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

The Pilgrim’s Progress: The Journey Begins

The Pilgrim’s Progress

Plot Summary

The famous tale by John Bunyan now comes to life in animated form for the first time. Join Christian as he embarks on a daring quest to the Celestial City that will ultimately test his faith and endurance as he fights through each new challenge the enemy brings him in attempt to dissuade him from the path of righteousness.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

The overall production of this movie is unique and fairly well done – minus a few imperfections. One main imperfection is that most scenes are overall quite choppy and transitions are awkward. Not to mention that some scenes (especially close up staring scenes) go on for a little too long. For the most part though, as already mentioned, the animation quality is actually quite good, especially scenes involving nature. As for music quality, it’s not bad but it seems a little inconsistent. For example, it’s either too overpowering or too drowned out by extra background noises. However, these are all fairly minor issues because there is always room for improvement in nearly every film. This being said, Pilgrims Progress The Journey Begins certainly has a lot more to offer (production wise) than most Christian animated movies with just a few things that could be improved upon in a production sense.

Plot & Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The film started out with a creative outlook on the town where the main character resides, which made one think that they were going to modify the plot in a more creative/modern way. However, they sort of overlooked this idea and continued with an edited version of the original storyline. This being said, even though they did cut out a lot of the story (obviously for the sake of time) it still seems like they tried to cram too much in a film with a medium-length run-time. This goes back to the choppy production work – not to say that the plot and storyline quality is not good, it just would have been more interesting if they had restructured the plot a little bit more. The writers didn’t need too completely change the original plot, but create a few different outlooks on things like they did with some scenes already. For example, the beginning, as mentioned, and one other very interesting outlook on the story was the Legality hill scene. This scene in particular was probably the most creative scene in the movie. Another main imperfection in the storyline was that each scene seemed very different from each other, as if they were all written at different times or by different people. These factors cause the storyline to not flow very well. All of these issues and positive qualities are why it receives said points.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The acting quality in this movie is somewhat mediocre at best. The beginning of the film is especially rough in this area. The mayor/superior’s assistant is quite cringe worthy, even during his very short appearance in the film. The acting seems to get slightly better as the movie progresses, and it is also quite apparent throughout the film that most of the characters are played by the same voice actors (meaning John Rhys-Davies in particular). This is not really a problem though because it does workout in the end considering John Rhys-Davies is good at what he does and this method will always save space on the budget. The one main drawback of the casting is that the main character (Christian) is a bit annoying at times – it is mostly tolerable but could be better. Overall, the acting quality is one of the the main drawbacks to the film. We should certainly like to see these filmmakers spend more time on this aspect in future films.

Conclusion

In conclusion, all said menial problems noted about this film don’t really matter that much in the end as long as the main point is established and that point is the gospel message. Although a higher production, acting and storyline quality would definitely help to get this point along more effectively, as long as it reaches individuals and families for Christ that is all that matters. This being said, Pilgrims Progress: The Journey Begins is a great movie for children and families to watch because it doesn’t treat children like they are dumb – like so many animated christian films do – and doesn’t completely lose the interest of adults.

final rating 5.5 points out of 10 points

Grace and Gravity (Movie Review)

Image result for grace and gravity movie

Plot Summary

While on a business trip in the United Kingdom, an American man takes a photography hike only to be shocked by a man waiting on a bridge who intends to jump to his death. The American decides to awkwardly climb up the impossibly tall bridge with no other way to get on it, for he intends to share the Gospel with the British man before he ends it all. However, the American doesn’t know what he’s in for as the two men embark on the longest quasi-philosophical debate involving Bruce Marchiano since the original Encounter film.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Since it has very limited sets, locations, and props, Grace and Gravity doesn’t make any major mistakes in the production category, but it doesn’t make any waves either. Video quality and audio quality are both fine accordingly, yet the soundtrack is very generic. Camera work is also adequate, but the presence of weird technological sound effects and other cheap elements put a drag on things. To cap things off, the editing is very basic and almost non-existent, which essentially gives us an average production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Did we really need another film that’s basically a long-winded conversation between Bruce Marchiano and another person? It’s bad enough that this movie is full of forced dialogue and long, drawn-out portions, but there’s hardly anything to this so-called plot. It’s intent on kicking the can down the road by wasting time as it grasps for content and produces menial flashbacks that give us little insight into character motive. While there are some slight attempts at talking about real issues, they come off as inadequate and empty. This idea is awkwardly forced to be something it’s not as there are a handful of totally dead scenes, which makes the story very fruitless as it slogs on. Further, the worldview is bit odd, and the ending sequence is highly unusual and unrealistic. In summary, with no characters to work with in a character-based plot, we’re left with a lame attempt to do something (not sure what).

Acting Quality (0 points)

With only two main cast members, they carry the weight of the film. Unfortunately, they fumble the ball often. While Marchiano is slightly better than past roles, his delivery still comes off as overly theatrical and practiced. The acting as a whole is very stilted and cardboard. There are too many scenes of only one or two cast members doing all the talking, and there are some cringe-worthy sequences of painfully forced emotions. In the end, this rounds out a very disappointing effort that had little going for it.

Conclusion

Grace and Gravity really is just another version of The Encounter, just without an obvious Jesus character. It seems like Bruce Marchiano always includes his contract that he needs a certain amount of speaking time in the film, including a hefty imparting of wisdom (see The Encounter 2 and Alison’s Choice). To many audiences, this delivery of content will be very off-putting and appear purposeless. There just isn’t anything substantial for this film to offer beyond half-baked philosophical explorations that do little to relate to the struggles of real people.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

A Candle in the Dark: The Story of William Carey (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

William Carey always knew that God had called him and his family to be missionaries in a foreign country, but he never expected God to open a door in unreached India.  Unlike English missionaries before them, Carey and his family immersed themselves in the culture of the people rather than try to impose religious culture on people.  In getting to know the people and meeting their everyday needs, God opened doors of opportunity for them, but their stay in India was certainly not without hardships.  Through it all, God was faithful to them.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Although this production is somewhat cheap and under-funded as a curriculum companion, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not all that bad.  Sometimes the sets look fairly cheap, but outdoor locations and cultural props are fine.  Video quality, audio quality, and camera work are all fine as well, even if the soundtrack is a bit generic.  While the editing is a bit odd at times, there is definite improvement throughout this production, which is enough to warrant an above-average score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The story of William Carey is a great historical account to present in the form of a film, but this rendition tends to make the characters a bit too lofty than they should be.  This is done through dialogue that is too formal and unnatural, as well as some whitewashing of family struggles.  There is also a crutch of narration through journaling that moves the story along too quickly.  The time jumps stunt character growth as the story just tries to hit all the high points.  However, it is clear that this plot means well, and it does become more realistic as it goes on.  There are plenty of good marks here, and the ending is appropriate.  It just seems like it could have been presented in a more accessible fashion.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Plenty of care was given to making the costuming historically and culturally authentic.  There are also good efforts to have culturally authentic cast members.  However, sometimes the acting can be too theatrical and programmed.  There are one too many dramatic moments, but there are also plenty of other good moments that outweigh the negatives.  For the most part, emotions are realistic, thus warranting an above-average score here.

Conclusion

It’s frustrating when Christian films like this are so ‘Christianese.’  This curriculum clearly had an agenda to push, so it’s surprising that the film turned out this well.  As Christians, however, we’ve got to get out of our little boxes and make truly great movies that will make a difference.  We can really do without even more cute little Christian films.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Heavens to Betsy [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Betsy Simon is a struggling children’s author who wants more out of life.  After her work is rejected again, she complains to God that He never answers the prayers she wants Him to answer.  However, this complaint triggers some unforeseen and unwanted consequences as Betsy suddenly finds herself in a world where God answered every prayer she ever prayed.  While it seems good at first, Betsy soon finds that not all is as it seems and quickly looks for a way out, but finds none.  Will she be able to return to the life God has for her before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a newer production, Heavens to Betsy is an improvement over the previous effort in Angels in Our Midst.  This includes good video quality and camera work.  However, there are some cheesy sound effects, as well as a generic ‘silly’ soundtrack.  There are also some odd background sounds in some scenes, as well as randomly cutoff audio at random times.  Nonetheless, sets, locations, and props are great and appropriate.  The editing is mostly okay, but this story basically writes itself, so not much effort is needed.  On the whole, this is, for the most part, what a modern Christian production should look like.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

In the beginning, Heavens to Betsy is a ridiculously forced comedy that is trying way too hard to be funny.  This is evident in the very cheesy comedy elements and the forced dialogue that causes the characters to be one-dimensional and even mindless at times.  Besides this, the premise is based on the predictable wish-comes-true-in-alternate-reality-to-remind-protaganist-they-don’t-like-that-idea-anymore storyline.  This predictable convention is coupled with a cheap Christian message in the beginning, yet it becomes more meaningful as the movie progresses and even ends with a slightly interesting lesson that is based on a partially creative idea.  Though this story gets better in the end due to some unexpected turns, it is still too little too late as the beginning of the film is likely to lose a lot of viewers before they get to this point.  However, the effort is commendable.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Like the plot, the acting begins as awkward, unsure, and trying way too hard to be funny.  Lines and emotions come off as overly practiced in the beginning.  However, there is improvement after the middle point of the film as there are some better, more well-acted moments.  Thus, this rounds out an almost-average film.

Conclusion

Believe it or not, Heavens to Betsy, especially the second half, is an idea that is worth remaking or redoing in some way.  While the premise has been used before, transposing unanswered prayers into it gives it more than just a ‘Christian spin,’ even though it can come off that way at times.  This is a pertinent issue that needs to be explored in a far better forum, preferably not in a comedy.  Regardless, Christian film makers need to continue to shed their ‘silly’ or ‘cute’ image, and this film doesn’t really do its part on this front.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Redemption Way (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jenny and Autumn were best friends growing up, but life took them different directions.  Jenny is now a Christian, working as a hospice nurse.  One day, her path once again crosses with Autumn’s as she is assigned her as a hospice case, which she had to refuse.  However, Jenny still goes to visit Autumn since she feels guilty about leaving her behind.  Jenny wants to save Autumn before it’s too late, but she will have to learn that only God can save people.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

It’s probably not the best idea to make two movies in one year.  This puts a strain on the creative team, and it shows up in the production.  Though video quality, camera work, and audio quality are okay in Redemption Way, the soundtrack is basically pedestrian and the lighting is too inconsistent.  Sets and locations are quite limited as well.  Furthermore, the editing is quite bad as there are some very long and lagging scenes that pump the film’s run time.  It is extremely difficult for this movie to hold the attention for this reason.  However, this is a first-time production shows some slight potential for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

While there is a good idea behind this film, it is certainly not communicated well at all.  Everything is too drab and dour.  I would say it’s melodramatic, but then again, it’s just not dramatic at all.  The messaging is too dry and simplistic as the story plays out like a long funeral.  It is difficult to relate to the struggles of the characters because they are so one-dimensional and because the plot is so narrow-minded.  The dialogue is also very dour and pedestrian; thus, it is not inspiring.  There are no twists and turns—just one long and sad story that fails to connect with the audience.  In the future, this team needs to work on making their plots more engaging.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Though the acting shows potential and though the cast members are certainly trying, their performances are just too overly practiced and robotic to be dynamic.  Some care was given to line delivery, but believable emotions are almost non-existent.  Basically, the acting is too textbook and not natural enough, but there are enough good moments to keep this section average.

Conclusion

This film really contains an incomplete idea that needs deepening, especially since grief plots are already quite hard to do.  It can be easy for plots like this one to fall into the slog that it fell into.  In order to understand what the characters of this plot are going through, we need to be able to connect with them as people.  Also, the cast members need to be coached to be more interesting, yet they also need better lines to help them out.  In the end, this film is mostly just a rough start, so it is possible that this team could improve down the road.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Newton’s Grace {But Now I See} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

John Newton was never a saint.  After living a wild lifestyle and trying to dodge the British Navy draft, he found himself on the high seas and eventually marooned as a slave on a strange island.  But his spirit never gave up and eventually, after coming to the end of himself, He was used of God to influence a powerful emancipation movement that changed the world forever.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Though a lot of good effort is made in this film, it is clear that poor funding holds it back from being all that it could be.  Camera work is sometimes shaky and video quality sometimes has an odd soft-light quality to it.  Flashbacks also have a weird quality to them.  Audio quality is also inconsistent as there are occasional loud outside sounds; the soundtrack is also generic.  The strongest point of this production is the mostly realistic and historically authentic sets, locations, and props, even though there are some obvious animation and some cheesy special effects combined with this.  The editing is okay, but there are some large time jumps.  Overall, it is clear that this creative team is honest in their work…they just needed some better funding.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The story of John Newton is definitely a great historical account to chronicle in film, and Newton’s Grace is an accurate retelling of the story.  However, this plot commits a common error of Biblical and historical stories in that it forgets that historical characters are real people that need character development.  Dialogue is a bit too formal and obligatory rather than dynamic, which leaves the characters unfinished.  As previously mentioned, the story does skip through time a little too fast and leaves the audience slightly confused.  This only leads to an anticlimactic end that does not drive the important message home enough.  In the end, while this film is a nice effort, if the story had been improved, it would have more impact.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This casting job is mostly authentic, which once again demonstrates good effort.  While there are some moments of overly theatrical and practiced acting, this section is the film’s strongest point, even though most the cast members are ‘amateurs’.  The acting caps off an overall commendable effort

Conclusion

If Newton’s Grace had been given a better budget, it could have made a strong case for Hall of Fame.  However, there are still concerns with the plot content, in that the historical characters do not feel like they are real.  When writing historical plots, writers shouldn’t forget to help their audiences access the characters more than the events depicted.  At the end of the day, audiences want to be able to connect with the movie’s characters more than they want to connect with the circumstances of the film.  There are always exceptions to this, but it’s a good rule of thumb to follow.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

He Sends Rain (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When David Conrad and his newlywed wife receive word that David’s father is close to dying, they are forced to return to David’s hometown to put things in order, even though David and his father are not on speaking terms.  David refuses to see his father as he tries to get the house ready to sell and figure out what to do with the adopted brother he never knew he had.  While David wallows in his anger and drinking, his wife decides to get to the bottom of the family secrets and begins her own investigation into the matter.  What she finds is pain and hurt, yet she believes that God’s forgiveness and grace can mend the brokenness.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As Silverwave Entertainment’s first major production, He Sends Rain starts off a little bit rough with some poor lighting and other shortcuts.  Editing is also choppy at first and the soundtrack too loud at times, yet as the movie goes on, the production gradually improves and becomes quite respectable.  While there are still a lot of drawn out scenes, video quality and camera work are totally nailed.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and appropriate.  Audio quality improves as it goes.  By the end of the film, there are not many errors to speak of, thus making this production above average.  In the end, it is understandable to wrestle with some production elements early on, so the good thing is that improvement is shown over time.  This shows great potential for the future.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though on its face He Sends Rain looks like a stereotypical return-to-small-town plot, it is not what you might think.  It takes a good, honest look at unfortunately realistically broken family systems and why they are broken.  Though things are slow to develop at first, the story improves as it goes.  The characters are realistic and accessible, but we feel like they could have been developed a little further.  A little more complexity and plot and character deepening, as well as some flashbacks, would have really made this film soar.  The happenings therein are realistic, even though the ending is a bit too rushed and easily patched up.  This storyline really shows a lot of potential for the future, especially since it demonstrates insight into the lives of real people, which is one of the biggest things we look for in films.  Once this creativity is fully harnessed, this creative team will be going places.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Like other elements to this film, though the acting starts out somewhat half-hearted, it definitely improves as the movie progresses.  Emotions become more realistic as cast members appear to become more comfortable in their characters.  Line delivery is almost always on point.  Even though this is a slightly ‘unknown’ cast, it is refreshing to see a job well done.

Conclusion

It’s possible that He Sends Rain would have worked better as a series that allowed for deeper character and story development, but we realize the budgetary constraints of independent Christian entertainment.  The good news is that freshman and sophomore films from Christian film makers are overall improving, which is raising the market standards.  Once the Silverwave Entertainment team works out some of the minor production kinks and deepens their plots, they are really going to leave their mark on the industry.  We can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points

 

Until Forever {Undying Faith} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Michael Boyum was full of life and joy when Michelle first met him.  They grew to love each other and then the unthinkable happened: Michael began having health problems and was diagnosed with leukemia.  But they vowed to walk the journey together and to pray for God’s healing.  However, the longer it went and as the cancer kept coming back, they began to wonder what God’s real plan was.  Was God really listening or was there something they were missing?  Ultimately, they found that God’s plans were much higher than their own.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s very clear that much thought and care were put into this meaningful film that is based on true events.  This is evident in the wisely-spent production budget that yielded big results.  Camera work and video quality are flawless.  Audio quality is professional and the original soundtrack is creative and engaging.  Sets, locations, and props are extremely realistic.  It’s sad to say, but there are some minor editing issues that keep this production from being all that it could be.  But otherwise, Until Forever is a model production for independent film makers—you can hardly get any better than this.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Based on true events—you probably already know that we prefer this sort of plot because of realism—Until Forever demonstrates honesty and authenticity.  The struggles of the characters can be appreciated and connected with, yet they are not as deep as they could be.  This is likely due to under-developed dialogue, an overuse of narration, and too much silent dialogue that is covered over with musical montages.  There are also some peripheral characters and subplots that needed more exploration instead of that extra musical montage.  However, this film still demonstrates a great exploration of tough issues, including a fair and balanced philosophical conversation with the opposing point of view.  Even though the storyline follows a vague progression of time, the messaging is highly effective, as is the ending.  This is a touching story and is definitely worth a watch.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Though this cast clearly means well, they begin in a very awkward fashion—we are unsure as to how purposeful this is.  Nonetheless, it doesn’t really come off right, but they are saved by the fact that their performances do improve as the movie goes on, which is possibly due to improved coaching.  Emotions are realistic and easy to connect with.  On the whole, this is an above-average performance.

Conclusion

Until Forever should be a standard film in Christian entertainment, not an exception to the rule.  The market should be flooded with films like this, not the usual Christian-labeled garbage you stumble upon on video streaming services.  This film tells a real story in the most honest and meaningful way possible and spends time, effort, and money in doing so.  All we can ever ask from film makers is that they do the best they can with what God has given them, and the Linn family did this with Until Forever.  We can’t wait to see what they have planned next.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points