Wild Faith (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After the Civil War, Emmett returned to his hometown to take care of the widow of one of his fellow troops in order to fulfill a promise he made.  Emmett and his son live with the African-American widow and her daughter, which causes them extra scrutiny in the corrupt small town they live near.  Emmett’s father-in-law, the local pastor, is against him, as are several other colorful characters.  Everything comes to a head one day when the circus train breaks down in the forest and unwittingly releases wild beasts into the woods.  The children are caught in the middle of the animal escape and a kidnapping plot aimed at hurting Emmett, and it will take wild faith to overcome to dark night before them.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For years, DJ Perry, Shane Hagedorn, and their team have struggled with poor production quality and overly artistic attempts.  However, while the artistry is still present in Wild Faith, a higher production level has finally been achieved.  This is evidenced by great camera work and video quality even in the realistic and complex war scenes.  There are great action shots, as well as historically authentic sets, props, and locations.  Audio quality is also great, and the soundtrack is creative.  The only nitpick to raise here relates to some slightly confusing editing, but this is a small issue compared to the great improvement that has been shown here.  Perry and Hagedorn have proven that never giving up and working to improve pays off in the end.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Though the beginning of this plot is a bit disorienting at first, if you stick with it, things begin to make more sense.  Where the characters are a bit raw at first, they become more realistic as time progresses with the exception of the cheesy villains.  Some of the dialogue is a bit vague at times, but there are also some good conversations throughout that reveal character motive, which is a rarity to find in Christian film.  The overall plot structure of this film is fairly unique and creative as it effectively uses flashbacks and other psychological elements to keep things interesting.  This story is a great attempt to be different rather than the typical inspirational fodder, but there are some opportunities for improvement especially in the areas of character refinement and storyline organization.  Some of the dialogue is a bit obvious at times, but Wild Faith takes an honest look at corrupt small town Christianity and the pain of racism after the Civil War.  Overall, this film shows a lot of potential in this team.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Surprisingly, the acting of this movie is also fairly good.  This DJ Perry character is likely his best performance to date.  Shane Hagedorn starts out a bit rough at first, but his character is a slow burn and begins to refine as it goes on.  The villain cast members are fairly poor and drag down this score, and there are a few overdone emotional moments, but on the whole, this is a good acting performance that caps off a suprisingly enjoyable film.

Conclusion

We always look for improvement across films, and we are always glad when Christian film makers don’t give up and continue to try things.  Experience is hopefully going to lead to improvement, as is listening to constructive criticism.  The Perry and Hagedorn team has wandered in the film wilderness for a few years now, from Ashes of Eden to 40 Nights and Chasing the Star.  To be honest, I did not have high hopes for Wild Faith when it was first sent to me, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Whether or not this film becomes a series, it is clear that this creative team has a lot of potential in front of them, so it will be interesting to see what they produce next.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

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The Debacle (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Larry and Vaughn have been long time friends, but Vaughn has never felt like he was worth much of anything, especially after he gets laid off from his job.  Larry, on the other hand, is overconfident in himself and has many ideas of what he should be doing, such as rescuing damsels in distress.  However, neither of them could have expected to be transported back in time to a Western town in need of heroes.  If Larry and Vaughn can save the town, they will have completed their quest, but if they do not, they will be trapped in history forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Surprisingly, a lot of time and money was put into this production.  This is shown in the good video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  Though the soundtrack is a bit silly and is sometimes too loud, the sets, locations, and props are excellently constructed and utilized for this genre.  However, there are some awkward cuts and transitions that are likely included to make the movie ‘goofy.’  However, on the whole, this is an above average production that does not fit with the rest of the film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

From the beginning to the end, this appropriately-named film is trying way too hard to be funny with cringeworthy comedy moments and eye-rolling escapades.  Not only is the premise completely absurd, but it is full of cheesy Western elements and other asides that make no sense at all.  The Christian message is forced, cheesy, and empty.  This ridiculous story feels like it has been made for the sake of being made, since it has basically no purpose at all.  The characters are dumb due to the half-hearted dialogue, not to mention the fact that the villain concept is very stupid.  Essentially, there’s really nothing good to say about this plot except that it was good when it was over.

Acting Quality (1 points)

Besides the absurd self-casting and acting (Joshua Zirger from Fenced Off should have never been cast again), the cast members over-play and overdo everything.  Line delivery is drawn out, and emotions are laughable.  Though there are some okay moments, most sequences from this cast are annoying as they tend to make fools of themselves.  Unfortunately, there’s not much good to say about this film.

Conclusion

Basically, this movie is a debacle.  Whether or not they intended it to be so appropriately named is beside the point.  Making this sort of comedy that’s in your face and completely obvious is never a winning idea.  Also, the childish time travel notions and cliched Western tropes are very old and worn out.  The only advice that can be offered here is to try something totally different next time.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Redemption: For Robbing the Dead (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jean Baptiste is a French immigrant who secretly robs dead bodies of their clothes.  Once he is finally caught, the judge sentences him to exile on a local salt island.  Sheriff Henry Heath is tasked with keeping up the with prisoners on the island and making sure they have what they need as they work.  However, he takes special interest in Jean Baptiste as he seems different from the others.  Together, this unlikely friendship teaches the two of them that God even offers redemption to those considered to be the worst of sinners.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Redemption begins with very odd lighting, which is the most noticeable production elements.  The presentation comes off as very dark, drab, and depressing, perhaps by design.  Though most production elements are fine, including video quality and audio quality, and though there are lighting improvements throughout, this beginning is significant and may deter people from going any further.  There are also a lot of boring, lagging scenes and sequences in the first half of the film that don’t hold the attention.  On the upside, sets, locations, and props are all very realistic and well-constructed.  There are also a lot of realistic gritty elements throughout.  Basically, this unique production is a mixed bag, thus warranting the average score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Though there is an interesting idea someone lost in this confusion, the plot lacks clear direction and purpose.  This is evidenced by the number of confusing and seemingly useless subplots and characters that are never fully explored.  At the same time, however, the story is also very limited in scope and based off of a very isolating concept.  Hardly anything happens as the same two or three characters just go back and forth doing the same things, combined with too many cheesy Western clichés.  Much like the production, there is a dark and brooding feel to this story, as well as some misguided artistry.  There is probably one interesting scene in this film that tries to explain some things, but it’s really too little too late.  This story needed a lot of vetting and consultation before it was released.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Besides some of the obviously fake accents of the cast members, there are a lot of bland and vanilla performances here to go along with the dark nature of the film.  However, this small cast has some good, honest moments as they tend to improve their performances throughout.  They become more human in the end and less of Western clichés, so that is enough to warrant an average score here as well.

Conclusion

This plot had the potential to be a different, interesting, and creative character-based epic showcasing second chances for flawed people, but this idea was unfortunately wasted.  Given Rance Howard’s presence in this film, it’s not very surprising that it is a dark one, yet even this element could have been interesting had it been used properly.  Alas, Redemption: For Robbing the Dead joins the growing list of Christian movies that desperately need a remake.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Forgiven [2011] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jack Kincaid is a no-good drifter in the 1800s Wild West who comes to the town of Fairplay looking for a fresh start so he can turn his life around and leave his troubled past behind.  The problem is nobody trusts him fully and is reluctant to help him, even though he knows about a group of dangerous troublemakers that are riding into town in search of a long-lost gold stash.  Will Jack be able to find redemption from his past in time to save the day?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

This is certainly not a production that was wroth distributing in its current form.  The entire film has a very strange and odd-looking quality about it, perhaps on purpose to create some kind of ‘vintage’ effect, but it doesn’t work at all.  Camera work is fine, but audio quality is deplorable, including obvious overdubbed lines and fake outside sound effects that reflect a lack of real audio equipment.  Also, the soundtrack is quite loud at times.  Sets, locations, and props show effort towards realism, at least.  Yet the editing is the worst as scenes cut back and forth with no sense of direction and the entire presentation is generally disorienting.  In the end, this production needed a lot more work before it was distributed.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Besides being a cheesy western full of laughably stereotypical characters, there is no way to understand what is happening throughout this story.  The subplots are very disjointed and confusing as one things after the next happens without any purpose or point.  At times, Forgiven seems more like a parody of a western film rather than a serious effort.  In addition, the character arcs are so steep that any attempts at redemptive elements are just comedic instead of serious.  Essentially, if this movie was supposed to be interesting or make some kind of different, it most certainly fell short of this goal.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Films in which the creator\director is also the star rarely work out.  Every one of these cast members is way too matter of fact in their line delivery, as if they very much over-rehearsed their lines.  They are also far too dramatic in their emotional delivery, like this is some kind of movie from the 40s or 50s.  But maybe that’s what they were going for.

Conclusion

Though we still need more Christian films in different genres, this is definitely not the way to go about it.  The production is sloppy and strange, the story all over the place and laughable, and the acting downright unprofessional.  Perhaps this creative team meant well, but they need to go back to the drawing board and seek out better consultation in their future projects so that they do not repeat these same mistakes.

 

Final Rating: 1 out of 10 points

 

Boonville Redemption (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Melinda was always told that she was an illegitimate child.  Her mother is superstitious and has a secret she is trying to hide as she is under the thumb of the ruthless Maddox, Melinda’s stepfather.  When Maddox sends Melinda away to Melinda’s grandmother, Melinda sees a whole new outlook on life, including insights into who her father really is.  She discovers that everyone in the small western town of Boonville is hiding a secret, and only courage and faith will help them to disclose what they need to disclose.

 

Production Quality (2 point)

Since there is a lot of mainstream experience on the production team, the production of Boonville Redemption is understandably professional.  Video quality, camera work, and audio quality are all what they should be.  The soundtrack is pedestrian, but the sets and locations are historically realistic.  The biggest errors to highlight here pertain to editing, as there are a lot of abrupt transitions and choppy sequences.  There is too much content that has been crammed into the 100-minute runtime of this film.  Basically, this film is professional on the surface, yet it lacks the necessary substance to be any better than it is.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Though Boonville Redemption attempts to explore a unique plot style and genre, it does so in all the wrong ways.  Constant narration from the unnecessarily omniscient Pat Boone doesn’t leave anything to chance and makes sure the ending is obvious in the beginning.  Pretty much every character is a cheesy stereotype, especially the ridiculously monologuing villain.  The characters that have potential to be good are barely given any screen time, probably due to the large number of characters in general.  Though there is a lot of content, as previously mentioned, time is frivolously wasted on very unnecessary sequences.  Any good parts are very rushed and are drowned out by too many quirky elements.  Everything culminates in a gag-inducing “it’s my diary” climax sequence that really just puts the icing on this rotten cake.  Unfortunately, while this could have been a creative and interesting story, it falls very much short of expectations.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The good news is historical costuming is realistic, although there are some minor shades of Michael Landon Jr. frontier makeovers present.  The acting is mostly professional with only some minor errors, such as some overly dramatic moments.  If Edward Asner, Richard Tyson, and Pat Boone were removed from this cast, it would have been perfect.  But at least this casting job is somewhat palatable.

Conclusion

Boonville Redemption demonstrates mainstream professionalism in the production and acting departments, but the plot severely suffers from lack of creativity and forceful delivery.  Throwing a bunch of big name cast members into a well-funded production does not equal a good movie.  The story seems like it had too many writers in the story room, but that isn’t really the case.  Essentially, writers need to trust their audiences to figure things out rather than have Pat Boone tell them what to think about stuff.  Also, the last thing we needed was the Pat Boone credits number, but who really cares at this point?

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

The Widow’s Might (Movie Review)

Please stop singing

Plot Summary

The widow Grace Jackson is being persecuted by a small Texas town local government—her property has been valued too high, thus causing her taxes to skyrocket.  To make matters worse, the incumbent mayor will have nothing to do with it.  Will the injustice in America ever end?  Thus, two aspiring filmmakers take it upon themselves to create a western musical about Grace’s plight, which is the most natural thing you would do in this situation.  But the mayor’s nephew, a corrupt media figure, is trying to undermine them at every turn.  Will their film be able to make the case to free Grace from her persecution, or will the liberal media win out?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For starters, at least the HeuMoore team put some thought into how their movie looked, whatever you may think about it.  Video quality is fine and camera work is professional.  Sets and locations are decent enough, but some of the props are slightly cheesy.  Audio quality is fine, but the original soundtrack, which includes characters literally singing, is atrocious.  Not only is the singing bad, the lyrics are absurd.  One of the songs is actually five minutes long and is extremely painful.  Elsewhere, the editing isn’t really that impressive as scenes cut off awkwardly and transitions are hard to follow.  In the end, though this production looks good on the outside, the beauty is only skin deep.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It is very difficult to take this plot seriously because of its musical elements and because of its basically patriarchal fundamentalist Christian worldview.  While the issue discussed therein has some basis in reality, its presentation is very poor and its messaging is too in-your-face.  The dialogue that isn’t sung comes off as manufactured, thus creating very cardboard characters.  The ‘villains’ are extremely cheesy strawmen.  There is too much fake outrage that attempts to fuel this half-baked nearly-propaganda piece.  Whatever point is trying to be driven home here is too easily lost and generally contributes to a further negative view of Christian entertainment.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Consisting of a mostly amateur cast, there are some talented performances here, but a lot of the emotions are seemingly ingenuine and overly practiced.  Line delivery is very measured and stilted.  Costuming and makeup is not the best.  Also, did we mention the singing?  Overall, this is neither the worst nor the best performance.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, you can tell without asking what this film group is trying to push.  While they are not as extreme as some, they tend to push fundamentalism in its usual unpalatable forms.  Women are cast in a silently offensive light and opposing viewpoints are made a mockery of.  Even though The Widow’s Might is not even as blatant as some fundamentalist propaganda (see Last Ounce of Courage), it still has its undeniable elements and its fixation on subjective traditionalism.  However, it seems like the makers of this film have moved on from this worldview, which is a breath of fresh air.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Edit: The review was edited to reflect accuracy, as brought to light by the film maker.

Love’s Christmas Journey (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

After Ellie King loses her husband and daughter in a strange tornado, she decides the visit her brother, Aaron Davis, for Christmas.  When she arrives in the generic-looking Western small town that looks like all the others in this series, she meets all the stereotypical characters, including Sean Astin the sheriff.  Of course, what would this Love Comes Softly movie be without a replacement romance for the poor widow Ellie?  But even Christmas is threatened when Aaron hits his head on a rock (hmm, sounds familiar…) and is lost to the wilderness.  What will they ever do?

 

Note: This two-part film has been reviewed as one because we cannot differentiate the two parts

Production Quality (.5 point)

As the Love Comes Softly series endlessly drags on with more and more sequels, prequels, and specials that have long since departed from the original novels, we have to wonder at this point what Janette Oke thinks of Hallmark’s total dismantling of her work.  In keeping with usual Hallmark style, Love’s Christmas Journey has some good production qualities, such as clear video quality and good camera work.  The sets and locations are okay, but as previously mentioned, are clearly recycled from past films, but this time with Christmas decorations!  The soundtrack is as stock as it comes.  The editing is designed to drag this movie out into a nearly three-hour runtime, so there are plenty of wasted scenes.  In short, this is what you can expect from a Hallmark Christmas film—some money spent on production, but otherwise very empty.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Whoever is in charge of letting these movies get on television decided that since they needed to force a Christmas Love Comes Softly film to happen, then they needed to recycle the old standby plot of the saga: a young widow moves to a new place to start a new life and meets a new man.  Seriously, how many times are they going to do this one?  First it was Marty, then Missy, then Belinda, and now some sister of Missy’s named Ellie.  Besides this nonsense, the characters are extremely empty-headed and mindless, fueled by forced and awkward dialogue.  The first half of the movie (the original first part), is a huge waste of time, spent on preparing for the next half by introducing trite and petty conflicts that have no consequence whatsoever.  Throughout the movie, there are many factually unrealistic elements (what else is new?), such as the audacity of including Santa Clause in this plot.  No, seriously: Santa is a character.  And nothing can beat the cheesiest Christmas end in the world: snowing on Christmas Eve.  Essentially, Hallmark just phoned this one in because they can.

Acting Quality (0 points)

This is just more of the same garbage.  The cast members are extremely fake and plastic.  Natalie Hall in particular acts like she’s had a lobotomy most of the movie, taking forever to recite her lines, like she keeps forgetting what she’s supposed to do.  The emotions of the cast members are equally plastic.  In typical Love Comes Softly style, costuming and makeup are overdone and unrealistic for the time period.  But what else can we say without constantly repeating ourselves?

Conclusion

Love’s Christmas Journey is a textbook case from that all important manual from the executive offices of Hallmark: How to Make Another Hallmark Christmas Film.  First, find a plot to rip off; it can be a stock plot or it can be a loose idea stolen from an unsuspecting Christian author.  Second, find the most plastic cast members available and shower them with makeup and costuming.  Third, find a reusable set that fits the genre and inundate it with Christmas cheer.  Now just film the movie as fast as possible to get it ready for television!  Once again, with the resources and platform they have at their disposal, Hallmark squanders opportunity after opportunity to make a real difference in the film world.  But we doubt they will ever learn.

 

Final Rating: .5 out of 10 points

 

The Redemption of Henry Myers (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Henry Myers never wanted to kill anyone, but since he got caught up with the wrong guys, he feels like he has to fight to survive in the wild west.  When a heist goes awry and leaves someone dead, Myers isolates himself from the world.  However, he can’t keep his demons from haunting him.  On the run from his old partners coming to collect, Henry becomes wounded and suddenly wakes up in the care of a farming family.  They have no idea who he is or what he’s done, and he fears that his past will come back to haunt him if he sticks around too long.  Little does he know that he has just been given a second chance.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Echolight has always had a commitment to quality productions, and Henry Myers is no exception.  The action-based camera work is done very well and the video quality is clear.  Lighting is consistent throughout, including outside shots.  Realistic historical surroundings are showcased through well-constructed sets and locations.  The soundtrack is highly appropriate for the genre and mostly stays away from mediocrity.  The biggest problem to highlight here is that there’s not enough editing.  There are too many wasted scenes and silly musical montages.  Nonetheless, Echolight sets a consistent standard in quality productions that should be in every Christian film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this film opens very strong with an attention-grabbing and action-packed prologue, it quickly fades to disappointment as we are handed the highlights from the Love Comes Softly series, the Erin Bethea remix.  As previously mentioned, far too much time is wasted on ‘inspirational’ scenes.  Too many things happen off screen and are not well explained.  This predictable western plot is copied and pasted from Stock Plots Incorporated and the characters rigidly fit into stereotypical molds.  There’s the bad guy trying to be good, the really bad guys who only do bad, the young Christian widow, the grumpy son who misses his father, the overly happy daughter, and of course, the sheriff.  Things happen just because they’re supposed to and characters are swept along by the plot towards an inevitable and vague conclusion.  What’s more, silly western slang dialogue peppers the script and is quite distracting.  The one redeeming quality of the plot, besides the strong beginning, is its potential to be something great.  This could have been an epic film, but it simply wasn’t.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This is actually a decent acting from Erin Bethea, but still had her cringe-worthy moments. On the flipside, the costuming is very professional and we are spared ridiculous makeup and hair jobs present in most Christian westerns.  However, there are too many mumbled lines and emotion are often too extreme.  This really could have been a better acting job.

Conclusion

The greatest sin in Christian film, besides making too many useless movies, is leaving potential on the table.  This movie was branded as a western epic, and if you watch the beginning sequence, you can believe it.  But as you continue to watch the film, you become more and more disappointed.  Epic need twists and turns, deep characters, and a landmark climax.  Henry Myers has a great message, but it’s just not enough.  If you want to go all the way as a filmmaker, don’t leave anything on the field.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Love’s Resounding Courage {Love’s Everlasting Courage} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After settling into their new lives together, Clark and Ellen Davis had a daughter named Missie and all seemed well for them.  However, things are about to change for them, as a drought threatens to destroy their very livelihood.  Their financial struggles prompt Ellen to take on extra work in town as a seamstress.  Clark’s parents also come to assist them however they can.  However, the new work begins to take a toll on Ellen’s health, and soon Clark must decide what he is going to do as he is faced with an impending tragedy.  Will he stand strong in his faith or turn away?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

In keeping with most Hallmark movies, the production quality of Love’s Resounding (Everlasting) Courage is above average.  The camera work is solid, along with the video and sound qualities.  The sets and locations are above average and the surroundings give off a truly authentic frontier feel.  The biggest caveat here, besides the typical too-modern costuming, is the sloppy editing.  Events sometimes happen too quickly and other times seemingly out of order.  However, this is a very well produced film, which really make it a shame that the plot is way off base.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

From the get go, it seems like Courage is going to be a really good movie about frontier struggles and the tragedy that shaped Clark Davis as a character for the remainder of the saga.  For the most part, this happens.  We need more plots like this that realistically demonstrate the tragic and hard things in life that everyone is faced with from time to time.  The dialogue therein is pretty good, and the characters are obviously flawed.  However, this plot receives a very low score because the obligatory new romantic subplot inserted into this film—the one between Ben and Sarah that was discussed in the inaugural Love Comes Softly film—completely undermines the intent of this entire franchise!  In Courage, their love doesn’t comes softly and they don’t marry out of ‘sheer need’, but for love.  There would be nothing wrong with this, except that, rather than just follow the original storyline that fans know, Hallmark elected to settle for a predictable romance that utterly strips the franchise of its purpose.  Evidently, they thought that audiences wouldn’t notice or care.  When will production teams begin to treat audiences better than this?

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Much like Love Begins, the acting demonstrates typical Hallmark elements.  As usual, the makeup and costuming do not exactly reflect historical authenticity.  The line delivery is neither great nor terrible.  Emotions can be felt by the audience.  In short, this section is business as usual.

Conclusion

Resounding Courage is a problematic movie.  On one hand, it has a very interesting premise with a lot of potential.  But on the other hand, it completely destroys the original premise of the Love Comes Softly series by inserting a new convenient romance just for the fun of it.  The longer this film franchise dragged on, the worse it became, to the point of turning the entire purpose on its ear.  This is exactly what will happen when creative teams deviate so far from the original purpose of a novel series to the point that they are just reusing the same concepts over and over again rather than provide audiences with fresh ideas that can be found in the pages of the very books the movies are based off of.  This is the end of Box Office Revolution’s Love reviews for now, so we will leave it with this note: make more Christian books into movies, but please, we beg of you, stay true to the books.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Love Begins [2011] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

After getting involved with the wrong people and getting involved in a fight that damages a local café, Clark Davis ends up in a jail cell alone when his partner in crime escapes.  Since Clark stays behind when he could have left, the local sheriff decides to have mercy on him and give him a chance to work off the damage he caused.  Clark ends up helping two sisters, Ellen and Cassie Barlow, with their struggling farm, since their parents passed away and left them with all the work.  Before he knows it, Clark finds himself interested in the Christian beliefs of Ellen and finds himself falling in love with her.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

With Hallmark taking full control of these Love Comes Softly spinoffs, the production quality improved slightly.  The camera work is solid, as is the video quality, including good outside shots.  The sound quality is consistent throughout.  The sets and locations are authentic, but slightly limited.  The costuming is pretty good, but there are still some historical time period errors, such as excessive makeup and hairdos.  The editing is above average, yet there is not much content to work with.  But overall, this is not a cheaply made production and certainly could have been a lot worse.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

After silently departing from Janette Oke’s original plotlines in the original Love Comes Softly movie franchise, Hallmark has now manufactured a sequel using characters implied in the books or younger versions of main characters.  Perhaps it was better to be honest and upfront about inventing a concept loosely based on novels, since Love Begins isn’t really that bad of a plot.  It’s not overly cheesy, yet it is also not very creative.  The dialogue is fairly stock and seems to drag on, since this plot is quite shallow for content.  Thus, the characters need more deepening.  Yet the events that happen are realistic and relatable.  Nothing outlandish will be found here—Love Begins is a simple, straightforward Hallmark romance that mostly avoids a cheesy identity.  While there is nothing very creative here, it is at least an average plot.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

This is a very small cast, and their acting is certainly not horrible.  The acting overall definitely reaches the average mark.  Some actors and actresses needed to be coached better so that they were more authentic acting.  As previously mentioned, there are some unrealistic costuming and makeup issues, which seem to be a plague in Hallmark frontier movies.  In the end, average is a word that sums up Love Begins.

Conclusion

Unable to resist the urge to continue to spin out more made-for-television movies loosely based on Janette Oke’s creative concepts, Hallmark did not commit glaring errors in Love Begins.  Rather, they settled for a down-home inspirational romance that many people will find enjoyable.  Yet the real question remains: how many more of these types of movies does the market really need?

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Love Finds a Home (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Dr. Belinda Owens agrees to let her now-pregnant medical school friend Dr. Annie Watson stay with her while Annie’s husband goes out of town for a short-term job.  Believing that his wife needs help, Lee Owens sends for Annie’s controlling mother-in-law, who is impressed with her natural midwife advice, as opposed to Belinda’s medical training.  In the midst of this, Lee feels himself torn between worrying about his wife’s desire for a child and his new apprentice’s interest in his adopted daughter Lillian.  In the end, they must all learn to work together as they face a medical emergency and other small town tragedies.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

As the main Love Comes Softly series comes to a close, the production is no better than it ever was, only coming in at average.  The video quality is just okay, and the camera work is stock.  The musical score is generic.  The sets and locations are pretty good, but are still quite limited.  Costuming and makeup are not terribly authentic.  The editing is not up to par, but as we will see next, there really wasn’t much to work with.  In summary, the production quality of Love Finds a Home is not as bad as it could be, but with the resources available to Hallmark, it should be better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

There is no way to quantify what the true plot of Finds a Home is.  There is no driving storyline or compelling arcs.  This story is a collection of recycled inspirational frontier scenes and incidents, interspersed with discussions on medical lingo.  There are too many disjointed subplots thrown together, so that the movie hops from one thing to the next without creating a common theme or giving the audience a reason to keep watching.  In this final installment, Love Comes Softly boils down to a generic family-friendly cable show or a frontier television program rerun.  The dialogue is straightforward and non-compelling, thus creating cardboard characters.  A bunch of stuff happens and gets resolved just in time for the movie to be over.  It doesn’t even end like a typical Love movie, but just stutters to an inevitable conclusion that leaves the viewer wondering what happened to this movie saga that once had such great potential.

Acting Quality (1 point)

With the complete exit of Dale Midkiff and Erin Cottrell from the franchise, the acting is certainly not terrible, but neither is it dynamic.  Line delivery is procedural and emotions are absent.  As previously mentioned, the vanity of these ‘frontier’ characters does not cease.  In the end, poor acting, combined with bad plots, ultimately was the demise of this otherwise epic saga.

Conclusion

The Love Comes Softly saga limped to a close with this eighth installment, another movie that borrowed the title and some character from a Janette Oke book and completely disregarded the original plot that was far more interesting than another generic Hallmark movie.  Gone are epic journeys and conflicts, just another small 19th century town filled with people doing stuff.  Having finally fulfilled a commitment to rip off all eight of Oke’s better novels, Hallmark then set their sights on a new money-making venture: prequels and sequels!

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

Love Takes Wing (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Following the tragic death of her husband, Belinda Simpson travels to a small town in Missouri to both visit her medical school friend and to become the town’s doctor.  However, the townspeople do not know what to think about having a woman doctor.  Also, Belinda discovers that the town is currently embroiled in a cholera epidemic that they cannot seem to control.  Teaming up with a local blacksmith she might be falling for, Belinda also feels compassion for an orphan girl who reminds her of herself at that age.  In the face of adversity, Belinda must stand up and fight for what she believes in.

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

With an entirely different production team, the Love Comes Softly saga takes a different turn and loses its original intent to put a good face on poorly constructed plots.  There is a significant drop in production quality, with barely average video quality, unprofessional camera work, poor lighting, and inconsistent sound quality.  Props and costuming become obviously cheap in Love Takes Wing.  Historical authenticity hovers around the same level it has been throughout the latter half of the franchise.  The only thing that keeps the production from being terrible is the okay editing and the fact that the whole thing could really be worse.  At this point, with the complete departure of Michael Landon Jr., it is extremely obvious that Hallmark is just fulfilling a contract or some type of commitment to force movies bearing titles of Janette Oke books to happen.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It has been stressed throughout this series of reviews that Hallmark and company took great creative license with Oke’s original plots, but Love Takes Wing hits a new low by replicating the basic plot structure of Love’s Unending Legacy.  This structure is as follows: the female lead’s husband from the previous film dies between movies, prompting the female lead to move to a different town, where she finds a widespread conflict to solve with a new broken male lead she will marry in the end after an empty and meaningless courtship.  Also, the female lead adopts an orphan girl.  At this point, it’s painfully obvious that Hallmark is addicted to itself and to its obsession for creating empty romances and courtships that inevitably end in a ‘fairytale’ wedding before the audience can even determine whether or not their basically empty marriage will even last (essentially, that’s the state of marriage in America).  But I digress.  In short, there’s really nothing else to discuss here—overtly copied plots get automatic zero points, especially when it’s contained within the same movie saga.

Acting Quality (1 point)

On a more positive note, the acting quality slighting improves in this installment.  The costuming and makeup is not so extravagant.  Dale Midkiff’s absence is refreshing.  However, there are still obvious problems, such as the poor Belinda replacement.  If you’re going to replace an actress, at least try to keep some measure of continuity so the audience doesn’t have to guess who’s who.  Overall, the acting isn’t really that great in Takes Wing, which warrants another low score.

Conclusion

It should be noted that avid Love Comes Softly didn’t even fully enjoy Love Takes Wing.  Hallmark apparently thinks people want to see the same exact plot over and over again.  In our opinion, production companies should think better of their audiences and not dumb entertainment down to such levels.  As the Love Comes Softly series sputters to an end, we offer this advice to Christian film-makers: please, please, please be original with your plots.  God has given us creativity, let’s use it wisely.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

Love’s Unfolding Dream (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Raised by her new family, Belinda Tyler is now ready to set out and make a life for herself, even though the culture she lives in frowns upon women pursuing professional careers.  She is finally and begrudgingly allowed by the local doctor to assist him in a small role, and she gets a ‘big break’ one day when a wealthy yet elderly woman has a stroke in the middle of town and is confined to bed.  Belinda becomes her nurse and physical therapist, but that’s not the only task on her mind—a young lawyer has come to town to ready some inherited property for sale, and the two of them clash over their views of women’s roles in society.  Little do either of them know that their carefully chosen paths are about to be altered forever.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Another unnecessary installment in the Love Comes Softly series, another quasi-inspirational director.  The story of Unfolding Dream’s production is much like the latter installment.  The video quality and camera work are solid.  The sound quality, however, is sometimes inconsistent.  The historical surroundings are fairly well done, but they are obviously limited in scope, as the same sets are used excessively.  As will be discussed in depth later in this review, the costuming and makeup are particular horrible in this film.  Finally, the editing is uneven, pasting stock scenes together in an attempt to create a movie.  In short, there is really nothing new here—at this point, the saga settled into average production quality and awful plots and acting.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though Michael Landon Jr. returned to the writing department, things did not improve.  It cannot be understated that the original intent of Janette Oke’s work has been completely abandoned and replaced with a shallow inspirational ‘plot’.  ‘Plot’ is relative because a collection of random empty sequences depicting silly stereotypical frontier characters is not a true storyline.  Characters go here and there, from one place to the next, with no real plot flow.  Dialogue is very hollow, thus forming plastic characters.  The “excuse for Drew to go to the doctor” device is highly overused.  While discussing the roles of frontier women is an interesting topic, it cannot be properly appreciated in the context of this film.  The only other thing that keeps this plot from being zero is the intriguing underdeveloped subplot between Belinda and Mrs. Stafford-Smythe.  Yet there are also other useless subplots shoved into the storyline, likely to increase the movie’s runtime.  Therefore, less than a full point must be awarded here.

Acting Quality (0 points)

It doesn’t really get any worse than this.  From exotic frontier hairdos to extravagant makeup to fake country accents, the overall acting quality barely escaped negative points.  The continued commitment of Dale Midkiff and Erin Cottrell to this franchise derails it.  There is no acting coaching employed; too many supporting characters come off as robotic.  Due to the poor acting, the audience cannot relate to these characters.

Conclusion

As the saga slugs on, it becomes increasingly apparent that the writing team didn’t have that many ideas.  Rushing up and forcing new romances and courtships into every new movie demonstrates lack of creativity and borderline obsession.  The question must be asked again: was the original Janette Oke plot really so bad that this was used instead?  We think not, and would advise future novel adaptations to do their best to stay faithful to the original story, unless they can find a way to improve it.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

Love’s Unending Legacy (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Following the tragic death of her husband Willie, Missy LaHaye moves back to the town her parents, Clark and Marty Davis, live in order to try to start a new life.  She is determined to insulate herself from anymore heartache by taking care of her son Matty and by quietly settling into another teaching role.  However, her carefully constructed world is disrupted when an orphan train comes to town looking for new parents to take in starving orphans and when Missy finds herself falling for the town sheriff, a broken man who also wants to protect himself from hurt.  Little do they know that out of sadness can come new beginnings.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

With the exit of Michael Landon Jr. from the franchise, the production quality diminished considerably.  While the camera work, video quality, and sound quality are still above par, there are other problems to contend with.  The sets are obviously limited as some things take place off screen and some surroundings don’t really even capture what they’re meant to capture.  The costuming is partially unrealistic as some characters never seem to get dirty and obviously have modern hairdos.  Furthermore, the editing can best be described as stop and start—the story does not flow well, as we will see next.  In short, Michael Landon Jr. still knows how to produce a film well, and his absence is felt in Love’s Unending Legacy.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

At this point, the Love Comes Softly franchise completely abandons the original intent of the novel saga and begins to attempt to excessively replicate the original series storyline—a youngish widow falls in love with a hurting man who she really didn’t like at first and who likely had a ‘romance hurt’ in the past.  We really don’t understand why Janette Oke continued to rubber stamp this series since it undermines her better novels.  Love’s Unending Legacy is wrought with bizarre lines, forced dialogue, and unrealistic happenings.  There is really no good dialogue and the dialogue that exists is very head-scratching.  “[Dancing] is an excuse to get your arms around a pretty woman” is not exactly a wholesome Christian line.  Besides this, the end of the plot is predictable and neatly-fixed-up—yet it is not even accessible by audiences since there is really no feeling put into it.  The only positive to raise here is some potential with the orphan train story, but that’s it.  In short, we have to wonder why the original novel plot could not have been at least adapted in some small fashion when this is the alternative.

Acting Quality (0 points)

As previously mentioned, the costuming and makeup on the ‘good’ actors and actresses is unrealistic for the time period.  The actual acting is very unusual, like some characters were allowed to improvise most of their lines.  Other actors and actresses are left looking robotic because of an obvious absence of coaching.  There is really nothing good to say here.

Conclusion

The big question Unending Legacy raises is ‘Why?’  With the departure of Michael Landon Jr., who at least partially adhered to Oke’s original books and brought above average production quality, was it realty worth making four more movies that borrow characters and titles from the novels and use them with large creative license?  Unending Legacy doesn’t even have a good enough plot to justify the departure from the book—if it did, then this will be an entirely different review.  An eight-movie saga is hard enough to craft successfully; four movies was likely enough.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

Love’s Abiding Joy (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When Clark Davis makes a cross-country journey to visit the LaHaye’s cattle ranch, he finds a family trying to hold things together as they ride through tough financial times.  Problems are only compounded when the infant Kathy LaHaye dies suddenly of unknown causes.  Each family member is scattered from each other, dealing with grief in different unhealthy ways.  Willie is forced to take an extra job as the town sheriff as many local families are struggling to make ends meet under the firm grip of the cruel mayor Samuel Doros.  With so many negative circumstances pressing in around them, the Clark and the LaHayes will have to pull together and remember that the darkest times come right before the light.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Consistent with the previous Love Comes Softly films, the production quality of Love’s Abiding Joy is above average.  The video quality and sound quality are solid.  The camera work is professional.  However, there are some minor issues here, such as the stock musical score.  In keeping with a main Michael Landon Jr. error, the costuming, especially the makeup, is inconsistent with the historical period.  Also, the editing is very choppy, not giving any opportunity to truly engage in the story, as will be discussed further next.  But in sum, Abiding Joy looks good on the surface and is mostly good in this area.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

As previously alluded to, the plot seems like a collection of random scenes glued together.  It meanders without any real identity, forcing too many different issues together in one storyline.  In the midst of this, the tragic struggles of the characters cannot be connected with or accessed by the audience because they seem very shallow.  The dialogue is quite stock; no care is given to originality.  Each character is very procedural and stereotypical, including the cheesy villain.  Abiding Joy begins a new theme of the remainder of the Love Comes Softly series: forced extra romance subplots.  At this point, the original novel plots have been completely abandoned.  On a brighter note, this grief story had some great potential, but it was left untapped.  There is a slightly interesting twist at the end of the story, but it’s pretty much washed over by all the other negative elements.  Unfortunately, that’s the only good that can be said.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Abiding Joy marks the beginning of vain actors and actresses in this film franchise.  Dale Midkiff once again takes on a large role in this movie, and it’s not a good thing.  Other cast members portray annoying forced emotions and awkward line delivery.  Erin Cottrell has a lot of half-screamed lines.  The only good element to bring light to here is the presence of at least some good acting, though it’s just not enough.

Conclusion

Love’s Abiding Joy had just as much of an original idea behind the plot as Love’s Long Journey did, but the originality is left on the proverbial playing field.  We need more movies about the real struggles of families portrayed in realistic settings, but this film just doesn’t cut it.  There was a significant decrease in overall quality in this fourth Love Comes Softly installment, and unfortunately, it was the unhindered beginning of a major slide for the film saga.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

Love’s Long Journey (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Following their marriage, Willie and Missy LaHaye set off further west to begin a life of their own by building their own cattle ranch business.  They set out with no one but each other to lean on and begin forming relationships with people in the small settlement near their land.  Willie assembles a team of castoff ranch hands while Missy seeks to assist local Native Americans in their educational pursuits.  They are surrounded by hurting and hungry people who need what they have to offer, but little do they know that evil also lurks around the corner, wanting to steal what they have worked hard for.  The LaHayes will have to dig deep and cling to everything they learned back home in order to weather the storm.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

Love’s Long Journey marks the high point of the Love Comes Softly series in multiple ways, and especially in production quality.  The camera work, video quality, and sound quality are all solid.  This is the most authentic-looking Love movie when it comes to props, costuming, sets, and locations.  Great care was obviously taken to make this film as realistic as possible, and it shows.  Constantly dealing with farm animals on set is neither easy nor something you see often in Christian films, but Long Journey pulls this off without errors.  In short, the production of this film is flawless.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

While it is still not entirely accurate to the novel, Long Journey is the best flowing and dynamic plot of the film franchise.  The characters, although they still need some deepening.  It’s refreshing that there are some different characters in this plot that are not typical frontier romance characters.  In that vein, there is no new romance\courtship, but an actual portrayal of married life—what a concept!  While the dialogue as a whole is just average, there is some truly good humor throughout.  The end of this plot, though slightly predictable, is actually epic and has a unique twist to it.  However, the villains in this plot are extremely cheesy and unrealistic.  Also, we felt that the subplot between the two brothers needed to be explored further and to take on a larger role in the film.  But besides these small issues, this is a solid plot that deserves recognition.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This is where this movie loses Hall of Fame momentum.  Changing actors and\or actresses in the middle of a franchise is rarely a good idea, especially when it’s a downgrade.  We realize that sometimes you can’t retain actresses, but January Jones was a much better missy than Erin Cottrell.  Unfortunately, a majority of Cottrell’s lines seem forced and strained—she is the main reason this movie is not as good as it could have been, especially since she plays the central character.  But even still, this is the best acted movie of the franchise, with just average acting.  On a brighter note, Long Journey has an actually fair portrayal of Native Americans by using real Native American actors—another novel concept.

Conclusion

Love’s Long Journey is another one of those movies that really could have been something great.  It had all the tools—originality, great production, honest portrayal.  But one poor starring actor or actress can really spoil a movie; this film is an unfortunate example of this.  Regardless, this is an enjoyable movie that many people will find acceptable.  It was a symbol in its era of better Christian movies and it can be used as a blueprint today on how to—and not to—revive a franchise to greatness.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Love’s Enduring Promise (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Years after Clark and Marty Davis settled into their new life together, their family is prosperous and successful.  Missy Davis is a young woman now with a job and a mind of her own.  All seems well until tragedy strikes—Clark receives a serious injury in a wood-cutting accident, which sends the entire family into a search for answers and hope.  While taking care of Clark and praying for healing, Marty and Missy must work the fields in order to have the crops done in time for harvest.  At the end of their rope, they suddenly receive help from an unexpected source.  Little do they know that God has been watching over them all along and will allow them to be a part of His special plan.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Michael Landon Jr. and Hallmark, in this installment, continued to showcase production superiority over other Christian films of the era.  Love’s Enduring Promise has realistic sets and locations and great camera work.  The video and sound quality are solid, including well-filmed outside scenes.  The costuming is pretty good, with some minor issues regarding period authenticity.  The only other caveats to raise are some poorly created special effects and inconsistent editing.  At the beginning, the movie makes sense, but it becomes very rushed and choppy at the end, as will be explained next.  Nonetheless, the Love Comes Softly series, at this point, was still produced well.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

As previously mentioned, the first half of the movie is interesting and it feels like the audience will really be able to get to know Janette Oke’s characters.  However, once the major conflict is easily resolved, the plot meanders from there and comes to a predictable and forced conclusion.  Besides this, this film is an inaccurate adaptation of original novel that does not improve upon the original plot.  There are too many plot holes and unnecessary characters that only provide filler time.  The inevitable romance seems forced; it’s hard to really appreciate what’s going on because the characters are too shallow. While the dialogue is okay, the characters need to be deeper.  There is some real humor, but the Christian message is forced and not meaningful.  In short, this plot had a lot of potential to be different and interesting and to package a profound Christian message into a movie with authentic, accessible characters, but it only comes off as half-measures.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

The cast size increased for the second installment, but the quality decreased.  There are only a handful of good actors and actresses; the child actors are not coached well.  Line delivery is overly dramatic, like every line is supposed to be a deep spiritual truth.  But at the same time, emotions seem shallow.  Unfortunately, low quality acting derails an otherwise above average film.

Conclusion

Janette Oke’s beloved series has a mountain of good content where deep characters and realistic frontier struggles are concerned.  However, Michael Landon Jr. and team did not capture what they needed to capture.  Love Comes Softy could have been an epic saga, but we are only left to wonder what could have been.  Most audiences will be fine with Love’s Enduring Promise, mostly because of the era it was released in, but it needed something more.  In the future, we hope that this movie genre is redeemed from ‘just okay’ status.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

Love Comes Softly (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Taken to the unknown Western lands of America by her husband Aaron, Marty Claridge doesn’t know what to do when her husband dies in a tragic accident.  Alone in a strange land, she accepts the offer of a widower named Clark Davis to marry him for convenience until she can go back home to the East.  As she struggles to cope with her own loss and deal with Clark’s spirited daughter Missy, who is still dealing with the tragic loss of her mother, Marty slowly realizes that she will miss the Davis home when she has to leave.  She will have to decide what will prevail—her heart or her head.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For the most part, Michael Landon Jr. knows what he’s doing when it comes to production.  This was during the heyday of Fox Faith and Hallmark, and it is easy to understand what set inspirational semi-Christian films like this one apart from movies in its genre before it.  The video quality is clear and outside scenes are filmed well.  The camera work is professional.  Care was taken to make the surroundings and props authentic to the time period.  However, the musical score is stock and the editing is just average.  Too many events take place off screen, things that could have set this movie apart from other romances.  But in the end, the production is likely this film’s greatest asset.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from the first novel of Janette Oke’s famous series, Love Comes Softly is an intriguing plot.  This film is likely the most accurate to the original story of the whole movie franchise.  A marriage of convenience plot is not that uncommon, yet it was common for the frontier settlement time period.  Other authentic historical factors are captured.  The dialogue is good, but not great, but the characters are at the very least believable.  But with a simplistic commonly used plot, character deepening is greatly needed.  Unfortunately, Love Comes Softly, though it had the runtime to accomplish this, did not do it.  This is why the plot comes out of just average.

Acting Quality (1 point)

This was a small cast and was far better than many Christian film casts of the time, but it still was plagued with errors.  Some characters (as we will see later from Michael Landon Jr.) are too done-up for the time period, i.e., too much makeup and manicures.  But compared to later, Love Comes Softly was great in this area.  Yet other problems remain.  Only two or three actors are truly good.  Katherine Heigl and Dale Midkiff are okay in their roles, but they needed refining.  Once again, in a small-scope, simplistic plot, acting is essential, and this cast was only marginal.

Conclusion

Love Comes Softly marked the beginning of an era for Michael Landon Jr., Hallmark, and popular author Janette Oke.  Oke captured believable, seemingly common historical characters in her novels and brought them to life for audiences to enjoy.  However, the film franchise did not necessarily do this.  Love Comes Softly is a strong enough beginning and demanded stronger follow-ups.  But if you are looking for a well-produced, semi-typical Christian romance, this is the film for you, and you will not be disappointed.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points