Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I know you are expecting more daily recaps of NYICFF but I must own my days have completely gotten away from me and I have only watched 1 movie since my last update on Sunday. I hope to be able to get some more in this weekend but there is only so much time in the day. Next week I have the SXSW festival and hopefully I will do better with daily updates there but again there are only so many hours in the day.

Nevertheless, I have some films I’ve been meaning to write reviews on for some time so I thought I would do one of my classic current mini reviews. If you’ve seen any of these let me know what you think. Enjoy!

The Legend of Hei

The Legend of Hei is the one film I watched this week from the NYICFF. It is a film from China about a world of demons and humans. One demon named Hei goes on a journey to protect his forest home and understand the humans. The main appeal of this movie is the gorgeous animation. The layered watercolor backgrounds are beautiful and the action is fast and stunning. The story was a little confusing at times but I am still glad I saw it and definitely recommend it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Bigfoot Family

I actually have a fondness for the original Son of Bigfoot. It was such a pleasant surprise and I found great joy in recommending it as a hidden gem. So I was actually looking forward to this sequel Bigfoot Family. Unfortunately like so many sequels it was disappointing. The animation is impressive for the small budget and there are sweet moments of family but most of the movie gets lost in an uninspired and frankly irritating story.

Adam’s father Bigfoot goes missing at the hands of an evil oil man and Adam and his talking animals must go to save him. The whole scheme is over the top and the shenanigans get old fast. My advice is to watch the original and skip this unnecessary sequel.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Spongebob: Sponge on the Run

I do not claim to have an extensive knowledge of Spongebob Squarepants but I have seen a few episodes of the show and both of the previous movies, which I have enjoyed. As a result, I was looking forward to this latest film and ready for some crazy fun.

Some fans might be upset this is the first in the series to be full CGI animation; however, I didn’t mind the animation. It is bright and colorful and overall looks cute. There are also a few laughs and Gary the snail is adorable. Unfortunately the story did not work for me and there weren’t enough laughs to carry me through.

I also thought some of the sections were in poor taste for a film for children such as the long section in a casino with characters gambling. It also wasn’t funny enough and the final third of the movie is nothing but a secret pilot for the new show Kamp Koral. Some die-hards might enjoy this but I certainly can’t recommend it

3.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Coming 2 America

The original Coming to America is considered a classic by many people. I had long heard about it but actually hadn’t seen it since this month preparing for the long-awaited sequel. While all the comedy in the original didn’t land for me but I found the sweet romance at the core to be charming and enjoyable.

Now we have the sequel Coming 2 America and all the players are back and clearly having a great time making the film together. It is particularly fun to see Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall back acting with each other and their chemistry is seamless. The new cast is also a lot of fun with Kiki Layne and Jermaine Fowler doing a good job.

I am honestly quite torn on Coming 2 America. It started off very sour- seemingly going through the motions of the previous film except for adding a sexual assault plotline that is supposed to be charming. No thanks. But I must say it won me over as it went along with it getting back to the sweet romance of the original film. I still don’t think there is enough good to recommend the film but it’s not awful like some other comedy sequels. It’s your classic mixed bag film.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Murder Among the Mormons

I am not sure how much this docuseries will interest people not of my faith or from Utah but I certainly found it fascinating. I have long heard about the infamous forger and murderer Mark Hofman but it was cool to get to dive into the story and learn more. If you don’t know Mark forged a slew of historical documents including some involving the Mormon church or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of which I am a member.

Some say he was the greatest forger ever but his crimes caught up to him and to hide it he started bombing people, killing 2 people and almost killing himself. This docuseries tells you all the sordid details like any good true crime series and director Jared Hess does a good job getting you back to Utah in the 80s.

My only criticism is the last episode was a little too celebratory of Hofman and his skills as a forger for my comfort level. I would have preferred they do less of that and tell us more about his victims and how their families kept on their legacies. At times it even makes the interview subjects uncomfortable talking about Hofman’s skills. Still definitely worth a watch.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

‘Out of Liberty’ REVIEW


A lot of my fellow cinephiles can be very dismissive of the faith-based genre, and not without some due cause. Too often these well-meaning films are too preoccupied with delivering a sermon rather than telling a worthwhile story with complex characters. However, any genre can produce good films, and Garrett Batty’s new film Out of Liberty is a good example.

I was actually excited to see Out of Liberty because I like both of Batty’s last offerings, The Saratov Approach and Freetown (which was in my top 10 of 2015). All 3 of his films have been about people of faith put in harrowing circumstances where their faith doesn’t help them very much. There are no massive miracles, no grand speeches, just simple stories of how faith can help you get through the tough times. I admire that in his storytelling.


In the case of Out of Liberty Batty is putting on his history glasses and telling the story of when Latter-day Saint prophet Joseph Smith (Brandon Ray Olive) is falsely arrested along with a number of other men, and forced to live in a dungeon-like cell accessible only by a rope while they await their trial. The conditions are brutal with limited food, light or proper sanitation. Early church leader Sidney Rigdon (Brock Rogers) struggles the most being incarcerated and his faith goes to a low spot as his health declines.


All of the men struggle including the jailer Samuel Tillery (Jason Wade) who is the true lead of the film. Tillery often reminded me of a kinder version of Javert from Les Miserables. He is not a religious man, but he believes in the rule of law. He will keep the men inside the jail and the mob outside at all costs until Lady Justice has had her say. This dynamic made Out of Liberty feel more like a Western than a faith-based film and it worked for me on that level. In fact, there is really only 1 scene with Joseph I would describe as overtly religious.

This unique approach allows us to get to know the characters as human beings rather than paragons of religious virtue. Even the prophet is painted with the same ordinary-man brush as the rest of the men. At times, Out of Liberty almost felt like a play with its intimate setting and raw dialogue. I wish more faith-based films took this approach because its these more human characters that usually are the most inspirational. People with perfect faith aren’t interesting to me.


The cast of Out of Liberty is all up for the challenge. I even enjoyed Corbin Allred as the controversial Porter Rockwell- a character that could have slipped into caricature easily.

As far as flaws, those with no understanding in Latter-day Saint history might be a little confused with who these men are, and what they have done to be arrested. A little bit more backstory might have helped clear that up. The angry mobs are always a bit one-note in these movies but that’s the case with almost all Westerns, so it’s not a big problem. Some of the pacing could perhaps be a little tighter in spots but overall I really enjoyed Out of Liberty.

If you are someone who enjoys historical dramas than I would say go see Out of Liberty. It’s a well written, moving character piece that is both a study of faith and a Western jailbreak survival story. It is definitely worth your time and is one of the good ones!

8.5 out of 10

smile worthy

‘The Fighting Preacher’ REVIEW

For many years filmmaker T.C. Christensen has made a career out of making sweet and inspirational, faith-based films for Latter-day Saint audiences. Many of these are set in the past and seek to tell part of Church history like The Cokeville Miracle or 17 Miracles. These movies are definitely not for everyone but if you like programs like When Calls the Heart or Little House on the Prairie than you will enjoy them. His latest effort, The Fighting Preacher, is a bit uneven but overall it succeeds in telling a sentimental true story about tolerance, kindness and how a Christian spirit will win over hate every time.

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The film is based on the experiences of Willard Bean (David McConnell); a boxing champion who in 1905 is called by the Church to move to the town of Palmyra, New York and make a home for himself and his family in the recently purchased Joseph Smith Farm. As the name implies, the home was once owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint prophet and founder Joseph Smith. Nearby is the Hill Cumorah which is where the prophet claimed to find (by the guidance of an angel) the gold plates he translated into ‘The Book of Mormon’. Unfortunately, the Saints were eventually pushed out of Palmyra by residents who feared the new religion and the fervor of its followers and after 85 years the town had remained free from all ‘Mormons’ as they were known at the time.

One would think after such a long time away from each other, the anger against the Latter-day Saints would have dissipated in Palmyra but this proved to not be the case for the Beans. They faced opposition and challenges trying to do normal things like purchase everyday necessities, get medical care and even helping their daughter get an education.

At first Willard is tempted to use his boxing skills to retaliate against the people but eventually he learns such problems are better solved by an offering of homemade pie rather than a fist to the face (if that description sounds too saccharine, than trust me. This is not the movie for you!).

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The casting goes a long way in making The Fighting Preacher work. McConnell is easy to relate to and has nice chemistry with Cassidy Hubert who plays his wife Rebecca (my only nitpick with her is she had very modern lipstick on). The little girl, Scarlett Hazen, who plays their daughter Palmyra is also adorable. She did a great job!

The rest of the cast is fine but there isn’t a huge attempt to flesh out people beyond a slamming of the door with a ‘get out of here you Mormons’ rebuke. As a former missionary, I have no doubt this was a reality, but as a movie, it comes across as forced. The script as a whole is clunky with dialogue that doesn’t feel natural or human.

For a better example of a similar plot with a much better script I recommend last year’s Jane and Emma. That film took the time to flesh out the characters and give authentic nuanced dialogue.

Even with its flaws, however, I still recommend The Fighting Preacher. It knows its audience and unlike some faith-based films, the message is very positive. It tells the viewer to accept people of all beliefs, and to be kind and loving to all men and women (even when it is not reciprocated). The performances are also strong enough to forgive a script I wish was better.

6 out of 10

smile worthy

Screenwriting Interview w Melissa Leilani

Hi guys!  I had the cool experience today where I got to interview screenwriter Melissa Leilani and find out what it is like to write a script.  She was the main writer for a film I loved in 2015 called Freetown.

Freetown is a faith-based film but one that is approachable to anyone.  It tells the story of a man who must smuggle 6 missionaries out of Liberia during their brutal civil war.  Things are tense and Brother Abubakar is a man of practical faith mixed with a healthy dose of skepticism.  It makes him a very compelling character.

What I really appreciated about Freetown is that it told a compelling story and let the messsaging take care of itself.  Unlike many faith based films (that I still find some value in) I didn’t feel it was preachy or forcing a message upon me.  In fact, my friend Yusuf who is Muslim liked the film as much as I did.

Here are both of our reviews:

I think you might find it interesting to watch the film and then listen to the interview about her experience.  However, I also think it will be interesting if you are just interested in screenwriting or writing in general.  We do get off topic a few times (we have very similar movie and theater taste!).  She has a theater background so her transition from playwright to screenwriter was very interesting to me.

Anyway, this is only the 3rd interview I have done, so if you have any feedback that would be great.  I hope you enjoy it.

Freetown Review

freetownAs most of my readership is not Mormon you probably haven’t heard of the film Freetown which opens this week.  It is the story of missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or Mormons) in Liberia in 1990.  At the time there was a brutal Civil War and a group called the krahn was systematically eliminated by the rebel forces.

This of course makes for a tense situation for the missionaries some of whom are krahn and it is determined by local leadership they must be taken to Freetown in Sierra Leone where the mission president is and things are safer.  There are 6 missionaries and a member named Brother Abubakar played by Henry Adofo.


Abubakar is a man you don’t see often in faith based films. He has a strong faith but he is also extremely practical which makes him less optimistic than some of the naive young elders. Adofo is so good playing a well rounded man who is strong, scared, brave and weak all at the same time.  On one hand it seems like he resents having to deal with the elders and put his life at risk but on the other  you can tell it is a great honor and burden which he fears he might not succeed in.  I really related to his character and can imagine that most members would feel exactly as Brother Abubakar does in such a scary time.

Nevertheless, he crams all 6 of the elders into his small car and they face one challenge after another.  Whether its rebel base stops or running out of fuel I was completely engrossed in the journey.


The entire cast is native African actors and they are all fine.  Some of the missionaries you can tell are new at acting but it fit their fairly innocent personas and didn’t bother me. As someone who was a missionary I thought they got the little details just right.  It might seem hard to believe Elders would pass out pamphlets to people waiting for a fairy after such a trek and in such a tense situation but they totally would.  The exuberance and faith in miracles they showed was just what such elders would do in the situation.  I loved one of the elders when they are finally free the greatest joy is they can teach after 6 months! That long not teaching as a missionary would feel like an eternity.


Not to say that the elders were simplistic because they weren’t.  They face a lot of tough questions of when to lie, when to be brave, when to expect miracles and when to use your head. It felt like the way missionaries would actually behave and there were soft moments especially with the krahn elders that were very touching.


I was surprised how gritty it got.  It is not a movie for small children.  Far too scary for them.  The rebels are pretty terrifying and will shoot women, even old women without giving it much thought. I flinched more than once and had to look away (I’m a violence wimp in movies!).    The missionaries come very close to being shot on several occasions and it is very tense.


It also can be a very hopeful picture with moments of joy. The missionaries are still 19 year old boys and the cast has a good chemistry together.  It felt like an authentic group racing to get to safety while still maintaining their individual personalities and struggles.

Freetown is directed and written by Garrett Batty who did Saints and Soldiers and Saratov Approach and he does an excellent job crafting a story that should inspire anyone of any faith.  The preaching and Mormon dogma is at a minimum. I really think the average moviegoer would find it a touching, gripping story.

It also looks great with wonderful cinematography by Jeremy Prusso where we get the grandness of Africa contrasting with the tightness of the compact car.  I loved the music too.

I really loved everything about Freetown. It is a moving depiction of normal people of faith facing an extremely difficult situation in a real and honest way. If you can go see it!

Overall Grade A+  Content Grade C+

Here’s my youtube review if you want to check it out. Give it a thumbs up that would be awesome.