NEW THIS WEEK:
-- STRICTLY FOR KATY PERRY FANS, A SEMI-REVEALING BACKSTAGE LOOK AT HER EVENTFUL 2011 WORLD TOUR:
"KATY PERRY: PART OF ME" PG -- Tween and teen girls are the most likely audience for this neon-colored, 3-D "documentary," part cinema verite, part (the largest part) sales pitch. The film includes apparently candid behind-the-scenes moments in the life of pop star singer/songwriter Katy Perry (multi-hit albums "One of the Boys," "Teenage Dream" and "Teenage Dream: The Complete Confection") during her 2011 world tour. The concert excerpts and adoring fans are the most interesting bits. Perry loves whimsy and humor rather than haute couture in her costumes. Her genius designers create clothes and sets that evoke comic books and carnivals, delightful to view in 3-D. She had invited the filmmakers along on the tour, but couldn't have known that her unlikely long-distance marriage to British comedian Russell Brand would disintegrate. We get brief glimpses of Brand, and see Perry weeping late in the film. She seems nice, meeting with young fans and staying close to her family. We see home movies of young Katy singing gospel and learn about her childhood with Pentecostal evangelist parents.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Perry and her entourage are never shown behaving badly or imbibing. There is brief toilet humor.
-- A DIFFERENT ORIGIN STORY FOR SPIDER-MAN DELVES EVEN DEEPER INTO CHARACTER AND DELIVERS THE ACTION, TOO:
"THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" PG-13 -- A beautifully acted and handsomely reimagined 3-D adventure, "The Amazing Spider-Man" will thrill most teens, though some middle-schoolers may find the mayhem a little daunting. The last quarter of the film overdoes the action and weighs itself down a bit, but not enough to spoil it. Andrew Garfield makes a fine new Spider-Man. An emotionally available, athletic actor, he makes Peter Parker an interesting guy, whether in Spider-Man Spandex or street clothes. Peter is a science-loving high-schooler who has lived with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) since his parents dropped him there and disappeared when he was a young boy. Peter is both sad and bitter about it. He discovers his dad's old briefcase and his notes about splicing human and animal genes for disease prevention. At a medical research company, where Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), the schoolmate he adores, works as an intern, Peter meets his father's old partner, Dr. Connors (Rhys Ifans). Missing an arm, Connors is trying to continue the research in hopes of regenerating limbs. Using his dad's old notes, Peter provides Connors with a formula he needs. At the lab, a genetically modified spider bites Peter and he gradually develops super-strength, and a web-spinning-and-hurling technology to go with it. When his beloved Uncle Ben is shot dead by a convenience store robber, Peter starts going after bad guys incognito and invents the Spider-Man persona. Gwen's dad (Denis Leary) is the cop looking to capture the vigilante. Meanwhile, Dr. Connors ingests his own formula and morphs into The Lizard, an evil monster who terrorizes the city. Family love, romance, idealism and guilt all fuel Peter's Spider-Man career.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The rubbery Lizard isn't particularly horrible, even in 3-D. The climactic high-flying battles between Spider-Man, The Lizard and the police are more harrowing, and Peter's high-school sees some of the action. Kids and other civilians seem endangered. The film includes head-banging fights, and early on Peter endures harsh bullying. Uncle Ben's death is not graphic, but is upsetting. The script features rare strong language and mild sexual innuendo. Adults drink wine. A few scenes with spiders and lizards will not thrill phobics.
-- AN EMOTIONALLY RICH FAIRY TALE ABOUT A POOR, WATERY ENCLAVE NEAR NEW ORLEANS:
"BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD" PG-13, Limited Release -- Almost a hallucinatory experience, this indie film spins a modern fairy tale, rudely interrupted now and then by the real world, and stunning in its emotional impact. Perhaps too upsetting a saga for middle-schoolers, it could transport high-school-age cinema buffs. A gifted cast of non-actors under filmmaker Benh Zeitlin's direction make "Beasts of the Southern Wild" a richer experience, too. Hushpuppy (amazing Quvenzhané Wallis) is a 6-year-old girl who lives in a remote (and fictional) part of the bayou known as the Bathtub, outside New Orleans. Her ailing, alcoholic father Wink (Dwight Henry) and she catch fish, cook in the open, argue, make peace, and live in a ramshackle mix of sheds and grounded fishing boats. She attends a one-room school run by a woman who's an herbalist and a shaman. Wink's Bathtub cohorts, both white and African-American, are all poor and scraggly like him, and refuse to evacuate when a storm (maybe Katrina?) threatens to flood them out and contaminate the waters that had fed them. Wink, Hushpuppy and the others ride out the storm, but the Bathtub is indeed ruined. They're all evacuated by force to a shelter where Wink learns his health is failing fast. They escape and go back home. Hushpuppy dreams of the mom who abandoned them and finds brief solace at a floating gentleman's club where the cook feeds and hugs her. As her father starts to pass, Hushpuppy envisions mythical beasts stampeding, but stands her ground.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Hushpuppy's dad and his friends drink like fish and live in squalor, but are independent. She and her dad argue and he screams at her and threatens her when he's drunk. The storm and the flooding are quite harrowing to watch, as are the imaginary buffalo-like beasts, all threatening and endangering Hushpuppy and her young friends.
(c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group.