Sunday, April 26, 2015

NOW SHOWING AT A BLOG NEAR YOU

Now Showing Marquee 4

I haven’t been doing much over at Aleteia lately, but not to worry, others have easily taken up the slack. Tom Hoopes, for instance, is surprised to find that he can name at least 12 great movie priests from the past 4 years.

One of the priests Tom mentions is Fr. Lantom from Netflix’s new hit series, Daredevil, whose positive portrayal is just one of the many reasons behind Tor’s Leah Schnelbach’s extolling of the show’s religious virtues in her article, Daredevil, Catholicism, and the Marvel Moral Universe. It’s also what’s provided the impetus for Matthew Archbold to provide his take on Catholic superheroes over at the National Catholic Register.

Back at Aleteia, Emily Stimpson ponders our Walking Dead culture. The Walking Dead, as I’m sure you know, is just one of the many mega-popular sci-fi/horror/fantasy shows raking in the ratings right now. But is that necessarily a good thing? Over at Catholic Fiction.net, Nito Gnoci is of the opinion that modern Science Fiction has been derelict in its duty to properly address the shortcomings of Scientism. The folks in the combox are not quite so sure. In related grousing, Fr. Dwight Longenecker believes fantasy films are killing fantasy.

Oh well, at least the good father liked the new Star Wars trailer. Speaking of which, so did SQPN’s Fr. Roderick, a lot. If by some chance you haven’t seen his reaction yet, jump on over to YouTube and watch it, it’s worth the trip. It just goes to show how much that film series has come to mean to so many of us. If you need a little more proof of that, then stop by Catholic Skywalker’s place where he has some thoughtful ruminations on fathers and sons and Star Wars.

Not all movies are as well received as Lucas’ brainchild, however. The recent Internet horror flick Unfriended, for instance, currently sits at 60% on Rotten Tomatoes and received a blistering 1 star out of 4 from Roger Ebert.com. Leave it to the ever-charitable Fr. Dennis Zdenek Kriz from Fr. Dennis at the Movies, though, to find enough redeeming qualities in it to bequeath the movie 4 stars.

You know, when it comes to redeeming qualities, there are little to none to be found in demons. But that’s kind of the point in Bat out of Hell, the new animated project  praised by Darwin Catholic. Based on the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, the story involves a low level demon named Bat who gets the boot from Hell because he’s not very good at his job. That’s pretty tough, being the biggest loser out of a bunch of losers.

And finally, while it’s not really movie or television related, given our tastes in entertainment around these parts, I’m sure we can be forgiven for linking to Thomas L. McDonald’s discovery of the earliest known depiction of a witch riding a broom over at God and the Machine.

Hope that gives everyone some nice Sunday afternoon reading. See you next time.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

THE JUKEBOX HERO HYMNAL: Hymn 024: I Still Believe by The Call

Let’s be honest here, probably the first thing most everybody thinks of when they hear the opening chords of I Still Believe is this…

capello

Yep, besides his work with Tina Turner, the one thing singer/saxophonist Tim Cappello is best known for is his cameo in 1987’s The Lost Boys in which he not only performed his cover of I Still Believe, but also flexed his impressively oiled pecs. So indelible an image did Cappello strike that to this day you can still find a “Greased up Sax Man from The Lost Boys Appreciation Society” fan page on Facebook.

But we’re not here to praise Cappello, nor to bury him for that matter. No, what we’re actually interested in is the original version of I Still Believe as released by The Call on their 1986 masterpiece, Reconciled. Hailed by Peter Gabriel (who guested on the album) as "the future of American music," Reconciled was one of those works which by all rights should have catapulted its creators to mega-stardom, but for some reason never really caught on with the general public.

One group that did take notice, however, was the fans surrounding the burgeoning contemporary Christian music scene at the time. As he recounts on his blog, the onetime manager of Maranatha Village, the influential southern Californian Christian bookstore that would spawn Contemporary Christian Music magazine, was a longtime champion of The Call and was considering stocking their album. However, knowing his customers would be concerned about seeing a secular artist’s products being so prominently featured on the shelves, he sent correspondence to Elektra inquiring about the band and any religious affiliation they might have. He was shocked, to say the least, when he received a personal reply from the band’s vocalist/guitarist, Michael Been. Attached to the letter was a copy of the Apostles Creed and a hand written note proclaiming, “This is what I believe.” Needless to say, Reconciled was quickly given a place of honor at Maranatha Village and I Still Believe went on to become something of a crossover hit for the band on Christian radio stations.

Really, though, it’s not that much of a surprise if you pay attention to the lyrics. If ever there was a song to be sung during the post Lenten season, this is the one…

I been in a cave
For forty days
Only a spark
To light my way
I wanna give out
I wanna give in
This is our crime
This is our sin

But I still believe
I still believe
Through the pain
And through the grief
Through the lives
Through the storms
Through the cries
And through the wars
Oh, I still believe

So, if you take Been’s note at face value, then basically what he’s singing about is that, even after all the hardships he’s faced in life, he still finds the faith to say this…

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

Oh yeah, that makes adding I Still Believe to the Jukebox Hero Hymnal pretty much a no-brainer. So listen up and enjoy. And if you just can’t live without Cappello’s sax, then go ahead and fire up that version as well. After all, as long as we’re being honest here, it’s not like you’re the only one who still has a copy of The Lost Boys soundtrack lying around the house somewhere.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

REVELATION ROAD 3: THE BLACK RIDER

Revelation Road 3 The Black Rider

THE PLOT

When the rapture occurred, traveling salesman and former government assassin Josh McManus was one of those unfortunate sinners left behind. His saintly wife and daughter, on the other hand, were not. Determined now to serve God so that he can one day see his family again in Heaven, Josh travels the cruel new world protecting the newly repentant from the likes of the warhammer wielding Hawg and his motorcycle gang, The Barbarians. After two years as a wandering Christian warrior, Josh’s reputation as the unstoppable Black Rider now  precedes him. So, it’s no surprise that when he shows up in a small town seeking medical aid for a wounded girl, the local mayor only agrees to help if Josh will undertake a dangerous mission for him. It seems that the ominous organization known as the ULC desires a man known only as the Shepherd be brought to them and has ordered the mayor to do so. Until now, however, no one has been able to locate the mysterious figure. For the sake of the injured girl, Josh sets out with the mayor’s bible-curious daughter, Sofia, to find the Shepherd and bring him in. The problem is that to get to the Shepherd, Josh and Sofia must confront the hordes of godless heathens who now populate the American wasteland, as well as survive the notorious battle pit of the imperious Honcho. With time, and possibly his faith, running out, Josh must bring all his deadly skills to bear, but will even they be enough to thwart the forces of evil intent on taking over the world?

THE POINT

I know, I know, I’ve been pretty hard on faith-based films in the past, but that’s only because, well, most of them haven’t been very good. And yet, if you’ve been keeping up with my stuff at Aleteia, such as my recent review of Do You Believe?, you’ve probably noticed I’ve started to lighten up on them quite a bit. That’s for a couple of reasons. One is that, thankfully, the people who make faith-based films are finally starting to show some technical competence. Believe me, these types of things used to be a lot harder to sit through back when they displayed the same production values as your average Vine video. The other reason, though, is that I’ve taken a page from Roger Ebert and started approaching faith-based films the same way he did Infra Man.

What’s that you say, you’ve never heard of the movie Infra-Man? Don’t worry if it’s slipped your mind, I assure you, most everybody else has forgotten it by now as well. Even those who were around in 1978 when Infra-Man first opened in theaters were probably too busy going to see Star Wars for the gazillionth time to even notice it was playing next door. In a nutshell, Infra-Man was a Hong Kong produced B-movie full of dodgy wire-fu, rubber monster suits that looked like they were borrowed from a theme park, and hilariously histrionic bad dialog. Basically, it was the Power Rangers long before there was ever such a thing as the Power Rangers.

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If by some odd chance you do recall the film, it's probably due to Roger Ebert's ecstatic reaction to it. "I'm a pushover for monster movies anyway," America's premier critic wrote in his gushing review of one the 70’s dumbest movies, "but Infra-Man has it all." And it wasn’t just a fleeting moment of temporary insanity. Looking back on Infra-Man decades later, Ebert reiterated his love for the undeniably silly thing, exclaiming "I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that film." Now, it's not like Ebert considered Infra-Man to be on the same level as Citizen Kane or anything. He was well aware the film was no masterpiece, or even very good for that matter. It's just that he also understood that Infra-Man was made for a very particular type of viewer, and being a self-proclaimed member of that demographic himself, Ebert knew the movie admirably delivered just what its intended audience wanted.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the post-apocalyptic faith-based film, Revelation Road 3: The Black Rider, the latest installment in the ongoing Revelation Road movie series released by Pure Flix Entertainment. You might recall Pure Flix, they’re the same folks who not only gave us the aforementioned Do You Believe?, but also films like last year's surprise hit, God's Not Dead, as well as the recent Christian mommy-blogger opus, Mom’s Night Out. And just like those films, Revelation Road 3: The Black Rider is almost guaranteed to draw the ire of mainstream audiences and critics, not solely because it’s a Christian film, but because by most artistic measures, it’s pretty average fare. Of course, in a year that's already seen the release of dreck like Fifty Shades of Grey and Unfinished Business, average isn't really an insult, but you get the point.

rider04

The thing is, much like Roger Ebert’s beloved Infra-Man, Revelation Road 3: The Black Rider is also a movie with a very specific audience in mind. And that target audience might just find Revelation Road 3: The Black Rider to be, as Roger Ebert once did with Infra-Man, a movie that has all that they are looking for. It speaks their particular dialect of modern protestant Christianese, it directly addresses their premillennialist concerns about the rapture, and it doesn't venture too far outside their comfort zone as far as subject matter goes. In short, it’s a movie made by evangelicals to entertain and uplift other evangelicals, and in that respect, it has to be said that Revelation Road 3: The Black Rider is an absolute success. Yes, compared to a deeply spiritual film like Calvary, it’s dreck. But it’s dreck that does exactly what it’s supposed to do.

Besides, Revelation Road 3: The Black Rider has something else going for it that makes its artistic lackings doubly forgivable. You see, not only does it successfully cater to faith-based film fans, but it also just happens to be aimed squarely at folks who grew up watching a lot of low budget rip offs of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. And by low budget, I mean the entire cost to produce Revelation Road 3: The Black Rider was probably about the same as what they spent on hair gel for The Road Warrior. And yet, the movie still manages to squeeze in a lot of the tropes associated with the genre.

rider06

Don’t believe me? Well, let’s take a look at some of the conventions associated with Mad Max noted over at tvtropes.org. Without even trying very hard, I found at least twenty of them in Revelation Road 3: The Black Rider

  1. After the End – Well, duh, it’s post-rapture.
  2. All Bikers Are Hells Angels – Hawg and the Barbarians from the first two movies more than satisfy this requirement.
  3. The Apunkalypse/Post-Apunkalyptic Armor – There’s not a whole lot of leather and spikes on display (too sexual?), but plenty of fur to go around.
  4. Badass Driver – Josh’s car plays a big part in this installment.
  5. Barbarian Longhair – A lot of Honcho’s subjects could use a haircut.
  6. Early Installment Weirdness – In the first movie, rather than float up into the sky to meet Jesus, the raptured are instead transformed into glowing orbs which shoot up into Heaven.
  7. Fallen Hero – Well, if Josh weren’t fallen, he’d have been turned into a glowing orb himself, right?
  8. Heartbroken Badass – And since Josh wasn’t orbified with the rest of his family, he’s pretty sad.
  9. Heroic Sacrifice – This is a Christian series, so naturally there’s a few of these along the way.
  10. Iconic Outfit – By the latest installment, Josh has gotten himself a pretty nifty black ensemble.
  11. Ineffectual Loner – Josh just can’t stop getting involved.
  12. Made of Iron – Some of the bad guys in these movies take an inhuman amount of beatings without flinching.
  13. Malevolent Masked Men – Along with their hair-metal hairdos, some of Honcho’s fighters like to wear masks as well. Again, nothing like the gimp-style fashions to be found in Mad Max, but masks just the same.
  14. New Old West – Everything about the mayor and his little town screams western. The only thing missing is a saloon, but you know how it is with Baptists and liquor.
  15. Only Known by Their Nickname – Hawg, Honcho, The Black Rider, nuff said.
  16. Scavenger World – The world hasn’t quite reached the depths of The Walking Dead just yet, but resources are definitely scarce.
  17. Tranquil Fury – Josh always tries to talk his way out of situations first. Then he pummels everybody.
  18. Walk the Earth – Pretty self explanatory.
  19. Wasteland Elder – Both the mayor and the Prophet could fill this spot.
  20. Wounded Gazelle Gambit – Well, that would be spoiling things, wouldn’t it?

Sadly there’s no Post-Apocalyptic Dog to be found, but I think I’ve proved my point. There’s plenty enough tropes to place Revelation Road 3: The Black Rider squarely in the Mad Max knock-off category. Now, obviously, this being an evangelical production, everything is a little tamer than in other Mad Max inspired films. Everybody is a little too clean looking, there’s certainly no gore or nudity or profanity, and, of course, there’s a lot more sermonizing than you’re likely to find in other post-apocalyptic flicks.

rider07

Given the scenario, though, the preaching is a little more organic to the story than it normally is in other faith-based films. I mean, in the world of Revelation Road it’s pretty obvious that the rapture has occurred, so it’s natural that folks would talk about it. From a Catholic standpoint, of course, the whole premillenial rapture scenario is a bit shaky. As I noted way back in my review of Phase IV, about all the Bible really says about the end times is that there will be wars and rumors of wars, some natural disasters, and that the Church will be persecuted, undergoing a trial that will shake the faith of many believers. If you think about it, that’s pretty much been the story of the Church since it began. It’s as Jesus proclaimed in Mark 1:15, "THIS is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel." That’s why the Church teaches that we’ve been living in the end times ever since Jesus ascended into Heaven almost 2,000+ years ago, and it could remain the end times for who knows how much longer. The rapture, if you want to call it that, won’t come until the very end when it’s time to put a kibosh on Satan once and for all.

But what does it really matter when this rapture occurs? Well, as Fr. John Echert writes over at EWTN, “one of the sad side-effects of a ‘rapture’ view held by many is that it fails to recognize the present reality of the Kingdom of God as it is even now.” As the old Catholic Encyclopedia explains, “As men grew to understand the Divinity of Christ they grew to see that the kingdom of God was also that of Christ… So, too, as men realized that this kingdom stood for a certain tone of mind… The kingdom of God means, then, the ruling of God in our hearts; it means those principles which separate us off from the kingdom of the world and the devil; it means the benign sway of grace.” As always, there’s a lot more too it, but the main idea is simple. The kingdom of God is not something to come later after some post-rapture thousand years of suffering, it’s here now, in us, and we should be living in a way that demonstrates that present reality to the rest of the world.

rider08

Still, even though I’ve got a theological disagreement with the film’s main conceit, I have to admit that the Revelation Road series remains something of a guilty pleasure for this one-time evangelical turned good ol’ Catholic boy. The saving grace of Christ’s message remains true no matter what view of the rapture the movie holds, and the Mad Max inspired goofiness on display is just too irresistible to my B-movie tastes. So I say fire up Netflix and give the Revelation Road movies a try. Just remember to judge them for what they are rather than what they’re not. If Ebert could do it with something like Infra Man, then certainly we can do it with these films.

THE STINGER

Like a lot of Pure Flix productions, the Revelation Road series has appearances by some faces familiar to the discerning B-movie fan. James Denton, Bruce Marchiano, Sting (the wrestler), Eric Roberts, Brian Bosworth, Kevin Sorbo, they all show up at various points throughout the films. The unstoppable main character of the movies, however, is played by none other than the co-founder of Pure Flix himself, David A.R. White. It’s good to be the king, I guess.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

COMING ATTRACTIONS: REVELATION ROAD 3: THE BLACK RIDER

For the past few months I haven’t done much for Aleteia other than review faith-based films and television shows. That’s fine, but sometimes I wonder why they don’t make some that appeal to my B-Movie sensibilities…

Well, how about that. A review is coming up in a day or three.