Documentary Review: Prophet’s Prey (dir by Amy Berg)


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I just finished watching the documentary Prophet’s Prey and I have to say that it’s one of the creepiest things that I’ve ever seen in my life.  As our regular readers know, I love horror movies but, in many ways, Prophet’s Prey is scarier than even the most effective horror film.  Prophet’s Prey is frightening because it’s true.

Prophet’s Prey is about the secretive Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a group that is best known for its practice of polygamy.  The Presidents of the FLDS, Warren Jeffs, has been convicted of two counts of child sexual assault and is currently serving a life sentence.  This documentary suggests that Warren Jeffs (who is estimated to have close to 70 wives) is still controlling the FLDS from behind bars.

Warren Jeffs’s voice is heard throughout the film.  He recorded his sermons, the majority of which appeared to be about the importance of obeying his authority, and we hear excerpts of them throughout the film.  What’s especially striking is that Warren Jeffs does not sound the way that we would expect him to.  After hearing about how powerful he is and how the members of the FLDS continue to defend and follow him, we expect to hear a voice full of charisma and insidious power.  Instead, the sermons are delivered in a flat monotone and the utter banality of his voice makes them all the more creepy.  It’s the same monotone that we hear when a tape is played of Jeffs praying and then having sex with a 12 year-old that he’s just married.

We also hear a few excerpts of Warren Jeffs at his arraignment.  His response to nearly every question is to softly reply, “Fifth amendment.”  Even when asked if he has any remorse about his crimes, he replies, “Fifth amendment.”

We also see footage of Warren Jeffs in jail.  We watches as he wanders around his tiny cell and occasionally tries to get some sleep.  And again, the thing that strikes us is how ordinary and boring he looks.  If you ever needed proof of the banality of evil, Warren Jeffs would appear to be that proof.

How, we wonder, did this seemingly dull and uncharismatic man become one of the biggest (and, some would say, most dangerous) cult leaders in America?

The film searches for an answer and suggests that Warren Jeffs’s power over his followers has less to do with Warren and more to do with the culture in which they were raised.  The film’s best moments come when the filmmakers drive through the twin towns of Colorado City, Arizona and Hilldale, Utah.  These towns served as the headquarters of the FLDS.  Cameras line the roads, keeping track of strangers driving past the modest and identical houses.  The people who live in town watch the cars pass with unsmiling expressions.  Soon, the camera crew realize that they are being followed by another car.  At one point, a member of Jeffs’s security force pulls them over and asks what they’re done before taking their pictures.  With mountains rising high in the background and the blue sky seeming to go on forever, Colorado City and Hilldale seem like the most isolated places in the world.

Because it covers so much material and comes to so many disturbing conclusions, Prophet’s Prey can be an exhausting film.  Along with detailing the life and crimes of Warren Jeffs, the film also details the larger history and culture of the FLDS.  It makes for fascinating and disturbing history and it all ends with the ominous reminder that Warren Jeffs is still leading his group from prison.

Pair Prophet’s Prey with Going Clear for an anti-cult double feature.

Hallmark Review: Hitched For The Holidays (2012, dir. Michael Scott)


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Wait, this was written by Gary Goldstein? Well Gary, if there was ever one of your Hallmark movies where the characters should be singing When The Saints Go Marching In, then this is it! If nothing else, at least Joey Lawrence can sing. But I guess just rehashing My Fake Fiancee (2009) with a holiday twist is fine. At least this is back when Joey had some of his hair again.

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So there’s Joey Lawrence playing Rob. Rob is a bit of downer. His grandmother is in the hospital harassing him to get married since this is a Hallmark movie. He claims to be dating a woman named Rosemary.

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That’s Emily Hampshire playing Julie who doesn’t look happy because her mom, played by Marilu Henner, is harassing her to get to dating. But that alone doesn’t put that look on your face or cock your neck to the side. So let’s have her mom trying to make her date a guy with a foot fetish. This guy.

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Oh, and even at the end of this movie when this guy shows up again the movie switches from the kind of music you’d expect to foot fetish music as he stares at her feet. It’s pretty funny. Wait…foot fetish and this was written by Gary Goldstein. I wonder if Gary has a thing for feet? The leading lady put “nice feet” on her list of things that must be in the man she marries in The Wish List, which he also wrote.

Well, you’d think after Hampshire survived My Awkward Sexual Adventure (2012) that she’d be able to handle Mr. Foot Fetish, but she’s pretty non-confrontational. So how do these two meet? Well, through Rickyslist.org of course!

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They are each looking for someone to be a temporary stand-in lover for the holiday season. Seeing as this is a Hallmark movie, she can’t go with the more interesting and humorous option this screen affords. I wonder what “misc romance” means.

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Still, this movie probably would have been more interesting had she accepted that message from SatanSpawn.

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They hook up and go to a party together as a couple. Unfortunately, Rob tries to do the dance number from The Wish List, but seeing as there isn’t another dude there and his character is drunk, it doesn’t work out. Of course they end up making amends, but there’s another issue. She’s Jewish and he’s Catholic. They even throw Kwanzaa into the mix. Actually it’s snuck into the movie in a rather humorous way. At least it’s funnier than this scene.

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Julie of course tells her parents that Rob is Jewish too. So that means they need to light the Menorah. She leads him through this whole elaborate ceremony only to have him blow the candles out immediately after he finishes lighting them. Yeah, I believe Rob is that ignorant and stupid about as much as I believe Anastasia Steele didn’t know what butt plugs were in Fifty Shades Of Grey. At least the worst that happens to her is she breaks an old family ornament of Rob’s after trying to hang it on his family’s Christmas Tree, which later becomes a Hanukkah Tree.

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That’s this movie in a nutshell. It’s a series of religious misunderstandings that ultimately ends up with Rob and Julie finding out that their families care about them being happy before anything else. Even when Rob says he’s going to convert to Judaism he’s surprised when his family is happy about it because they know he obviously cares for Julie and that’s what matters to them.

Of course there’s a minor hiccup at the end. But it all works out because Rob ends up with a horse. I guess that’s what “misc romance” means.

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Actually, he does wind up on a horse in order to reach Julie through bumper to bumper traffic on New Year’s Eve. All I can think while writing this is that Crocodile Dundee (1986) did it better.

If the clip is gone and you don’t know what I’m referring to, then go watch Crocodile Dundee now.

In the end some title cards tell us what happened after they found each other. It includes that they were married by both a priest and a rabbi. There’s a joke in there, but I’m still busy trying to figure out the rest of that joke email about the brunette and the redhead trying to break out of jail from Midnight Masquerade.

This one’s okay if you can push past some of the ignorance it expects you to buy here and there about the characters and religion.

So, I watched The Leisure Class…


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Well, it had to happen sometime.

After 8 weeks of showing us how the film was made, HBO finally had to broadcast the latest Project Greenlight film.  Over the course of the series, we’ve watched the seemingly humorless director Jason Mann struggle to maintain his “artistic vision” while directing his first feature film, The Leisure Class.  We watched as he fought for and won the right to shoot on film.  We wondered if Jason would be able to pull off the film’s big stunt.  Even more importantly, we watched because we were hooked on the hostility between Jason and the film’s producer, Effie Brown.  Jason resented having to answer to Effie.  Effie resented having to work on something like The Leisure Class.  For 8 weeks, viewers were either Team Jason or Team Effie.

And through it all, we wondered — was The Leisure Class any good?

From the minute that Jason was named as The Leisure Class‘s director, I had my doubts.  A comedic sensibility is something that you either have or you don’t.  At first glance, there was nothing about Jason that suggested he even had a sense of humor.  Once filming started, nothing that we were shown looked all that promising.  The film’s trailer felt more frantic than anything else and I slowly found myself dreading the prospect of sitting through The Leisure Class.

But sit through it I did and … well, it was bad.  Unfortunately, it really wasn’t bad enough to be enjoyable.  Instead, it was just a bland misfire.  If the film was interesting, it was because I related each scene to what I had previously seen on Project Greenlight.  Wow, I thought, Effie sure was mad when they were shooting this scene.  A few minutes later: Is this the scene that Jason was worried would be underlit?  And then later: This is the scene where Bruce Davison wasn’t sure whether he should say pricks or dicks!  I’m glad they were able to make a final decision…

As for the film itself — well, how do you describe the plot of a film that really didn’t seem to have a storyline?  Charles (Ed Weeks) is actually William, a British con artist.  He is about to marry Fiona (Bridget Regan), the daughter of Sen. Langston (Bruce Davison).  At first, Charles was just planning on stealing Langston’s money but now he’s fallen in love with Fiona.  The day before the wedding, Charles’s alcoholic brother, Leonard (Tom Bell), shows up at the Langston estate.  He pretends to be Charles’s best friend.  And then, Leonard gets drunk and encourages a bunch of teenagers to skinny dip.  And then there’s the car accident.  (This is the big stunt that Jason was so concerned with.)  And then Sen. Langston gets drunk and there’s this amazingly ugly scene where he says a lot of nasty things to his wife and his daughters.  And then Langston nearly murders Charles and Leonard but Fiona ends up pulling a gun on him.  And then the next morning, Leonard draws on Langston’s face.  There’s also a prostitute, named Carla (Christina Lakin), who shows up for no reason but at least she gets a few funny lines.  The film doesn’t add up too much, with none of the characters or their actions making much sense.  The script feels like a first draft and, even at only 80 minutes, the movie seems to be way too long.

The overriding theme of Project Greenlight‘s fourth season has been that Jason has gotten nearly everything that he wanted while shooting his film.  Personally, it wouldn’t surprise me to discover that this season was pretty much edited to cast Jason in as negative a light as possible.  (Otherwise, the HBO execs would have to take responsibility of the train wreck that is The Leisure Class.)  Still, it’s impossible to deny that Jason fought a lot of battles and that none of them seem to have made much difference as far as the end product is concerned.

Jason fought to shoot The Leisure Class on film, as opposed to going digital.  He even turned down extra shooting days so that he could get film.  But visually, The Leisure Class is flat and boring.  It may have been shot on film but it still looks like a single camera sitcom.  (In fact, it’s hard not to feel that the film could have been improved if it had taken an Office or Modern Family mockumentary approach.  At least that way, the characters could have explained their often confusing motivation.)

Jason got the cast that he wanted but that cast is let down by a poorly conceived script.  All of the characters are so one-dimensional that it’s doubtful that there’s much anyone in the cast could have done to make them interesting.  I like both Ed Weeks and Tom Bell but the film let both of them down.  Meanwhile, Bruce Davison is reduced to bellowing out his lines.

Jason fought to find the perfect location and spent a lot of time talking about how the Langston estate was almost as important as the characters.  The house looks gorgeous but the film is directed in such a haphazard manner that you never really get to appreciate it.  For a director who spent so much time obsessing over minutiae, Jason’s film is unique for its total lack of interesting detail.

Let’s not forget — when the season began, Jason was selected to direct a broad comedy called Not Another Pretty Woman.  Jason is the one who suggested making The Leisure Class instead.  That said, I have a hard time believing, as some have suggested on twitter, that Not Another Pretty Woman would have been much of an improvement.

Ultimately, Jason seems to be an okay technical director.  He knows how to light a scene.  He understands the importance of moving the camera.  I imagine he could probably spend hours explaining why he chose to use a certain type of lens.  Unfortunately, there’s not a single scene in The Leisure Class that feels spontaneous.  There’s no humanity to the characters.  It’s a cold movie that feels more like a student film than anything else.

From what I’ve read, it appears that there will be at least one more season of Project Greenlight.  And I’m happy to hear that because the show makes for good drama.  I just wish that it would occasionally make for a good movie.