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'Joshua' innocuous but amateurish

Modernized Christ tale rife with unsophisticated writing, editing, low level of intrigue

"Joshua" is a new film that is running for a limited time in Albuquerque. The film stars Tony Goldwyn, best known for his role in "Ghost," as the title character. It also casts in supporting roles F. Murray Abraham, who won an Oscar for his performance in "Amadeus," and Kurt Fuller, who has appeared in such films as "Scary Movie" and "Wayne's World."

"Joshua" is a modern-day Christ tale that explores the spiritual, dramatic and comedic ramifications of the arrival of a mysterious stranger to a small town. Joshua's presence lifts people's faith and unites the community, but also becomes a source of controversy for some religious leaders - at one point he even makes the Pope cry. It offers many allusions to the Western beliefs of the life and death of Jesus Christ, thereby making the story of "Joshua" an accessible tale to the general public.

However, as far as quality of filmmaking goes, this movie could have been done a lot better. Working with a small budget is no excuse for not delivering a well-polished production. My major complaints are all easy to change, even under a limited financial situation.

I had some problems with the editing, which at times seemed amateurish and unnecessarily jarring. By the time the opening credits had finally finished, I had already started to tally up what wasn't working in this film. The opening theme, as well as one or two other songs within the movie, ran way too long and even overlapped several sequences of dialogue, which left me aggravated and confused.

And bad writing really kills this script. Character development is at a minimum. Except for the character Joshua and the two priests in the main supporting roles, all of the townspeople are portrayed flatly as simple caricatures. It includes too many different sub-plots taking place at the same time, most of which need to be given a greater amount of attention - especially once the tension attempts to mount on the screen. With such a scattered focus, it is hard for the audience to feel emotional intensity when it is supposed to.

Additionally, the level of intrigue hangs very low throughout the entire movie because of the lack of sophistication in the script. Our intelligence is insulted when, instead of being allowed true dramatic buildup, we are repeatedly handed cheesy musical interludes or transparent lines of foreshadowing. I have seen made-for-television movies that pull off suspense with more subtlety.

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It would seem that the filmmakers are not entirely without a sense of self-conscious humor, at least. There is a bizarre reoccurring theme that deals with the shameless promotion of the Columbia House Music Club - clearly a funder for this project - including the addition of a brief scene in which Joshua is unwrapping his music club CDs. This made me laugh out loud, which, I hope for the filmmakers' sake, was the intention.

Otherwise the film is not terrible. The religious tones did not bother me; it was an interesting presentation of a story. I enjoyed looking at the struggles of the relationship between the two community-leading priests, and how these roles were coped with. I also thought there was a fairly good degree of diversity that entered into the ideologies of the film, although there was still a clear religious bias and part of the presentation of various beliefs felt too contrived.

However, the idea behind the film company that does not depend on violence and human corruption to make a piece of art is definitely honorable. Many independent film labels carry a similar message - to break from a mainstream concept of "normal" and deliver something truly moving and unique, whether or not religious or spiritual themes are employed.

Sadly, this general independent area of the film industry continues to receive less attention than it should. We are lucky, then, to live in an area where at least a substantial amount of focus is given to lower-budget films. Some local theaters that offer these kinds of alternatives are UNM's Southwest Film Center, the Guild Cinema and United Artists' High Ridge Theater.

"Joshua" is reportedly the first of a series of Joshua stories to be released by Epiphany Films. Currently the film is running on about 300 screens nationwide. In Albuquerque, "Joshua" can be seen at the Century Rio 24 Theater.

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