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A Vanity Project That Still Generates Laughs, 23 March 2017

Robert Redford cast himself as an 80 years old writer hiking the Appalachian Trail.

That ought to be worth some laughs, and it is.

I went into the movie not having read the source material, so unlike probably about 80 percent of the reviewers, I had no frame of reference for calling out its heresies. And who says movies have to be exact to their source material anyway? Kubrick's The Shining will always be better than Stephen King's own mediocre, but very faithful, miniseries version.

The ages of the actors didn't bother me. It added to the humor. No, very few people Robert or Nick's age hike the AT, but a few do. Every year. If the movie had been about college age buddies hiking the AT in their stylishly correct trekking gear, it would have been boring. Nothing interesting in seeing that.

So how could the movie have been better? Casting certainly. Who? Well, how about the middle aged gang from Sideways? Call it Walking Sideways in the Woods. Paul Giamatti as Bryson, and Thomas Haden Church as Katz. They are closer in age to the source material, and could have done more than believable justice to the roles. Cast Jessica Hetch (Victoria in Sideways) as Bryson's wife, and Sandra Oh as the annoying lady hiker.

Who for the randy motel lady with a thing for Bryson? Virigina Madsen of course.

What about Katz's laundromat wannabe lay? Cammi (Missy Doty) from the BBQ joint of course. And the same husband (M.C Gainey) as her monster truck driving husband here.

Miles' mother (Marylouise Burke) could have run the hiker hostel, or been the waitress at the "Sorry We're Open" Choke and Puke.

That probably would have been a better movie. Well I know it would have.

But it's funny the way it is, just not as funny as it could be.

Gattaca (1997)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A Beautiful Penis, 9 August 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

With all due respect to Ron Howard and John Nash, that could be the subtitle of this movie. For it is that randomly endowed aspect of the protagonist's genetically "imperfect" body that probably ultimately saved him.

Ethan Hawke, at 27, was arguably at the peak of his own physical (and sexual) prowess when he made this movie in 1997 (and found in costar Uma Thurman the mother of his own first set of randomly generated spawn). The admiration for Hawke's character's junk induced in the doctor/lab tech who regularly observed and tested his "borrowed" urine would ironically pay off in the end, when this same corporate functionary looked the other way after Hawke's character got caught without his genetically engineered sponsor's pee during a random test right before he was to blast off for Titan.

Despite the veiled and not so veiled references (in a movie featuring the late Gore Vidal, no doubt) to penis size, it was probably this white coat's homo-erotic attraction to Hawke's character, as much as his admiration for Hawke's ability to overcome his genetically assumed fate through sheer Nietzschean will that lead him to smile and tell Hawke, "You'll miss your flight," after he failed the pee test and revealed his true identity. As far as this man is concerned, Hawke had already revealed enough of his "right stuff" to warrant being given a chance at fulfilling his dream of space flight, despite his state sanctioned biological shortcomings.

This movie is interesting, but its view of a potential eugenics dystopia is typical fantasy. Do you think a society so advanced that any genetic imperfection could be removed from lab generated babies could not, also, using advanced stem cell, or other therapy, cure the accidental paralysis of Hawke's genetically perfect sponsor?

Also, how can you account for the almost universal access to this technology? Hawke's parents appear to be folks of modest means, yet they can easily make a "designer" child out of his younger brother?

The reality with this sort of thing, if it ever comes into being, is that in a Randian society like ours, it will only be available to the very rich for generations at best, then afterwards the upper middle classes, but never everyone, unless government policy (and money) ala National Socialism promote it as a universal method of procreation (and only then likely for certain government approved ethnic or existing socioeconomic groups).

And certainly the premise (reinforced by comments from Hawke's penile admirer in the conclusion while discussing his own "perfect" son) is that this method of making babies may not be all it is cracked up to be.

Do you think a society where a large segment of the people can choose the traits of their children will, in the end, be one composed of hardy souls able to adapt to whatever fate may throw at them? Or easily resist conquest from a society of folks who make babies the old fashioned way?

If thoroughbred horses are any example, people is this type of society will likely be very beautiful, never bald, mostly blonde, everyone will play the piano like a virtuoso, and they will all be fragile. I doubt, in the end, their technology would save them from the barbarians at the gates, or their own underclasses. But, of course, that is the point of this movie.

Cthulhu (2007)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
One "Queer" Weird Tale, 22 November 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

For anyone who isn't a "fan," this movie is an adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft's campy, but classic 1931 novella, "The Shadow Over Innsmouth." Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) was a master of what is called the "weird tale." I cannot think of anything weirder, and ironically perhaps more appropriate, than making a homosexual version of The Shadow Over Innsmouth. After all, most of Lovecraft's stories, written in prissy overblown prose, were full of sexual repression, and dominated by the lurid tension of forbidden and unspeakable couplings. That is why they are so "weird," and for their time (and even our own) so uniquely interesting.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth is just such a story, and the chief weakness of this movie is the filming locations aren't consistently decadent enough to capture the mood of its inspiration. The house where the modern Marsh prophet of the "Old Ones" resides is weird enough, and the wharf-side warehouse is acceptable, but the other scenes of night time ramblings through what looks like suburban tract housing blows the mood badly. Capturing Lovecraft well is about capturing his non linear backdrops more than anything else, and the scenes used aren't sufficiently irregular.

Other than this problem, the appropriate sexual tension is there and the rest of the film is creepy enough to almost pull it off. The drugging and "rape" of the gay heir to an unspeakable genealogical legacy by rapacious Tori Spelling in full bimbo mode, assisted by her redneck husband, and done so he can be compelled to fulfill his destiny and spawn subhuman "inbred" descendants for the cause of world domination is a particularly campy and interesting homage to Lovecraftian sexual themes.

Also compelling is a scene later near the end of the movie where the nerdish (and presumably fully) human brother-in-law of the gay man (the actor playing the in-law bears a passing physical resemblance to Lovecraft himself) is shown crucified to a tree in front of the family home. This occurs on the day when the earlier generations of mutant townsfolk slither in from the ocean for an "Old Home Day" reunion, and sacrifice ceremony to their "Old One" gods in preparation to take over the world. Most Lovecraft purists who don't like this movie will say this is a sly way the filmmakers tell the audience they are "crucifying" Lovecraft's work, but I think they just wanted to show he was killed presumably because he was not man enough to spawn inhuman scion with his buxom inbred wife. In the end, it took a "queer" to make "queer" babies for this "weird" tale.

Lovecraft's writings have acquired a cult following among their own version of the "trekkie" sci fi con type, but the man himself was not interested in inventing a "mythos" for role playing gamers. His stories were extended metaphors for his racist views about the ethnic "degeneration" of Yankee New England because of pre-quota era immigration, and the Shadow Over Innsmouth is directly related to what he would have regarded as the undesirable infiltration, and ultimate demographic domination, of traditional Anglo Protestant fishing villages, such as Gloucester, Marblehead, etc., by Portuguese, Italian, and other Southern Europeans, and their "foreign superstitions" (Roman Catholicism).

Lovecraft softened his parochial racist views late in life, and some of his better works, such as "The Colour Out of Space" represent the emergence of the modern science fiction story, and transcend this sort of thing. He was regarded as a hack writer during his lifetime by the literary establishment, but like many complicated and visionary types, his works have been reappraised by academia to the point he is now regarded as a sort of twentieth century Poe.

Sicko (2007)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A Devastating Indictment of the American Heath Care Industrial Complex is Itself Devastated by a Typical MM Stunt., 22 November 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I don't believe Michael Moore is a Communist. I don't even believe he is a seriously committed ideological leftist. What he is, fundamentally, is an immature and overly zealous aspiring provocateur. He is, though, one that is capable of fits of comic brilliance that sometimes elevate his otherwise smarmy and unsubtle undergraduate level audio-visual activism. "Sicko," like most everything else he has done, is both brilliant and ultimately self destructive.

This movie will make you laugh out loud in the face of greed induced misery, and at its creator's collegiate stunts, but it will not advance the cause of meaningful health care reform in the United States. It will not do so because Moore, like he always does, goes too far with his stunts and gives his enemies all they need to effectively disregard anything meaningful he says as they discredit him. Consider this. If you really want to convince the millions of public educated, hard working, patriotic, service-jobbed Americans who are the most abused by Big Health Care, you can't use "Che" Guevara's daughter to help make your case for reform. All you will do with this is give a good "Christian" red state pickup truck demagogue like "Not Ready Freddy" Thompson the opportunity to chomp on a Montecristo with all the B-movie bluster he can muster, and wipe you out with a nicely drawled red herring like, "Michael Moore thinks you and I ought to go to Cuba to get our health care." No, Michael Moore probably doesn't think that, but he should have stayed away from Havana.

The movie works only when Michael stays Stateside, wallowing in the ennui of middle American HMO Hell, and the corrupt politics that sustain it. When he visits friendly "socialist" paradises like Canada, Britain, and spends time with the interminable French, he starts to cook the books too much for his own good, then he finally runs his ragtag flotilla of uninsurable American rejects completely aground in what looks like Castro's own private hospital.

Michael Moore recognizes the problem, but like most everyone else, he can't follow through with any viable solution in a way that makes logical sense. He falls into the most basic polemical trap used in debating this issue, that: of comparing alternative systems by using objective statistics that don't conform with his own stacked deck of anecdotal evidence. He is not unique. The reactionaries who defend the current U.S. system do the same thing.

Everyone has heard it a thousand times. Canadians have to wait months for CAT scans and by-pass surgery, etc. Maybe sometimes they really do, but apparently they only have to wait 45 minutes to see a primary care doctor in a clinic. Band-Aids are cheap. Is the homey private room in the British maternity ward typical of what awaits the average NHS hospital patient? I'm skeptical.

There is no question that the life expectancy in Sweden, Canada, Britain, etc. is higher, and the infant mortality rates are lower, than the same figures for the USA. "Socialized" medicine probably has a great deal to do with this. Here is why.

If you are a bank president or a lawyer or member of Congress in the USA, you will get much better medical care than the average person would get in Canada, Sweden, Australia, etc., but you will not if you are one of the millions of Americans with no health insurance, or the even greater millions of working class types who are marginally insured through cut rate HMOs.

Even the most buck-toothed Brit in the NHS would fare better than these Americans who are on the margins. That is the key to understanding the statistics. Moderately mediocre care for everyone that stresses preventing illness is better, at least for the statistics, than no care, or really bad reactive care for a sizable chunk of a country's population.

There is no solution to America's Health Care woes without a solution to the whole dysfunctional and mercenary American consumer culture of which dysfunctional health-care is only a logical part. This is the bizarro world where fat people super size it at McDonald's, then go home and take their handful of cholesterol, blood pressure and ED pills, the same ones they saw advertised on TV just after the McDonald's commercial. The American system is really all about making you sick, keeping you sick, and making money off of both ends. It ought to be, of course, about making you well, and keeping you well.

"Socialized" medicine, of some sort, will eventually come to the USA. Thirty years, at least, and counting, of the creeping "fascist" medicine of HMOs have psychologically conditioned the population to accept it.

Obsessed (2009)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Dancing Around the Ebony Maypole, 11 October 2009

"Obsessed" is a curious movie that discreetly avoids its obvious mythic pitfall. Even though the plot centers around a petite blond women's sexual enthrall to a handsome, muscular African-American man, there is never any overt reference to her, say, worshiping at the altar of his Big Black Penis.* The movie sets out deliberately to avoid this, and does, so it never veers into full blown camp, but it also lacks the punch such "black" (no pun) humor, even if handled carefully and creatively, could deliver, and the flick remains basically a formulaic "fatal attraction" type thriller that just presents the story mechanically.

The story revolves around how the woman, a temp secretary at a high dollar investment firm targets the man, an ace portfolio churner there, after they encounter each other in the elevator on her first day coming into work. The way they interact is indeed funny at times for sure, mainly from the unintentional laughs of typical lazy scripting, and the Nordic vixen's best efforts to outdo Glenn Close for over the top craziness. The obvious joke in such a setup, though, is never approached. You'd think that when the victimized guy's friend at work (white actor, and consummate white bread frat-boy Jerry O'Connell) remarks in an offhand way one day in the break room that he's lucky she is "not my type" that he might follow that up with a dry chuckle and something like, "of course why should she settle for my lil' smokey when she can have your Bun Size Ball Park Frank?" Nothing so tastelessly tasty ever happens here.

:*The title of a book by Shawn Taylor, an African American (male) writer who explores the culture and history of this racist stereotype, and its effects on black men's attitudes and behavior over the years. Yes, he does so with a sense of humor.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A Funny Movie That Could Do Without Jason Segel's Unsightly Penis., 11 October 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

You will never see Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise bear all in front of a camera, but actors who have big flaccid penises are not afraid to wag them on screen nowadays. Ewan McGregor does, and now Jason Segel torments us with his. If you can stand looking as his bratwurst flop about harmlessly while his girlfriend outlines the reasons she is dumping him, then the rest of this movie is pretty enjoyable.

I don't really get why this is necessary. Jason Segel is not some ripped stud that anyone (straight woman or gay male) would likely want to see naked and unerect. Maybe it's because the writers of this movie thought it would be FUNNY to see a moderately flabby beer buddy type like Jason Segel lounge around naked and limp on screen. It's just boring. If I have to see a penis, I would rather see an audience in a theater laugh at some matinée idol's small one being fleetingly displayed. Suck it up Tom, and just do it.

4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Cosmo Girl Seeks Baby Butter, Prefers "Old Fashioned" Delivery, But Will Settle…., 11 October 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Any movie released nowadays with the word "Miss" in the title referring to an unmarried woman, even when done as a play on word meaning, is either an angry gender political satire, or a sappy happy chick flick aimed squarely at frustrated single yuppie heterosexual women in the full heat of midlife baby panics. This movie is not a satire.

"Miss Conception" makes an interesting comparative double feature with "Teeth." The latter is a male homosexual nightmare fantasy, dressed up as pseudo feminist hokum, about the ultimate theoretical result of penile-vagina contact. .

I have no idea how popular "Miss Conception" was in theaters. I had never heard of it until I saw it in a video store. I think, though, that unmarried, boyfriend-less mid thirty-something professional straight women too busy for "relationships," yet yearning for spawn, and a penis to provide it (or a turkey baster and a mail order cup of the goods), is a bigger audience than gay men and bitter lesbians watching a vagina bite off penises to validate their fears about returning to the yeasty maw that generated them, or satisfy unrequitable penis envy, respectively. For whatever reasons, nerdy gore loving teenage boys never really bit down on 'Teeth," probably because that movie's gay male director and writer infested the flick with too much yeasty pretension, and not enough potent gore.

"Miss Conception," to its credit for a movie of its type written by two women (presumably heterosexual), has no pretensions at all. It's a thoroughbred chick flick and makes no apologies for itself. There is nothing tentative about it, and the only guilt it seeks to induce is the guilty pleasure of its post feminist schlocky plot. That concerns a 34 year old successful business woman (who owns a construction company believe it or not) about to undergo a precocious menopause, and her frantic quest to mate when the last egg drops.

After she visits a quack gynecologist who tells her that her next period will be her last one, she carefully plans how she will manage to impregnate herself, with typically improbable screwball results. A beautiful woman has four whole days to get bred, and all she can manage to land as prospective bedmates are gay men and her hunky foreman whose been rendered sterile by the mumps. Even her vial of mail order sperm winds up misfired by a turkey baster onto her 34th birthday cake in a really silly scene. Her last hope is her former boyfriend whom she really loves and wants to father her child. She dumped him earlier because he doesn't want kids, only now she makes one last attempt at getting his pee pee inside her unsheathed before time runs out. That turns out to be really hard because he goes to Ireland to shoot a movie, and will be gone the whole four days unless she can get him on the phone, and stop the bimbo female producer with him, and after him, from pulling out all her stops to make sure he never gets back in time to put in.

This movie views as silly as a synopsis of the plot reads. Men should only see it if forced to by a woman they wish to enter, sheathed or not.

3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Viva la Americana!, 16 May 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The real star of this movie is not an actor, but a piece of real estate.

Back in 1999, I went to see "Arlington Road," a thriller filmed in the Virginia suburbs and DC. Just a couple of months later I was in the DC area, staying at this old motel in Crystal City while trying to seduce a friend of mine (only one of several reasons I was there).

Now, ten years later, I am back in a theater watching another thriller set in DC and the Virginia suburbs, probably just months away from another trip to DC to try and seduce a former co-worker (she is hotter than the friend and much less likely to be responsive, and if her marriage is still intact, I won't even try), and what do I see on the screen? The "dump" I stayed at back in '99, very meticulously portrayed too.

The Americana Hotel is not exactly a "dump." It is a legendary tourist class motel literally minutes (during non rush hours) from the capitol. If you are a church group from Iowa looking for a cheap dig with shuttle service into DC, and no nonsense information about how to get around, this is your place. It's old, but at least ten years ago, the rooms were spotlessly clean, I would say cleaner than the rooms at the Marriott next door, so clean I had no reservations about soaking my hemorrhoids in the bathtub (not a spot of mold on the sparkling tile), and the beds Jason Bateman grumbled about in "State of Play" were actually very comfy. It was run by this older gent with a curt nasally Yankee accent and brisk manner who otherwise was quite helpful in his reserved way. Calling it a "hotel" is a stretch, but in the internet age that slight deception likely makes the old motel seem more important from a carefully designed website than it otherwise would be.

I was actually thinking about staying in Georgetown this next trip (trying to be more impressive since she is hotter), but now after seeing "State of Play" I might stay one night back at the Americana, just to see if things are still as they were.

Otherwise, "State of Play" is a very good political thriller. Russell Crowe is pitch perfect as an arrogant, slack, primo uomo reporter with a "past" intimate to the principal conspirators, and who (at least before the movie ends) presumes himself too much of a professional to try and bed his pretty younger female reporter partner.

Ben Affleck, likewise, is perfectly cast as a slimy politician buried up to his eyeballs in lies and corruption.

This flick is not exactly "All the President's Men," but there is one close call in a parking garage (or as Jason Bateman's sexually omnivorous lounge lizard character would say, in a "gay rage"), and the writing and acting in "State of Play" are well above average, enough to make it a very worthy way to spend an afternoon enjoying its vicarious, guilty pleasures. After seeing it, I can't wait to hit the Metro again, even if she won't answer her phone, or bother to return my voice mails.

The Reader (2008)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
"The Reader" Delivers the "Goods" That "Milk" Failed To Fake, 4 February 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When I went to see this curious combination of art-house sex romp and period mystery, it was playing on one screen in an 18 screen multiplex theater right next to "Milk." What irony.

I first took notice of "Milk," when I read that Gus Van Sant made Sean Penn and James Franco wear huge rubbery fake penises for "love" scenes and other nudity. I figured I would go see that, get the audience reaction, and see if I could keep from laughing and embarrassing myself. It's one thing to laugh out loud during Rambo IV when Stallone starts blowing apart the Burmese, but quite another to do the same in a theater (likely) full of many older, worldly gay men there to see a "serious" cinematic tribute for Harvey Milk.. After I read that all the "strap on" scenes were cut out, and that there was no honest depiction of the bath house debauchery the period was famous for, I skipped it.

I went into "The Reader," without having read the book, and not knowing much about it except that it dealt with Nazis, war criminals and sex. That was enough to interest me. Shades of "The Night Porter" maybe? Not really, but the penis had definitely moved over from next door, and it didn't look fake either. Completely flaccid (absolutely necessary to avoid an instant NC-17 tag), certainly not huge, but a realistically ample "shower." It was attached to a barely 18 year old little known German actor who looked like a brown haired version of Prince William fused with a lanky Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and who partook in quite a few of those slow, extended "European" type explicit sex scenes with 30something lead actress Kate Winslet, who also showed off almost all of her body except the beav. I was the only male in a sparse audience made up entirely of middle aged, and older women. The movie was not funny, but I did laugh quietly at the thought of the dilemma this might pose for many of the gay men next door if they really knew what was going on so close by.

I also laughed a bit because the other Winslet flick, "Revolutionary Road" was playing just a couple of screens on down. Here a stiffly clothed Winslet gets two of the most incompetently mechanical screws in modern film. If "The Reader" is all about sexual fantasy fulfillment for "mature" straight women, "Road's" adaptation of Richard Yates' 1962 suburban "horror" novel is an explanation for why the Stepford men in Ira Levin's later horror tale turned all their women into programmed robots. It was the only way those 30 second wonders were ever going to give them an orgasm.

"The Reader," beyond its relaxed Eurosex themes, is also a lame thriller. Lame only because it isn't very thrilling. The secret of the story is very easy to spot early on. The core plot involved Kate Winslet and her brief, lusty 1958 relationship with the German youth, aged 15 to 16 then, and how their lives and interactions play out through 1995. Seems that before she became the cathartic lover of an impressionable and lonely teenage boy, Winslet's character was an SS guard at Auschwitz and other camps during the War, and she is charged and convicted in 1966 of commanding a unit of female guards in 1944 that killed around 300 Jewish prisoners by burning them alive in a church (a trademark act of Holocaust brutality) during the retreat from the camps as Soviet troops advance.

The decently hung German kid plays the male lead character both as a 16 year old, and as a 24 year old law student in 1966 during Winslet's trial. The 1958 scenes are lushly detailed period recreations, complete with bucolic and romantic "wandervogeling" between Winslet and her boy that vaguely evoke similar earlier scenes in "Cabaret." The scene involving the penile money shot is a lingering one where Winslet slowly bathes the youth's taut, naked body as he stands awkwardly inside a claw foot tub in her dingy flat. No, she can't scrub away her sins doing this, but it is gratuitous eye candy for a select audience, both watching it, and missing it in the theater next door.

The male lead as an older man is played by Ralph Fiennes, whose persona is so radically different from that of the younger actor that it's hard to suspend disbelief and accept the two as the same person. Fiennes does his usual; he whisks about in well tailored suits and looks consistently constipated, and sexually aloof. He is more like the duds Winslet is dealing with down the hall on Revolutionary Road than the shy, eager stud she bedded years earlier.

I am also a bit leery of the "good German" approach of the film. These Germans seem a bit too eager to prosecute their own kind for war crimes, but as "good" Germans will do, they justify their desire for justice with a lot of awkward, rambling philosophizing about the difference between morality and law. Just like they did years earlier when opportunists like Heidegger bastardized Nietzsche to justify acts they now admit are crimes. One thing this movie does well is it shows how it was mostly illiterate working class types, such as Winslet's character, who get what tepid justice is meted out, rather than say, a mayor, or Bundestag legislator, or some AG CEO or chairman, all of whom would likely go deliberately undiscovered and unpunished. Even at that, for someone convicted of "murdering" 300 Jews, and sentenced to life in prison, she's up for release within twenty years, and with all the tender support the state social services agencies can muster to help her readjust to life on the outside. Despite all the sex, and decent mounting of the historical periods this movie delivers, I still like "The Odessa File," and maybe "Marathon Man" better.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
The Morman Male as Metrosexual Psychotic (cue laughter), 4 February 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Do a Google search for the words "Mormon" and "castration" and you'll get links to variations of a story about an old Church Bishop who, during the 1850s in Utah, took a fancy to a young lass in love with an LDS buck near her own age. She naturally spurned the old fart's advance because of her love for this boy who also steadfastly stood by his own affections for the girl. Now a powerful Bishop in a Patriarchal religion such as Mormonism, you might expect, is not easily denied matters of the flesh, regardless of how many wives he may already possess. Soon the young man is set upon by allies of the aged and horny Saint, and roughly de-manned. His severed genitals were nailed to some wall in a public locale as a crude warming to men and women alike of the consequences in disobeying one of God's chosen representatives. Welcome to the world of the Latter Day Saints as depicted in "September Dawn." This exact storyline in not the main subject of this movie, though the film graphically depicts in one interesting scene such a castration by the early Mormon pioneers of Utah as part of its overall message. That message is that the Mormons started out as little more than a creepy Branch Davidian style blood cult led by psychotics and perverts that has somehow managed to metastasize into a major universal world religion. Interestingly enough, this isn't meant as a comment on religions in general (i.e. they all started out this way, we just have better source material on this one since its only a little over 150 years old), but rather that, no matter how innocent and clean cut those young men in black ties and white shirts riding around on bicycles may seem today, the "family friendly" modern LDS church has a really nasty, violent, and eccentric legacy that it will stop at nothing to cover up.

The major violent legacy the movie focuses on, of course, is the "Mountain Meadows Massacre" of September 11 (ugh), 1857. This tragedy actually occurred, actually on that date, and actually involved Mormons killing "Gentile" pioneers passing through Utah bound for California. The level of involvement of Brigham Young and the Salt Lake Patriarchy in the incident has always been hotly debated, and "September Dawn" is unambiguous in presenting the case for complete premeditated culpability.

Whether or not Mormon founder Joseph Smith was a con-man, delusional, or a sexual deviant, or Brigham Young a Taliban style fanatic are all matters of debate based on evidence, but the melodramatic way this flick presents both sides invites some snickers, and of course, angry attacks from modern Mormons. Most reviewers tend to focus on the way the Mormons are presented, but equally intriguing is the way the female screenwriter of this movie depicted the "Gentile" wagon train. Its denizens are, for mid 19th century Arkansans, the model of broad minded, peaceful tolerance and liberated gender roles. Their minister and his daughter sound more like Unitarians than say, 19th century Southern Baptists, and some of their women slap rawhide and confront the bewildered Saints with as much authority as the menfolk. As a cinematic device, this is a compelling counter mythology to that of Mormon repression, and in a weird way actually makes the film rise above its melodrama.

The real Arkansans likely inspired as much fear among the then persecuted Mormons as they did hatred, and it ain't just because some of the womenfolk might have ridden shotgun and worn pants..

If 19th century Mormons were fanatics, and perhaps driven to even more fanaticism in response to persecution, how do today's Mormons compare to the likes of the Taliban? If you are talking about Warren Jeffs' fundamentalist Mormon cult that still practices polygamy (and has been in the news recently because of the high profile raid on one of its Texas communities), then this movie play like a documentary, at least as to gender roles. As for the "mainstream" variation Mitt Romney belongs too, well, genealogy is partly my profession (having nothing to do with any religious beliefs), and I have frequently availed myself of the rich resources the LDS church maintains in this field, and which they make available to anyone. Never once has anyone of these volunteer librarians ever approached me with any missionary efforts, let alone death threats, and the one time I engaged one of the librarians on duty at a "stake" branch about the religion, he quickly informed me he was a lapsed member and basically regarded the religion as a bunch of nonsense. And they were letting him work in their library.

The castration scene in"September Dawn" is emblematic of the bizarre production values that make this movie, in many ways, an unintentionally hilarious piece of historical camp. It occurs early in the film, during a cinematic collage of images crosscut between topical examples of church "discipline" and crazed sermonizing by Brigham Young about blood atonement. Night riders swoop down on the cabin of an unsuspecting church member who has committed adultery, or some sort of sexual "sin." The riders drag the hapless man from his cabin bed, and in moonlit silhouette they lift up his nightshirt. One of them raises a knife and goes right for the groin. Next scene is a close up of what is supposed to be the unfortunate fellow's severed scrotum and testicles being tacked to his cabin door with the knife that just emasculated him. The organs appear to be of the grade you expect would be marketed by Johnson Smith, Honor House, or similar comic book novelty merchant around Halloween. Basically a piece of obvious rubbery smooth plastic completely without pubic hair. Nineteenth century men cutting each others testicles off for vicarious thrills masked as religious duty I can believe, but not them "manscaping." . The effects person really should have glued a little fuzz to those Play-Doh plumbs.

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