I've got a trio of new reviews for you, from the true-story of Mormon pioneer heroism Ephraim's Rescue (from 17 Miracles director T.C. Christensen) to the sixth entry in the still-accelerating Fast and the Furious franchise, as well as the newest animated feature from the makers of Rio and Ice Age. Read on for reviews of entertainment value, content overviews, and Gospel parallels to discuss for each film!
EPHRAIM'S RESCUE REVIEW (GRADE: A)
In my review of 17 Miracles, I called it “arguably the best film yet from Mormon Cinema.” As terrific as that film is, T.C. Christensen's follow-up, Ephraim's Rescue, is even better. As finely-crafted, gorgeously-shot, well-acted, heartbreaking, and spiritually-uplifting as Miracles, this new film avoids the other's at-times episodic nature by focusing on a smaller number of characters, thereby delivering a more focused story and more fully-formed character arcs.
Ephraim's Rescue tells the powerful true story of Ephraim Hanks, a pioneer hero who was known both for his willingness to drop everything to obey the prophet of the Lord and for his uncommonly developed gift of healing. The screenplay wisely chooses to start earlier in his life, when he was a trouble-seeking youth, allowing us to witness and appreciate his transformation into an imperfect, but humble and malleable, instrument in the hands of God. Darin Southam (The Last Mans on Earth) is riveting as Hanks; some slightly overplayed scenes early on soon give way to a performance of great subtlety, humor, and deep emotion.
The other performances are likewise excellent. Katherine Nelson (Emma Smith: My Story) and James Gaisford shine as a widowed mother and her son whose harrowing story forms the backbone of the film. Mia Ramsey steals scene after scene as a love-struck pioneer girl, while Christina Torriente exudes tenderness and faith as real-life hero Elizabeth Bradshaw. Travis Eberhard reprises his 17 Miracles role as Albert, small in stature but large in faith and charity.
True to form for T.C, the film is gorgeous to look at and demands to be seen on a big screen if at all possible. Paul Cardall's musical score is absolutely lovely, and the efforts of wardrobe and makeup artists are first-rate, delivering a realism that allows audiences to enter this time and place without distraction. Naturally the film's not perfect; the humor and drama feel a bit forced during the first 20 or so minutes, but once the movie finds its groove it stays there, delivering powerful emotional wallops accompanied by welcome reprieves of humor. As a testament to real men and women who risked their lives for faith, charity, and freedom, and as an expression of belief in Jesus Christ, Ephraim's Rescue is a powerful work that is to be shared and experienced over and over again.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: Ephraim's Rescue is rated PG. It has no language, violence, or sexuality. There are disturbing images of corpses and frost-bitten bodies, as well as dialogue referring to amputated limbs and a man killed by wolves (neither of which is shown).
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: If we are willing and obedient, the Lord will work miracles through us (1 Nephi 3:7). Charity is the greatest virtue we can aspire to and practice (1 Corinthians 13:1-8). We are all weak, sinful, and imperfect, but with the Lord's help and our continued efforts, we can do great things (Ether 12:27). We are all given different spiritual gifts and talents, meant to be used in the service of others (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Always do good works; the Lord only requires the heart and a willing mind (Doctrine and Covenants 64:33-34).
FAST AND FURIOUS 6 REVIEW (GRADE: B)
Against all odds, this franchise of muscle-bound street racers and heist-pullers is getting better with age. 2011’s Fast Five finally locked the series into high gear, and Fast and Furious 6 solidifies the franchise’s status as king of unpretentious junk-food entertainment. FBI agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, G.I. Joe- Retaliation; Snitch) recruits Dominic Torretto (Vin Deisel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), and their crew to help stop a brutal team of vehicular warriors in exchange for full pardons and the chance to redeem Toretto’s presumed-dead girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, Avatar). It’s tempting to slam these films as idiotic, meat-headed, macho fantasies, but the actors and filmmakers seem in on the joke, and there’s so much unabashed fun to be had that action fans can’t help but be won over.
Like the characters, the films play by their own rules. Cars defy the laws of physics, people walk away from unsurvivable wrecks, characters make choices based on plot convenience, and every dilemma can be resolved by punching the gas, delivering a punch-line, or punching someone in the face. The cars are fast, the stunts are insane, the characters are broadly-drawn but funny, the fight scenes pack a real wallop, and there’s just enough plot and character development to keep things interesting between the action. A stinger during the credits promises a Part 7 with the potential to be the best one yet.
CONTENT OVERVIEW:Fast and Furious 6 is rated PG-13. It has moderate profanity throughout, one f-word, a few gratuitous shots of scantily clad women (including a nude woman under a sheet, but the side of her breast is visible), a handful of crude jokes and innuendos, and nonstop vehicular carnage, shootouts, and fights.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: Don’t turn your back on family, even when they turn their back on you (Mosiah 27:14). Receive food with prayer and gratitude (1 Timothy 4:4-5; Matthew 15:35-36). One of the greatest blessings we can have is a place to call home and people to share it with (Deuteronomy 6:10).
EPIC REVIEW (GRADE: B)
Blue Sky Studios, who gave us Rio and the Ice Age films, presents Epic, a story of a teenage girl (Amanda Seyfried) who doubts her eccentric-scientist father’s stories of miniature forces of good and evil battling for the forest until she’s shrunk down to join the fight. Though the story plays like a hybrid of Ferngully and Honey I Shrunk the Kids, the characters are fun, the animation is impressive, and there’s laughs to be had. It’s not amazing, but kids will love it and adults won’t regret joining their little ones at the theater.
CONTENT OVERVIEW:Epic is rated PG for some mildly creepy moments (think the Bogeyman inRise of theGuardians– that level of creepy) and bloodless battles with bows and arrows where a few critters do indeed get shot. There is no language or innuendo.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t real (Hebrews 11:1; Ether 12:6). Believe in your family members and support their dreams. Heroism and happiness come from putting others before ourselves and working as a team (1 Corinthians 1:10).
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Licensed marriage and family therapist. Husband. Father. Film critic.