Church Camp Doc a Chill-Inducing Film

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), September 29, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Church Camp Doc a Chill-Inducing Film

Byline: Dann Gire

- I don't think there can possibly be a scarier movie released this year than Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's marrow-freezing documentary "Jesus Camp." The filmmakers profile evangelical Christian camps that recruit children to become political activists on behalf of the Religious Right's anti-abortion, pro-school-prayer agenda.

A sterling piece of journalism, the film presents the church training sessions and the people who conduct them in their own words and context, without spin from the Michael Moore School of Political Commentary. Ewing and Grady enjoy unrestricted access to the evangelical world and capture an eye-opening view of its emotional and political tactics. Children speak in tongues. They cry. They profess Jesus as Lord. Then a church leader says, "Look who's come to visit us!" and brings out a life-size photo figure of George W. Bush. The children touch it, cry and shout, raise their hands and give the visiting president God's blessing.

"Jesus Camp" presents its subject with a cold objective lens, but does allow Mike Papantonio, a commentator on WCBT radio, to criticize the evangelical camps for politically indoctrinating kids just as other fundamentalist groups around the world do.

"I'd like to see more churches indoctrinate (children)," bluntly says Becky Fischer, the Pentecostal minister who runs the evangelical camp. During a radio chat with Papantonio, Fischer nonchalantly drops the movie's biggest bombshell: "I think democracy is the greatest political system on Earth. But it's just on Earth, and it's ultimately destined to destroy itself because we have to give everyone equal freedom. Ultimately, that's going to destroy us!" Who would have guessed that the greatest inside threat to American democracy would be a group professing to love it the most?

"Jesus Camp" opens today at the 600 N. Michigan Ave. Theaters and Pipers Alley in Chicago and the Evanston CineArts 6. (PG-13) language. 87 minutes. * * * 1/2

- I went to a critics' screening of the comedy "The Godfather of Green Bay" predisposed to liking it, just because the writer/director/star, Pete Schwaba, came from Chicago and graduated from DePaul University. And he shot most of the footage in Wisconsin, the setting for his wacky plot involving an LA standup comedian who travels to a small nightclub in hopes of being spotted by a "Tonight Show" casting agent expected to be in the audience.

Nonetheless, "Godfather" proves to be a mirthless vehicle for Schwaba, who dabbles in broad stereotypes and cliches for laughs. Wisconsinites tend to be backwoods yokels, a subset of the McKenzie brothers' Canadian hosers. They're led by the titular villain, a local drug-dealing thug named Big Jake (Tony Goldwyn, looking scary in a mullet). As a comic sidekick named Kenny, Lance Barber plays Belushi to Schwaba's Aykroyd, named Joe. Lauren Holly pops in as Molly, who used to be Joe's English teacher; now she's date bait being hooked by both Big Jake and her former student.

If you loved the "Macarena" song, "Godfather" plays it five times, suggesting the arrested inventiveness that goes into this well-meaning but disappointing feature where the standup routines double as sleep aids.

The film opens today and is rated R (language, sexual situations). 90 minutes. * 1/2

- In Niall Johnson's well-crafted anti-Mary Poppins black comedy "Keeping Mum," Rowan Atkinson brings his patented brand of low-key befuddlement to Walter Goodfellow, a namby-pamby minister of a small British congregation. His inability to take charge has driven his teen daughter Holly (Tamsin Egerton) into the arms of tattooed guys, his son (Tobey Parkes) into being an easy target for bullies, his wife Gloria (Kristin Scott Thomas) into the arms of her American golf instructor (Patrick Swayze) and the quality of his life into the toilet.

That changes with the arrival of their sweet new housekeeper, Grace Hawkins (Maggie Smith), who 43 years earlier chopped up her unfaithful hubby and his lover and stuffed them in a trunk.

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