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. Sizing up the situation, the kindly old maid decides to help the reverend out.
A quintessential British work based on acerbic comic tone rather than jokes, "Keeping Mum" wrenches laughs from subtle elements such as the sound of a shovel being swung. (That takes care of the neighbor's incessantly barking dog that keeps Gloria up at night.) Smith makes for a delightfully sassy psychopath with a good heart while Scott Thomas turns in an understated portrait of a woman desperate for attention. Atkinson strikes a perfect pitch as a dullard whose dreams of adequacy at a church convention props up the film's saggy third act with just the right note of nerd bravado.
Opens today at Renaissance Place in Highland Park. Rated R (nudity, sexual situations). 90 minutes. * * *
- Jacques Thelemaque's drama "The Dogwalker" has been shot on digital video (and will be projected from DVD), so its production values don't look all that sensational, but the story consists of a completely credible, unsentimental relationship between a down-and- out young woman and an aging, on-her-way-out professional dog walker.
A beaten-up Ellie (Diane Gaidry, the director's wife) finally flees her abusive boyfriend and heads to LA where she instantly becomes victimized by street thugs. A chance meeting in a dog park introduces her to Betsy (Pamela Gordon), a crusty old loner dying of cancer. The two form a reluctant bond, and it becomes clear they might have been great friends under other circumstances.
Betsy begrudgingly turns her business over to the younger Ellie, who also inherits the dog walker's testy independent spirit just in time for the old boyfriend to show up.
"Dogwalker" opens today at the Century Centre Cinema in Chicago; the director will host Q&A sessions today and Saturday following the 7:20 p.m. shows. No MPAA rating, but for mature viewers (nudity, language). 89 minutes. * * 1/2
- The delightfully surrealistic, fantastically imaginative elements in French filmmaker Michel Gondry's romantic feature "The Science of Sleep" eventually reach the point of diminishing returns in what would probably have made a first-rate film short. Gondry, writing and directing here without his "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" collaborator Charlie Kaufman, creates alternate realities for Stephane (Mexico's hunky export Gael Garcia Bernal), a self-described artist and star of his own imaginary "Stephane TV," where cameras consist of cardboard boxes and his TV screens show glimpses of both dreams and reality.
The plot spins around Stephane's growing fascination with his apartment neighbor Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and his boring job as an ad composition artist at a Paris office. With plot being a lesser priority, "Science of Sleep" breezes along on trips of animated fantasy as Stephane bounces back and forth between reality and dreams, concocting an appealing portrait of a boy who hasn't yet grown up.
It opens today at Renaissance Place in Highland Park. In English, French and Spanish. Rated R (language, sexual situations and nudity). 105 minutes. * * 1/2
- If anyone doubts the American government's determination to deal with foreign enemies, look no further than David Leaf and John Scheinfeld's solid documentary "The U.S. vs. John Lennon." They reveal how the presidency of Richard Nixon worked to discredit and deport the former Beatle who'd become an outspoken critic against the administration's increasing involvement in the Vietnam War.
This doc boasts an astonishing parade of talking heads: Walter Cronkite, Noam Chomsky, Carl Bernstein, Yoko Ono, George McGovern, Tommy Smothers. Even Nixon's right-arm thug G. Gordon Liddy and counsel John Dean unload their views. This is a doc with real relevance to today's political atmosphere of quiet suppression of dissenting views.
It opens today at the Century Centre Cinema in Chicago and Renaissance Place in Highland Park. No MPAA rating; suitable for general audiences. 99 minutes. * * *
- Gunnar "Leatherface" Hansen, star of the 1974 original horror classic "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," will "meat" the public Wednesday during a special Massacre on Hollywood Boulevard event at Hollywood Blvd. Cinema, 1001 W. 75th St., Woodridge. He'll sign double-disc DVD sets of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Ultimate Edition." The new feature "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" opens Wednesday, starring Jordanna Brewster and Taylor Handley. But beware. It won't be screened for critics, and we all know what that means, don't we? Go to www.atriptothemovies.com or call (630) 427- 1880.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Church Camp Doc a Chill-Inducing Film. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL). Publication date: September 29, 2006. Page number: 45. © 2009 Paddock Publications. COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group.
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