Friday movie roundup – Oct. 6

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Martin Scorsese makes films often enough that a new one isn’t an “event,” exactly, but it does pique a film lover’s interest, especially in an otherwise dry season. “The Departed” is a great movie, nearly as good (but not quite) as Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” and “Taxi Driver.”

Even better: It’s set in Boston, with lots of thick, juicy Boston accents. The title itself is actually pronounced “The De-pah-ted.” Say it! It’s fun!

Among the wide releases, that’s the only good news I have for you, unless a confirmation of your suspicions is considered good news. If it is, then you’ll be pleased to know that “Employee of the Month” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning” are, in fact, as bad as you thought they would be.

The latter was not screened until last night, to avoid opening-day reviews while also avoiding the stigma of not having a screening at all. This is standard operating procedure these days for horror films. In fact, plenty of horror films DON’T have screenings, or when they do, they don’t tell critics about them. But we were actually invited to last night’s last-minute screening, so kudos to New Line for that.

As for “Employee of the Month,” well, interesting story. I e-mailed the publicist last week to see when screenings would be, and she said there weren’t going to be any. It turns out this is what we in the business call a “lie,” because in fact there were two screenings, one last Thursday and one this past Wednesday. I knew about the Wednesday one because there was an ad in one of the local weekly papers telling people where they could pick up their free passes to it.

Note to publicists: If you tell us there isn’t a screening, we’ll be more likely to believe you if you don’t also take out an ad in the paper saying there is.

Anyway, now that I’ve seen the film, I can understand why they tried to hide its existence from critics, the same way poor Leatherface’s mama tossed him in a trash bin after birthing him on the floor of a slaughterhouse (sorry for the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning” spoilers there).

Among smaller releases, there is a documentary you should be aware of called “Jesus Camp,” about evangelical Christians and their children. One of my fellow critics was raised in such a family — Pentecostal, “holy roller,” whatever your preferred terminology is — and he said watching the film definitely hit home. (He has since left the faith.) He speculated beforehand that I, having been raised Mormon, might see some of my own childhood in the movie. I said, “From what I know of the movie, I think it’s the way people think Mormons are, but not how they actually are.”

That turned out to be fairly accurate. I saw a few parallels in the way the evangelicals teach their children and the way Mormons do, but not many. The film depicts the kids, all under age 12, as being awfully intense about their faith, weeping and hollering and speaking in tongues at prayer meetings the way their parents do. In interviews, they talk as seriously as any grown-up would. I kept thinking: Where is the FUN in this childhood?

For as weird as people think Mormons are, the children’s programs in the church are pretty normal. You sing songs teaching very basic ideas (God loves you, be more like Jesus, be nice to others, etc.), you sing other songs just for fun, and you learn child-sized bits of doctrine (see previous: God, Jesus, nice, etc.).

The youth minister in the movie preaches against the evils of most popular culture, saying “had it been in the Old Testament, Harry Potter would have been PUT TO DEATH!” The only real parallel to my childhood that I could think of was a woman telling us that arcade games (this was the era of Pac-Man) were of the devil — but this was a woman everyone, our parents included, thought was a fanatical crazy person.

Then there’s a scene where a bunch of the boys, about 10 years old, are in their cabin at Bible camp, laughing and telling ghost stories and just being boys. One of the adult counselors comes in and says he doesn’t think ghost stories “honor God” and maybe they shouldn’t tell them. I thought of the camp-outs I went on as a kid. Did anyone ever tell us not to tell ghost stories? Or did they JUST LEAVE US ALONE AND LET US BE KIDS, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD?! I believe it was the latter.

There’s an article in today’s New York Times (free registration might be required) about how evangelical Christians fear they’re losing their teenagers. What’s interesting is that as my aforementioned critic friend and I left the screening of “Jesus Camp,” he said, “You know, those kids are gonna grow up, and they’re going to be mad, and they’re going to leave the church.” I could see what he meant, and the Times story seems to confirm it. Creating such an intense, un-fun atmosphere for kids when they’re supposed to be enjoying their childhood could make them turn bitter later on. I understand wanting to teach them good Christian principles, but maybe there is such a thing as over-doing it.

Anyway, anyone with a Christian background will probably find the film interesting and provocative. Keep an eye out for when it opens in your area.

As always, you’ll find these reviews and much, much more fabulous information in this week’s “In the Dark,” a weekly e-zine chock-full of such things. Do sign up, won’t you?

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