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

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The Book of Genesis [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As Jochebed and her children hide from the Egyptian soldiers, she recounts the story of her people so far and the struggles they have gone through.  She remembers Adam, Eve, Abel, Cain, Noah, Abram, Sarai, Jacob, Leah, and Rachel and how they went wrong and how God took care of them.  Jochebed wrestles with the truth that God will take care of her and her family too, no matter what odds are facing her.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s obvious that a good amount of time and resources were spent on this production.  Cinematography is clearly professional and well-thought-out, including great camera work and crisp video quality.  Sets and locations are also highly professional and enhance the film.  Audio quality is good and the soundtrack is respectable and intriguing.  The only minor issue to raise here is some small editing issues, including random cuts and transitions that confuse the audience.  However, this is a very high quality production and we can’t wait to see what else Austin Ridge Bible Church produces in the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, this is where the positivity ends.  As Jochebed constantly narrates through cryptic monologues, the plot skips all over Genesis without settling down on a coherent thought.  To be titled after to first book of the Bible, there is actually very little true Biblical content and easily a fourth of the film relates to the book of Exodus.  While the psychological elements are somewhat creative, there is no continuity and the overall feel of the storyline is overly artistic and embellished.  Taking on such a large amount of content is ambitious but misguided.  There is no way to understand the characters presented as they are largely silent; everything relies too much on Jochebed’s riddles and musings.  Overall, this is a disappointingly wasted idea can could have gone somewhere but never found the path home.

Acting Quality (0 points)

The casting job falls into the trap many Biblical films fall into.  Not only are there some issues with cultural authenticity (though not full British), but the cast members seem to be purposely acting mysterious.  Their emotions are ethereal and abstract and line delivery is sometimes off.  It’s difficult to put your finger on, but there are not many positive qualities to highlight here.  A stronger cast would have made a difference for this film.

Conclusion

When you’re first starting out with movies, it’s essential to have quality production, which is what The Book of Genesis has.  However, it’s not clear that Austin Ridge Bible Church knew what they were doing with this plot idea.  There is an element of creativity here that could be drawn out by the right team, but this movie just doesn’t make the mark.  When first writing a plot, it’s best to start out small and grow from there, not start out with a big idea that might not pan out.  Maybe next time Austin Ridge Bible Church will find their way to the promised land, because they certainly have the potential to do so.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points