Gyro, Jerome, Hope, and Jay are all the typical fundamentalist christian characters you see in most christian films. Both Hilarity and Hypocrisy ensue as we follow these characters when they are all thrust into real life situations where not just their lives are at stake, but their faith, preconceptions, and perspectives as well. Throw in some Tarantino loving film making, and just a hint of Kevin Smith-esque writing, and you get Jesus Fish. Bonus Features: Commentary Track with Director, Writer, and cast members Commentary Track with Pimpducer, Rob Harris "Into the Frying Pan" dissecting Jesus Fish eaturette Deleted Scenes Product Specs: DVD5; Dolby Digital 2.0; RT - 91 minutes; Color; Aspect Ratio - 1.77:1 / 16x9; Year - 2012; SRP - $24.99
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But if you're open to truly independent efforts that pull off something original, this one deserves a look-see. I saw it at the Bare-Bones Film Festival in Muskogee, Oklahoma a few years ago (a low-budget film I had written was there), and I kept thinking about the movie afterward. I finally tracked down the writer/director and pestered him into sending me a copy.
I'm thrilled to see that it's finally available here on Amazon. Another reviewer complained that he'd expected it to be a "Christian movie" and was therefore unhappy. Okay, you've all been warned. Don't buy a movie you know nothing about even if Jesus is in the title. The film is a clever comment on "extreme" believers without being vicious. My vague recollection is that director Titus Jackson, speaking before the Bare Bones screening, termed himself a Christian. (I may be wrong, but that's my recollection.)
The point is, there's some real funny, real quirky stuff to be found in this film. Give her a try. (It looks like the shipping will cost you more than the film.)
The DVD box advertises this film as having touches of Kevin Smith or Quentin Tarantino, cites a quotation calling the movie "profane," and implies that the film skewers the hypocrisy of fundamental Christians (or, as the box writes it, "christians"). While I see the basis for those comments, I disagree with most of them.
Because the plot is so non-linear, describing it is difficult. It centers around a church prayer group, an Easter play, and the various predicaments that the devoutly pious characters get into. According to both the director commentary and one of the extras on the DVD, the film was meant to expose and satirize the too-easy Christianity of people the author met when he moved to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and to speculate about what would happen to these values if the characters were put into difficult situations. These difficult situations are what give the Tarantino comparisons, though the level of violence in "Jesus Fish" is far, far less than that in any Tarantino film. As one might expect, holding onto the values of Christianity proves difficult.
As I watched the film the first time (before watching it with the director's and cast commentary to see what the heck they were thinking), I thought it mostly a cheap shot at fundamentalist Christians. It's easy to criticize characters by portraying the most extreme stereotypes. There's a difference between questioning the stated values themselves (which the film does not do) and attacking the characters and, by extension, everything they stand for (which the film appeared to me to do). Because nearly all of the main characters are fundamentalist Christians, the message seemed to be one of barely qualified condemnation.
As the film unrolls, however, that condemnation is gradually, but certainly not completely, lessened, and at the end of the film, there is a scene and a title with a quotation that almost completely change the tenor of the film. It was these two elements that led me to seek out the commentaries and watch the film again.
In the featurette "Into the Frying Pan," the director explains that the film spawned from three things: (1) His desire just to make a film so that he could learn from it, (2) his desire to mock typical Christian films, and (3) his desire to question the "Christian talk" (my term) that he heard when he moved to Oklahoma. The second of these three was lost on me as I've never seen most of the films that I assume irked the director so much (films like the "Left Behind" films). The third, too, was lost on me because I've never lived in Oklahoma. So there's a great deal of parochialism that I missed. But the first reason says a great deal. Yes, the film is overly complex and ambitious, and yes, there is a great deal that probably should be changed, from simple things like quicker cuts in a few scenes to more complex things like the structure, but director Titus Jackson aimed high, and he does get credit for that.
I think it inevitable that this will offend some, and I certainly understand another reviewer's decision not to continue watching, but since these results are clearly consistent with the director's purpose, they probably cannot be considered flaws. I cannot say that I truly enjoyed the film, but I can appreciate the intent. For those who want to watch it, I strongly recommend reading the quotations at the beginning and the end and reserving judgment for as long as possible.
In the sport of wrestling, the real sport, not the fake male soap opera we see on cable access, there is the wrestler they call the fish. A fish is usually a push over who don’t do much more than lay on his back and flop around like a fish out of water. The bottom line, it isn’t a pretty sight and that fish isn’t given much respect. Then there is the symbol of the fish that used in the early first century that gave indication in a troubled world that one was a Christian. This was a secret sign as being a Christian in those days could easily have led to persecution and ultimately, death. That fish had a lot of respect as it represented a concept of love, dedication, service, compassion and much more. That fish represented rebellion against the norm as it was a counter movement to religion that sought to influence Rome and more about the willingness to follow the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus.
Unfortunately, the fish of early Christianity has become more like the wrestling fish. We still see that fish made in silver, gold, and platinum designs to place on necklaces, signs, magnets on cars and even expensive chocolate candies. We even see what I call the Christian fish wars. You have likely seen those wars, a plain fish on a car or bumper sticker, one with the Greek letters IXOYE in the center, or a fish with Darwin written inside the body of the fish, maybe even a fish with Darwin eating another plain fish, and there is the plain fish eating the Darwin fish, and before long we could even see a plain fish being eaten by a Darwin Fish, that is also being eaten by another plain fish. The fish has become an icon of many within the “Christian” community, not to mention an item for some to profit on, yet, I can’t help but wonder if the original intent of the fish, the original recognition of what that fish stood for has been lost along the way. The Jesus that ripped the money changers who sought to make a profit from selling in the temple, that had so much to say in contrast with the religious community seems so distant from what many within mainstream Christianity seem to represent.
I first heard about the independent movie Jesus Fish when getting a friends request at MySpace and a request to review the film. I was somewhat hesitant as I often have both bad and good movies sent to me for review. I love independent movies, but I am honest. If there is something about a movie I don’t like, I mention it, if there is something I like I also mention it. I will admit, I am a little lax on independent films because they generally don’t have the budgets of larger companies. There are the rare exceptions where you see independent film come through, films like Reversal a father son love story that uses wrestling as a backdrop is a phenomenal film, and then there are films like the current Slumdog Millionaire which ultimately gets international distribution and studio backing. But there is a different class of film within the independent media, movies where regular folk, with a love of movies, decide to make a movie. Such is the movie Jesus Fish, a movie that is truly an independent film. It is also a movie with something to say, something many will hate, many will be critical of, and in fact, many Christians will totally misunderstand, and instead of offering a view of understanding, many will offer misguided judgment.
Let me be among the first to say, Jesus Fish, in many ways, is without a doubt, a Christian oriented film, albeit one with sexual innuendo, drug usage, language, violence and all of the other things that involves real life. The difference in Jesus Fish though is it looks at the reality of these things that exist in life that most Christians, including, parents, pastors, and others ignore. It is for that reason, among others, despite the big budget, many “Christian” movies that stink. Their lack of concern towards originality and realism is one reason Jesus Fish excels in story, and at provoking thought.
Jesus Fish, filmed in Tulsa Oklahoma tells a terrific story. I lived in the Religious Mecca of Tulsa and understand why it is some could so easily become disillusioned at what they perceive the church to be. While not specifically stating this in the film, it is obvious at least in the eyes of this one reviewer that this has helped in the development of ideas that come through the story. My understanding of the idea presented in many places with such deep roots in religion helped me understand, the judgment from some within the religious and non religious community. It inspired me to perform a song in Tulsa that garnished some publicity in the Tulsa World, (The cities newspaper). The song, once banned was titled Reverend Silk and was originally written and recorded by The Rob Cassels Band which I was a part of at the time. I also wrote another song called Route 66 that stated, “Stopped in Tulsa, God was that you? I know it’s not now I’m in Depew.” The concept is that things in Tulsa seemed so Christian on the surface, yet, the reality is that as is the case so often in other places, the actions of many of the religious community is far from the heart of Jesus. Depew is a small town a few miles outside Tulsa; it doesn’t take long to understand that much of what is seen in places like Tulsa, (a metaphor for Christianity) don’t take long to figure out. It doesn’t always represent the things of God.
Jesus Fish attacks much of the hypocrisy within the church in an in your face, confrontational, direct, and even insulting way. It is sure to offend many because we see saints as nothing more than sinners in disguise, and for many, not much of a disguise. Jesus Fish follows various characters from a local church Bible study. We see and observe the lives of various characters through a series of difficult circumstances. In the process, I was impressed at not just the story, but some of the quality acting. I have appreciated the talent in the Tulsa area in the past, and was not surprised at the movies ability to find quality actors to portray the roles in the film. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a “terrific” ensemble cast; there are frankly some actors that are clearly armatures playing their parts, but there are others that are actually quite exceptional, and so much so that I would hope they would be given opportunity in future roles. One such actor that impressed me a great deal was Rob Harris.
There is also a very well developed story line here and the editing is quite nice. I understand why the soundtrack used music I was not familiar with, and why the sound isn’t the best, but I forgave that because of the independent nature of the film and Jesus Fish does make the effort to give us decent quality in these areas within the restraint of their budget. Independent films seem to constantly have trouble with things like sound and lighting, and they just don’t have the money to get the well known songs placed legally in their final product. Jesus Fish suffers from some of those very typical problems. Something has to be said though regarding the direction provided the film. It keeps the movie flowing, and keeps the story and ideas popping. It was actually quite exceptional for an independent film. I saw the movie twice within 24 hours, asking myself each time what it was the movie was trying to drive home. Not in a questioning or poor way, but in a way that caused me to think about the contextual aspects of the story. It is quite simply a thought provoking movie that will have you thinking long after the movie is over, not in a confusing way, but a way that has one reflecting on things like life and faith.
Jesus Fish does something I believe to be quite spiritual, and frankly, refreshing. It caused me to reflect, how do I, as a follower of Jesus, represent him? I was also reassured, that I am not alone in knowing that bad things sometimes happens to even the most spiritual of people. It is one of the things many will make notice of; there are characters who despite their failures, and life experiences, question, and search for what I would call an authentic faith. Unfortunately, there are also those who play the game and make it difficult not just for those who would seek to find truth, but also those who are watching, and warning others, to “watch out for the Jesus fish.”
Now don’t take me wrong, Jesus Fish is a movie that will offend many Christians. In the first 5 minutes of the film, there is a scene of what some will call blasphemy. Unfortunately many of those making the judgment will stop watching the film here at this point. They won’t watch the remainder of the film to see how wrong their assessment is. Jesus Fish presents their story and perceptions in a more real, honest, confrontational way than I have seen in recent memory. It does so in a way where one sees the hypocrisy of many. Even here though, Jesus Fish offers a measure of hope, from a scene when one young woman recognizes that life sometimes sucks, to a scene where a character in an Easter Play goes out of character to share a powerful message of truth, those messages are there, if one will only be listening to the still quite whispers that clearly shows the true nature of God, as opposed to the self serving characteristics that have unfortunately polluted many.
I am hoping that at some point, in some way, Jesus Fish gets the distribution it deserves, because it does deserve to be seen. There are multitudes of people searching for spiritual truth who will see through the criticisms many within the religious community will hand out towards this film. For many of those, if given the opportunity, they will be challenged to think about not only faith, but their own life in relation to faith. That is a good thing, a great starting place, and a place I hope many journeys on. At that point, I know after their brief visit to Tulsa, they as well would realize, that wasn’t God they saw. It may take a few miles on the journey to realize it wasn’t God but that doesn’t mean God don’t exist, doesn’t mean he can’t be found, but he won’t be found in the ongoing hypocrisy and pretentious attitudes that exist within so many in the religious community. God will be found in the authentic search for faith that comes through the difficult times and places where we sometimes think life can’t go on. The times of hurting, conflict, tears, and pain that seem to indicate there is little or no love available. It is then, that if we allow, we can experience the ultimate love of God, we can see the miracles that can come about, and sometimes along the journey we realize there are casualties, but in time, if honest, we may find what we are looking for, even in a movie some will be quick to judge, and others quick to condemn. As for me, I’m glad I gave it the time, because now, some two weeks later, I am still thinking about it and for a little independent film out of Tulsa that is quite impressive. I have seen big budget films that haven’t accomplished that. That says something about this movie, now for those searching, I would also agree, “Watch out for the Jesus Fish.”