The Encounter and The Encounter: Paradise Lost

I’m gonna admit it finally — when it comes to an on-screen portrayal of Jesus Christ — which is no small thing to attempt to do for ANY actor (I feel like it’s a role that needs to be done with sincere love and respect in one’s heart, for their creator — more than any other role), Bruce Marchiano is hands-down the best at doing it.

The Encounter and its sequel, The Encounter: Paradise Lost, shows strangers coming together for a short window of time and then Jesus appearing to them — in an effort to give them once last chance to get their lives straightened out — before they die.

I’m unsure if this type of story has been done before in play form, because it seems like something that would be great for such a thing. In the first movie, the strangers are in an old diner during a stormy night that closes down a nearby road they all are traveling on. The second film is set in a hotel in Thailand during a tropical storm, but the people don’t leave this time due to being held hostage by drug dealers.

The films don’t waste time in showing who Jesus is to the strangers. In both He just comes out and admits it straightaway, and after He begins to tell each of them their pasts in vivid detail, they start to listen. They don’t all believe, but He definitely has all of their attention. The second one spends more time in the setup before Jesus enters into the plot, but it’s needed. Personally, I think the sequel was better than the original overall.

These heartwarming and well-made films act as both a story of hope for even the most wicked of people and one of caution to those who refuse to listen. These aren’t films where everyone has a happy ending. It also needs to be said that Bruce’s emotionally convincing portrayal of a loving and concerned Christ is amazing to watch, and you really get the impression the actor loves trying to accurately show how loving, thoughtful and well-spoken Jesus would be, if these situations were indeed true.

These are both excellent films, and you should definitely check them out.

The Book Of Daniel

Pureflix is a major Christian movie studio where I would say the vast majority of Biblical feature films originate from nowadays. In this particular film — The Book of Daniel — the studio (which typically operates on very small budgets, but manages to get one or two decent/known cast member in each movie) attempts to give an overview of Daniel’s life.

Overall, the film does a good job of creating entertaining and visually interesting content for its approx. 90 minute runtime. Now, the movie is not a verse by verse retelling of Daniel’s life, but rather a summary of it, with old-Daniel’s narration serving as the basis for flashbacks, which allow a lot of different content to be covered more easily.

The actor who plays Cyrus is the same one who played the android in the first Alien film, and was also on the TV shows X-Files and Millennium as well — and while he’s the only recognizable actor in the film, he does a good job taking his role seriously and making it worth watching.

I would say give this film a watch if you find it for cheap, or if it’s available for streaming. The set designs are obviously small, some casting choices are odd, some of the effects shots are lacking and some of the material is briefly covered … but in general it’s a solid Christian film, is safe for all audiences and is worth an hour and a half of your time, if you want Christian entertainment.

The Visual Bible: Matthew

This mid-1990s movie covers the entire Gospel of Matthew, from start to finish, verse by verse. An ambitious project, the movie is over 3 hours long and comes on 2-discs, so set aside a couple evenings.

Some things I liked about this movie are its awesome outdoor shots, editing, musical score and the actor portraying Jesus. While I’m not entirely sure what kind of person Jesus was in terms of individual personality mannerisms/inflection/style-of-speaking/body language/etc., I wouldn’t be shocked if Bruce Marchiano’s portrayal was the closest to the source. In this film Jesus is serious when he needs to be, obviously, but He very much enjoys life among his creations (smiling a lot, enjoying his companions), and I would surmise that’s likely how Jesus was, vs. being always angry or moody at those around Him or reclusive or demeaning.

Additionally, I must speak about the movie’s music, which I think helps out the film immensely — it creates an uplifting, joyous tone throughout both parts, and helps highlight pivotal and emotional scenes effectively.

I also must give kudos to whoever edited this, as the switch between Matthew’s narration using his own family as a backdrop (and scribes) vs. showing the life of Jesus really helped the entire story work together visually. This is necessary due to a lot of material needing to be covered, and some things would be hard to easily portray on screen (especially on a limited budget, like when an angel is supposed to appear or certain miracles occur, for example).

In short, this is a very positive and interesting film to watch, and I appreciate the effort and production that went into it. Aside from a few signs of a small budget (some sets/locations/props/costumes are lacking), the entire movie does a great job keeping viewers interested.

The Mark and The Mark 2: Redemption

As I’ve said before, traditional movie offerings for Christian viewers are somewhat limited … so I was more than willing to check “The Mark” and “The Mark 2: Redemption” despite having just seen Revelation Road a month or so ago. In these movies you see what happens when a soldier-for-hire is unwillingly implanted with the first working version of a chip that will ultimately be used in the last days.

The first film mostly takes place on a plane — like the recent Left Behind movie — and centers around a competing company trying to apprehend the man (so that his one-of-a-kind implant can be used to spur mass production of the one used by a new leader, the Antichrist). The second film then takes place in Thailand, where the same man and a stewardess friend (from the first film) continue to avoid people trying to catch him.

Unfortunately, unlike Revelation Road, which starts off with a pretty weak first act but finishes strong, this film series never finds its footings. The highlight of the films is Eric Roberts (by far the most recognizable and best actor in it) but the many plot issues, odd casting choices and very underwhelming visual effects make for a mostly so-so experience.

You also get the sense that the film creators fully expected a third film to be made — but unlike Revelation Road which told a pretty wrapped-up story in the first two films — this one seems very incomplete.

It also is very weak in terms of Biblical messaging, and likely wouldn’t make a non-believer pick up the Bible afterwards. That’s really the two films’ biggest issue, and is ultimately what keeps me from recommending it at all … even moreso than the previously mentioned poor casting and special effects.

Left Behind – 2014

I had heard unflattering things about this film before I ended up renting it, but when the price dropped temporarily to less than a dollar, I decided I couldn’t pass up the chance to see it. After all, Christian films often get negative reviews –in spite of overall decent stories and acting, simply because of their Biblical message — so reviews could be wrong.

Well, in the case of Left Behind (the 2014 remake of the 2001 Kirk Cameron-led film), the criticism from audiences and critics alike was well deserved. The movie stars Nicholas Cage as an airplane pilot who is flying from New York City to London when the Rapture occurs, which results in a lot of the passengers disappearing instantly, thereby causing all sorts of chaos.

I actually had no problem with Cage’s character or his acting in the film — of all the people trying to take the film seriously, it’s clear Cage at least gave it a shot. Everyone else, however, seemed like a strange caricature of normal people, from all walks of life (particularly the Mom). The film also has very odd casting, music and dialogue choices that will make audiences groan and scratch their heads.

The biggest offense of the movie though is how little it actually speaks of Christianity. It mentions “the Rapture” a couple times, and a few times a generic “God” is mentioned, but that’s about it. I don’t recall hearing one mention of Jesus Christ, and near the end when people were faced with death, they were just told to pray. Not to Jesus Christ, asking for forgiveness of their sins … but just to “pray.”

By the end of the film you don’t really like any of the characters (especially the unbelieving daughter, who never does repent) and the film ends abruptly, setting up a sequel. Thankfully, no sequel is being made.

Revelation Road, 2 and Black Rider – Triple Feature

I’ll admit, I was a bit hesitant to watch this series at first, only because acting and production in values in Christian movies have largely been so-so for me over the years. However, after finishing the latest film — Black Rider: Revelation Road — I can say now that I was pleasantly surprised.

This is good deal on three movies in the same series — only $15 or so — and I’m looking forward to the fourth installment, if and when it ever gets made.

The first movie is a tad hokey in places, from a cinematic standpoint, but shows promise. The second one is better, and fleshes out the characters more, and is where the bulk of the “good news” message is in terms of the main character finding redemption. The first two films are basically one, at made-for-TV quality. Not bad, but not great.

The third one, however, shows real signs of quality shining through, and is a very good follow-up film overall. It also places a heavier, more obvious focus on end time prophecy playing out, and I think that was a welcomed addition, where the first two films were a bit more vague, up until the very end.

The acting, pacing, soundtrack, editing and plot structure are pretty good across all three, considering their small budgets and limited casting choices … and have a very Christian message to spread throughout, despite the depiction of violence. I would say, if you’re looking for an interesting end-time scenario film series to watch, you should give the Revelation Road series a chance. You’ll most likely be like me, and find yourself glad you watched them by the end of the third film.

Luther

2017-02-20-lutherIt’s hard to believe that this film — Luther — came out nearly 15 years ago and has pretty much stayed under the radar since then … because in all honesty, it’s a very, very good historical film about Martin Luther and the beginning of the Reformation movement.

In the film we follow Martin Luther as a young, inexperienced Catholic priest who wants to glorify God and know God’s will — but is at war with himself because he feels he cannot overcome his own personal demons. On top of that, when Luther visits Rome, he is disgusted at the blatant disregard fellow men of God show for God!

Upon returning to Germany and seeing even more money grabbing behavior by the newest Pope affect people in the land, Martin Luther creates a list of things that all in town need to read. The letter, boldly nailed to a church door, details the major conflicts Catholic teaching has with the true Word of God.

From then on Rome is at odds with Luther, and eventually the Pope and Cardinals and German royalty in it get involved as well — all the while Martin works on translating the New Testament to German, so everyday Germans can read the Bible for themselves, vs. being told what to believe.

Overall the film is very well done, and has very good production values, acting, dialogue and a good score as well. The pacing is a bit off at times though, and a lot of material is covered near the end (an extra 30 minutes would have fleshed things out more). This is a great historical drama, and can be enjoyed by just about anyone — whether they are a believer or not. But if you are a believer, you will find the story even more interesting, because it shows how Europe finally escaped the Dark Ages by embracing the Word of God instead of keeping it hidden away, as a means to rule others.