Saturday, August 14, 2004

Spider-Man Swings into Superficiality

Spider-Man 2. 2004. Dir. Sam Raimi. Perf. Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris, J. K. Simmons, Donna Murphy, Danilel Gillies.

Although one never truly expects sequels to live up to their precursors, Spider-Man 2 was perhaps a bigger disappointment than most, helping continue the pitiful tradition of Matrix: Reloaded and Star Wars: Attack of the Clones by sloughing character development and plot depth off to the side in an effort to show fancy special effects and great film editing. Despite my fondness for brilliant and seamless CGI and other effects, I was sadly disapponted by the emphasis laid upon digital graphics in this film. The plot was predictable and flimsy, and the human side of the film was sadly lacking.

As Peter Parker (Maguire) juggles school, work, friends, money troubles, his dreams of a pretty girl (Dunst), and the immense responsibility laid upon him due to his superhero powers, he tries hard to find a balance between what he wants and what he should do. In the meantime, he meets Doctor Otto Octavius (Molina), a brilliant and amiable scientist experimenting with the properties of fusion. Molina carries out the responsibilities of his role with more fervor and depth than any other character in the film, and presents a far more sympathetic villain than I ever hoped to meet, breaking down slowly under the pressure of literal voices inside his head. As the film progresses, Parker is pitted against his former friend and idol with interesting results.

The crux of this film is supposed to be Parker's choice between life as the hero everyone badly needs and life as a real person, winning the girl he's always loved, accomplishing great things at school and work, and generally proving himself worthy of respect even when he's not wearing tights. However, Maguire's stilted performance is facilitated by a poor script, as Parker spends most of his ponderings feeling sorry for himself rather than debating or fighting his emotions. The pure idiocy of his attempts to court Mary Jane do little to improve his struggle, as any idiot should be able to read between the lines, though this film couple seems grossly incompetent in this regard.

Frankly, the only story worth watching is that of Doctor Octavius, and had it more than a few minutes of screen time, it would have made the film. Molina is a brilliant actor, well capable of handling the nuances of his role, and his performance alone gives the film its modicum of meaning and quality.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

"Growing Up" Features Blossoming Platitudes

Callaway, Phil. Growing Up on the Edge of the World. Harvest House, 2004.

In a lot of ways, Terry Anderson is just your typical twelve-year-old Christian boy. He's seeking answers, love, and money, generally found, respectively, in Sunday school, his best friend's older sister, and stray nickels he finds on the sidewalk. However, when Terry suddenly finds thousands of dollars of money hidden away, almost literally, just under his nose, he weighs the Christian response against the knowledge that his mother is very ill and his family could use the money. Soon Terry is busy keeping his family well fed, buying small gifts for himself and those he loves, and supplying his schoolmates with bubble gum.

Unfortunately, the rich setting and warm style of the story and characters do little to compensate for the shallow characters and platitudinous ending. As Terry proceeds through the story, battling guilt and pride, somehow everything miraculously comes together, leaving the book glowing with idealism and surreality as the story closes. Callaway's insistence on overwhelming grace and forgiveness overlooks the facts that actions have consequences and that we humans live in a sadly imperfect world. While Callaway's singlemindedness in these respects is admirable, it nonetheless detracts from the story as a whole.

Overall, fortunately, the book is an amusing and lighthearted read, filled with tender moments and humorous glimpses into life in a small town, where, as Terry complains, everyone on the street not only knows him, but asks about his mother. Perhaps the most vivid characters are Terry's two older brothers, striving, like Terry, to do what is right in the face of surprising adversity. Similarly, Terry's mother, gentle but rock solid in her convictions, proves a foundational element of the book when all is said and done.

As far as today's Christian fiction goes, this book is not bad, but this should not be a standard. Held up against the ranks of great fiction, this book is disappointing mediocre.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Don't Date with "50 First Dates"

50 First Dates. (2004). Dir. Peter Segal. Perf. Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Rob Schneider, Sean Astin.

Rarely has a film with so much potential proven to be quite so appalling. 50 First Dates tells the story of Henry Roth (Sandler),a promiscuous Hawaiian vet with a fear of commitment whose boat dies one morning, leaving him subject to the whims and beautiful Hawaiian eyes of a young lady named Lucy (Barrymore) whom he meets in a diner. Shortly thereafter he learns that looks aren't everything: the object of his adoration won't remember him from one day to the next, leaving Roth struggling for ways to win her affections afresh each morning. Add to this Lucy's narcissistic and addicted younger brother and Roth's perverse bisexual coworker, and the resulting blend of tasteless humor weeds out many of the subtler moments of the story.

Fans of Sandler's crude taste will appreciate this film, but otherwise the plot contains an abundance of holes, worthless moments, and excessive lack of taste. The ending is perhaps the only redeeming part of the story, fortunately enough, but doesn't quite balance out the preceding ninety minutes of crass humor and idiocy. Blake Clark also puts in an excellent performance as Lucy's father, and while he may be in some ways the stereotypical father, he's also a very genuine and loving one, played with grace and softness in a film that seems to thrive on stilted and cheesy moments.