Review: The Cokeville Miracle (B+/D)

cokevilleIn 1986, David Young, a deranged former cop, brought a homemade bomb into an elementary school in Cokeville, Wyoming.  Accompanied by his wife, Young took 154 children and teachers hostage in a classroom and demanded millions in ransom.   After a two hour stand-off, Young’s wife accidentally triggered the bomb mechanism, seriously wounding herself and causing chaos in the room.   As the children fled from the smoke and shrapnel, Young shot his injured wife and then himself.   In the end, 78 of the children and teachers were injured, but there were no fatalities other than the bombers.

In the aftermath of the near-tragedy some of the survivors testified they had seen angels in the room before and after the blast  protecting and guiding the children away from danger.  Analysis of the bomb remains indicated that most of the blast-caps had not fired and it had not performed as it was designed for some ‘mysterious’ reason.

The “Cokeville Miracle” inspired a book and TV movie, and was later featured on Unsolved Mysteries.   Now The Cokeville Miracle is also a new feature film by director T.C. Christensen (17 Miracles, Ephraim’s Rescue), releasing in theaters on June 5th, 2015.
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Review: Catching Up (Melted Hearts 2) (B)

meltedhearts2bLove is like war: easy to begin, but very hard to stop. — H.L.Mencken

David is a bright and mature high school student in Mexico City with a talent for music.  When he develops a crush on Monique, a non-Hispanic exchange student at his school, he doesn’t become impetuous or irrational like other traditional stories of “young love”, but the attraction is strong and life-altering just the same.

Monique returns his affections…to a point.  But she keeps her distance, using the excuses of homework and family at first.  David’s friends suggest that she’s just playing with him, and has no intention of ‘getting serious’.  Maybe.  Or maybe she feels the same connection but is just as confused about what to do.

If you’ve ever been in love (or thought you were) with someone who didn’t return it in the same way — or, worse, if they did, but for various reasons refused to follow through on it — you’ll identify with Catching Up from director Jorge Ramirez Rivera.   Catching Up is a sequel/companion film to Rivera’s 2009 film Melted Hearts (which featured different lead characters).
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Review: Freetown (B+)

freetownIn 1989, the country of Liberia was plunged into a brutal civil war between the oppressive government and violent rebels.  Missionary work had only begun in Liberia two years earlier but early missionaries had converted enough native members to fill eight branches.

When rebels started storming through the city of Monrovia, the LDS missionaries (all natives) had a tough decision to make:  continue street preaching at great personal risk, remain in hiding for who-knows-how-many days or weeks with little supplies, or attempt to flee across the border to safer territory. One elder in particular — a member of the Krahn tribe favored by the government (and thus a special target of the rebels) — found himself in particular danger from the roving, bloodthirsty gangs.   With the help of a volunteer mission leader, the elders gathered together, piled into a small sedan, and attempted to cross the largely rebel-owned territory with little money and supplies to the Sierra Leone border and the city of Freetown.

Their story is the new film Freetown, directed by Garrett Batty (The Saratov Approach) in collaboration with screenwriter Melissa Leilani Larson.   Freetown screened originally at the 2015 LDS Film Festival and will be released in theaters April 8th, 2015.
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LDS Film Festival 2015 — Day 3-4 Report

romanceintheoutfieldRomance in the Outfield (dir. Randy & Rebecca Sternberg)

Heather is a competitive softball player.  Tyler is a minor league prospect hoping to hit the majors someday.  When they Meet Cute on a baseball field (naturally) both competitive and romantic sparks fly.   But will their differing religious beliefs and/or standard romantic comedy clichés keep them apart?

In line with its unsophisticated title, Romance in the Outfield hits the standard notes of a romantic comedy competently enough but doesn’t bring anything new or original to the table.  The two leads are attractive and have decent enough chemistry, although their personalities switch on a dime from arrogant to insecure from scene to scene and it’s hard to get a handle on their true characters.
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LDS Film Festival 2015 — Day 1-2 Report

freetownBrief thoughts on the first two days of the 2015 LDS Film Festival:

Freetown (dir. Garrett Batty)

In 1989, the country of Liberia was plunged into a brutal civil war between the oppressive government and violent rebels.  Six LDS missionaries (all natives) had the hard decision to continue street preaching at great personal risk, remain in hiding for who-knows-how-many days or weeks with little supplies, or attempt to flee across the border to safer territory.  The six elders (with the help of a volunteer mission leader) start a dangerous trek through rebel-owned territory, which becomes even more treacherous when one of the elders is identified as a member of the tribe considered by the rebels to be unfit to live.

With this film and his last (The Saratov Approach) director Garrett Batty has shown himself to be a capital-S Serious filmmaker in LDS cinema.  Along with screenwriter Melissa Leilani Larson, Batty has crafted another film that’s both tense and spiritual without being overbearing or tonally imbalanced.
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LDS Film Festival 2015 Schedule Announced

ldsff2015The final schedule for the 2015 LDS Film Festival has been announced at the festival’s official web site.

The festival will be held March 4-7, 2015 at the SCERA Center in Orem, Utah.  Tickets can be purchased through the SCERA website.

Some highlights of this year’s schedule:

*  As previously announced, director Garrett Batty’s follow-up to The Saratov Approach will be the opening night film on Wednesday, March 4th.   Based on true events, Freetown features a story of native LDS missionaries in Liberia who attempt to escape local violence to the city of Freetown.
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Coming Soon: Heart of Africa (and more!)

973-Heart-of-AfricaMargaret Blair Young, a writing professor and MTC teacher at BYU, is no stranger to black history, especially black LDS history.

With frequent collaborator Darius Gray (long-time leader of the LDS Genesis Group, a support group for black Mormons) they’ve co-written several books on black Mormon history as well as produced the 2008 documentary Nobody Knows: The Untold History of Black Mormons.  Young has also written the play I Am Jane, about the life story of early black Mormon pioneer Jane Manning James.
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Review: The Last Straw (B-)

the-last-strawThe phrase “the last straw” or “the straw that broke the camel’s back” is of uncertain origin, but typically has a negative connotation — some final personal indignity that leads to fireworks.  Director Rob Diamond (Wayward, Once Upon A Summer) wants to turn that metaphor into something positive in The Last Straw, a new Christmas film available now on DVD.

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Review: Liahona (Documentary)

liahonaReligion and personal spiritual journeys can be enlightening and beautiful, messy and confusing — often all at once.

Mormon (with-an-asterisk1Sanders has written her official request for record removal — this is part of the film, in fact —  but hasn’t of yet sent it to Church HQ.   So, officially she’s still LDS but probably close enough to “ex-” for LDS audiences who care about filmmaker faithfulness.) filmmaker Talena Sanders (homepage) has created Liahona, a 69-minute documentary that represents her own meditations on Mormonism — an experimental and personal film that’s symbolically enlightening, beautiful, messy, and confusing in the same way.

Liahona is currently screening at select film festivals with alternate distribution options in the pipeline.
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Footnotes   [ + ]

Now Playing: Wayward — The Prodigal Son

waywardOpening in theaters November 7th:  Wayward — The Prodigal Son, written and directed by Rob Diamond (Once Upon A Summer, Elizabeth’s Gift).

Wayward (official site, Facebook page) is a modern-day retelling of the parable from Luke 15.    Tyler is a young ambitious man who requests his ‘inheritance’ from his father and leaves home to seek fortune and glory.   After encountering hard times and physical danger, Tyler isn’t sure he’s capable or worthy of returning home until his father’s love helps bring him back to the fold.

Wayward originally screened at the 2014 LDS Film Festival (my review here) and its focus on a popular Biblical parable has gotten the film some attention from Christian groups outside of the Mormon corridor — a good sign for crossover box office potential.

The trailer is below:

Reviews, News, and Analysis About LDS (Mormon) Film