Vindication, Season 1 [2019] (Series Review)

Plot Summary

Detective Travis always wants to bring the criminals of his small Texas town to justice. However, he’s not always right, and he can’t do it all on his own, despite what he believes about himself. Through every twist and turn of each case, the detective learns something new about himself and about life, but the ultimate challenge of his work and life involves his daughter and her checkered past. Thus, when she comes to stay with him and his wife, he’s sure she’s got something to hide. However, he could have never foreseen the end result of this.

Production Quality (1.5 points)
For a relatively low-budget series, Vindication is definitely trying when it comes to production. The video quality is great throughout, and the camera work is respectable. Sets, locations, and props are mostly fine, but the audio is sometimes too quiet. At first, there’s basically no soundtrack, but this tends to improve as the series goes on. While there are some creative story overlays and plot criss-crossing throughout, the editing can be fairly choppy at times. Sometimes, scenes start and stop at awkward places, and some portions seem unnecessary. However, this element also tends to improve with time. In the end, this is an average production that shows commendable effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)
What an absolute roller coaster of a storyline. It’s difficult to know where to begin with this; in the first two-thirds of the series, many of the cases are either fairly unrealistic or extremely simplistic. Some contain improbable circumstances just for the sake, it seems, of being unique and tricky. Others contain lots of coincidences and convenient turns; many of them include partially or mostly inappropriate content seemingly just because. While being edgy and realistic is a good quality to have in Christian entertainment (rather than white-washing humanity), there’s a fine line to walk between authentic and trashy. As a side note, some of the ‘crimes’ that are actually ‘twists’ are substantially questionable and borderline ‘vindicate’ the wrong types of behavior. Elsewhere, the suspense elements don’t seem to jive with reality even though there are some interesting psychological elements throughout. Besides the head-scratching partially objectionable content included, the treatment of police ethics and criminal procedure throughout the series would be offensive to many real police officers. Rules are callously broken with no resource, and while it would be one thing to portray a rogue cop in a negative light for the purpose of being realistic, it’s another thing to downright condone unethical practices in the name of doing the right thing, including mixing personal vendettas against certain people and in favor of family members with police work. The detectives’ time is spent on petty misunderstandings that would likely draw the attention of higher authorities due to their frivolous use of resources and questionable methods of arresting people with little reasonable suspicion. These two major problem areas (inappropriate content and offensive portrayal of procedure) are almost enough to totally derail the series from the get-go, especially when these issues are combined with a lot of blank and empty dialogue and cheap Christian messaging throughout the first two-thirds of the season. Odd portrayals of women and minorities throughout the series are also concerns to contend with, but the recurring subplot between the main character and his daughter keep the narrative on life support long enough to get to the final two episodes of the season, which almost save the writers from themselves. It’s clear that the entire series was made for this storyline, and the daughter is the only notably interesting character in the entire creation. The last two episodes are so starkly different from the other ones (except for the disregard for jurisdiction and other questionable practices in the name of being police with agendas) that it seems like an entirely different idea, yet the thinly-developed characters still shine through due to their lack of depth in the first eight episodes. Had they been properly built in the first two-thirds of the season via real cases and authentic circumstances, we would be looking at a totally different concept. As they are, the last two installments include very effective flashbacks that take a good look at hard issues effecting many people. In doing so, the final ‘villain’ is fairly realistic, and the partial conclusion of the subplot between the father and daughter is mostly authentic and believable. Nevertheless, despite the acceptable ending, it doesn’t cover over the multitude of sins committed by the rest of the storyline.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)
Acting isn’t a glaring problem throughout the series even if many cast members come off as very robotic and overly practiced. However, this is likely not a talent problem or a coaching issue because the lines they are given are usually uninspiring. This is evident since acting seems to improve as dialogue gets a slight upgrade in the latter third of the season. Although makeup is terrible at first, this seems to get better too. The key standout performance from every episode she’s in comes from Emma Elle Roberts as she sets herself apart as a truly talented actress with potential beyond this series. In the end, this is neither the best nor the worst acting from a Christian season.

Continuity Quality (1.5 points)
As previously mentioned, the only significant continuity throughout season one of Vindication involves the storylines of the central character’s family, especially his interactions with his daughter and her checkered past. However, these recurring subplots are fairly good in the midst of a mostly typical recurring crime drama style. Still, it would have been preferable to see some other interwoven subplots that were worthwhile to follow.

Conclusion

The creators of Vindication are trying to do something, but there are too many elements of season one that are way off base. The use of edgy content is commendable for a crime series, but it would be nice to see better standards of propriety when it comes to dealing with sensitive topics. For another, a lot of significant research needs to be conducted before anyone creates a drama centered around criminal procedure and police work because it can be easy to make careless mistakes. Further, there needs to be a better look at mental and behavioral health issues beyond simplifying them and reducing them to trite Christian sayings and prayers. In the end, this concept may work better as a larger-scale federal investigative storyline rather than confining it to a small town with unusual half-mysteries. To summarize, the creators have potential somewhere in here, but there’s too much blocking out the light.

Final Rating: 5 out of 14 points

Saving the Tin Man (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As one teenager lies in a hospital bed waiting for a heart transplant, the lives of several families around the small town are impacted in different ways.  One family waits for the father to return home from prison, while another prays for their son to live.  The pastor’s family wants to know why he is rarely home, but all of them want to know where God is in all of the pain as they try to medicate their hurts with many different things that will not satisfy.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The opening sequence of Saving the Tin Man is interesting, but it’s still a bit confusing.  However, the soundtrack is definitely creative, even if there is a lot of shaky camera work and poor lighting in the beginning of this production.  There are also some weird sound effects and some moments of randomly bad audio and loud background noises.  Flashbacks are also of an odd quality, and the editing has a strange penchant for cutting to the characters being talked about.  There are also quite of few awkward and even abrupt cuts and transitions.  Nonetheless, there is definite improvement throughout in all production areas, which is enough to earn this section an average score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Though this story tends to be a bit vague and artistic, it portrays the realistic struggles of the characters, even if they are a bit hard to access at times due to the fact that there are many of them.  In fact, this plot has a hard time deciding on which character to wants to focus on, and thus elects to present their stories in an odd overlapping fashion.  This makes the film very fractured and disjointed, and the sheer number of subplots hurts character development and makes dialogue too shallow.  Also, the Christian message is a bit too trite at times.  However, there is plenty of potential in this plot, and the ending is fairly though-provoking.  With a bit more organization, this could have been a great film.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Portions of this section show an amateur nature, such as strange makeup work and some out of place line delivery.  Other lines seem like they were done in only one take, while others are overly robotic and practiced.  However, most mistakes are near the beginning and are mostly ironed out as the film proceeds.  Thus, the acting becomes much better in the second half of the film, thus earning it an above-average score.

Conclusion

Movies like Saving the Tin Man are frustrating because it seems like they have the potential to go further than they do.  Most of the time, movies like this one appear to be rushed, which prevents them from being all that they could be.  With some improved production quality and a more focused plot, this film could have gone further.  However, it will be interesting to see what this team does next.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Seasons of Gray: A Modern Day Joseph Story (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Brady Gray was always the favorite son of his hardened father, much to the dislike of his jealous brothers.  Not only that, but Brady always had a special gift of knowing what is going to happen in certain people’s futures, based on dreams they have.  However, his brothers grow tired of his special treatment one day and finally decide to do something about—force him to leave the family ranch and tell their father that Brady died.  With nowhere else to go, Brady hitches a ride with an unlikely friend who takes him in and gets him a job at a prestigious business.  However, Brady’s life continues to take unexpected negative turns one after another.  Through the adversity, he is forced to truly look at what he believes about God and about life.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For a first time independent film, Seasons of Gray is quite good.  The camera and sound quality are both clear.  The camera angles are above average.  The sets and costuming have a slight indie-ish feel to them, but they are actually quite good considering the circumstances.  A lot of time and effort were obviously put into this movie to make the production good.  There are some minor editing concerns, but otherwise, this film is proof that first-time independent Christian films do not have to be low quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Adapting a Biblical narrative to a modern setting is not a bad idea, but it is also not the most creative idea.  However, for a freshman movie, it may be one of the better options.  This particular adaption is done well, but Box Office Revolution would have preferred it if the Biblical adaptation had been kept secret until later in the film.  Nonetheless, the plot is still above average.  The characters needed more time spent on them, yet the dialogue is passable.  Enough thought was put into this plot for it to be professional.  One other caveat to raise is the movie’s rushed and anti-climactic end.  But in the end, Seasons of Gray has a well-crafted plot that makes for an enjoyable movie.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Andrew Cheney is solid in his leading role, as he usually is.  The supporting cast puts on above-average performances, but we cannot shake the feeling that there is more they could have done.  The core cast is coached well and deliver emotions well, but they are not quite to the dynamic level yet.  Some of the background actors seem inexperienced.  Granted, this is an excellent start and far more commendable than many performances.

Conclusion

In the end, we are more than happy to watch a movie like Seasons of Gray, since it stands out among a desert of mediocrity and poor quality.  Even though it was not all it could have been, it is still a film worth a round of applause.  The Stehlik team is definitely not a crew to ignore—we expect to see even greater things from them in the future.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points