Writers: Karen Kingsbury, Christina De Leon, Marilyn Fu, Olumide Odebunmi
Directors: Rachel Feldman
Producers: Roma Downey, Mark Burnett, Will Packer, Christopher Boyd, Brendan Bragg, Rick Christian, Ashlee Cohen, Karen Kingsbury, Kevin Mann, Dominic Ottersbach,
Starring: Trevor Donovan, Ali Cobrin, Brandon Hirsch, Taylour Paige, Roma Downey, Kai Caster, Ted McGinley, Masey McLain, Cassidy Gifford, Damien Leake, Asher Morrissette, Josh Plasse, Sheila Cutchlow, Victor Rodriguez, Jaime Primak Sullivan, Jake Allyn, Orel De La Mota, Emily Peterson
Plot Synopsis: This series is currently slated for 36 episodes that are based on Karen Kingsbury’s famous Baxter family book series that chronicles the trials and tribulations of a large family with six adult children.
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.
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.
Brad and Lillian believed that they were meant to be together forever. When Brad graduates from high school, Lillian believes this will not affect their relationship as she has one more year to go. However, on the night of the graduation, Lillian’s life is changed forever when Brad disappears for days without contacting anyone. The town searches for him and holds vigils for him, but nothing ever comes of it all as the months go by with no word about Brad’s whereabouts. Lillian’s emotions collapse as she can think of nothing else besides the future life she thought she had. Will she be able to pick herself back up and remember the faith she claims to have had?
Production Quality (2.5 points)
After several years of trial and error, the production efforts of husband-and-wife movie team John and Brittany Goodwin have paid off. Though If You’re Gone had a modest budget, it was allocated very well. This is evident in the professional video quality and camera work. The soundtrack is a very good original creation, and the audio quality is spot-on. Sets, locations, and props, though somewhat limited, are utilized very well. The only minor issues to point out here that keep this production from being perfect are some inconsistent lighting and some slight editing issues, but as a whole, this is a very professional production that gives great hope for the future of Every New Day Pictures.
Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)
Based on the original novel from the Goodwins, If You’re Gone delivers a unique plot and a compelling message. Though the story can be a bit slow at times, there are some great conversations and dialogue throughout that seek to build characters. However, there were still some missed opportunities to use dialogue to deepen characters just a tad more since this is a character-based story with only a handful of characters. These missed opportunities are most evident in the middle of the film as it appears to only serve to fill time with montages and somewhat repeated scenes in order to get to the ending. Though some audiences may not hold on for the end, the conclusion is definitely worth the wait as it contains an unexpected twist combined with a very unique and empowering message that one does not see very often in Christian film. This ending is very much worth your time, but it would have been even better to see some flashbacks in the middle of the film that helped us to further understand why the characters did what they did and that expanded upon the family of origin issues that were touched on. This story was clearly written for the excellent ending, so it would have likely been Hall of Fame if the lead-up was more engaging. Even still, some will find this movie to be worthwhile and interesting.
Acting Quality (2 points)
For the most part, the cast of If You’re Gone appears to be well-coached as each cast member does a good job assuming his or her respective role quite well. Masey McLain is always a great lead, but it might have helped for her to have further support since some cast members come off as a bit weak and detracting from the overall score. However, emotions and line delivery are above average as a whole, which rounds out this film very well.
The Goodwins have persevered for several years in pursuit of the greatest film, and they have a unique opportunity to create their own source material by writing it before making their own films out of it. They have always been close to the mark, and with If You’re Gone, they have come even closer. Production is in a good spot for them, and acting is nearly perfect. The next step forward for their team is to ensure stronger plots to accompany their great messaging. Writing stories can be difficult, so it may be a good opportunity to adapt other source material as well since the Christian fiction world is replete with options. In summary, If You’re Gone is definitely a good film, and the Goodwins are one step away from true greatness.
Jay Harding is tired of the way some of his family members pretend like everything is okay in their lives. He is tired of family not acting the way he wants them to, especially when his kids sing in the car. He feels like he works hard at his small business to provide for his family, but he feels like nobody every appreciates him. Therefore, he decides that the only way to fix his family is to buy a bigger and more expensive house. Little does Jay know that he will have to learn to surrender before things will change.
Production Quality (.5 point)
Surrendered is unfortunately another one of those films that PureFlix picked up in their earlier days that probably should not have been distributed. This production has too much shaky camera work, even though there is clear video quality throughout. There are too many odd zooms. Audio quality is also inconsistent, and the soundtrack is too loud at times. Sets, locations, and props are cheap and limited. Further, the editing is fairly choppy and makes for a confusing presentation of events. Unfortunately, there is very little good to say about this film.
Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)
This story is dominated by an extremely immature character that, while it’s unfortunately realistic, only makes this plot a slightly embarrassing unintentional comedy. While there may be a good message in here somewhere, it comes off as shallow and empty. There are some ‘perfect’ Christian characters that are equally as annoying as the lead due to their overuse of platitudes. Nearly all of the dialogue from all the characters is very juvenile. As the storyline meanders along and tosses in some random Christmas concepts, there is tons of wasted time and heavy-handed narration to tie things together. An attempt is made at the end to pull the film up from the nose dive, but this isn’t enough to mitigate the overall train wreck.
Acting Quality (0 points)
To match the absurd characters, the cast members of this film are equally over the top and amateurish. Some are even obnoxious at times as they fully embrace their characters. Emotions and line delivery are both forced, thus making for a painful experience. As has been expressed, there is very little good to note about this film.
We can understand the desire to make a film about realistic, imperfect people, but Surrendered takes this a step too far and makes the entire experience miserable. Making characters this annoying and giving the cast no direction whatsoever make for a doubly bad experience. Films like this are fodder for unintentional comedy and only serve to further embarrass the name of Christian movies.
Chase Morgan is going to be a senior in high school, but he never feels like he’s been able to make a difference in life. He is content to just hang out with his best friend OB and not really be noticed by anyone, but when a new girl, Gracia, comes to school, she turns his world upside down and he feels like he has to get to know her, even though he is terrified. But as they grow closer and become friends, they discover that they have the ability, through their faith in God, to change their world together.
Production Quality (3 points)
The collaboration of Film Incito, Check the Gate Productions, and Five Stones Films is a lethal combination in crafting a flawless production. Because of Gracia demonstrates exactly what a modern Christian production should be, from excellent video quality to professional camera work to seamless audio quality. The soundtrack is also very well-constructed and appropriate for the genre. Sets, locations, and props are also without flaw. The editing is nearly perfect as well as the story is presented in an inviting fashion. In the end, Lisa Arnold and her production team have finally struck gold with this film, and the sky is the limit from here.
Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)
New screenwriter Tom Simes has debuted his skills with a worthwhile plot. Though the story is somewhat limited and tends to be a stereotypical high school romance, the characters carry the story very well and make it enjoyable. Dialogue is mostly creative and complex, thus serving to build the characters. The biggest issues to point out here are a lot of unnecessary heavy-handed narration and quite a few ‘silly’ sequences that keep some characters and subplots from being further explored. It’s great that we know the main characters well and that they are not black-and-white in their construction, but we would like to get to know the supporting characters just as well. Also, the epilogue that is tacked onto the end of this film really puts a damper on an otherwise excellent point that is shared at the end. Nonetheless, Because of Gracia isn’t afraid to deal with some very real and serious topics in a realistic fashion, so the creative team must be applauded for this. In the end, this is definitely a good plot to start out with since it shows further potential for the future, and it is still enjoyable as it is.
Acting Quality (3 points)
You can hardly ask for a better cast than this. Moriah Peters and Chris Massoglia are excellent in their roles, as are Ben Davis, Masey McClain, and the rest. The collective minds behind this film really hit a home run with this cast, as each cast member assumes their character flawlessly and even improves upon what is written for them. Emotions are very believable and line delivery is excellent, which demonstrate the presence of acting coaching. In the end, this section punctuates a very worthwhile film.
We should be seeing movies like Because of Gracia come out every month from Christian film makers. This proves that with time, adequate funding, effort, and care, any film can be Hall of Fame. With the right combination of producers, directors, and writers, greatness can happen. Movie making, more often than not, should be a team approach, and hopefully Christian film makers are learning this now. When it releases to the public, this film is definitely worth everyone seeing. It lends great encouragement to the slow but sure turnaround and upward trend of Christian film.
Rachel Joy Scott was an artistic free spirit who longed to change the world. When her father left the family when she was young, it left her confused and searching for affirmation in her friends. However, after a spiritual experience one summer while staying with her cousins, Rachel knew she would never be the same again. But she still struggled with trying to hang out with her old friends, who always tempted her to be like them. As Rachel tried to discover her true identity, she still felt like she needed to change the world. In the end, as tragedy hit Columbine High School, she did change the world, and touched many lives in the process.
Production Quality (2.5 points)
This is obviously a talented and dedicated production team, as they went all out to make this movie as realistic as possible. They stayed true to authenticity with the sets, locations, and props, demonstrating that this was not created lightly. Video quality, audio quality, and camera work are obviously flawless. The soundtrack is effective and thought-provoking. The only detracting factor in this movie is a slight editing issue that is mostly due to having too much content to deal with. But otherwise, this is a high quality production that shows both the commitment and the skill of those involved.
Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)
We say this all the time—it’s almost always better to portray a real life story in a movie. With guidance of real events and people, the Rachel Joy Scott story has been thoroughly and effectively brought to life in I’m Not Ashamed. The characters are highly accessible and relatable, as are the circumstances they experience. Rachel is a real person with real struggles and real problems, as are the other characters. The dialogue is excellent and builds strong personalities for the characters. The only caveat to raise here is the fact that since such a large story was taken on, some parts seem rushed through, but nothing bad enough to ruin this story’s overall point. The message that is communicated through this plot comes across very well and challenges Christians to live out their faith without compromising. This is a job well done.
Acting Quality (3 points)
Movies can be made or broken by their casting, but I’m Not Ashamed does not disappoint. Each cast member fits their character exquisitely. This is arguably Ben Davies’ best performance to date. All emotions are realistic and lines are delivered effectively. Costuming is realistic. There are no errors here.
It might have been tempting for someone with less than pure intentions to portray Rachel Joy Scott as a perfect saint, but this was not done by this writing team. She was a teenager who struggled to live out her Christianity, just as many of us do. Yet though she was surrounded by confusion and turmoil, she made a difference with the short life she had. Besides being a quality film, I’m Not Ashamed succeeds in communicating this important message. This is what Christian film should be about, so things are certainly looking up.
Every year, movies are released and cast members show off their talents. Writers and directors showcase their creativity. Films are separated into roughly three groups: the truly talented, the potentially great, and the others. At Box Office Revolution, we believe it is our prerogative to annually recognize those movie makers and players who have the ability to bring revolution to Christian entertainment.