RottenTomatoes.com freshness score: NA
0 reviews counted: 0 positive; 0 negative
|KSL Movie Show||Doug Wright||3 stars (out of 4)||75|
|Salt Lake Tribune||Sean P. Means||2 1/2 stars (out of 4)||63|
|Deseret News||Jeff Vice||2 1/2 stars (out of 4)||63|
|Ogden Standard-Examiner||Steve Salles||2 stars (out of 4)||50|
|Salt Lake City Weekly||Scott Renshaw||2 stars (out of 4)||50|
|Utah County Daily Herald||Eric D. Snider||C-||42|
|St. George Spectrum||Bruce Bennett||D-||17|
** 1/2 [2 1/2 stars out of 4]
A chapter of Utah pioneer history makes the big screen.
Not rated, but probably PG for scenes of hardship; 115 minutes
Opening today at area theaters.
The story of the Martin Handcart Company -- Mormon pioneers who nearly perished in the Wyoming snows in 1856, rescued by settlers sent by Brigham Young himself -- would make a great Hollywood epic, if the budget were big enough.
Without a budget, Orem filmmaker Kels Goodman tried anyway with "Handcart." Though the results ultimately suffer for Goodman's financial constraints and his cast's sometimes limited talent, the movie manages to be a rousing and sometimes soul-stirring ride.
"Handcart" shows us the Martin party through the eyes of Samuel Hunter (Jaelan Petrie), a young Iowan who dislikes the Mormons for converting his brother Tanner (Lincoln Hoppe) and luring him to "the land of milk and honey" in Utah. But then he takes a fancy to Abigail Shipe (Stephanie Albach), an English LDS convert, and decides to join the church -- and the exodus west -- mostly to get close to her. On the trail, Samuel discovers his faith as he contends with the hardships of sun, snow and pulling a fully laden handcart across the plains.
Goodman, who is both director and cinematographer, and screenwriter Mark von Bowers do a solid job of humanizing the Mormon pioneers, though some may dislike the notion of Utah's white settlers whining so much. The script makes strides toward exploring its characters' faith and their wrestling with LDS doctrine -- small strides, to be sure, but more than such timid LDS films as "Charly" or "The Singles Ward" attempted.
Among the stronger characterizations is Edward Martin himself (Joel Bishop), trying to maintain good spirits and his faith as members of his party die. Other quietly powerful performances come from Chris Kendrick and Shannon Skinner, as a burly Mormon convert and the unwed mother-to-be who befriends him.
"Handcart" has its share of low-budget cheesiness, from some amateur acting to the anchorman hair on a member of Brigham Young's inner circle. But Goodman demonstrates a sure handling of his material, a sharp eye for panoramic outdoor scenes, and a knack for stretching his film's meager resources.
** 1/2 [2 1/2 stars out of 4]
"Handcart" does a better job than might be expected of telling a story within one of the more tragic episodes in the history of the Mormon pioneers. True, the film is often betrayed by its ultra-ultra-low budget and is bogged down with a mediocre-at-best first half and a tacked-on ending, which blunt the film's overall impact.
Yet, unlike some of the more recent LDS film productions, "Handcart" seems to have a lot of heart. And the film's considerably more involving second half helps make it quite watchable.
The story is a heavily fictionalized version of the Martin Handcart Company's 1,200-mile exodus from Iowa City to the Salt Lake Valley in 1856.
Front and center is Samuel Hunter (Jaelan Petrie), a recent convert to the LDS Church. Samuel did so mainly to get closer to Abigail Shipe (Stephanie Albach), a British church member making the trek to fulfill her family's wishes.
Now, as a family outcast, he decides to join Abby, her younger sister Sarah (Gretchen Condie) and 500 other would-be settlers, including the physically imposing but gentle Moose (Chris Kendrick) and Patricia (Stephanie Skinner), a single mother-to-be.
Still, Samuel has doubts about the journey, and there's evidence to back him up. By leaving late in the season, the party is already encountering colder weather. And as party members start dropping, he's not the only one whose faith is wavering.
Actually, you have to give some credit to director Kels Goodman for making the film as successful as it is, considering what he had to work with. And even though the first half is badly paced, the rather episodic second half is miles better.
A lot rides on the cast, which is inconsistent at best. The toothy Albach has trouble maintaining her tricky British accent, but Petrie does make Samuel's internal struggles convincing.
Also, Skinner, Kendrick and Joel Bishop (who plays Edward Martin, the party's leader) merit more screen time. And if only they could somehow have excised the awful and not-nearly-brief-enough supporting turn by local comedian Johnny Biscuit.
"Handcart" is rated PG for a brief scene of violence (a scuffle) and scattered use of mild profanity (religious in nature). Running time: 115 minutes.
"Handcart" is the seventh entry in the 2 1/2-year-old Mormon cinema genre that began with "God's Army," and it is the most ambitious in terms of scope and subject matter.
It is also, sadly, one of the worst.
I can think of few films that were made by nicer people, and with nobler intentions, than this one. The story of the Mormon pioneers has great dramatic potential, but it is squandered here with a rickety script and some terrible acting.
Writer/director Kels Goodman sets his film within the ill-fated Martin handcart company that left too late in the season in 1856 and subsequently lost 150 of its 500 members to cold and starvation.
But first we meet Sam Hunter (Jaelan Petrie), a 20-ish man in Iowa City who has been taught to hate the Mormons by his snively shopowner uncle (Johnny Biscuit, delivering perhaps the worst performance of the year).
Fate intervenes, however, and Sam falls in love with Abigail (Stephanie Albach), a British immigrant and new Mormon convert who has stopped in town with her fellow saints before heading to Salt Lake City.
Sam is baptized a Mormon -- not because he believes it, he assures his uncle, but because he wants to get close enough to Abigail to convince her Mormonism is false.
Why someone who has joined a church solely to expose its fraudulency would then follow that church across harsh terrain toward Utah is beyond me -- it seems like a lot of work just to prove a point -- but that's what Sam does. Along the way, he apparently becomes truly converted, but darned if we're shown why, how or by whom.
There is more than sufficient tragedy on the trek -- by the end, people are literally tripping over dead bodies -- but only in the sense of "tragedy" that includes all deaths of all nice people. Even when major characters die, it is hard to feel more than mild sadness, because even the major characters are dull ciphers. Almost without exception, the acting is flat and unconvincing. You rarely believe any of these folks are 19th-century pioneers instead of 21st-century amateur actors in uncomfortable costumes. (The all-you-can-eat buffet of bad accents doesn't help, either.)
Among the decent performances are: Chris Kendrick as "Moose," a rough-and-tumble figure with a heart of gold, or something like that; Gretchen Condie as Abigail's younger sister Sarah; and Joel Bishop as company leader Edward Martin.
Among the bad performances are: just about everyone else, though some of them, like Jaelan Petrie as Sam and Lincoln Hoppe as his brother, seem to be good actors trapped in underwritten roles.
But the film's most egregious sin is that it's boring. The character arcs, when they exist, don't flow; characters just wind up different, with no examination of what caused the change. The film asks excellent questions about faith -- like why God would drop a snowstorm on a group of people who were only trying to do his will -- but doesn't answer them. The survivors seem to emerge with stronger faith, but again, the movie doesn't show us why or how. The film is unsure what it wants to say, and what it does say, it does it clumsily. C-
1 hr., 55 min.; PG for pioneer deaths
I know making a good movie isn't easy. It takes plenty of talented writers, actors and filmmakers. Sometimes, money helps attract those kinds of people. Sometimes, imagination can overcome the lack of funds.
I often think about Robert Rodriguez's first film, "El Mariachi."He claims to have spent only $7,000 on that production, and yet it was wildly creative and well-made.
So when it's suggested that a movie should "catch a break" because it was made on a shoestring budget, that sounds like an excuse for mediocre work to me.
Granted, making a period film about the Martin Handcart Company crossing hundreds of miles of rough terrain is a tough thing to tackle, but it all starts with a good script. If the story is compelling, many things become forgivable.
This story begins in Iowa City in 1856. A group of British Latter-day Saints has already traveled a fair distance to make this final trek across the Great Plains to new homes in the Salt Lake Valley. They are getting a late start, with winter fast approaching, but they figure their faith will get them through.
Young Samuel Hunter (Jaelan Petrie) is a clerk in a dry goods store. His boss, strangely named Uncle Tom (played by the affable Johnny Bisquit), hates the Mormons and refuses to sell them any supplies.
A lovely LDS woman, Abigail (Stephanie Albach), catches Samuel's eye and he is immediately smitten by this bright-eyed, sophisticated lady. He decides to be baptized, even though he's not the least bit interested in the religion -- but fully interested in Abigail.
There's also this enigmatic character in town called Moose (Chris Hendrick). He appears to be the resident bully, who detests Mormons one minute and joins them the next.
There's a rumor floating around that he may have killed his girlfriend and that this trek west will give him an excuse to slip out of town. Samuel doesn't trust Moose, even though now he seems to have done a complete turnaround.
Samuel is also concerned about the handcart company's late departure, but his protestations fall on deaf ears. These Saints are anxious to go west, and they're not going to let a little cold weather get in their way. Samuel reluctantly goes along. His test of faith is yet to come.
At this point, the story intrigued me, despite some of the road-show acting and dialogue. I thought the filmmaker was setting up some challenging premises, but then they all just faded away.
Moose's story, especially, was left up in the air. Was he, in fact, faking to avoid the hangman's noose? And if he didn't kill his girlfriend, who did? And if it wasn't an integral part of the story, why did they keep bringing it up?
Plus Samuel's cathartic moment is so abrupt, if you blink, you'll miss it. They could have easily lost some of the trudging-along scenes and given those faith-promoting moments a little more depth.
It seems like "Handcart" wanted to stick its toe into the waters of controversy surrounding the ill-fated Martin Company -- but in the long run, it was really afraid to get its feet wet.
THE FILM: 'Handcart'
OUR RATING: ** [2 out of 4 stars]
STARRING: Jaelyn Petrie, Stephanie Albach, Chris Kendrick, Shannon Skinner and Gretchen Condie
BEHIND THE SCENES: Directed by Kels Goodman ('Y2K: The Movie'). Filmed at This Is The Place State Park and other Utah locations.
PLAYING: North Pointe, Layton Tinseltown, Westates. Runs 115 minutes.
MPAA RATING: Not rated, but likely PG
Selected capsule reviews
by Salt Lake Tribune critics
[Only films by Latter-day Saint and Utah filmmakers have been excerpted below.]
HANDCART ** 1/2 -- The travails of the Martin Handcart Company -- Mormon pioneers who braved winter hardships in 1856 -- are chronicled in Orem filmmaker Kels Goodman's low-budget epic. Strong visuals fight it out with some amateur acting. (S.P.M.) Not rated, but probably PG for scenes of hardship; 115 minutes. Salt Lake County: Carmike 12 (West Jordan), Holladay Center, Megaplex 12 at The Gateway, Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons, Ritz 15. Utah County: Water Gardens, Wynnsong 12. Davis County: Gateway 8, Tinseltown 17 (Layton). Tooele County: Tooele Cinema 6.
LEWIS & CLARK: THE GREAT JOURNEY WEST -- The great expedition from the Mississippi to the Pacific is recounted, with documentary information and re-creations. Jeff Bridges narrates. Not rated, but probably G, 40 minutes. Salt Lake County: Cricket SuperScreen at Jordan Commons.
LOAF-I FILM FESTIVAL -- Low-budget works is spotlighted in this collection, made up of Utah and national filmmakers. Salt Lake County: Broadway Film Centre, 111 E. 300 South, today and Saturday.
OCEAN OASIS -- Two distinct but intertwined habitats -- the Baja California desert and the nearby Sea of Cortes -- are profiled in this large-screen documentary. Not rated, but probably G, 38 minutes. Utah County: Mammoth Screen Theater, North American Museum of Ancient Life, Lehi; Monday through Saturday, noon, 2, 4, 6, and 8 p.m. (admission is $7, or $5 for seniors and kids 12 and under).
SLC PUNK! -- Matthew Lillard (Shaggy from "Scooby Doo") stars in James Merendino's 1998 rumination on Utah's very own punk scene. Last in the monthly outdoor series of "Archifilms," movies about architecture, sponsored by the Salt Lake City Library and the Utah Heritage Foundation. Not rated; 100 minutes. Salt Lake County: South lawn of Memorial House, Memory Grove Park, 485 N. Canyon Road, Salt Lake City; Tuesday at dusk (admission is free; lawn open for picnicking starting at 5 p.m.).
SOCIAL SUICIDE -- Salt Lake filmmaker David A. Wells' tale of four college seniors approaching real life. Salt Lake County: Utah Film & Video Center, 20 S. West Temple in Salt Lake City; tonight at 8 (admission is $6, or $5 for students, seniors and film center members).
AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER *** -- Crass, corny and sophomoric, this latest in Mike Myers' James Bond parodies also might make you laugh out loud if you're in the right frame of mind. Be warned though -- its sexual innuendos and potty jokes push the PG-13 envelope, and there is an opening sequence that may be the funniest in years. (V.H.) Rated PG-13 for sexual innuendo, crude humor and language; 96 minutes. Salt Lake County: Brewvies Cinema Pub (must be 21 or older), Sandy Movies 9, Showcase Cinemas 6, Sugarhouse Movies 10, Valley Fair 9. Utah County: Provo Movies 8.
CHARLY ** -- Schmaltzy romantic drama, based on Jack Weyland's LDS-themed novel, about a free-spirited New York gal (Heather Beers) and an uptight Utah guy (Jeremy Elliott). Beers' fresh performance enlivens the tired script. (S.P.M.) Rated PG for thematic elements; 104 minutes. Salt Lake County: 5 Star Cinemas, Carmike 12 (West Jordan), Cinemark 24 (Jordan Landing), Holladay Center, Megaplex 12 at The Gateway, Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons, Ritz 15. Utah County: Cinemark 16 (Provo), Water Gardens, Wynnsong 12. Weber County: Tinseltown 14 (Ogden). Davis County: Gateway 8, Tinseltown 17 (Layton). Tooele County: Tooele Cinema 6.
DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA SISTERHOOD ** -- Rebecca Wells' novels about eccentric Louisiana friends is adapted into a chaotically paced comedy-drama about the strained relationship between one of the friends (Ellen Burstyn) and her daughter (Sandra Bullock). (S.P.M.) Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, language and some sensuality; 117 minutes. Salt Lake County: Sugarhouse Movies 10.
ESPN'S ULTIMATE X ** -- An informercial for the Summer X Games, blown up to large-format screens. Cool footage of skateboarders, motocross racers and other extreme-sports performers, but it's all sensory experience and no sense. (S.P.M.) Rated PG for daredevil sports action and mild language; 42 minutes. Salt Lake County: Cricket SuperScreen at Jordan Commons. Utah County: Mammoth Screen Theater at Thanksgiving Point.
THE MASTER OF DISGUISE zero stars -- The talented Dana Carvey cannot rise above the boneheaded material in this insipid comedy, about a master of disguises out to save his kidnapped parents. Rated PG for mild language and some crude humor; 80 minutes. Salt Lake County: Carmike 12 (West Jordan), Cinemark 24 (Jordan Landing), Redwood Drive In, Ritz 15. Utah County: Cinemark 16 (Provo). Davis County: Tinseltown 17 (Layton).
MINORITY REPORT **** -- Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise team up for the first time in this exhilarating and thought-provoking science fiction story about police who arrest murderers before they commit the crime. The suspense and tight action harken back to Spielberg's early movies, but with a grittier feel. (V.H.) Rated PG-13 for violence, brief language, some sexuality and drug content; 144 minutes. Salt Lake County: Sandy Movies 9, Showcase Cinemas 6, Sugarhouse Movies 10, Valley Fair 9. Utah County: Provo Movies 8.
OUT OF STEP *** -- A Salt Lake gal (Alison Akin Clark) goes to New York to become a dancer, but finds romance interfering with her studies and challenging her LDS faith. An engaging little movie from Utah filmmaker Ryan Little. (S.P.M.) Rated PG for thematic elements and some sensuality; 89 minutes. Salt Lake County: Carmike 12 (West Jordan).
THE SINGLES WARD * -- A divorced LDS member (Will Swenson) re-enters the meat market of a singles-only ward, in this amateurish Utah-based production. (S.P.M.) Rated PG for mild thematic elements and brief language. Salt Lake County: Showcase Cinemas 6. Utah County: Provo Movies 8. Davis County: Kaysville.
[Also currently showing, NOT by Latter-day Saint filmmakers: Brown Sugar; Igby Goes Down; Knockaround Guys; My Wife Is an Actress; The Rules of Attraction; The Transporter; Tuck Everlasting; White Oleander; Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner' El Otro Francisco; Haunted Castle; KRCL Music Film Series; Mexico; Nosferatu; The Silence of the Lambs; Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner; Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever; The Banger Sisters; Barbershop; The Bourne Identity; The Country Bears; The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course; Diamond Men; Eight Legged Freaks; The Four Feathers; The Good Girl; The Importance of Being Earnest; Jonah: A Veggietales Movie; Lilo & Stitch; Lovely & Amazing; Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat; Men in Black II; Mr. Deeds; Moonlight Mile; Mostly Martha; My Big Fat Greek Wedding; One Hour Photo; Red Dragon; Reign of Fire; Road to Perdition; Scooby-Doo; Sex with Strangers; Signs; Spider-Man; Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams; Star Wars, Episode Ii: Attack of the! Clones; Stuart Little 2; The Sum of All Fears; Sweet Home Alabama; Swimfan; Trapped; The Tuxedo; 24 Hour Party People; XXX]
Starring: Jaelan Petrie, Stephanie Albach, Chris Kendrick, Shannon Skinner
Produced by: Kels Goodman, David Greenlaw Sapp
Written by: Mark Bowers
MPAA Rating: NR
Release Date: Oct. 11, 2002
In 1856, as the persecution continues with those of the Mormon faith, Brigham Young introduces a more effective and economical way of traveling through the 1200 mile trek to their new home in what is now Utah: by handcart. The first three companies are successful, but the Martin Handcart Company shows tragedy. A combination of the large influx of people from Europe using all available handcarts, delayed by boat and then having to build new ones using poor wood, teamed with entering an early Wyoming winter creates hunger, fatigue...even death. The film Handcart surrounds Samual Hunter, one who joins the church only for his love for the faithful Abigail. When the handcart trials come about, Samual's faith in the church and the prophet is tried.
[not yet reviewed]
A pioneer-era Mormon convert (Jaelan Petrie) finds his faith tested by harsh traveling conditions, though it's still better than flying America West. Opens Oct. 11 at theaters valley-wide. (PG)
Handcart ** [2 out of 4 stars]
Sigh... here we go again. Earnest presentation. A few ghastly performances. Preaching to the choir. Scenes of near-instantaneous conversion. Complete absence of a credible skeptical voice. It must be one in the latest wave of LDS-themed films that expect a low budget and good intentions to excuse a mediocre product without much in its head. Jaelan Petrie stars as Samuel, an Iowa lad circa 1856 who falls for a Mormon girl (Stephanie Albach) and joins up with the ill-fated Martin handcart party's westward journey. Director Kels Goodman mounts a good-looking production boosted by a rich score, and finds at least one solid supporting actor in Chris Kendrick. But too much of Handcart trudges through an inefficient narrative toward a foregone conclusion: that the pioneers overcame tremendous obstacles buoyed by their faith. Paging Richard Dutcher -- can someone remind these guys that they should be making movies first, and testimonies second? (PG) --SR
CEDAR CITY -- When Shannon Skinner was leaving the movie "Handcart" at Fiddler's Three Movies Saturday night, a family came up to her and asked if she was the actress from the film they had just seen.
Skinner replied that she was.
"I went by myself and sat in the back," said Skinner, a junior theater major at Southern Utah University. She was curious to gauge the audience's reaction to her first movie and to her performance in it.
The movie is an account of the 1856 trek of the Martin Handcart Company through Nebraska and Wyoming toward the Salt Lake Valley.
More than 150 of the 500 pioneers died during that journey of cold and starvation, historically known as one of the deadliest in U.S. history.
"I walked out, and there were a lot of tears," the 20-year-old actress said.
She had gone to observe, and wanted to do it alone so her friends wouldn't make a fuss and draw attention when she appeared on screen. She didn't expect to be recognized, and didn't quite know how to react when she was.
"It was kind of, like, surreal," she said. "It still doesn't feel like it's happening."
Skinner was living in Purcellville, Va., a year ago, when her father's friend mentioned that he knew a director who was working on a movie and suggested she audition for it.
"I sent in a head shot and completely forgot about it," Skinner said.
She didn't expect to get a big role; she would have been satisfied as one of 350 extras.
But after seeing her picture, director Kels Goodman asked for her resume, and then for a video.
Finally, he sent her part of the film's script and told her to do a reading on video and send it back to him.
"She did the video and looked the part," Goodman said. "And that was all I needed."
"I was just kind of dumbstruck," Skinner said, recalling her reaction when she found out she had been cast in a role she had never intended to audition for.
Skinner plays Patricia, an unmarried pregnant woman making the difficult journey with the group. She said it was sometimes difficult to know how to portray her character, because Patricia's past was left ambiguous in the script.
That, and Skinner has never been pregnant before. One scene called for her to simulate labor pains.
"That was awkward to do 30 times in a row in front of a lot of people," she said.
Filming was done in January and April, mostly along the Wasatch front. Goodman and Skinner tell of brutal cold that made filming conditions uncomfortable for much of the cast and crew, which helped actors get into character.
Goodman said he was impressed with the way Skinner handled the bad weather and frequent adjustment of the production schedule, and would want to cast her again in another film.
"That's the test for a lot of people, if they were willing to work with me in heavy conditions," Goodman said. "(She) really earned a place with me on future productions."
Then a student at Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher, Ariz., Skinner had more than the cold to deal with. She had to shuffle her class schedule around for the production, taking classes that would allow her to do most of the assignments remotely. If she does another movie soon, Skinner says she would try to make it fit with her class schedule.
In the meantime, she's taking classes and rehearsing for two upcoming productions at the university. One is the stage adaptation of John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," coincidentally another story of people dealing with hardships while on a long journey, scheduled to open Nov. 14. The other is a musical revue on Nov. 18, where Skinner plays a role in a scene from "Chicago."
Skinner said acting for film is different from acting on stage, because in film it's harder to develop a character.
"You've got to be more subtle," she said. "You've get to be more real."
"She's very theatrical," said Goodman. He said he was also impressed with the way she made the jump from stage acting to screen.
At the film's premiere last week in Orem, Goodman approached Skinner after the screening ended.
"He gives me a big hug," Skinner said, "and says, 'Let's do another one.'"
"That's the test of a lot of people, if they were willing to work with me in heavy conditions. (Patricia) really earned a place with me on future productions."
Shannon Skinner, right, and Chris Kendrick appear in a scene from "Handcart," a movie about the travails of the Martin Handcart Company during its pioneer journey across the Plains toward Utah in the mid-1800s.
The last several years have seen an unprecedented surge in LDS produced feature films. This long overdue trend has been made even more enjoyable since both the quantity and quality of films has increased. Two recent films "Charly," based on LDS author Jack Weyland's popular novel and "Handcart" based on the ill-fated Martin Company's trek during the winter of 1856 do little to elevate this trend and one of the films in fact, takes whatever positive momentum these small budget/grand vision films have stirred and smashes it to smithereens.
"Charly" has two main story lines and doing justice to both may have been too big a bite for first time director Adam Thomas Anderegg. The first half of the movie concerns free-spirited New Yorker Charlene Riley (Heather Beers) coming to Salt Lake City and being chauffeured by the less-than-excited Sam Robertson (Jeremy Elliot) a nerdy, devout LDS single male who only agrees to the chore on the bribe of his father who offers cash and a convertible.
And so begins the couple's formulaic romance where Charly seems curiously drawn to Sam's old-fashioned values and Sam appears intrigued by her feistiness. (It doesn't hurt that she is clearly the cutest woman in his world). Beers does a fine job of displaying her East Coast zest but is somewhat handicapped by looking too patently Mormon to begin with. This part of the film is sweetly developed but prompts more questions than it answers. We aren't shown exactly why she makes her predictable conversion, what her parents have against Mormons, and why Sam in all their time together never asks her about her past (except that is was a necessary oversight in order to provide the movie's biggest conflict). The best performances, since they seem the most genuine are actually turned in by the supporting cast including Jackie Winterrose-Fullerup as Charly's wise grandmother and Adam Johnson (with a strong resemblance to Kenneth Brannagh) as the boyfriend she leaves behind in NYC.
When the story veers into movie-made-for-TV territory with its fatal disease plot development, "Charly" will divide its audience in two separate groups, those reaching for more tissues and those begging for mercy at the all-too-familiar descent known as movie manipulation. The surprise for those who hang in there is the brief but powerful examination of a spiritual conundrum: What happens when unflinching faith does not produce the promised results? "Charly" ultimately seems like two unfinished movies, one lacking the development of its characters, the other underdeveloping its thought provoking principles. In this case, two halves make an uneven but likable whole.
If you thought the 1,300 mile journey west made by the early pioneers was long, painful and fraught with disappointment wait until you witness the train-wreck that is "Handcart." This movie does just about everything a film could to make the historic Mormon trek seem inconsequential and flat out dull.
Distracting accents, bad wigs, annoying camera work, inaccurate historical renderings (the Martin Handcart co. featured here looks like a puny pack of dissenters rather than the true throng of nearly 600 who buried upwards of 25 percent on the trail) coupled with a pace that would make Job scream add up to a feature film that, while well intentioned, would be an embarrassment should it be viewed as an expose regarding one of the most significant events in not only LDS, but American history. A real head shaker.
Mad About Movies grades: "Charly" Grade "B-." Rated PG for brief violence and mild vulgarity. "Handcart" Grade "D-." (Not officially rated, but probably would be a "PG.")
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormons are building a culture that reflects their gospel convictions. They don't drink alcohol or coffee, they refrain from cigarette use, and they generally don't spend money on Sundays. Their males flaunt mostly clean-shaven faces, most of their women don't wear mini-skirts or sleeveless tank-tops, and a good portion of them give up 18 months to two years off preaching somewhere, often in foreign tongues.
In recent years, however, it may be observed that Mormonism has become increasingly commercialized. Their gospel has been pulled from its hallowed place on the Pedestal of Inviolability and placed in assorted shapes and sizes in bookstores, cd shops, and on Web sites.
Ever seen the t-shirts that take a Nike swoop and turn it into Moroni blowing his trumpet? Or heard Jericho Road wail out their squeaky cleanness against a backdrop of LDS themes? How about the little Book of Mormon action figures (of which Nephi seems to be the favorite)? Then there's "Charly", "Handcart", "God's Army", "Brigham City", "The Other Side of Heaven", and the soon-to-be-released remake of Johnny Lingo. View Photos of LDS Singles at ldsmingle.com, or name your Utah baby at geocities.com/Heartland/3450/, or adopt a curelom at mormonzone.com.
There's Mormon fiction (e.g. The Work and the Glory), Mormon music (i.e. Julie de Azevedo), Mormon movies (ex. Singles Ward), Mormon art (see Greg Olsen), and Mormon software (re: 'LDS Temples' screensaver).
There are entire stores devoted solely to Mormon missionary products.
Latter-day Saints enjoy CTR rings, Young Women's values bracelets, Child of God lockets, Nauvoo Sun charms, necklaces, key rings, and dog tags.
You name it, the Mormons make it.
Church history buff? Try the Kirtland Temple Interactive CD-ROM.
Want to spice up a handout for Sunday school? No problem -- sample one of the almost sixty LDS clipart programs at Deseret Book.
Looking for ways to find an eternal mate? There are almost 140 Mormon romance titles available online.
But in the middle of this LDS shopper's dream, one must face the question: when is it going too far?
How about when it is shocking to discover that a member of the Church, baptized at age 8, never (don't say it!) owned (please, no!) a CTR (stop, stop!) ring (gasp!)?
Or when someone has never heard of Gerald Lund and people say, Seriously? No way!
Or when people put off regular scripture study because they're reading other "church books" (i.e. The Porter Rockwell Chronicles)?
The moment Latter-day Saints begin to equate church membership or standing or doctrine with Mormon products is the moment the gospel has become lost behind a pile of CDs, cassettes, posters, books, jewelry, t-shirts, and Nephite action figures.
For the most part, Mormon commercialization is okay. Indeed, it is part of creating a culture.
But the most important part of that culture -- namely, the pure and simple gospel of Jesus Christ -- must never lose its front and center place.
["Handcart" is not mentioned by name in this article, but the "Handcart" movie poster is featured as a graphic accompanying the article.]
SALT LAKE CITY -- Odds are long that any of the LDS-themed movies flooding Utah screens will duplicate the small-budget, big-return success of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," a $5 million movie that's earned more than $185 million -- so far -- at the box office.
LDS moviemakers may be holding out for crossover appeal. But even if they don't make $100 million, a market filled with the state's religious majority is sure to keep cameras rolling.
...Seven LDS-themed films have popped up on local screens since 2000, and the trend of independent movies about and for members of the faith is building momentum.
The films have a 1950s sensibility about them, unsurprising given that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are discouraged from watching R-rated films. Sex, swearing and graphic violence are all absent.
...Sean Means, movie reviewer for the state's largest newspaper, The Salt Lake Tribune, says films like "The Singles Ward," "Handcart" and "Charly" mark a sophomore slump for LDS cinema. They're plagued by bad scripts and boring plots, he says.
Because they aren't good enough to succeed elsewhere, Means says, they end up being marketed squarely at locals. And there's enough of an audience here to pull down a profit; the church claims 70 percent of Utah residents.
A word of warning before I start in on this week's column -- if you didn't enjoy the subject matter, blame Hollywood! After all, it's because of my boredom with the continuing glut of lookalike, soundalike cinematic mediocrities that I've revived one of my most annoying in-the-theater hobbies: collecting movie "scrambles."
For those unfamiliar with the concept, these scrambles are concatenations of movie titles -- movies that have similar titles or share similar words in their titles, jumbled together for a . . . hopefully . . . comic effect.
You could also blame my colleague/competitor to the south, the Provo Daily Herald's Eric Snider, for getting me started this time. He's the one who suggested "12 Angry Monkeys," a combination of the oddball sci-fi thriller "12 Monkeys" and the classic 1957 drama "12 Angry Men." Could Bruce Willis' possibly crazy "Monkeys" sway "Angry Men's" squabbling jurors? You be the judge.
In the meantime, here are a few more choice scrambles:
And I didn't even get around to knocking out "The Little Barbershop of Horrors" ("Barbershop" and "The Little Shop of Horrors"), "8 Mile Women" ("8 Mile" and "8 Women") or "Diamond Men in Black II" ("Diamond Men" and "Men in Black II"). Oh well, that's fodder for another column on another day.
And remember, you can always blame Eric. I still can't decide how his "The Handcart That Rocks the Cradle" ("Handcart" and "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle") would turn out. . . .
Richard Dutcher, LDS filmmaker, discusses the recent LDS-themed movie trend. He said the films have had a critical lack of quality in the last few years. Dutcher created, among others, God's Army and Brigham City.
Richard Dutcher... told a BYU-Idaho crowd Thursday he agrees with some critics that the genre has hit a rut.
Seven LDS-themed films have made it to local screens since 2000, including two of Dutcher's movies, God's Army and Brigham City.
Recent films such as The Singles Ward, Handcart and Charly mark a sophomore slump for the films, which are based on themes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Utah film reviewers said.
"We finally get a chance to say something, and we're just reinforcing stereotypes," Dutcher told more than 800 BYU-Idaho students and faculty Thursday during a speech on the LDS film industry.
But LDS cinema is headed in the right direction, and it has made great strides in recent years, Dutcher said.
"Three years ago nobody thought we'd be where we are now," he said.
LDS Cinema marched on in 2002, though some movies found an obstacle at the Utah state line.
The most popular new title was "The Singles Ward," Kurt Hale's romantic comedy... "Charly," the "Love Story"-like drama based on Jack Weyland's novel, cleared more than $500,000 at the box office, mostly from LDS audiences. Crossover dreams also eluded the LDS-themed movies "Handcart" and "Out of Step."
At the risk of repeating myself -- like I would ever do that -- 2002 really was the best and worst of cinematic years.
I'm on the record with my choices for the year's best and worst movies, but, as usual, space limitations meant there were more than a few things left out. So, here are the Viceroys, my own awards for other worthy -- and unworthy -- candidates (theoretical only; no actual trophies or cash prizes):
* Best Performance by a Utahn: Patrick Fugit, making the most of a brief supporting role in "White Oleander."
* Worst Performance by a Utahn: Comedian Johnny Biscuit, who is painfully awful in "Handcart."