FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE April 16, 2002 Contact: Mary Jane Jones Media Relations, Excel Entertainment Group 801-358-7020; firstname.lastname@example.org
Salt Lake City, UT -- The independent family feature "The Other Side of Heaven"
had a strong opening this past weekend, cracking the nationwide box office top 20.
Distributed by Salt Lake based Excel Entertainment Group, the PG-film grossed $688,762 in 306 theaters for a per screen average of $2550. Total box office receipts since the film opened in limited release are now nearly $2.8 million ($2,716,662).
The true story of a Mormon missionary sent to the kingdom of Tonga in the 1950's, the movie had the top per screen average of any film in the nation for Monday night. Distributors attribute this to the fact that many families, especially Mormon families, set Monday night aside as a special family night and will attend movies together.
The film's strong box office showing in spite of a lack of national television or radio advertising may surprise some insiders. The film was promoted through a combination of guerilla PR and volunteer grassroots campaigns that mobilized support for the movie in communities around the nation.
Reviewers praised the film's spectacular cinematography, outstanding production values and uniformly strong acting from stars Christopher Gorham, Anne Hathaway and Joe Folau. Jane Horowitz of the Washington Post lauded the "solid, unfussy acting and gorgeous scenery" while Gary Arnold of the Washington Times called the film "a welcome departure from the not-so-heavenly fare that comes from Hollywood."
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops also applauded the film, calling it "inspiring [and] sincere." AP writer Sheila Norman-Culp called the film a "sweet coming-of-age tale... a wry, gentle comedy... truly a family-friendly film... The humor is universal, the Pacific Island setting is spectacular, and the true-life story has its intriguing aspects."
LOS ANGELES, April 11 (UPI) -- Although the movie industry has practically dislocated its shoulder patting itself on the back for voting Oscars to Halle Berry and Denzel Washington, "The Other Side of Heaven" is a much riskier celebration of diversity.
So old-fashioned that it seems fresh, this fact-based family drama about a young Idaho missionary's adventures in Tonga highlights two groups that have been almost invisible in recent movies: Polynesians and Mormons.
When I was a kid in Southern California in the 1960s, Polynesian influences were everywhere -- tiki torches, pu-pu platters, Don Ho's "Tiny Bubbles." Los Angeles was full of veterans who had fought in the Pacific and remembered our Islander allies fondly. Now, though, most things Polynesian are considered hilariously kitschy, while we seem to assume that surfing was invented by the Beach Boys.
Although the successful Salt Lake City Olympics may have somewhat quelled irrational prejudices against Mormons, anti-Mormonism remains more socially respectable than anti-Semitism or anti-Catholicism. In a 1999 Gallup Poll, 17 percent of Americans admitted they wouldn't vote for a Mormon for President, compared to 6 percent who wouldn't vote for a Jew.
Written and directed by Mormon auteur Mitch Davis and produced by one of Hollywood's few Mormon insiders, Gerald R. Molen (who won a Best Picture Oscar for "Schindler's List"), "The Other Side of Heaven" represents an impressive step forward for Mormon cinema in sheer watchability.
My adolescent son initially reacted to the movie the way he responds to everything we take him to these days. "Can't I just go wait in the car?" he whined. Yet, within 10 minutes he was watching with great interest.
Although "The Other Side of Heaven" downplays the distinctiveness of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, making the Mormons look like just another Christian denomination, the $7 million dollar movie has been a smash in the Mormon states of Utah and Idaho. Since December, it has earned $2 million in the Great Basin -- the equivalent of $150 million nationwide. It is opening nationally this Friday in about 300 theatres.
Davis wisely hoarded his limited effects budget during the first half of the film, and then splurged in the second half. Just when you are no longer expecting to see anything spectacular, along comes a cyclone, some gorgeous helicopter shots of volcanic Rarotonga Island, and a nightmarish computer-generated storm at sea that's scarier than the one Tom Hanks battled in "Castaway."
Christopher Gorham (of TV's "Popular") looks authentic as 1953 BYU graduate John Groberg, because the likeably gawky star is one of the few young actors who doesn't pump iron. Groberg must leave behind his girlfriend -- played by the lovely Anne Hathaway (star of "The Princess Diaries") -- which adds some needed romantic tension. Leaving a young lady who looks like that on her own for three years shows either great faith or great stupidity.
Pacific Islanders are among the world's best kidders, with a long history of bamboozling outsiders into believing silly stuff. Anthropologist Margaret Mead was the most famous victim. In the 1920s, she went to Samoa to prove a lot of progressive theories about the effectiveness of social engineering. Her Samoan contacts had a good time making up whatever she wanted to hear, which she credulously recounted in her hugely influential -- but bogus -- bestseller, "Coming of Age in Samoa."
Somewhat similarly, the Tongans at first find "Elder Groberg" -- as the adolescent-looking youth is comically called throughout the movie -- to be a figure of fun. Being warm-hearted and polite, though, they struggle to keep it to themselves, although Groberg's insistence on wearing a geeky short sleeve white shirt and necktie doesn't help.
Although he never goes native enough to shed the tie, Groberg begins to fit in, as he learns to speak Tongan and stops wearing shoes (at which point, the soles of his feet get gnawed by rats). As the once-callow lad and the islanders survive the unpredictable natural disasters endemic to this seeming paradise, a warm bond grows between them.
In adapting Groberg's autobiography, Davis stuck a little too close to the sporadic reality. Near the equator, apparently, stuff happens -- storm, famine, concussion, lockjaw -- but all rather randomly. While each episode is entertaining, the movie never builds much dramatic momentum.
In the most intriguing incident, a local beauty throws herself at Groberg. He fends her off, but later, the girl's mother angrily upbraids him for not impregnating her daughter. He doesn't have to marry her, the Tongan matriarch explains; just give her "a half-white baby." Groberg, raised in a religion that hold fathers to a rigorous standard of child support, is flummoxed by the tropical assumption that a dad's main duty is to provide genes rather than support.
Now, that's diversity.
Rated PG. Unlike the 1966 James Michener movie "Hawaii," the island maidens are fully dressed.
SALT LAKE CITY (April 17) -- The independent family feature "The Other Side of Heaven" had a strong opening this past weekend, cracking the nationwide box office top 20, said a press release.
Distributed by Salt Lake-based Excel Entertainment Group, the PG-film grossed $688,762 in 306 theaters for a per-screen average of $2,550. Total box office receipts since the film opened in limited release are now nearly $2.8 million ($2,716,662), said the release.
The true story of an LDS Church missionary sent to the kingdom of Tonga in the 1950's, the movie had the top per-screen average of any film in the nation for Monday night, Excel reported. Distributors attribute this to the fact that many families, especially LDS families, set Monday night aside as a special family night and sometimes attend movies together on that night.
The film's strong box office showing in spite of a lack of national television or radio advertising may surprise some insiders. The film has been promoted through a combination of guerilla PR and volunteer grassroots campaigns that mobilized support for the movie in communities around the nation, said the release.
Reviewers praised the film's spectacular cinematography, outstanding production values and uniformly strong acting from stars Christopher Gorham, Anne Hathaway and Joe Folau. Jane Horowitz of the "Washington Post" lauded the "solid, unfussy acting and gorgeous scenery" while Gary Arnold of the "Washington Times" called the film "a welcome departure from the not-so-heavenly fare that comes from Hollywood."
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops also applauded the film, calling it "inspiring [and] sincere." AP writer Sheila Norman-Culp called the film a "sweet coming-of-age tale ... a wry, gentle comedy ... truly a family-friendly film... The humor is universal, the Pacific Island setting is spectacular, and the true-life story has its intriguing aspects."
** [2 out of 4 stars]
In the last three years, a small wave of movies made by religious people with religious themes has hit the big screens intended for general audiences.
They were about as subtle, and as appealing, as Oral Roberts at a fund-raiser.
In 1999, evangelical Christians came out with "The Omega Code," an end-times thriller dripping with us-against-them melodrama.
Last year, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association sent forth "Road to Redemption," which was helped along by some charming acting by veteran Pat Hingle. But even Hingle couldn't raise it from the mire of B-level work.
Now comes "The Other Side of Heaven," an offering by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that opens today in local theaters. The film, which was written, directed, produced and distributed by church members, recounts the true story of John Groberg and his missionary assignment to Tonga as a young man (Groberg is now a member of the church's governing First Quorum of the Seventy).
Those who are involved in promoting the movie say that calling "The Other Side of Heaven" a Mormon film is like calling "Schindler's List" a Jewish film.
Well, not exactly.
The scenes are lovely (it was filmed around the Cook Islands and New Zealand) and the acting is convincing (Christopher Gorham from "A Life Less Ordinary" plays the missionary and Anne Hathaway from "The Princess Diaries" is his long-distance girlfriend). But the difference between this movie and "Schindler's List" is like slow pitch vs. a Randy Johnson fastball.
There was a depth and texture in "Schindler's List," not to mention several superb performances, which transcended it from a story about any single religion or moment in history to a message that could be embraced by all humanity. All of this may explain why it opened here in 1993 on Christmas Day to huge crowds.
"The Other Side of Heaven," by comparison, takes less than 15 minutes before succumbing to the curse of preachiness, dooming it to the niche market of religious programming.
There are simply too many scenes that leave you feeling as if you've just taken a big gulp of Karo syrup. Why is it that films about religion have to be so sappy? Why can't they be both nice -- and good?
"The Other Side of Heaven" opened in Utah to long lines. Likewise, it should find a receptive audience among0 the country's 5.1 million members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
But it's not likely to have much transcending power beyond that audience. And while there are other flaws, such as being heavy on stereotypes and miraculous behavior, its chief sin remains its inability to push us beyond the feeling that this is "only" a religious film.
** 1/2 (2 1/2 stars out of 5)
The Mormon cinema movement represented by "Brigham City" and "God's Army" marches on in "The Other Side of Heaven," director/writer Mitch Davis' reality-based tale of a missionary doing the Lord's work (or at least Joseph Smith's) in the Tongan islands in the 1950s. If you think that a Westerner's right to "save" a backward people will be seriously explored, you're missing the point of this professionally made but sappy sermon of a film, in which witness-bearing wuss John Groberg (Christopher Gorham) overcomes cultural barriers and braves the harsh elements to spread the Word to some cute dark-skinned folks. Meanwhile, his patient sweetie (Anne Hathaway of "The Princess Diaries") waits for him at home.
Most of the story's potential is undone by Davis' treacly characterization and plotting. Will an audience of nonelders wait the 46 minutes it takes for a serious conflict to rear its head? Despite the fine cinematography -- most scenes were shot on Raratonga in the Cook Islands -- this long and relentlessly saccharine film is a clear case of preaching to the converted. Its best entertainment comes early on, anyway, when we hear Groberg seemingly reject one aspect of his faith by moonily asserting that one girl is enough for him. The Mormon the merrier, I say.
The Other Side of Heaven is a movie Disney wishes it had made, but considering first-time writer/director Mitch Davis and executive producer Jeff Simpson hail from previous Disney employment, maybe the film would make them proud instead of jealous. Based on the true story of Mormon missionary John Groberg, (Christopher Gorham) it has all the predictable signs of family-obsessed entertainment. The protagonist is the epitome of spotless humanity from beginning to end, the love interest pure and unchallenged, the dilemmas encountered solved within five minutes time.
Groberg is a recent graduate, and as a Mormon, is sent on the required 3-year mission to the beautiful Tongan Islands to "learn the language and build the empire". Leaving behind a sweetheart and a cushy middle-class life, Groberg sets out on his journey to learn the savages. Of course there are a few hurdles in the way to prevent him reaching his destination, but each travail brings a rescuer from out of nowhere to provide the next section of the voyage. Considering the film is supposed to be about his experiences with the Tongan people, this extra fifteen minutes of redundant complication should have been avoided.
Finally, he makes it to the island, where missionaries before him have been, but not as successful. The villagers are half-converted to the "right way" already but continue to poke fun of his acclimation until he decides to read his Bible against their version, to learn the language, without food or rest. Strangely, after all Groberg's hard work to learn the native tongue, it is never again spoken by him or anyone else.
But that's just where the loopholes begin in this push for compassionate faith. The prevailing problem with the story is a character issue, which spiders out to negatively impact the rest of the viewing experience. It's not so much that the acting is bad, but that there isn't much to it. The people you watch for just under two hours never change, are never shown reflecting on the difficulties they endure. Sure, there are the voice-over letters from Groberg and his girlfriend to depict some sort of mental metamorphosis, but their interaction with those around them remains the same throughout so it's impossible to tell how anything has affected them. In these letters is also the possible threat of another suitor for his beloved, but mention of this competitor is always so slight, and repetitive in description, that you feel annoyed Groberg isn't brushing it off.
Add to this defect a script that seems more written for television, where you can easily insert commercials to add a sense of climax. The haphazard pacing of Groberg's steps to manhood would be excusable, spending far too long on wounded feet after the even greater task of learning respect for his preaching, if every plot point wasn't solved so swiftly.
Groberg encounters some controversy, speaks his perfection, and the resolution follows right behind. He barely has to work at the accomplishments he achieves, which makes those strides less worthy of respect.
It doesn't help that several scenes are nauseatingly stage-like, and with dialogue that blatantly urges how the wonderful White Man is going to bring The Truth to those oh-so-unfortunate. The worst of these moments is when a mother is lashing out at Groberg for not being generous enough to give her daughter a half white baby. Ipecac for the eyes.
Then there are plot devices thrown in for the sake of complimenting Groberg's perfection yet further. After being on the islands over a year, and gaining the confidence of those around him, new counselors just now tell him that corruption, heretofore unknown, is the privilege of the upper classes. Groberg verbally forbids this, and the offender seemingly forgets his urges by the next cut to aid Groberg on his journey to preach.
What little common sense there is that white influence on other cultures is troublesome comes from the rarely seen personage of the village elder, who is such a non-entity that I can't remember his name. All that is memorable is rumors told by his flock to Groberg that they are supposed to refuse him their ears. Suddenly, this arch-nemesis believes him to be good, offering his life for him. With all of the miniature delicate matters brought to Groberg's adventures, this was the most missed opportunity.
On a positive note, the religious ideas portrayed in The Other Side of Heaven are actually handled with a sensitivity to universality. Where Groberg does perform an annoying miracle in God's name, which takes far too long to execute, the story sticks to the idea of treating human beings with fairness in an effort at decency, and not due to any particular alignment with divination. This is not a film preaching in an effort to proselytize the holiness of Jesus, and it effectively shies from centering on the power of believing in God. The focus remains on the interaction between a collection of people who work against hardship, and for that it deserves credit.
Films based on true stories often work best when conflicts are dire, an attribute The Other Side of Heaven doesn't live up to despite its attempts at combining cultures. Truly, it's a film about positive influence that might be colorful enough to make children sit through, but a better idea would be to rent the original Peter Pan, or see the newly restored E.T. Extra Terrestrial on the big screen. These other examples encourage working through diversity, perpetuating a healthy imagination, and are far more entertaining.
* (1 out of 5 stars)
THE LOWDOWN: A Mormon missionary gets sent to Tonga to convert the savages. I only wish they would have eaten him.
I've had a lot to drink tonight. I did shots of tequila for an hour straight. I tried every beer this brew pub had on tap. I drank Fisher Le Bells by the six pack. So you know what the first thing I though to do when I got home was?
Write a review for a movie about some Mormon missionaries.
Well, actually the first thing I did was turn on Craig Kilborn. I love Craigers. And then I ate some fat free Oreos. Is there anything in the world that makes less sense than fat free Oreos? And then after that I had some Honey Nut Chex Mix. But as soon as all that sh-- was done, I decided to write a review. So it was practically the moment I walked in the door.
By the way, Molly Simms was on Kilborn tonight. She is so hot.
Writing a review made so much sense to me. Because what do Mormons like more than drinking beer with skanks in a bar? My vote is for nothing. Well, maybe wearing ties with short sleeve shirts. But drinking alcohol with skanks is a close second.
Did I mention that Molly Simms was hot?
And seriously, is there any bigger fashion faux pas than wearing a tie with a short sleeve shirt? The fashion police should line up all the Mormons and shoot them for that sh--. I cringe every time I see N.Y.P.D. BLUE because I know Dennis Franz is going to be wearing a tie with a short sleeve shirt. Horrifying.
I've come to the conclusion that Mormon missionaries aren't that exciting. Even if they do end up in Tonga teaching a bunch of savages who eat their children for fun. If I want exciting, I can talk to one of the illegals that lives here in Phoenix who paid their way across the border by smuggling heroin up their poop chutes. Now that is some excitement.
And I can tell you for a fact that all Mormon are boring. They can't have caffeine for the love of Christ teaching crazy people in America. I can shoot fish steroids all day long and they can never toke off a hitter rod. That is a sad life by my standards. And if you're scoring at home, my standards are the only ones that count.
Honestly, I'll be interested to see how this review turned out later on. Right now, I can barely type. I can only imagine the spelling and grammar errors that are going on in this review. Still, I can help but feel that I didn't have enough to drink tonight. All the great writers could tie one on like nobody's business. And for the love of god, I have to drink every Mormons man, woman and child's share. I can't let all that good booze go to waste. Bring on the whiskey!
[ 1.0 out of 4.0 ]
A boring movie. I hope Anne Hathaway did this before THE PRINCESS DIARIES. Otherwise, her career might be over before it began.
1.5 stars out of 4
Director: Mitch Davis
Writer: Mitch Davis from John H. Groberg's memoir "Eye of the Storm"
Cast: Christopher Gorham, Anne Hathaway, Joe Folau, Miriama Smith, Nathaniel Lees, Whetu Fala, Alvin Fitisemanu, Peter Sa'ena Brown, Apii McKinley
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 3/18/02
In 1947 the Andrews Sisters and Danny Kaye made a big hit
with the Bob Hilliard and Carl Sigman song, "Civilization," a plea
to Africans to take missionary logic with a grain of salt. The song goes in part...
Bongo, bongo, bongo, I don't wanna leave the Congo,
Oh no no no no no
Bingo bangle bungle, I'm so happy in the jungle
I refuse to go,
Don't want no bright lights, false teeth,
Doorbells, landlords, I make it clear
That no matter how they coax us
I'll stay right here.
When they've got two weeks' vacation
They hurry to vacation ground,
They swim and they fish,
That's what I do all year 'round.
By this logic, how could missionaries hope to "convert the natives" to the "superior" bliss of Christianity? The people of Tonga, east of Australia and not too far from Fiji, can swim and fish and year 'round, too, so you wouldn't think they'd have anything but patronizing smiles for the Mormon missionaries who arrived during the 1950s to change their values. Mitch Davis illustrates the difficulties of missionary work in "The Other Side of Heaven," a retro film which to its credit does quite a bit with its meager seven million dollar budget but otherwise is stupefyingly naive, leaves several gaps in development, features a lead actor with a flat personality, posits the native people of a Tongan island as speaking their own language (with English subtitles) until all suddenly and miraculously speak the language of Milton and Shakespeare with New Zealand accents, and has been praised by Larry King and Michael Medved.
"The Other Side of Heaven" is based on the true story of a young Morman missionary from Idaho who, shortly after graduating from Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City is assigned to preach and teach people in one of the islands of Tonga though he had never before even seen the ocean. Why the Mormons would be so interested in converting a handful of people in a hot, humid, mosquito-laden location without electricity is anyone's guess. Why some brown-skinned people in what they must consider a tropical paradise, eating the fruit of the land and of the sea without some bureaucratic boss breathing down their neck would welcome a white guy who does not speak their language is even more mysterious. But we're told that the story is true, so we'll have to go along with it.
As expected, this film, which could easily fit into a TV series sponsored by National Geographic, is predictable from the get- go. Moralistic guy (Christiopher Gorham as John Groberg) tells his sweetheart, Jean Sabin (Anne Hathaway), that the world is good and that she should wait for him two and one-half years because he has been assigned by the Mormon Church to save the natives. (So how come he's so happy when he's told that his stay in Tonga has been extended by six months?) Groberg arrives and is greeted with less than enthusiasm especially by an old local minister who rightly considers him both competition and supernumerary. Groberg learns langauge by reading the entire Bible in the local tongue side by side with an English version. Local beauty wants his "seed" which he won't give because he is promised to Jean and, while girl's mother complains "Isn't my brown skinned daughter good enough for you?" mom does not get the obvious parlay from John, "Aren't the local men good enough for your daughter?"
There are three impressive scenes. One is the opener featuring some vigorous jitterbugging at a Brigham University sockhop that gives you the impression that Mormons are all professional terpsichoreans. The others are Man-Against- Nature bits as John and his faithful companion Friday, uh, Feki (Joe Folau) are tossed and turned in a raging sea, and one sequence of a fierce hurricane that flattens the island huts and leaves the entire population as short of food as was Tom Hanks when he was prematurely delivered by FedEx. And oh yes: John brings a dead kid back to life, thereby winning the people over from the old, native minister who's all talk and no action.
In her gratefully brief role, Anne Hathaway is as insufferable as she was in "The Princess Diaries" and though the press notes indicate that John "changes forever" from his experience with these exotic folks (actually filmed in the Cook Island of Roratonga), he's as priggish as he was in the opening except that now he sleeps on the floor. Apparently Jean didn't mind that quirk because the real John and Jean, married in 1957, are still together.
Rated PG. Running time: 113 minutes.
(C) 2002 by Harvey Karten, email@example.com
Such a wonderful movie!
So many beautiful pictures of sunrises and sunsets. The end and the beginning of each day is my favorite time of day. How blessed are we to see such beauty. Makes me glad that life is daily and not weekly. I'm must make more of a point to reveal in this time.
One of my favorite lines in the movie is when Jane says that she hopes John is losing himself completely in order to find himself so that she will be in love with the best version of him that the Lord intended when John returns. There are days when I'm so tired of waiting for "the one" that I forget how valuable these single years are. That I have more of an opportunity to grow and stretch now without concern for how it will affect my spouse and children. I am truly free to go where He leads me.
The movie also reminded me of the abundance that surrounds me. How others live on so little, while I succumb to the gluttony around me.
Trust in God. Sometimes He calms the storm, sometimes He calms His child and other times He just lets you swim.
Saw The Other Side of Heaven again today. It is definitely my new favorite movie. Even went out and bought the book afterwards. The movie really sparked my thinking. Which refined some things that I've been mulling over with the Lord for quite some time.
It is not a cure for loneliness, nor will it "complete" me. I am God's child. It is only through Him that I am complete. Dr. Hughes once said that men and women share God's image and that it is through our relationships with one another that we get the full picture of who God is. Thus He brings men and women together in order that we might form a deeper understanding of Him and His love for us. The procreation of children is also evidence of this since through our children we can better understand the love of our Father. I can't stop thanking Him for this thought!
I have never been married so it is foolish of me to think that I could truly understand His purpose for sex other than what I've learned in biology. But it seems to me that sex is more than just a rush of orgasmic feelings. It's society's addiction to this feeling that as lead us to abuse sex. Even Christians who know that sex is wrong outside of marriage often look at it like the world does. We concentrate so much on the physical that the spiritual is left to the wayside when most likely the spiritual aspects of sex are the reasons He created it in the first place. Sex is like food. Sure food can taste great and there is nothing wrong in enjoying food, but I think that we can all agree that food's main purpose is to nourish our bodies with essential vitamins not simply to delight our taste buds. Seeking food simply for the taste can only lead to gluttony and never ending hunger.
I think God is appalled at how we have reduced sex to something so trivial. He is against fornication and homosexuality because they dismiss the spiritual aspects of sex and strive only to satisfy physical hunger through any means necessary. You may think that God looks upon unmarried sex between a man and woman differently than He does homosexuality but really He looks at them both in the same light.
Also saw Lord of the Rings. Also a good movie. I don't know what all the fuss is about the ending though. This is a trilogy. Fellowship is only the beginning of the story. We should just be left hanging.
So it is to be expected that some of the great literature of the Latter-day Saints will emerge from missionary work -- the vehicle of conversion for both preacher and hearer. The classic missionary account of Elder John H. Groberg, '58, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, In the Eye of the Storm (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1993; 303 pp.; $16.95; paperback edition titled The Other Side of Heaven [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2001; 303 pp.; $14.95]), is now an acclaimed motion picture, The Other Side of Heaven.
THE OTHER SIDE OF HEAVEN ** 1/2 (2 1/2 stars out of 4) -- A stirring testament to the faith and dedication of a young Mormon missionary assigned to a tiny island in the South Pacific during the early 1950s. Christopher Gorham and Anne Hathaway make a cute couple, even when separated by thousands of miles, in this film based on a true story. PG.
"The Other Side of Heaven" has displaced "God's Army" as the box-office champion among LDS movies.
After four months of playing primarily in Utah and Idaho, "Other Side" was released nationwide last weekend, playing on 306 screens. It took in $688,762, bringing its total to $2,716,662.
"God's Army," which played in theaters in 2000, earned $2,628,829. It cost approximately $300,000 to make.
"Other Side," which cost a reported $7 million to produce and is the true story of John H. Groberg's missionary experiences in Tonga, also cracked the Top 20 for the first time. It landed at No. 19 -- between the ultra-bloody "Resident Evil" and the lesbian romantic-comedy "Kissing Jessica Stein."
According to Excel Entertainment Group, which distributed the film, "Other Side" had the top per-screen average of any film in the nation Monday night. This is probably attributable to Monday being designated as a night for families to spend together, and to the film's family-friendly PG rating.
The film was promoted through a combination of guerrilla PR and volunteer grass-roots campaigns that mobilized support for the movie in communities around the nation, an Excel statement said.
Its success has not been due to any particular praise from movie critics. According to RottenTomatoes.com, which keeps track of critical consensus for all films, 21 out of 28 reviews have been more negative than positive. Most reviews have acknowledged the film's sincerity, though, and its high-quality production values. Its squeaky-clean morals have not gone unnoticed, either.
In other LDS film news, "The Singles Ward" continues to plug along, playing on about 10 screens each weekend since its Feb. 1 release. Last weekend, it earned $16,844, bringing its total to $486,730. Its reported budget was $400,000.
With a per-screen average of $1,684, "The Singles Ward" made more per theater than Top 20 films such as "Big Trouble" ($840 per screen) and "E.T." ($960 per screen).
Based on the strong review from your paper, my husband and I went to see "Frailty" ("A Powerful Depiction of Human 'Frailty,'" by Kenneth Turan, April 12). Let me use dialogue here consistent with the creativity shown in the script: You've got to be kidding!
Everyone walking out of the film was shaking their heads and laughing. The man next to us said, "I can't believe I sat through the whole thing." It is, without a doubt, the most misrepresented and worst movie I have ever paid to view.
SUSIE MITCHELL COVER
It amazes me how "enlightened" minds clap shut and remain clamped tight regarding the power of faith in God.
Jan Stuart's review of "The Other Side of Heaven" ("On a Spiritual Mission in the South Pacific," April 12) was condescending at best, and pointedly insulting at worst. Dismissively detailing no more than the bare bones of the plot, Stuart sweepingly deemed the film full of "Mormon propaganda," "thrillingly awful moments," "white Christian chauvinism" and "a clueless air of self-congratulation." Whew! Could it really be that bad? I decided see for myself.
Funny. What I saw was a story of young John Groberg, who learned to love a people very different than himself. He learned their language, ate their food, worked beside them, mourned their losses, lived through their trials. He gained respect for the rival minister and learned wisdom from those with more life experience than he. His tools were humility, determination and an ability to laugh at himself. Stuart didn't take time to review the directing, acting, cinematography, etc. What he did review, in supercilious tones, was the premise that a spiritual disciple could actually experience a profound odyssey such as Groberg did. People do, you know. Even young, white Christian males.
Richard Dutcher, the Moses of LDS filmmaking, is excited, but he can't really talk about it.
"We should have a talk in a couple of weeks," Dutcher said over the phone from his Utah County offices recently.
Dutcher is deep into pre-production on "The Prophet," a movie biography of the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith. The project has had its ups and downs -- the potential of a government strike in Canada (where he will shoot principal photography), and having to scramble to find investors after support from one Utah bigwig fell through.
In the meantime, Dutcher is touting the DVD release Tuesday of his last movie, "Brigham City," and casting a fatherly eye on the explosion of LDS-themed movies that have followed in the wake of Dutcher's "Brigham City" and "God's Army."
"The Other Side of Heaven" opened regionally last December, and went national a week ago (the reviews were excoriating -- Stephen Holden of The New York Times, for one, wrote that "the movie's vision of a white American zealously spreading a Puritanical brand of Christianity to South Seas islanders is one only a true believer could relish.") Two more hit Utah theaters in February: the romance "Out of Step" and the comedy "The Singles Ward." (Dutcher made a cameo in "The Singles Ward," but has requested his scene be removed from the movie's video release.)
"Last month, there was one weekend . . . I opened up the paper and saw these three LDS movies playing at the same time," Dutcher said, not without some pride.
"At the same time, I seriously question the wisdom of releasing them all at the same time," he said. "They're all going for the same audience."
Dutcher is concerned about the quality of other LDS filmmakers' movies. "My hopes for Mormon filmmaking have changed," Dutcher said. "I had the hopes that they would all be intelligent and there would be a real depth and substance to them, and a certain level of technical quality. The reality is that those are going to be the highlights. . . . I want all of them to be 'Lawrence of Arabia' quality movies, and they're not going to be."
Dutcher fears a parochialism could creep into LDS filmmaking. "I don't want Mormon cinema to be Utah cinema. I want Mormon cinema to be very diverse," he said. "Whatever the story is, if you're telling it honestly and with sincerity, even though it may have Mormon particulars and may be saturated with Mormonism, then it can become universal. It can transcend the regional specifics."
He cites "Out of Step," about a Mormon girl following her dancer's dreams in New York, as an example of a good movie with crossover potential. It fared poorly in its limited February run, but Dutcher said, "I'm hoping that film will get another shot at it."
Dutcher is supportive of other LDS filmmakers. "I've always had this open-door policy, as far as sitting down and sharing whatever information I have," he said. "People are very guarded about distribution information, exhibition information, how you actually get movies into theaters. . . . I'm always very open about that, and will continue to do so because I want to see these movies made."
But Dutcher is learning to be more careful about letting his name be used for dubious projects. "I'm becoming wiser about this," he said.
The DVD release of "Brigham City" is testing the limits of marketing an LDS-themed movie. The distributor, Spartan Home Entertainment, will have two video-box covers for the movie: One features Dutcher's sheriff character holding a gun, next to images of costars Wilford Brimley and Matthew A. Brown; the other, which Dutcher calls "the B-movie horror approach," includes a sinister eye, a gnarled hand on an ax handle, and the movie's title dripping blood.
"I see the reasoning behind it from a marketing standpoint," Dutcher said of the slasher-movie art, which will be available at major national chains. (The tamer cover will be more prevalent in Utah stores.) "I do have concerns that the people who would really enjoy this movie may not rent it. . . . and the people who rent the movie based on the cover art may not enjoy it."
The DVD will include a director's commentary, but Dutcher looks forward to having enough time to create deluxe DVDs of "Brigham City" and "God's Army." "I will someday, probably when they don't let me make movies anymore," he joked.
"It's fun to see them continue on," he said. "Now it's interesting, just because we're having 'God's Army' about to open in Latin America in theaters, and we're watching that happen at the same time 'Brigham City' is coming out on video and DVD and making foreign sales, and being on heavy preproduction on 'The Prophet.' They don't go away. I guess they're like children -- you have to keep watching them and seeing what they go out and do in the world."
I wish that Jeff Vice, the movie critic for the News, could somehow find it in his heart to add something to the reviews/ratings he does for the Friday "Weekend" section of the paper to make the reviews a bit more valuable for his Salt Lake audience.
I started going to that section religiously to help me determine which movies to attend when Chris Hicks was the critic. Very seldom was his star rating very far off from what the community seemed to feel. When he gave a movie a two-star rating, that movie was generally an average movie in all respects. When he gave it a three- or four-star rating, one could be reasonably sure to enjoy it.
But I have found that I cannot trust Vice's ratings, not so much for those he gives three- and four-star ratings to, but to those he gives two-star ratings. And it is not that be rates them too high, it's that he rates some really good movies much too low, especially for our community.
For example, he gave "The Other Side of Heaven" two stars, saying in the review that it was "too squeaky clean." I have not talked to anyone who didn't feel that the movie was great. And he gave "The Count of Monte Cristo" two stars, saying that the main character was weak. He must have been looking at a different clip than the one I and the sold-out audience saw. I don't question his ability to literally evaluate movies; what one person likes, another will dislike and sometimes for the same reasons. But he should by now be able to tell what kind of shows people in this valley like
"Beautifully shot, well-paced" NY Daily News
"Gorgeous scenery, elaborate special effects" Lou Lumenick, NY Post
"Solid, unfussy acting and gorgeous scenery" Jane Horwitz, Washington Post
"A sweet, sincere film that wins you over...good storytelling." Leonard Maltin
"solid emotional impact... polished and professional" Donald Munro, Fresno Bee
"Sweet coming of age tale... wry, gentle comedy... truly a family-friendly film... The humor is universal, the Pacific Island setting is spectacular, and the true-life story has its intriguing aspects." Sheila Norman-Culp, AP
"Breathtaking scenery, an exotic setting, and a kinder, gentler message that's particularly soothing in these turbulent times... 'The Other Side of Heaven' practices what it preaches, delivering positive messages of tolerance, understanding, self-sacrifice and compassion that, alas, seem more timely than ever. " Las Vegas Review Journal, Carol Cling
"A compelling adventure story with an unusually conscientious hero." Joe Williams, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"Inspiring... Sincere... A definite uptick in Christian filmmaking." US Conference of Catholic Bishops
"A stirring testament to the faith and dedication of a young Mormon missionary" Dan Pearson, Daily Southtown
"[The movie] is inspirational in characterizing how people from such diverse cultures share the same human and spiritual needs." Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer
"The scenes are lovely and the acting is convincing..." Sandi Dolbee, San Diego Union Tribune
"[The Other Side of Heaven] is perfect for families who quit going to movies because they fear being offended." Bob Ross, Tampa Tribune
"The film is a sweet-natured and fitfully edifying biopic... 'The Other Side of Heaven' marks a welcome departure from the not-so-heavenly fare that comes from Hollywood." Gary Arnold, Washington Times
"'The Other Side of Heaven' represents a major step forward in the trend of Christian filmmaking... the filmmakers have enough faith in their story to let it tell itself -- and they've endeavored (successfully) to tell it well... By avoiding the pitfalls and pretentiousness or repetition, 'The Other Side of Heaven' is engaging, informative and -- yes -- inspirational family fare." Mark Burger, Winston-Salem Journal
"'The Other Side of Heaven' represents an impressive step forward for Mormon cinema in sheer watchability... My adolescent son initially reacted to the movie the way he responds to everything we take him to these days. "Can't I just go wait in the car?" he whined. Yet, within 10 minutes he was watching with great interest." Steve Sailer, UPI
"This movie is just what America needs. A beautiful story of love and tolerance. Get your family together and go see The Other Side of Heaven. I loved it!" Larry King, CNN
"Skillfully crafted, heart-felt, and all-together refreshing." Michael Medved, KRLA
"Rousing, family-friendly item has a big, epic look and state-of-the-art visual effects, which help to make pic a high-profile example of the mainstreaming of Christian entertainment." Scott Foundas, Variety
"Good-natured, clean-cut, and gratifying family entertainment that doesn't require a wisecracking canine or flatulence funny business... The film has a professional polish to it that belies its relatively small budget." Kimberly Jones, Austin Chronicle
"An undeniably uplifting story, made all the more inspirational by the fact that it's true... Highest praise as well for the outstanding supporting cast." Wade Major, Box Office Magazine
"Refreshingly forthright" Sean P. Means, Salt Lake Tribune
"The film's pleas for racial tolerance, compassion and service without expectation of reward are messages we need in these trying times... a live-action movie you can actually take the whole family to is a welcome sight... This is a handsomely mounted production that belies its $7 million budget... Especially impressive are the storm effects (nearly rivaling those in the much-pricier major-studio film 'The Perfect Storm')." Jeff Vice, Deseret News
"Fascinating... majestic in its sweep" Ron Liggertson, Utah County Journal
* [1 out of 5 stars]
Compared to vampires, mobsters and private eyes, missionaries have been vastly underrepresented on the silver screen.
The Other Side of Heaven may suggest why.
Based on In the Eye of the Storm, the memoirs of John H. Groberg, the new film (which opens today) tells the story of a young, trumpet-playing missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the early '50s, John leaves behind friends and family to do the Lord's work in what the press notes describe as "the remote and exotic Kingdom of Tonga."
One reason that there are not nearly as many missionary movies as there are detective flicks is that missionaries apparently spend a lot of time sitting alone and reading the Bible, quietly pining for the girlfriends they left behind, repairing weather-ravaged huts and instructing their flocks in the evils of alcohol and other temptations.
Compared to, say, shooting it out with desperate felons, that sort of thing is not, in the usual sense, cinematic. (There are, it is true, a couple of life-threatening storms. But these pass quickly.)
First-time writer-director Mitch Davis proceeds with a confidence that is perhaps slightly less admirable for being entirely misplaced. In this, he is not unlike the young hero of his film.
The film's implicit premise is that the faith of the Tonga people is in every way inferior to that of John. And so, early on, we are meant to share in the missionary's disappointment that the parents of a young villager will not permit him to be baptized, preferring (stubbornly, it seems) to have their son share their own beliefs.
Possibly, the film would have been more persuasive had Davis been able to make the case that John's beliefs actually are superior to those of the natives. But the filmmaker's attempts to do so are ham-handed at best.
Davis contrasts a "saved" native girl who accepts John's teachings with the "fallen" girls who prostitute themselves. But is this really a serious case against the natives' ways? Women raised in good Christian homes do sometimes become prostitutes, too, after all.
It doesn't appear to have occurred to anyone connected with the production that this sort of thing may be offensive to someone who does not happen to share John's point of view.
Late in the film, there's a scene in which a native holy man who had initially resisted John's proselytizing comes to acknowledge the essential goodness of John's mission. It's telling that the young missionary fails to return the compliment (although John is grateful when the man saves his life).
The film's production values are Hollywood-slick (or nearly), the cinematography is calendar-art pretty, and the acting is at best serviceable. As John, Christopher Gorham (A Life Less Ordinary) spends a lot of time looking sadly superior while Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries), as the girl he left behind, is glimpsed only occasionally -- often barefoot and wearing a long white dress, the earthly embodiment of paradise postponed.
When the movie turns comic, its sense of humor is most charitably described as primitive.
Attacked by mosquitoes, John flails around like the young Jerry Lewis. Bathing outdoors in a tub, he panics as he is suddenly surrounded by native children. Uncertain in the native language, he repeatedly uses the word "outhouse" when he seems to mean "messenger."
Should a movie like The Other Side of Heaven be reviewed? Is it even, in fact, a movie?
Of course, it's contained on celluloid and presented in theaters where admission is charged. But if its form is that of a movie, its spirit is that of a sermon.
Whatever you call it, The Other Side of Heaven is no mere Hollywood entertainment.
Or any kind of entertainment, actually.