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8/10
Villisca
3 November 2005
True-life ax slaughter makes for seemingly horrifying film fare, but Villisca: Living With a Mystery chronicles the aftermath of the murders in a small western Iowa farming town rather than the gore and ghost stories that might have tempted more lurid producers than the Rundles. The cast of characters (names like Blackie, Dona, and the Little Minister) alternate between being fraught with foibles and downright frightening as much as any who populate fiction. Yet these people existed. The film even includes interviews with childhood contemporaries sharing memories of the 1912 murders. A riveting film. Historians Ed Epperly and Bruce Stillian provide commentary as engaging as Shelby Foote's in the PBS Civil War magnum opus. You might not learn for sure Whodunnit, but you will discern insight into how folks react to violent tragedy. Two hours well spent.
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Chloroform on celluloid
19 May 2004
I endured the Book of Mormon film at the Englewood last night. To paraphrase Mark Twain's assessment of the book as "choloroform in print," I'd rate this work as chloroform on celluloid.

Despite an opening title disclaimer from the LDS church, there were plenty of telltale embellishments of a Mormon production -- pretty, clean, crisp costumes, straight white teeth, Eurocentric looking actors, God as booming bass male voice, etc. I wasn't familiar with any of the actors, but movie lead Nephi was portrayed by a buff looking Greg Brady guy, an amalgam of Barry Williams and Lou Ferrigno. Laman was delightfully sinister. Lemuel had the voice of Chris Elliott which distracted me. Lehi was disgraceful and looked to be an understudy from the Olive Branch players. I was secretly relieved when the old patriarch died, but his deathbed scene was of predictable unpleasant duration.

Considerable Jerusalem intrigue as prelude to the Nephites blowing town, much not depicted in the opening of First Nephi, but I suppose it helped set the scene. Over an hour into the film and we'd yet to depart the book of First Nephi so I was getting pretty apprehensive about the epic running length. But this film, the first in a projected series, only deals with the first two books in the Book of Mormon.

Suitable for the kinderlach. Violent apex is some blood spattering on Nephi. Sexual situations limited to some provocative dancing by the Nephite women. Some pretty fetching halter tops on the sea voyage over.

The darkness of the bad brothers at this film's conclusion portrayed more tastefully than what I'd feared might be coming. They hadn't morphed into African-Americans, but rather had just taken on a browner hue, replete with savage makeup and behavior wailing around the campfire. A refreshing Joseph Smith portrayal to bookend the film, not the beautiful blonde boy we're often treated to in LDS depictions, but a more homely and believable farm boy. Angel Moroni in sore need of recasting. I know who the South Park producers used as their template now when they depicted this angel as a white Native-American.

I attended at the recommendation of an aged church Seventy who beamed about Hollywood production values. I questioned this initially upon watching the film, but then reminded myself that Saturday morning live-action series of my youth like Shazam, Mighty Isis, and the Banana Splits feature Danger Island were likely conceived in Hollywood. So sure, Hollywood production values. Actually there was one unique shot of Laman escaping the clutches of Laban in a long, uninterrupted run down stairs. Flying too fast for a Steadicam. So speedy it had to be mounted on a vehicle of some sort, but quite smooth.

Likely the best Book of Mormon film out there, but the competition's not too stiff. I wish someone with Mel Gibson money, although not his zest for sadism, would turn their film-making efforts to Joseph Smith's literary masterpiece. It might enhance understanding between mainstream Christians and the latter-day Saint tradition churches that sprung up in the 19th century. This film struck me as too boring an initiation ritual into the Book of Mormon, so leave your Goyim buddies at home.

Dirk Ellingson Independence, MO
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