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‘Judas Kiss’ Might Be An Indie, But It’ll Surprise You

Michael Hinman gives a spoiler-free review of new film from J.T. Tepnapa, Carlos Pedraza

As science-fiction fans, the concept is classic: What if you really did have a chance to fix the mistakes of your past. Would you do it? Could you do it?

Hell, would you even recognize that you actually made mistakes in the first place?

Those are the questions Carlos Pedraza posed in his screenplay for “Judas Kiss,” an independent film starring Charlie David (“Dante’s Cove”), Richard Harmon (“Caprica,” “The Killing”), Sean Paul Lockhart (“Milk”) and Timo Descamps (“Spring”).

Pedraza, best known to genre fans for his work in online productions such as “Star Trek: New Voyages” and “Star Trek: Hidden Frontier,” made a huge leap to the big screen … and survived to tell about it.

What can you say about “Judas Kiss” without giving away the store. It’s hard to do. What I can tell you is that David plays Zachary Wells, a washed-up film producer who gets asked to his alma mater, the fictional Keystone University, to judge a student film competition he had won 15 years before.

This very competition was the one that sent him on a path he thought would be success. Instead, it was rehab, giving up the love of his life, and settling to be nothing more than a weekend wedding videographer.

In fact, he wasn’t even Keystone’s first choice to judge … they actually wanted his friend, popular horror film producer Topher Shadoe (Troy Fischnaller), probably the worst name I’ve ever heard concocted for a character. Shadoe, however, was heading out of country to start filming his next movie, and sends his friend Zachary in his place.

Keystone University carries a tagline of being the “Key to Your Future,” but it also is a key to the past as well. That’s something Zachary learns quite quickly as he’s suddenly thrusted into a tough decision he’s not ready to make.

What is “Judas Kiss”? Well, it’s actually the short film Danny Reyes Jr. (Harmon) made with the help of his sidekick, Abbey Park (Julia Morizawa from “Star Trek: Hidden Frontier”). Yet, even this film has its secrets, one that not only is Danny hellbent on covering up, but his abusive father (Vince Valensuela) is determined to never let see the light of day.

“Judas Kiss” was a movie that, according to Internet Movie Database, was made for $500,000. Considering the last “Star Trek” movie was made for 200 times that, one would think this is nothing more than a YouTube short.

It’s not. Director J.T. Tepnapa made a successful transition from shorts like “Drag Queen Heist” and “Sunflowers” to present a look you wouldn’t quite expect on something made so cheaply. He and Pedraza sold the excitement of this story to the cast and crew, and many came in at the best value possible.

Even more, Tepnapa ran one of the most efficient film sets I’ve ever visited. I was in Seattle last fall during shooting on the campus of the University of Washington (which doubles as Keystone University), and even some of the veteran crew was shocked at how quickly scenes were completed, and how strong each one was.

“Judas Kiss” is definitely a team effort. And while it’s not the most perfect film, it’s rare that I see an independent film not only have the heart, but have the precision craftsmanship that the cast and crew provided to create this film.

I’ve got a little bias because my name ends up in the credits in more than one place, and I was able to find myself in the film itself. But I’ve lost a lot of friends in my lifetime because of my reviews, and calling it exactly how I see it. And trust me, I ain’t giving up that credibility here.

Points Of Interest
1. With a budget of well under $1 million, the last thing you would expect to see are special effects. Yet, while they are not taking over the film like what MIchael Bay would do, they are actually quite strong. The work was done primarily by Joel Bellucci and a very small team. My favorite is in two key scenes between David and Harmon that totally transform the environment they’re in.

2. You probably won’t recognize the name Sean Paul Lockhart, and are probably trying to think where you saw him in “Milk” (he’s in the phone tree scene). Lockhart is famous through another name, adult porn star Brent Corrigan.

They say that porn stars can’t act, and from what I hear from people who watch porn, that’s definitely true.

But there are always exceptions, and Lockhart is one of them. He is making some serious efforts to cross over to mainstream film. While his role in “Another Gay Sequel” as a merboy might have shown he can stretch his legs a little bit, his portrayal of fellow film student Chris Wachowsky proves that with some more training, he could really make a run for it.

Sadly, his past will always haunt him and cost him work. It’s a horrible double-standard in my opinion. Actors like Colin Ferrell can “accidentally” release hardcore sex tapes with the production values that a dead person could top, yet he continues to work. Why can’t that go both ways … especially if you have the talent to do it.

I was impressed with Lockhart’s work in the film. And there’s something about him that really draws you into a scene.

3. Stick around for the end credits. Not just to see all the great people who contributed to the film (and me, too!), but also for an awesome music video featuring actors while still in various scenes. It was meant to be included inside the movie itself, but just didn’t work. However, I can imagine no better place than the end credits, and it’s awesome!

What Worked
The heart works, and the writing and directing didn’t hurt, either.

It’s easy to make the same old time-traveling story. But it’s hard to find a fresh approach, yet that’s what Pedraza and Tepnapa did here. There are going to be some scenes that make you scratch your head, especially when some key plot points are revealed … but that’s what makes this fun.

It’s a film and a story filled with characters that you can’t just quite get out of your head. And it will make you want to see it again. And again.

What Didn’t Work
While the film’s overall pacing was spot on … some of the scene beat pacing, if you can call it that, struggled a bit.

For instance, a couple of scenes with the film judges just seemed rushed. While both David and another online Star Trek veteran Ron Boyd were spot on with their characters, the beautiful Samantha Rund felt a little out of place. Not that she doesn’t have the talent for a film role … it’s just that she didn’t seem to be the right fit in what could’ve otherwise been an interesting scene between the judges.

Finally, while I am not all about having the “magic” of the time-travel explained, one thing I can’t really understand — why didn’t Zachary recognize himself? Maybe that’s part of the magic that I can live without the explanation of, but it does kind of pop up as a plot hole.

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
“Judas Kiss” was written by Carlos Pedraza and directed by J.T. Tepnapa.

“Judas Kiss” makes its third appearance in its film festival circuit at the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival Friday. See for other showings around the country.

Also, take a look at this scene from “Judas Kiss”!

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Could they be a Rut-ro! Shaggy
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