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"September Dawn"

Directed by Christopher Cain.
Written by Christopher Cain and Carole Whang Schutter.
Starring Trent Ford, Tamara Hope, Jon Voight and Terence Stamp.
Release Year:  2007
Review Date:  6/14/07


Although this film is due out until August 2007, there was a freebie at the local arthouse for "September Dawn" and since the trailer I saw last month looked intriguing, I figured, hey, what the fuck.  (That, and the theater is like 10 minutes from my house.  Made things easy, I guess.)

Here's what I know after walking out of this puppy--man, if you had reservations about the Mormon faith before, you are REALLY gonna be watchin' your back after this one.  "Inspired by actual events", "September Dawn" concerns itself with the September 1857 Utah massacre of more than 120 pioneers who were on their way from Missouri and Arkansas to California, where they had hoped to start a new life.  Unfortunately, there were two problems here:

1) The pioneers were Christians;

2) Their murderers were PURPORTEDLY Mormons (given that they were led by a Mormon, ordered by a Mormon, and preached to by...Mormons) and the Mormons were still pissed off that their boy Joseph Smith (played in a cameo by Dean Cain) had died at the hands of the Gentiles in Missouri.

As the lead Mormon on the case, Jacob Samuelson (Jon Voight) says it quite simply--you can't trust people from Missouri.  Okay, good enough!  Slaughter ensues.

Even though you know that the slaughter is coming--without it, we don't have much of a movie--co-writer and director Christopher Cain patiently takes the time to give us a love affair worth talking about, thanks to the secret love that Jacob's son Jonathan (Trent Ford) has for horses and one of the Christian's young beauties, Emily (Tamara Hope).  This sideplot helps balance the pure evil coming out of the mouths of the Mormon characters in the film, who are generally posed as sexist, bloodletting bastards who are willing to take whatever steps they must to defend themselves from President Buchanan's army and Gentiles, well, everywhere.  I expect that this angle will lead to the film being angrily denounced by the Mormon constituency, since the tone is so one-note.

But, even if the Mormons are clean on this one--jeez, who ever knows with these things--the story is still compelling: why allow a peaceful train of more than a hundred people, loaded with lots of women and children, to take about a week to recover themselves from long travels on the road only to slaughter them all?  Why were about 15 children spared while other children, in some cases younger than those spared, murdered?  Why was only one person convicted and executed in the eventual case?  (That one person was, in fact, Mormon.)  The film poses an interesting debate even if it totally forgets to be fair in the process.

The release date for "September Dawn" has been bumped three times now, from April to June to (as of now) August...hopefully, this one sees the light of day.  It is well done and the young actors were interesting to me, although far from perfect; Terence Stamp's evil portrayal of Brigham Young is great, and Voight always does the intense old crazy guy bit well.  Check it out if you can!

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09