Rating: ** [2 stars out of 4]
The track record for second-generation movie directors is checkered at best; for every Sofia Coppola, there's a Nick Cassavetes. Now here comes James Redford -- The Sundance Kid's kid -- turning to his dad's beloved American Southwest for his feature debut. Based on Donald Everett Axinn's novel, it's a coming-of-age tale about Eddie, an orphaned boy who grows up to be a rebellious teen (Ryan Merriman) in 1950s Tuscon. Stanley Tucci (as the flyboy uncle who becomes Eddie's guardian), Dana Delany (as his surrogate mother) and Ruben Blades (as Delany's husband) fill the recognizable supporting actor quota, giving the film a shot at least a little decent acting. But most of Spin proves either overwrought (a couple of worthy additions to the pantheon of "Truly Awful Scenes of Actors Playing Drunk") or hopelessly bland (a limp cross-cultural teen romance). Redford at least shows the smarts to hide some of the bad acting by shooting performers from behind, but eventually he's forced to focus on a story that goes nowhere even when it's making scenic aerial passes. His sense for the family business needs to include finding better scripts.
Rating: *** [3 stars out of 4]
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some violent images; 107 minutes; opening today at area theaters.
Screenwriter James Redford (Robert's son, and a chip off the block) makes an auspicious directing debut with this coming-of-age drama. In 1950s Tucson, orphaned Eddie (Ryan Merriman) is left by his absentee uncle (Stanley Tucci) in the care of the family ranch's caretakers (Ruben Blades and Dana Delany). Eddie tries to deal with his parents' death and with the casual racism aimed at his foster-parents and at the girl, Francesca (Paula Garces), who's sweet on him. Redford shows his love for the West and a talent for gently handling young actors. Some melodramatic flourishes aside, "Spin" is a small gem worth uncovering.
Rating: ** [2 stars out of 4]
"Spin" operates a lot like the vintage aircraft seen throughout the movie. The film roars to life and soars for a brief time, only to sputter out about halfway through its journey -- and then it begins an inevitable downward spiral.
That the movie manages to land safely without crashing and burning is an accomplishment. That's because the material -- an adaptation of Donald Everett Axinn's novel of the same name -- is basically unadaptable. Its themes can't really be expressed the same way on film as on the printed page.
Also, doing such a dicey period piece obviously taxes the skills of screenwriter James Redford (son of Robert Redford), who is making his directorial debut. But give him points for being so ambitious the first time out.
Most of the story is set in the 1950s and follows Eddie Haley (Ryan Merriman), an orphan who's been brought up by his Air Force pilot uncle (Stanley Tucci). Well, to be more correct, he's been raised by his uncle's ranch hands (Ruben Blades and Dana Delany).
Eddie has also been struggling with some issues involving his parents' deaths (they perished in a plane crash). So he's not sure how to feel when his uncle returns from one of his government-sponsored trips and suddenly encourages him to take up flying. Meanwhile, Eddie is taking tentative steps toward a relationship with Francesca Montoya (Paula Garces), a childhood friend with whom he's become reacquainted as classmates in school.
Much of the material here doesn't translate well from book to film, but at least Redford doesn't revert to a voice-over narration to "get inside" his character's heads.
To be fair, Redford's pacing is pretty good, and a lot of the shots are nicely set up. He also has a decent lead in Merriman, though the twentysomething actor really can't be onscreen with Blades, Delany or Tucci for long without being blown away.
Worse, Garces not only looks too old for her part (she's nearly 30), she's also unconvincing and stiff. In fact, one of her character's breakdown scenes is unintentionally funny -- even though the cause is not a laughing matter.
"Spin" is rated PG-13 for profanity, violence (a brief scuffle, a suicide and some sexual violence against women), and brief gore. Running time: 107 minutes.
Rating: *** [3 stars out of 4]
With "Spin," director James Redford, son of the screen icon, Robert, proves that more than one member of the family is skilled at spinning incisive family-themed drama.
Solidly acted and assuredly directed, "Spin" fights off corny tendencies well enough to urgently spelunk themes of abandonment and abuse. While it's doubtful the film will match the accolades of Robert Redford's directorial debut, 1980 best-picture Oscar winner "Ordinary People" - which, like "Spin," is a dark tale of a family torn apart - "Spin" is emotionally centered enough to hold its own.
Shot in Southern Arizona, "Spin," adapted from a Donald Everett Axinn novel, casts a penetrating look at idyllic, diner-dominated 1950s Tucson. The terse yarn tracks a 17-year-old orphan, Eddie (Ryan Merriman), through jarring growing pains, a spiritual awakening and an endearingly awkward search for love.
Eddie's father dies in the opening scene. While he bleeds to death on the ground after a plane crash, he scratches out an encouraging message to his young son on a piece of cloth. Eddie's unwilling guardian, Major Haley (Stanley Tucci), grimly explains the death to the boy, played at that point by Max Madore, in an awkward, maudlin sequence.
The Major jets away at the first opportunity, leaving Eddie to be raised by the Major's ranch hand, Ernesto (Ruben Blades), and Ernesto's wife, Margaret (Dana Delany). The problematic setup - no reason is given for why the Major entrusts the couple to raise the boy, why they're childless or exactly what happened to Eddie's mother - is just plowing the field for the real story.
A time leap finds Eddie as an on-edge adolescent. A student at the fictional Empire High School, Eddie, played as a teen by Merriman, befriends a cocky jock named Brad (Rich Montague), whom he follows onto the football team, and starts crushing on his long-lost childhood friend, Francesca (Paula Garces), a cheerleader and waitress who lives with a maniacally controlling father.
Working the land with Ernesto, Eddie soaks in his surrogate father's down-home knowledge, and bristles as Margaret nags him to get his grades up. Eddie occasionally drifts into tantrums of self-doubt and alienation, and wonders out loud how he can know if Ernesto and Margaret really love him, because they're paid by his uncle to care for him.
Merriman crafts a delicate portrait of inner conflict and tenderness, especially when he shyly flirts with Francesca and bungles the budding romance. Garces, who at 30 is baby-faced enough to pass for high-school age, matches Merriman with equal measures of heartaching confusion.
All of the "Spin" systems kick into high gear when the Major returns, wallows in regret about the choice that caused Eddie to drift away from him, and offers to give Eddie flying lessons, which could provide direction to his life. Ernesto adds to the parade of wounded feelings when the flight lessons make him feel displaced. A third-act tragedy pulls the characters together and reveals their growth and development, masterfully adding to the bubbling thematic static.
Redford drums up the sentiment without slathering it with sap, which makes it worth taking a spin on another Redford's directorial debut.
Family call: There's some disturbing inferred rape material, but "Spin" is otherwise a family film.
Rating: **** [4 stars out of 5]
"Spin" is an aeronautical term, describing the way a plane makes "a tightly banked down spiral, either in or out of control." It's also the title of a beautiful independent film adapted from the novel of the same title by Don Axinn.
Screenwriter Jamie Redford (son of Robert) makes his debut as a director, pulling off what few others in his line of work seem to capable of these days: making a heartfelt drama without a trace of the quirk, symbolism or irony that are so often found in the indie genre.
Harkening back to the films of the '30s and '40s like Great Illusion and golden-age directors like Elia Kazan, Redford presents the story of eight year-old Eddie (Max Madore) who loses his parents in a plane crash and gets sent to his stern uncle's Arizona ranch. His uncle, Major Healy (Stanley Tucci), immediately flies off in his own plane to Guam, leaving Eddie to be raised by kindly Mexican ranch hand Ernesto (Rueben Blades) and his American schoolteacher wife Margaret (Dana Delany). Without a sense of self or connection to anything or anyone familiar, Eddie makes friends at school with a Mexican girl, Francesca (Marissa Baca) -- a bright light who draws him out of his shell. Her charm masks a troubled family life and her widowed, overprotective father takes Francesca away.
Ten years pass, and although Ernesto and Margaret have provided a good life for Eddie (now played by Ryan Merriman), he has become restless and rebellious, with little direction. Racial tensions percolate from his classmates and the community, although it is a by-product of the times, not the central focus here. Francesca (now played by Paula Garces') returns, and the ensuing rivalry between Eddie and another classmate for her affections captures the innocence of that era. The casting is sheer perfection; the grown-up Eddie and Francesca are embodiments of their younger counterparts, and the chemistry between both sets of actors is obvious.
When Major Healy suddenly returns to fulfill his dead brother's wish to teach Eddie to fly, everything changes. Ernesto and Margaret are resentful and concerned about the boy they raised as their own. Eddie gains focus and has to learn to trust himself and the uncle who abandoned him. But it's a devastating tragedy in Francesca's life that ultimately forces Eddie to go beyond himself, become a man, and risk everything to save her.
The breathtaking Arizona landscape combined with such adept storytelling and adroit casting results in one of the most satisfying cinematic experiences in years. Stanley Tucci, always spot-on, delivers one of his best performances as the stoic uncle who gives Eddie the only thing he is able to give: his wings. All the supporting players are top notch, particularly Ruben Blades as Ernesto, and Paula Garces' as the feisty and beautiful Francesca. But it is breakout star Ryan Merriman who carries the film, with that rare natural blend of leading man appeal and vulnerability, reminiscent of a young Tom Cruise.
The biggest tip of the hat goes to multiple hat-wearer Redford for maintaining the earnestness of the period while exploring some hard-hitting themes that are timeless. Not bad for a first flight off the runway.
Paula Garces as "Francesca Montoya" and Ryan Merriman as "Eddie Haley" in James Redford's "Spin." The heartache and hope of adolescence has more than a ring of truth in "Spin," a surprisingly poignant picture from first-time writer-director James Redford. Yep, he is the 42-year-old son of Robert Redford.
It is the sensitivity of the performances that makes "Spin" special. That and knowing it was shot in and around Tucson. An opening scene includes a radio station ID that lets everyone know this story takes place in the Old Pueblo.
While the time period is the 1950s, when gas was 27 cents a gallon, there is nothing "Happy Days" hokie about it. No leather-jacketed Fonzie or Richie in a madras sport shirt. "Spin" is pretty much the exact opposite of the teen caricatures in "American Graffiti," too.
What makes "Spin" feel right is the realistic way Redford's script describes border life with its lessons of indirect (but no less painful) racism that teens were forced to learn from their Anglo and Hispanic parents in those times. The main character is Eddie (Ryan Merriman), a 17-year-old orphan raised by the biracial couple who managed the ranch owned by Eddie's family.
In the film's first few minutes, we learn Eddie's parents died in the crash of a private plane his father was piloting. Their Tucson ranch is run by Ernesto (Ruben Blades) and his American wife, Margaret (Dana Delany), who also teaches school. Eddie is just 9 at the time. Eddie's uncle, Maj. Frank Haley (Stanley Tucci), is also a pilot. He is supposed to become the boy's guardian.
But Maj. Frank isn't up to the task. He flies off to a new job in Guam, leaving Eddie in the care of Ernesto and Margaret.
That is the setup, with Tucson student Max Madore playing the sad 9-year-old Eddie who first loses his parents and then is rejected by his uncle. Madore does a fine job of portraying the rapid personality changes Eddie goes through in the film's first half-hour.
Another young Tucson actor, Marissa Baca, plays Francesca, who meets Eddie on the grade school playground one day. They hit it off right away, in their innocence not knowing that Anglo and Hispanic children aren't supposed to have much to do with each other. The plane crash interrupts their friendship before they have a chance to find out.
"Spin" jumps ahead eight years to 17-year-old Eddie (Merriman), now feeling like the son of Ernesto and Margaret just as they feel like his parents. But in high school Eddie hangs out with the Anglo kids, while trying not to act like a racist. This situation becomes more complicated when he meets Francesca again, now played by Paula Garces. She is so grown up, Eddie doesn't recognize her.
No problem. Francesca reminds Eddie who she is and the two immediately feel a more adult attraction to each other. Additional complications ensue. Eddie wins a starting spot on the football team, which inspires the second-stringer to start calling Eddie insulting Mexican names.
Maj. Frank also shows up all of a sudden. Eddie ignores him. But then Eddie learns the major has returned to teach his nephew how to fly the yellow Piper Cub that has been stored in a shed out behind the barn for years. Unfortunately, as Eddie's flying lessons begin, so do misunderstandings with Francesca.
In what feels completely natural for the time and place, Eddie finds himself in a series of dilemmas that demand some tough choices. It is a tribute to the filmmakers that "Spin" does not have a typical Hollywood ending. What we get is much more satisfying than that.
Rating: PG-13 (mild profanity, implied violence, no nudity).
Based on the novel by Donald Everett Axinn, Spin is the first film for director James Redford, son of Robert Redford. The movie won the Crystal Heart Award at Indianapolis' Heartland Film Festival in 2003, and only now is it finding its way to big screens in a limited release. Redford clearly shares his father's flair for making quiet, down-to-earth films, although Spin falls far short of the lyricism of A River Runs Through It. But let's not judge the younger Redford by the masterpieces of his father yet. It's his first film.
Spin tells the story of Eddie Haley, an orphan whose parents died in a plane crash. As he grows and tries to find direction for his life, Eddie learns to fly a plane like his father, rebels against the counsel of his uncle and the Mexican couple who raised him, and falls in love with a Mexican-American beauty named Francesca.
Spin is a bit workmanlike, and the story isn't much more complex or challenging than a Disney Sunday night movie. It scratches the surface of important themes like the dangers of prejudice and the ugliness of abuse, but it fails to engage these themes in any fresh or interesting ways. Lead actors Ryan Merriman and Paula Garces make an attractive couple, but they're too well-groomed to make the story stick; their clothes always look brand new, their hair is always perfectly styled, and they don't find enough subtlety or personality to make the characters distinct.
The film's supporting cast redeems the experience -- veterans Stanley Tucci and Ruben Blades turn in understated and winning performances as Uncle Frank and his ranch foreman Ernesto. The picturesque Arizona backdrop, and the storyteller's passion for celebrating the rewards of a close-knit family, sweeten the deal.
My full review is at Looking Closer.
Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) calls it "a small, intimate picture that, while it deals with mature themes and issues, keeps itself well within a PG-rated, family-friendly environment. What is particularly nice is that no one in the film is a villain. The pressures on Eddie come primarily from within himself as he searches for the clues to who he really is and what he really wants to do with his life."
"Spin endures some storytelling turbulence, making the ride a bit bumpy at times, but its moral horizon is steady," says Cliff Vaughn (Ethics Daily). "Merriman and Garces are evenly matched as actors, and they look good together on camera. Their relationship is believable. Less impressive, though, is the conveyance of motivation for some of the other characters. One can feel the translation from novel to script, as the impetus for some of the action seems missing."
Chris Monroe (Christian Spotlight) says, "Redford explained to me that he sees this movie as a 'celebration of family.' But while it is a film about family, it is not what he would term a 'family film.'" He concludes, "Some of the events are predictable and some moments a bit overly dramatized, but there is honest work being done here. If you're looking for decent entertainment, give Spin a whirl."
David Bruce (Hollywood Jesus) raves, "The bottom line in the film is: Do not allow the horrible events in life to 'stop you.' Life must keep moving forward. This powerful film celebrates the power of family and its ability to help us face life's difficulties. It is about how new life can arise from the ashes of devastation."
Due to the film's limited release, only a few mainstream critics have yet reviewed the film, but most responses have included measured praise.
Written for the screen and directed by James Redford, based on the novel by Donald Everett Axinn; produced by Elaine Rogers; cinematography by Paul Ryan; edited by Nicholas C. Smith; score by Todd Boekelheide.
106 minutes. Rated PG-13.
STARRING: Ryan Merriman - Eddie Haley; Stanley Tucci - Major Haley; Dana Delany - Margaret Swift-Bejarano; Paula Garces - Francesca Montoya; Ruben Blades - Ernesto Bejarano.
106 minutes. Rated PG-13.
STARRING: Ryan Merriman - Eddie Haley; Stanley Tucci - Major Haley; Dana Delany - Margaret Swift-Bejarano; Paula Garces - Francesca Montoya; Ruben Blades - Ernesto Bejarano.
Based on the novel by Donald Everett Axinn, Spin is the first film for director James Redford, son of Robert Redford. The movie won the Crystal Heart Award at Indianapolis' Heartland Film Festival in 2003, and only now is it finding its way to big screens in a limited release.
Redford clearly shares his father's flair for making quiet, down-to-earth films, although Spin falls far short of the lyricism of A River Runs Through It. But let's not judge the younger Redford by the masterpieces of his father yet. It's his first film.
Spin tells the story of Eddie Haley, an orphan whose parents died in a plane crash. As he grows and tries to find direction for his life, Eddie learns to fly a plane like his father, rebels against the counsel of his uncle and the Mexican ranchers who raised him, and falls in love with a Mexican-American beauty named Francesca.
Spin is a bit workmanlike, and the story isn't much more complex or challenging than a Disney Sunday night movie. It brushes up against important themes like the dangers of prejudice and the ugliness of abuse, but it fails to engage these themes in any fresh or interesting ways.
Lead actors Ryan Merriman and Paula Garces make an attractive couple, but they're too well-groomed to make the story stick; their clothes always look brand new, their hair is always perfectly styled, and they don't find enough subtlety or personality to make the characters distinct.
The film's supporting cast redeems the experience--veterans Stanley Tucci and Ruben Blades turn in understated and winning performances as Uncle Frank and his ranch foreman Ernesto. The picturesque Arizona backdrop, and the storyteller's passion for celebrating the rewards of a close-knit family, sweetens the rather bland proceedings.
Like the production, the story is a mixed blessing. On one hand, the film is unconventional in its avoidance of simplifying things into good-guy-versus-bad-guy rivalries. On the other hand, there's not much compelling about the plot. It ends up as a mellow character study in which the familiar formulas make us think that the story is leading us to explore certain themes--prejudice, rebellion, family values, following your dreams, etc. But the story never gets around to exploring anything. It only scratches the surface of these issues, following Eddie from one simple conflict to another.
Only at the very end does Eddie stumble onto the scene of a crisis that demands the audience's full attention. Even there, though, the last act tension seems almost an arbitrary development, as though the story has finally decided which of many roads its going to follow.
Once Eddie makes the inevitable turn toward being a smarter guy, the film devolves into a series of sentimental conclusions, reminding me of a very different sort of movie. Yes, this is the biggest pile-up of climactic goodbyes and benedictions since The Return of the King. But Peter Jackson's Oscar-winning movie earned all of those goodbyes over the course of three extra-long films. Spin is just one, small, 106-minute film.
Moreover, The Return of the King, a fantasy, was full of characters who got dirty and sweaty and dealt with the elements. They lived in a world that was rough and real. Thus, we were as bound up in the tension as they were. In Spin, characters tiptoe so as not to get their costumes dirty, their brows sweaty, or their viewers involved. They unfortunately succeed.
Again I'm tempted to compare Spin to the far more convincing and subtle A River Runs Through It, which progresses at a meandering pace, but never leaves the strong plot about brothers choosing different paths and reaping different rewards. B let's avoid Redford, Sr. as a comparison. Let's try another nostalgic, old-fashioned film about young people coming of age--October Sky. Spin lacks the humor and surprises that spiced up October Sky, and where Jake Gyllenhaal and his supporting cast was just a bit off-center, making things odd and interesting, Merriman seems more like a model than an actor. To make a rash generalization from one film ... he's like an after-school-special version of Edward Norton. He may have rougher, more complex characterizations in him, but he's got to lose the picture-perfect polish.
Spin is by no means a failure. It just falls short of the handsome piece of work it could have been. Redford gets a gold star for showing promise in his first outing, and for avoiding the indulgences of so many other coming-of-age films. Many directors set out to make a splash with their first release by being too daring. Redford errs on the side of restraint, which is a more admirable error by far.
THE REPORT CARD
Jeffrey's Rating: B-
Spin is a forgettable, mellow drama about a young man coming of age, coping with life as an orphan, wrestling with improper racial attitudes amongst his Arizona high school friends, and falling in love with a Mexican-American girl. The film flirts with exploring important themes, but ultimately only scratches the surface of a few of them. The film is too good-looking to be convincing, and the plot is rarely engaging.
PARENTAL NOTE: CAUTION. There is some harsh language and some implied sexual misbehavior.
LOOKING CLOSER'S SIX KEY QUESTIONS
Is the film honorable?
It honors honesty, loyalty, discernment, family bonds, and an appreciation of people from other races. It is a blameless moral tale.
What difference might the film make in our lives?
The film can't quite settle on a theme, and thus it scratches the surface of several. I suppose it could reinforce for viewers the importance of the resources that family can bring to a person, and the rewards that can come from investing in others.
Is the film artfully made?
Somewhat. The performances are hit-and-miss (with Tucci hitting hardest). The cinematography is attractive but not distinct. The storytelling is not quite bland, but certainly not compelling. The soundtrack is delicate, but also redundant.
How effective is the film at what it sets out to do?
It is mildly entertaining, but it doesn't provoke much thinking.
Is the film worth our time, money, and effort to see it?
It may be worth a rental for a family movie night. But I wouldn't spend full price for it.
Did I enjoy it?
Moral Rating: Average
Moviemaking Quality: ***1/2 [3.5 stars out of 5]
Primary Audience: Adults
Genre: Drama, Family
Length: 1 hr. 47 min.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Sometimes our lives aren't defined by the events that have happened to us, but by the choices we have made -- despite them. In James Redford's directorial debut "Spin", a twist and a turn in a young boy's life determine which way he will go until he is forced to grow up and make decisions of his own. The difficulties he faces give him reason to recoil from the world, but eventually he is rewarded, as he resolves to be responsible and fly.
At eight years old Eddie Haley (Max Madore) learns from his Uncle Frank (Stanley Tucci) the devastating news that his parents have died in a plane crash. Although he is family, business calls Uncle Frank away making the ranch manager, Ernesto (Ruben Blades) and his wife Margaret (Dana Delany), the best choice to raise the boy. When Uncle Frank returns after ten years, Eddie (Ryan Merriman) wrestles to reconcile his upbringing of working on the ranch with his family's calling to be a pilot. And his fondness for the fair Francesca (Paula Garces) provokes him to finally forsake his selfishness and forges him with his mission in the skies.
Director James Redford explained to me that he sees this movie as a "celebration of family." But while it is a film about family, it is not what he would term a "family film." Although the character of the story is an eighteen-year-old young man, Redford explains that he did not know exactly who the audience would be for this film while he was making it. Now, he says, he sees it as one geared more for adults. To him, this film looks at the powerful, positive force family can be, but also looks at how it can be destructive as well.
Some of the stories issues are upsetting, but they aren't exorbitant, and have managed to be presented either briefly or fairly subtly. The opening scene briefly shows Eddie's dad at the site of the plane crash before he dies, with the attention being on a note he is writing. In another scene, Francesca's father makes advances toward her before the scene cuts away to a static shot of the outside of the house. The implication is of sexual abuse, but is presented subtly. Later, Eddie finds the body of someone who has committed suicide (some blood is seen). Eddie and Francesca are also alone in a hotel room at one point, and while she shows eagerness to be intimate with him, Eddie resists the temptation.
There are a few expletives throughout, too, including using God's name in vain. However, one scene shows Eddie being corrected by Margaret when he says a foul word. When I asked Redford about how little foul language was used, he explained that it was the way that he wrote it. He said, "Maybe it was my own fantasy about the 1950's, but I feel people were more restrained in that time period." He states that he was trying to stay true to the characters and wasn't doing it to get any particular rating.
One issue Redford was interested in exploring in this story is interracial relationships, such as the marriage between Ernesto and Margaret and the romance between Eddie and Francesca. While he was not out to make any strong statements, he wanted to explore these issues in a period setting, in light of how they also resonate with us today. Redford did research talking to couples in that era as well because he wanted to present a more realistic view of it rather than the typical mythical one.
But the notion of a "spin" also relates to the idea of repentance, or turning around and changing. Eddie is consumed with his own problems and trials of life, but once he gets his focus off of himself and reaches out to help Francesca, he discovers his greatest blessing. Redford thinks that Eddie's life finally begins once he is able to forget his own problems, and that Francesca's need of him is really a gift for Eddie. Moreover, Jesus gave us an example to follow, saying that even He did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28).
Considering that this film is an independent project, it has surprisingly high production values. The cast works well -- individually and as an ensemble -- with superb performances by Paula Garces and Dana Delany. The music is also quite effective, and the wonderful cinematography by Paul Ryan evokes atmosphere and a strong mood. Some of the events are predictable and some moments a bit overly dramatized, but there is honest work being done here. If you're looking for decent entertainment, give "Spin" a whirl.
Violence: Minor / Profanity: Mild / Sex/Nudity: None
"Spin," a 1991 novel by Donald Everett Axinn, is now a film from James Redford, who adapted and directed the project.
Set in the 1950s, it deals with a boy's search for purpose after the death of his parents--as well as the feelings he develops for a Mexican-American girl in his town.
"Spin" will have a limited release Oct. 15, though it has been around for a year. It won the Crystal Heart Award at Indianapolis' Heartland Film Festival in 2003.
Ryan Merriman plays Eddie Haley, a young boy orphaned when his parents die in plane crash. Eddie is left to his Uncle Frank (omnipresent actor Stanley Tucci), but Frank has other plans. When Frank moves overseas, he doesn't take Eddie. He instead leaves him on the ranch under the care of foreman Ernesto (Ruben Blades) and his schoolteacher wife, Margaret (Dana Delany).
Eddie grows up under their care--and falls for a girl named Francesca Montoya, played gracefully by Paula Garces. Their relationship develops, even as it is stressed by the prejudice others direct toward Francesca and her father, who doesn't exactly provide a healthy home environment for his daughter.
Running through this coming-of-age drama is an aviation storyline. Eddies' father and Uncle Frank were pilots, and they kept several small planes on the ranch. Frank had promised Eddie's father he would teach Eddie to fly--but will the boy be interested?
Unless you're familiar with Axinn's book, you won't really know where the film is headed, and that's a good thing. It's nice to sail through a film unsure of the destination.
Merriman and Garces are evenly matched as actors, and they look good together on camera. Their relationship is believable. Less impressive, though, is the conveyance of motivation for some of the other characters.
One can feel the translation from novel to script, as the impetus for some of the action seems missing. For example, Ruben Blades is a terrific actor, but his reasons for behaving the way he does toward Margaret and Eddie are unexplained and unexplored.
The adaptation also rears its head through a choppy first act. We move a bit too quickly from one scene to another. But all is not lost.
At one point, Eddie gives a toast to those close to him, saying, "Here's to family--or whatever we are." That remark touches on the film's real contribution: its portrayal of what constitutes a family. With Eddie's parents deceased, his conception of family and home is altered. The ways that conception is constructed and reconstructed--especially in a 1950s setting amid Hispanic prejudices--is useful.
"Spin" endures some storytelling turbulence, making the ride a bit bumpy at times, but its moral horizon is steady.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and some violent images. Reviewer's Note: Francesca suffers physical abuse, and Eddie smokes like a chimney (though others chide him repeatedly for it).
8-year old Eddie's parents are killed when the plane his father is piloting crashes into the highest peak in the Huachuca Mountains near their home. Eddie's uncle Frank, who is also a pilot, is left to care for the boy. Shortly thereafter, Frank takes a long-term job abroad and Eddie is left to be raised by ranch manager Ernesto and his school-teacher wife Margaret. When Frank returns ten years later and fulfills his brother's wish that Eddie be taught to fly, Eddie struggles to find his bearings as a young man with mixed emotions toward his uncle, his love for the couple who raised him, the loss of his birth parents, and his blossoming first-love with Francesca. As children, Francesca and Eddie are school-mates, but separate when her family moves away. She and her father return to the town when she is in high-school. Now teenagers, Francesca and Eddie are on the verge of becoming more than friends until Francesca flees to Mexico after she experiences a life-altering incident.
This is a film about the meaning of family.
I spoke with James Redford, who makes his directorial debut with Spin, about his motivation for the film. His response: "I wanted to make a film about the meaning of family." And, it was the 1991 novel of the same title by Donald Everett Axinn that gave him the story to do it. (photo: James Redford with Ryan Merriman, who plays Eddie)
Redford has come through so much in his life, including a life-threatening liver disease. His life was saved through a transplant. The friends and family that helped him through the ordeal left a deep impression on him. Spin is a movie that explores such relationships.
Spin is a 1950s period piece that follows the rocky life of an orphaned boy. After the tragic death of his parents, the youngster is raised by a kindly Hispanic ranch manager. Redford said, "I wanted to explore racism within the context of family relationships." (Photos: Right, Max Madore as Young Eddie. Left, Ryan Merriman as Eddie Haley and Ruben Blades as Ernesto Bejarano)
The bottom line in the film is: Do not allow the horrible events in life to "stop you." Life must keep moving forward. This powerful film celebrates the power of family and its ability to help us face life's difficulties. It is about how new life can arise from the ashes of devastation.
"Spin" Spiritual Connections
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
--Leo Tolstoy (1828 - 1910), Anna Karenina, Chapter 1, first line
Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.
--George Burns (1896 - 1996)
A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold.
--Ogden Nash (1902 - 1971)
There is no such thing as "fun for the whole family."
If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.
--George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)
A fox should not be on the jury at a goose's trial.
--SIR THOMAS FULLER (1608--1661)
Bigotry has no head and cannot think; no heart and cannot feel.
--DANIEL O'CONNELL (1775--1847)
He flattered himself on being a man without any prejudices, and this pretension itself is a very great prejudice.
--ANATOLE FRANCE (1844--1924)
Prejudice is being down on something you're not up on.
Prejudice is the child of ignorance.
--WILLIAM HAZLITT (1778--1830)
The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water and breeds reptiles of the mind.
--WILLIAM BLAKE (1757--1827)
The people who are the most bigoted are the people who have no convictions at all.
--G. K. CHESTERTON (1874--1936)
God spoke: "Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature."
To fully understand this verse is to change how we look at other people. If everyone is made in the image of God... Think about it. To do anything against another is like doing it to God!
To view everyone as a reflection of God is a transforming view.
Rating: ** 1/2 [2.5 stars out of 4]
EXCERPT: "a small, intimate picture that, while it deals with mature themes and issues, keeps itself well within a PG-rated, family-friendly environment. What is particularly nice is that no one in the film is a villain. The pressures on Eddie come primarily from within himself as he searches for the clues to who he really is and what he really wants to do with his life."
James Redford, the son of actor and filmmaker Robert Redford, made his directorial debut with this independent coming-of-age drama set in the 1950s. After his parents are killed in the wreck of a light plane, young Eddie Haley (Max Madore) is left in the care of his uncle Frank (Stanley Tucci), an emotionally removed man who was once a major in the air force. When Frank decides to take an extended leave of his ranch in Arizona, Eddie is left behind with caretaker Ernesto (Ruben Blades) and his wife, Margaret (Dana Delany), a schoolteacher. Ernesto and Margaret are caring and capable surrogate parents to Eddie, but the boy has grown into a troubled and hot-headed teenager (now played by Ryan Merriman) by the time Frank comes back. As both Ernesto and Frank try to put Eddie back on the right track, the young man struggles with his decisions about his future, his love for his classmate Francesca (Paula Garces), and some unanswered questions about the death of his parents. Spin was adapted from a novel by Donald Everett Axinn.