Faith, Love, & Chocolate! {Live, Laugh, Love!} (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Following graduation from college, Jessica Miller and her two closest friends are forced to face the harshness of the real world that academia never prepared them for. They all have big plans, but they soon realize that no one in their respective job fields really cares about their dreams. Things don’t turn out like they’re supposed to, and the three friends are left scared and confused. However, this gives them the opportunity to realize that God sometimes has bigger plans for people than they can ever realize.

Production Quality (2 points)

As a whole, the production of Faith, Hope, & Chocolate! is fine for a creation produced from a university film school. They have their proverbial ducks in a row when it comes to video quality, audio quality, and camera work. For the most part, sets, locations, and props are professionally presented and utilized. The only major complaints to raise are some occasional backgrounds sounds and some cheesy flashback quality. Also, the editing is a bit generic, but on the whole, this is a respectable production that shows a creative team headed in the right direction.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, the plot detracts quite a bit from this film, mostly due to the incessant and unnecessary narration that greatly hurts the possibility of character development. As such, dialogue is fairly pedestrian but not awful; however, it doesn’t do enough to build the characters beyond their stereotypical molds and expected backstories. Also, the awkward attempts at comedy throughout the storyline don’t help matters, and the fact that some plot elements aren’t entirely rooted in reality isn’t helpful either. Since the central concept of this film is somewhat interesting yet at the same time slightly standard, this character-based story needed to depend heavily on the personalities of the characters, and this was something that wasn’t accomplished. Doing this would have added a necessary level of complexity to this otherwise straightforward idea; moreover, post-college issues need to be explored as this isn’t heavily discussed in Christian entertainment, but a more meaningful basis would have done better with driving the points home. In the end, the problems presented in the story are too easily fixed with a posthumous artifact, which seems to absolve some of the characters of realistic consequences or help them to avoid real lessons. Thus, this is a nice try that will hopefully yield better results next time.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Overall, the acting of Faith, Love, & Chocolate! is fine. It’s neither dynamic nor horrible–just average. At times, some emotions come off as forced and awkward, and line delivery could be a bit more meaningful, but this is the best that can be expected from presumably volunteer cast members. In this light, each cast members takes on their roles well.

Conclusion

In summary, the creative team behind this movie likely did the best they could with what they had available. The one thing we would have liked to see more of was deeper character development, which could have only been accomplished by banning narration and by spending a little more time on the dialogue. In cases like these, it’s sometimes better to base characters off of real people or to give the characters flexibility to fit the personalities of the cast members. Nevertheless, the people behind this film seem to mean well and likely have a lot of good potential for future projects.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Finding Faith [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Faith gets too close to a ‘boy’ she met online but never met in real life, she never imagined the trouble it would cause her.  In one fateful moment, the stalker behind the fake profile kidnaps her as Faith’s hometown descends into panic over the incident.  The local sheriff has a bone to pick with online stalkers, so he immerses himself into the case unlike any other.  What they find is a vast human trafficking scheme bigger than their small town.  Will they be able to find Faith before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

As an early production for Liberty University and team, the quality of Finding Faith isn’t really what it should be.  Video quality is okay, but camera work is randomly shaky.  Audio quality is also poor, even though the soundtrack is trying to be suspenseful.  Sets are okay, but locations and props are somewhat limited.  Editing is mostly average and still leaves something to be desired.  Overall, with many other people involved in this film, Liberty University took a step back with this production, and it’s hard to see how it was justified.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Full of heavy-handed narration from Erik Estrada, the messaging of this story is certainly not subtle.  Yet at the same time, it’s also full of dead air and wasted sequences.  It’s a shame too, because this is an interesting and different idea with a meaningful message that needs to be shared.  However, the characters are so empty due to bland and vanilla dialogue that it’s hard to relate to them as real people, only as cutouts playing a part.  There was so much that could have been done with this story—with better characters of course—but the writers only barely scratch the surface.  It’s unfortunate to see ideas like this one fall so short of the mark.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Though this is a relatively large cast, they lack adequate coaching.  The cast members post very stiff and blank performances, but then again, they didn’t have many lines to actually work with.  They also have their good moments, and it’s not all bad, but any cast that includes Erik Estrada is always dominated by his odd demeanors and personas.  In the end, this film as a whole is mostly a disappointment.

Conclusion

The Liberty University team and the JC Films team always had big ideas and ambitions that rarely follow through and meet the expectations that are set for them.  They have plenty of resources and connections, but little to no creative screenwriting.  It seems to be consistently difficult for them to portray real people on the big screen, so it might be time for them to invest in some better writing.  Only then will they make the difference they want to make.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

The Trial [2010] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After Kent “Mac” McClain’s wife and sons are tragically killed in a car accident, he just wants to end it all.  However, he is interrupted by a phone call and is given a new purpose by the person on the other end: to revive his law practice by taking on a special capital punishment case.  So he assembles a team and begins investigating, but the deeper he digs, the more fishy and complicated things become.  Mac soon finds himself not only fighting for the life of his defendant, but for his very own.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The good thing is that Robert Whitlow does not settle for low to average quality productions when it comes to bringing his books to the big screen.  Video quality and camera work are very professional.  Sets and locations are realistic.  Audio quality is good, although the soundtrack is pedestrian.  Finally, the editing is sometimes effective in being suspenseful, but other times it is too choppy and exposes some missing time.  It seems like there is content missing that was cut from the original take due to length.  However, this is not done very well, as will be highlighted next.  But in the end, Whitlow, Gary Wheeler, and crew know how to put together a respectable production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Whitlow clearly knows legal procedure and is the right person to be writing legal suspense.  The premise of this plot is therefore realistic and is filled with fairly believable, down-to-earth characters and pretty good dialogue.  However, as previously mentioned, there needs to be more useful content included and few melancholy scenes.  Also, Whitlow has a tendency towards overdone drama, which is also present in The Trial.  Finally, there are a few too many coincidences in this plot and a rushed cheesy end that happens because it needed to.  The cheesy villain is given too much time to monologue about their evil plan, although it’s unclear why they did what they did.  All in all, this is once again a respectable effort, but perhaps not the best Whitlow book to choose for a movie.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

Acting is this film’s strongest suit as each cast member fits his or her character perfectly.  There is also a presence of clear acting coaching, which is likely the influence of Gary Wheeler, a student of the Kendrick brothers.  Although there are some minor errors that keep this section from being perfect, this casting job shows how it’s done.

Conclusion

The saddest part about this film is that, based on the market availability of Christian movies, films like The Trial seem really good.  In reality, this should be the baseline of quality, not the improvement.  While it is not good enough to be Hall of Fame, The Trial is good enough to be interesting, although it may not capture the attention of many audiences.  Gary Wheeler has a lot of potential as a creator and needs to keep trying until he makes that breakthrough to greatness.  He has great hope for the future.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

The Ultimate Legacy {The Gift of a Legacy} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a wealthy woman approaches Hamilton’s firm to construct a legal inheritance process similar to that of Red Stevens’ due to her terminal illness, Hamilton and Miss Hastings enlist Jason Stevens as a special consultant (?).  Within a month, the woman dies and her wild grandson, Joey, inherits her fortune and the famous Anderson House—with stipulations: he must agree to live at Anderson House for a year and complete a series of ‘gifts’ in order to receive his inheritance in full.  Skeptical and frustrated, Joey decides to play along with the will’s demands and suddenly find himself enjoying life in a whole new way.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

To put it frankly, the once respectable Ultimate Gift saga has been #Hallmarked.  The only positive aspects of this entire film is the decent camera work and video quality.  Otherwise, it’s all a wash.  The film is plagued by choppy and rushed editing, as disoriented viewers are taken on a roller coaster ride from one high point to the next.  The sets and surroundings are severely limited, rivaling Hidden Secrets for how long a random collection of unrelated characters can hang around a house together and be united by completing projects related to said house.  The sound quality is average and the soundtrack is typical Hallmark.  In short, corners were obviously cut in order for this made-for-television film to happen.  There is literally no justification for it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Anything that was bad about The Ultimate Life has been taken to new lows.  Ultimate Legacy is the most obviously ridiculous stupid rip off of an original film in the history of Christian film.  Peppered with childish references to Gift and overt copycat concepts of the first installment, Legacy makes for a sadly comedic experience.  The movie is based on an unrealistic premise of people hanging around a house with nothing better to do than devote all of time to another unusual inheritance project.  Legacy is also based entirely on legal and ethical issues by shoehorning Jason Stevens into the plot, who should have no business whatsoever in the Anderson inheritance case.  A perpetually angry character later chides a fellow character for not adhering to attorney-client privilege.  The irony!  Speaking of characters, they are either empty shells from better movies gone by or useless and unexplained caricatures driven by empty and amateurish dialogue.  Other dialogue consists of isolating architectural lingo and the plastic insertion of a trite Christian message.  The plot has no direction whatsoever except to poorly mimic as much of Gift as possible through a rushed and choppy timeline.  The ending is beyond silly and follows Hallmark’s latest habit of departing from typical inspirational conventions to exchange them for empty fluff.  To sum this disaster up, forcing a third movie installment to occur should never happen, especially when it’s built entirely off of overtly and badly copying the original idea.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Hallmark brings with them their typical casting baggage: overdone makeup and zero coaching.  The actors and actresses from previous installments are painfully forced into this film and are joined by a new head-scratching cast that doesn’t seem to know why they are there.  Line delivery is lazy for the older cast members and forced for others.  Emotions are overblown by some, while others seem dazed and confused the whole time.  In short, no thought or effort was put into this casting job.

Conclusion

If Hallmark and PureFlix wanted to be partners in crime for the destruction of a film legacy (pun intended), they could have done so without forcibly inserting previously better characters into their creation.  At least let us leave those characters in a more palatable place (I never thought those words would describe The Ultimate Life) rather than drag them down into Christian movie Sheol (look it up).  The legacy (yes, I did it again) of Jim Stovall’s creative ideas is forever marred by two film conglomerates who now make money off of trolling their audiences.  The best thing we can do now is pretend like Life and Legacy never happened and remember better days, such as the original Hall of Fame movie The Ultimate Gift.  One day we hope that inspirational film giants such as Hallmark and PureFlix will no longer be able to get away with such unethical activity as this film.

 

Final Rating: .5 point out of 10 points

Jimmy [2013] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jimmy Mitchell is a special boy.  Though he is afraid of water, he is able to see angelic beings known he calls ‘Watchers’ all over his small mountain town.  His father is a defense attorney and his mother is a clerk at the local courthouse, so Jimmy is not unfamiliar with the legal process.  But he is still unsure of what to do when he overhears one of his father’s clients planning to commit a crime, even though he has been recently acquitted.  Jimmy must determine whether or not he is going to overcome his fear to do the right thing no matter what.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As is the custom for Whitlow Films, the production quality of Jimmy is above average.  The camera work is solid and the camera work is mostly good.  The video quality and sound quality are good, but not great.  The sets, locations, and props are authentic.  Overall, there is not much else to be said here—the production of Jimmy is neither extremely negative nor game-changing.  However, it is a step above most Christian films and is likely the best they could have done with the resources available.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from another Robert Whitlow book, the plot of Jimmy is solid for a down to earth small town story.  The characters are true to life and their emotional struggles are real.  Unfortunately, the book’s plot is more dynamic than that of the movie’s.  The adaptation is not fully complete and the movie seems subdued and muted.  There is nothing glaringly wrong with the plot of Jimmy, but it just doesn’t make it past the average mark.  In addition to this, to no one’s surprise, Whitlow elected to use the alternate ending of the novel for the movie.  We felt that the alternate ending is what makes the book as creative as it is.  Without it, the storyline seems incomplete.  Therefore, as is reflected by the score, Jimmy is reduced to an average plot.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The acting is the strongest point of this film.  The film is well-cast and the actors and actresses are well coached.  The only thing that keeps this portion from being perfect is its lack of excellent quality.  The acting is great, but not excellent.

Conclusion

Jimmy is a heartwarming film that portrays special needs people in a very good way.  Though Robert Whitlow sometimes tends to be too sensational, Jimmy avoids this pitfall.  It contains creative conceptions of what special needs people may experience.  The bottom line is that the important message of this film should not be missed: all people deserved to be treated as humans created by God.  Thankfully, this message is not marred by awful production like many Christian films.  It is only too bad that Jimmy was not dynamic enough to make the Hall of Fame.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points