Monthly Archives: November 2014

Child in a Manger: Chapter 1

Happy Black Friday, all, and welcome to my annual Wintermas romance review!

This is a longstanding and wonderful tradition, featuring some of the most memorable characters ever to grace Heathen Critique: Tom Douten, Jordan Scoville, and, of course, Santa himself!

I sometimes wonder if any Wintermas romance will ever top Twas the Night Before and Christmas Town, but one must make a choice, and so I chose…

Child in a Manger, by Dana Corbit.  For the third Wintermas in a row, this is a Christian Christmas romance from Steeple Hill.  I kinda feel like one of these days, I should do a non-Christmas Christian romance, maybe even one of the Love Inspired Suspense line.

This is actually a novella.  Both because I thought the story sounded fun, and…

I, too, have a Christmas Wish.

And that Wish (right after getting thirty million dollars per month), is that Kirk Cameron’s Christmas movie, Saving Christmas, will do so abysmally in the box office that it will be at the dollar theater near my home before Christmas Day.

Again, I don’t know if even Kirk Cameron can top the glory that is Mitch Bright fighting his own personal War on Christmas in Christmas with a Capital C, but a girl can hope.

And given the ratings so far, I like my chances!

(This may be my new favorite phrase ever…”the fruit of Mary’s womb is falling on hard times.”)

By the way, check this out.

Anyway, to the story!

Cover

(And, as usual for my Wintermas critiques, this will be a blind read, meaning I have only read the back cover and have no idea what to expect.  Could be good, could be anything.)

Our heroine, as with all previous Christian romances here, is already a church-going Christian.  (When, oh when, will we see a preconversion heroine in one of these books???)  Allison Hensley, as a matter of fact, is so Christian that she is playing Mary in “Destiny’s first, and hopefully annual, interfaith live Nativity scene.”

Destiny?  Sorry, that’s just not as good as naming a town Bethlehem.

And the nativity scene is at New Hope Church.

IS THAT LIKE NEW HOPE VILLAGE CHURCH???

I guess not, since Destiny is in “east-central Indiana,” not just-outside-Chicago.

Regardless, the cast is taking a bit of a break, allowing Allison time to banter with her co-star and bestie, David, who plays Joseph.  I thought for a minute that this was going to be a best-friends-become-lovers story, until we learn he is “eight years younger and the brother she’d never had.”

Well, I guess that settles it.  Eight years is just beyond the pale.  (Says the Ruby who has only managed to date seven years younger at most.)

“…the single women of Destiny needed a night off.” [said Allison]

“At least one of us is going on dates.” [said David.]

If my brother or my best friend said that to me, I’d deck them.  Just sayin’.

But apparently Allison and the town of Destiny have very strict standards:

It wasn’t as if guys were beating down her door to ask her out.  Or that they ever had been, even earlier than five years ago when her thirtieth birthday had come and gone.

Besides, if she went out with the city’s newest-ergo-most eligible bachelor, she would be a cradle robber, too.  Busybodies in town were always thorough, and Allison already knew the bachelor in question was just in his early thirties.

My God, the woman has lived in this Earth for thirty-six months longer than the man!  Call the newspapers!  And the National Guard!

Seriously, what is it with these crap small towns?  I mean, I’ve lived in cities and suburbs my whole life, so I don’t know from experience—do people really have so little to do that they’ll give a 35-year-old woman shit for dating a 32-year-old man?  Really?

But I guess Allison should expect no less—she is apparently the sad-sack spinster:

A lifetime of being the chunky girl whom boys chose for a pal instead of girlfriend had taught her plenty about too-high expectations.

Dude.  That sucks.  And her (pfft) “best friend” shouldn’t make fun.

***

In the audience is sitting our presumed romantic lead, one Brock Chandler, new cop at the Cox County (pretend) Sheriff’s Department.  I’m assuming he is the early-thirties guy, though it’s not exactly clear it’s the same guy.  Anyway, it’s his night off and he is just “get[ting] to know his new community by watching one of its folksy events.”

Sorry, but I can’t see the name “Brock” without thinking of this guy:

So. Brock and everyone is taken by surprise when the live manger thingie restarts and the baby in the manger turns out to be a real, crying baby, and not a doll.

Brock, being a cop and all, rushes the stage, but the baby is already safe in Allison’s arms.  And although Brock had previously thought of the show’s Mary character as “cute,” he suddenly thinks she is “lovely,” what with cooing over an innocent baby and all.

But he quickly turns off that little feeling and gets down to being a dickweed:

As was his habit, Brock ignored the woman and searched for a man who could provide details.

Wow.  Really, just wow.  I mean, just…let’s look at that again:

As was his habit, Brock ignored the woman and searched for a man who could provide details.

Give me Tom Douten or Jordan Scoville or any other kinda-nonbelieving “Scrooge” any day—I’m not sure any novella will have the time to redeem such a misogynist as this.  Such a process would take years.

Helluva cop he must be, by the way.  Obviously top-notch at his job if he simply ignores any woman involved in a case and only seeks out the statements of men.  Class act, too.

Hilariously, though, this is all turned on its head when Allison takes complete control of the situation.  She’s a family case manager with local social services, so she immediately organizes a call for an ambulance, and dragoons the Wise Men into crowd control.

I…kinda like this chick.

Allison and Brock immediately disagree regarding the baby’s mother—Allison thinks must be just some poor, misunderstood, “desperate” creature, while Brock falls more on the side of the mother being a “perp” who “dump[ed the baby] like a bucket of slop in that hay trough.”

Hee, nice imagery, Officer!

And all this is, of course, because Brock “believed and all,” but tends to question God’s all-powerful…powers when babies are abandoned.

Can’t say as I blame the misogynist pig.

Honestly, you’d think a family case worker would be a bit more cynical, but being A Girl, I don’t think Allison is allowed to be.

Anyway, Allison and the baby head to the hospital, and Brock is left to investigate the crime scene.

I’m sure he’ll do a heckuva job, Brownie.  Fantastic cop that he is.

The Appointment: Part 2

With Eric’s words (“DON’T YOU WANT ETERNAL LIFE?”) (kidding, I mean the part about the two ways to get to Heavne) ringing in her head, Liz sets out to get the word from The Man on the Street.  And the Woman on the Street, too, I suppose.

And, just so we’re clear on the timeline, it’s now the 13th, so Liz has six days to—

Wait a second!

11th

13th

How can it be Tuesday on the 11th and on the 13th?

WHAT SORCERY IS THIS???

Perhaps Liz has found a way to cheat death: by bending time and space so that it is Tuesday FOREVER.

(Sadly, the sorcery seems to be that they forgot they needed another shot of a calendar.  See the lower left of the 13th page?  It says 317.  And the 317th day of the year is November 13th…which was a Tuesday in 1990.  Looks like they kept ripping pages off the calendar, all willy-nilly, until they realized that the audience might wonder how much time Liz has left.)

Anyway, for the most part, the Human on the Street come down pretty much how Eric expected—they think the way to get to Heaven is to be a good person.  Shockingly, Liz doesn’t seem to solicit the opinions of any Hindus, wiccans, or atheists, with the possible exception of a sunglassed guy in a Hawaiian shirt, who simply responds, “Who cares?

I love you, man.

And, for the record, a good number of people cite helping others and giving to the needy as requirements.  Which I suppose makes them better people than Jesus, since doing these things isn’t a requirement to get to Heaven, but believing he is God, is.

The only person to give the “correct” answer is a black guy in an Adidas shirt (product placement!).  In fact, he is so correct that…he basically recites Eric’s line about “there are only two different ways that people are trying to get to Heaven.”

It’s almost as though the screenwriter forgot to give different characters different voices or something!

***

It is now the 17th (and perhaps still a Tuesday!) and Liz’s boss gives her some news: she and June will be heading to Hawaii earlier than expected…on the 19th!

*dramatic musical sting*

(I’m not kidding around.  There actually is a dramatic musical sting at this line.)

It is now the 18th (damn, time is flying!) (though it is probably still Tuesday) and Liz has a fraught phone conversation with Steve.  And I guess they are dating after all, since they talk about how much they want to see each other before she leaves.  But the convo is fraught because Steve thinks she’s still worried about “the thing with the religious nut” and…well, he’s not wrong.  Anyway, Liz points out that her flight doesn’t take off until “after five” on the 19th (remember, she’s supposed to die at 6:05 p.m.), so they plan to meet up before that.

Liz settles down on the couch to relax, and damn, girl, got enough mismatched knick-knacks yet?

Knick

She flips past game shows and sports and an old movie (that’s where I would have stopped), finally deciding on the news…and the news is that an airplane just crashed.

Okay, that has the potential to put the heebie-jeebies into anyone who will be flying the next day, not just someone who has been told she’ll die the next day.

(If it puts Liz’s mind to rest at all, I think we can pretty safely assume that if she dies, it won’t be in a plane crash.  This movie doesn’t have 1/1,000,000th the budget that such a scene would require.)

Poignant music plays as Liz contemplates her plane ticket.

I have two other ideas for what Liz could have done here, though:

1.  Why didn’t she rush out to cover the crash?  Reporter’s instincts and all.

2.  Failing that, why not have her be the evil atheist, and callously reflect that her own flight might be delayed or even canceled because of the crash?

But neither of these things happen.  Instead, we cut to September 19th (!!!) (still Tuesday, probably), and Liz tells her boss she won’t be going on the trip.

Shockingly, neither her boss nor June, who is standing right there, imagine that this sudden case of cold feet could have anything to do with the massive airplane crash that took place not ten hours ago.

Did these people forget that they work for a newspaper???

Instead, June asks if she is having problems with Steve.  So, yeah, those two are definitely dating.

(Which makes the previous scene with Bill (the guy who asked her out) even more bizarre.  Why didn’t she just tell him that she’s already seeing someone?)

Liz just cites “personal problems” which will all be over “after today.”  Which I suppose is true whether Angelic POV Shot is right or not, har.

The boss folds like a cheap suit and says he’ll get someone else to go, and June is super disappointed, given that Liz is her buddy and all.  And I’m a bit surprised that neither Liz nor her boss thought to simply fly her out a mere half-day later than planned.  If her “problems” will be over after tonight, why not just reschedule her to leave the next morning?

Oh well, I guess that’s why I don’t run a newspaper.

Her boss even tells her that she should take the day off if she’s having problems, and Liz says she wants to be at work.  So the boss is a nice fellow, if nothing else.  (Though he probably thinks such nice gestures are the way he’ll get to Heaven, the sinner.)

Liz whiles away the morning by reading On Death and Dying, then asks after Eric…who is out of town.

Nooooooo!!!  Now who will teach her how to make the transaction?

(Liz’s reading choice is an interesting one, though perhaps not for the reasons the movie imagined.  In the years following On Death and Dying, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross descended into speculations on NDEs and the nature of the soul that would make even Doctor Marissa blush.  If anyone is interested in reading about this in greater detail, I recommend S.T. Joshi’s God’s Defenders: What They Believe and Why They Are Wrong.)

Liz re-listens to the recording of the guy talking about how you need to accept Jesus and not just be a nice person.  Bear in mind that he said this less than seven minutes ago, movie time.

Stupid Bill interrupts her listening, since he can’t take a hint…

Bill:  Hey, Liz.

Liz:  *is startled out of her reverie*  WHAT?  What do you want?

Bill:  Wanna grab a bite?

Liz:  No!

Bill:  My treat!

Liz:  Bill, I said no!

Bill:  Boy, are you edgy today.

Dude, she has a boyfriend!  Lay off!  And even if she didn’t, she’s already turned you down, like, four times!  You look like a creepy wuss when you keep asking like that!

The day ticks on by, and Liz is the last to turn out her light and leave her office, having not done one bit of work all day.  I really don’t know why she didn’t take up her boss on his offer of a day off—I know I would feel safer in the privacy of my home.  Just crawl into bed for ten hours, yanno?

It is now two minutes to six…

Oh, and since it is, why haven’t Liz and Steve contacted each other, as they said they would?  I mean, Liz isn’t going to Hawaii anymore, but Steve doesn’t know that.  I think the movie forgot about him.

Liz walks slooooowly through the empty office, and both the music and her manner indicate that Jason Voorhees is about to spring from the shadows.

Frank, one of the nonbelieving reporters, provides a good old-fashioned jump scare (speaking of Jason Voorhees) and Liz begs him to hang out with her for a few minutes.  But he has a hot date and has to run.  Too bad, so sad.  (For Liz, not for him.)

It is now two minutes after six…

Liz sits in someone’s chair, apparently determined to just wait it out.  She calls the time.  (Ha!—remember when people did that instead of just checking their phones?)

Looks like it’s Eric’s desk, because there’s a Bible there!  Liz sloooowly opens it at random, acting as though she expects a spider to jump out of it…

And she is startled by a noise!

Look, Liz, it can wait!  Just sit there for two more minutes for your peace of mind!

But no, she heads for the noise, talking to herself about not taking the religious nut seriously, and how she’s not going to die.  Which, sorry, Liz, but you took a wrong turn and ended up in a Christian film.

Turns out the noise, though it sounded like something small falling, was caused by…this small bonfire?

Fire

I kinda think they meant for this to be the darkroom, but is it just me, or is that a pile of kindling and hay?

Liz:  I’m gonna burn!

Really, movie?  Really?  You didn’t think that was just a tad on the nose?

The fire alarm sounds and Liz makes a dash for the exit.

It is 6:04…

She gets outside just as the firefighters pull up (damn, that is a great response time, guys!), and Liz’s last act on Earth is a helpful one, telling them where the fire is and that she’s pretty sure nobody else is in the building.

Liz slooooowly (and without looking where she is going) backs away from the building, and as the clock ticks to 6:05, she trips off the sidewalk and falls into the street…

Where a car hits her.

Like I said, it’s not like this movie has any kind of effects budget, so this is the best they can do to demonstrate what happens to Liz.

Red

And Liz didn’t convert.  She did, indeed, burn.

So the omniscient, omnipotent God was indeed fucking with her the whole time.

Damn, that God guy is such an asshole.

Oh well.  If nothing else, it’s a nice lead-up to the War on Christmas!

Next up…my annual Black Friday introduction to our Wintermas romance read!

Happy Turkey Day!

 

 

 

The Appointment: Part 1

Here we are, you guys: The Appointment, about the hellbound reporter lady.

I suppose I’ll give credit right away: this movie actually centers around a woman.  A single, sinful, atheist woman, mind you, but a woman all the same.

Written, produced, and directed by Rich Christiano, of (most recently) Time Changer fame.  In our timeline of Christian(o) films, The Appointment came out a few years after The Pretender, and right before Second Glance.

Much like Pamela’s Prayer and The Pretender, The Appointment stars a bunch of people we’ve never heard of before.  These were Ye Olden Days of Christian films, when starring in them was a one-way ticket to nowhere, not an indication that you are a former B-lister who can’t get work anywhere else.

It’s kinda fun that we’re hitting this movie right after Six: The Mark Unleashed, because it really does show how far the genre has come: quite a long ways in terms of effects and getting name actors, not so far in terms of storytelling or offensive theology.

It doesn’t help one tiny little bit that the movie opens with two of the worst actors I have ever had the privilege of seeing here.  They are a pastor and his wife (we know this because they declare it VERY LOUDLY to each other), and their purpose is to introduce us to the writings of our main character, a newspaper columnist.

Seriously, I hate to harp on this, but these people cannot convincingly wish each other a good morning.

Plus, it would have been much more effective to simply skip the bit with this couple and start with the next bit—shots of people from all walks of life reading the paper, as the writer reads her words in voiceover:

At last count, there were nearly 400 denominations of the Christian Church in America.  Weren’t there only twelve apostles?  You’d think there’d be only twelve groups.

*snicker*  I kinda like this lady.

But more denominations mean more churches, which mean more jobs for those fast-talking, three-piece-suited prophets of God called preachers, where the love of money seems to be the root of all their sermons.  I’ll support the United Way any day.  There may be a god, but the hypocrites playing church are giving him a bad name.  Let’s get on with our programs of feeding the poor, housing the homeless, and reforming the downtrodden.  Then, issue them this warning: stay out of a church, because if you go there, you’ll end up more messed up than you were before.  Amen, brother?

Honestly, this is not so bad.  Coming on the heels of Six and Brody’s and Jeseca’s views on those who believe in Jesus, it’s downright tame.  Nonetheless, we cut to the newspaper office, where our anti-heroine, Liz, is fielding her fourteenth critical phone call of the day.  She is nonplussed by this, though, as are her (largely) nonbelieving coworkers.

Nameless coworker:  Some people take their religion too seriously.

Amen, brother.

The one exception to this is clean-cut young Eric, who whines that Liz “keeps going after the religious issue.”  Um, yeah.  Seems to be working out for her, what with being the most-read columnist in town and all.

Vaguely angelic music plays as a POV shot crosses the street to the newspaper office…

…and a coworker asks Liz out.

Is this as bizarre a conversation as I think it is?

Bill:  Hey, Liz.  What’re you doing Friday night?

Liz:  Hey, Bill.

Bill:  I have it all planned: we’ll have dinner, I have tickets to a play—

Liz:  No.

Bill:  Liz, we’ll have a great time—

Liz:  How old are you?

Bill:  Thirty-four.

Liz:  Bye-ee.  *wanders off*

Bill:  *calls after her*  Thirty-one?

There is no possible way Liz could be more casual about this, btw.  The “no” and “bye” are practically sing-songed.  And, not for nothing, but why is thirty-four too old for her?  Liz looks to be around that age herself.

I admit I don’t get it.

POV Shot enters the elevator.  Angelic music continues…

Liz arrives in her office and rips the date off her calendar—it’s September 11th.

Damn, remember when that date wasn’t automatically ominous?

(It’s a Tuesday, in case anyone is interested.  The Appointment came out in 1991, but is obviously set in 1990.)

(And it looks like it was shot in 1983.)

Angelic POV Shot wanders around, and an employee asks if he can help him.

Shouldn’t the angel (or whatever) know everything anyway?  Like exactly where Liz’s office is?

Angelic POV Shot manages to find his way there, and confronts Liz.  (You can see the main thrust of the conversation in the trailer.)

Angelic POV Shot:  I have a message for you; it’s from the lord.

Liz:  Lord Who?

APS:  The Lord Jesus Christ.

Har.

APS:  Liz, on September 19th at 6:05 p.m., you are going to die.

Damn.  And, just as with getting asked out, Liz is almost comically blasé about it.

Though at least she acknowledges that it is a threat.

Liz:  Nobody’s threatened me quite like you have. … If you’d like to file your opinion with the editor, his office is right down the hall.

APS:  I’m not here to threaten you, Liz.

YOU JUST DID!!!

But here’s the weird thing: even if Liz was a believer, there is no reason she, or anyone, should think this POV Shot (that we never see in human form) is an angel at all.  Other people on the street and in the newspaper office, see this guy and treat him like any other person, so it’s not like he glows or appears only to specific people or anything like that.  (Unlike the angels in the Left Behind series who, credit where it’s due, did do such things and thus made themselves different from ordinary folks.)

***

Later that day, Liz has lunch (or possibly dinner) with a guy names Steve.  I’m unclear whether Steve is her boyfriend or just her friend.  Anyway, they repeat the “from the lord,” “Lord Who?” joke, and Steve shows a modicum of concern for Liz’s safety (more than she seems to have herself) and warns her that one of these days, one of the crazies is going to kill her, “thinking they’re doing God’s work.”

Still later that night (Liz is home alone, so maybe she and Steve are Just Good Friends), Liz learns that she and her coworker June have been tapped to go to Hawaii for ten days (damn, what paper do they work for?)…starting September 30th.

The next morning, Liz finds that Angelic POV Shot is waiting for her in her office.  Which is deeply creepy, but Liz once again barely bats an eye.

APS:  The lord is giving you information that others never get.

Heh, yeah, I guess so.  Still, it might be more productive for the lord if he sent it in a way that would make Liz take it seriously.

Liz:  Well, until you can prove to me that you’re from the lord, I guess I’ll sit tight.

This is by far the most reasonable point raised so far…and it is completely ignored by our Angelic POV Shot.

And this is really troubling, since if we’re talking about an omniscient and omnipotent god, he knows exactly what it would take to make Liz believe, and he has the power to make it so.  So if he’s just sending Some Dude down to Earth to talk to Liz, and she has no objective reason to believe he is anything other than Some Dude…then God’s really just toying with her.

Also, if God is omniscient…doesn’t he already know whether Liz will change her mind?

Angelic POV Shot has pre-placed a Bible on Liz’s desk for her (since we never get to see his body), and Liz has one parting shot for him.

Liz:  Oh, by the way, mister, I can’t die on the 19th.  My boss is sending me to Hawaii on a business trip on the 30th for ten days, and I’ve never seen Hawaii.

APS:  And you never will.

Okay, that has to constitute a threat!

Liz tosses her Bible off her desk after Angelic POV Shot leaves…and fresh-faced Christian Eric sees it!

But it’s a nice copy!

The mayor drops dead of a heart attack that very day, which makes Liz think about death even more, to the point that she can’t sleep.  Also we pan over Liz’s nightstand, which has the most bizarre collection of objects on it…

Nightstand

What is she taking medication for?  And what’s with that lady?

(Like so many women in the movies, Liz goes to bed without removing her makeup.  Also, I can’t blame her for not being able to sleep, since she has the LOUDEST TICKINGEST ALARM CLOCK IN THE WORLD.)

The next day, Liz takes out her frustration and sleepless night on poor, hapless Eric, telling him of the “Jesus freak” who told her she’s going to die in a few days.  Eric, like almost everyone else, is nonplussed that Liz was threatened.  He keeps his eyes on the prize, you see:

Eric:  Don’t categorize all Christians as freaks.  And don’t let this guy affect your view of Jesus.

Thanks, Eric.  You’re a true, supportive friend.

It segues into a religious debate:

Liz:  What makes you think your way is right?  There are so many religions in the world and I know a lot of religious fanatics who don’t live any better than I do.

Too true, but the Christian (as usual) avoids any difficult question.

Eric:  I know there are a lot of different religions in the world, but there are only two different ways that people are trying to get to Heaven.  They’re either trying to live a good enough life to earn Heaven, or they’re receive [sic] eternal life as a gift by entering into a personal relationship with Jesus as their lord.  All religions and people fall into these two categories: you take Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism, or most of the people in the church—they’re all trying to earn their way into Heaven.

Or, like Liz, who is standing right in front of you, Eric, they don’t believe in any sort of god or afterlife.  Or their afterlife has nothing to do with Heaven.

Films like this do themselves no favor at all by showing how ignorant they are of the world.

This puts me in mind of one of the many problems with Pascal’s Wager (Hi, Brody!): the underlying idea is that there are only two ways to be: Christian and Not-Quite Christian.  You can understand Pascal, in the sense that he lived in a world that seems much smaller than ours, with little to no exposure to other peoples and religions.  But Eric has no such excuse.

Liz:  I thought you weren’t going to preach at me.

Eric:  DON’T YOU WANT ETERNAL LIFE???

Damn.  Dude, chill.

Eric then goes on to talk about all the “joy” and “peace” he has since he became a Christian.  Yeah, you’re really showing it, pal.

He then challenges Liz to take a poll on the street about how to get to Heaven.  Liz snarks that she totally would, but for the death threats she might receive from someone like Angelic POV Shot.

There is no possible way Eric could care less:

Eric:  But what if he’s right?  What if you do die on September 19th—then what, Liz?  Where are you going to spend eternity?

Well, me, after I die, I’ll be dead.  I wasn’t conscious of not existing before my life on Earth began, so there’s no reason to believe I will be conscious of not existing after I die.

But, of course, Eric is Really Making Liz Think…

Next time.

 

 

 

TV Alert: Fireproof

For anyone who wants to see the full saga of Caleb and Catherine (and follow along with my critique and Inquisitive Raven’s insights into the realism of the firefighting), TBN will be showing Fireproof twice over the next eight days!

If nothing else, their description shows how different people can interpret a movie oh-so-very differently.  It calls both Caleb and Catherine “decent, caring,” and “disrespectful and selfish.”

Now, me, I would have called Catherine, but not Caleb, decent and caring.  And I would have called Caleb, but not Catherine, disrespectful and selfish.  But that’s just heathen me.

 

Fireproof: Completed Critique

Seems I’m a hero with everybody in the world except my wife.

Critique:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

 

Firefighting:

Part 1

Vehicle Rescue

 

Belle and the Beast: A Christian Romance: Completed Critique

Sometimes bad things happen to good people.

 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Six: The Mark Unleashed: Part 4

Things have been pretty busy here at Chez Critique, but nothing will stop me from finishing Six.

Also, we’ll have just enough time to hit The Appointment (trust me, there’s not a lot there to hit), before the War on Christmas officially begins on Black Friday.  I have the selection for this year all set!

Anyway, it occurs to me that the Mark hasn’t done a lot, now that it is unleashed and all.  What’s up with that?

Hang on to your headwear of choice kids, things are about to get weird!

When we last left our “heroes,” they had reached a stop on “the underground railroad to Prodigal City,” hosted by a female character who has lines!  That she speaks!

She explains that Elijah Cohen often visits Prodigal City, which is inducement enough for Jerry and Tom (though for very different reasons).  Brody, however, is more interested in their hostess, and catches a moment alone with her.

(Brody adorably asks Tom how he looks for this sit-down with the pretty lady.  “Very handsome,” Tom assures him seriously, and in all good humor.)

However, just so we know what a horrible sinner atheist Brody is, he implies that he is only interested in a one-night stand with the lady.  Which doesn’t necessarily square with the broken-hearted guy with the dead fiancée, but whatever.  Sinful, right?

Brody and the lady have a decently-done “meet-cute” conversation, mostly concerning Brody’s confusion over her name.  It’s Rahab.  And since we have established that Brody “doesn’t know very much at all,” she has to explain to him that she chose the name Rahab…because she also was a prostitute before becoming a Christian.

Brody the Sinner assumes this means that she is still in the profession, but she dissuades him of this notion, though comforting him with the plan that if he stuck around, they could get married.  This stops Brody dead in his tracks, which is played for laughs (haha, the sinful atheist is scared of marriage!), though it seems to me that her near-immediate proposal to Brody is stranger than his assumptions about her former profession.

God only knows where Jerry is during this little interlude, but we know where Tom is—with Jeseca!  Yup, she just saunters up and asks him to take a walk with her.  Tom takes this in stride (har), until he realizes that Jeseca brought company: Larry the Torture Guy (why she brought him is anybody’s guess), and a big blonde guy named Foley, who wears his sunglasses at night, so he can, so he can keep track of the visions in his eyes.

Tom:  How’d you find me?

Larry:  Oh, well let’s just say Foley is part of an army of, shall we say, spiritual bloodhounds.

Tom:  Heh.  Mutants.  Part of The Leader’s genetic modification program.  A freak.

Wait, what?  MUTANTS???  Where is that in the Book of Revelation?

Foley:  No.  Your future.  If you [unintelligible] superior mankind.

Tom:  Well, sieg heil.

Wait, what what?  Didn’t we already establish that people don’t even know basic classic movies?  But they still know enough history to compare this world to Nazi Germany?

They just did not think this through at all.

(They also did not think through the makeup: Larry the Torture Guy, with his super-duper paleness, looks way more like a mutant than Foley.  Which I guess means I look like a mutant, too, so never mind.)

Larry

Mutant

Back at the ranch, the movie is absolutely determined not to tell us the name of Brody’s fiancée…

Rahab:  What was her name?

Brody:  She’s dead.

Yes, we know this, Brody.  So does Rahab.

Brody points out that it’s a tad odd to propose to a guy you’ve know all of ten minutes.  Rahab agrees, but continues to plead her case, since she “had a feeling” about Brody.  She even tries to convince him not to accompany Jerry to Prodigal City, despite Brody’s sense of responsibility to the younger man.

Out of nowhere, Brody reveals his fiancée’s name.

ELLEN

And he sensibly points out that neither accepting Jesus nor the implant will ever bring back the love of his life.

Brody, you are so the man.

He gives Rahab a friendly little thanks-for-the-memories pat on the knee, and we cut to Jerry, who is reprogramming fake Marks of the Beast for the guys so they can travel in safety.

I wonder if this fake identity says anything about how Jerry feels about Tom?

screen

“My name is Laird Pulver.”  Try saying that with a straight face.

(Brody, meanwhile, gets the comparative dignity of being Brian Cavin.  And Jerry is David Flores.)

The three men hit the road with no more ceremony, and Jeseca, Larry, and Foley take the opportunity to clean house at the Underground Railroad stop.

I really wish I could capture video, but suffice it to say that they really shouldn’t have even tried to film a shooting scene with impact shots.  (Now, just fall back on the bed!  BANG!  You’re dead!)

But you can at least see here the sheer terror that a Christian refugee would feel, confronted with armed agents of the Antichrist.

terror

Meanwhile, some asshole with a boat takes our trio through the swamp (???) and Jerry and Tom discuss The Leader’s global satellite network that controls the implants and the people who have them…lowering their inhibitions, making them pliable, stuff like that.  Tom now figures that this time, he for sure has a way to get Jeseca back: by shutting down the system (he seems to have given up on the idea of asking Elijah Cohen to use magic on her).  But the asshole shoots down the idea:

Asshole:  Even if you got in [to the building housing the computers that control the satellites], it wouldn’t work.  Only when Jesus returns will the system be destroyed.  All those who’ve taken the Mark will be sent to Hell.

Tom:  I don’t believe that.

Asshole:  Don’t matter.  Yer beliefs are irrelevant to the facts.

Shut up, Asshole.

(And yes, we are aware that Christianity doesn’t tend to concern itself with facts.)

Tom chooses that moment to come completely clean with the boys, and then tells Asshole to turn the boat around.  Asshole refuses…and Tom one-punches him right into the water!

HA!

Jess, Larry, and Mutant have arrived at the shore of the swamp-whatever, just in time to be ambushed by our trio, who shoot Larry and Mutant and take Jess hostage.  The movie tries to shoehorn in some animosity between Tom and Brody, but it really makes no sense, so I’m ignoring it.

They head to the random building that I suppose houses the satellite computers, and using a combination of Jeseca’s mark and Tom’s gun, make it to the computer room, where Jerry just sits down and starts to hack.  As you would.  (And despite Asshole’s theory, even newly-Christian Jerry seems to think he has a shot at victory here.)

Jerry whines like a little whiny person as he hacks, and Brody hilariously makes it worse by continuously reminding Jerry of the high stakes involved.  Meanwhile, Tom and Jeseca have a fraught conversation about whether she left him because of the Mark, or just because she fell out of love with him.  It’s actually not horrible stuff here.

But, turns out Asshole was right, and Jerry screws the pooch.  Jeseca’s commander and a few guards show up, and Tom matter-of-factly shoots the guards.

Then.

Okay, I don’t even get this.  (Yeah, yeah, I’m an unrepentant Brody-type.  Still, though.)

Elijah Cohen shows up.

In a flash of white light.

Okay, so Elijah Cohen is not Jesus.  That’s pretty clear.  But he does have quite the array of supernatural abilities:

  • Appears out of nowhere
  • Makes the remaining two guards just drop in a faint (or possibly he killed them, whatever)
  • Makes the commander go blind (“Eli-ZHAH!  I’m blind!” the commander snaps, sounding not panicked or even angry, but just a bit impatient with such shenanigans and goings-on)

Elijah gives Tom the mildest of talkings-to regarding the whole you-agreed-to-kill-me thing.

Jerry:  You’re the hitchhiker.

OH GEE, JERRY, YOU FRAKKING THINK SO???

Elijah leads the men out, and Jeseca seems kinda on the verge of asking to go with them.  But Tom only gives her a soulful stare, knowing now that her soul is damned to Hell for all eternity, the filthy harlot.

Oh, and Elijah can apparently also

  • Teleport with friends

Since we immediately cut to Prodigal City, with no explanation as to how they all got there.

Oh, and Elijah?  Since you can do all this stuff, I’m sure all the folks at the Underground Railroad stop would like to extend you a hearty thank-you.  Except they can’t, because they were all gunned down.  You dipshit.

Prodigal City looks like it used to be a summer camp.  Camp Smug, if you will.

Smug

Speaking of smug, Luke must be decapitated by now.  So at least we have that to hold onto.

Jerry has decided to stay in Prodigal City and…do whatever it is they do there.  Camp until Jesus comes back, I suppose.  Brody wants to “go to Montana, join the Freemen (?), fight the power, kill implant-morons.”

Brody, I love you.  You are such a bad-ass.

Tom has decided to go with Brody, even after having an off-screen sit-down with “the old man” (presumably Elijah, though he doesn’t look that old to me), who told Tom that he and Brody were “stupid…for not believing in Jesus.”

So Tom and Brody head to the road, where they say goodbye to each other.  (I am so confused by this point—it was implied that they were going in the same direction—what does Tom plan to do with the rest of his life?)

AND LARRY THE TORTURE GUY JUST ROLLS UP IN A TRUCK AND CAPTURES THEM.

Right then, right there.  And hey, Larry survived!  So, there’s that.

(If Larry and the rest of The Leader’s crew are so good at tracking people down, why haven’t they just annihilated Prodigal City by now?  Makes no sense.)

(But we are assured that Camp Smug isn’t found—one of the last shots of the film is stupid Jerry reading the Bible aloud.)

But never mind those losers!  Back to the torture chamber with Tom and Brody!

After six days of torture, the boys are given a choice: execution or the Mark.

Tom converts.  (And he tells Larry he forgives him.  It’s actually kinda cute: Tom’s grin tells us that he remembers how much that kind of thing annoys Larry.)

And then Tom is decapitated out in the yard.  With hell-bound Jeseca watching.  This time, Tom’s smile tells us that it is no big thing that the love of his life will roast for eternity.

Brody takes the Mark.

Sad face.  I wanted him to go kick ass in Montana.

And, in a bit of a clever touch, we see that Brody’s opening monologue, in which he remembers life before The Leader, is actually Marked Brody, remembering his life before the Mark.

Brody:  I still remember the last free choice I ever made.  *stares into the camera*  It was the wrong one.  *shot of Brody’s Marked hand*

Call me crazy, but I don’t consider it a “free choice” when you are tortured for six days, then given the option of execution or the implant.  That choice ain’t free.

But freedom isn’t free; it costs $1.05.

Six: The Mark Unleashed: Part 3

So we’ve seen Luke have his small group in his cell, but now we find that the most lax prison in the world allows Luke to run large group sessions…right there in the middle of the prison.  As an attractive female guard* keeps watch, Luke leads a session of no fewer than fifteen prisoners, who are casually congregated in the dining area, happily applauding each other as they tell their conversion stories.  (Jerry is sitting there, clapping along with everyone else, Tom is standing apart but looking on, and Brody is nowhere to be seen.)

*By the way movie, don’t think it’s escaped my notice that we’re almost halfway through this movie, and the only named female character we have so far is Jeseca, the Psycho Ex-Wife.  And in this prison with female guards, we still have not seen a female prisoner.  Who says Christian movies can’t write strong, identifiable women?

Eh, who needs women when there are men who can tell their stories, amirite?  Luke stems the applause and introduces our next guest, Louis!

“Hi, I’m Louis and I’m a new Christian.”

“HI, LOUIS!”

So, in yet another instance of thinking way more about this movie than the writers did, I’d like to point out something that could have been intriguing, but instead is overlooked entirely:

Luke is pretty clearly the prisoner-leader—the most respected man around.  This is interesting because of the nature of this prison—nobody is here for more than 21 days.  Luke has been there for 17 days (perhaps 18 now).  So I wonder how Luke claimed this authority so quickly.  (He hasn’t been there the longest, by the way—Louis is on Day 20!)  What does Luke expect will happen when he’s executed?  Who will rise to take his place?

Eh, who cares?  Not the movie, that’s for sure!

Back to Louis, who tells his boring story through flashback: once upon a time, he was a guy driving his nice car slowly through a group of people ambling through a field, making fun of them.  Why they’re there, and why Louis is there, are left to our imagination.  Are they refugees?  Why does Louis have a car?  Why do the big grins of some of these supposedly miserable folks not necessitate a re-shoot?

Louis

(Oh, and this is definitely not LaJenkins’ dispensational premillennialism—there are kids in this group of people aged about 8-10 years.)

Woo, this is fun!” Louis calls out, just so we know that driving through empty fields, laughing at people, is what filthy nonbelievers like to do with their time.

Said fun is short-lived, however—a couple of guys get pissed, yank Louis from his car, and proceed to beat him up.  (Though not really very hard—my favorite is the fellow who wanders over to the scuffle, gives Louis one light little kick on the ass, then backs away, apparently satisfied that he has done his part.)

After it’s all over, a now carless Louis is sitting in the field, licking his wounds, when Elijah Cohen appears!  Just, yanno, out of nowhere.  As happens.  He tells Louis that it’ll be okay and ineffectively dabs at his cuts with a (no doubt filthy) washcloth.

Louis:  All of a sudden, when Cohen was taking care of me, I felt like it was Jesus himself.  He led me to the Lord right there.

This…is more true than Louis might think.  In fact, during this whole sequence, Louis seems to have some difficulty keeping Jesus and Elijah Cohen separate.  He says he knows that Jesus died for his sins…then he grabs Elijah’s shirt and makes eye contact with Elijah while begging, “…wash me clean, please.  Let me live for the first time and I’ll follow you from now on,” and buries his face in Elijah’s chest.  So it’s hard not to see this as Louis pledging fealty to Elijah Cohen, not Jesus.

Lou and Eli

Louis has a tear-streaked, closed-eyes prayer to Heaven, in which his magically quotes Psalm 81.

Back in prison…

Louis:  But you know what the strangest thing is?  When I looked up, Elijah Cohen was gone.  Just vanished.

Luke:  Like Philip, in the Book of Acts.

Um, excuse me, Luke, but LOUIS IS TELLING THE STORY!

Tom chimes in from the doorway of his cell:

Tom:  Whaddaya mean, he vanished?  You mean he ran away?

Louis:  No, man.  I mean he vanished.  Poof.

Ah, yes.  Clear as mud.

Later, in their cell, Tom gets back to his mission:

Tom:  Did you know [Elijah Cohen]?

Luke:  Yes.  Do you really think you’re gonna kill him?

Yeah, remember, God told Luke every detail.

Just as he did with Brody, Tom reveals a bit of his true motivation, including a new twist he’s just come up with:

Tom:  If this Cohen is who everybody says he is, then maybe he can help me.

Luke:  Help you get your wife back, Tom?  She’s not coming back.  Ever.

Hey, don’t get me wrong, Tom.  We are all about magical thinking here.  But getting an evil woman to change her ways?  Well, magic only goes so far…

Tom:  What do you know about my wife?

Luke:  I know that she’s somewhere close to here, being intimate with another man.  Right now.

Damn.  God really does tell Luke every single detail!

“God told me all about the rose petals littering the bed, and about Sven’s ripped biceps and six-pack abs.  He told me about the flowing champagne, and the reverse cowgirl…”

Unsurprisingly, Tom has now officially Had Enough…and proceeds to kick the ever-loving crap out of Luke.

I mean, seriously.  Louis thought he had it bad, with that tiny little ass-kick?  Tom frickin’ goes to town on Luke’s pretty face.

And I am not a violent person, not even a little bit, but I cannot tell you how richly satisfying it is to watch this.  Sad, dramatic music plays, so I know I’m supposed to feel bad, but I am cheering Tom on.  Smack that smug, self-righteous face, Tommy!  GET YOU SOME!

***

The next day, Louis is executed, and we see what a spirit of love and forgiveness God has instilled in his new follower:

Louis:  Be good, o Lord, to those who follow you.  But to those who reject your ways, bring judgment.

What a nice fellow.

Tom, fresh from dispensing his own brand of judgment, tells Brody that they’re leaving tonight.

Then he has a last-minute meeting with Jeseca.  He’s up-front about the fact that he’s taking Brody and Jerry, even though they’re not believers, and explains that none of the Christians want to leave prison anyway:

Tom:  You think you’re punishing them by putting them in here and chopping their heads off?  You’re a bunch of fools.  You’ve given them the greatest privilege of their lives.

Jeseca:  Then it is a weak religion following a weak god.

You tell ’em, girlfriend!

Jeseca also doesn’t take any shit, and tells Tom that if he doesn’t take a Christian, they’ll just not allow them to escape…and also that Larry is always available for some extra torture.  Bet Larry can’t wait.

Ah, but perhaps Tom can take a Christian after all!  See, Luke and three of his buddies drop in on Jerry, who is having a bit of a cry, all alone in his cell.  (And since this prison never cares where the prisoners go, the foursome can just drop in.)  Much as Elijah Cohen came upon Louis when he was at his lowest, Luke and Co. catch Jerry at just the right moment, when he is having a little existential breakdown, and play on his fears.

Random Christian Prisoner:  No matter what happens, you can be fearless.

Luke:  It’s true, Jerry.  You can be fearless.  You see, all of us in this room, we learned something that changed everything.  It’s kinda like when you’re a kid and you got a secret.

Jerry:  What’s the secret?

Luke:  Surrender to Jesus Christ.

This is when Jerry makes his one, feeble argument—the one from the trailer about the “poor carpenter.”  Now, very clearly, Jerry is already most of the way there, what with his participation in small group and applauding Louis, but Luke goes for the hard sell nonetheless:

Luke:  You have the opportunity of a lifetime right now.  Accept Jesus.  Ask him to forgive you.  Become fearless.  Now.  You can do it.  You know you want to.

I just really hate when evangelicals hit people up at their weakest moments like this.  Reminds me of the lady who patrolled (there’s really no other word for it) the hospital where my grandfather was sick, “sharing” the Bible.

But hey, grabbing people when they’re feeling tired or scared is such an easier way to get another notch on your Bible!

Of course, Jerry does it.  He knows he wants to.  And, just like Louis, he falls into the arms of his human savior.  Y’know, for a movie that hasn’t even featured a man and woman touching each other yet, there sure are a lot of scenes of men hugging and crying.

Jerry wanders out into the common area (really, this place is more like a college dorm than a prison), and runs smack into his roomie cellmate Brody, who, natch, is shocked and horrified to hear that Jerry has become a Jesus freak, and hilariously admonishes him to “take it back.”

Luke sidles up to Tom…

Luke:  One Christian who wants to escape.  Funny how the Lord provides us with what we need, hmm, Tom?

Look, Luke, do you want another ass-kicking?

Hate that guy.

Nighttime, and Luke decides that he still has a bit of smugness to get out of his system before Tome leaves.

Luke:  What you need, Tom, is to look inside yourself.  Realize the truth.  ‘Cause pretty soon you’re gonna have to make a choice.  And you’re gonna make the wrong one.  Doesn’t have to be that way.

Tom, because he rocks, does not even give Luke a “goodbye,” but stalks out of the cell to get Brody and Jerry.  Luke tags along, only to grab Jerry at the last second and give him an urgent instruction: “pick up the hitchhiker.”

Ooookay.

Oh, and a question: why is Jeseca now okay with this plan?  I mean, they’ve been watching Tom this whole time, so don’t they know that Jerry has been a Christian for, oh, about three hours now, and has no more tie to Elijah Cohen than he did yesterday?  Weird.

Speaking of goodbyes, Jerry has none for the man who led him to Christ.  No “thanks,” either.

The escape doesn’t seem all that difficult at first—they just jog out, with Tom incapacitating a mere one guard.  Brody breaks into a car and hotwires it instantly, and they speed off.

They are pursued, and Tom explains that Jeseca gave him a “device” to get past the gates, but “beyond that…

So, not the best escape plan in the world.  But then, what can you expect from a girl, right?

Suddenly, Jerry spots the hitchhiker!  I’m sure we all have a good guess as to who it is, but he’s dressed as nothing so much as the Ghost of Christmas Future.  Jerry demands they pull over, and when the Ghost touches the car…the pursuing cars zip past them!  The hitchhiker has magically made the car invisible!

Jerry sits there grinning, like he knew it all along.

Okay, so I presume this is Cohen, but I guess it’s not a big deal, because we immediately cut to our three renegades sitting around a table, sipping tea with a pretty young woman who explains that they are on “the underground railroad to Prodigal City.”

Um…OKAY.  So I guess there is no curiosity at all about this whole turn-the-car-invisible thing, eh?

These people are so weird.  I mean, Tom is a cop, and he’s not even mildly interested in what just happened?

Sigh.  Fine.

Still, I suppose the thing that most blows my mind about this part of the movie is the revelation that there are other women who can talk in this world!  Who knew?

More on our newest character…next time.