A Lazy Movie Reviewer Misses the Point to My Movie
Shot in Pahrump in 2006 and finally made available years later online, J. Neil Schulman’s Lady Magdalene’s already seems a little dated, with its storyline that relies strongly on references to 9/11 and Homeland Security (complete with heavy-handed conservative political commentary). The movie is an awkward combination of goofy comedy and political thriller, and neither element really works. The idea of an IRS agent (Keogh) having to take over a brothel because it’s in receivership for unpaid taxes is a potentially amusing one, but it’s quickly derailed by a larger plot about said agent foiling a terrorist plot with the help of the brothel’s employees. Add in incongruous (and terrible) musical numbers courtesy of Nichelle Nichols (best known as the original Star Trek’s Uhura) as the brothel’s madam, and you have a mess, albeit an occasionally amusing one.
–Josh Bell, Las Vegas Weekly, September 8, 2010
I’m writing this on the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 al-Qaeda attacks. On the ruins of the World Trade Center today — nine years later — there is still a memorial ceremony reading off the names of almost 3,000 victims.
If I were to board a flight at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas today — or any other city’s airport — I’d have to take off my shoes, and I could be detained by agents of the Transportation Security Administration — a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — for possessing a long list of ordinary grooming items in my carry-on bags. There are No-Fly lists of people who have names similar to suspected terrorists who are not even allowed to board a commercial flight.
Today there are 94,000 American military personnel — and thousands more private contractors — mired in Afghanistan, which the United States invaded a month after the 9/11 attacks in response to the Taliban’s refusal to turn on its al-Qaeda allies.
I have long suspected that among the thousands of financial workers who died in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 were the brains who might have foreseen and prevented the economic meltdown of the United States economy seven years later.
In the past week there was a publicized controversy about a proposed burning of Qurans at a previously obscure church in Gainesville, Florida — a threat that wasn’t even carried out — yet it provoked demonstrations in Afghanistan and Pakistan in which American flags were burned and protesters shouted, “Death to the Christians!”
For weeks and weeks there has been a national debate about whether the religious freedoms of Muslims to worship at a proposed mosque to be erected near the ruins of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan trumps the emotional wounds of the families who lost loved ones due to New-York-hating Muslims.
Yet, Josh Bell — reviewing my movie Lady Magdalene’s in this past Thursday’s edition of Las Vegas Weekly — begins his review by writing “Shot in Pahrump in 2006 and finally made available years later online, J. Neil Schulman’s Lady Magdalene’s already seems a little dated, with its storyline that relies strongly on references to 9/11 and Homeland Security (complete with heavy-handed conservative political commentary).”
Is Josh Bell living in a cave? Doesn’t he own a TV set or a radio to catch the news once in a while? I know he has a computer with Internet access because it was his email to me that got him the review copy DVD of Lady Magdalene’s I sent him a couple of weeks back. So how can he think that a movie “that relies strongly on references to 9/11 and Homeland Security” is dated?
Even if “references to 9/11 and Homeland Security” were dated, so what? Was Gladiator of no interest to movie-goers because it relies strongly on references to the Roman Empire? Or was The Da Vinci Code boring to Josh Bell because it relies strongly on references to the Roman Catholic Church’s extermination of the Knights Templar?
I hate to descend to psychoanalysis of writers, but the parenthetical comment Josh Bell throws in — “complete with heavy-handed conservative political commentary” — reveals a hidden agenda. Las Vegas is a gambling town. I’ll put money on Josh Bell being left-of-center in his political views — and a movie that portrays al-Qaeda as bad guys — and federal agents as nice — strikes Josh Bell as “heavy-handed conservative political commentary.”
Never mind that Nichelle Nichols is a left-of-center Democrat who made sure nothing of the sort made it into the script before she agreed to take the starring role and be an executive producer on the movie … and the guy who wrote and directed the movie — me — is on the record opposing Neocons, suggesting that Israel is a lost cause as a Jewish homeland, wishing Americans never again put a drop of Middle Eastern oil into their cars, and calling President Obama’s one-upping President Bush’s war in Afghanistan Obama’s own “phony war.”
Never mind that my script shows the federal agents as being on a wild-goose-chase for most of the movie because they can’t think outside of a box — and the whole point to my plot is that the Feds get precisely nowhere until a prostitute at a legal Nevada brothel gives them the one clue they need to figure out what’s actually going on … and the Feds’ only chance of foiling the actual al-Qaeda plot is relying on the Madam of a Nevada brothel and her girls.
Never mind that Lady Magdalene’s, written and filmed in 2006, anticipated this news story published just yesterday:
A new report to be released later Friday says that in the nine years since the Sept. 11 attacks, the terrorist threat against the United States has fundamentally changed. The biggest threat is no longer coming from the dusty landscape of Afghanistan or the mountains of Pakistan border regions. Instead, experts say, the threat now comes from within our own borders, in the form of homegrown terrorists.
“A key shift in the past couple of years is the increasingly prominent role in planning and operations that U.S. citizens and residents have played in the leadership of al-Qaida and aligned groups, and the higher numbers of Americans attaching themselves to these groups,” a new report by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Preparedness Group says.
Did Josh Bell — who was supposed to be noting the value of locally-produced movies so he could tell his Las Vegas readers about them — bother noting that a Nevada-produced movie had beat out all of Hollywood by being the only feature film to date to center its plot on homegrown American al-Qaeda?
Merely choosing the ongoing conflict between Muslims who wish to put one of their own in the Oval Office and Americans who prefer not to live under a theocracy based out of Mecca — as the subject matter of a movie — is enough for a lazy movie reviewer to conclude he’s watching a commentary by Sean Hannity or Michelle Malkin.
Josh Bell missed the whole point of the movie.
Then — having concluded he’s watching Neocon propaganda — Josh Bell trashes everything else about Lady Magdalene’s … starting with my storytelling and ending with a cheap shot at one of the best musical performances Nichelle Nichols has given in a singing career launched by Duke Ellington, praised by Parisian music critics who compared her to Josephine Baker, and supported by the fabulous Rahn Coleman.
Then Josh Bell misses the rest of the Lady Magdalene’s musical soundtrack, with nine original songs, and classical violin by my dad, Julius Schulman.
Yeah, I know. Any minute I expect an email or comment posted here from Josh Bell, which inevitably will state something like this: “I’m an objective journalist with no hidden agenda and your movie just wasn’t good enough to get a better review from me.”
I’m willing to let the audience decide for themselves — starting with Nichelle Nichols’ singing “Rahab the Harlot” in the music video we put on YouTube:
If there’s a Razzie or Golden Turkey Award for movie reviewers, Josh Bell has one coming.
This article is Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.
Author’s Note, May 2, 2011: The day after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in his secret lair in Abbottabad, Pakistan, I’ve posted a new article titled, “Oh Yeah, Josh?” which links to a video excerpt from Lady Magdalene’s in which “The Director of al-Qaeda Speaks.” Just to rub it in that shooting a movie in 2006 set in the historical aftermath of 9/11 is neither dated nor uninteresting to moviegoers even in 2011, 2012, 2013 ….
–J. Neil Schulman
My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available as a DVD on Amazon.com and for sale or rental on Amazon.com Instant Video. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!