Wednesday, July 4, 2012

In Theatres: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. On DVD: REDEMPTION


Happy 4th of July everyone! This week I've got two worthwhile films for you to check out, the Spider-Man reboot and an inspiring tale from Utah's history. Have a look! As always you can "like" me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter for updates on new reviews.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN REVIEW (GRADE: B+)

A more dramatically mature take on the character than the bubblegum fun of Sam Raimi's trilogy, The Amazing Spider-Man will appeal more to teens and adults, despite targeting merchandise at children. This is due largely to Marc Webb's less fanciful direction and the performances he gets from his actors. Andrew Garfield is much less of a sweet-hearted, lovable dweeb than Tobey Maguire; he's got more of a James Dean edge, though he maintains the character's underlying virtue and heroism. Think of him as a rebel with a cause (and he's pretty darn funny to boot). Emma Stone (The Help) brings her considerable charm to Gwen Stacy, conveying intelligence, heart, and a spunky attitude. Their chemistry is far and away the best thing about this adaptation, generating both sweetness and sparks. While Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane was drawn to Maguire's Peter Parker because of his loyalty and goodness, the relationship in this film is a bit more based on mutual intelligence, wit, and an element of danger because it's 'forbidden,' as Stacy's father (Denis Leary) has called for the arrest of her vigilante boyfriend.


That the film covers so much familiar ground is both a strength and a weakness. On the one hand, it was only ten years ago that audiences saw Peter Parker get bit by a genetically-enhanced spider, develop superpowers, and deal with the tragedy that leads to his crime-fighting, and the film sags a little for those who just want it to deliver something new. On the other hand, the interest comes from seeing this all done differently, with the reasons for genetically-enhanced spiders even existing in the first place being, ahem, woven into a greater conspiracy involving Peter's parents that is merely introduced in this film. The mythology is larger and more involving here.



Webb, an indie director best known for the psuedo-romance 500 Days of Summer, proves himself quite adept at action scenes, giving the fights a real sense of danger and making Spidey's web-slinging across the city seem as daunting and challenging as it likely would be (if it were actually possible, of course). Some of the plot points are a little too convenient, some of the character arcs a little too hastily resolved, and sometimes the film tries a bit too hard make itself edgy and hip. That said, though it's not as fun or funny as Raimi's first two Spider-Man films, it's definitely much more gripping emotionally. It's genuinely thrilling and the romance absolutely crackles. I'm ready for more. 


CONTENT OVERVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man is rated PG-13. It contains a handful of profanities and vulgar expressions, a scene of passionate kissing, a profusely-bleeding gunshot wound, and plentiful scenes of menace and action violence. Peter Parker accidentally tears off a woman's shirt with his "sticky hands" in a comical moment; she is very briefly seen in her bra. 

MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: We have a moral responsibility to do good and help others whenever we can (James 4:17).



REDEMPTION (AKA FOR ROBBING THE DEAD) REVIEW (GRADE: A-)


Like Saints and Soldiers before it, Redemption is a gritty and realistic offering from Mormon Cinema that carries broad appeal; in both cases only audiences "in the know" would pick up on clues that some of the characters are Latter-Day Saints. A hit at the Heartland Film Festival and the LDS Film Festival, Redemption should appeal to anyone who believes in the principles of mercy and compassion. Set in the Utah Territory in the 1860's, the film (also known as For Robbing the Dead) is a compelling true story about an impoverished immigrant-turned grave-robber who's exiled and left for dead on a barren island in the Great Salt Lake as punishment for his crimes. The bitter sheriff who arrested him takes pity on him, bringing him food and water, to the disgust of the still-grieving community. Striking up a slow-building friendship, the two men help one another to take responsibility for their past mistakes and allow God into their hearts. As a nice bonus, there's a brief cameo by Porter Rockwell, doing what he did best.

Produced by Firstlight Independent and released through Covenant Communications, Redemption undoubtedly had a small budget, but one would never know it from the artistry on display. Derek Pueblo's cinematography is excellent: notice the gradual "warming" of the colors and tones as the characters approach redemption. Writer/director Thomas Russell has crafted a nicely understated work here; nothing is melodramatic or forced, and the realism pays off nicely. Never preachy or overbearing, some of Redemption's most poignant messages emerge only upon post-viewing reflection. The attention to period detail in wardrobe, set design, and dialogue is impressive, and the performances are superb all around, from relative unknowns John Freeman, David Stevens, and Robyn Adamson in the leads to the well-known faces in the supporting cast like Margot Kidder (Superman), John Gries (Napolean Dynamite), and Edward Herrmann (The Aviator, Richie Rich).


The only real flaw of the film is that some of the dialogue is difficult to hear or understand; I found myself rewinding and replaying a few moments to catch what I missed. No matter, this is a faith-promoting, virtuous film. It’s made all the more so, in my opinion, because it doesn't sugarcoat the imperfections of people or the harsh realities of life, which gives its morality greater weight. It’s worth noting that the deleted scenes are worth the watch; though they would have slowed the story down, they provide some nice insight into the Mormon-led history of Utah at the time.


CONTENT OVERVIEW: Redemption is rated PG. It has some non-bloody gun violence, some threatening scenes with implications of beatings, brandings, and cutting off part of a man's ears (the scenes end before the actual violence occurs, but the aftermath is shown). A man cauterizes his ear to prevent it from infecting. A woman talks about a man making "advances" to her, but the dialogue is handled tastefully and is relevant to the plot.


MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). The body and spirit separate at death, but are restored in the resurrection because of Christ (2 Nephi 9:10-12). Those who show mercy to others will receive mercy from God (Matthew 5:7 as well as this General Conference talk by Gordon B. Hinckley). "Who am I to judge another, when I walk imperfectly? In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can't see. I would be my brother's keeper, I would learn the healer's art. To the wounded and the weary, I would show a gentle heart. I would be my brother's keeper; Lord, I would follow thee" (Hymns #220).


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