Cleaning Out The DVR: Christmas In Mississippi (dir by Emily Moss Wilson)

(Hi there!  So, as you may know because I’ve been talking about it on this site all year, I have got way too much stuff on my DVR.  Seriously, I currently have 193 things recorded!  I’ve decided that, on January 15th, I am going to erase everything on the DVR, regardless of whether I’ve watched it or not.  So, that means that I’ve now have only have a month to clean out the DVR!  Will I make it?  Keep checking this site to find out!  I recorded My Christmas Prince off of Lifetime on December 9th!)

When I saw the title of this one, I immediately started thinking about William Faulkner.  I thought about the tragic Compson family and the scandalous Snopes family and the complicated legacy of Colonel John Sartoris.  I found myself wondering what Yoknapatawpha County looks like today and whether the town of Jefferson had changed much since Faulkner’s day.

Of course, Christmas In Mississippi is not based on a Faulkner short story, nor does it claim to be.  Instead, it’s a thoroughly pleasant Lifetime holiday movie, a good-natured celebration of Christmas tradition and romance.  Still, it’s rare that you ever seen any movie set in Mississippi, outside of the occasional Faulkner adaptation or stories that focus on Mississippi’s past.  Much as with New Jersey, it sometimes seems like the only time you see or hear about Mississippi on television or in a movie is when it’s being set up as the punch line to a joke so I guess my point  is that it’s nice to see a positive movie about Mississippi.  Not only is this film set in Mississippi but it was actually filmed there, in the lovely city of Gulfport.

As for the movie itself, it deals with Holly Logan (Jana Kramer), a photographer who returns to her hometown of Gulfport for the holidays.  Not only is she visiting her mother, Caroline (Faith Ford) but she’s also helping to set up the holiday light show, the first one to be held since Gulfport was hit by a destructive hurricane five years ago.  (In real life, Gulfport was hit and seriously damaged by Hurricane Katrina.)  The only real complication for Holly is that the festival is being supervised by Mike (Wes Brown), who broke her heart in high school.  Even though Caroline insists that Mike has changed and matured since high school, Holly doesn’t want to risk getting hurt again.  Fortunately, Mr. Kriss (Barry Bostwick) is working at the festival and he’s good at bringing people together.  And yes, Mr. Kriss is playing Santa Claus.  If you’re surprised by that, you’ve obviously never watched a holiday movie before.  (That’s not a complaint.  If you make a holiday movie where St. Nick isn’t the one bringing your couple together, you’re doing it wrong.)

Christmas In Mississippi is a nice little movie.  Though the plot may not take you by surprise, Jana Kramer and Wes Brown make for a likable couple and the entire cast has a charming chemistry.  You really do believe that they are all neighbors and they all did grow up next to each other.  It’s a sweet movie.  In the end, Holly does a good job with the light show and so does the movie.  For that matter, so does the city of Gulfport, which looks great in Christmas in Mississippi.

Film Review: Devil’s Knot (dir by Atom Egoyan)

After having spent close to a year hearing only negative things about it, I finally watched Atom Egoyan’s Devil’s Knot last night.  On the basis of what a lot of critics had said about the film, I have to admit that I was mostly watching it to see if I needed to include it on my upcoming list of the 16 worst films of 2014.

But you know what?

Devil’s Knot really isn’t a bad film.  It’s just an extremely unnecessary one.

Devil’s Knot opens with a title card that reads, “Based on a true story.”  Honestly, the title card could have just as easily read, “Based on a true story and if you doubt it, there’s four other movies you can watch.”  The trial, conviction, and subsequent imprisonment of the West Memphis Three is perhaps the most famous miscarriage of justice in recent history precisely because so many documentaries have been made about it.  Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost Part Three are two of the most disturbing true crime documentaries ever made.

(As for Paradise Last Part Two, it displays a stunning lack of self-awareness as it attempts to prove the guilt of John Mark Byers by using many of the same techniques that were used to convict the West Memphis Three.  The less said about it, the better.)

The story is so well-known that I almost feel like retelling it would be like taking the time to inform you that George Washington was our first president.  But here goes — in 1993, 3 eight year-old boys were murdered in the small town of West Memphis, Arkansas.  Three teenagers were arrested for the crime and, on the flimsiest of evidence, were convicted.  As is seen in the documentaries, their conviction had more to do with community hysteria and paranoia than anything else.  The supposed leader of the West Memphis Three, Damien Echols, was accused of being a Satanist.  Why?  Mostly because he wore black clothing.

Eventually — and largely as a result of the documentaries made about the case — the West Memphis Three would be freed from prison.  (However, their convictions would still legally stand, meaning that their exoneration would be limited to the court of public opinion.)  Devil’s Knot, however, doesn’t deal with any of that, beyond a lengthy scroll of “this is what happened after the movie” information that rolls up the screen after the final scene.  Instead, Devil’s Knot deals with the first trial of the West Memphis Three and the small town atmosphere of fear and hysteria that led to them being convicted in the first place.

And — though the film is surprisingly conventional when you consider the reputation of director Atom Egoyan — it’s all fairly well-done.  As a former resident of and frequent visitor to Arkansas, I was happy to see that Egoyan didn’t indulge in as many stereotypes as I feared he would.  (One need only watch the self-important Northern activists in Paradise Lost Two to see the attitude that I feared Egoyan would bring to the project.)  Reese Witherspoon is perfectly cast as the mother of one of the murdered boys.  Kevin Durand is properly intimidating at John Mark Byers.  Even Colin Firth manages to make for a convincing Arkansan.

But, ultimately, Devil’s Knot just feels so unnecessary.  It doesn’t bring anything new to the story and there’s ultimately nothing here that you couldn’t have learned from the original Paradise Lost.

Probably the best thing that I can say about Devil’s Knot is that it’s better than Paradise Lost Part Two.