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Big Love (2006)
Compelling, But Not Realistic
I am a lifelong, practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I served a LDS Mission and was married in the Salt Lake Temple. I lived in Utah from my infancy until I moved to the East Coast at age 27. The Church is absolutely integral to who I am. I love being a member and I try (with varying success) to follow its precepts.
After finishing the series, I was struck by the difference between how most people describe practicing members of the LDS Church (happy, friendly, hard-working, self-sufficient); and how they are portrayed here. I counted twenty characters in the show who are (or were) clearly LDS, and who had a sufficient role in the series to form an opinion on their character, and it's not positive: Naïve (Heather), Nosy (Pam), Disillusioned (Scott), Homicidal (Carl), Intolerant (Cindi), Clintonian (Ray), Calculating (Sen. Dwyer), Blackmailing (Ted), Pedophilic (Greg), Vindictive (Wendy), Ostracizing (Nancy), Suicidal (Dale), Puritanical (Bishop Devery), Arrogant (Michael Sainte), Conniving (State Rep. Roy Colburn), Incompetent (Salty), Compromising (Emma Smith), Tyrannical (Stake President Kennedy), and Pushy (LDS Missionary Companionship).
Does the above accurately portray a representative sample of LDS members? Not really. Further, the LDS Church as an organization is consistently portrayed in the show as sinister and all-powerful. In one episode, Cara Lynn is scolded for walking home by herself because of the fear that a Church member would inflict physical harm. Nicki then refers to a letter regarding polygamy read in LDS Church Meetings as a "fatwa." How nice. Little LDS digs like this abound throughout the series.
Olsen and Scheffer spent three years researching for the show before its creation. Given how unfavorably LDS members are portrayed, I often wondered if they had a specific grievance against the Church. I was unable to find any evidence of that, so my theory is simply that their intention was to create an entertaining television show; rather than an accurate picture of how real people in these situations would act and interact. As such, where reality and juicy storytelling conflict, they favor storytelling.
I hesitate to comment on other reviews of the show, but I was somewhat surprised at two common threads in the other reviews: (1) the number of reviews submitted in 2006 when the show was still in its infancy, and (2) the number of reviews that mentioned the quality of the writing. This made me wonder what people consider "good writing." Is it "good" if it's interesting? Or compelling? Or complex? Or funny? "Good" by itself seems to be just specific enough to persuade people to watch, but just vague enough that it doesn't really have to mean anything at all.
I could list numerous inaccuracies portrayed as given truths in the series (major ones have been submitted as goofs on each episode's page), but suffice it to say that I was not particularly impressed by the writing. It may be because I was watching episodes of a weekly television show in rapid succession; but it seemed like the characters fell in and out of each other's favor with breakneck frequency. Nicky accrues tens of thousands in credit card debt? No problemwait an episode or two and it will blow over. Alby attempts to kill his mother with a pipe bomb at a motel? Don't worryshe'll soon publicly protest his incarceration (for a different crime). Ben has premarital sex and wants to hold the Aaronic Priesthood? Surewe'll give him a pass. Frank and Lois try to kill each other? No sweatthey'll make up soon. Dozens of story lines like thismajor, harrowing life eventsseem to resolve themselves effortlessly with no further mention or consequences. Additionally, I was mildly disappointed on several occasions when the writers seemed to go out of their way to dredge up old anti-Mormon canards such as Blood Atonement, Danites, and the number, age, and marital status of Joseph Smith's wives. Three years of research didn't necessarily seem to shine through in the showunless, perhaps, the three years was spent researching anti-Mormon material.
The series also explores the use of the word "Mormon" itself. Many people use it synonymously with "LDS." Others use it for ANY organization or belief that accepts Joseph Smith as a prophet. Under this definition, the FLDS Church, the Community of Christ, the LDS Church, and numerous other smaller groups could accurately be called "Mormon." I'm not advocating the correctness of any one definition, but I urge viewers of the show to keep in mind that "Mormon" doesn't always mean what people assume it means.
Some of the show's reviews asked why someone would ever practice plural marriage. While I don't (/wouldn't want to) practice it, it all boils down to a question of putting faith into action. When you commit to follow God's commandments no matter what, and when you believe that God still speaks through a prophet as he did in former times, the logical progression of this syllogism (for us) is that you do what the prophet says, even if it is inconvenient, or expensive, or tiring, or (in extremely rare cases) illegal. THAT is the logic behind the practice of plural marriage. Clearly, it can (and does) get twisted by some who prey on the faithful, but that was never the purpose. Similarly, if you can you think of something you value in your life above upholding the law, something that you consider moral and necessary that you would do even if it were illegal, you can now begin to understand their mentality.
Believe it or not, my main purpose here is NOT to steer anyone away from the show. I heartily enjoyed the series. It's extremely entertaining. I would simply request of anyone who watches, however, to please remember that this is fiction, and that the majority of what you see is a heavily distorted caricature of deeply held beliefs and sincere people who are trying to follow Jesus Christ and help their fellow man.
September Dawn (2007)
"Unintentionally Hilarious and Borderline Offensive"
- Scott Renshaw of the Charleston City Paper
One of the flagship IMDb user reviews for September dawn is entitled, "Leanr (sic) the history before commenting." I couldn't agree more.
To that end, and in the spirit of equal time and hearing both sides of the story, I am providing the following links so that those genuinely interested in what happened; the corresponding historical, social, and religious context; and how the LDS Church feels about it, can read it from an unfiltered source. The articles linked are fully cross-referenced to other LDS and non-LDS works.
Statement by the LDS Church: http://tinyurl.com/2f44gow
Review of the book and film by Craig L. Foster of BYU's Maxwell Institute: http://tinyurl.com/3n7gumd
Don't believe everything you see in the movies.
Brigham Young (1940)
Vincent Price as Joseph Smith
I noticed that a few of the comments above mentioned that Vincent Price was a strange pick, or "over the top," or whatever, as Joseph Smith.
Before seeing the film, I also thought that seeing Vincent Price as Joseph Smith was a bit odd, but as others have said, this is because of the many *later* horror/thriller films he appeared in.
"Brigham Young," by IMDb's count, was only Price's *seventh* film, and at the time, I'm confident that he had not yet cemented his "creepy" persona.
Generally, though, I echo what has been written-- not completely accurate (what historical film is?) but characters are portrayed fairly and the film was entertaining.
A Worthy Portrayal of the Earth's Splendor
As far as I know, this film is only available for viewing at Zion National Park itself in the IMAX theater. (No wonder there haven't been too many votes.) As far as I remember, Jason Robards narrates the film, full of beautiful photography. If you ever happen to be traveling up 1-15 north from Las Vegas, plan an extra 4-5 hours and make the loop through Zion's and see this film. It's worth the time and money.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
The most OVERrated film of the year.
First of all, if there are homosexual overtones in the movie, why did the publicists choose not to paint that picture in the previews? I went to the theater expecting from Mr. Ripley a suspenseful and artistic masterpiece. Having been nominated for five Academy Awards, I pictured the film in my own personal 100. However, after the film was over I was less than satisfied with it. It isn't an awful film, but it isn't that great, either. Yes, go see it now that it's at the dollar theaters and almost out on video, but don't be surprised when you're not impressed. 5/10.
God's Army (2000)
The most accurate movie ever about LDS Missionaries.
As returned missionaries, my wife and I went into the theater with some apprehension about how LDS-Missionary Life would be portrayed. What we experienced was truth and light. The director (who we met after the showing) did a great job with the subject matter in a truthful and diplomatic way. An LDS Mission is not two solid years of bliss, but it isn't two years of wading through swamps, either. The film shows a truthful balance of the good and the bad. Even if you are not LDS, please see this film. You'll be glad you did. Favourite part: When the missionaries arrive at "Sister Abinadi" and her friend's door.
Don't watch this when you're tired.
A simple Greek tragedy plot with good acting. Watch out for that loud suspense music and pay attention to the subtitles and you should enjoy it OK.
For as simple as the plot was, though, it could have been a shorter movie. That just means that when you're finished watching, you'll feel like you've accomplished something.
Tries to do too much.
"Life" starts out as a comedy and ends as a tearjerking story of two friends growing old and dying together. It's almost like someone mixed "Stir Crazy" and "Driving Miss Daisy" together. It has some funny scenes and some funny lines, but you won't find what you're looking for in this movie unless it's the F-word. If you want to see a funny Eddie Murphy movie, rent "Trading Places" instead.
The Phone Call (1977)
A Feel Good Highschool Movie
I'd be happy to be the second to comment on The Phone Call. Yes, I'm LDS and so I watched this several times in my Church Educational System classes. It seems to be so likeable because we (uh... I) can relate to the character's indominable fear of talking to girls. Extremely dated due to hair and clothes styles, but overall funny, corny, and happy. Best line in my opinion: "That's what I like about you... you're really very thorough." If you ever have the chance, just see it.
Your enjoyment depends on your personality. I loved it.
I guess I'll enter here. After reading the first 20 or so user comments, I come to the conclusion that whether you like this film or not depends a great deal on your personality. People who like original, non-formulaic films (like "The Usual Suspects" or "The Graduate") will more than likely enjoy this film, while those who like films wrapped up in neat packages and completely re- (or dis-) solved by film's end may not. Neither personality is better, just different. I am of the former, and I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It kept my attention, which is more than I can say for the majority of the normal "summer blockbuster" genre films.
The writer (keep scrolling down) who wrote that anyone could have played Bill Murray's part and that there was no character development must have been watching a different film. Most everyone evolves in this film. I can't think of a character that doesn't, except maybe Max's father.
I hate to critique other writers or their comments, but the line wasn't, "Are you a barber or a neurosurgeon?" It was much better. It was, "So you're a neurosurgeon?" The barber says, "No, I'm a barber, but a lot of people make that mistake."
Go see it. Now that it's out of theaters and on video, the whole group can see it for a few dollars. If you don't like it, don't sweat it, but don't criticize the film because you don't "get" it.
Well up there on my personal top 100. A solid 9.