Paper Angels [2014] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Lynn Brandt and her two children, Thomas and Sara, leave her alcoholic husband behind, they find themselves free from pain but low on funds.  As they struggle to make ends meet, Lynn realizes that she will not have enough money to give her kids Christmas gifts.  So when she hears about a charity that will help kids whose families cannot afford Christmas gifts, she jumps at the chance.  Kevin and Jenny Morrell cannot wait to have their first child, even as he tries to hide the fact that his business is struggling.  Jenny decides that they need to help someone else for Christmas and chooses two children to buy gifts for.  All of their lives intersect during the Christmas holiday in ways they never could have planned.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The good thing about Up Entertainment is that they care about making respectable productions.  The camera work in Paper Angels is mostly good and the video quality is on par.  The sets and locations are realistic and down to earth—Christmas decorations are used wisely.  However, the audio quality could be better as it is sometimes inconsistent and the soundtrack is just stock.  The editing could also use a little improvement by cutting out some wasted filler scenes.  But overall, this is another good effort from Up.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Though this is sort of a generic ‘good cause’ storyline, we strongly believe the writers’ hearts were in the right place.  The plot is a little safe and pedestrian, but the creative work of Travis Thrasher can be seen in the non-typical Christmas subplots.  The characters feel like realistic people in that we can connect with their circumstances and understand what they’re going through.  As previously mentioned, this holiday film is not ‘overly-Christmas’ but treats the situation normally.  While the plot is mostly down to earth, there are a few cheesy elements that feel forced and unnecessary.  The end is slightly predictable, but the thought does count.  Overall, this type of plot should be the baseline of Christian film.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This cast has their good moments and bad moments.  Sometime they seem a little too wooden and insincere, while other times they are fine.  However, as a professional company, acting should be an area where Up has little to no problems as they should employ professional acting coaches.  We kind of expect better here.

Conclusion

If anything, Paper Angels highlights the need for more Travis Thrasher movies.  He’s got the resume and the content to be adapting his novels to screenplays, if anyone will have him.  He has ties to both PureFlix and Up, so rather than spin out another generic Christian movie plot, somebody needs to pick up one of Thrasher’s books and bring it to life.  Paper Angels is only the tip of the iceberg of what he has to offer.  Nevertheless, this film can also serve as an example for how simplistic Christian movies should be.  We would like to never see a film that goes below this threshold.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

The Reckoning [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Now that she is now the rightful owner of her late mother’s charity foundation, Katie Mayfield sets out to make a difference in the Englisher world she is now a part of.  Everything in her life seems to be lining up perfectly, especially when her boyfriend, Justin, proposes marriage to her, which she accepts.  But as she becomes more immersed in the affluent lifestyle she inherited and becomes closer to Justin, she realizes that some things are just not meant for her.  Katie becomes especially confused when her childhood boyfriend, Daniel Fisher, whom she thought was dead, suddenly reappears in her life.  Despite her disgust at him, he reminds her of things she had almost forgotten about herself.  In the end, Katie will have to come to a reckoning of who she really is in order to move forward in the direction God wants her to go.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As per usual Hallmark conventions, there are enough positive production elements in The Reckoning to make this the strongest point of the film.  The camera work is professional and the video quality is solid.  The audio quality is above par.  For the most part, the sets and locations are realistic but not very diverse.  The surroundings seem fairly realistic, but sometimes they are forced.  The soundtrack is stock Hallmark music, but what do you expect at this point.  The biggest problem here is the editing, which is choppy and isolating.  A lot of contradictory content is crammed into ninety minutes, especially when you take into account the previous arcs of this trilogy.  Transitions between scenes are awkward—the general flow of the movie is disjointed.  In other words, The Reckoning is just another slapped together Hallmark production that looks good on the outside but lacks inner substance.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

From where The Confession left off, The Reckoning begins upending the continuity of the storylines and abandoning original themes.  What is left in the aftermath is another run-of-the-mill Hallmark love triangle with an obvious conclusion.  While Katie Mayfield seems like the same character she was before, all other characters from previous films are drastically transformed into caricatures with obvious roles in an inevitable plot.  Believability and authenticity are stripped from the characters, leaving them as empty shells to be played in Hallmark’s money game.  One interesting thing that is addressed in this film is the values conflict between Katie and Justin, but why is Justin made out to be such a rigidly godless character with no basis?  If Katie wanted to get away from the strict Amish ways, why did she vaguely return to them by the end of the trilogy?  What was even the point of her leaving?  Basically, The Reckoning feels like a cheaply rushed and forced conclusion to an otherwise okay film trilogy.  Little thought was put into this work, because who can dare to stop the Hallmark machine from churning out another cheesy inspirational movie?

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Katie Leclerc, the only returning cast member, is also the only good actress in this film.  The Lancaster County Trilogy has already been plagued by lack of cast continuity, but The Reckoning really takes the cake.  A majority of the replacement actors and actresses bear no resemblance whatsoever to previously portrayed characters.  It’s like they’re not even trying.  In addition, no effort is placed on acting coaching, as line delivery and emotional delivery are very flat and straightforward.  Also, these characters have been #Hallmarked with overuse of makeup and costuming.

Conclusion

This is, in short, a disappointing end to a trilogy that had a lot of potential.  Instead of trying to follow closer to the original novel or at least putting some amount of thought into portraying the characters as realistic, another good idea gets swept along in the wake left by Hallmark’s pursuit of money.  The powers that be of Hallmark constantly treat their viewers as stupid, seemingly thinking that their mindless movie content and gross alterations will go unnoticed because people just want to watch another Hallmark movie.  We beg to differ and choose to believe that audiences are better than this, which means that production companies need to offer better options than this.  Instead of constantly churning out stupidly forgettable movies and ruining otherwise good storylines, Hallmark needs to put their money to good use and provide a platform for those who are truly gifted and creative—without inserting their own agenda into it.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points