those.  Special needs people need to be portrayed properly in movies; this is one way that this film breaks barriers.  If it had more money behind it and less crude content, we can’t help but think that it would have been Hall of Fame worthy and extremely successful in inspirational circles.  But alas, we are left with another film that could have been.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points