A locally made film with a meaningful message. A review-review.

| September 10, 2013 | 0 Comments
ALandon

PHOTO BY LAURI HURD

“The Ultimate life” opened this past weekend. The Michael Landon Jr. directed film was made in North Carolina and employed a lot of local cast and crew and for many was a welcome change of pace from what Hollywood has been serving to the masses lately. Ahh… but there are those who are just not having it.


Aside from offering wholesome entertainment for the whole family at the price of a movie ticket, the objective of this film is that of imparting simple life lessons shared between a grandson and his grandfather who posthumously teaches lessons he had learned in hard and painful ways while aspiring obsessively to become a billionaire in the Texas oilfields.  The lessons are simple and seemingly universal. One might hope that most Americans would find common ground in concepts like friendship, charity or the film’s core lesson, that what is most important in life is not what we amass but how we connect and what we share with those around us and ultimately what (if any) meaningful legacy we leave behind.

Adrew2I was fortunate to be a part of the film’s supporting cast and was pleased that my family was accompanying me to see the film. I was hopeful that my kids would be entertained by this film that offers no gore, sexual exploits, horror or any of the other heavy stimulants that young audiences are geared to by the relentless machine that Hollywood has become.  We watched the film in silence and ironically we were occasionally distracted by the thundering percussion that vibrated the north wall of the theater we were in while a more typical film next door was shooting for blockbuster status. I was delighted in the end, that the kids had in fact been entertained, aside from seeing their old man on the big screen, they thought that the film was a good one. My wife still teary-eyed, said that she was very moved by it.

After a few days I decided to see how the film is being reviewed.  I was bemused to learn that the message was seen by the first reviewer I read, as being quite insidious because of who he asserts is delivering the message. I would ultimately read some very positive and enthusiastic reviews but I was floored at first, to learn that Variety had unleashed this politically pointed and somewhat angry diatribe by Geoff Berkshire. Geoff makes plain his hatred of Christians while picking apart a film that simply does not proselytize at all and he does little in terms of offering an honest unemotional review. He attempts in short order to prejudice his readers with nonsense and to bedazzle with words that are sure to have many opening a dictionary window.  His review comes off more as a rallying cry for those who share his intolerance of  innocence creeping back into cinema and desire to curb those who dare (if they don’t play for his team) to offer wholesome movies that leave people feeling good and maybe even wanting to be better human beings in general. A movie with none of the prescribed victims or villains to boot! Geoff started his piece with “A terminally dull piece of faith-based family-values filmmaking…”  I feel that if the film’s lead character had lynched a few people and strew profanity from beginning to end that Geoff might have started his piece with something like, “A gripping cinematic masterpiece that shows the unrelenting depravity of the people who you love to hate…”

I get that Mr. Berkshire is proud to possess  what he feels is sophisticated taste in cinema but I would not assume that people read his reviews in order to be impressed with him or hear radical interpretations so much as hearing a real appraisal of a films merits and flaws. I would naturally accept his criticism of the production value of the film which he apparently assumed was working with a budget similar to the latest installment of Ironman. What was shocking however, was how unabashed his assault on what he called the films “Christian message” was.  Hey, I was in the film and I do not even consider myself a man of any particular religion or faith, nor was there any mention or specific projection of any religion or faith in this film. I found the review offensive and way off-base, sort of a short circuit to what he had hoped would be the films fatal flaw. I think that Geoff Berkshire, knowing that this film was forthcoming and being directed by Michael Landon Jr., was waiting to pounce simply because of Michael Landon Jr.’s reported faith. It seemed quite premeditated and I was surprised that Variety didn’t release it before the film was even released. Referring to the films “messages of Christian charity and family values destined to appeal strictly to the converted”, it is plain to see that ideas like leadership, sharing and selflessness are now perverse in the eyes of most of Hollywood and jaded angry consumers like this reviewer.

I understand people like Berkshire. I worked as a teen in a theater in Savannah. The place was just not bringing in enough money and the owner decided to call on a different audience and overnight we went from showing Xanadu to showing soft cuts of films like Candy Goes to Hollywood. Yep, we were basically showing ’70′s porn with the actual sexual contact carefully cut out. I started tearing lonely old men’s tickets. One particular patron emerged from the dark theater after the first ten minutes and he was trembling, he was so disgusted, he could barely speak as he approached me. He flailed his arm and cried, “What kind of crap is this, there’s not even any penetration!”.  I felt dirty and began to spend my off days looking for  a new job. It was not that I was prude or had misgivings about sex. I simply wanted to be involved in and focusing on things that were meaningful and not so depraved as putting things as private or raw as using a toilet on the big screen. I actually became a fishmonger that year.

Mr. Berkshire reminds me of that patron all those years ago, who was disgusted that the hardcore elements that he was conditioned to, had been removed from the films. People like Berkshire believe most in carnage, lust, evil, mayhem and any assortment of base behavior delivered with high production value  and delivering a message that fits their agenda. People like this will eschew any films that deliver messages of simple goodness, especially if these films are delivered by people who he and his ilk consider their enemies. In fact I believe he is angry because Red Stevens, the film’s lead character, finds redemption and is not in the end judged and punished by political avengers according to Hollywood formula of casting mean white men as the root of all evil. If truth be told, the film needed to focus more on victimization and depravity than positive and uplifting ideas to meet with this reviewer’s taste.

While reading the review it is simple to see that Mr. Berkshire would only have been happy if the film’s lead character had carried his greed to the point of homicide rather than finding something more valuable than selfishness.  The film is quietly and peacefully delivering a message of basic human goodness (universal, values that Berkshire insists on tagging as “Ayn Randian” and “Christian values”) while he seems to be screaming for murder, mayhem and bloody battle.

My honest appraisal? I think that this is a really meaningful and good film.  I think that we all could stand to entertain the idea of a bit of a reset in what we consider good entertainment or at least not be angry when other people tire of the disproportion of what Hollywood offers or what general messages come across.  Go see “The Ultimate Life”, you’ll be glad you did.

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About the Author ()

Jason Saucier was born in Burbank, California and raised in and around New Orleans which is his family's native home. He began working in the film industry in the mid 1980's and has been residing in North Carolina since the turn of the century.

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