Cast: Stephen A. Elkins, Ashley Bratcher, Alex Ryan Brown, Nick Caldwell, David Dittmeier, Amanda Joy Erickson, Andrew Flagg, Jeremy Gauna, Eddie T. Gomez, Jourin Hannah, Micah Lynn Hanson, Ryan T. Johnson, Wayne Matychuk, Willie Mellina, Nathan D. Myers, Jeff Pearson, Darrell Philip, Sophie Proctor, William Row, Nicolas Shook, Todd Terry, Kevin Toy, Colton Vaughn, Kimberly Gail Williams, Tim Ross
Plot summary: Follows the trajectory of George Washington as a boy and a young man as he develops his relationships and ideals.
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.
Producer(s): Chuck Howard, Kevan Otto, Brandon Riley, Keith Rushing, Tim Warren
Starring: Erin Bethea, Ben Davies, Jason Burkey, Deborah Tucker, Benjy Gaither, Todd Terry, Chance Gibbs, Keith Rushing, Scott Fulmer, Chris Alan Evans, James R. Frey, Sean Morehead, Ben Graham
Plot Synopsis: The life of a respected sheriff’s deputy spirals out of control as he questions God’s will after witnessing his partner gunned down by an unknown assailant … then is confronted by a staggering truth. Can faith carry him through?
Anne Wells hates that her family has been forced to move to a podunk Texas town. Her father is a pastor who demands perfection from his family, and she hates him for it. Anne always does her best to get into trouble and to do whatever she wants because she wants to know if God really cares about her and what the actual purpose of life is. She escapes into her music, and her father escapes into his work as he runs from the ghosts of his past. When their family is faced with several life-changing decisions, which way will they go?
Production Quality (2.5 points)
It’s clear that this film has a professional production that was given a lot of care and effort, which is evidenced by good video and audio qualities, as well as skilled camera work. Sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized, even if there are a few unnecessarily dark scenes. Further, the soundtrack is highly effective and engaging. The only drawback to point out here is some choppy editing, but this is also due to the large amount of story content. As a whole, this is a very respectable production.
Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)
As Beyond the Farthest Star is based on good source material, it demonstrates a very profound understanding of the real problems facing real people, especially the struggles of people whose personalities are not appreciated by the church. This plot has an exquisite use of flashbacks to develop character motive and backstory, and the content of the flashbacks is extremely believable. Through the flashbacks and dialogue, there are excellent efforts to develop the characters and to develop the interactions between teenagers and adults. However, this plot is almost schizophrenic with its presentation because one minute, the dialogue is great, only to have it undermined with an out-of-left-field scene that makes no sense. There is a strange lack of understanding of certain aspects of reality, such as the acquiring of confidential documents. There is also a highly unnecessary religious freedom\persecution subplot to contend with that wastes tons of time and puts a damper on everything. Further, there is narration present throughout the story in the form of journaling, and sometimes it is tolerable because of its philosophical nature, but other times, it gets in the way and takes up valuable time. Thus, even though there is a large amount of content in this complex storyline, not every scene is used very well as some are unnecessary and contain some edgy content. Even still, there is tons of potential in this plot and in the people who wrote it because it’s not afraid to expose hidden ministry problems and to use unashamed small town satire. The message therein is excellent and very worthwhile, but there are too many dramatic scenes with no break, and the cheesy ending tends to fix everything, even if the climax scene is effective. Basically, Beyond the Farthest Star is a giant mixed bag of potential, some of which panned out, so it’s likely worth your time.
Acting Quality (2.5 points)
For the most part, the acting of this film is sharp and adept as each cast member appears to comfortably assume their respective character roles. Emotions are believable, and line delivery is on point. There are only a few minor issues throughout that pertain to some overdone drama and seriousness, but this section rounds out a very respectable film.
Movies like Beyond the Farthest Star are both engaging and difficult to watch because it’s clear that there is a massive amount of potential with this type of idea. A movie about rebels from Christian families combined with hidden ministry problems is exactly what we need now, but there is too much confusion in this film that holds it back from reaching its highest possibilities. Even so, this movie is worth a watch this holiday season, and it bodes well for any future projects from this creative team.
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.
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.
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.