Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Assignment

Jack Chick's The Assignment portrays the world as a spiritual battleground between the forces of God and Satan. The prize? Our souls. If this tract is to be believed, angels are constantly trying to convert the Lost, while demons scheme to keep the Word of God from them.

And how do these invisible forces achieve their goals? Easy. They use us. Like tools.

The story starts in Heaven, where a crack team of angel commandos have assembled to Save the soon-to-be-deceased Charles Bishop. They only have a couple of weeks before he'll have "a massive coronary," and they must get him right with the Lord "before his departure." That's right, his "departure." Like the guy's going on holiday.

The angels have two human resources to call upon: Charles' co-worker Tim (stop using my name, Jack!); and Charles' daughter's friend Cathy. Tim is "very weak in the word," but Cathy is devout. "I think we can use her!"

Meanwhile in Hell, a similar crack team of demon commandos have an identical meeting. Their mission? Keep Tim and Cathy away from Charles.

The angels try to shame Tim into preaching, but the demons go to work on Tim's wife Ethel. They convince her that Tim will lose his job and their home if he preaches, so she freaks on him and puts him off the idea. Round one goes to the demons.

I should point out that while people can hear the angels and demons, they can't see them, and they certainly aren't aware of their presence. They hear their voices in their minds, and think the angel/demon ideas are their own. This has disturbing implications; no doubt Jack wants his readers to think they are constantly surrounded by demons, whispering evil suggestions in their ears. The angels are depicted doing the same thing, however, and it is even more disturbing.

Let me illustrate why. The next part of the story shows the demons' attempt to deal with Cathy. Knowing that she is "Faithful," and therefore "very dangerous," they try to distract her with a hot dude named Buz. He lays on the charm, but when a guy trips and bumps into him, Buz's true colours emerge. He threatens the guy with violence, and Cathy sees him for who he truly is. A win for the angels? It would seem so. After all, the reason the guy tripped and fell into Buz was because an angel stuck out his foot and tripped him!

What's wrong with that? First, it calls into question exactly what angel and demon powers are. If angels can physically interfere with people, why don't they do it all the time? Why didn't the angel punch Buz out before he met Cathy? Or better yet, why didn't he take the innocent guy's place? If Buz had become violent, the poor guy would have paid a hefty price for the angel's cause. Are the angels really okay with putting someone in harm's way to achieve their ends?

I realize I'm making a big deal out of a couple of tract panels in what is a fairly minor part of the story. I just think it is telling that angels are depicted using immoral (or at least questionable) actions to get the outcome they want. Aren't they supposed to be holy and good?

And that's not the only time they do it. On the day before Charles Bishop's "departure," both the angels and demons get busy. The demons send an insurance salesman to keep Bishop occupied. The angels work to get Charles Bishop alone with Cathy and her Bible. To do so, one angel sends Cathy over to the Bishop's house while another sends Charles' daughter Sandy upstairs "to wash her hair." The demons are evil for manipulating an insurance agent, but the angels are somehow not evil for using the same tactics with Sandy and Cathy.

Charles invites Cathy in, notices she has a Bible, and insists that she "tell me about it." Cathy reads him the best bits, and Charles realizes he is a sinner bound for Hell unless he becomes a Christian. The angels win...

...or do they? Charles realizes that "this is what I need," but he decides to "wait a few years - there's plenty of time!" Naturally, since this is a Chick tract, he dies of that massive coronary in the very next panel. It's a common theme in Jack's work; don't put off conversion, because you could be "lost for all eternity" at any time.

Jack Chick manages to convey the battle for human souls that he believes is taking place all around us, all the time. In presenting that world, however, Jack reveals more about his god than he realizes. His deity has no problem with this situation HE has created, wherein souls are constantly in jeopardy. That, and the way the angels use humans like puppets, sends the message that life is just a game - whichever side scores the most souls before Judgment Day wins! And we're to look to this god and his angels for morality? At least with the demons, you know where you stand.

The disturbing nature of The Assignment doesn't completely cancel out its entertainment value, however. The art is some of Chick's best, and some of his gags are genuinely amusing. Even more amusing are the unintentional laughs I enjoyed in the scene between Charles and Cathy. As the devout teen reads the Bible to him, Charles tries to encourage her with dialogue that, if taken on its own, suggests something entirely different is going on: "Don't stop, Cathy!" "Go on, Cathy, you're getting through!" Of course, to see that humour, you have to be immature like me.

The Assignment is entertaining, and I'll grudgingly admit it could convert a few souls with its convert-now-don't-wait message of fear. It might also have an impact on those who, like Tim, are "very weak in the word." Tim is shamed for not witnessing; Jack no doubt hopes lukewarm Christian readers will feel the same.

Fear and shame. The best emotions to invoke when speaking of a god of infinite love. Is it possible to talk about such a deity without resorting to scare tactics?

Now there's an assignment for you, Jack Chick!

The Assignment
Likely to Convert - 4
Artwork - 9
Ability to Hold Interest - 7
Unintentional Hilarity - 7
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 6

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Mad Machine

This one is just plain batshit crazy. Sorry for the foul language, but no other words come close. In fact, I could probably stop this review right here.

But I won't.

The Mad Machine has a lot in common with The Beast, in that both reveal far too much about Jack Chick's paranoid state of mind. There's no mention of the End Times in Machine, however. Or, for that matter, a machine. Instead, this tract's purpose is to demonstrate how bad things are for the world, make fun of people who think they have the answers, and finally demonstrate how much better things would be if we'd only accept Jesus as our Saviour.

Out of all the topics of ridicule, therapy takes the most hits. Jack portrays mental health treatment as if it were still in the dark ages. "There's no peace or compassion in (group therapy)... only putdowns, anger and tears." Speaking as someone who has benefited from group therapy, I can truthfully say that Jack is full of crap.

All of his taunts come with blanket statements like: "New marriage problems are plaguing the home" and "Experts predict a world-wide depression." Where does he get this information? Who are these "experts" he speaks of? Another statement begins with: "It's been reported that..." Reported where? Jack does not say; he's become as lazy as every other tract writer!

The Mad Machine ends with a devout old lady. Jack loves devout old ladies, and has featured them as heroes in his tracts at least as often as Bible Bob and Li'l Susy. This tract's devout old lady tells a man in a suit that God will take care of all her problems. "I understand your husband is dead," the suited, bespectacled man says. "Your money is almost gone, you have no relatives and you have cancer, right?" The way anyone would raise such sensitive topics. She isn't phased in the slightest; "those problems are the Lord's responsibility... not mine!" The suited man (who he is and what he's doing there are never revealed) asks, "Do you really think this Jesus can help you?" Which is funny, because the old lady hasn't mentioned Jesus' name yet! She tells him what Jesus did to Save everybody, but neglects to inform the dude how to actually get Saved. And while Jesus is stated to be "the only way to Heaven," mo mention is made of Hell. It is not like Jack to take the soft approach.

The old lady sums up this tract's message by describing the knowledge of eternal life in Heaven as "real good therapy!" As if Almighty God was nothing more than a substitute for Prozac.

Jack Chick is at his absolute best when he's depicting Hell, damnation and terror. Nevertheless, The Mad Machine is still pretty entertaining. Only people paranoid enough to buy in to Jack's vision of our world are likely to be converted, if they haven't been already. Everyone else will either laugh or scratch their heads. Either way, they will likely agree with my opening statement:

The Mad Machine is batshit crazy!

The Mad Machine
Likely to Convert - 3
Artwork - 8
Ability to Hold Interest - 7
Unintentional Hilarity - 7
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 2

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Left Behind II: Tribulation Force

Back in March of 2012, Kirk Cameron returned from irrelevance to denounce the gay lifestyle as being 'detrimental to civilization' or some such rubbish. And, he claims he spoke those words out of love! That whacky guy. You never know which foot he's going to stick in his mouth next.

Just after he made those comments, I decided the time was right to look at some of his past work on God's behalf. I'd already reviewed Left Behind: The Movie, so I moved on to the blockbusting direct-to-video sequel, Left Behind II: Tribulation Force.

And then I deleted my review. It was loaded with images that may or may not have been copyrighted, and I was taking no chances. I liked my review, though, and I plan to get around to the third movie, Left Behind: World At War, at some point, so here it is once more.

Based on the second novel in Tim Lahaye/Jerry B. Jenkins Left Behind series, T-Force brings us back to the days following the Rapture. One week has passed since the events of the first movie; plucky reporter Buck Williams (Kirk Cameron) provides necessary exposition in the form of a news broadcast, bringing the audience back up to speed.

Things have been going really well for Nicholae Carpathia(Gordon Currie), otherwise known as the Antichrist; he's become the Secretary General of the United Nations. The rest of the UN want to make him the leader of the world - they practically beg him to do it! They also want a one-world currency, all according to Nicky's plans.

And according to prophecy; all this stuff is in the Bible, after all, which leaves the newly-formed Tribulation Force (Buck, Pastor Bruce Barns(Clarence Gilyard), Ray & Chloe Steele) in a bit of a quandary. "We can't change the events of the Bible," Bruce says when Chloe asks how they can stop Nicky-boy. When she asks what they can do, Bruce replies: "Fight him." Isn't that like trying to stop him...?

The plot involves two important tidbits: 1, the Wailing Wall has been "shut down" due to the mysterious deaths of three men; and 2, Rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah is going to go on global television (GNN) to unveil 'the single biggest piece of news in history." Bruce Barns says the deaths at the Wall might have been due to the Two Witnesses, prophesied to come from Heaven during the Last Days to Preach the Word and shoot "fire from Heaven" at people they don't like. Buck decides to go to Jerusalem to confirm the presence of the Witnesses, because apparently Bruce's word and the Bible's Word isn't good enough. This does not sit well with Chloe(Janaya Stephens), whom the screenwriters have chosen to portray as a bratty teen (even though she's in her 20s). When she asks why someone else can't go instead, Buck replies, "Because I don't trust anybody else to stick to our mission." He appears blissfully unaware that he has just insulted everyone in the room. Not to worry; they didn't notice the put-down, either.

Further plans are drawn up, and Chloe pouts for all she's worth. Bruce thinks that Ray Steele(Brad Johnson) should go for the job of pilot for Carpathia. Ray disagrees strenuously; "We're talking about the AntiChrist here!" he says with a straight face. "We need the information to save souls, Ray!" Bruce replies with an even straighter face. Ray is forced to admit he's been out-faced, so he agrees.

In spite of the immediacy of these plans, the script calls for some filler to throw off the pace. Bruce leads a church service to explain the Rapture and save souls. One guy rolls his eyes and asks, "So what's gonna happen?" That guy was played by none other than The Daily Show's Jason Jones! This unexpected cameo was, for me, the most exciting moment in the film.

The second and much longer bit of filler involves Chloe, Buck, and a misunderstanding so contrived that even an 80s sitcom wouldn't touch it. Chloe, who has the hots for Bucky, goes to Buck's place and finds his assistant Ivy Gold(Krista Bridges) there instead. Ivy has an engagement ring on her finger, and Chloe jumps feet-first into the wrong conclusion. Being the grown up that she is, Chloe gives Buck the silent treatment and hangs up on him when he calls. It's not until Ray tricks her into talking to Buck that she realizes she put two and two together and got moron. Seriously, what does Buck see in her? And why does this movie waste so much time on this bit of dumbassery?

Screenwriters' Paul Lalonde and John Patus must have realized they couldn't do anything better with Chloe's character, either. When they finally get back to the plot, Chloe gets left behind (pun intended).

Speaking of that plot, Ray becomes Nick's pilot and Buck strikes a deal with His Nickyness to be his media guy. Ray goes to his ex-flirt Hattie Durham (Chelsea Noble) and convinces her to get him the job. It's not an easy sell - she's still mad about the affair they didn't have, and concerned about his status as a 'Bible thumper.' Ray lies his ass off, and manages to win her over.

This scene is, incidentally, Chelsea's only real appearance in the movie (apart from a couple of shots of her standing behind Nicholae). And yet, she gets top billing. And, in the making of featurette in the DVD's extras, she says she did the film because of the "great script."

Buck's meeting with Nick Carpathia is a lot less interesting. Paul and John don't write it so much as order up dialogue from a random clichee generator. Nicky wants Buck to be his media guy "because people trust you." Buck actually says, "And if I refuse?" Nick chuckles good-naturedly and says, "I don't think you can." There's a similar scene between Ray and Nicky, and it is no less painful.

The third act finally arrives, and we are off to the Toronto location that looks like Israel. Ray and Buck discover that Rabbi Ben-Juda will announce that Nicholae Carpeltunnel is the Messiah of prophecy. And Buck is going to broadcast that message to the world! Oh no! Ben-Juda, Buck and Ray figure, must be under the AntiChrist's mind-mojo, and needs to be set straight. Buck convinces the brainwashed rabbi to visit the Two Witnesses so that he can "discredit them." Of course, Buck is really hoping the Two Witnesses will convince Ben-Juda that the Messiah is Jesus.

In other words, Buck achieves his goal by lying. Just like Ray did to get his pilot job. And yet, in another scene Kirk Cameron drops character and tries to convince a guy named Chris that he hasn't been living up to God's standard: 'Have you ever told a lie? So what does that make you? That's right, a liar!' Why is it not okay for the unSaved Chris to have told even one lie, yet Buck and Ray can lie all they want to further their agenda? What a mixed message!

There are so many things wrong with this film, I'm almost not sure where to start. The dialogue, first and foremost, is just as bad as the first movie's. I want to say that the acting is terrible, but remember these guys are keeping a straight face when saying clunkers like:
"I'm saying there is a God. There has to be. It's the only thing that makes sense."
"The oceans, the sunset, do you think this just happened by chance?"
"You need to put your faith and your trust in God. And you need to do it right now!"
"I think you're a wonderful guy, but I'm having a really hard time with this whole hanging-out-with-the-Devil thing."

Then we have the issue of Nicky's dialogue. The script assumes that, if Nicholae says something, it is evil. How could it not be? He's the goddamn AntiChrist! So, when Nick-O talks of forming a one-world religion based on "tolerance, harmony and peace" because "divided religions mean a divided world," viewers are meant to think he's being a real bastard. But is there anything fundamentally bad about a religion of peace and tolerance? "We cannot allow closed-minded religious fanaticism to divide the world any further," says the mind-controlled Ben-Judah. And I agree with him! But we are supposed to disagree with the above statements, simply because they come from Nicholae Carpathia. It makes me wonder what words they might put in his mouth in future installments. Kirk Cameron might insist, for instance, that the AntiChrist speak of the need for acceptance of the gay community due to their positive impact on humanity.

Left Behind II: Tribulation Force is a worthy follow-up to the original, but that's the nicest thing I can say about it. Flawed, uneven, badly scripted and poorly executed are just a few of the not-so-nice things. This movie is just another piece of Salvation propaganda; ironic, since its biggest audience is the already-Saved. Personally, I think this film stinks so badly, it might just be detrimental to civilization.

Likely To Convert - 0
Production Values - 5
Acting/Direction - 2
Likely To Be Sat Through - 2
Unintentional Hilarity - 7
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 3
Awesomeness of Jason Jones - 11!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Who, Me?

Note: this is a rewrite of a review I'd posted over a year ago, along with several copyrighted images. I deleted it along with several other reviews, but recently decided to re-post it if I could find my original handwritten draft. I did, so here it is.

To take people's minds off of Hurricane Sandy, I bring you another look into the world of the nearly-always reliable Jack Chick. But this one, dear readers, is no ordinary Chick Tract. This one was specially created for timid Christians who want to Save people as passively as possible. And more, it's also a shameless advert for Jack's other tracts, to be distributed by those timid Christians in the hopes of converting them into Chick Publications customers. And Saving the unSaved too, I suppose.

First, Jack uses his own unique style to demonstrate how hard it is to Witness. Most methods (like gospel radio & TV sows) won't work, he says, and most other tracts are also doomed to failure because they have "too many words." Before presenting his own work as the solution to this Witnessing dilemma, Jack tells an interesting story about where he got the idea to draw his cartoons. "A missionary told us that the Communists in China had developed a powerful way to reach the multitudes." It seems "their agents watched our children spend hours reading comic books." Jack illustrates this point with an image of a drug store, where children read comics while an evil-looking Chinese dude takes pictures of them from behind a display stand. "The communists spent millions of dollars printing their propaganda in a cartoon format," and "the results were extremely successful."

Apparently people will believe anything if it's in cartoon form. Think I'll go find some toxic waste to swim in when I'm done this review, so I can get me some superpowers!

Anyway, seeing the success of the Chinese propaganda, Jack Chick made his illustrated gospel tracts to spread God's Word. Because when he does it, it's spreading God's Word. But when the Chinese do it, it's propaganda. Hmm. I'm certain Jack missed the irony on this one.

According to Jack, his cartoon tracts succeeded "beyond all expectations" because "people find them IRRESISTIBLE!" If he does say so himself. Which he does.

The rest of the tract tells the reader how they can go about Witnessing with his tracts, and gives suggestions on where those tracts could be placed. Jack also devotes two pages to quotes from people who got Saved because they read his work. "NOBODY can resist illustrated Chick Tracts!"

The back cover provides information on how to get your hands on some, so you can have "a successful and satisfying personal ministry." Chick tracts are "available at your favorite Christian bookstore," and a phone number and website address are provided just in case they are not.

As tracts go, this is a unique item. It's fairly inoffensive, except of course to the Chinese, and it is amusing to see just how highly Jack thinks of himself and his product. Doesn't the Bible have a few things to say about pride? Still, Jack has a valid point - his tracts make it very easy for shy people to spread Jack Chick's word.

Who, Me?
Likely to Convert - N/A
Artwork - 7
Ability to Hold Interest - 7
Unintentional Hilarity - 6
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 4

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Beast

Jack Chick loves to recycle his previous material, especially when it comes to the End Times. The Beast was published, according to the copyright notice, back in 1988, which very nearly makes it the tract that begat all of Chick's end-times stuff (including the hilarious Here He Comes! in 2003 and the stupid and offensive Where Did They Go? in 2007).

Very nearly, but not quite; there's The Only Hope, which predates The Beast by three years. I don’t have that one, though, so let’s stick with The Beast.

It starts with two pages depicting the Noah apocalypse, a time when “everything was totally evil” because mankind “had become so rotten.” Jack compares that epoch with today’s world(or, rather, what he thought today’s world was back in 1988), and declares that “today’s conditions are the same as it was in the days of Noah.” No, he’s not predicting bad weather. Jack uses another two pages to depict “life as it is today,” and sets both images in a bar. There’s a knife fight going on, a bunch of men groping women and talking adultery, there’s a gay couple in the corner, and the waitresses appear to be topless.

Wait! There’s more – a guy shouts about “an old nut” preaching outside, and suggests they all “go give him the business. Haw! Haw! Haw!” There is simply no other way for a person to laugh in a Chick tract.

Oh, and people praise Lucifer’s name, too. The way we all do in today’s world. Back in 1988.

So, we’ve seen Noah’s world (inclement, with a chance of Ark), and we’ve seen Jack’s paranoid delusion of the late eighties. What’s all this got to do with the Beast? Jack’s getting to that; be patient. First there are two pages depicting the Rapture, because one image of Christians flying up to Heaven just wouldn’t be enough. The Four Horsemen start riding, and the Beast finally takes centre stage.

The Beast is “a leader that the world will love,” and is also “Satan’s masterpiece.” He “stabilizes the world economy and pulls the religions of the world together.” Then he uses computers to “control every person on the globe” with his infamous 666 mark. That’s one busy beast!

The world continues its decline, becoming “one gigantic witches’ coven.” The people “will not repent,” so “God pours out his wrath on an unbelieving and rebellious world.” On one page Jack depicts this wrath, which includes the poisoning of water, a third of the sea turning to blood, men being “scorched with great heat,” and swarms of unconvincing bugs with crowns on their heads and nice hairdos.

Like I said, all that stuff takes up only one page. The Rapture, two pages. Not sure what to make of that. Plus, out of 22 panels, the Beast (or his name) only appears in four.

The Beast continues to screw around and the people still won’t repent, so God decides it is time to put his holy foot down. He interrupts the Battle of Armageddon and wipes everyone out, then He throws all the sinners into Hell a thousand years later. Why a thousand years later? It’s a Bible thing.

So there’s Jack Chick’s second (I think) End Time tract. Not a lot in there to convince a secular audience of its validity; The Beast seems to be targeted at the Saved. As Chick tracts go, this one isn’t bad; the art is nice, as always, and the paranoia is good for a laugh. It’s not as good as Flight 144, but tract enthusiasts like me could do a lot worse.

The Beast
Likely to Convert - 2
Artwork - 9
Ability to Hold Interest - 8
Unintentional Hilarity - 8
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 4

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Unspeakable Gift

Here's a tract that could really have benefited from the work of a decent editor. Unnecessarily wordy and lacking narrative focus, The Unspeakable Gift is practically unreadable, too!

Published by Evangelical Tract Distributors and "Selected by A. C. P." - whatever that means - this tract makes the oft-repeated point that "Eternal Life" is a Gift. Apparently the Apostle Paul said "Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable Gift," which explains this tract's title. Nothing else does. I mean, one usually associates the word Unspeakable with something negative, doesn't one? Paul likely meant something positive, but will the average secular person on the street make that assumption when handed this unspeakable tract?

But the title, while off-putting, is hardly this tract's only problem. Run-on sentences abound, and the author lacks knowledge of basic punctuation. And did I mention narrative focus? Yes I did. The tract begins by talking about our "beclouded" minds, then tells of how the thief being crucified next to Jesus got himself Saved in the nick of time. He had no good works to his credit, you see, but was still "carried into paradise where Christ was" because "the righteousness of Christ was imputed to him."

And then, just after the Apostle Paul and his Unspeakable quote, the tract dives headfirst into a clumsy metaphor. Imagine "an unskilled man taking his crude colors and clumsy brush and trying to add to" a great work of art. "The idea is unthinkable." So why are people "doing it every day when they come to the question of their soul's salvation" by trying to add to God's Gift of Eternal Life?

Further salvation talk ensues, and the author trips over his/her own explanations. The tract also states that "The Cross of Christ our Lord" is "the central FACT of history." No, that "FACT" is not backed up with any evidence, but that's hardly a surprise.

Evangelical Tract Distributors, this little number is proof that good writing is every bit as important as scripture. If you want to impute your message into our minds without beclouding them, you'll need to do much better than this!

And no, I'm not going to end on a gag about this tract's unspeakableness, because that would be too easy. I'm above cheap jokes. Some of the time.

The Unspeakable Gift
Likely to Convert - 0
Artwork - 4
Ability to Hold Interest - 2
Unintentional Hilarity - 5
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Wonderful Signs

In this one, the Evangelical Tract Distributors take readers on another trip to crazytown. They present the reader with no less than ten stories of miraculous signs appearing in the sky (except one about writing on a wall). Most of the stories involve the formation of sentences in the heavens, like: "Be Ye Converted For Jesus Is Coming Soon." "The end. I come quickly." The other stories describe images in the sky, like "the distinct form of a man from the waist up," or "a distinct Cross with a silvery sheen on one side." In other words, not the sort of stuff the average Joe bears witness to on a daily basis. If these 'Signs' really happened and can be verified, then Wonderful Signs is the most convincing tract ever put to paper! If the Signs really happened. Let's say I took the time to look these up. Not easy, considering most of them lack crucial bits of information (names, dates, that sort of thing). But if I did look them up, would I find any truth to these dramatic sky-writing events? Okay, I went and took the time just now. I plugged in every word into Google that I could, and looked for some article that verified these stories' historical accuracy. The results? I found a couple of the stories online. With the same, word-for-word text as that printed in the tract. And all on Christian websites. I'm afraid I'll need to see an unbiased, secular reporting of the Signs if I'm to be convinced. But I did! I found more than two sites that verified the first Sign mentioned in the tract: the appearance of words in the sky, then "an angel with large white wings, at whose side arose a large Cross, and below whom stood the word, 'Amen'. They appeared in the night sky above Stavenger, Norway, on April 16, 1916. So there you have it. One story, verified (and not disputed) by outside sources. Tip of the hat, ETD. You did good. It proves nothing, of course, but it's more evidence than I usually see in a tract. A pity there is no account for the other nine stories. Maybe I just haven't found them yet; like I said, very little information was provided to aid in such a search. Too bad, because without some rock-solid proof that each of the ten events took place, the tract falls apart. Are we supposed to take the tract author's word on faith? At least this tract is entertaining. The details of the stories are fun, and I especially enjoyed the descriptions of non-believers witnessing the signs: "Some were unsaved, and when they saw the Cross in the sky great fear came upon them." And their names are...? Yes, I'm afraid it all comes back to that. I've made mention before about the lack of credibility most tracts have when they rely entirely on Scripture to back up their claims. Wonderful Signs tries to reach even further, attempting to make readers believe the claims of the Bible and each of these Signs, too. Suspension of disbelief will only stretch so far. Ironic, then, that ETD uses one leap in credibility (the majority of the Signs) to back up another (Scripture). At least they tried. Points for effort and substance, especially for the Stavenger, Norway story. Which, by the way, is really Stavanger, Norway. That was very nearly mind-blowing. Why isn't there more information on this event? Why no photographs? Sigh. "Well probably they are right after all," a couple of Sign-witnesses allegedly said, "referring no doubt to those who are expecting the coming of the Lord." Maybe they are, ETD, but you haven't convinced me yet. Try, try again, I'll be waiting. For now, I'll be Wonderful and Sign off. Likely to Convert - 5 Artwork - 4 Ability to Hold Interest - 7 Unintentional Hilarity - 5 Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Running Scared

This one's not a review. In fact, I am suspending this blog for the time being. The reason? Copyright law, and my utter ignorance of it. Basically, I had the fear of god (pun intended) put into me by a fellow blogger's post. She'd been sued by a photographer for posting his picture on her blog; apparently, images from the Internet are not as free as many people (myself included) think they are. I always figured I was safe. After all, I'm 'reviewing' tracts! But am I certain that, should certain tract artists come after me with a team of lawyers, I would be safe from prosecution? No, I am not. For some posts, I've removed all the images. Others I've deleted outright. A very sizable chunk of Biblical Proportions is now gone. Yes, I'm doing the smart thing. It feels like the coward's thing. And, I feel stupid for having placed myself in this situation. What does this mean for the future? Well, most of my posts depend on having at least one image to identify the tract/video/book in question. Without a visual reference, I feel there is no point in reviewing tracts any more. But I'm not abandoning this blog, at least not yet. I'll give it some thought, and come back with a different approach. For now, I'd like to thank all of you who have read these posts and enjoyed them. If you want me to continue to expose the utter ridiculousness of religious propaganda, let me know.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Present

In my last review, I actually praised Jack T. Chick for his cartooning abilities. It was praise earned; in the world of fundamentalist cartoon tracts, Jack stands high above the rest. All that skill and craftsmanship are on display in The Present, but they are not enough to save the tract from an extreme case of lameness. The story is a simple one, starting with a fairy tale before moving on to Biblical ‘truth’. There’s this king who lives with his only son “in a palace high above the clouds.” How he and his kid can breathe up there is never explained. The king decides to build “apartments in my castle as a present for all” his son’s friends, and sends his Only Son (hint, hint) down to the people below to “invite them to the castle.” It turns out the people below are a nasty lot, and kind of dumb, too. When Sonny-boy tells them the king “has a wonderful present for you,” they assume “he’s lying” and tell him “We don’t want his present!” And then they kill the poor bastard. Yes, bastard. We never do see a queen. The king is understandably put out by the news of his son’s death, so he sends his army to attack the town, and “no one survived!” “The next part of this book,” Chick tells us, “IS TRUE.” He re-tells the story of Jesus, sent by his father from his castle above the clouds down to the people below to offer them a present. You see, there are “many mansions in heaven that HE wants people on earth to come live in.” Just like the king in that story! Jesus tells the people he’s the son of God, come to invite them all up to his heavenly mansions. The people suspect “he’s lying to us!” And, well, we all know how that story turned out. The idea Chick is trying to put forward here is that God (like that king) is offering a wonderful present that is so good, it would be utter foolishness to refuse it. He also makes it clear that rejecting the gift will lead to dire consequences. The stories don’t exactly match up – the prince doesn’t rise three days later to become the townsfolk’s saviour. Nevertheless, The Present presents the Christian faith as something wonderful to be obtained, a rare thing for any tract. The whole notion of Hell is left off-page until the very end, appearing as something of an afterthought. At least until the reader figures out that the gift of Jesus is an escape from the predicament God put them into in the first place! I just didn’t like this tract. I’m not especially outraged, I’m not particularly amused, and I’m barely entertained. The Present is the re-gifted tacky tie of tracts, best left in its wrapping under the tree. Likely to Convert - 2 Artwork - 7 Ability to Hold Interest - 4 Unintentional Hilarity - 6 Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1


Here’s a tract that looks like it might be fun, what with the cartoons and everything. Sadly, the Fellowship Tract League can’t make a decent cartoon to save your soul. It starts out with a pale naked man with no penis looking up at the title in a cloud. “Boy! I’d sure like to go there!!” he says, uttering the only line of dialogue. The rest of the tract uses scripture quotes to provide context to the cartoons; each panel has at least two verses attached to it. A large brick wall, labeled SIN, pushes the pale naked man with no penis toward a cliff over the fiery pit of HELL. The brick wall has a human arm that points down at the scary flames, just in case there is any confusion about where the SIN is pushing him. Luckily, a cross-shaped bridge appears, allowing the pale naked man with no penis to cross over HELL’s flames to Heaven. This makes the pale naked man very happy. Even though he has no penis. Heaven is a simple little story that teaches all the main points about Christianity. Well done. A shame it won’t win any converts. It’s the cartoons; sure, they’ll keep the average reader on the page, but the style is too goofy to be taken seriously. Jack Chick knows the balance a cartoonist must strike when drawing a serious-minded comic strip. The uncredited artist on this tract does not. When you consider the fact that the rest of the tract is nothing but Bible quotes, one can see how the League have booked yet another ticket to Loserville. Wow, I never thought I’d compliment Jack Chick! He may be as loony as a roll of dollar coins, but the man knows his craft. Try again, Fellowship Tract League. Likely to Convert - 1 Artwork - 4 Ability to Hold Interest - 2 Unintentional Hilarity - 2 Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Flight 144

It's been a while since I've had the dubious pleasure of finding a Chick Tract out in the world. This one had been placed atop a pay phone in a subway station, and I spotted it as my train pulled in. I was on my way to a job interview and had two more stops to go, but I hopped off the train to grab it anyway. Such is my dedication to this blog. But enough about me! As you have no doubt surmised from the title, this tract is about some airline passengers. And if you guessed that their plane is doomed, give yourself a pat on the back. On board the doomed Flight 144 we meet Rev. Davidson and his wife, a pair of missionaries returning to America after a 50-year stint in Africa building schools and hospitals ("one just for lepers")and helping poor people in need. And did I mention they are heading for the USA "to raise funds for another hospital"? Well, they are. What a lovely couple of do-gooders. They are surely bound for Heaven when they die, right? First, don't call me Shirley (come on, this is a tract about an airplane!). Secondly, no they are not. Not according to Ed, the handsome and smiling young man the Davidsons sit next to. He seems like a nice guy, even when he freely admits "I killed a guy in a drunken brawl. I just got out of jail last week." What a terrific way to start a conversation! Ed goes on to ask the Davidsons "how many sinners have been saved through your ministry?" Like it's a contest or something. And maybe it is. Ed talks about them getting crowns in Heaven for their efforts. However, when Ed realizes the Davidsons "DON'T tell people how to get saved," he gets all righteous indignation on them. Their "good works are fine," but they "can't save ANYONE!" He tries to Save them, but then the plane crashes into the ocean and everybody dies. Too late, Davidsons! Ed the drunken brawl killer gets to go to his "beautiful mansion in heaven," but the missionaries have a date with Ol' Faceless. And it's gonna be a date from Hell. Faceless tells the Davidsons their lives of kindness and sacrifice are essentially meaningless, since neither of them were Saved. He also implies very strongly that no one from any other religion will escape Hell, since He is the Way, the Truth, the Life, and all that jazz. "This is HORRIFYING!" Rev. Davidson says, right before the angels throw him and his wife face-first into Flame County (is Flame County funny? Be honest. I was also thinking of Burntimore.) You know, I'm starting to recognize tracts like this one for what they are - revenge fantasies. How smug must Jack and other tract makers feel, knowing that they are Right and have the Truth while everyone else is basically just a walking, talking Instant-Light briquette? Visualizing such a fate on paper, complete with the "YAAAAAH!" of those fools who wouldn't listen (or take you seriously)... well, that's almost as good as the real thing, right? The cartoon art in Flight 144 is up to Jack's usual high standard, especially the facial expressions of the doomed Davidsons. And the image of the angels tossing them into Hell is awesome. I really like the image of Rev. Davidson protecting his wife from their god. The look on his face seems to say, "Don't come near her, you monster!" I'm sure that's not what Jack T. intended. The message of this tract is fairly standard; nothing but Jesus will get you into Heaven. Chick has explored this theme many times before, going through the things that won't spare you from Hell one by one. Flight 144 explores Good Works (and uses the words 'good works' no less than eleven times, twelve if you count 'wonderful works'). Others have explored being lawful, going to church, being ordained, being Jewish or Muslim or Catholic, etc... Flight 144 isn't so much disturbing as it is arrogant. Okay, yes, it's definitely disturbing, but the arrogance is just as strong. Chick presents a faceless God without any redeeming features - the reader is given no reason to want HIM. The only reason anyone would follow HIM would be out of sheer terror. Or the possibility of a beautiful mansion. Terror or greed, then. And these are the 'Good' guys? As far as the characters go, I like the Davidsons a lot more than Ed. He confesses to murder the way I'd confess to farting in public - no remorse at all. And he's pushy, too. And a self-righteous holier-than-thou know-it-all. But he's Saved, so he gets a heavenly mansion. The Davidsons, by contrast, are polite, friendly and self-sacrificing, even if Rev. D does love to toot his own horn. They are the ones I identify with and root for. So when Ol' Faceless sends them on a nose-dive to San Flamecisco (or the Poachian Gulf), I don't immediately see why HE is RIGHT. Perhaps this tract is meant for other Christians, who are UnSaved and believing they are Good Enough. Jack has a much better chance of reaching them. When it comes to secular people, though, Jack's efforts crash and burn. Likely to Convert - 2 Artwork - 7 Ability to Hold Interest - 6 Unintentional Hilarity - 6 Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Filling The Hole You Didn't Know You Had

Most tracts have a common theme, that of the need for Salvation to avoid the eternal burning flames of Hell. A few go even further, and share a more specific thread. Such is the case with the following three tracts; they try to convince their readers there is an emptiness within them that can only be filled by Jesus Christ. I'll review all three, with an eye toward their presentation of this notion.

What Fills The Void is, at first glance, a rather attractive tract. Half text and half cartoon, this tract insists that "all of us have an empty space inside that needs to be filled." According to author Stephen M. Crane, human beings "are governed by both natural and spiritual laws," that make us "grope for something to satisfy their inner hunger." Artist John Fretz illustrates some of the many things we are apparently groping: money, booze, dope, sex, recreation, sports, religion, knowledge and philosophy.
None of those things "removes the root of the problem," however, because only God "can provide spiritual contentment."

In spite of the convincing nature of John's images(the couple in the Sex picture look particularly unfulfilled), this effort from Gospel Tract Distributors fails to provide evidence for its central premise. That all of us have a void in need of stuffing is treated as a fait accompli. No effort is made to reach the reader who doesn't feel especially empty as the tract supposes.
Is Something Missing In Your Life, from the Fellowship Tract League, is even worse. The cover image of the missing jigsaw piece is clever enough, and the opening question("My friend, are you dead or alive?") is nice and weird, but the rest of the tract is just more of the same with a liberal dose of hyperbole. Lines of scripture are offered up, warning of "eternal separation from God in hell fire" unless you let Jesus "breathe life into you" and fill the "empty void and longing, deep within the depths of your soul, crying out to be filled."

I'd like to pause here to point out the enormous restraint I'm demonstrating in not using the previous sentence, or the one about groping to satisfy an inner hunger, for an obvious sex joke. You're welcome.

Do You Know My Friend, written by Modena Gelien for Evangelical Tract Distributors, isn't much better. "Hello, lonely one!" it begins. "Are you looking for a friend?" The presumption here is staggeringly insulting; not only does Modena assume we are lonely, she also implies that we have no friends! And we're only two sentences in.

"Once I was lonely," Modena goes on. "Then I met Jesus!" A young lady "introduced me to Him" by giving her a tract, and Modena "wondered if He could be my Friend, too?"

I can't help but be creeped out by the needy, clingy tone of her writing, but at least she takes a slightly different approach by presenting Jesus as everyone's Buddy. Sadly, she ruins that goodwill by saying "you are yet a sinner" midway down the second page. And she just drops it in there, too. The font size for this tract is larger than most; perhaps she had to cut all the biblical stuff about why she thinks we are sinners in order to save space.

Then there's the issue of what Jesus' Friendship entails. Modena describes her other friends as "fleeting acquaintances" who were only there "as long as I had something to give." But in order to be friends with Jesus, one must "admit you are a sinner," then "acknowledge that Jesus died for your sins," and then you "ask him to come into your heart and take control of your life." Anything else? "After that, acclaim him to the world." Seems Jesus requires an awful lot in exchange for his Friendship, doesn't it?

"If you want to know my Friend Jesus," Modena Gelien concludes, "please make that first move now." Well, my definition of a friend is someone who sees me as an equal, and I don't think her Jesus is offering that. The only move I'm making is in the opposite direction, and fast.

All three of these tracts assume there is "a vital part of your existence that isn't there." Some non-believers might feel that way, but not all of them. With no proof other than scripture, these tracts come off as judgmental and insulting at best. Void is good for a chuckle or two, and Do is entertainingly creepy. Otherwise, there's a void in my recycling box that needs filling, and these tracts will do just fine.

What Fills The Void?
Likely to Convert - 2
Artwork - 7
Ability to Hold Interest - 6
Unintentional Hilarity - 6
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1

Is Something Missing in Your Life?
Likely to Convert - 1
Artwork - 6
Ability to Hold Interest - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 2
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1

Do You Know My Friend
Likely to Convert - 2
Artwork - 3
Ability to Hold Interest - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 5
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 6

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sunday School Musical

I suppose, given the popularity of the High School Musical movies, this movie was inevitable. There's already an audience for that sort of thing, and they don't require a huge production budget. Good thing, too, because this movie was made by Faith Films(2012 Doomsday).

Directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg, written by Rachel Lee Goldenberg and Ashley Holloway and starring a bunch of unknowns, Sunday School Musical tells the story of two choirs competing for a chance to win a big cash prize so they can save the local church. It's a story you've seen or read a thousand times before, a plot so old it pre-dates the Creation. This film makes the idea of computer-generated scripts only too plausible.

The doomed church in question is Hawthorne, home to a choir of urban hip-hop teens. Their competition in the regional choir-off is the Crossroads Christian Choir, made up of squeaky-clean but woefully untalented high schoolers from the suburbs. When the third group of competitors become disqualified due to a random egg salad incident (don't ask), both Hawthorne and Crossroads find themselves on their way to the upcoming States Championship - with a grand prize of $10,000 (or, ten times this movie's budget).

Zach, the best singer on Hawthorne's choir(and the main character, played by the amiable Chris Chatman), runs into some Issues: his dad is away in the army, his mom just lost her job, and his family has to move across town to live with Aunt Janet. This means that Zach must now attend a new school, and leave the Hawthorne choir behind. The scene where Zach's mom drops this bombshell on him is one of many where bad writing, bad directing and bad acting collide, and inadvertently sets the tone for the film: this is as good as it's going to get.

Zach heads to the rooftops for a musical number with Andrea, the only other Hawthorne Choir member given any characterization. Too bad, because actress Krystle Connor can't act her way out of a torn paper bag. Andrea scolds Zach for abandoning the choir in their time of need, as if it was all his fault. This is her character in a nutshell; no matter what's happening, it's all about her. This trait makes Andrea - and by extension, Hawthorne - very hard to root for. Zach starts at his new school, just in time for a really big coincidence - his new institution of learning is none other than Crossroads, home to the rival choir! They only seem to have two classes at Crossroads - Home Ec and Scripture Studies - both of which introduce Zach to key members of the choir. In Home Ec, Zach gets paired up with Savannah(Candise Lakota) for a baking project. The scene is supposed to highlight their rivalry while suggesting a budding attraction, but the attempts at both tension and humour fall flatter than the pancakes they're making. In Scripture class Zach meets the Nerd. The character's name is Miles(Robert Acinapura), but I'm going to go with his stereotype. Nerd manages to up the tension ante from boring to annoying, then drives it all the way to stupid by accusing Zach of being a spy for the other choir. A spy? Seriously? Well, this is a character who actually uses the words "willy-nilly" with a straight face. He's this movie's Jar Jar Binks, which is quite a feat in a movie full of Ewoks.

Incidentally, the Scripture studies teacher Mrs. Stewart(Debra Lynn Hull) looks like a live action Miss Henn from the tracts of Jack Chick.

Meanwhile, back at the plot, Hawthorne Church's minister informs Andrea and her choir that the church will close unless they can raise $10,000 - the exact amount of the prize for the State's Championship! Andrea wastes no time making the situation all about her. It's understandable; she isn't having much luck in getting the choir into shape without Zach. And her character only has the one note. Savannah recruits a reluctant Zach to the Crossroads Choir, where he teaches them to do their own thang. "Music isn't something you learn, it's something you feel," he tells them, launching into a musical number so rockin' that nobody notices how badly he's lip-synching.

The rest of the film unfolds exactly the way it's expected to. Hawthorne Church is saved, Zach and Savannah kiss, and all is right with the world. What I didn't expect was the complete and utter lack of preaching. This movie does not once mention Hell or the need to get Saved. There is no dramatic conversion scene, and no unconvincing 'UnSaved' stereotypes. The characters do not go around quoting scripture as if it were a second language, either. If not for a couple of scenes involving prayer, one might just forget this is a Christian movie(even though it's about choirs!). Christianity is simply the backdrop all the characters live in. Also conspicuously absent are the much-touted Christian values. When characters act out of selfishness or pride(or just plain act like jerks), nobody holds them accountable. Neither do they learn a valuable lesson that causes them to repent. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to show that Christians are just as fallible and human as everyone else. Perhaps, but I don't credit them with the skill to apply that kind of subtlety.

As a piece of entertainment, Sunday School Musical barely rates a D-. Most of the film's flaws become understandable when you watch the DVD extras; they had only 13 days to shoot, zero rehearsal time, and it was director Lee Goldenberg's first feature film. Given that, it's amazing they accomplished what they did. Cheryl Baxter, the choreographer, is the real hero. Most of the dance numbers are good, and the finale at the State's Competition is amazing. Say what you will about the acting, but these kids can sing and dance like nobody's business.

And the acting really is terrible. Chris Chatman has the entire movie on his shoulders as Zach, and to be fair he's a likable, laid back kind of guy. Whenever the script calls for anything more than that, he and all the others display the emotional range of a baked potato. This is a different sort of Christian movie, with few of my usual objections. It still sucks, but it doesn't suck as much as Apocalypse, Left Behind, or 2012 Doomsday. Faint praise, sure, but praise happily given. Like this movie, it was cheap.

Likely To Convert - 0
Production Values - 2
Acting/Direction - 1
Likely To Be Sat Through - 4
Unintentional Hilarity - 3
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hooked On Drugs Healed By Jesus

Here we have a personal account of a man named Orlando Fitzhugh, who tells us that "at 16, I almost died a drug addict." Now, however, Orlando has "a wonderful Christian home," and he no doubt hopes the tale of his tribulations will cause other addicts - not to mention any non-Christian readers - to reconsider their lives and convert.

"Christ is concerned with the hard cases in life," and few cases could be harder than Orlando's. He began his odyssey to addiction hell "at the age of 12," smoking pot in order "to be part of the crowd." Naturally he "graduated to heroin," the fate of all pot smokers. Oh yes. ALL of them. That led to "gang fights, hanging around the streets," and stealing "anything that could be sold, including the family belongings."

"One day, during a gang war..." I just love that half-sentence. Makes it sound like he just stepped out for groceries, doesn't it? Anyway, during that gang war period of his life, Orlando was "shot just below the heart," he had "an overdose of heroin," and "nearly fell six floors to the street," and he "was quickly arrested again." When he was arrested before is not revealed.

It is important to note here that Orlando already believed in God; he prayed for his life after getting shot. And, when he almost fell off that rooftop, "one of the gang saved" him with a "quick grab," to which Orlando concluded that "God had spared my life." So either he mistook his fellow gang member for God, or God was a member of his gang.

Things didn't get much better for him after that. He "suffered a complete breakdown and developed a heart condition," and became "an emotional and physical wreck." Poor Orlando saw "no way out of my predicament."

But then, just when he "knew my days were numbered," Orlando "was invited to attend a church youth meeting" and before you could say Born Again, Orlando was Born Again. Less than a week later, "the craving for the 'stuff' had completely disappeared" and "peace and happiness have been mine."

"Why not repent now," Orlando asks at the very end, "and receive Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord?" Why not indeed? After all, this one isn't bad by tract standards. Nowhere does Orlando mention the threat of Hell or the joys of Heaven; his message is relevant to life, not in what may or may not happen after death. Orlando also manages to tell his entire story in the space of three tract pages with room to spare! That almost makes up for the storybook style of his prose: "One day, during a gang war..." "One night, after an overdose of heroin..." It doesn't sound at all like the gritty story of someone who had really lived through the events he describes. I'm not saying Orlando is lying, just that his writing style doesn't grant his story credibility.

Orlando Fitzhugh makes God out to be the ultimate rehab, but I doubt that readers who don't already believe in God are going to buy this story, let alone get Saved. However, drug addicts who are on the fence with their beliefs might just find this tract plausible, giving it a better shot than most of them.

Not bad, EDT. Orlando's worth keeping around. With some decent writing classes, this guy could really be something.

Likely to Convert - 4
Artwork - 6
Ability to Hold Interest - 5
Unintentional Hilarity - 5
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0

Sunday, March 18, 2012

2012 Doomsday

When reviewing a movie like this one, I like to watch the DVD with a notebook in hand. That way, I can pause while I scribble notes and rewind to capture the more hilarious quotes. Such is not the case this time; I sat down to watch what looked to be a lame end-of-the-world thriller from The Asylum(Mega Piranha, Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, Transmorphers, Titanic II), only to discover it was in fact "a modern Christian epic in the tradition of The Omega Code" from The Asylum and Faith Films(Meteor Apocalypse, Sunday School Musical). I didn't make notes, so this review won't be quite as thorough and nit-picky as I like to be. I had to review it, though. Too good an opportunity to miss!

2012 Doomsday stars a group of unknowns as a bunch of half-dimensional characters in a mad rush to get to the pyramids at Chichen Itza before Doomsday. The year is 2012, when the Mayan long count calendar ends, and according to a bunch of prophecies (both Mayan and Christian) the Biblical End Times are upon us. If those characters don't get to Chichen Itza in time... well, that would be one of the plot problems right there.

You see, the Doomsday stuff (earthquakes, tsunamis, hail) are going to happen regardless of what any of them do. One character discovers the Earth's rotation is slowing down due to its alignment with the black hole in the centre of the galaxy, which will result in all manner of poorly animated CGI. The 'heroes' aren't going to stop anything by getting to the pyramid, and the consequences of their failure is never made clear.

All the characters (if you must know, the main ones are Susan, Sarah, Lloyd, Wakanna and Frank) have their own reasons for their pyramid race, ranging from good to lame to WTF. Frank found a crucifix in a Mayan archaeological dig, and a translated inscription reveals he must get it to Chichen Itza. Wakanna is about to give birth, and believes God wants her to have the baby in the pyramid. Susan and Sarah are sent by a feeling they can't explain, and Lloyd goes because Sarah is his daughter. Bad things happen to them along the way, and they all end up getting Faith.

2012 Doomsday is a terrible movie, with absolutely nothing with which to redeem itself. The writing is awful, in terms of dialogue, story points and logic. The actors sleepwalk through their parts, but one can't blame them; there is nothing remotely interesting about their characters. Their motivations are unclear, their interactions contrived, and character arcs range from predictable to non-existent.

Most scenes begin with text at the bottom of the screen, indicating how many hours remain until Doomsday. You'd expect that clock to tick steadily downwards, but it does not. Some scenes indicate only 8 hours remain, only to tell us 14 hours remain in the next scene. Was there a problem in the editing room, or is this just stupidity?

One scene that gave me a chuckle involved three characters in an SUV dodging hail in Mexico (just go with it). One hailstone smashes through the windshield and goes right through the driver's chest. Luckily he manages to say the Salvation prayer before he dies. And luckily for the other two, the hailstorm stops the moment their driver is hit. And, in spite of his massive chest wound, the driver still manages to park the SUV on the side of the road! The unintended laughs are a welcome relief, because they are few and very far between.

And the end? Is all revealed, giving sense to seemingly senseless story points? As a writer, I couldn't help but try to anticipate where the movie was going. Will the crucifix turn out to be magical, and getting it to the pyramid will save the world? No. Is the pregnant woman about to give birth to a Christ-like messiah? No. The resolution the film comes up with is too lame for words. We don't even get the big special-effects payoff that the box art suggests. Instead, the Doomsday sequence is poor, cheap, and over far too quickly.

Oh, and three-quarters of the way through the film, the Rapture happens. Blink and you'll miss it. If this is the best that Faith Films can produce, they'll likely face their own doomsday soon enough.

Likely To Convert - 0
Production Values - 0
Acting/Direction - 0
Likely To Be Sat Through - 1
Unintentional Hilarity - 3
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Why He Died

I love story tracts. They tell you a tale to illustrate the need for Salvation, but due to a tract's limited paper space they have to cut a lot of narrative corners. Such is the case with this 4-page piece from Evangelical Tract Distributors and author Oswald J. Smith.

Why He Died tells the story of a young man who killed a guy, got caught, was tried and sentenced to die. The governor takes pity on him and writes out a pardon for the fellow, then dresses like a priest to go and see him. The young man doesn't like priests, so he tells the governor to take a hike. After the governor leaves, the warden tells the young man that the priest was in fact the governor come to pardon him. The young man goes to his death realizing he had been offered salvation for his crime, but he had rejected it.

Get it? Huh, huh? Get it?

Assuming you have more brains than a tin of spam (quite a lot of brains, really), the point of the story is clear. What is not so clear is why the governor dressed like a priest. Author Oswald never tells us he is a priest. He tells us the governor is a Christian, yes, but not all Christians are priests. For all we know, the governor might have been on his way to a Halloween costume party, but had to stop off at the prison to deliver the pardon first.

Also unclear is why the young man murdered the dude at the beginning of the story. It seems "he was playing a game of cards and he lost his temper. Picking up a revolver, he shot his opponent and killed him." Quite an overreaction for a character who "had never done anything very wrong." What made him angry? Why did he have a gun close at hand? For that matter, what game were they playing? If it had been solitaire, he'd have shot himself and the tract would have been much shorter.

The young man's "relatives and friends got up a petition for him" and that "everyone wanted to sign it," including folks from "all over the state." Why? "Because of the wonderful life he had previously lived."

To recap, this young man lived a life so wonderful that he touched the lives of people throughout the state he lived in, and yet he owned a gun and was so unstable that he shot and killed someone over a game of cards. Riiiiight. And then that same man tells the governor to get lost because he thinks he's a priest? Are these the actions of someone who lived a "wonderful life" of never doing "anything very wrong?"

Oswald Smith, if this tract represents a sample of your best work, then boy do you suck. From one writer to another, if you are telling a story in order to illustrate the need for people to accept Jesus as their saviour, that story should not be full of holes. If readers can't suspend their disbelief for your tale, how can you expect them to swallow the claims of Christianity?

Make your story Holy, Oswald, not holey!

Likely to Convert - 1
Artwork - 1
Ability to Hold Interest - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 4
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1


If there's one thing that's guaranteed to pull in converts like a vacuum cleaner in a dust factory, it's biblical phrasing. Year ye him, this tract instructs us, over and over again. Well, eleven times, including the title. I'm certain that Atheists will look at those words and immediately fall to their knees and beg forgiveness from a god they didn't believe in only seconds before. Muslims will smack their foreheads and proclaim, "gee wizz, we've had it wrong all this time!" Buddhists will be all, "Buddha-schmudda!" And Hindus...

Well, you get the point.

This Fellowship Tract League offering does get points for the bloody Jesus carrying his cross on the cover, but that's about it. Otherwise this tract offers the same tired Scripture quotes, preceded by "Hear ye Him!"

Doesn't 'ye' have an 'a' in it? As in yea?

The tract author has put a lot of faith in those three words. It's as if he or she really does believe that anyone who reads them will be swayed instantly. Witnesses will say "Jehovah? Shmeshmova!" Mormons will say "Joseph Smith? Shmoseph Schmith!"

If that does happen, then I'll give up sarcasm. But don't hold your breath.

Hear yea Me!

Likely to Convert - 2
Artwork - 6
Ability to Hold Interest - 2
Unintentional Hilarity - 4
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1

This Could Be Your Last Five Minutes Alive

"It has been estimated that three people around the world will die every second." So begins this cheery little number from the Fellowship Tract League, who have taken yet another turn for the morbid.

But before I get into the aforementioned morbidity, let me congratulate them. The above sentence about three dudes croaking every second, is credited to the Population Institute of the United Nations. I know! Here is a tract that has actually backed up one of its' claims! And with something other than a Bible quote, too! Way to go, League. Kudos, and all that.

Sadly, that's the only claim they attempt to validate. The rest is all Psalms this and Ezekiel that. It is a step in the right direction, though, and such efforts must be encouraged.

The tract continues from this noble beginning by asking the reader to pretend they are experiencing "your last moments alive." Why? Because "someone in your city will likely die in the next few minutes. It could be you. Why not?"

While the reader is swallowing that bitter pill, the tract spends the next paragraph detailing the journey of your corpse to the grave in more detail than is strictly necessary. "People will come to the funeral and shed tears over your lifeless body," and at the cemetery "the men will cover your casket with dirt and a tombstone." This bit takes up more than half the first page.

Even the tract author seems to feel he's wasting the reader's time, "so I must get to the point." That point involves the final destination of your soul, Heaven or Hell. "Oh, yes, you will be in one place or the other." Hell is easy to get to, but Heaven requires a lot more work. First, the uncredited author states, "you must believe you deserve to go to Hell," which can't be good for the reader's self-esteem. After that, you must acknowledge that you are the sinning type, and do the whole repentance bit.

If you do like the tract says, "and your life ended right now, you would be in heaven for the rest of eternity." To sum up, you might die at any time, and the only thing that matters is where you'll go afterward. Makes life itself seem rather pointless. I guess if you decide to repent, you might as well kill yourself.

This tract started well but quickly became boring, offering the same tired preaching as every other Fellowship Tract League offering. If you know for certain you have only five minutes left to live, don't waste any of it on this tract.

Likely to Convert - 2
Artwork - 2
Ability to Hold Interest - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 3
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1