Category: Film

Trials, Tribulations, and a Movie: An LDS-themed Discussion of the Coen Brothers’ A SERIOUS MAN

A well-known axiom in both life and storytelling states that the matters we find most personal are also the most universal. Whether it’s film, literature, or some other medium, stories with the most specific and distinctive settings and points of view are usually those an audience will find most relatable. In the words of Robert McKee: “An archetypal story creates settings and characters so rare that our eyes feast on every detail, while its telling illuminates conflicts so true to humankind that it journeys from culture to culture.” A Serious Man, the 2009 masterpiece from Joel and Ethan Coen, is a darkly comic film exploring the nature of God, religious inquiry, and human suffering. Set among a community of Jews living in Minnesota in the 1960s, the film mirrors the Coen’s formative years, arguably making it their most personal film to date. That level specificity brings with it a familiarity and universality that just isn’t present in most of their work, or anyone else’s for that matter. Mormons can have a hard time grappling with the same issues explored in A Serious Man. We seem to define periods of our lives by the struggles we face. Dealing with trials is the focus of countless conference talks, priesthood and Relief Society Lessons, and Mormon.org videos. Within Mormon doctrine and culture, there are recurring themes about the source and meaning of our mortal struggles. And, let’s be honest, quite often, they are…

Expectations and Meet the Mormons

Early in my book publishing career, I worked for an innovative publisher of high-quality childrens picture books. One day, in conversation with my boss, the publisher, I criticized the Little Golden Books, a long-running line of cheaply produced picture books with very simple (and, I thought then, not very notable) stories. To my surprise, my boss leapt to their defense. Without the Little Golden Books, he explained, millions of kids wouldn’t have been read to as children, and my not have learned to read. In my focus on issues of quality, I had not realized that purpose is more important than quality, and, in a sense, actually defines what is quality. That lesson has stayed with me for about 20 years now.

MR: Samurai Jesus: A Review of Takashi Miike’s “Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai”

The Mormon Review vol. 5 no. 1 is presented here, with Jonathon Penny’s review of Takashi Miike’s 2011 film Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai. By Jonathon Penny Open on a gaunt, intelligent looking man—Tsukumo Hanshiro—seeking the indulgence of a retinue of samurai at the palace of a feudal lord. He claims to be a ronin, a lordless samurai, left to wander in poverty after the dishonor and dissolution of his clan. His request: to commit ritual hara-kiri so that, it is explained to us, he might regain some of the honor he has lost.  There is skepticism. Not two months before, Chief Retainer Saito informs him, another ronin from the same clan made the same request. This one, Chijiiwa Motome—younger, more gaunt, and with less bearing—sought an audience with Lord Li, delayed the ritual, fidgeted and fretted.  There was skepticism. Takashi Miike’s resume reads like the inside cover of a pulp novel. He has directed film after film whose English titles, at any rate, smack of that Hong Kong irony we all thought Kurt Russell was lampooning, if we grew up in the 80s, or that Tarantino was satirizing, if we grew up later: “Bodyguard Kiba: Combat Apocolypse [sic] 2,” anyone? How about “Rainy Dog”? “Full Metal gokudô”? “Blues Harp”? “Andromedia”? “Ichi the Killer”? “Ninja Kids!!!”? I’ve never bothered with any of them, though I did see “13 Assassins” (2010) and I indulged in “Sukiyaki Western Django” (2007). (Hey, it was…

MR: Exquisitely Loud and Indelibly Close

The Mormon Review vol. 4 no. 1 is presented here, with Jonathon Penny’s review of Stephen Daldry’s 2012 film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. By Jonathon Penny I’m late with this, as with so much in my dog-eared, half-buttoned, last minute, Subway-sandwiched, twenty-first century life. I wrote the other day, on reflection about the harried nature of workaday (and workanight) life that I was precocious as a child, ambitious, full of expectations for myself and for the world around me bending to my will made holy for a borrowed righteousness and then the sag set in and I lost all of that to work and weekend and the paying of bills and the buying of groceries and clothes—the valid preoccupations of a grown up and the invalid occupations of a man of today that suck the meat and marrow, if I let them, if I forget them see them objects and not tools and not excuses to move about the world and make it ring and rhyme and ripple for my passing through it, little though I am and ought to be. When I was that child, it was Lloyd Alexander and C.S. Lewis and Ursula LeGuin and later Ray Bradbury who nurtured that precocity, who fed and shaped it, who layered their heroic visions of childhood over fable and fantasy, Goliath and God. Well, when I was a child I hardly needed provocation. And now that I am a…

Mormon filmmaker explores sex and singleness at Duck Beach

The topic of sex and the Mormon single is a perennial favorite in the bloggernacle, and recently it has drawn national attention as well. No treatment of the topic would be complete without a look at the Duck Beach phenomenon, an informal annual gathering of east coast LDS singles in North Carolina that is equal parts Jersey Shore and Temple Square. LDS filmmaker Stephen Frandsen (my cousin) and his production company Big Iron Productions have trained a thoughtful lens on this singular affair, and are currently in the process of financing and producing a documentary exploring its relevance. We’re pleased to share an interview with Stephen Frandsen here, and we invite readers to add their own experiences with or impressions of Duck Beach in the comments. The filmmakers are actively seeking further participants who are willing to share their stories, and they will be pleased to respond to questions in the comments here.  Finally, please do consider donating to the project via kickstarter, a unique online instrument for grassroots funding of interesting and worthwhile projects  — of which we expect you will fully agree this is one!  (Stay tuned after the interview for a bonus extra: “One Way Ticket,” a charming documentary short made by Stephen that follows one man’s journey through online dating to a surprise twist ending.) RW: What drew you to Duck Beach as a subject, and why documentary rather than a fictional feature? SF: With outsiders…

A Mormon Image: Joseph’s Birthplace Memorial At Dusk

“I was born in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and five, on the twenty-third day of December, in the town of Sharon, Windsor county, State of Vermont.” Joseph Smith History 1:3 By Gary Boatright Jr. ___ This picture is part of our ongoing series highlighting Mormon images. Comments to the post are welcome; all comments should be respectful. In addition we invite you to submit your own images to the Mormon Image series. Other images in the series can be found here. Rules and instructions, including submissions guidelines, can be found here.