Monthly Archives: March 2010
Things start coming to a head when Frank “invites” Keith to go witness with him on the Rough Side of Town (TM). “Invites” is in quotation marks because Frank is not taking “no” for an answer. But when Keith gives the perfectly sensible (and, for once, completely honest) reason that he has to work (he delivers pizzas), Frank is forced to concede with a dramatic, long-suffering sigh.
Sadly for Keith, later that day, he very nearly gets into a fight on the football field, and Frank witnesses it. For the sake of damage control, Keith drives his delivery truck over to the Rough Side of Town (TM) that night, where Frank is busily proselytizing to his former friends.
Frank’s old friends (only one of them, Tony, is granted the dignity of a name) seem like a nice and laid-back bunch of guys, by the way. Frank’s proselytizing method is quite in-your-face, and they good-naturedly shrug it off, until Frank becomes frustrated and refuses to leave well enough alone…
Frank (who has obviously been going on for quite awhile): See, that was Jesus talking! Those were his own words!
Tony: Yeah, that’s nice. See you later, pal. (Starts to walk away)
Frank (following): Tony, you really need to look into this, man.
Tony: Hey, you get to Heaven your way, and I’ll get there mine.
Frank (through clenched teeth): But Christ is the only way to get there!
Tony: Hey, Frank, I am sick of your religious garbage.
Things degenerate quickly, and they almost begin to fight, but Keith drives up in his pizza delivery truck and breaks it up. Frank is still way pissed off, and Keith tells him to walk it off while he talks Tony down. Once Frank is out of earshot, it is revealed that the whole almost-fight was a setup, with Keith bribing the guys with pizza to “get crazy.”
And boy, is this scene badly staged and badly scripted. Because it isn’t Tony who escalates things. It is Frank, who refuses to let Tony end the conversation and walk away, then accuses Tony of “turning on him,” then wags a finger in his face, and continuously invades his personal space (Tony very gently pushes him back at least twice, then Frank jumps right back up to him again).
Boy, sure is good for Frank that he became a Christian two years ago, eh? Because otherwise he wouldn’t be able to alienate and offend all of his friends.
Still! I must admit that there are two nice touches here.
Nice touch #1: As Keith holds him back, Tony yells a few “jesus freak” insults at Frank…while trying to suppress a grin. Whether by accident or design, it works.
Nice touch #2: Tony says that for all the effort Keith is putting into this, Dana must be “some chick.” Keith nods immediately, “Yeah, she’s worth the effort.” And yes, nice! Another little hint that it is worth it to Keith, that he’s actually growing to really care about Dana.
The next day, Dana hears of Keith’s exploits, and it only further endears him to her. But Keith has already been planning their Dream Date…an evening alone, first taking Dana out to dinner, then back to his place. Keith reveals to his friends that when it comes to guys, “chicks get stupid,” that he’s played this game before and knows just what to do.
Which…well…it seems pretty late in the game for Keith to still be spouting (with all apparent sincerity) his “bad guy” routine. On a secular level, he has expressed a few times that he genuinely cares for Dana and likes her as more than just a potential conquest. And on a Christian Film level, Keith has certainly never even hinted or implied that he is taking Christianity seriously, or that any of what he is learning to impress Dana is actually “getting through.” Ah well, let’s see what happens on date night…
Dinner: A shared joke. A nice little touch, as once again, Keith seems to be genuinely enjoying making Dana smile.
After: Our little manipulator has planned this date for a night when his parents are going out. He then fakes a note from them, claiming a family emergency. Keith and Dana relax on the couch… (Artfully done, too: Talking the entire time, Keith gently plays with Dana’s hair. She leans her head on his shoulder. All very cute and lovey-dovey. From a secular standpoint, this is setting up for some nice regret on Keith’s part…)
Oh no! Self-righteous Frank has once again ventured into the Rough Side of Town (TM) to confront Tony about the other night. And I’m just glad for Tony that Frank doesn’t hang out with him any more. The constant invasion of personal space and wagging of fingers in my face would be quite trying. But Tony puts up with it with rather more good nature than I would…although he does let slip that Keith is “just after some chick.” Oh, dear.
Frank to the rescue! He tries the pizza place first, and when Keith is not there, immediately and instinctively realizes that Keith must be putting the moves on Dana at this very moment, and that he, Our Hero Frank, is the only force in the universe that can save Dana’s virtue!
(Previously, Dana claimed that she intends not to “go too far” with any guy, Christian or not. Yet somehow, both Frank and the writers assume that she now will, despite the fact that she had dumped a previous boyfriend (presumably, a Christian) because of their “difference in standards.” Do these men just assume that girls are incapable of saying “no”?)
As Frank desperately drives around town and the Music of Heroism plays, Keith leans over and gives Dana a gentle kiss on the cheek. Dana turns, both surprised and pleased, and leans in. They…
Well, one thing you should know about Christian movies is that they never show the actual kiss. Never. They cut it out and imply the characters kiss, but you will not see lips touching lips in a Christian Youth Group film. This is taken to comical heights in such films as Second Glance, but here it is actually fairly subtle.
Frank gets to Keith’s house just in time to thwart what we can only assume are the very beginnings of a make-out session. Keith is (understandably) ticked off at the interruption.
Frank shoves past Keith into his own home, only to find a surprised Dana, cheerful and quite un-ravaged. Telling Dana that he needs to talk to her, alone, Frank invites her for a ride in his car. Keith protests that, um, yeah, Frank, we’re sorta on a date right now, but Dana good-naturedly (or spinelessly, however you want to interpret it) goes with Frank with the promise that “I’ll be right back.”
Oh, for this to be a slasher movie.
With Dana safely out of the house, Frank turns on Keith, revealing what he knows and telling Keith that “you’re lucky I didn’t say anything with her standing right here in front of you.” Yeah, we sure wouldn’t want to deal with this situation and include the person most affected by it. Now that the silly girl is gone, the menfolk can discuss things.
Or, Frank can whine in Keith’s face and Keith can make a few half-hearted denials. Whichever.
Frank gets off a halfway decent zinger as he storms out to “explain things” to Dana:
Frank: The Gospel According to Keith is over.
Not so bad, actually.
Well, we certainly wouldn’t want to clutter up this story with showing Dana’s reaction to the revelation that the boy she has grown to like and trust so much has been playing her from the start, would we? Of course we wouldn’t.
That’s why the very next scene is after The Big Reveal. Keith and his buddies are once again scoping out the girls before school, when along comes Dana. She and Keith exchange one wordless Look: she, angry and hurt; he, sad and regretful.
This moment is actually…well, it’s actually quite well done, dammit. Kudos to the young actors here.
So of course, after that solemn and affecting moment, Frank has to run in and spoil things. Again.
He confronts Keith at the lockers and lectures him:
Frank: How could you pull a stunt like that? What were you thinking? What’s wrong with you?
All legitimate questions, mind you, but wouldn’t they be rather more appropriate coming from, oh, I dunno, Dana?
Frank then reveals that Keith “really hurt” Dana, who “really liked you, Keith.” Gee, thanks, Captain Obvious. Sure are glad we’re being told this now, when we were just shown that for the past half-hour and via the Significant Looks. Best to make sure we all Really, Truly Get It, right?
Then Frank reveals that Dana “cried her eyes out” in the car, after he revealed the truth. Again, thanks Frank. I’m sure that’s not something private that Dana might want to keep from Keith.
Suddenly, Frank remembers that it’s the last few minutes of a Christian film, and changes gears so fast it makes your head spin:
Frank: You were so close! I mean, you heard all that truth and you were so close to salvation!
Um, Frank, one second ago, the hot issue was Dana’s feelings. That issue hasn’t been resolved to anyone’s satisfaction yet. Should you really change the subject before…but no, Dana abruptly forgotten, Frank wants Keith to “admit his sin.” Keith’s response: “Maybe some other time.” Heh.
Frank pulls the Hypothetical Bus out of his backpack. Keith brushes it off.
Frank starts to stride away, then turns back and invites Keith to go bowling with the youth group.
Keith: Don’t you ever give up?
Frank: There’s always a possibility you could change.
Keith: Oh yeah? And what makes you think a guy like me could change?
Frank: I did.
*significant pause, cue the Music of Thoughtfulness*
You changed, Frank? Really? Well, if this smug, self-righteous, in-your-face prick is what you changed into, then I’ll ask Keith to stay just the way he is, thanks.
Once again, Frank strides off down the hallway. At the last moment, as the Music of Thoughtfulness swells, Keith calls after him:
Keith: Hey Frank! If I ever come to Jesus, I’ll come all the way!
Sometimes, the jokes just write themselves.
Check it out: we haz a trailer!
As you can see, we’re going to fast-forward in Christian Film History, for one of the Christiano Brothers films. Rich and Dave Christiano have been making Christian movies since the mid-1980’s, and The Pretender is one of the first.
And you know what that means…
The film opens on the first day of school. Buddies Nick, Keith and Dean (l to r in the picture above) are snarking on the girls of their high school, and succeeding in making themselves thoroughly unlikable.
Quick Note: This is Keith and Dean’s only movie. This surprises me, at least as far as Keith goes, since I think the guy has more than a little talent. But it is Nick (Donnie Keshawarz) who would end up with a successful television career, including recurring roles in The Sopranos and 24.
When Dana shows up, Keith decides that He Must Have Her.
But, Keith! You’re persona non grata with the chicks! They’re well aware of your reputation for “getting what you want, and then dumping them.” (In Keith’s own proud words.)
But don’t worry: Keith has “a technique” (oh, wowwww…wait, he doesn’t mean that kind). He finds out what interests a girl, and feigns interest in the subject himself. This technique has served him well in the past with girls interested in art or music. Though his friends complain that it seems like an awful lot of effort, Keith shrugs it off and just calls it “homework.”
So what is Dana’s interest that Keith can exploit? Why, she’s a Christian. All Keith needs to do is study a bit, “learn the lingo,” and he’s in! And to make sure he’s Doin’ It Right, Keith will also convince his ex-friend Frank that he’s now a Christian. See, Frank used to hang with Keith and his buds until he “got religion” two years ago.
After which, as we’ll soon see, Frank turned into a self-righteous know-it-all.
Despite his friends’ protests that Frank will be impossible to convince…Keith manages to pull it off within 90 seconds. (He even uses the tired old “my cousin told me about it” line. Oh, come on.) Good little Amway drone that he is, Frank immediately asks if Keith has started proselytizing to Nick and Dean (please bear in mind that Frank is under the impression that Keith has been a Christian for less than four weeks). Keith brushes this off with pleas that he feels nervous and that he doesn’t know enough to convince them. This way, not only can he keep hanging with his friends, but he can use Frank as a constant source of information.
Now obviously, it is very wrong of Keith to misrepresent himself, but…well…darned if I don’t find myself starting to respect his intelligence and the way he’s thought this plan through.
I am of equally mixed mind about the film’s attitude towards Keith’s lack of knowledge of Christianity. I respect that the film doesn’t take the easy way out of so many other films, not to mention the infamous Chick tracts: having the non-Christian character know nothing about Christianity (“Jesus? Who’s that?”). At least the film admits that merely by growing up in the States, Keith has enough basic knowledge to fool Frank without any prior study whatsoever.
But then…when he goes to the bookstore, he asks for the clerk’s help to find “the Bible that Jesus preached out of.”
His books in hand, Keith heads home for the first of many study sessions. Generic 80’s “rock” music plays as Keith makes notes and uses multiple sources of reference (geez, I’m liking this kid more and more!).
The next day, Keith’s prominent display of his new Bible on his desk causes Dana to strike up a conversation with him, culminating in her inviting him to her youth group. There, he tells the same story he told Frank…and once again, he is believed. And by everyone, including Dana.
Meanwhile, Frank has invited Keith to one-on-one “discipleship meetings.”
Check me on this—are discipleship meetings supposed to be only two people, one of whom has been a Christian for two years, and the other for one month?
As Keith takes copious notes, Frank spouts off about whatever pops into his head…much of it complaining about other Christians:
“I have to warn you, Keith, there are a lot of people who say they love Jesus, but then they don’t even bother obeying Him. What’s that, a halfway Christian?”
“You need to be real careful when it comes to the physical stuff [when dating] because that’s where most couples have their downfall.”
Keith keeps to his plan—he invites Dana on safe, chaste dates, including Frank’s cross country meets, and wandering around by the lake. He doesn’t so much as kiss her or hold her hand, but he is unfailingly polite and sweet to her. And he never misses an opportunity to parrot one of Frank’s lessons at her. All in all, it’s working up to be quite a masterful piece of manipulation.
And…and…okay, I shouldn’t be down on a movie for not being what it is not trying to be. Keith is the bad guy here (and right now, he certainly is). He’s lying to get what he wants, and engaging in a very long-term manipulation of a girl, just so he can get into her pants. But boy, the story would be so much better, so much more powerful, if we could see Keith slowly starting to truly like Dana in spite of himself. If he actually started enjoying her company and seeing her as more than just another conquest. It would make his inevitable unmasking and downfall so much more poignant.
Oops, sorry. Didn’t mean to give away the ending like that.
Stay tuned for Part 2!
If you thought Michael Murphy had some unlikable qualities, then it’s time to meet Levi Abrams.
Levi is Michael’s “friend,” though this is some new use of the word “friend” that I am not aware of. The relationship seems to consist largely of the two men simply taking mutual advantage of each other. (And no, not even in that way. That, at least, would have been interesting.)
Levi is an Israeli, formerly with Mossad (Israeli Intelligence), who has taken an “early retirement,” though Murphy still suspects Levi works for Mossad on the weekends in his garage, or something.
Levi invites Murphy to the gym to work out together, and takes every opportunity he can to punch and shove Murphy. You know, the guy who was mauled by a lion mere days before. Levi knows this, and purposely focuses his punches on the left shoulder, the one the lion gashed with its claws.
But petty acts of cruelty and pain are not all that Levi has to recommend him.
Levi had been able to help Murphy on a number of occasions with expediting papers to get himself and, more important, some objects out of the Mideast.
Nice. Is that supposed to sound as illegal as I’m hearing it?
Here are some more gems from Levi:
“Come on, Murphy, no coffee breaks. This isn’t government work, it’s supposed to be a workout.” Levi Abrams pushed Murphy’s shoulder to get him started again. His left shoulder.
“Suck it up, Murphy.” (After Levi has exacerbated Murphy’s injury to the point that he is doubled over in pain.)
Levi’s respect for Murphy as a fighter did not exactly extend to Murphy’s choice of profession.
Levi punched Murphy’s [injured] shoulder.
So, basically, Murphy calls Levi “friend” because despite the violence and cruelty and disrespect, Levi can get things done. And Levi calls Murphy friend because despite having no respect for his work, he agrees to stand around and let Levi punch him sometimes.
But Murphy’s needs are simple:
“…all I need is to get Laura and me into Samaria ASAP, try to find the hiding place for this piece we’re looking for, and bring it back to Preston and have no hassles with officials and customs. Oh, and have it cost me no money.”
Levi can deliver, which Murphy apparently thinks is worth a beating. And maybe it is. I just wouldn’t call the man who delivered it a “friend.”
Murphy is mulling over the phrase Horns of the Ox, and, holy crap…
With more than a bit of both his professional and male pride rebounding…
Okay, what??? Seriously, what??? How has this guy ever survived in academia, if his pride is hurt by asking a colleague for help with a problem that is outside his field of expertise???
And to top it all off, it was a woman colleague who helped! A woman knew something that he did not!
WTF is this Preston University anyway? Do they not hire female professors? LaHaye promised us that this story takes place in the present day, not 1890…
But don’t worry, Murphy’s ego is going to be okay. After all…
…now that she had given him her interpretation, it seemed crystal clear.
Yeah, he totally didn’t need her and her world-renowned linguistic skills. He was fine, just needed a teensy push in the right direction. It was just a time-saver, really, not like he actually needed help from a woman.
Except…um…he does need help. Again. From a woman.
But it’s okay, because it’s his wife.
For a few hours he pored over his map texts, but he realized that no one knew the ancient landscapes better than his own wife. Her studies of ancient cities gave her an encyclopedic knowledge that he now needed.
So it took him a few hours to remember that his wife is an expert in ancient landscapes? What a dumbass.
Murphy tracks down Laura to give him a hand. To give credit where it is due, he acknowledges to Laura that “it was really Dr. McDonald” who figured out the scroll. Good thing his male pride rebounded.
So, to recap: not okay to give a manly man any professional assistance, even if he asks for it, even if it is outside his own field of study. Because it hurts his manly feelings.
Exception: you are married to him.
And our new, likeable character, the awesomely awesome Dr. Isis Proserpina McDonald, engages in some competitive exposition with Michael Murphy. Isis makes every assumption Murphy makes about the Brazen Serpent, that is, that any mention of it must be the Biblical Brazen Serpent, and that no one would lie or be mistaken about its authenticity.
Anyway, the scroll from the lion’s neck wasn’t written by Moses or anything. It was written by a made-up Chaldean priest names Dakkuri, who got his hands on the three broken pieces of the Serpent when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem. Dakkuri put the pieces back together and formed an “inner circle” serpent-worshipping club, based on the serpent’s supposed healing powers. (A quick bit of slight-of-hand is performed here…the Bible clearly states that the Serpent cures snake bites, but from here on out, the Serpent is presumed to cure all injuries and illnesses.)
Murphy is his usual asshatted self here, constantly interrupting Isis and trying to finish her sentences when she is the one who just did all the work. Isis (because she rocks) “realized she would have to be just as pushy if she was ever going to get through her piece.”
Isis McDonald, you are my hero.
Blah, blah, blah, serpent cult, God makes King Nebuchadnezzar go mad, Neb gets well again, bans idol worship, Dakkuri hides the serpent pieces and writes this treasure map…er, scroll.
The first piece leads to the next piece, and so on, in, as Isis puts it, “a high priest’s scavenger hunt.” Isis claims nothing could be simpler than to find the first piece (which immediately would make me fear that someone already had, lo these many hundreds of years ago), but that the big clue is “the Horns of the Ox.”
Isis is awesome and all, but still, all this exposition…