Friday, July 8, 2011

Revelation: Apocalypse II

Welcome to the second exciting installment of the Apocalypse quartet, brought to you by Peter & Paul Lalonde and the gang at Cloud Ten Pictures. This is that rare case of a sequel being better than the parent film. Sadly, in this case, that's like saying an unwashed pair of gym socks smells slightly better than an outhouse in summer.

I do have to give the Lalondes a bit of credit, though. This isn't an everyday sequel that focuses solely on returning characters. Leigh Lewis returns as Helen Hannah, but her character merely plays a supporting role here. Nevertheless, the film does take place after the events of the first Apocalypse, including the Rapture.

Instead, this film focuses on Earl Stone (Jeff Fahey), an officer of the One Nation Earth (O.N.E.) police force. At first I thought his name was Phil, then it sounded like Earl, and then the end credits revealed his name to be Thorold. I'm going to stick with Earl. So there. Earl figured "we don't need church to make us a family," making it clear which side of the Rapture coin he was on. When the Rapture came and took his wife and kid, poor Earl was LEFT BEHIND.

Worse, Earl is stuck living in a world ruled by Franco Macaluso (Nick Mancuso, taking over the role from Sam Bornstein), the dude who says he's a god but is really the AntiChrist. Everyone else believes Macaluso's claims of godhood, even Earl's partner (whose name I didn't catch, so I'll call him Bud), but Earl himself thinks this self-proclaimed messiah is a con man. You see, Earl stopped believing in anything after his mom died of cancer.

When a school bus blows up, Earl and Bud investigate and find evidence that leads them to a Haters' hideout (Haters being the post-Rapture term for Christians). The Haters claim they were set up. Bud is about to go all G20 on their asses, but Earl steps in and stops him. One wild-eyed Hater named Selma Davis hands Earl a secret disk, which turns out to be this movie's McGuffin.

Earl and Bud keep searching the area, and catch two of the AntiChrist's troopers red-handed with a bomb detonator. One of those troopers is none other than the villainous Len Parker, once again 'played' by David Roddis. Parker shoots Bud and Earl, then leaves by walking straight through a wall like a ghost (when did he get that power? He didn't have it in the last movie). Bud dies, but Earl Stone survives.

Earl finds help in the form of wheelchair-bound nerd Willie Spinno, who takes one look at the detonator used to destroy the school bus and declares it to be the work of O.N.E.. He also talks about how he designed a virtual reality program for an upcoming event called the Day of Wonders. He takes particular interest in the secret disk, and recognizes it to be related to the VR program. To crack it, and to keep Earl safe, Willie takes him to the super secret hideout of his stepsister. Who just happens to be recurring Apocalypse hero Helen Hannah! She runs the resistance with two friends: a fat guy whose name I didn't catch, and a blind woman named Cindy.

Meanwhile, all is not well at villain HQ. Sure, there are lots of dastardly deeds going on - we see a man turn his son in to the O.N.E. police because he caught him praying - but Parker isn't satisfied. It turns out the secret disk contains stuff that could throw a medium-sized wrench into the AntiChrist's Day of Wonders plan. Parker learns that Earl Stone is still alive, and that he has that very disk in his possession! "I want Stone," Parker says, "and I want him dead." Having gotten that out of his system, Parker has a go at Selma the wild-eyed Christian, trying to make her renounce Jesus. It's a tough job, being the AntiChrist's stooge. Gotta blow off a little steam somehow.

Back at 'Hater' HQ, Willie and Earl work hard to crack the secrets of the Secret Disk while Helen Hannah does her absolute best to annoy everyone around her. She was an insufferable know-it-all in the first movie, but she takes it up a notch or twelve here. She's got a comeback for anything: "Whatever it takes, I'm gonna find 'em," Earl says, referring to his need to find his family, to which Helen retorts "You'll have to find God first." Earl mentions he doesn't believe in God. "He's still God," Helen replies, "whether you believe in him or not." In fact, when both Earl and Willie express their preference for Atheism, Helen settles for "You're wrong. You're both wrong."

My absolute favourite? "Leave this to the professionals," Willie tells her, referring to his ability to crack the Secret Disk. "Professionals built the Titanic," Helen scolds in reply. "Amateurs built the Ark." I cannot imagine an eternity in flames being much worse than five minutes alone with her!

In spite of Helen's idiotic bon-mots, Willie eventually does crack the disk. It contains a virtual reality program, an empty white space one sees if one puts on a VR helmet. Further hacking reveals a 'line of code' that makes the blank space more interesting. Willie finds a guillotine, and cuts his finger on the blade. When he takes of the helmet, he discovers is finger is cut in real life! It's Freddy Kruger physics, people.

Somehow this all ties into the Day of Wonders, which the heroes decide they have to stop. Willie cooks up a plan to sneak Earl into Bad Guy HQ disguised as a janitor, where he can upload a virus that will sabotage the AntiChrist's plan. While Earl is on his way, Helen puts two and two together and figures out how the Day of Wonders will work; when people put on VR helmets and enter the blank VR world, they'll be shown the thing they most desire... and get tricked into taking the Mark of the Beast! Sadly, she doesn't figure this out in time to save Willie and Cindy; they put on their helmets and meet Franco Macaluso, who cures Cindy's blindness and restores Willie's ability to walk in exchange for their devotion to him. Willie and Cindy turn evil and shoot Helen's fat friend, but Helen herself escapes and rushes to help Earl.

Earl gets tricked into putting a VR helmet on, and Macaluso offers him his wife and daughter in exchange for his eternal worship. Earl isn't fooled, so Macaluso sticks him in the guillotine and prepares to lop off his head. Earl gets Saved, literally and figuratively, by converting to Christianity before the blade comes down, and then Helen Hannah yanks the helmet off his head. Earl inserts the virus program, but before it can upload the bad guys arrive. Parker takes Earl and Helen to the incinerator to burn with the other Haters, while Willie and Cindy are left to stop the virus upload.

Naturally, God intervenes and saves the viewer from a satisfying ending. Nothing Willie and Cindy do can stop the virus program from loading; they pull out every plug, then smash the computer to bits, all to no avail. At the same time, Parker stares in astonishment through the incinerator door window as Helen, Earl, Selma and other Haters stand unharmed in the flames. Parker decides to take care of them personally, so he opens the incinerator door and gets incinerated. And the O.N.E. building burns down. And the Day of Wonders is stopped. But our heroes are perfectly safe, thanks entirely to divine intervention.

Andre Van Herdeen takes over directing duties on this film, and would go on to direct several more Cloud Ten films (including the remaining two Apocalypse sequels). He brings a lot more cinematic style to the table, and delivers a much more entertaining product than his predecessor Peter Gerretsen managed with the original film. No reliance on stock footage here! Sadly, that's not enough to make Revelation any good. It's just a lot less bad. With cartoon villains, unlikable heroes and an awful script, all this film can do is supply safe entertainment for true believers while offering no chance of being taken seriously by a secular audience.

Likely To Convert - 0
Production Values - 2
Acting/Direction - 4
Likely To Be Sat Through - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 7
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0

Friday, February 4, 2011


In the world of Christian cinema (otherwise known as Direct To DVD/Video), there are few more prolific than Peter and Paul Lalonde. They are the creative force behind Cloud Ten Pictures, responsible for such classics as Deceived, Saving God, the Left Behind trilogy, and the Apocalypse quartet. It is this latter series about the latter days to which I now turn my reviewer's wrath.

Like Left Behind, Apocalypse deals with the Rapture and its aftermath. Unfortunately, it only has a tenth of Left Behind's budget. To put that another way, if it weren't for stock footage, this film would not exist.

Written and produced by Peter and Paul Lalonde and directed by Peter Gerretsen, Apocalypse follows television reporters Helen Hannah (Leigh Lewis) and Bronson Pearl (Richard Nester), "a man and a woman, caught in the eye of the storm..." It seems there is a "wave of fear spreading around the globe," with the armies of sixty nations converging on Israel for the battle of Armageddon. The World News Network (WNN) sends trusted reporter and anchorman Bronson Pearl to the plains of Megiddo, "the only passage into Israel that Mother Nature has left open," to report on the conflict. Bronson's a do-gooder who wants to make a difference, and show the world what's really going on.

Helen Hannah, Bronson's girlfriend and fellow anchor, is left behind (ha!) at the WNN news desk. Fellow reporter Suzie comforts Helen on Bronson's chances for survival by telling her that "Jim and I have our whole church praying for him." Helen's grandmother is also a Believer, leaving two conveniently-placed people for Helen to notice missing in the event of the Rapture.

Lots of bad stuff happens, as shown through stock footage. Tel Aviv is hit with chemical weapons, and Israeli General Moshe Alizar is so incensed he condemns the action in English. The film assumes that everyone speaks our language; another reporter speaks in English on electronic billboards around the globe, and everyone seems to understand. They don't even need subtitles!

More bad stuff happens. China sinks a US battleship, and the US destroys China's Ministry of Defence building. "It's like everyone is just assuming there is no turning back," wails Bronson, who ducks every now and then while bombs go off all around him. The one ray of hope the world has is European Union President Franco Macalusso (Sam Bornstein), the one man who has the respect of all the combatants. He's reported to be the only one who can stop the war. All the world's nuclear missiles are launched, and it appears the end of humanity is nigh.

And then... THE RAPTURE!!! People disappear all over the globe, leaving behind piles of nicely-folded clothing. So nice that the supernatural force that took all the Believers up to Heaven took the trouble to fold the clothes like that. A shame it couldn't be bothered to deal with the other consequences of the event. Planes fall because their pilots are gone, cars crash and trains smash into each other. It makes you wonder... if all these Christians believed the Rapture was going to happen, why did so many of them choose careers in transportation? In light of the destruction caused by their vanishing, the Christian pilots, engineers and drivers look pretty darned irresponsible if not completely reckless.

And another thing... are there really that many Christians in the world? The movie makes it seem like every country has been devastated by the vanishings, but how many vanished people would there really be if the Rapture actually took place? Putting aside all the atheists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and others, there are so many different kinds of Christians out there, and not all of them believe in the Rapture or being Born Again. Take away all of those people, and how many people do you have left? But I digress...

The Christians aren't the only ones to vanish. Also gone are all the nuclear missiles. Were they Bible-believing, born-again missiles? All the conflict in the Middle East has ground to a halt due to sheer confusion. Everyone's asking questions, and many more are making exclamations. "It's as if they... vanished!" one character says, and the phrase "I can't believe it!" gets almost as much screen time as the stock footage.

Back at WNN, Helen and others find neatly-folded clothes where Suzy and Jim were seconds before. Helen journeys to Grandma's house and gets a big surprise... she's gone, too! Luckily Granny was able to write a quick note to Helen before she was Raptured, telling her granddaughter what has happened and that it is not too late for her to get Saved, too.

So, Granny somehow sensed the imminent arrival of the Rapture and had enough time to write a note, but others didn't have advanced warning enough to pull over their cars or put their planes on autopilot?

Okay, I'm digressing again. Helen watches a video starring noted televangelists Drs. Jack and Rexella Van Impe, co-hosts of Jack Van Impe Presents. Jack sets Helen straight about what is going on, and what to look out for in the months and years to come. Helen researches the Bible, then prays to get Saved while inspirational music plays.

Meanwhile, European Union President Franco Macalusso offers a statement to the media from the Mount of Olives. He declares himself to be both God and the Messiah, and that he was the one who made the nukes disappear. He also says he removed certain people from the planet "because they have chosen the way of hate." For some reason, nobody is skeptical of his claims. News broadcasts from General Alizar, a US Navy Admiral named Jim Kirk (ha, ha) and others are all certain the end of the war was nothing less than divine intervention. " are hearing these words now thanks to God," says one. "Period."

And here, dear readers, is where the plot really begins. The Antichrist Macalusso (for he could be none other) sends the evil Len Parker (David Roddis) to take over WNN "to help him create a heaven on earth." Basically, that means pro-Macalusso propaganda and ignoring all dissenting opinions. Macalusso delivers several broadcasts, reminding everyone "I have brought peace to the world" and "The power is not outside yourselves, it is within yourselves." He also tells people that Jesus Christ was a deceiver, and that the 'Haters' (what Christians are called throughout the four movies) must be rounded up and dealt with before anyone can enjoy his peace. Stock footage comes into play again to show Christians the world over being arrested and beaten while their churches and Bibles are burned. It seems a lot of Christians really were left behind (giggle) after the Rapture!

Helen Hannah won't stand for that! She brings her boyfriend Bronson Pearl over to granny's house to show him the Van Impe tape and all the research she has done. Bronson isn't sold on Jesus, and Helen has a fit. "It's clear, Bronson," she says. "And if you would just open up that steel trap of yours, you'd see it, too." Bronson reminds her that she is a journalist, and as such they need to be objective and look at the facts. Helen retorts that she has evidence Macalusso is an impostor, but she never reveals what it is. Perhaps she thinks her Van Impe tape and the Bible are all the evidence she needs. That might do for this film's intended audience, but anyone else will be laughing.

Incidentally, why does everyone take Macalusso at his word when he says he got rid of the nukes? Everyone in this world seems so gullible and trusting.

Anyway, Bronson doesn't buy it, even after Helen shows him all the biblical prophecies that have come true. He storms off, and Helen goes into hiding. The evil Len Parker interrogates Bronson, demanding to know Helen Hannah's whereabouts. Bronson doesn't go for his bull, and why should he? Parker is a walking cartoon character cliche, right down to his textbook villain dialogue. It doesn't help that David Roddis' performance is so hammy it's practically wrapped in bacon.

While Macalusso sets up a seven year peace treaty between Arabs and Jews, Helen engages in a car chase with Parker's thugs. It is, without doubt, the slowest and most boringly shot car chase in movie history.

Bronson has a heart to heart with his dead daddy in the cemetery, and reveals the torture of his soul. He wants to believe Macalusso, "but there's just something that's holding me back. I can't explain it, but it's as if something's tugging at me..." That tugging, holding back something pushes the clouds aside so that the moon can illuminate Bronson's dad's tombstone. There is a Bible reference there, because Bronson's dad was devout; Bronson looks it up and discovers that "the dead in Christ will rise first..." Bronson digs up his dad's coffin and pops the lid, and finds a pile of neatly-folded clothes and a Bible. Bronson gets saved, with more inspirational music playing.

Incidentally, Bronson's clothes look remarkably clean for someone who's just dug up a coffin. Doesn't he sweat? Are his clothes dirt resistant?

Of all the Christian-produced movies I've seen, Apocalypse is the worst. It's best enjoyed as an unintentional comedy, a so-bad-it-is-good kind of thing. Like Anaconda, but without the sense of fun. Or the giant snake.

The script is weak, filled with cardboard stereotypes and no surprises at all. Blame Dr. Jack Van Impe for that - he was the script supervisor, after all. Peter Gerretsen demonstrates a complete lack of skill as director. His attempts at suspense or tension are laughable, best demonstrated by the aforementioned car chase. While his news camera-style of filming does help to create a sense of reality during the Armageddon scenes, it looks cheap and fake everywhere else. Yes, the budget was tiny and the production values make porn look high-class, but that's no excuse for having no talent. Andre Van Heerden, the film's post production supervisor and camera assistant, would go on to become the director for all three sequels.

So that's the first installment in the Apocalypse quartet. The sequels get better, but not by much...

Likely To Convert - 0
Production Values - 0
Acting/Direction - 1
Likely To Be Sat Through - 2
Unintentional Hilarity - 10
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0