17 MIRACLES (GRADE: A)
REVIEW: Selling out show after show in Utah, and now expanding to theatres in other states (click here for locations), 17 Miracles not only stands among the best of the genre, it may be the best film yet from Mormon cinema. It is a moving, faith-inspiring account of the Lord's tender mercies among the tragedies of the Willie-Martin handcart companies. I'll be honest, the preview above didn't sell me 100%, but the finished product is absolutely riveting. Pulling no punches in depicting suffering, danger, and human imperfection, the film displays with historical accuracy the great challenges and changes of flawed but exceedingly faithful people whose trials refined their characters. In following the example of these historical characters, audiences are encouraged to better approximate the courage, compassion, and trust in God exemplified by the Savior Jesus Christ in their own lives. T.C. Christensen, after decades of helping craft some of the finest films in the LDS cinema genre (The Testaments, Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration), has brought the sacrifices of the pioneers to life in a raw and grounded fashion.
The grittiness combines with genuine and touching performances by his actors, allowing for a realistic and believable portrayal of incredible miracles and the power of God. There is no Hollywood-style melodrama; rather, the miracles happen in a matter-of-fact fashion that is true to how they actually happened. The miracles are extraordinary and inexplicable outside of divine intervention, but the emotional honesty of each moment (found in Christensen's direction and his actor's portrayals) gives each moment the credibility of true history (as it should be, because it is). A fascinating slice of LDS history as well as a film that inspires the best in all of us, 17 Miracles has artistry and polish to match its message: the music, cinematography, costume design, and attention to historical detail are all top-notch. This is not to be missed in theatres, if possible. If it's playing near you, rush out and buy a ticket to keep it playing (and check out my interview with writer-director T.C. Christensen in the meantime). Mormon cinema has a lot of sup-par offerings, but this is truly superb.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: 17 Miracles is rated PG. There are implications of cannibalism as the remains of the Donner Party are found (nothing graphic is shown). There is plenty of suffering, starvation, frozen corpses, and other thematic elements inherent to the handcart story. It is intense, but historically accurate, and contains absolutely nothing offensive. Appropriate for older children and up.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: There are far too many to list here, but two that spring immediately to mind: the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those who have faith in him (1 Nephi 1:20) and after much tribulation come blessings (D&C 58: 2-4) .
GREEN LANTERN (Grade: B-)
REVIEW: Having one's own opinion sometimes means going against the majority. Most critics and many friends loved The Social Network, while I found it to be well made and acted, but soulless and hollow. Most people I know adored Secretariat and felt it was wholesome and inspiring; I thought it was cliched and boring. We all bring our tastes and preferences to the theater, but even so, with Green Lantern earning an embarrassingly low 26% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I'm a little shocked to admit that I liked it. Ryan Reynolds brings a lot of charm and emotional versatility to the title role. His romantic chemistry with costar Blake Lively is solid, if not earthshaking. Director Martin Cambell, who has previously shown great skill at crafting stunningly-choreographed real-world action in Casino Royale and The Mask of Zorro, proves that he can do good work with the CGI effects often found in superhero stories.
The messages about willpower and overcoming fear are inspiring, though this film has none of the subtext or complexity of films like The Dark Knight and X:Men-First Class. The movie also has fun with the superpower provided by the Green Lantern ring: anything one can imagine, one can do, so ultimately battles come down to outsmarting one's enemy. These strengths overcome the film's multiple flaws (disobeying the rules of its own mythology, some flat dialogue, many one-dimensional characters, a bevy of origin-story cliches). Though it's not as solid as genre-classics like Superman (1978), Spiderman 2, The Incredibles, X-Men 2, Iron Man, or Chris Nolan's Batman films, Green Lantern is superior to many superhero films (Fantastic Four, Daredevil, The Hulk) and is in the same league, in my opinion, as Thor, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk (the Edward Norton version), and Superman Returns. If you're generally into this type of movie, it's worth your time.
CONTENT ADVISORY: Green Lantern has plenty of action violence and two truly menacing villains who kill and inflict terror. Though not bloody, some moments are too intense for young children. There are a handful of mild and moderate profanities, but they aren't a prevalent issue in the film. A man jokingly flips off his friend. The hero wakes up next to a woman (she's covered), he's seen in his underwear, and it is implied that a man and a woman had a past sexual relationship (though the dialogue never becomes crass or graphic).
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: Perfect love casts out all fear (Moroni 8:16). "Courage is not the absence of fear; true courage is manifest in bravely doing what has to be done in spite of fears or foes...True courage is in doing the right thing in spite of the odds or the opposition or the apprehension" (Elder Marion D. Hanks, Presidents of the Church, p.97)