Film Review: Left Behind: World At War (dir by Craig R. Baxley)

With the 2005 film, Left Behind: World At War, the Left Behind series enter special guest star territory.  Kirk Cameron and Brad Johnson, while still present in the film, were largely pushed to the background and Louis Gossett, Jr. and Charles Martin Smith popped up as Nicolae Carpathia’s two main adversaries.

Gossett plays President Gerald Fitzhugh.  Smith plays Vice President John Mallory.  (Speaking as someone of Irish descent, it fills me with pride to think that America will someday be led by the presidential ticket of Fitzhugh and Mallory.)  Despite the fact that Carpathia (again played by Gordon Currie) spent the previous film talking about how, under his leadership, there would be no more borders, it appears that there still are borders.  However, Carpathia has a plan to take care of that.  Mallory has discovered the plan but, right after he tells Fitzhugh about it, they’re attacked by Carpathia’s goons.  The presidential limo is blown up and with it, John Mallory.  (Poor Charles Martin Smith.)  Fitzhugh manages to escape, thanks to the help of the Tribulation Force.

It turns out that Carpathia’s latest scheme is to steal the few remaining bibles in the world, lace them with anthrax, and then distribute them back to the believers.  Gossett gets to go full action hero as he tries to stop Carpathia and good for him.  As for the other members of the Tribulation Force, Buck (Kirk Cameron) marries Chloe Steele (Janaya Stephens) and Chloe’s father, Rayford (Brad Johnson), meets his former lover, Hatti Dunham (Chelsea Noble).  Hattie is now Carpathia’s lover and is pregnant with his child.  Some members of the Tribulation Force die over the course of the film.  Buck has a moment of anger at God, which is the best scene in the film because it at least acknowledges that one can believe and still be angry.  The majority of the film, however, is Lou Gossett, Jr. wandering around with a “How did I go from winning an Oscar to appearing in this?” look on his face.

Anyway, credit where credit is due.  World at War is the most action-packed of the Left Behind films and, while it’s still definitely an evangelical film, it’s considerably less preachy than either the first Left Behind film or Tribulation Force.  World at War is pure melodrama, with a lot of plotting and evil cackling and overdone action scenes.  If you don’t want to listen to the dialogue, you can focus on just how small the film’s version of the Oval Office is.  That’s what happens when you try to a globe-spanning epic on a low budget.  Sometimes, you have to settle for a small replica of the Oval Office instead of trying for the real thing.

That’s not to say that World At War is a particularly good film.  Brad Johnson gets even less to do than in the second film and Kirk Cameron is still Kirk Cameron.  Since he lost his job at the end of Tribulation Force, we’re no longer asked to believe that Kirk Cameron’s playing a respected journalist.  Instead, Buck is now just a self-righteous evangelist and, for obvious reasons, it’s easy to believe Kirk Cameron in that role but Kirk Cameron is one of those actors who is far more likable when he’s miscast than when he’s playing himself.  Much as with Tribulation Force, World At War can’t seem to decide just how powerful Carpathia actually is.  He’s got supernatural powers and is apparently actually immortal and yet, he is often easily deceived by the simplest of ruses and is incapable of killing anyone until their usefulness to the film’s narrative has expired.

Louis Gossett, Jr. was smart enough to play a character who dies at the end of World At War, therefore freeing him from having to appear in any more Left Behind movies.  It turned out to be a moot point, however.  This was the last Left Behind film until the recent unsuccessful attempt to reboot the franchise with Nicolas Cage as Rayford Steele.

Film Review: Left Behind 2: Tribulation Force (dir by Bill Corcoran)

The 2002 film, Left Behind II: Tribulation Force, begins a week after the Rapture.  I have to admit that it took me by surprise when they mentioned that only a week had passed since the events that kicked off the first Left Behind film because the action in the original film seemed to go on for a lot longer than week.  I guess, if nothing else, that’s a lesson in the importance of keeping your film moving at a steady pace.

Speaking of pacing, Tribulation Force has a bit of quicker pace than the first film.  Now that everyone knows what happened, Rayford Steele (Brad Johnson) and Buck Williams (Kirk Cameron) can jump into action and start working to try to thwart the evil plans of Nicolae Carpathia (Gordon Currie).  Of course, at the start of the film, they’re told that it’s impossible to thwart the evil plans of Carpathia because the Bible has already predicted that he can’t be thwarted.  However, the Bible has also predicated that people will still try so I guess Rayford and Buck really don’t have that much of a choice.

Both Buck and Rayford get minor subplots that are designed to bring some humanity to all of the apocalyptic melodrama.  Rayford is still coming to terms with being left behind and struggling to forgive himself for not going to church with his wife and son.  To give some credit where credit is due, Brad Johnson is this film’s secret weapon.  He doesn’t really get to do much but Johnson brings just enough emotional reality to the role that his scenes have some depth that the rest of the film is missing.

As for Buck, he’s pursuing a tentative relationship with Rayford’s daughter, Chloe (Janaya Stephens).  Unfortunately, he’s also letting his assistant Ivy crash at his apartment and when Chloe stops by and discovers Ivy wearing a towel and an engagement ring, she assumes the worst.  Luckily, Buck’s able to say, “She’s my assistant” and that takes care of that.

Kirk Cameron is pretty much at the center of Tribulation Force, which is a problem because he’s totally miscast as a tough and respect journalist.  Carpathia, who really should have known better seeing as how he’s the son of Satan and everything, decides to turn Buck into the public face of his global news channel.  Unfortunately, there’s nothing about Kirk Cameron that suggests that any character he would play would ever have the gravitas or the charisma necessary to be the public face of any government.  As in the first film, Cameron comes across as being extremely earnest and a little bit dull.  He’s like the intern who accidentally screws up everyone’s lunch order.

Anyway, in Tribulation Force, everyone in the world loves Carpathia, even though he’s the most obviously evil dictator ever.  (The Rapture left behind not just the nonbelievers but also the extremely stupid.)  Carpathia announces the birth of a new world without borders and without religion.  Buck and Rayford plan to televise an interview with the Two Witnesses, who are waiting at the Wailing Wall.  But, to do that, they’re going to have to figure out a way to work around the fact that Carpathia controls all of the news channels….

Despite the fact that Tribulation Force is not as slow as the first film, the bulk of the film is still made up of people having long conversations about Biblical prophecy.  Like a lot of early faith-based films, Tribulation Force gets bogged down in explaining its message as opposed to showing the audience what that message means.  When Buck does finally reach the Wailing Wall, we do get to see some people get set on fire but, other than that, this is a very talky film.  As well, Tribulation Force can’t ever seem to decide just how powerful and all-knowing Carpathia is supposed to be.  At times, he has nearly supernatural powers and yet, at the same time, he’s totally incapable of seeing that Buck and Rayford are both plotting against him.  Is Carpathia a victim of his own hubris or is it just bad plotting on the part of the film?  I’ll leave it up to you decide.

Tribulation Force was followed by one more Left Behind film, World At War.  I’ll review that one in about 15 minutes!  Hope to see you then.




Film Review: Left Behind: The Movie (dir by Vic Sarin)

As I watched the 2000 film Left Behind: The Movie (not to be confused with the remake starring Nicolas Cage), I found myself thinking about names.

For instance, if your name is Rayford Steele, you really probably don’t have any choice but to become a pilot and maybe star in a low-budget action movie.  I mean, let’s just be honest.  People with names like Rayford Steele don’t end up working the night shift at 7-11.  In Left Behind, Rayford Steele is played by Bad Johnson and Johnson has just the right look to play a character named Rayford Steele.  He’s handsome in a somewhat old-fashioned, Gary Cooperish sort of way.

And yes, Rayford is a pilot.  He had a wife who resents the fact that Rayford is always flying off and abandoning his family.  She goes to church and she worries that he’s not a believer.  Rayford, meanwhile, is having an affair with flight attendant Hattie Dunham (Chelsea Noble).  That affair, however, may have to soon come to an end because Hattie has a new job with the UN.  Poor Hattie.  Nothing good ever comes from working at the UN!

Just as anyone named Rayford Steele would have to become a pilot, I imagine that anyone named Buck Williams would have to become a globe-trotting journalist.  We’re told that Buck is one of the most famous and successful journalists in the world.  Someone even mentions that Buck is so brave that he would have reported from Hiroshima while the first atomic bomb was being dropped.  (I assume that would have been a fairly short broadcast.)  Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a struggle to buy Buck Williams as a crusading journalist because he’s played by Kirk Cameron.  Buck is described as being tough and cynical.  There’s absolutely nothing tough about Kirk Cameron.  At his best, he projects an earnest blandness.  At his worst, he reminds you that he’s the guy who, years after starring in this film, would claim that a conspiracy of atheists was responsible for Saving Christmas receiving bad reviews.

Finally, if your name is Nicolae Carpathia, you’re pretty much destined to grow up to be very wealthy and also very evil.  You’re not going to end up living in the suburbs, mowing your own lawn and complaining about property taxes.  No, with a name like Nicolae Carpathia, you’re destined to end up using your position at the UN to take over the world.  When you declare that your goal is to lead the world into “seven years of peace,” everyone knows that you’re planning on doing the exact opposite.

Or, at the very least, everyone should know.  As played by Gordon Currie, Nicolae Carpathia is obviously evil from the minute he first appears.  (Even if you didn’t know his name, you would think he was evil just from the way he smirks.)  However, in the world of Left Behind, almost everyone loves Nicolae Carpathia.  When thousands of people mysteriously vanish, all at the same time, Carpathia is the person to whom humanity turns their tear-brimmed eyes.  The viewers know that it’s the Rapture and Rayford Steele and Buck Williams come to realize that it was the Rapture but Carpathia sees it as an opportunity to lead humanity into a …. dare I say it? …. new world order.

Left Behind is an odd film.  For the most part, it’s a fairly ludicrous film, a low-budget and excessively preachy attempt to create a religious epic on a Wal-Mart budget.  Kirk Cameron is miscast as a journalist and the film’s special effects are so obviously cheap that one can’t help but feel the filmmakers got a bit too ambitious for their own good.  (Just check out the scene at the start of the film when Buck Williams reports while “bombs” explode all around him.)  With a running time of one hour and 40 minutes, the film drags a bit and the characters are often frustratingly dense.  (Even non-evangelicals have, at the very least, heard that there’s a thing called the Rapture.)  And yet, occasionally, there will be moments when the film actually comes close to working.  Brad Johnson, for instance, gives about as good a performance as anyone could as Rayford Steele.  The scene where Carpathia manipulates a subordinate into committing suicide may not be terrible original but it’s still surprisingly effective.

Despite the fact that the film itself barely made a profit, Left Behind would go on to spawn two sequels.  We’ll look at the first, Tribulation Force, in 15 minutes.  Hope to see you then!

Hit Lady (1974, directed by Tracy Keenan Wynn)

Beautiful blonde Angela de Vries (Yvette Mimieux) shows up at a Texas barbecue and starts to chat up over-the-hill but very wealthy cowboy Buddy McCormick (Keenan Wynn).  Buddy thinks that he has hit the jackpot and when Angela suggests that they go off together for some alone time, he doesn’t turn her down.  Unfortunately for Buddy, the only reason Angela was talking to him was so she could get him alone and kill him with no witnesses!

(Buddy is played by Keenan Wynn because his son, screenwriter Tracy Keenan Wynn, directed this made-for-TV movie.  Angela is played by Yvette Mimieux because she got tired of only being cast in bland roles so she wrote a script with a juicy lead role for herself.)

Angela is a contract killer but she wants to get out of the business so that she can settle down with her seemingly oblivious boyfriend, a photographer named Doug (Dack Rambo).  Angela’s boss, Roarke (Clu Gulager), insists that Angela carry out one last hit.  He wants her to take down labor leader Jeffrey Baine (Joseph Campanella).  Angela really needs the money so she eventually accepts the job.  Roarke wants Baine’s death to look like an accident so that means Angela is going to have to learn everything that she can about Baine and his life.  When she learns that Baine loves Mozart, she decides to arrange an “accidental” meeting with him at a concert.  Is Angela the only contract killer in Los Angeles?  Couldn’t Roarke have found someone willing to do the job without so many preconditions?

Angela does meet Baine and, of course, the two of them start to fall in love.  Is Angela willing to both betray her boss and her boyfriend or will she carry out the hit?

Hit Lady is very much a product of the 70s, with one scene actually taking place at a disco.  Mimieux gives a good performance in a part that she wrote for herself and I’m sure many viewers will appreciate the lengthy amount of time she spends wearing just a bikini.  Mimieux gets to do most of the action movie things that, at the time, only men were usually allowed to do and she looks both good and convincing doing them.  Unfortunately, the love story with Jeffrey Baine does not work because the rough-hewn Campanella is not convincing as a Mozart-loving romantic lead and he and Mimieux never seem as if they really have any deep feelings for each other.  It’s easier to understand why Campanella would be attracted to Mimieux but than why she would be attracted to him.  That storyline probably would have worked better if Campanella had switched roles with Clu Gulager.  Hit Lady ends with an obvious twist but fans of 70s cheese and Yvette Mimieux should enjoy it.

Lifetime Film Review: Ruthless Realtor (dir by Devon Downs and Kenny Gage)

So, imagine this scenario.

You’re young, you’re attractive, you’ve got a great career, and you’ve got a partner who is also young and attractive and who has a great career.  You’ve just arranged to buy a new home and it’s a big, beautiful, and surprisingly affordable house.  Of course, you suspect that the house has a history but then again, what house doesn’t?  It’s a little bit annoying that the lights keep randomly going out but that’s what you get for living in California.  So, you move into the house and it seems like everything’s perfect.


Your realtor simply will not go away!  It’s not enough that she showed you the house and arranged for you to purchase it and that she also apparently lied to the bank on your behalf (even though you certainly didn’t ask her to do that).  She also wants to be your best friend.  She wants to be a part of your family.  You simply cannot get rid of her….

That’s the situation in which Annie (Lily Anne Harrison) and her husband Ralph (Brian Ames) find themselves.  Annie’s a successful lawyer.  Ralph’s a photographer.  Annie’s pregnant with their first child.  The house is lovely.  Everything should be great.  But Meg (Christie Burson) simply won’t stop coming by the house!

Annie thinks it’s strange to come home and find her realtor cooking dinner in the kitchen.  Ralph thinks that it’s nothing to worry about but then, during a photography session, Meg tries to kiss him.  Ralph and Annie tell Meg to stop coming around but Meg keeps showing up.  The increasingly distraught Meg insists that someone was trying to break into the house and that the house itself has a dangerous history that Annie and Ralph need to know about.  Soon, Meg ends up in jail.

Problem solved, right?

Well, no.  Not only does Meg escape from jail but it turns out that there’s even more to Meg’s story than Annie and Ralph originally suspected….

I’ve always felt that one of the best things about Lifetime movies is that they always seem to take place in big houses and Ruthless Realtor proves my point.  The house really is gorgeous, regardless of how many have died inside of it.  When Annie tells her friend Lynette (Alexandra Peters) that she plans on staying in the house regardless of all the craziness going on around and inside of it, you can hardly blame her.  A big house like that?  A few murders are worth the risk!

Along with the big house, the other thing that I liked about Ruthless Realtor is that, as played by Christie Burson, Meg is literally the only likable character in the film.  Even though she’s obviously unstable and tries to break up a marriage, it’s impossible not to sympathize with her.  Annie and Lynette are both extremely self-righteous and full of themselves.  Ralph is painfully goofy.  But Meg actually believes in something and you have to feel sorry for her as she vainly tries to convince Annie that something terrible has happened at the house.  It should be noted that the film seems to fully understand that Meg is a hundred times more likable than any of the other characters and it takes good advantage of that fact with a few twists during the final half of the film.

Ruthless Realtor is an entertaining-enough Lifetime film.  If nothing else, it deserves to be seen for Christie Burson’s performance as Meg and for that beautiful house.


Here’s The Trailer For Come Play!

It’s weird how many Community stars keep popping up in somewhat forgettable horror films.

Alison Brie was in Scream 4.  Joel McHale just did Becky and he was also in Deliver us from Evil.  Donald Glover was in The Lazarus Effect.  Has Chevy Chase done a horror film?  How about Danny Pudi?  According to Wikipedia, he appeared in a movie called Babysplitters.  I can only imagine that’s a movie about splitting babies so that would definitely count….

Anyway, Gillian Jacobs is the latest member of the study group to show up in a horror film.  I will admit that I nearly gave up on the trailer for Come Play when I heard that, “He’s autistic, dude,” line.  Even in the trailer, that felt like a clumsy piece of exposition.  But I stuck with the rest of the trailer and …. well, it’s doesn’t look too bad.  It doesn’t look too good either.  It looks like an adequate Halloween time waster, to be honest.

Anyway, here’s the trailer for Come Play:

Here’s The Trailer for Ammonite!

Down here at the Texas Branch Office of Through the Shattered Lens, our internet and cable were both out on Monday night and for all of Tuesday.  It was Hell but, fortunately, we’re back up and running today.  Unfortunately, as a result of everything being down, I missed the premiere of the trailer for Ammonite.

Ammonite, which stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, is expected to be a major Oscar contender.  There’s already speculation that this film could win Winslet her second Oscar and Ronan her first.  Winslet plays paleontologist Mary Anning while Ronan is cast as geologist Charlotte Muchison.  The trailer certainly suggests that the film could very well be a contender.  It’s a period piece starring two acclaimed actresses and dealing with not only universal themes but also subject matter that feels very relevant to what’s happening in the world today.

Well, better late than never, here’s the trailer for Ammonite!