Tag Archives: bad religious movie

Worst of 2016: God’s Not Dead 2

God’s Not Dead 2

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Up next in my series on the worst films of 2016 is the ultra-evangelical follow up to the 2014 hit God’s Not Dead: God’s Not Dead 2.

The plot of God’s Not Dead is loosely summarized on IMDb as follows:

When a high school teacher is asked a question in class about Jesus, her response lands her in deep trouble.

The lion’s share of the crew for God’s Not Dead 2 are holdovers from the first God’s Not Dead film, including director Harold Cronk, co-writers Chuck Conzelman and Cary Solomon, music composer Will Musser, cinematographer Brian Shanley, and editor Vance Null.

While there are few new faces at work behind the cameras, the cast features quite a number of new additions to the franchise. Gone are previous stars Kevin Sorbo, Shane Harper, and Dean Cain, but present are newcomers like Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters, Leviathan, Congo), Ray Wise (RoboCop, Twin Peaks), and Melissa Joan Hart (Clarissa Explains It All). While a few bit players provide connective tissue between the films, God’s Not Dead 2 is not so much a sequel as it is a spin-off, telling an entirely new story in the same (very) fictional universe.

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The lion’s share of God’s Not Dead 2 was filmed in Little Rock, Arkansas. This was a change in setting from the previous film, which was shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, primarily on the campus of Louisiana State University.

God’s Not Dead 2 was the final film of Fred Dalton Thompson, who died in November of 2015. While he was best known for his work in the Law & Order television franchise, he also had a handful of film roles in features like Baby’s Day Out, In The Line Of Fire, Days of Thunder, The Hunt For Red October, and the Scorsese remake of Cape Fear.

The production budget for the movie was estimated at $5 million. As with the first film, it wound up making a profit at the box office, taking in somewhere between $21 million and $24 million worldwide in its lifetime theatrical run. However, this paled in comparison to the profits for the original God’s Not Dead, which took in $62 million on a $2 million budget.

Critically, however, God’s Not Dead 2 didn’t do nearly so well. Currently, it holds Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 9% from critics and 63% from audiences, along with an IMDb user rating of 4.1/10.

Of all of the critical reviews that I read of the movie, I think that the Rotten Tomatoes critics consensus line best summarizes the essence of God’s Not Dead 2:

Every bit the proselytizing lecture promised by its title, God’s Not Dead 2 preaches ham-fistedly to its paranoid conservative choir.

Honestly, I can’t even begin to talk about all of the problems with the plot to this film. There are too many misconceptions, half-truths, straw men, and flat out lies to list out without it dominating the entire review. Frankly, that is why I didn’t review the original God’s Not Dead: I want to talk about a movie, not a paranoid treatise built on a foundation of sand. So, I am going to focus on other aspects of the movie, and leave the debunking to other folks. I can recommend reading reactions and reviews over at ThinkProgress, from the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s legal intern, and at Godless in Dixie.

As with the first film, one of the biggest weaknesses of God’s Not Dead 2 is the dialogue. Characters don’t speak organically, often sounding rigid and artificial, which further emphasizes the bloated, exaggerated caricatures that inhabit the cartoonish, simplistic story. At best, characters sound like they are delivering sermons. At worst, they just seem wooden and stilted.

The story itself, concept aside, is weighed down by the ensemble concept that provides its framework. Unlike the first film, the various plot threads and characters never really tie together in the end, and don’t much impact each other, which makes a lot of the movie feel pointless. In particular, a number of the loose connections to the first film could have been jettisoned to help the pacing of the story, like the Chinese student and the buddy priests. As it stands, the movie feels longer than it actually is because of the perceived lack of progression: the constant cutting between characters and plot threads makes following along feel like plodding through molasses.

One thing that I noticed quite a bit in the screenplay was a consistent ire directed at Stanford University. While Stanford is certainly a prestigious school with a liberal pedigree, I’m not sure why it wound up being the specific target of the film’s disdain for liberal higher education. Why not Harvard or Princeton? I would have assumed that the Yankee, Ivy league elite would be the go-to targets of extreme conservatives.

In regards to performances in God’s Not Dead 2, there is a pretty wide range to be found. While most of the cast sleepwalk through their dialogue, like the typically charming Ernie Hudson,  Ray Wise in particular embraces his role as a God-hating, moustache-twirling attorney. The movie lights up just the tiniest bit whenever he is on screen, and he provides some much needed energy for the courtroom sequences.

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All in all, God’s Not Dead 2 feels more like a fan film than a sequel, which is really odd given how much of the creative team returned from the first film. The whole affair feels chained to the previous movie, going so far as to force the title into the dialogue unnecessarily. That said, I actually think some of the technical craft is improved, though my memory is a little fuzzy in regards to the previous film.

As far as a recommendation goes, there is unfortunately not enough entertainment value here to enjoy the experience. It is just too dull and plodding to make sitting through it fun at all, despite Ray Wise’s performance and a handful of notable moments of complete disjointedness from reality.

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BibleMan: Back to School

BibleMan: Back to School

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Today, I’m continuing my week-long marathon of the Bibleman franchise as part of Secular Students Week. If you make a donation to the Secular Student Alliance this week, and I’ll cover a movie of your choice.

“Back to School” marks the second episode of the original Bibleman video series, “The Bibleman Show.” Willie Aames is once again the title role of Bibleman, and also shares directing and writing credit for the episode. The rest of the team is pretty much the same from “Big Big Book”: C. Scott Votaw, Milt Schaffer, and creator Tony Salerno also have writing credits, with Votaw and and Chris Fann taking co-directing roles alongside Aames.

In the first episode of “The Bibleman Show,” “Big Big Book,” I understood the amount of singing involved. I mean, it was centered around a church musical. However, this episode also starts off with singing, but without the inherent, semi-reasonable justification. It is eventually explained that the same group of kids is going to be performing a similar musical at a local school (thus “Back to School”), but that bit of exposition has to be awkwardly forced into a scene in the form of a fake telephone call.

I can’t describe just how much my heart sank when it dawned on me that all of these original BibleMan episodes were going to be musicals. The fact that the kids in this episode aren’t even in an obvious venue to be singing makes it all seem much worse to me. To add to my frustrations with the whole situation, one of the songs, which takes place entirely in an RV, is specifically about a fictitious train:

Let’s take a trip through the creation
Head on down to the revelation
The train is waiting at the gospel station
so get on board the bible train

Could they not have come up with a song about a “Bible Bus?” That would at least be a closer comparison than a damn train. There is also alliteration to that phrase, which is perfect for this kind of lazy product. Why am I doing their job for them?

The primary villain in “Back to School” is Madame Glitz: a vaguely sinister, vain, and fame-obsessed woman who inexplicably knows Bibleman’s secret identity. She operates with the help of a henchman named ‘Mr. Thug,’ which is pretty much all you need to know about him. Her primary motivation seems to be envy over Bibleman’s popularity, so she plans to kidnap him to turn his fans against him. If that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to you, you aren’t alone on that.

“I love it when famous guys don’t show up! Then you can boo and hiss and stuff.”

-actual dialogue from “Back to School”

The story of “Back to School” once again focuses on a children’s musical performance, this time taking place at their local school (which I hope isn’t a public one, because that sounds like a separation of church and state violation to me). Bibleman is scheduled to appear alongside them, as he did in “Big Big Book,” but is kidnapped by Madame Glitz just before the show begins. Bibleman eventually prays his way out of his binds, terrifyingly imprisons Glitz in a television, and shows up in time for a grand finale with the kids.

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After watching “Back to School,” I think I understand why the direction for Bibleman was changed so quickly. It is really just more of the same of what was offered in “Big Big Book,” and there are only so many ways to replicate the same boring story over and over again. The villain is once again the highlight, and she is unfortunately hardly in the episode at all. The largest chunk of it is once again dedicated to the godawful children’s musical numbers, which were really testing my patience with this one. Also, somehow the dialogue seems to have gotten worse for this episode. My favorite exchange by far is right after the musical has completed, when two kids in the audience enthusiastically say to each other:

Kid 1: Wow! That was excellent!

Kid 2: Yeah! Seriously, comic books are tame compared to this stuff. I think I’m going to go out and get me a bible!

Kid 1: Cool idea! Me too!

It is like the producers’ fantasy-land version of America’s youth. Shame it didn’t work out that way for them, isn’t it?

I don’t recommend watching this episode, but it is available in its entirely on YouTube if you are just deathly curious. If you can’t resist, I implore you to at least skim through the songs, because you aren’t going to be missing anything with them. The only exception is, of course, “The Bible Train,” which managed to inexplicably fill me with hate and darkness.

BibleMan vs Evil Soft Drinks

BibleMan: Terminating the Toxic Tonic of Disrespect
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It has been a while since I covered my favorite ol’ evangelical costumed crusader, so I figure it is about time to delve back into the cinematic cesspool that is my BibleMan DVD collection. Speaking of which, here it is:

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Today’s episode is entitled “Terminating the Toxic Tonic of Disrespect.” It doesn’t have the same ring as “A Light in the Darkness” or “The Six Lies of the Fibbler,” does it? In any case, this is the first BibleMan episode to feature Josh Carpenter after his initial, formal introduction as the new BibleMan in “A Fight for Faith.” This episode marks the beginning of the “PowerSource” run of the show, which is the most recent (and last?) incarnation of the character.

First off, the new BibleMan is definitely a bit of a downgrade. Robert Schlipp, who plays Josh Carpenter, is definitely just a preacher in a hero suit. To Willie Aames’s credit, his character of Miles Peterson definitely projected himself as a super-hero in the role, which is a pretty stark contrast next to Schlipp’s take on the role.

“Toxic Tonic” introduces a new sidekick in Melody, who is surely one of the worst actors in the entire universe. Bible Girl doesn’t entirely disappear, but is relegated to an off-screen support role for the episode. Cypher, BibleMan’s resident Black Friend(TM), also returns for the new series, and continues his role as the only half-bearable member of the team.

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The PowerSource Bible Team (Melody on the far right)

The introduction of Melody offers the only actually good lesson that I have seen in the entire series: BibleMan and Cypher at first assume that she is a delivery girl when she shows up at the base, and initially dismiss her as a moron despite her expertise with technology. Of course, in typical BibleMan form, they never acknowledge the obvious sexism of their assumptions, and only ultimately apologize for not respecting her as one in “God’s image.” So close, BibleMan. So close.

The villains, in a bit of a separation, aren’t the offensive stereotypes I typically expect of the series. Instead, the antagonistic duo is comprised of run-of-the-mill zany mad scientists: the neon-mohawked Dr. E. Meritus Snortinskoff (yeah, good job on that one) and his henchman named Stench. The two sinister scientists are executing a plan to make a bunch of kids indignant and rebellious by selling them “Empower” energy drinks made from sugar, water, and “pure evil.” The Bible team realize what is happening after noticing a bunch of burgeoning teenagers acting shitty to authority figures. You know what, BibleMan? Never change.

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The Bible Team ultimately wind up getting a sample of the “Empower” energy drink, and discover its contents (pure evil, bad attitudes, and probably a lot of high fructose corn syrup I assume?). This leads to a rambling, scripture-laced train of thought that could rival the revelation scene from “Black Dynamite.” Somehow, through rambling about trees for a while, the team figures out where to find the evil scientists.

Maybe my favorite aspect of this episode is that a good few minutes of run-time towards the beginning are eaten up through the use of what appears to be totally unnecessary recycled footage from the episode “Crushing the Conspiracy of the Cheater,” which, confusingly, wasn’t released until two years after “Toxic Tonic.” This brings up some serious questions of continuity in the series, but I am not going to dare delving into that.

biblemantt4Predictably, the Bible Team wins the day through grace, goodness, and the violent use of laser swords. The bad guys do get away this time (instead of dying horribly), but I don’t believe that either of them show back up later in the series.

biblemantt2This isn’t one of my favorite episodes, and certainly doesn’t compare to the “BibleMan vs The Internet” entry. However, it definitely has the same old heavy-handedness that all of the incarnations have. The episode of course ends with a prayer, and a plea for all of the viewers to convert to Christianity. As far as entertainment goes, I do kind of love how shitty the kids are who imbibe the “toxic tonic,” and how generally panicked the creators are about the idea of teenage rebellion. There is definitely something to enjoy here, but it isn’t one of the stronger good-bad entries in the show. That might have a little to do with the change of creative team with the dawn of the “Powersource” series, but I’ll need to watch more of them to see if there is a significant perceptible difference between the incarnations.

Escape From Hell

Escape From Hell
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It is about time I got back to (God)Awful Movies, the segment of the blog dedicated to the worst of religious cinema.

Today’s feature, “Escape From Hell,” is one that I have come across a couple of times in bargain bins in the deep south. I’m not sure how far it actually got distributed, but I’ve certainly never seen it outside of Alabama or Georgia. Here’s what my copy looks like:

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I’m sure glad to know that I got the special edition! Hopefully that means there is some CGI Jabba the Hutt to enjoy.

The reason that I initially picked this up, apart from the title and the cover art, is because of the amazing blurbs on the back of this box. Here are a couple of them, including two from noted film critics Jerry Falwell and televangelist Jack Van Impe:

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Well, I’m sold. I can’t wait to see if this film makes me think about my “life without Christ.”

Out of curiosity, I decided to dig around to see if there is a trailer out there for this thing. I ultimately dug one up, but, to my joy, I found something even better as well: a clip collection, courtesy of the fantastic folks over at Everything is Terrible!

Now I am definitely psyched. Here is the trailer I dug up as well, in case you happen to be curious:

Director Danny Carrales and writer Michael Martin have apparently worked together on a number of Christian features outside of “Escape to Hell,” including films called “The Gathering” and “Second Glance.” Star Daniel Kruse pops up in “The Gathering,” as well as another movie that Carrales and Martin worked on called “Pilgrim’s Promise.” One of the other actors in “Escape to Hell,” Terry Jernigan, has managed to appear in an assortment of bit film roles over the years, but my favorite credit of his is on an upcoming movie called “Sasquatch vs. Yeti.” You can bet that I am looking that one up.

I think that the biggest red flag for me when sifting through the IMDb entry far “Escape to Hell” was finding someone credited as “2D/3D animation and effects / special effects supervisor.” That can’t spell out anything good for this movie. Also, the person with that credit has nothing else current listed to their name outside of another Carrales/Martin feature (“Pilgrim’s Progress”).

My next favorite credit on this movie is one of the producers, Randy Smith, who is apparently a professional boom operator who has worked on an assortment of actually good movies (“12 Monkeys,” “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas,” “Phone Booth”) and occasionally not-so-good movies (“Thinner,” “The Langoliers”).

Now, let’s see how this thing is. Will it scare me into the arms of Jesus? Will I be forced to reassess all my sinful life choices? Will I be able to even stay awake through this whole thing? Let’s find out!

Review:

Wow, this is really awful. I’m not really sure where to start.

The cinematography is awful in nearly every way you can imagine. Some of the shots are nothing short of nauseating for no reason whatsoever (just people walking down a hallway, for instance). There are so many dutch angles that you will question if your head is even on straight. When the camera is being used half-sensibly, everything feels like an infomercial, or a soap opera at best. Unfortunately, even those moments are few and far between.

The acting is about what you would expect: most of them seem like they are reading directly off of the scripts. In the few cases where that isn’t the case, they either hilariously overact, or sound like they are giving half-rate sermons. Of course, a lot of that blame deserves to be leveled at the writing as well, which is more heavy-handed than a steel gauntlet.

It turns out that my nervousness about that “2D/3D animation and effects / special effects supervisor” was more than justified. There is way more reliance on special effects than there should be in this flick, and they look really bad. I’m pretty sure that they didn’t look good when they were done originally in 2000, and they certainly don’t look good 15 years down the line. I’d bet that they could have pulled off better practical effects with the money they spent on the CG here, and wound up with something way more convincing (the few moments that do involve practical effects in this movie do look passable). That at least would have looked like something realistic, whereas the CG here just looks downright laughable. Moments where characters are cast into hell are supposed to be intimidating and terrifying, but instead they are profoundly hilarious.

Overall, this isn’t a movie worth spending the time to sit through. For the most part, it is just boring dialogue between characters you just can’t give a damn about. I would recommend checking out the “Everything is Terrible” highlights (which has all of the best parts included), and just leaving it alone from there. This isn’t a film that is going to change your life, and it certainly isn’t going to send anyone running to Jesus who wasn’t on his team already.

 

Jesus: The Animated Movies

In my latest foray into my local movie store’s bargain bin, I managed to turn up an interesting DVD, titled “The Animated Passion”:

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Of course, I had to pick it up. It is a Bargain Bin(ge) / (God)Awful Movies crossover!

It turns out that the DVD is actually two different short animated movies. They appear to be sort-of related, despite one having a 1988 release and the other 2004. They also look pretty much identical in style, with only minor differences. They are similar enough that I had trouble distinguishing them as different movies, especially given that “He Is Risen” occurs chronologically immediately after “Worthy is the Lamb”. With a little cutting, they could be the same movie easily. Seriously, tell me if these two clips look like they are from different movies:

Both movies are directed by Richard Rich, who is mostly known as one of three directors on “The Fox and The Hound”. Most of his career since that time has been dedicated to religious animated movies like these. Judging from the quality of these movies, I’m not so sure that was by choice. The biggest surprise I found, primarily because there is no promotion of it on the box whatsoever, is that “He is Risen” was written by acclaimed Sci-Fi / Fantasy author Orson Scott Card (of “Ender’s Game” fame). According the IMDb, he did a fair amount of that back in the 80’s. I suppose that isn’t so surprising given his much-maligned opinions on homosexuality, but I was still taken aback to see his name on screen.

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Yeah, fuck this guy

As soon as the first film (“Worthy is the Lamb”) started, there was a lengthy disclaimer on screen about the fact that people from multiple faiths would be depicted, and that no offense was intended to anyone. That sent up a red flag off the bat for me, as it would anyone. As it turns out, it was quite justified. The depictions of Jewish people in this movie are, to say the least, not good. The voice actors go way over-the-top, and the character designs / animations are not flattering. All of that said, the fellow voicing Caiaphas was one of the few highlights in the whole film. He was capital-A “ACTING”. The only people who ever came close to him in hammy-ness were the guys doing Pilate and Judas, fulfilling the age-old tradition of over-the-top bad dudes. In contrast, the guy voicing Jesus sounded like he was about 85 years old. He was soft-spoken, elderly, and was about the least charismatic voice in the cast. This seems to be a running problem with depicting Jesus in just about anything: he always comes off as incredibly boring. I guess that’s the Christian idea of perfection?

Helix has a pretty winning personality compared to your typical on-screen Jesus
Helix has a pretty winning personality compared to your typical on-screen Jesus

The animation in both of these movies is…sub-par. In particular, most of the male characters have identical beards/mustaches, which makes telling people apart nearly impossible. There were also a lot of moments where the motions seemed jarring, like they were cutting corners by skipping frames. There were instances where the animators clearly didn’t know what they were doing, such as when anyone’s feet were in motion on screen, or if any characters were depicted crying. There is also a horrifying moment where sheep are shown in a state of panic during an earthquake. The animators’ attempt to depict sheep mouths looks like nightmare fuel.

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While watching these, I specifically remarked that this is the worst animated feature I had seen since the Titanic animated movies. After doing research, it turns out that the voice actor for Caiaphas was in BOTH of those Titanic animated flicks. Even better, he was the rapping dog. Really.

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The next huge problem with these movies requires some context. Check out this passage from the back of the box:

Your family will enjoy these two movies, appropriate even for young children…These high-quality, scripturally accurate stories will completely captivate children

Let me break down the issue into two key phrases from that passage: “scripturally accurate” and “captivate children”. These movies pull scripture and dialogue straight out of the King James Bible. There are no colloquialisms here, and no attempts to make the features kid-friendly outside of not animating blood. These movies are pretty damn verbose, and astoundingly boring to boot. Outside of the unintentionally entertaining voice acting by the bad guys, this was a chore. I watched these with a couple of friends who I’ve been riffing on movies with for years, and the room was silent for most of the running time. If we couldn’t find much entertainment here, kids are going to tear their eyes out.

If you happen upon this DVD in a bargain bin, I can loosely recommend picking it up. Both features are pretty straight-forward at face value, but the voice acting and animation are bad enough to get some amusement. Also, there are some horrid sing-a-longs on the DVD that use the same animation. In fact, they seem to be discarded scenes from other features, because the characters move their mouths as if they should be speaking, but there is no dialogue for them. Instead, the sing-a-long track is playing, which at first made me think that the characters were singing. I suppose that is one way to make up for a lost audio track or a spare bit of footage? I think they are only on the DVD to fill up all of the empty space on the disc, because combined both features probably don’t crack an hour of run time.