Saving Sarah Cain (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Sarah Cain used to be a successful column writer, but lately she’s been experiencing writer’s block.  To make matters worse, her Amish sister, whom she hasn’t spoken to in years, suddenly dies, leaving Sarah as the legal guardian of her five Amish nieces and nephews.  In a moment of desperation, Sarah writes a column about the children and accidentally stumbles upon success.  Therefore, she agrees to take the kids to her Chicago apartment in order to secretly continue writing about them.  The five children discover that they are in the midst of culture shock when they must assimilate into big city life on a steep learning curve.  In the end, they will all have to be honest with themselves and each other in order to find the lives they were meant for.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As a part of the Fox Faith era of Christian film, Saving Sarah Cain enjoyed increased production success compared to movies before it.  The camera work is good, but the video quality could be better.  The sound quality is a little above average while the use of music throughout is actually really good.  This is something more Christian films need to do effectively.  The set and locations are believable and diverse.  The editing is pretty good, though there are some parts that leave you scratching your head as to what is actually going on.  Overall, there is really not much else to say regarding Sarah Cain’s production; it all comes out as just average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from the innovative Amish novel The Redemption of Sarah Cain by Beverly Lewis, this film almost captures the original purpose of the book, but not entirely.  The elements are there, but there just isn’t much feeling in this movie.  The characters are portrayed as very one-dimensional, not putting forth the depth they should in this highly character-driven plot.  Since the storyline is so linear, the characters have to take up the slack, but they do not go as far as they need to.  This is likely because the dialogue is very pedestrian and safe.  Safe is actually a good word to use to describe this film.  No risks are taken and no rewards are reaped.  While it is an interesting fish-out-of-water tale, it’s not dynamic enough or deep enough to warrant a higher score.  While there are some interesting psychological elements and backstory throughout, the ending is enough to put a damper on anything creative in the rest of the movie, as it leaves viewers wondering what they were supposed to learn from it.  This film is basically a nice try, but not good enough.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, the acting really drags down the characters.  Most of the characters are cast very poorly; some seem like they are forced into roles not suited for them.  There is the usual touch of Michael Landon Jr. evident in over-costuming the cast members, including those playing Amish characters.  Emotions are overplayed throughout and line delivery is forced most of the time.  While there are some funny moments, the acting is overall a disappointment.

Conclusion

Honestly, this is an instance when the book is better than the movie.  The movie removes meaningful elements from the novel, which is probably why they ended up with the paint-yourself-in-a-corner ending they did.  In addition to being safe, Saving Sarah Cain is also forgettable.  Were it not for its creative use of music (it’s sad that other better movies are not doing this), we probably wouldn’t even remember this film.  While it has plenty of potential, it is a very forced screenplay that unfortunately had little to no impact on Christian films.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

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The Ultimate Life (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jason Stevens has inherited his grandfather’s massive fortune, but he has lost his way in life.  He is successful at putting the money to good use helping others, but he seems to never have any time for his longtime girlfriend Alexia, who he does not realize has plans of her own.  On top of this, Jason’s family is suing him for the family fortune.  When he wakes up one day and suddenly finds Alexia has left the country, he doesn’t know what to do.  Therefore, he goes to his old friend Hamilton, who produces the diary of Jason’s grandfather so Jason can learn from his grandfather’s mistakes before he repeats them.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

The video quality is clear, but unfortunately, that’s all that can be said for the production of The Ultimate Life.  The sound quality varies depending on the type of scene.  The camera work is also very random—sometimes good and sometimes shaky.  The sets and locations are pretty good and fairly historically accurate, but some of them are unprofessionally presented.  Perhaps the worst part is the editing.  It is already difficult enough to transpose a past plotline onto a present day plotline, but The Ultimate Life comes off as very choppy and hard to follow.  The scenes are all over the place, sometimes depicting a vague World War II battle and sometimes depicting an awkward 1940s high school (the actors seem too old for high school though) dance.  The bottom line is that where the resources were available to make this a successful movie, they were not utilized.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

This plot is meant to be another book adaptation, but it is nothing like the book that bears the same name.  However, there wasn’t really much to work with in the book anyway.  In this film, the life of Red Stevens is displayed at breakneck speed, thus not allowing any time for character development.  While this could have been a very interesting tale of success, decline, and corruption, the story sputters along like an old car.  It seems like multiple different movie ideas were spliced together into one, since the story hops along through time, only hitting the highlights and those moments that can be easily connected to the first installment in the series.  The dialogue is mindless, and thus, the characters are empty.  The only good thing to highlight here is that this plot had potential—the story of Red Stevens is not necessarily a happy one, but it could have been used as an example of how to handle success and how to put family first.  But beyond this, there is nothing to say except that it seems like, rather than actually craft a meaningful plot to showcase an interesting topic, the crew thought up a whole bunch of tongue in cheek references to the more successful Ultimate Gift and transposed it on a post-Depression era backdrop.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

The actors and actresses are given no help.  Therefore, the line delivery is very forced and no emotional expression is authentic.  It seems like this cast could have been better than they are in this film, but nothing materializes.  As a side note, it is difficult to cast multiple actors for one character across a timespan, but The Ultimate Life handles this pretty well.  But unfortunately, that is the only good thing to mention.

Conclusion

The Ultimate Gift was a great film, and it is understandable why a prequel was requested.  There was a lot of good content that could have been covered.  Red Stevens’ character arc could have been showcased.  The Ultimate Life could have been a great film, but ‘could have’ is not a winning phrase.  After the success of Gift, Life had no excuses to be so poor, but it did.  This is unfortunate, and The Ultimate Life joins a long line of Christian films that could have been.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

The Ultimate Gift (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jason Stevens has always had everything he ever wanted—at least everything that money could buy.  Growing up in a successful oil dynasty, he has never seen anything but money, fakeness, and broken relationships.  So when his patriarchal grandfather dies and the family gossip turns to who will get the largest share of the family fortune, Jason is uninterested and aimless in life.  However, his world takes a unexpected turn when his father’s lawyer informs him that he is the one who is to inherit the largest portion of the fortune—if he can pass a series of seemingly eccentric tests designed to help Jason learn what is most important in life.  As a result, Jason is forced to look at who he really is and what God really wants from him.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

The production crew of The Ultimate Gift showed true talent in this film.  The camera work is excellent, including video quality and angles.  The sets and locations are quite varied.  The story is supposed to take place in at least two different countries, and this feat is pulled of well.  The editing is great considering the fact that there is a lot of content in this film that could have cheesily been strung together.  The series of gifts is not choppy and comes off naturally.  In short, there are no production errors.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

As previously mentioned, it must have been hard to weave this type of content together into a clean plot line.  Screenwriter Cheryl McKay actually improved Jim Stovall’s book in this adaptation, building on the characters and the storyline and making it more palatable.  Dialogue is not forgotten in this miniature epic, even though it is concise.  There are several interesting plot twists and things do not turn out as most inspirational plots would.  Comedy and realistic drama are mixed well throughout.  The only concerns to raise here are that some of the characters are slightly shallow and stereotypical.  Otherwise, the plot content is very strong.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The Ultimate Gift cast is made up of mostly mainstream and professional actors, but they do the job well.  They have obviously been coached well.  Each one is appropriate in their roles and does the best with what they have.  In short, there are once again no errors here.

Conclusion

While The Ultimate Gift is not a perfect film, it is certainly high on the list.  It deals with a very unique topic in a very unique way.  It would have been easy for the movie format to come off as amateurish, but this does not happen.  One caveat is that there is not an explicit Christian message, but there are plenty of Christian values displayed.  In short, this film is not only an enjoyable view, but it should also serve as a great example to anyone who wants to create an independent Christian film in the future.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

The Last Sin Eater (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Cadi Forbes has lived all her life in a Welsh immigrant settlement deep in the Appalachian Mountains, isolated from the world outside.  She has lived in fear, as have the people in her settlement, and now she has a terrible secret to guard.  Not only that, but she has risked trouble on her life by laying eyes on the forbidden sin eater—the cursed individual who must atone for the sins of those who die in the settlement.  Seeking a way to end it all, a mysterious girl guides Cadi to listen to a stranger preach to the forest about a hope she has never heard before.  She is now more curious than ever to learn about the stranger and even the identity of the cursed sin eater.  But what will it cost her in the end?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

The production of The Last Sin Eater is excellent, with only minor problems.  The camera work is good, as is the video quality.  The only issue to raise is the inconsistent lighting in some scenes, though it could be argued as realistic.  The audio quality is overall good, though the soundtrack could be a little more inspiring.  There are diverse sets and the Appalachian scenery is realistic.  Some of the flashback content seems a little low quality, perhaps on purpose.  In the end, this production is done very well.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)

This is likely Michael Landon Jr’s best movie to date, but it can be credited to the writing genius of foundational Christian author Francine Rivers.  Her book that inspired this movie is among her best, and Landon’s adaptation is seamless.  The plot ties realistic historical events to an excellent fictional story built around believable characters.  The superstition is woven wonderfully with Biblical elements.  The characters are realistic and flawed, driven by true-to-life dialogue.  There are twists and turns in the plot, and the end is slightly unexpected.  In short, this excellent plot can be attributed to the genius authorship of Francine Rivers and to the honest adaptation of Michael Landon Jr.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

For a cast of largely little known actors, they perform quite well.  The line delivery is mostly accurate, though it seems forced at times.  Sometimes the Welsh accents seem fake, but other times they do not.  Despite these small issues, there are no extremely negative elements where the acting is concerned.  This cast is a good example of what can be done with the proper coaching.

Conclusion

There are plenty of lesser and well known Christian novels that can and should be adapted for the screen.  Where many movie plots are stock, there are plenty of Christian works of fiction that could be portrayed through video instead of more bland inspirational films.  The Last Sin Eater is an example of what can happen when an excellent novel is adapted correctly into a movie.  This film should be a blueprint for many more movies in the future.

 

Final Rating: 8 out of 10 points