What's the hardest part about buying a chihuahua?

Of course, it's telling your mom that you're gay. I'm sure there are some fellows who own toy dogs and also like the ladies, but they're few and far between, right? But there's one step beyond just buying the dog: accessorizing. I mean, it's a waste to own a little pup and not dress him up. They look adorable in those little t-shirts and hats.

Now, if you're comfortably out of the closet, you might turn your eye towards knitting stuff for your dog. And, hell, why not make yourself a matching hat? Luckily for this burgeoning population, there is a book: Men Who Knit and the Dogs Who Love Them. You can buy this book for a mere 18 buck at Amazon.

Then again, these jabs are coming from a man who's about to spend an evening learning the honeycomb motif from his lacing teacher. I guess men in craft houses shouldn't throw skeins, should we?

You can always use a spare

Got a guy on your holiday gift list that you just don't know what he'd like? Maybe you're sick of the usual gifts and want to impress him with something unique yet utterly tasteless. Why not get him an extra scrotum?

I'm not joking. You can buy, if you feel so inclined, a Saco de Toro. For the non-Hispanophones, that's a "sack of bull". For less than $30 you can creep out your friends, disgust your neighbors and openly show your virility.

The promotional material is classic, go check it out (and see the photo of "Bullie", as this product is charmingly known). And the double entendres! Or read the section below with some of my commentary:

"You can be assured that there is not another Bullie exactly like yours anywhere. They are as distinctive as fingerprints, and come in different colors, different sizes, different shapes and different textures. Your Bullie is unique, useful, conventional and expressive." [how, precisely, is a tanned ball sack "conventional"?]

Your bullie can be a mini-trash can or a candy dish or a pencil and pen holder. It can serve as an unusual hanging flower pot. You can hang it on your golf bag to store your balls. It holds stuff. ["want some candy? Just reach into my scrotum here and see what you can find?"]

Bullie is a tad less than 6 inches high, about 5 inches in diameter and hollow on the inside. It has a rawhide strap wrapped around the top. [Wait...it's hollow? Where the contents end up, then? Also, we all know that measuring from the base of the balls is cheating]

El Saco de Toro has "USA" written all over it (metaphorically). Saco de Toro was proudly born and bred in the U.S.A. It is available from BBHQ for $29.75, but it not available for export out of the country. The price includes gentle packaging and postage. [Dang it, it's only a metaphorical USA? What if I want to show the world that nothing beats a US-grown ball sack?]

It probably doesn't reflect all that well on me that I am actually a tiny bit tempted to buy one, does it? Also, the company bills itself as a purveyor of "the stuff boomers want". I guess if you're more than just a little over the hill, a reminder of better, ballsier days might just hit the spot. Or not.

a top five, explained in way too much detail

Katya asked me on my last post, what the top five Mormon movies would be. This is a tricky question to answer, and when my comment started getting super long, I figured, well, I maybe I should just write a whole post about this.

The first issue to tackle is what is a Mormon movie? There's various ways to slice it up: by intended audience, by subject matter, by religious affiliation of the creator and so on. I'm not sure which camp I fall into here, but I generally think it's a requirement is overt Mormon subject matter. This is why Napoleon Dynamite isn't a Mormon film in my book and why Saints and Soldiers is iffy. However, I see Latter Days, while an exceptionally bad film, firmly in the Mormon cinema range. Same with the remake of Trapped By the Mormons. Would September Dawn be a Mormon movie? Not having seen it, I'm not sure, but I think it's sort of like Saints and Soldiers for me: on the fringe and sort of questionable. So my top five list will be informed by a very personal, if not wholly self-apparent definition of Mormon films.

The second, and much more pressing issue, is what makes a top five list? Are they the ones I enjoyed the most? Are they the films that have been most successful on their own terms? Are they the best made movies? You could even argue that a top five list would be the movies that even a non-Mormon could go to and enjoy. In fact, that's a whole other kettle of fish, the top five will shift decidedly based on who I am suggesting the films to. For this post we're going to go with my favorite five Mormon movies. Different criteria would yield different lists.

Two more caveats. First, I judge Mormon cinema by a very different measure than I do films in general. I tend to take a more kindly approach to the efforts of our people, mostly because comparing amateurs with professionals is unfair and partly because I really want a Mormon to make a movie that'll stand on its own two legs some day. Second, I haven't seen every single Mormon movie, so there's a chance that I'm missing something from my list. But, from what I hear, the ones I've missed are bad, bad, bad, so I doubt they'd do much shake up to my faves. They're not ranked, so don't read too much into the order.

Here we go:

  • The Singles Ward: This movie, despite all of Richard Dutcher's ranting otherwise, is really what I consider to be the genesis of Molllywood. Dutcher made an indie flick that was commercially successful, but the whole genre doesn't take off until we start marshalling the Jello Belt like the Halestorm folks could. And, to top it all off, this movie is genuinely funny at parts. Sadly, we have some impressively bad acting, hackneyed dialogue and lame soul-searching which try to take a romantic comedy and turn it into a seminary video. But these faults aside, I think this movie's a must-see for Mormons.
  • Best Two Years: This film, apparently, is what happens when good acting, high production values, and better than average writing collide. This film looks and feels very slick and professional. It has an engaging, if slightly implausible, story line. I like how, unlike God's Army, the missionary experience is treated as a personal struggle rather than an assailing from outside. The accuracy of either viewpoint could be questioned, I realize, but this film feels more immediate and realistic than either of Dutcher's missionary flicks.
  • Sons of Provo: You could try all sorts of angles to lampoon Mormon culture, but I highly doubt you'd find a richer approach than by creating a boy band of Provoans and having them sing songs that contain lyrics like "You know girl, I love you, but I hope you comprehend/This body is a Temple - and you don't got no recommend". It's funny only when it means to be and is a brilliant send up of Mormon cliches as well as the end result of a kind of performance art. During the production, the trio actually did go on tour as the group Everclean and some of their real concerts show up as footage in this film. It is a little confused, at times it's clearly a mockumentary, at other times it forgets these conventions. And, at the end, it does turn a bit too serious. But, even with these failings it's not nearly well enough known among young, cynical Mormons.
  • Pride & Prejudice: Ok, so I love Jane Austen. So this movie pretty much had me from the concept. But the concept works out nicely, if there are some clear indicators that we've got some newbies at the helm of the film. Recasting the story of Elizabeth Bennet into the world of BYU is amusing for those who still cling to the notion that the Lord's University is not for anyone except the vapid and marriage-obsessed and even more funny to those of us who know better. For purists, there are some things missing from this adaptation, like the Bennet parents, which is too bad. But, it's a very charming film that plays to stereotypes without relying entirely on them and is, in turns, witty and slapsticky. Also, I defy you not to laugh about the classical music for dogs.
  • States of Grace: This will probably be the most controversial movie to be included on this list. And I can see why. It's totally unbelievable, but pretends to pass itself off straight. The acting and writing falter when they really shouldn't. Dutcher is trying to be edgy with cinematography and other conventions, but fails to be provocative and ends up being derivative. And an overwrought suicide scene never improves a film. So, with all these problems, why does it get a spot here? This film focuses nicely on how easy sin is to fall into and the subsequent damage that ensues. It's a very "but for the grace of God..." feeling. Other Mormon films haven't done a very good job of portraying the grey zone between temple-worthy and reprobate sinner, relying instead on white and black hats to do all the effort. But here, we get introduced to all sorts of characters, Mormons and Gentiles, who struggle with real human failings. A better case for the Mormon understanding of the atonement (that we must work really hard and can feel like all is lost at the blush of sin, but that Jesus is there, doing something that can save us) or conversion (that it's not a single moment, but a lifelong struggle) has yet to be made in any Mormon movie. So, go out, suspend your disbelief, prepare yourself for a cringe or two and reconsider this film.

If you're wondering what movies you should avoid at all costs, do your best to not see The Book of Mormon Movie ("too bad they spent all their budget on that one camel"), Beauty and the Beast: A Latter-day Tale (overacting+alcoholism+modern slavery+cute coed=cinematic trainwreck), The Home Teachers ("...maybe if we throw in every juvenile joke possible, they won't notice how horrific this film is"), Handcart (people died for this film to be made and this is the best you can come up with?) and Latter Days (come for the gay sex, stay for the bad dialogue and weak acting!).

I'd be curious for those who care about these sorts of things: do you disagree with my choices? What'd be a better set if you had to come up with one?

It's a bit like a leper colony

This weekend, I watched The Singles 2nd Ward, the sequel, of course, to the original Singles Ward, the movie which successfully proved that you don't have to be Richard Dutcher to make a Mormon-centric film. I'm guessing most of you didn't even know a sequel was in the works, let alone released. But, what I am here for if not to keep you up to the minute on your Mormonganda? Before I launch into my review, you need to know my thoughts about the first film: I liked it, but with reservations. Basically, I'm not the harshest critic of the Mollywood efforts, mostly because I see them as a beginning. That said, I find a lot of the original Singles ward very charming and funny, but there are parts that are bad, bad, bad. Such as the acting of just about every female in the cast. Or the serious "dialogue" which alternately was stolen from some poorly crafted Lifetime Original or penned by folks suffering from some major dissociative disorder.

I think the crew got wind of this last problem and decided the way to do away with this was to be aggressively flippant. And flippant they are. We rejoin the same motley crew who appeared in the first film at some indiscriminate point in the future (six or so years, it appears). Jonathan and wife Cammie are back in Provo, shooting the original Singles Ward film (the movie is very postmodernly compiled, and this is not a compliment in this case). Jonathan's story is a backdrop, however, to Dallen, the centerpiece of the film. He's a professor now of Mormon Mythology at BYU. And there's a new girl in both his class and his ward (I'm not sure, but I think there's policies at BYU keeping the profs out of student wards, but I could be wrong. And besides, this isn't the only plot problem). As you can imagine, romance ensues and they're slated to get hitched.

Then, the film turns into a Meet the Parents for the Mormon set. Christine, you see, is a convert. Her parents are wealthy, urbane coastals with their own jet and who have had more marriages than they can remember. Therefore, they are, naturally, horrified that their little girl is going to marry a yokel and in one month to boot. I'm sure you can imagine the jokes that are played out as they arrive in Provo, UT. Being a Mormon film, there is a happy ending here, but, being a Mormon movie, this means we have some serious soul-searching before we get to that point.

There are some good things about this movie, Christine, for instance, is played by an actress you can, you know, act. Erin Chambers, it appears, has a BFA from BYU and the film is all the better for it. And there are some jokes that amuse. But there are also loads of problems with the film. I had high hopes that, since Christine is in charge of thoughtful voiceovers like Jonathan was in the first film, we'd be better a more female perspective on the LDS singles scene, but it never really materializes. Also, there's a lot of joking about the Mormon cinema market and the various films it's produced, which takes the Mormon in-joke a step further, feels a bit incestuous, and isn't really all that funny. I kept wanting to say, "yes, folks, we know you know you're making a movie. Can we please move on now?"

The main problem, though, is that the film wants so desperately to be funny, to be not serious, to make the audience laugh, that nothing is spared a joke or two, including Christine's conversion story. This is fine and all, but then when the movie suddenly wants to be serious, we have a hard time believing that they're being sincere. Let's put this another way: if you're going to joke about a two-day long courtship and praying about marriage, you can't also have the couple torn up when real problems come along and then fall back into the belief that their prayers were accurate.

The conflict, though, of a non-Mormon family dealing with not being able to see a wedding is compelling, though. It's one of the few uniquely Mormon conflicts seen in Mollywood cinema so far. Think about it. For most of the other films, you could replace a generic Christian or even an observant Jew and have the same conflicts. Here, though, we're firmly in the territory of the Saints. This mini-drama plays out rather nicely, and could have been part of a much better movie, if only the filmmakers didn't want to cram as many jokes per minute down our throat as possible.

All in all, I don't want my 86 minutes back. For those who derive some sort of satisfaction from LDS films, you'll probably want to check this one out, as it's far from the worst offering thus far. But for those who think the films too provincial, too in-jokey, or just don't find the constant ribbing of Mormon culture funny, leave it alone. If you do check it out, be sure to watch the outtakes. There is one jibe at Richard Dutcher that is, in fact, one of the funniest in-jokes I've heard in a long, long time.