|Salt Lake Tribune||Sean P. Means||3 stars (out of 4)||75|
|Daily Herald||Eric D. Snider||B||75|
|Deseret News||Jeff Vice||2 1/2 stars (out of 4)||63|
|Salt Lake City Weekly||Scott Renshaw||2 1/2 stars (out of 4)||63|
|Eric Nelson||cheimerdinger.com||3 stars (out of 5)||56|
|Ogden Standard-Examiner||Steve Salles||2 stars (out of 4)||50|
"Out of Step," the independently produced drama touted as "the Mormon 'Flashdance,' " returned to area theaters today.
The movie stars BYU graduate Alison Akin Clark as Jenny, an LDS dancer who finds her affections torn between two men. The film enjoyed a monthlong theatrical run in February but is being re-released in anticipation of its eventual home-video release.
"Out of Step" also stars Jeremy Elliott ("Brigham City," the TV movie "Firestarter 2") and Michael Buster ("God's Army"). It is rated PG.
For showtimes and theater locations, consult the movie listings or go to the LDS Silver Screen Web site www.ldssilverscreen.com.
OUT OF STEP -- ** 1/2 -- At least as likable and as genuinely sweet as it is cliched, this locally produced drama could be called the Mormon "Flashdance." Despite some technical problems, the cast (which includes newcomer Alison Akin Clark) makes it quite watchable. Running time: 90 minutes. PG (brief violence, mild vulgarity). (Carmike 12, 5-Star, Gateway, Holladay, Jordan Landing, Ritz, Trolley Corners.) (Feb. 15, 2002)
POSSESSION -- *** -- BYU graduate Neil LaBute adapts the A.S. Byatt novel about two literature buffs (Aaron Eckhart, another BYU grad, and Gwyneth Paltrow) examining the romance between two Victorian poets and discovering their own mutual attraction. PG-13 (sex, vulgarity). (Century, Jordan Commons, Jordan Landing, Megaplex 12.)
[Also mentioned in this section: Red Green's Duct Tape Forever; feardotcom; The Kid Stays in the Picture.]
"Out of Step," an LDS-themed film by local filmmakers, is hitting theaters again this weekend after a failed attempt earlier this year.
The film originally opened with little advertising on Feb. 15 -- just as the Olympics began, and only two weeks after the opening of another LDS film, "The Singles Ward." "Out of Step" quickly disappeared but is back for another try at local theaters. A review is on this page.
"My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is the year's independent film success story. Made for $5 million, the PG-rated comedy has grossed $64 million, primarily due to word-of-mouth. It was the No. 4 film in the country last weekend, despite appearing on several hundred fewer screens than the top three, and despite having been in theaters for 19 weeks already.
It sneaked into Utah County last week at Water Gardens in Pleasant Grove, where it continues to play. In addition, it opens today at Cinemark 16 and Wynnsong 12.
The film's first, brief release may have been out of step with its main target audience.
"Out of Step" -- a Utah-shot film about an LDS dancer and the choices she must make -- was released in February, at the height of the 2002 Olympics in Utah.
"It was a trial run, and it did well with audiences and most critics," said Ogden native Bernie Diamond, who executive-produced the movie and played the role of a bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
But the turnout could have been better. Utahns were a tad distracted.
"We pulled it out of the theaters to hold it for now," Diamond said.
"Out of Step" will open in at least 16 Utah theaters a week from tonight. One site will be the North Pointe Theaters, 1610 N. Washington Blvd., Ogden. Other local sites will be announced next week.
"When we looked at the whole scenario, we realized the Olympics were such a major issue, and there were two other LDS films out (at the same time)," said producer Cary Derbidge. "We hoped that if we held off, our film would get a chance to be heard."
"Out of Step" is about Jenny (Alison Akin Clark), a rebellious dancer attending Brigham Young University and hoping to win a scholarship to study with the New York City Ballet. She travels to New York City and practices for her audition. She also meets two potential romantic interests, one a troubled atheist (Jeremy Elliott) and one a returned LDS missionary and filmmaker (Michael Buster).
Derbidge said the film is suitable for the whole family, but will be of the most interest to teens and adults of dating age.
"I'd say 16 and older. That's when people start thinking about who they want to date and the influences they want in their lives."
Derbidge said he hopes the film will draw anyone who likes family entertainment and relationship dramas.
"I think the film deals with very important issues," he said. "People always say we need more wholesome entertainment. I hope those people will support the film."
OUT OF STEP -- ** 1/2 -- Likable and genuinely sweet, this locally produced drama could be called the Mormon "Flashdance." Despite some technical problems, the cast (which includes newcomer Alison Akin Clark) makes it quite watchable. Running time: 90 minutes. PG (brief violence, mild vulgarity). (Carmike 12, Gateway, Jordan Commons, Jordan Landing, Ritz, Trolley Corners.) (Feb. 15, 2002)
LDS Cinema marches on, again.
A genre that scarcely existed two years ago, when Richard Dutcher's "God's Army" hit Utah screens and spread across the country, now is popping up everywhere.
Two more LDS-themed movies arrive in Utah in the next month: the romance "Charly" on Friday and the pioneer drama "Handcart: The Movie" on Oct. 11. The current issue of Newsweek has a short item, headlined "Mormons: They're a Laugh Riot," that mentions how the success of "The Singles Ward" has spawned eight more LDS-themed comedies -- including Nathan Smith Jones' in-the-works mockumentary of the genre, "The Work and the Story," which (if the film's Web site is not itself a spoof) also stars Dutcher.
It sometimes seems as if everybody who ever took a film course at BYU or the University of Utah saw "God's Army," said to themselves, "Hey, my buddies and I can do that!", grabbed their camcorders and hit the town.
But in the evolution of any movie niche -- whether it's African-American films, Latino films, gay films or LDS cinema -- there comes a crucial point where "we're making a movie about us!" doesn't cut it anymore. The novelty has worn off, and audiences who flocked to "God's Army" and "The Other Side of Heaven" will start expecting more.
LDS filmmakers will have to learn to grow on the job. Here is a little unsolicited advice, in 10 easy steps:...
Step 7: Know your core market. The "Out of Step" folks made a good movie, then released it in mid-February at one Salt Lake-area theater -- when most of the target audience was paying attention to the Olympics. It was a hard lesson, but they learned it well, re-releasing their movie last month at several theaters.
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."
The newly released "Out of Step" DVD (or video) is a must-have for any fan of Latter-day Saint cinema.
"Out of Step" is the fourth LDS-themed feature film that was released in commercial theaters to be made available on video/DVD, following "God's Army," "Brigham City", and "The Singles Ward." Of these, "Brigham City" is the best overall film, followed by "God's Army." But out of "The Singles Ward," "Out of Step" and "The Other Side of Heaven" (not yet released on DVD or video) I honestly couldn't tell you which I like best. They are so different that it is difficult to compare them. Each broke new ground in a number of ways and each have many commendable aspects, as well as definite flaws.
The greatest strengths in "Out of Step" are the acting and the writing. Michael Buster (who played the AWOL Elder Kinegar in "God's Army") and Jeremy Elliott (who starred as "Sam" in "Jack Weyland's Charly") are good enough to be in any major Hollywood production and they really shine here. Making her film debut, Alison Akin Clark is a newcomer but very watchable. She plays a slightly unconventional Latter-day Saint dance student from Utah who enrolls in a prestigious New York City dance program. As "Jenny" she is very real and believable, yet gently quirky simply because she is so far out of her natural habitat. With her look and performance Clark creates a fresh screen persona that is nothing like standard Hollywood leading ladies.
The dialogue is almost uniformly excellent. The plot seems to border on being conventional at times, but it is constantly full of surprises. Watching "Out of Step" for the first time I did not know where the movie was going. The movie quickly became something completely different from what I had expected based on the trailer. When I thought the movie was treading a conventional path, it again surprised me. Yet everything that happened was very true to life.
The opening scene is a brief, almost "seminary-esque" montage showing Jenny, a Latter-day Saint living in the heart of Mormon country, growing up in tranquil neighborhoods, while loving and excelling at dance from an early age. This soon gives way to an energetic introduction to New York City, punctuated by rapid cuts, street music, and a beaming Jenny riding a taxi from the airport to dance auditions at New York University's prestigious dance school.
When an expected scholarship fails to materialize, Jenny is forced to find a job to help pay for college. Only if she does well enough this semester will she will be able to win a scholarship and continue studying dance in New York. While applying for work at a cafe, she runs into Paul (Michael Buster), an all-too-hip Latter-day Saint film student. Soon after hearing her story, Paul asks if he can film her throughout the semester in order to make a documentary for his film class.
Paul develops a crush on Jenny, but not before she meets New Yorker Dave Schrader (Jeremy Elliott), a handsome musician from her philosophy class. Dave is not a Latter-day Saint, and therein lies the central conflict spelled out in on the DVD cover: Will Jenny choose the "man of her dreams" or the "man of her faith."
I thought that eventually the other shoe would drop and Dave would turn out to be the worldly Gentile whose shortcomings drove Jenny back to her convictions. Had the movie come from Hollywood I would have expected Dave to rescue Jenny from her "stifling" family background. Neither of these things happened. Jeremy Elliott's non-member character was nothing like I expected. In fact, he is one of the best movie characters I've seen in a long time.
One of the surprises and strengths of "Out of Step" is that there is not a "villain" anywhere in the entire movie. There are a number of characters who appear at times as if they will be some kind of stock villain for the story: the non-member boyfriend who is perhaps a drug user, the promiscuous roommate, the philosophy professor who seems bent on destroying his students' faith in God, and the bigoted black Baptist classmate. Yet over the course of the movie all of these individuals emerge as emminently good, not because they change to accomodate Jenny, but because they were good already, on their own terms. They are all a strength to Jenny and are valued by her.
What is most remarkable about the movie's portrayal of the many differences between Jenny and the people around her is that the worth, even correctness, of her own beliefs and values is in no way diminished. The movie ultimately affirms bedrock Latter-day Saint values, yet does so without "straw men" or artifice.
Not only does it discard conventional movie "villains," the movie also manages to intrigue and inspire without reliance on the "heroes" one might expect. Although Paul, the Latter-day Saint filmmaker, helps Jenny out of an academically-related jam, he has his own flaws and is of no help in Jenny's primary crisis relating to Dave. Jenny's father is quite a Saint, who truly does inspire her, but he is too far distant to rescue her or make decisions for her. And Jenny's devout Latter-day Saint mother, played by Tayva Patch (the FBI agent in Brigham City) is, quite unexpectedly, the darkest character in the movie.
The movie is primarily about growth within Jenny herself. She is never held up as a role model or example, simply a person. Her escalating mistakes in navigating her new life on her own are entirely realistic. In the end, her decisions, whether right or wrong, are entirely her own.
Unfortunately, "Out of Step" was marred by a low budget that, in its theatrical release, was evident in the uneven quality of film stock, some grainy scenes, sound problems, and other technical problems. These problems aren't disastrous, but they detracted from the film in the theater. Viewed on DVD on a television, these problems are rarely noticeable. According to the producers (and apparent to me as a viewer), many problems, particularly relating to the soundtrack, have actually been corrected for the video/DVD release.
Don't let the low-budget or film stock keep you from buying the DVD. Most people won't notice anything at all amiss. Although it used short ends, this movie was shot in 35mm and its visual quality still exceeds what you'll find in most videos and TV programs.
Another nitpick is that a few of the performances by supporting actors didn't quite quite work. In particular Tayva Patch as Jenny's mother and T.L. Forsberg as Jenny's roommate have some odd moments. Some of the scenes between Jenny and her parents are awkward. Perhaps this is because of the writing more than because of the talent of the actors. Larger character arcs involving those characters have been cut from the film. But nearly without exception this is an amazingly strong cast for such a low-budget feature. This was a SAG production and the quality of experienced actors in supporting roles, such as Peter Asle Holden as Jenny's dance instructor, really raises the quality of the whole movie.
I was a little disappointed that in this movie about a dancer there was not more dancing to watch. When there was dancing, it was not captured to film as well as has been done in many other movies. But there ARE some nice dance scenes that enhance the movie. Jenny is shown doing modern dance, both solo and as part of her class studies. But perhaps the best dance sequence was the swing dancing (with great music!) at the "Zephyr Club," featuring Jenny amidst "New York City swing dance enthusiasts" actually played by the very talented BYU swing dance club.
In a way, this is not really a dance movie. Perhaps I was thinking of movies by Fred Astair or Gregory Hines or Baz Luhrmann movies before I saw "Out of Step" -- movies with emphasis on dance, but far removed from reality. "Out of Step" is closer to an art film or an intensely realistic drama. Highly stylized, staged dance segments would not fit, and are wisely absent. "Out of Step" is a character study. Don't expect "West Side Story," or even "Saturday's Warrior."
"Out of Step" features an interesting story and great acting. It is a fresh, even daring look at a realistic romance between a Latter-day Saint and a non-member. As a married adult I enjoyed it for its entertainment value. The authenticity in the writing and performances outshines any flaws which arose from the movie's lack of a bigger budget. But it also contains lessons I would want my children to watch if they were teenagers.
Of all the LDS-themed feature films released since "God's Army" and "Brigham City," this is the one that Richard Dutcher singled out and complimented. It is a movie that all of the people involved can feel proud to have been a part of. As both a work of art and as a piece of entertainment I would rank "Out of Step" among the year's better movies, whether from Utah or from Hollywood. It's not as good as megahits such as "Minority Report" or "Spider-Man", or a few critically acclaimed films such as "Spirited Away" or "Brigham City." But it is more original and much more enjoyable than countless $20 to $100 million-dollar productions I've seen during the last few years. "Out of Step" is one to own.
"Out of Step" DVD Special Features
The new "Out of Step" DVD includes a number of special features, including a commentary track by the directory Ryan Little and actor/screenwriter Michael Buster, a "making of" documentary, deleted scenes, and 30-second trailers for two upcoming LDS-themed feature films: "The R.M." and "The Work and the Story."
The reel with about 5 deleted scenes shows events you will recognize if you have read the novelization by Nikki Schmutz. The cuts were good cuts. Having read the novelization and listened to the director's commentary track, it is clear that there was much more in the movie before it was cut down to focus on its essential elements. The initial edit of the film ran more than 2 hours long, but was eventually cut down to about an hour and a half.
Most of what was cut was additional scenes and dialogue relating to subplots and story arcs for the supporting characters. Such material would be entirely appropriate for a TV series, and there's nothing necessarily wrong with having it in novel, but it was just too much for one feature film. With the cuts that were made, the movie is far more focused on the main character and her journey. On the commentary track co-writer Michael Buster points out that this was his first screenplay and he readily admits that he "over-wrote" the script.
This DVD has one of the best, most interesting commentary tracks I have heard in a long time. Director Ryan Little is joined by co-writer and co-star Michael Buster (who plays the Latter-day Saint film student in the movie). Unlike many commentary tracks where every other sentence comments about how "brilliant" everybody in the movie and how unendingly wonderful the movie was, this commentary provides a no-holds barred look at a very low-budget, often troubled production. Along with praising (quite justifiably) quality aspects in the movie, the director also frequently points things that could be improved and even out-right mistakes. He claims that the budget for production design was $6.00. He jokes that the slogan during production was "If it's not free, we don't do it." The commentary track is refreshing and fascinating. The fact that "Out of Step" is as good as it is despite how little money was spent on it and despite all the difficulties encountered is nothing short of a miracle.
The DVD includes a "making of" documentary directed and edited by Chantelle Squires, with videography by Christian Vuissa and Calvin Cory. It is essentially a collection of brief interviews and soundbites, along with footage from the movie and great music. Many scenes in the documentary were filmed at the movie's premiere, a surreal, daringly ostentatious affair complete with limosines and tuxedos. The documentary is less illuminating than the director/screenwriter audio commentary, but it is a welcome addition to the DVD. Unfortunately, it is far to short. The story about the making of "Out of Step" could easily fill an hour-long documentary. In fact, there was so much drama behind the scenes of this production that a feature-length movie about the making of "Out of Step" would be as interesting as the film itself.
Commercial LDS films of note include: "God's Army," "Brigham City," "The Other Side of Heaven," "The Singles Ward," "Out of Step," "Charly," "Handcart," and "The RM." Scores of LDS films are currently under production as BYU film graduates try to produce films fast enough to write their story on the plates of gold that Dutcher has unearthed.
SIERRA VISTA -- In three years, a growing list of theater-release films featuring characters who just happen to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or centered on church-related themes have hit movie screens across North America...
Among the offerings are: "God's Army," "Brigham City," "Handcart," "The Other Side of Heaven," "Out of Step," "The Singles Ward," "Charly," "The R.M.," "Suddenly Unexpected" and "The Work and the Story."
Many have played across Arizona and the West from Washington to California and Nevada to New Mexico -- sometimes showing up in North American theaters as far away as Ontario, Canada, and in movie houses in sunny Hawaii.
Just as one needn't be Jewish to enjoy "Fiddler on the Roof" or a member of the Greek Orthodox church to relate to the humor in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," one needn't be LDS, more commonly referred to as "Mormon," to enjoy LDS cinema.
In fact, some of the strongest local supporters of the burgeoning LDS film genre are not LDS.
...What types of films draw attention to Latter-day Saints? In the last two years, Mormon film-makers such as Richard Dutcher have attracted large audiences to productions such as God's Army, Out of Step, Singles Ward, and most recently, Handcart...
...The irony is that Dutcher started the LDS movie genre, but others are capitalizing on it. Consider the movies that have been released since "God's Army" -- "Singles Ward," "Other Side of Heaven," "Out of Step," "Charley," "R.M." Three more are on the way.
"It's fun," Dutcher says. "I went to an LDS bookstore recently and the video section looks a lot better than it did a few years ago. There weren't just kids movies. There was some personal satisfaction in that."
...Other films, including "Out of Step," "The Singles Ward" and "Handcart" were released in 2002, followed by "The R.M." in January of this year...
"This is the year that is really going to make the difference," said Ryan Little, director of "Saints and Soldiers," a World War II drama scheduled to open in Utah theaters in early 2004. (He also directed "Out of Step" and was director of photography on "The Singles Ward," "The R.M." and the upcoming "The Home Teachers.")...
Cost-to-gross earnings for LDS-themed films
* Cost includes marketing costs; gross is U.S. box-office earnings
"Out of Step" (2002)
- Cost: $700,000
- Gross: $80,000
..."It immediately told me that we had made a film ["Saints and Soldiers"] that could go beyond the LDS market," said Little, a Brigham Young University alum who also directed the little-seen "Out of Step" last year...
...In the real world, Dutcher HAS disappeared from the movie scene (though he is alive and well), not having made a film since 2001's "Brigham City." And in his absence, sure enough, the market has been flooded with films ranging from the OK ("Out of Step," "Charly") to the bad ("The Singles Ward," "Handcart")...
"Saints and Soldiers," a locally produced World War II drama, has taken home the grand prize from this year's Heartland Film Festival, an Indianapolis-based event that showcases "life-affirming" films...
...The film was directed by Ryan Little ("Out of Step") and follows five U.S. Army soldiers who are trapped behind enemy lines during the 1944 Battle of the Bulge...