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Jane and Emma (2018)
Danielle Deadwyler Give a Performance Worthy of an Oscar Nomination
JANE AND EMMA may be a low budget production but it has a lot of creative strengths that make this an exceptional exploration of two strong women in the early history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Danelle Deadwyler brings great strength to the role of Jane Manning James, a black woman who after joining the Church desires to meet the prophet Joseph Smith (well played by Brad Schmidt) and in doing so becomes a close friend of his wife Emma Hale Smith (Emily Goss). The film focuses on Jane spending the night with Emma following the murder of Joseph and his brother Hyrum. During the course of the night Emma struggles with the feeling that her request for Joseph to return to Nauvoo led to his death while Jane wonders what her place as a black woman in the restored Church is. Deadwyler and Gross give powerful performances with a script by Melissa Leilani Larson that gives the viewer a great deal to think about and ponder. One of the greatest strengths of this film is the superb cinematography by Wesley Johnson which masterfully uses creative close-ups in the wide screen format. The lighting of the Nauvoo house at night by candlelight seems real. The musical score is extremely effective. JANE AND EMMA raises the bar as to what can be done with limited funds and a great deal of creativity. Most of this creativity from the directing and screenplay and the performances has come from women.
The Tree of Life (2011)
Criterion Extended Version A Must For Those Who Love This Film!
There are more than a 1000 reviews on IMDB from film viewers -- many of them very lengthy with great insights. And there are, of course, many who hate this film or can not relate to it. Well the extended version of A TREE OF LIFE offered on the newly released Criterion 2-Disc Blu-ray set are for those of us who have been deeply touched by this masterful work by Terrence Malick. The 50 additional minutes add a greater depth to the characters of the story. They help us understand and care about them in a deeper way. In every way I find the longer version to be my preferred viewing. As for the new Extras I can only say that they are all priceless. I wouldn't say that the new transfer is superior to the original Fox release as it is a truly beautiful disc. But the extended version and the included Extras make the Criterion the Disc of the Year for those who consider Mallick's film one of cinema's greatest achievements. This may well be the finest disc set that the Criterion folks have ever released!
In Emma's Footsteps (2018)
Good Intentions But Misses the Mark
Anne Hansen and Shona Kay Moyer do a fine job in their performances as Lucy Mack Smith and Emma Hale Smith but IN EMMA'S FOOTSTEPS is more of a stage play than motion picture. Brittany Wiscombe who was responsible for the screenplays of NOT CINDERELLA'S TYPE and SINGING WITH ANGELS (both excellent) co-wrote this as well as directed. The script is too much talk and not enough visual.
One has only to compare it with with EMMA SMITH: MY STORY (2008), which is both "Breathtaking" and "Powerful", to see what is missing from this important follow-up. I retuned to re-see the earlier film in the theater four times and then purchased it on Blu-ray and have watched it several times over the years. I had no desire to return for a second viewing of IN EMMA'S FOOTSTEPS as much as I wanted to like the film.
True it didn't have the budget that it needed and so resorted to long dialog scenes. But the producers also made the mistake of shooting the film in the 2.35:1 wide screen format. For some reason several Mormon filmmakers are drawn to this wider format even though their efforts will have only have very brief theatrical screenings and mostly be seen on wide screen televisions which are 1.78:1 (16x9).
This film has a great deal of wall space with lots of talk and outdoors the limited cast seems smaller in the wider format. CandleLight, who is releasing the film has chosen to use the wider format for two shorter Church History releases: CARTHAGE and STORYTELLERS. WHY??? Because their directors like the wider format!
It's the Old Army Game (1926)
KINO Blu-ray of Silent W.C. Fields Film Is Stunning
The big surprise for me when viewing the KINO release of the 1926 W.C. Fields comedy IT'S THE OLD ARMY GAME was how beautiful the print is. For the most part it is pristine. For any Fields fan who is familiar with his classic sound feature IT'S A GIFT there is much to compare and enjoy in this silent rendering. No doubt the routines work better with sound and polishing but it's fun to see it being attempted without the sound. Fields looks youthful and fit. Louise Brooks is not only beautiful but very animated and delightful in this her fourth film. The Ben Model pipe organ score works very well and is authentic to the way many audiences would have experienced the film originally.. The only Extra is a commentary track by author James L. Neilbaur. It has its original tinting. If you are a fan of Fields or comedy from the silent era then this release is worth taking a look at. The film title don't really do justice to the film content but it is explained during the course of the film.
Madam Secretary: Night Watch (2018)
This episode was one of the finest things that I've experienced on television. Thought provoking as we realize just how fragile on relationships in this world are. It reminded me of the film FAIL SAFE and just how easy it would be to destroy our world. Its frightening to think of those in power who have the ability to destroy with the press of a button. North Korea, Russia, Iran, U.S.. MADAME SECRETARY is very enlightening in how challenging serving our country can be and this particular episode explored a deep subject in a thought provoking manor.
The Donner Tragedy Helped To Preserve The Mormon Pioneers
I have great respect for the Donner Party and feel that they were heroes in helping the pioneer companies of the Mormon Pioneers in an unexpected way. The Donner company spent almost a month clearing the way to bring their wagons over the mountains into the Salt Lake valley. A year later when Brigham Young brought the first of the Mormon pioneers into the valley he was racing against time as they needed to be able to plant a crop in order to have food for those who would be living in the Salt Lake valley. It was late July when he arrived and it was because the Donner company had cleared the last major passage way that they were able to arrive in time to plant. Things had grown somewhat since the Donner's clearing but was much easier for Young's larger company to clear their way through.
So I would honor the Donner company along with Brigham Young as being special people to this great pioneer episode. And this PBS special does an outstanding job of telling the story of one the great pioneer tragedies.
The Stray (2017)
Filmed in Utah not Colorado.
Several reviews that I have read comment on how beautiful T. C. Christensen's camera work makes Colorado look without realizing that THE STRAY was filmed in Utah. That's okay though as Utah has stood in for many spots in the world and even outer space. THE STRAY is a fine family film based on the actual experience of the director. I thoroughly enjoyed it while my wife found it to be a little slow. The acting is fine and the dog delightful. I would think that dog lovers will enjoy the film and will agree that the right dog can be life changing.
The above was written after seeing the film in the theater. Just finished watching the Blu-ray and was even more impressed with the stunning cinematography. Michael Cassidy and Sarah Lancaster are especially good as a husband and wife who are trying to find the right balance for their life together and their children. Knowing that this is a true story of the film's director (Mitch Davis) adds a special dimension to the film. I can certainly identify with the effect that a dog can have on a family as one recently came into my families life and has been a wonderful influence to us.
Enchanted Kingdom 3D (2014)
What a amazing experience! I do a lot of videoing myself and am thrilled when once in a great while I am able to capture some of natures beauty and mysteries so when I see something like this that is one incredible shot after another there are no words to express what I really feel. I bought this disc not knowing anything about it. It ranks as one of my very favorite film experiences. In every way this a superior achievement. Does the 3-D really add to the experience? YES!! The Extras showing how the various shots were made are something special too. The film took 2 ½ years to make and cost a fortune using state of the art equipment and people to capture things that we would otherwise never be privileged to experience. HIGHEST RATING!
Love, Kennedy (2017)
A Film to love and cherish now on DVD & Blu-ray
Once in a great while a film comes along that you want to share with all of your loved ones. LOVE, KENNEDY is one such film. I had the opportunity to see it at the advance screening and was deeply touched by this true story of a young woman's battle with a rare terminal disease. Because of her and her family's belief system they are able keep their faith and have a positive influence on hundreds of people who come to know and love Kennedy and her great strength. Director T.C. Christensen is attracted to true stories of people of faith meeting challenges of life. His 17 MIRACLES, EPHRAIM'S RESCUE and THE COKEVILLE MIRACLE were three such stories. LOVE, KENNEDY is the latest and one that will touch the hearts of families. If you have the opportunity of seeing this in a limited run theatrical screening please do so. If not, then watch for it to show up on streaming services or on Blu-ray/DVD in the Fall of 2017. After seeing the film I purchased the book KENNEDY'S HUGS and couldn't put it down. This along with the film has made for a very uplifting experience. The film will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on Sept. 26, 2017. Now everyone in search of something uplifting will have the opportunity to experience this very special film.
Outstanding But Not Available
I first saw this outstanding documentary at Brigham Young University with Kevin Brownlow in attendance and have always felt it to be the best filmed overview of DeMille's career. BYU in Provo, UT houses the massive DeMille collection and supplied a number of things for the documentary. Wanting to teach a mini course on DeMille I went looking for the availability of CECIL B. De MILLE: American EPIC only to learn that it is not available on DVD. Originally it had been made for TCM and that seems to be the only place that it has had screenings. Checking with BYU about its availability I learned that it has not and likely never will be released as a DVD as clearing the rights of material used in the documentary would be far too costly. One of the nicest things about this work is that Elmer Bernstein, who composed the score for THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, not only appears in the documentary but also scored this work -- and the music is outstanding. It sad that monetary requirements keep such a fine documentary out of print.
Winner of 2017 LDS Film Festival Best Picture
STORY TELLER: AN EVENING WITH COLORFUL CHARACTERS is exactly that. Mark Twain wanders into the camp of J. Golden Kimball and Porter Rockwell one evening in the Utah Territory and almost gets himself shot. During the course of the evening the three men share stories and and correct myths that people have about them. Written by Joshua Michael French who also plays Mark Twain with Cameron Asay as J. Golden Kimball and Jason Wade excellent as Porter Rockwell. Told in 67 minutes this is a fascinating presentation that delighted audiences at the 2017 LDS Film Festival. Available at Deseret Book stores for under $9.99 this provides a very enjoyable look at some very interesting historical characters. Well written, photographed and acted.
Spirit of the Game (2016)
This Is a Winner!
After reading the review in the local newspaper I decided to skip seeing this in a theater. Then I heard raves from my cousin and his wife and decided to check it out with my wife. So glad that we did as we really enjoyed the film. Based on true story that we were not familiar with but one that was fascinating to learn about. Mormon haters will go on hating Mormons but any reasonable person will find this story of missionaries getting involved with helping train a team about to compete in the Olympics to play better basketball is exciting and inspiring. Now out on DVD I highly recommend it to sportsmen and families who love faith building movies.
Joan of Arc (2015)
A Spiritual Reflection of Joan of Arc
This TV documentary does a beautiful job of capturing the divine mission of the young maid who answered God's call to rescue France from falling to England in what became known as "The 100 Years War." It excepts that she was an instrument in God's hands and thus this is a uplifting experience for viewers of faith. Much of the production was shot at or near the locations of the historical story. While some people look upon the Joan of Arc story as a legend they are overlooking that her story survives from a detailed record of her actual trial. In 1929 Carl Theo. Dryer told her story in "The Passion of Joan of Arc" by using that trial record. It remains one of the most powerful films in the history of motion pictures and would be a great companion piece to this current documentary. Note: It should be viewed on the edition released on the Criterion label which includes a stirring score written by Richard Einhorn and sung by the Voices of Light women's group. This new documentary is a breath of fresh air and worthy tribute to one of histories great women.
Just Let Go (2015)
The Power of Forgiveness
This is a true story of a man who lost his wife (their unborn child), his second son and his only daughter when hit by a drunken 17-year old boy one evening as well as he and his youngest son being injured and of how he comes to be able to forgive the young man who was responsible. Unlike most films based on a true story this one stays true to the actual experience of Chris Williams. Actor Henry Ian Cusick has done an excellent job of capturing the pain and suffering of a good family man experiencing one of life's most challenging experiences. The scripting, acting and direction all come together in a way to give understanding and deep feeling for what Williams went through and for what brings a measure of peace and understanding into his life. This is a uplifting film that is well worth experiencing. Highly recommended.
Once I Was a Beehive (2015)
A Uplifting Family Film To Experience
I had the opportunity to catch this film as it was still being fine tuned at the LDS Film Festival in early March of 2015. It was being screened just prior to a session in which a film that I had made was being screened. I'm always interested in seeing what other LDS filmmakers are doing and this one (which at the time didn't have a final title selected yet) sounded like fun. "Once I Was a Beehive" turned out to be one of the highlights of the festival -- a delight from start to finish. I laughed and cried and thoroughly enjoyed the film from start to finish. McAllen Nelson, who directed and wrote the screenplay, has done a wonderful job of taking the viewer into a world of young women learning to value who they really are. The young players, headed by Paris Warner as a non-Mormon who has lost her father to cancer and finds herself at the girls camp when her mother remarries a Mormon man, are all very warm and believable. Special mention must be given to character actress Barta Heiner (who was so wonderful as the senior teacher in "The Cokeville Miracle") who lights up the screen every moment that she appears. Everything about this film works from the directing, fine script, excellent cinematography and the catchy score. I rank this as one the best films that a family could enjoy together. It's worth seeing in the theatre (if you have a chance with its limited release) and certainly purchasing on a Blu-ray or DVD. Did I say that it was for all ages? I was 76 when I saw it and went through at least six hankies!
Powerful & Exceptionally Well Made
FREETOWN is not only a powerful and exciting true story of faith but it is also an exceptionally well made independent film. It is a film that is even better upon a second viewing as you come to know the individual people in the story better. Without well known actors it is difficult to keep the seven missionaries strait as they are trying to escape the rebel fighting to the safety of Freetown on the first viewing. The second time through they come alive. A helpful hint for viewers of this film on either Blu-ray or DVD would be to activate the sub-titles. While spoken in English the accents can be hard to follow at times and the sub-titles help greatly. The cast is outstanding down to the smallest part and the cinematography in Africa is often stunning. Incredible use of high shots done with a drone make the film look far richer than its small budget would normally provide for. Many of these are stunning and all had a dramatic life to the film. This is an independent film that looks every bit as good as anything a Hollywood studio would turn out. The direction, scripting, music and performances all work together to provide a experience that is uplifting and unforgettable. Garrett Batty, the director of "The Saratov Approach", is a talent to watch. Highly recommended.
The Cokeville Miracle (2015)
More Than Just a Movie . . .
For me THE COKEVILLE MIRACLE was more than a movie -- it was a spiritual experience. A true story that has been faithfully told that explores the results of the combined prayers of children held as hostages in a grade school with parents and thousands following the story on the media. Director T.C. Christensen has previously explored the power of human endurance and faith in his hand-cart pioneer dramas 17 MIRACLES and EPHRAIM'S RESCUE which were based on factual recorded events, but THE COKEVILLE MIRACLE is a record of something that has happened in my lifetime that I read about at the time of its happening and it has given me a deeper understanding of the miracles that took place at that event. It is a powerful testament to the nearness of a caring Heavenly Father. True we do not understand why tragic things in life do not always turn out in the way that we would have them do but that does not change the fact God does hear and answer prayers according to His wisdom and purposes. The film is beautifully acted, written, directed and is a breath of fresh air for anyone seeking an uplifting experience. Highly recommended! NOTE: Since my posting the film has had a wider availability and we now have a number of extremely negative postings. Look what is coming in from the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The people who actually lived the event depicted in this film would tell you that this is an accurate telling of the events. We live in a world with a lot of spiritual SICK people!
Stunning Visuals That Matches a Major Studio Production
I saw this ten minute short at the 2015 LDS Film Festival and was very impressed. A wide screen image was projected on a full sized theatre screen and it was visually stunning! Incredible shots of riders on horses pounding along the pony express trails with the images being captured by camera drones that were absolutely flawless. The dramatic setting of a darkened sky with an approaching storm was the perfect setting for the images of a young pony express rider (turns out to be a young woman) being chased by several men bent on retrieving the mail bag before it reaches it destination. One would have thought that they were viewing a major feature Western rather than a short. Technically it was just about perfect with the special effects work of Rob Field and the color correcting of Ben Hoffman complimenting the directing, scripting and photography of John Lyde. You can find this on YouTube and see for yourself just how well done it was.
The Christmas Dragon (2014)
Beautifully Rendered Magical Story for Families
THE Christmas DRAGON, by Lord of the Rings standards cost very little, but this made in Utah fantasy film comes to life with amazing special effects and a wonderful musical score as it brings to life a tale of orphan children and a young dragon attempting to rescue the fading memory of Christmas. John Lyde's screenplay and direction do a first rate job in providing an exciting adventure for children and adults to experience together. It might be a bit too frightening for the younger members of a family but should hold the interest of older children, teenagers and adults. The cinematography and editing are top notch as are the special effects - - they really do look quite professional and show that even a magical story like told here can be done on a non-Hollywood budget. A lot of love and care have gone into this production and it deserves to find a large audience. The film should have had a theatrical run but has been released direct to DVD. I only wish that it had been made available as a Blu-ray.
Meet the Mormons (2014)
Uplifting Look At Good People
MEET THE MORMONS was directed by Blair Treu who has done some work for Disney and did the 2001 feature film LITTLE SECRETS, which Ebert & Rooper gave "Two Thumbs Up!" I mention this film because I absolutely loved it and have wondered from time to time what future films Blair Treu would do. What he has done with MEET THE MORMONS is to create an insight into the lives of several members of the LDS faith in different parts of the world. The documentary is beautifully recorded and he has captured his subjects in a meaningful way that lets the viewer feel the wonder of having faith in God and striving to to use that faith in raising a good family and of serving mankind. Professional critics will find fault with it for not addressing beliefs of the LDS Church that non-members don't understand, but that's not what this film is trying to do. Members of the Mormon Church are not members of some cult group -- they are Christians who are trying to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ -- and their stories are as varied as each person is different. The film lets us share the lives of six different families who each meet the challenges of life by serving their loved ones and enriching lives of people they come in contact with. Members of the Mormon Church will be inspired by this film and people who know little or nothing about the LDS Church should feel a love and kinship with the people shown because they are men and woman striving to live good lives and serve their fellow-man. Blair Treu and the talents behind the camera have done a magnificent job of visually sharing the lives of some interesting people.
One of the Most Powerful Films I Have Seen!
I submitted a 5 minute film in the Family Films Category of the 13th LDS Film Festival called FRANCES & THE BUGS. As a participate I was given a goodies bag that contained a DVD called BEST OF LDS FILM FESTIVAL 2008. WRESTLING WITH GOD was among the six Competition Short Films on the disc (all of them very well done). As I watched the three actors having an in depth religious conversation about the truth of Mormonism I recognized Adam Johnson from the wonderful film CHARLY. The other two in the conversation I had not seen before. The discussion between the three was so real that I felt that they were engaged in a real conversation and not something scripted (three amazing performances). The depth and sincerity of this heart-felt conversation moved me to tears. I have seldom seen anything so beautifully and powerfully done! The three filmmakers, Andrew James, Marissa Bernhard, Torben Bernhard produced, directed and wrote it. It came about from an actual conversation that they had. The reason that it seemed so real was because it was. The amazing thing was that they were able to get actors to convey their feelings so movingly on film. As I said, it feels as though you are participating in an actual conversation among three people. WRESTLING WITH GOD is one of most powerful films that I have ever seen! A spiritual experience . . . and that's the highest praise a film can receive.
Ephraim's Rescue (2013)
Outstanding Companion to 17 Miracles
Director T.C. Christensen said that when he made his pioneer handcart film 17 MIRACLES that he wanted to include the inspiring true story Ephraim K. Hanks but decided that it needed to be told in a film of it's own. EPHRAIM'S RESCUE is that film and indeed it did call for it's own telling. Darin Southam is excellent in the title role of a man willingly prepared to do the errands of the Lord. The catch-line for the film is "Decisions Determine Destiny" and Ephraim's life proves to be a wonderful depiction of how an ordinary man can be magnified to be an instrument for great good in the hands of God. Once again T.C. has created a script based on recorded entries found in pioneer journals and through fine directing, beautiful cinematography and stirring music created a film of great power and beauty. Many years ago President Heber J. Grant foretold of a time when the stories of the pioneers and the birth of the restoration would be told on the screens of the world. T.C. Christensen has certainly played a major part in helping to bring that vision to life. See this in a theatre if possible and look for it on DVD (hopefully in Blu-ray) down the road.
Viva Zapata! (1952)
Viva Zapata! On Blu-ray!
Elia Kazan's "Viva Zapata!" has been released as a DVD in the expensive Kazan Set and as an import title. Much to my surprise it is also available on Blu-ray. I found it by accident while tracking down rumors that Kazan's "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" had been put out in the Blu-ray format. It turns out the above two Kazan films are packaged with "Man On A Tightrope" and "Wild River" in a set called Kazan A Fox, Vol. 2 and are available exclusively from Fox Connect for $44.98 ($11.25 per title). The transfers of all four films are excellent and at that price real bargain. They also offer Kazan At Fox, Vol. 1 in Blu-ray with "Gentlemen's Agreement", "Panic In The Street", "Pinky" and "Boomrang!". So if you are interested in "Viva Zapata!" in Blu-ray, or any of the other seven Kazan films then you will be as excited as I was to find out about their availability. Remember they are offered exclusively by Fox Connect.
Man on a Tightrope (1953)
Part of Blu-ray Kazan At Fox Set.
Originally I saw this film in a theatre in 1953 and remembered enjoying it but not being overly impressed with it. I discovered that Fox Connect was offering two KAZAN AT FOX sets, each with four Elia Kazan films in Blu-ray. Volume Two has in addition to Man on a Tightrope, Viva Zapata!, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Wild River. The price is $44.98 or $11.25 per title. I ordered the set mainly because I have wanted a better copy of TREE for many years and was very pleased re-seeing Man on a Tightrope again. Very well directed with a screenplay by Robert E. Sherwood (The Best Years of Our Lives) with location shooting that adds great atmosphere to the story. Not only is Fredric March outstanding but so is just about everyone else in the film. I found that I liked the film a great deal more then I thought I would. If you are interested in any of the listed films then this set is for you. It is offered only through Fox Connect. It is titled: KAZAN AT FOX, VOL. 2. They also offer a Volume 1 that includes Blu-ray copies of GENTLEMEN'S AGREEMENT, PANIC IN THE STREET, PINKY and BOOMRANG! I might add that the transfers of the four films in Volume 2 were beautiful!
Exploring 'The Tree of Life' (2011)
The Tree of Life Blu-ray disc has only two Extras. The theatrical trailer and this documentary on Exploring the film. Both are masterful and worth spending some time with. Usually it is a mistake to watch the Extra section before seeing the film itself. In this case I think it would work well in watching these prior to seeing the film. THE TREE OF LIFE is not a conventional film in any shape or form. Having some insight into the film would better prepare a viewer. The film itself requires more than one viewing to even begin to fully understand the poetic and spiritual beauty that it offers to anyone willing to watch and ponder the film several times.