Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

Rated: PG-13
Grade: BC-CB=B-
Budget: $300 million
Box Office: $309 million US, $651million int’l, $145 million DVD

Directed by: Gore Verbinski, whose primary success in movies has been the Pirates franchise, since otherwise is legacy would have been The Weather Man, The Ring, The Mexican, and Mousehunt.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Johnny Depp, Johnny Depp (You’ll understand if you’ve seen it), Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Bill Nighy, Jonathan Pryce, Chow Yun Fat, Mackenzie Crook, Lee Arenberg, Naomi Harris, Tom Hollander, Stellan Skarsgaard, and a cameo by, wait for it, Keith Richards.

Will Turner wants to rescue his dad from Davey Jones. Davey Jones can’t be killed unless you pierce his heart, which is buried in a treasure chest. The evil trading company wants to eliminate the pirates and control the seas for their evil corporate corpratenesses. Keira Knightly doesn’t know what she wants. And Jack Sparrow wants to live again and captain a ship. It’s a lot easier to tell you what everyone wants rather than to try to describe the convoluted plot. There’s lots of pirates and lots of complexity.

Entertainment Value: B
Um. Well. You know how they say that in order to get dressed in the morning, you should put all your accessories on and then take off one or two? Yeah, that’s not the guiding principle in this film. The principle here is, put in everything you can think of and then double that plus two or three. Despite the plot making even less sense than in the previous movies and despite the metaphysics of whatever we’ve just watched making no sense, it’s still fun to watch. I mean, come on. Who doesn’t love pirate movies? Especially when they feature the never-disappointing Jack Sparrow?

Superficial Content: C-
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sexuality B, Violence D, Language B+, Illegality B
Kissing and pirate wench cleavage. That’s all the sex. There’s plenty of alcohol. The language is quite clean. But of course the real issue here is going to be the violence, with eyes popping out, people being killed with swords and cannons, and the same sort of creepy imagery of the undead as we’ve seen in the previous two movies. One other note, the movie opens with a gallows scene where people are not quite shown being hanged several at a time, including one young boy.

Significant Content: C
Love and loyalty are the big themes, but they honestly get buried deeper than pirate treasure (I couldn’t help myself, love). The other theme is the evil of corporations (yawn) and the importance of knowing yourself. Truth is pretty much optional, and the world is full of witchcraft and supernatural phenomenon.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
It’s downright lavish. I can’t say much for the thought value because, sadly, most of the really interesting themes aren’t explored, such as the love affair involving Davey Jones. I did feel like I was watching Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome for the first few minutes, but then Tina Turner turned out (get it) to be Chow Yun Fat and all was well again.

Discussion Questions:
~Does it make any sense that the pirates would have a law code book?
~What do you think of Jack’s final choice?
~In what ways are various characters here honorable or dishonorable?
~How does this movie change your opinion of Davey Jones?
~Why are pirates so fascinating? Are real-life pirates so entertaining? What is it about being a pirate that seems so exotic?
~What do you think of Jack's brother's advice to him that the hardest thing to live with is yourself?
Overall Grade: B- If a movie could simulate a twenty-years-later version of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World on a 300 million dollar budget, this is it. That was chaotic and unpredictable when I was a kid, and likewise this movie is now.

Bourne Ultimatum, The (2007)

Rated: PG-13
Grade: ACBB=A-
Budget: $110 million
Box Office: $227 million US, $214 million int’l, $16 million DVD

Directed by: Paul Greengrass, who previously made Bourne Supremacy (though not Identity) and United 93.
Starring: Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Straithairn, Scott Glenn, Paddy Considine, Edgar Ramirez, Albert Finney, and Joan Allen.
In this third of the trilogy (so far), Jason Bourne finally comes after the very people who turned him into a super-spy-killing-machine.

Entertainment Value: A
One of the best action movies of the year so far. It’s that simple. Yes, it’s a bit on the frantic side at times, especially with the jumpy camera effect of which I’m not a fan. But if action movie you desire, action movie Bourne delivers.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality A, Violence D, Language C, Illegality C
One thing I find well worthy of praise here is that there’s not even a hint of sex. It’s rightly a PG-13 for all the action violence and killing, however, which includes some remembered scenes of neo-torture in water. The language is well within the normal PG-13 boundaries and is certainly not gratuitous. One word of caution, although the movie itself is clean but for language and violence, the very first ad on the DVD is for American Pie: Beta House, which has more than enough smutty content in it to make offset the lack in the main feature. Why they promoted that movie on this DVD I do not know.

Significant Content: B
Truth will overcome deception. Decency and honor mean standing for principles even when they are inconvenient. And super-secret government conspiracies to turn humans into killing machines never prosper. Bad guys should be killed when necessary, spared when possible, but in any case prosecuted vigorously.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
As I said, I’m not a fan of the frantic camera-jumping style of action film-making. Otherwise, the plot is excellent, complicated, and relatively thought-provoking, which is a luxury in such a movie. There is one part of the movie that stands out as implausible (aside from Super-Damon recovering instantly from a myriad of crazy physical events). It’s the part where he tells the bad guys about being in the office. Tactically that made no sense at all, even if keeping the plot tense depended on it.

Discussion Questions:
~Do the ends justify the means? In what sense is our identity as Americans tied to our absolute commitment to opposing certain methods of winning? What do you think of Bourne using very similar methods to undermine the project of those who are using them illegally on behalf of the United States? Isn’t he doing exactly what they are doing: whatever is necessary to defeat an enemy who refuses to follow such rules at all?
~What distinguishes Jason Bourne from the people he is attacking? How about the other “assets” used to try to kill him? Why do you think Bourne extends mercy to them?
~To what degree are we responsible for the choices we make? If you make a choice which you later really regret, are you still bound by it? Are you still responsible for it? Why or why not?
~In what sense would you say that this movie is about repentance and restitution? Is Bourne a Christian archetype?
~Given that Matt Damon is the star and many of the other actors are notable liberals, do you think this movie is meant to be a criticism of the military operations in Iraq? To what degree are the “assets” intended as symbolic representatives of our entire military? Consider, especially, the conversation on the rooftop. Would your answer be different if the movie had come out a few years ago or a few years from now? How do you tell a movie which was intended as political commentary from one which can simply be taken that way if you’re hypersensitive to the issues?
~Do you believe the United States government has a secret assassin program? If it did, would that be acceptable to you?
~What’s the difference between revenge and justice? What techniques does this movie use to make you feel more comfortable about the sort of actions that Bourne does and even enjoy them as being righteous?
Overall Grade: A-
I like to judge movies on what they are trying to be, hence, what I expect from them. This movie was exactly what I expected, and good at it.

Home of the Brave (2006)

Rated: R
Grade: DNF
Budget: $12 million
Box Office: $34 thousand US, $0 million int’l, $3 million DVD

Directed by: Irwin Winkler, who’s made “The Net,” tragically, At First Sight, and Life as a House.
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel, Brian Presley, Christina Ricci, 50 Cent, Chad Michael Murray, Joyce Cameron, and Victoria Rowell.

A group of Iraq veterans struggle with the psychological and social ramifications of having served in combat and survived a violent attack.

This is not a war/action movie. This is a drama intended to question and criticize the military and, more importantly, those of us who do not fight. If that had been the only problem, I would have kept watching it because I’m interested in anything that’s good art. This isn’t. The acting is awful, but that’s probably because the writing and directing are so bad. Everything about this movie felt manufactured, sort of like a Michael Moore film, but with better actors. If good acting and writing are unnoticeably seamless, this is a good example of not that. I made it to about the 55 minute mark before I realized that it wasn’t getting better and I have better movies to watch with my time. It’s like all the words were right (or at least interesting), but the music was all wrong. And, by the way, in case you missed it, those numbers aren’t wrong. I checked three different sources. $43,000 was the total box office gross in the U.S. Apparently I’m not the only one who found this without merit. Nonetheless, if you suffer through the whole thing, here are some questions to consider.

Discussion Questions:
~Why might serving in the military make it easy to resent those who do not serve? How does military service tend to bond people together? Do the things that bond people together this way also isolate them from others who didn’t serve?
~Is it true that no one really wants to know about the war and also doesn’t care what soldiers suffer?
~Do you think these actors have any credibility to make this film since they have also been highly successful making other war/action films? Why do you think they wanted to make this? Do you think they view it as a form of penance? What do you think military personnel will think of this film? ~If you had to guess, would you say that the makers did or did not consult a wide variety of military personnel in the making of this film?

Mr. Brooks (2006)

Rated: R
Grade: AFBA=B+
Budget: $20 million
Box Office: $28 million US, $15 million int’l, $11 million DVD

Directed by: Bruce A. Evans, whose only previous directing was for the 1992 Christian Slater film, Kuffs, although he has worked on Jungle 2 Jungle, Stand by Me, Assassins, and Starman. None of this tells you anything you want to know about this movie, unfortunately.
Starring: Kevin Costner, Demi Moore, William Hurt, Dane Cook, Marg Helgenberger, and Danielle Panabaker.

A serial killer, who struggles against his own desire to kill and has vowed to give it up, gets caught in his last one by another citizen who wants to be his apprentice. Pressured into taking him on a future hunt, Mr. Brooks must also deal with the growing realization that his own daughter may have his disease and a police detective hot on his trail.

Entertainment Value: A
I found the plot to be particularly fascinating, the characters are well designed, and the movie has a hundred interesting elements for thought and discussion. I wanted to quit in the first 10 minutes or so, and you will also, but it’s worth watching if you can get past the beginning.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sexuality D, Violence D, Language D, Illegality F
There are several scenes of nudity, male and female, including one brief scene of sex. There are several killings, and many pictures of dead, naked victims as well as a shootout with police. Obviously the whole plot of the movie revolves around particularly evil murders. Language is in line with everything else here: bad but, if it’s possible to say so, tastefully done. This is clearly a movie for adults only.

Significant Content: B
The theological, moral, and psychological issues here are ripe. We have a serial killer of strangers who struggles against it and is pro-life when it comes to his own daughter’s pregnancy. The reason I give it a B is because the movie is so clearly against what it is showing. Mr. Brooks is appealing not, like Hannibal Lecter, because he is a sophisticated and ruthless killer but because he so clearly struggles to not be what he is. There are two kinds of main characters in this movie, the evil who embrace it and the evil who resist it. It’s no Christian treatise, but that’s a pretty sound premise.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
If ever there was a movie worth discussing, this is it. The cinematography is excellent. The acting is excellent. But the real merit here is that this is exactly what art is supposed to be: interesting and confrontational. And the use of William Hurt as Costner’s evil corrupt alter-ego is brilliantly done.

Discussion Questions:
~What sort of rationalizations does Mr. Brooks use to deceive himself about himself and his behavior?
~Is it possible to make up for evil deeds by doing good deeds?
~How did the ending elements make you feel? Are those feelings Christian?
~The serenity prayer has a prominent presence in this movie. Does that bother you or seem to make sense? Is this movie endorsing religion and AA or criticizing them?
~What’s the relationship between alcoholism and murderism in this movie? Is murderism a disease? What’s the difference between Mr. Brooks and an alcoholic? Does Mr. Brooks murder from hate? Is hate a disease? What would you think of an organization called Murderer’s Anonymous?
~What is this movie trying to say by making Mr. Brooks man of the year in his city? What traits that make for a successful businessman would also make for a “successful” murderer?
~What’s the connection between the thrill of sexual voyeurism and that of watching violence? What does your answer tell you about the United States? Do you find yourself more revolted at the sex/nudity or at the violence? Why? Why is pornographic pleasure bad but voyeuristic wrath pleasure okay?
~Evaluate the statement, “If you learn to like killing, it can become very addictive. It could ruin your life.”
~Evaluate the statement, “I don’t enjoy this, Mr. Smith. I do this because I’m addicted to it.” Would it be accurate to say that Americans are “addicted to judgment?”
~This movie has been accused of endorsing moral relativism. Do you agree?
~Does this movie wind up endorsing the sort of violence in it or not?
~How might this movie affect an unstable person? A stable one?
~What is your reaction to Mr. Brooks? Admiration, pity, contempt, repugnance, or something else? Why?
~What word would you be comfortable using to describe Mr. Brooks? Evil, sick, delusional, dangerous, inconsistent, human?
~What is your reaction to Mr. Smith or to Marshall or even to Detective Atwood?
~How would you compare Mr. Brooks with Hannibal Lecter and with Mr. Smith? What traits of each, if any, do you admire or condemn? What would you like to see happen to each of them?
~Why is it important for Mr. Brooks to keep his secret from his family? How does confession help prevent sin? Why do we do things that we are ashamed of and despise? How do such things separate us from other people?
~What do you make of Brooks’s being pro-life?
~What does this movie have to say about sin? Can sin be controlled or not? How would this movie be different if Christ were involved in it?
~What do you think of generational curses? Is Brooks to blame for his daughter? What do you think of his efforts to protect her and the results of that?
~Movies that make heroes out of villains are evil. Is this movie guilty of this sin?
~Would it have been possible to make this movie with a PG or PG-13 rating? Would that have been dishonest to the thematic content? Would you want younger people to watch it even then?
~Do you ever feel like you have a Marshall in you? What things does he try to get you to do? Does Christian theology have place for a Marshall character in humans?

Overall Grade: B+
Many won’t like it because of the basic nature of the film, and even I was a bit reluctant to watch it, but I’m very glad I did.

Death Proof (2007)

Rated: R
Grade: BJBA=B
Note: All figures are for the combined Planet Terror/Deathproof Grindhouse double feature.
Budget: $53 million
Box Office: $25 million US, $20 million int’l, $16 million DVD

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino. If you don’t know, you shouldn’t watch. But, still, Sin City, Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction.
Starring: Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Tracie Thomas, Rose McGowan, Jordan Ladd, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

Comments: Quentin Tarantino is a genius of a filmmaker and a dialogue writer. Unfortunately, he can’t do either without ridiculous amounts of profanity and at least a couple of really disturbing violent scenes. In this case, the idea is to make a car chase horror movie paying homage to 70s moviemaking and muscle cars. It’s full of excellent music, tense scenes, and just plain fascinating people. What makes this movie so interesting is that you don’t trust him. Thus, you don’t know what to expect. It’s very entertaining all the way to the end, but I will not recommend it to anyone who doesn’t already know they enjoy Tarantino films. Even I, as a fan of his work, found this unpleasant to watch in parts and wish I could unsee some of it. Also, I can’t write a full review of it without disclosing significant plot elements. So, I’ll simply say that for those who love his work, you’ll probably like this. For those who do not, move along…quickly.

Discussion Questions:
~When the sheriff is talking with his son, he says that Kurt Russell’s actions indicate a sex crime and the violence is his turn-on. What do you think of this analysis? How does it apply to people who like horror films? How might it apply to Tarantino himself? Consider the fact that his films rarely have any nudity in them.
~Did you enjoy the ending or hate the ending? Whichever reaction you had, why did you have it? How does the fact that we have learned that we cannot trust Tarantino to be predictable factor into the entertainment value of his movies?
Overall Grade: B I didn’t think this was his best movie, but it was good enough that I’ll probably watch the other half of the double-feature. I would so love to see Tarantino make a PG-13 or even PG film just to find out if he'd be good at it. Stephen King wrote "The Eyes of The Dragon" for his kids. So, why not?

Superbad (2007)

Rated: R
Grade: FHFF=F
Budget: $17.5 million
Box Office: $121 million US, $43 million int’l, $ million DVD

Directed by: Greg Mottola, making his first movie after several episodes of Undeclared and Arrested Development.
Starring: Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bill Hjader, Seth Rogen, Martha MacIsaac, and Emma Stone.

Comments: Here’s the thing you have to understand. My wife and I really enjoy things that are funny, even if they are revolting. Some people enjoy watching horror movies and are not bothered by the blood and gore. We enjoy comedies and are not bothered by the drugs, language, and sex. However. The movie must be funny. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of our time, and there’s no reason to put up with the crud. We enjoyed Harold and Kumar. We enjoyed Borat. We even enjoyed Knocked Up. Superbad we did not enjoy. It’s vulgar, sure. But mainly it’s not funny, and the only reason we finished it was because both Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill are usually hilarious. Not this time. And remember, if there are any Christians who had a chance of enjoyiong this movie, it would have been us. Try again, fellas.

Reaping, The (2007)

Rated: R
Grade: BDBB=B
Budget: $40 million
Box Office: $25 million US, $37 million int’l, $9 million DVD

Directed by: Stephen Hopkins, who has made The Life and Death of Peter Sellars, some 24 episodes, Lost in Space, Blown Away, Predator 2, and Nightmare on Elm Street 5.
Starring: Hillary Swank, David Morrissey, AnnaSophia Robb, Idris Elba, and Stephen Rea.

An ordained pastor who lost her daughter to superstitious violence in Africa and lost her faith now travels the world debunking miracles by finding the scientific explanations behind them. Called to a small town to investigate what looks like the ten Biblical plagues, the locals try to enlist her help in killing the young girl who seems to be responsible for it all. I've tried to avoid plot spoilers, but I may not have succeeded.

Entertainment Value: B
For whatever reason, this is the second horror movie about phenomena debunkers we’ve watched. 1408 was average, this was better. I generally stay away from horror movies, but this was pretty interesting, mostly because of the theological content.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sexuality D, Violence F, Language B, Illegality D
Part of the plot centers on a young girl’s first period and there is one scene with some fairly graphic sexuality. The language is actually PG except for one F word. But the real issues here are violence such as a suicide, ritual sacrifices, lots of scenes of scary knives, and an end scene with great violence. Also, the depiction of the ten plagues entails some fairly gruesome images of livestock, for example.

Significant Content: B
The clear main theme here is science versus the supernatural and the loss of faith. Otherwise, it’s a movie with real depictions of God and also of evil, although, in the tradition of such movies, there’s also a lot of non- and extra-Biblical gunk, too.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
One defect with the movie is that a lot of it was told in a way that made it difficult or even impossible to follow coherently. Another problem is that several of the plot elements didn’t really add up, such as the sex scene and developments with the priest. Also, the ending was quite good up until the last 30 seconds or so of it. But the movie is really useful for discussion, and I think quite Bible friendly.

Discussion Questions:
~The main reason for many people’s loss of faith is a major disappointment they blame on God. Why do people react this way? Compare Swank’s character and Ben in regards to the impact of events on their faith. Have you ever been tempted to give up your faith because of something bad you blamed on God? Has your faith been strengthened by something miraculously good that happened? Can we credit God for good things without blaming Him for bad things?
~The DVD extras have a discussion of the possible science behind the ten plagues of Egypt. Do these explanations trouble you or reinforce your faith? How might a scientist approach something more fundamental such as the resurrection of Jesus?
~Do you think this movie winds up affirming the existence of supernatural phenomena or affirming skepticism?
~What does this movie have to say about religious hypocrisy? What will real religious hypocrites look like? Do you think they’ll carry Bibles and quote them?
~How does Ben’s presence in the movie as a Christian affect your attitude toward the events and credibility of the movie? Does his answer to the question about why he helps Swank satisfy you?
~Is this movie pro-occult or pro-God? How does the ending affect your answer? Consider Christian principles like redemption and grace as well as judgment.
~“When God performs a miracle such as the plagues, He is sending a message.” How can we decipher catastrophes from God as opposed to just naturally occurring? What should we do when the message is ambiguous?
~The “prophecy” governing events in this movie is pretty weird. Can you think of any real examples of people believing and following strange beliefs like this?
~What is the Bible’s pattern regarding first-born and second-born? Consider Cain and Able, Esau and Jacob, Adam and Christ, and Passover.

Overall Grade: B
It’s not the most plausible of plots, but it’s still a pretty interesting movie, although Jeffrey Overstreet thought it was totally worthless.

1408 (2007)

Rated: PG-13
Grade: CCDC=C
Budget: $22.5 million
Box Office: $72 million US, $6 million int’l, $25 million DVD
Directed by: Michael Hafstrom, who previously made Derailed and a bunch of Scandinavian movies.
Starring: John Cusack, Tony Shalhoub, and Samuel L. Jackson.
A man who lost his faith when his daughter died of cancer becomes a novelist and ghost-story debunker. On a lark, he travels to New York to stay the night in room 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel over the protests of the manager, who tells him that dozens of people have died or hurt themselves while staying in that “evil” room.

Entertainment Value: C
This movie is fairly compelling all the way to the ending, where it totally fails to deliver, even in the alternative endings. It’s based on a short story by Stephen King, and that’s probably the problem. Short stories are often not novels precisely because they don’t resolve well, but once you’ve invested two hours in a movie, you want some sort of solution. The movie even sets up a couple of plausible endings, but none of them come to pass. Nonetheless, interesting.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol D , Sexuality A, Violence D, Language C, Illegality A.
We watched the DVD unrated version, but I suspect the regular version isn’t a lot different. Most of the offensive stuff here is scary and gruesome content, including assaults and people being harmed, pictures of dead people, suicidal behaviors being shown, and descriptions of other awful events being told. The language is right in the mainstream of PG-13.

Significant Content: D
Precisely because the movie doesn’t really resolve itself, it’s hard to draw any lessons from it. But the primary impact would be the reality of at least some supernatural phenomena. Evil is real, it inhabits places, and people can suffer as a result of it. Apparently the way to beat evil is not with God but with fire. There is also a strong component of grief and love in the loss of his daughter, with whom he communicates while in the room.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
Instead of being a great movie with a complex plot, this is really a simple plot with a hundred weird events thrown in to lengthen it, and it felt that way. I kept thinking, okay, I have to wade through all these detours to get to what I really want: the solution. Anytime I’m that aware of the process, I’m not really enjoying it. The thought value has to do with why people would experience what this room delivers and then want to end their lives.

Discussion Questions:
~It’s been said that nobody rejects God because of theology but because they have experienced pain in their lives. How might this movie fit this notion?
~Do you think that evil can inhabit particular places such as a room? If you encountered such a place, what would you do?
~Facing the prospect of the eternal repetition of a series of horrible events, it’s easy to understand why people would contemplate suicide. How is this room a metaphor for what suicidal people do experience? In what ways does this room represent life in the real world without hope or Christ? Is this room a metaphor for hell?
~Cusack seems most motivated to destroy the room once it becomes possible that someone he loves might be endangered by the room. What does this reveal about his character?
“I left because every time I looked at you, I saw her.” Is this a legitimate explanation of Cusack’s behavior?
~If you were the manager of this hotel, what would you do?
~What do you think of the ending? The alternate endings? How would you have ended this film?
~Do you think it’s possible to communicate with the dead? What does the Bible say?

Overall Grade: C
It felt a bit like the Shining, only not quite as good. For eternal recurrence movies, Groundhog Day is much better.

Shrek the Third (2007)

Rated: PG
Grade: CBBC=C+
Budget: $160 million
Box Office: $321 million US, $470 million abroad

Directed by: Chris Miller, who helped on Shrek and Madagascar, and Raman Hui, who helped with animation on Shreks 1 and 2.
Starring: The voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, John Cleese, Rupert Everett, Eric Idle, Larry King, and Justin Timberlake.

The king of Far Far Away is dying, and he wants Shrek to replace him, but Shrek wants none of it. Instead, he sets out to find the only remaining heir, a wimpy guy named Arthur who has a former science teacher named Merlin. Oh, yeah, and Shrek is struggling with becoming a father since Fiona is preggers.
Entertainment Value: C
I don’t get the Shrek franshise, but I guess other people like them, so there you have it. I thought number 2 was decent, but the same problems are common in all three: jokes for adults in a plot that is mostly lame and much less entertainment value than I would expect from this sort of voice talent. Pretty much standard fare from Dreamworks animation.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sexuality B, Violence B, Language B, Illegality NA
There are various mild sexual jokes including seeing a bunch of men rushing into a bar which was just renamed “Hooters” and a prince daydreaming about choosing the hottest princess. The violence is animated fantasy violence with witches dive bombing a town, swordplay and some stabbings, and “general mayhem” including pranks pulled on a kid at school. There is one scene where teens stumble out of a van apparently high on marijuana. PG is correct, and we stopped letting Spencer watch it after about 10 minutes I think.

Significant Content: B
Fear of duty, being who you really are, and issues related to power desired and also misused are the key themes here. Shrek is scared to be a father, and Arthur is scared to be king. But they both do what is necessary in the end. Prince Charming takes over Never Never and uses his new power to do evil things with it, showing the dangers of power. Arthur muses about using his new power to get even with the kids who mistreated him at school. There is also a scene where Shrek commiserates with Arthur about having poor fathers themselves and gives him advice about being himself and not worrying about what others think of him.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
I think I’ve spent as much time on this movie as I want to spend.

Discussion Questions
~Do you think Arthur would make a good king? How does he compare to the King Arthur of mythology. What do you think of Arthur using whining and crying to get Merlin to do what he wanted?
~Why should Arthur have to be king if Shrek didn’t have to be? Shrek obviously embraces his fear of being a parent, but he still doesn’t become king. Does this reflect poorly upon him in your eyes?
~When Arthur finds out he will be king, he immediately thinks of the ability he’ll have to punish those who mistreated him. What do you think of this? Compare this reaction to the way Joseph handled the betrayal by his brothers in the Bible.
~Fiona is arguably the only decent princess surrounded by a bunch of low-lifes in beautiful princess bodies. Are ugly people more virtuous than attractive ones? Are beautiful people always ogres inside?

Overall Grade: C+
I already saw Happily ‘n’ Ever After, and I didn’t need to see it again.

Ocean’s 13 (2007)

Rated: PG-13
Grade: ACCB=B
Budget: $85 million
Box Office: $117 million US, $193 million abroad

Directed by: Stephen Soderberg, who has directed a lot of stuff including the other Ocean's movies, Traffic, Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, and Sex, Lies and Videotape.
Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Ellen Barkin, Andy Garcia, Elliot Gould, Al Pacino, Don Cheadle, Casey Affleck, Bernie Mack, Scott Caan, Carl Reiner, and David Paymer.


When one of the gang, Reuben (Elliot Gould), decides to retire from crime and open a new casino with a notoriously deceptive partner who then betrays him, stealing everything from him and causing him to have a heart attack. In response, Danny and the boys cook up a highly complicated scheme to cause the new casino to fail by stealing half a billion dollars from it in one night. Hijinks ensue.

Entertainment Value: A

I was highly entertained start to finish. I laughed out loud several times, and I was fully satisfied by the experience of this only my third movie in a theater in three years. It’s all the same complex plot, fake swindle names, and cool guy atmosphere that made the first two Ocean’s movies work, but this one was better than both. You have to pay attention, and it helps if you know the first two, but it isn’t necessary. What made it so neat to me was that it had every level of comedy: jokes for everyone that no one will miss, jokes for those who know the movies that only they will get, and really clever jokes that only some people will get. Lots of inside and outside jokes mean that everyone’s happy. It’s nice to see that comedy can be something other than Will Ferrell and Tim Allen. Oh, yeah, and the fascinating thing about this one is it was made without Julia Roberts or Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Superficial Content: C

Drugs/Alcohol C , Sexuality C , Violence C, Language B, Illegality D
Ellen Barkin gets seduced using pheremones, and there are several sexy scenes involving her. There’s a riot at a factory, there are some death threats, and a man is poisoned in food and with horrible rash on his skin. Obviously, the whole movie is premised on illegality in the form of a complex theft. Just as obviously, gambling is everywhere in the movie, which really serves as a Las Vegas tribute. PG-13 is just right.

Significant Content: C

The key theme of the movie is loyalty and friendship. In fact, one of the key moments comes when there is a discussion about how the plan cannot possibly work now, but they can’t stop going through with it because it’s a matter of loyalty and revenge rather than a matter of profit. The worldview here is “God helps those who take care of themselves by being super-clever.”

Artistic/Thought Value: B

First of all, the key to this movie was not the great plot, excellent dialogue, or brilliant acting. It was the hotel. The hotel is magnificent. In fact, I watched all the credits just to be sure it wasn’t a real casino in some distant place like Kuala Lumpur or Dubai. It wasn’t, but it was a beauty of CGI genius. Soderbergh has such a distinctive style, and he continued it here, as expected. As with the other Ocean’s movies, the music and its use is excellent, and the thought value of the movie is that it makes you want to have discussions about good guys and bad guys and loyalty to friends.

Discussion Questions:
~“Use things to bless people, don’t use people to acquire things.” How does this phrase relate to this movie? Discuss the various characters in this movie, and evaluate how they get used means to an end or treated as ends in themselves. The treatment of Barkin and the hotel rater are particularly interesting. Would either of them have accepted what was going to be done to them had they known in advance? Afterward? How does this matter? How much does the ending change your view of how the gang treats innocent bystanders?
~“That’s the problem with revenge jobs. You can’t walk away from them when you know you should.” Discuss this statement. How does it relate to investing and money matters in general? ~Have you ever made a bad business or money decision because of emotion?
~Is there any real moral difference between Pacino defrauding Gould and the Ocean’s gang defrauding Pacino? Are all thieves the same?
~Is this movie trying to say anything about the vast discrepancies in standard of living between Las Vegas high rollers and Mexican factory workers? Consider that Soderbergh and Clooney also made Syriana together. How should we reconcile our average American vast wealth with the vast poverty of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world?
~Capitalism rewards ruthlessness, but what happens if the majority of the people in a society behave as Willie Bank does? Is there a way to solve this problem?
~Is it healthy for a person to enjoy watching movies where both the “good” guys and the “bad” guys are all criminals?
~Does anyone in this movie represent real virtue?
~Does a thief like Elliot Gould have any reason to complain about someone stealing all his stolen profits from him?
~Does the motive behind charitable giving matter to those who receive it?
~How would a team of guy criminals like this be different if one or more women were a part of it? ~How are guys different because of women and when women are around?
~Is revenge ever a legitimate motive? What about punishing the unjust who take advantage of others? What might Jesus say to the Ocean gang?
~This movie is saturated with Las Vegas nostalgia and references comparing the old way to the new way, particularly with regard to Sinatra. What do you make of these references? Is there some nobility in the old Vegas that the “new” Vegas has lost, or is this just romanticized nonsense?
Overall Grade: B

Very entertaining. Not so much on the message.

Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

Rated: PG-13/Unrated DVD
Grade: ADBC=B+
Budget: $110 million
Box Office: $135 million US, $245 million abroad

Directed by: Len Wiseman, whose only noteworthy prior work was the two Kate Beckinsale Underworld movies. John McTiernan, who made one and three, fell off the map for a few years, and helped produce this one.
Starring: Bruce Willis, Timothy Oliphant, Justin Long, Maggie Q, Cliff Curtis, Jonathan Sadowski, and Kevin Smith of all people.

The former overseer of America’s cyber-terrorism division warned the government we were vulnerable, and they fired him. Now he’s back, orchestrating a massive attack on communications, traffic, financial institutions, and energy in an effort to make off with lots and lots and lots and lots of money. John McClain, our hero, finds himself unluckily mired in the middle of it all by being the guy sent to collar a teenage hacker who unwittingly helped this all to happen.

Entertainment Value: A
You just can’t miss on a Die Hard movie, even when they change directors and revive Bruce Willis after a 12 year waiting period. Every Die Hard gets bigger and badder, and this one certainly fits that description. Other than a handful of truly implausible plot elements, this is just what fans of the first three movies would have wanted: the reluctant and bitter uber-tough-guy cop killing villains in all sorts of creative ways as fast as he can.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality B, Violence F, Language D, Illegality D
I must alert you that my ratings apply to the unrated DVD version, not the PG-13 version, which I’m sure was much tamer, especially in regards to language. The version I watched, however, was full of F-profanity and other cursing. I can’t imagine how the movie wouldn’t be an F for violence, even when PG-13-ized. Many car crashes, people being shot, beaten severely, and killed in innovative ways. I have no idea how kids-in-mind only gave it a 6 for violence. The illegality is both the cyber-attack as well as some of the things McClain does to save the day. I’m surprised this wasn’t rated R both because of the content and because that’s what the previous three had been rated…correctly.

Significant Content: B
There’s one real lesson here: heroes usually don’t seek to be such, they just happen to be the ones who stand up when there’s a need. Other messages have to do with U.S. vulnerability to cyber-terrorism, unwillingness of the government to do what’s necessary to protect against it, and the power of anger and pride to make people do awful things for revenge.
Artistic/Thought Value: C Despite the many questions below, this movie isn’t really much of a thinker…der. So as far as art value goes, it’s mostly just a shoot-em-up killing romp with some fairly forgivable realism problems.

Discussion Questions:
~This movie contains many stereotypes. Which ones can you identify? What do you think of female villain in the movie? Is it good for women to be portrayed this way and for them to be assaulted this way?
~Gabriel claims that it’s better for someone who loves the country to do this to it than someone who actually seeks to destroy it. Do you think it matters? Do you think this justifies what he has done? Is it possible someone might see him as a hero for trying to make a point that needs making?
~How realistic do you think the major plot elements in this movie are?
~Why do you think this movie was rated PG-13? Is this level of violence good when presented as a solution to a problem? Where do you draw the line between necessary violence and indulgent violence?
~What is a hero? Who is more of a hero here: McClain or Farrell? Does McClain’s incompetence as a husband and a father matter to you? How important are restraint and self-control for heroes? Is there any element of Jesus in any of these heroes?
~If everything that was attacked in this movie did collapse, what do you think would happen to this country?
~In what way would you describe this movie as a Western?
Overall Grade: B+
It’s pretty impressive to continually make such solid movies on the same theme, and I understand there’s two more still to come.

Talk to Me (2007)

Rated: R .Grade: BCCC=C
Full review not yet written. Please feel free to post your own thoughts.

Amazing Grace (2006)

Rated: PG
Grade: BBAB=B
Budget: $29 million
Box Office: $21 million US, $7 million abroad

Directed by: Michael Apted, who has a long movie pedigree including The World Is Not Enough, Enigma, Lipstick, Class Action, Gorky Park, Continental Divide, and Coal Miner’s Daughter as well as the upcoming Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Starring: Ioan Gruffudd, Romola Garai, Albert Finney, Michael Gambon, Rufus Sewell, Youssou N’Dour, and Ciaran Hinds.

This is the political biography of William Wilberforce, the man primarily responsible for the abolition of the slave trade in Great Britain. He must persist in his fight through years and year of parliamentary setbacks, including being considered nearly a traitor during the war with America, until he finally wins the fight to see slavery done away with.

Entertainment Value: B
Of course the story is outstanding, and even more so because it is true. This is a movie about God, political machinations, human decency, and justice. I wouldn’t describe it as uplifting, however, only because in the end, there were really so many opponents who never really repented from what they were doing.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sexuality A, Violence D, Language A, Illegality A
There are two main things that will concern you here. One is the depiction of slaves in brutal conditions and the direct description of things really too awful to imagine were actually done to them. The other is the use of an opiate remedy which clearly has health effects upon Wilberforce.

Significant Content: A
How could a movie about the abolition of slavery by a man of God who was inspired in part by the greatest hymn ever written not be an A for significant content? It’s not just about the evils of slavery, but it’s about the duty of the rest of us who claim to love God to act as if we do. We must not hibernate in some safe enclave of Christianity but be about doing the work of God in the world. Persistence in the face of insurmountable odds when you have right on your side will eventually work. Honoring the duty of loyalty you have to your king while working to change the system from within. Resisting the impulse to revolution. Knowing how to achieve real victory rather than just to symbolically feel like you’ve done your part. Oh, yeah, and openly acknowledging God and the joy of knowing Him. That’s pretty good stuff.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
The story is told as a flashback retrospective, but for some reason I found the time-shifting difficult to follow because there didn’t seem to be clear markers differentiating the past from the present. Also, and call me peculiar on this score, but I found the various times in which the grammar used by the speakers was so clearly American 2007 rather than British 18th Century irritating. If you’re going to have them use British accents, at least allow them to conjugate their verbs properly and use the correct pronouns, I say. Nonetheless, it’s well filmed and of course a story well worth telling.

Discussion Questions:
~One of the themes here is the tension between revolutionary change and gradual change. When facing a monstrous social evil like slavery, how do you decide which way to proceed? Which is better: an imperfect order or a revolution in pursuit of a perfect order? Consider America, France, and Britain on both the issue of revolution and slavery cessation.
~“If we cease participating, it will only mean that someone else will make the money from doing it.” This sounds like a terrible moral argument, but is there any merit in the idea that politicians must look out for the economic interests of their country? How might Jesus’s admonition that you cannot server God and mammon apply?
~In the end, it took a very crafty end run around to accomplish ending the slave trade rather than a frontal and symbolically satisfying assault. Why might they have been reluctant to do it this way? Which matters more, being able to say you lost valiantly and foolishly or being able to say you really changed things for the people you’re trying to help? Can you think of any modern examples or issues to which this might apply?
~What does this movie show about the power of music to change people?
~“It’s not that I got hold of God, it’s that He got hold of me.” What do you think of this statement by Wilberforce?
~It is convenient to think of our enemies in social matters as evil, but this movie shows that they are often simply ignorant or deceived. Why is this an important distinction?
~What conclusion might you draw about the state of race relations in America today based on the reaction most viewers would have to the use of a racial slur in this movie?
~Given the changes in technology and also commerce, do you think the end of slavery was inevitable or not? How much of the victory in this movie seems to come from persistent hard work and how much from historical inevitability?
~A lot of the political dialogue in this movie depends on wit and personal jabs rather than on substance. Do you think this is fitting for Christians?
~Do you think it’s possible to remain holy as a Christian even in the realm of politics?
Overall Grade: B
Yep. That’s another Christian-made production that qualifies as good film. Not Academy Award material, but still solid.

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Rated: PG-13
Grade: BBAA=B+
Budget: $258 million
Box Office: $337 million US, $555 million abroad, $60 million DVD

Directed by: Sam Raimi, who has produced and acted in many films formerly directed Spider-Man 1 and 2, The Gift, For Love of the Game, A Simple Plan, and a bunch of zombie movies.

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rosemary Harris, JK Simmons, and James Cromwell.

Once again, the reluctant web-slinger finds himself caught between love and danger in both parts of his life. Threatened by a competitive photographer at work, torn over how best to handle the amnesia of his former friend and now sworn enemy, the Hobgoblin, and trying to solve the new threats from the Sandman and Venom, Peter Parker must also figure out how to convince his starlet sweetheart Mary Jane to marry him. Um…it’s like really got a lot going on.

Entertainment Value: B
Lots and lots and lots of great action sequences involving highly creative ways for Spidey to use his powers. Despite the characters being mostly caricatures of anything you’d find in real life, there’s still a lot of meaty development and nuance in them. Of all three of the Spider-Man’s, Spider-Men(?), this is the one most faithful to all the best elements of a great comic book, which Spidey always was.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sexuality B, Violence C, Language B, Illegality C
Other than Topher Grace ogling women and a few scenes of Kirsten Dunst singing in an evening gown, the sex content is tame. Likewise, language is really not an issue. If anything is going to bother you about this movie, of course, it would be the violence as people try to really kill each other and some of the pretty terrifying images as people undergo strange transformations. There are various illegal activities such as bank robbery and destruction of property. As I said, it’s a comic book brought to life.

Significant Content: A
The movie is all about personal identity, and it hits this theme from several angles. The first is about the intersection of fame, work, and the need to do what you value with a love relationship between a super-hero and a not-quite singer. The second is about memory, as we see Harry lose his and return to thinking of Peter as a friend. The third is about the power of choices to determine who we are, and on this score, the movie is very optimistic. Finally, the tension between serving justice and serving revenge is quite vividly portrayed with Peter and the new outfit/alien being. Additional themes about media manipulation and jealousy are also clearly present.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
I haven’t been a big fan of the Spider-Man movies, mostly because I think that both Maguire and Dunst are terrible miscasts. However, what was previously just irritating character identity struggle has finally manifested as full-blown moral struggle, in a good way. I found the character developments in this movie to be extremely provocative and useful for discussion. Besides, the Sandman and Venom effects alone make the movie worth watching.

Discussion Questions:
~In what sense would you say that we are only as good, or bad, as our last choice? Do you think it’s true that we can always make better choices and reverse the trend of who we are? Can we also always take a good trend and ruin it? To what degree does our history of previous choices continue to influence our character? In particular, consider Sandman, Hobgoblin, and Peter in your thinking.
~In what ways would you say that this movie is redemptive? Who is redeemed? By what mechanism? Is it possible in real life to be redeemed merely by our own choices?
~The difference between justice and revenge often seems very blurry, but this is a theme all comic books wrestle with. Why is revenge so satisfying to us at the time? Why is it so unsatisfying to us later? If revenge is wrong to do, is it also wrong to enjoy watching others do it? How might you compare revenge and justice to lust and love? Compare the difference between how you react to what befalls Sandman and what befalls Venom.
~If you don’t remember the past, are you still the same person you used to be? How might amnesia and our memories actually define our identities? In what sense is a person who loses memory a different person? How might this shape your thinking about conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s?
~The Bible teaches us to learn to be content no matter what happens around us. What lessons about contentment does this movie teach?
~Sandman claims to be a good person who has some bad luck. What do you think? How much might luck factor into the major events/decisions of a person’s life?
~Have you ever been envious of someone else’s popularity, especially when you were feeling unappreciated? Why is it so hard to celebrate the success of others when we aren’t experiencing it? Is this selfishness or lack of love or something else?
~People often think they can do evil in one area of their lives and prevent that corruption from spilling over into other areas. What do you think? Consider Peter’s violence toward those he loves.
~Is Spider-Man a vigilante? Does it matter? What’s the difference between a hero and a vigilante?
~How important is forgiveness in real life? Is it as powerful as this movie makes it out to be, or more so?
~How important is kissing? Did you find the kiss a believable plot element? Did you think MJ overreacted to it? To what degree is kissing similar or different from adultery?
~In what ways would you say the symbiotic alien is like or unlike a drug? Did the suit change Peter or just accentuate what he was already doing to some degree?
~When we do something unethical to get ahead and are caught, why do we tend to blame the person who caught us rather than ourselves? Have you ever responded as Topher Grace did to being caught at something?

Overall Grade: B+
As an entertainment piece, it’s pretty good. As an art piece worthy of discussion, it’s outstanding. They finally did a really good one. Third time’s a charm?Full review not yet written. Please feel free to post your own thoughts.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007)

Rated: PG-13 . Grade: CDFD=D

Full review not yet written. Please feel free to post your own thoughts.

Ratatouille (2007)

Rated: G
Grade: BBBB=B
Budget: $150 million
Box Office: $206 million US, $406 million abroad, $79 million DVD

Directed by: Pixar, Brad Bird, who previously made The Incredibles and Iron Giant and Jake Pinkava, who previously did animation for Toy Story 2, A Bug’s Life, and Monsters Inc.

Starring: The voices of Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Lou Romano, Brian Dennehy, Peter Sohn, Peter O’Toole, Brad Garrett, Jeneane Garofalo, Will Arnett, and John Ratzenberger.

Remy has a problem. He loves fine food and has the palate and nose of a master chef. Unfortunately, he’s a rat. But when a sudden catastrophe forces him from a country cottage into the big city of Paris, he gets the opportunity of a life-time at the declining restaurant of his cooking hero Gusteau. Meanwhile, Gusteau’s secret son, Linguini has just been hired to clean in the restaurant by the dwarfish and malicious manager. Perhaps the two can work out an arrangement that will benefit them both.

Entertainment Value: B
Pixar doesn’t make bad movies, except for the Incredibles. They only make movies in degrees of good. This is another decent movie from them with an intriguing plot, fascinating characters, good voice work, great animation, and even some worthy themes.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sexuality A, Violence C, Language A, Illegality A
There is constant wine consumption, and Linguini behaves drunkenly at one point. There are several hair-raising chase scenes involving (usually) violence directed at rats such as throwing knives at them or shooting at them repeatedly with a shotgun. As far as language goes, unless something so bland as “rat-patootie” bothers you, you’ll find this movie to be, wait for it, squeaky. All that being said, however, there was one scene in particular that really bothered me. When Remy is running through the buildings, he passes a scene where a couple are having a vicious lover’s quarrel and she points a gun at him as if to shoot him before he can grab the gun and kiss her. It’s brevity doesn’t undermine it’s intensity, and it was totally out of place in a G movie.

Significant Content: B
Anyone can cook. It’s Gusteau’s phrase, and it represents a kind of culinary egalitarianism which is thoroughly incongruent with French society and especially the critic’s world of star ratings. But the real meaning, as we learn, is to not judge ability by a person’s background or appearance. If only people weren’t so anti-rodentic, we would realize that rats can be our best friends and great chefs to boot. There’s a pretty substantial commentary on the lack of substance in critics compared to those who really create. There’s a strong criticism of frozen/prepared foods compared to freshly made along with a sub-theme that enjoying life and food is good. Stealing is repeatedly discussed and condemned. And, ultimately, the movie is about loyalty and trust and not taking credit for things someone else has done.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
No one does computer generated animation better than Pixar. In this case, though many of the plot elements are, of course, impossible, it’s still quite good work. What I liked most about this movie, as with many Pixar movies, is that it gives you a rich, well-told story to discuss with the kids and the values issues raised by it.

Discussion Questions:
~Colette says that she has had to work extra hard to prove herself in the kitchen as a woman, but it is her nurturing tendency which leads her to help Linguini. Are women doing something unfeminine when they compete with men? Are they being more womanly when they help others?
~Which is more pleasing to God: those who create things such as food, or those who evaluate those things like critics? How do critics keep artists honest? Is it very Christian to be a critic of food or movies? Is Ego right that critics take too much joy in destroying what others have created?
~Why might someone think that frozen/prepared foods are bad compared to fresh cooking? Are those who love to cook and eat good food enjoying something extra in life that others are really missing? What brings you more pleasure, making things for others or having good things made for you to enjoy? How does this relate to Jesus’s teaching that it is more blessed to give than to receive?
~This movie talks a lot about stealing, both tangible goods and credit. Why is it important not to take credit for things we haven’t done ourselves? Why is it important to earn what we get rather than to take it?
~Do you think this is a realistic portrayal of rats? Why might it be a bad idea to glamorize such dirty creatures? Why might it be okay? What do you think about treating animals like people?
~Remy’s dad wanted him to be the poison detector for the rat colony, but Remy obviously had bigger plans. What do you think about Remy doing what his father didn’t want him to do?
~Is it stealing to Take someone else's garbage?
~Is the ability to produce art and appreciate beauty, such as in food, a key difference between humans and animals?
~How is this story also a historical story of the careers of Walt Disney, Disney Animation after Walt, and Pixar?
Overall Grade: B
Solid, worth watching, except for that one scene. And the expected Pixar short on the DVD about aliens was hilarious, as usual. I’m very excited to see them producing a DVD of all their short films soon.

Meet The Robinsons (2007)

Rated: G . Grade: DDCD=D

Directed by: Disney, Stephen J. Anderson, who previously did art for Emperor’s New Groove and Brother Bear.

Starring: The voices of Angela Bassett, Daniel Hansen, Jordan Fry, Matthew Josten, Laurie Metcalf, and Stephen J. Anderson.

Summary: Lewis is an orphan who is losing hope of ever being adopted because he is strange and super-brilliant at inventing. At a science fair, he is confronted by a good guy from the future is here to protect him from a bad guy from the future, which, of course, is where they go and meet a very strange family indeed.

Entertainment Value: D Chaos. Pure chaos. That’s the one thing I can tell you about this film. It’s the visual equivalent of the Insane Clown Posse. The last ten minutes of the movie finally make some sense, but it’s uninterrupted confusion and mayhem until then. We almost quit watching at several points, and the only reason it’s not an F is because the ending finally tied things up together. But that still doesn’t justify the movie.

Superficial Content: D Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality A, Violence C, Language A, Illegality B. How can an AACAB movie get a D for superficial content? Because it’s rated G, and I am in total disgust at this rating. Remember, in kids movies, my standards really tighten up, and I will mark a movie down significantly just for being chaotic, which I already said this is. Many scary scenes, such as whirling death blades, Tyrannosaurus Rex attacking and trying to eat people, people turned into zombies by mind-controlling bowler-hats, one character telling a child to nurture his hate, a man married to a puppet, and the movie starts off with a mother abandoning an infant. This is not a movie for any young children. It should surely be PG and perhaps even PG-13.

Significant Content: C There are two decent lessons here. One is that everybody has a place where they will belong. The other is that we should view failure as a good thing from which we can learn, whereas success rarely teaches us anything. But lying, deception, and breaking promises are common tactics used in the movie, even if in the end honesty prevails. But, again, the movie is so frantic that one of it’s primary lessons is just to normalize mayhem.

Artistic/Thought Value: D There is no age for whom this film is good. For anyone under 12, it’s just too crazy. For anyone over 12, it’s a silly animated movie meant for younger kids.

Discussion Questions:
~Why is it important to only make promises you intend to keep and to keep all the promises you make?
~Is it always a good thing to forget the past and move on? When can it be better to forget the past? Is failure always good and success always pointless?
~What do you think of Lewis’s decision about his mother at the end of the movie?
~Have you ever felt like people had trouble loving you for whom you are instead of for whom they want you to be?
~How is the bowler hat like sin or the devil? Are there really bad people, or are bad people just good people under the wrong influences?
Overall Grade: D, but almost DNF many times.

License To Wed (2007)

Rated: PG-13 . Grade DCBD=C

Full review not yet written. Please feel free to post your own thoughts.

Reign Over Me (2007)

Rated: R . Grade: CCCB=C+

Full review not yet written. Please feel free to post your own thoughts.

Civic Duty (2006)

Rated: R . Grade: CCCB=C+

Directed by: Jeff Renfroe, whose only prior work was in Iceland, seriously.
Starring: Peter Krause, Kari Matchett, Rishard Schiff, and Khaled Abol Njaga.
Summary: A man with anger problems just got fired and becomes immersed in consuming fear-encouraging news media. When he becomes suspicious of his new Middle-Eastern neighbor, he must decide if he is just being paranoid or if something really is going on.

Warning, I can’t present a decent discussion of this movie without spoiling the plot elements in some ways. So if you intend to watch it, do so first and then read this.

Entertainment Value: C The main problem I had with this movie was that it seemed so implausible. Every step in the opening development of the plot seemed staged in such a way that I just couldn’t believe it. But more importantly, they completely failed to help me bond with the main characters. That being said, it became interesting later, and the ending in particular made the movie interesting, even though I was on the verge of quitting watching a couple of times throughout.

Superficial Content: C Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality B, Violence D, Language D, Illegality D. There are some sexual references between Terry and his wife and one sex scene with them, and certainly much of the movie is adult situations such as marital strife. R is the correct rating, even though it’s almost entirely for language and some violence such as breaking and entering and taking someone hostage with a gun.

Significant Content: C Here’s where the plot-spoilers come in. I can’t figure out what this movie was trying to say. Not because it was unclear, but because it was clearly ambivalent. On the one hand, the paranoia of the news media is so continuously promoted that it becomes contrived-feeling, but he turns out to be right in the end. In another example, the police are clearly portrayed as being outstanding guardians of Constitutional liberty, but they miss finding a terrorist in the process. Hence, the logical lessons of the film are quite at odds with the emotional impressions left by the film. So I’ll just present these themes and then opt out of picking from among them. However, I will warn you there is an argument for moral equivalence about terrorism buried in the movie.

Artistic/Thought Value: B For thought value, not art, again because it all felt so stilted and did not entice me to connect with the characters. I felt neither total outrage at Terry’s behavior nor total empathy for it. I was just sort of watching it, and, unless that was the intended effect as some sort of commentary on news viewing, the effect was unhelpful. The thought value to discuss is the impact of emotion versus logic since the two are so totally at odds in the end with this movie.

Discussion Questions:
  • Do you think this film winds up endorsing paranoia or critiquing it? Is your answer based on the facts of the plot or the impression the film leaves? Same question for law enforcement and the U.S. government’s efforts to stop terrorism.
  • Do you think it is the same, better, or worse to have movies with married characters in sex scenes?
  • Why do you think the CVV news crawl was in reverse? Was this to make some point about inversion of reality or was it to avoid being sued by CNN?
  • How do you think we should balance the demands of due process and the presumption of innocence as well as privacy against the dangers of terrorism? What did you think of the decisions Terry made throughout the movie? What about his wife? What about agent Hilary?
  • What do you think the reaction of political conservatives and liberals would likely be to this movie?
  • What did you think of Gabriel's speech about the moral plausibility of terrorism? What about his assertion that Terry is a coward? Is terrorism cowardly? What about not enlisting?
Overall Grade: C+ Both Arlington Road and The Siege were much better, but this is an interesting movie to discuss, even if it isn’t all that entertaining.

Surf’s Up (2007)

Rated: PG . Grade: DBCC=C
Directed by: Ash Brannon and Chris Buck, who have previously done work on Toy Story 1+2, Chicken Little, A Bug’s Life, Olive and Company, and The Little Mermaid

Starring: The voices of Shia LaBeouf, Jeff Bridges, Zooey Deschanel, Jon Heder, James Woods, and Diedrich Bader.

Summary: A runt of a penguin in Antarctica was once visited by a legendary surfer, Big Z, and dreams of competing in the annual world penguin surfing championships. He gets his big chance, but he learns that the mild waves of the pole have not prepared him for real competition in the tropics against the malicious Tank Evans.

Entertainment Value: D The one thing that used to always drive the classic Disney movies was a real villain. Tank Evans is a bad guy, but we get so much psychobabble about his troubled relationship with his trophies and his insecurities that he is a lampoon rather than a villain. Reggie the agent is the most repulsive figure in the movie, but only the adults will comprehend why. Kids will think he’s silly and funny. The art is quite good, but the basic problem in animated kids movies is simple: nobody does it like Pixar. I couldn’t even bring myself to finish Sony Animation’s other recent release, Open Season. My son liked it, but, then again, how much does it really take to entertain a three-year old?

Superficial Content: B Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality A, Violence C, Language B, Illegality A, unless you count cheating in sports as illegality. Tank Evans seems to have a romance going with his trophies and one scene shows an obscured animal crotch as a joke. There are some events that risk the death of the penguins. A penguin urinates on another to relieve the pain of an urchin sting. Penguins chop fish, and jokes are made about a chicken eating chicken strips. It’s also worth noting that the penguins seem to develop tattoo-like markings as they mature in surfing, even though this phenomenon is shown rather than discussed.

Significant Content: C This movie is essentially a platform for Zen Buddhism, or surfilosophy, most of which is harmless on its own. Exist in the moment. Don’t covet results. Do things for their own sake. Do not be attached to popularity or competition. Be loyal to your friends. Have fun. Find your own way of doing things. The one best message in this movie is that sacrificing your own desires for the benefit of others is noble, and only when you’ve given up the need to win can you do this.

Artistic/Thought Value: C If the movie doesn’t get watched, the message doesn’t get consumed. Although the animation here was quite pleasing visually, the overall movie was not so hot. Can I really believe that the penguin version of Mr. Miyagi can really teach his zen principles so well to a young pupil that in a few days he can go from nearly killing himself on a big wave to being in a position to beat the best in the world? Not so much. On the other hand, I actually liked the mock documentary style of the film, with the interspliced shots of his family and home life.

Discussion Questions:
  • What do you make of the tattoo-like marks on the penguins? Does this make tattoos look appealing?
  • Are sports figures role models? Do you think they can avoid the burden of being so?
  • Is learning to “be in the moment” something that should be done because it’s a good strategy for winning or because it’s the right way to compete? Have you ever had to choose between winning and helping others?
  • Big Z is drawn back into public life because Cody has such a high opinion of him. How is it useful to think highly of people?
  • Can you think of any situations where it is important for people not to do their own thing but to conform to a social norm?
  • What are the parallels between Big Z and saving sinners in Christianity?
  • What do you think of Big Z's reasons for leaving surfing?
Overall Grade: C Cars was a much better version of everything this movie has to offer except for the penguins. Sony Pictures Animation is not Pixar. But then again, neither is Dreamworks Animation.

Number 23, The (2006)

Rated: R . Grade: AFAA=A

Full review not yet written. Please feel free to post your own thoughts.

You Kill Me (2007)

Rated: R . Grade: CDCB=C

Full review not yet written. Please feel free to post your own thoughts.

Painted Veil, The (2006)

Rated: PG-13 . Grade: BBAB+=B

Full review not yet written. Please feel free to post your own thoughts.

Transformers, The (2007)

Rated: PG-13 Grade: CCBC=C

Directed by: Michael Bay, maker of Bad Boys 1 and 2, The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and the Island.

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Rachel Taylor, Andthony Anderson, Jon Voight, John Turturro, Bernie Mac, and the voice of Hugo Weaving.

Summary: Sam is an outcast at school, but things start looking up when his dad buys him a way cool car and the hot girl in school starts paying attention to him. Unbeknownst to him, the car is actually an alien robot being, one of the good robots called Autobots, who have come here to fight the evil robots, called Decepticons, and prevent them from capturing a very powerful source of evil technology, the AllSpark. Explosions, lots and lots and lots of Michael Bay explosions, ensue.

Entertainment Value: C Unlike many film critics, I actually like Michael Bay movies. But this was not half as satisfying as I hoped it would be. There were two main problems. One, the plot never made sense to me, even in retrospect. Two, what should have been the strongest part of the movie, the robot transformation and battle sequences, were impossible to follow visually. Was it fun? Yes. Was it as good as I expected? No.

Superficial Content: C Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality B, Violence C, Language C, Illegality B. Lacking blood and gore, the violence is sanitized military action, but it’s still pretty much the constant essence of the film. There are some sexual situations including a rather pointed discussion about masturbation, and Megan Fox’s body is certainly the focus of many parts of the film. Language is about what you’d expect in a PG-13 film, just clean enough to not be R.

Significant Content: C Although the movie is clearly advocates secret government conspiracies, it also very clearly affirms the valor and goodness of American military men. Parents and school teachers are clueless and inept. The good themes are basically about responsibility, sacrifice, and doing what is right for the greater good. On the bad side, secrets are regularly kept from authority figures (parents), and violence is pretty much the solution to everything.

Artistic/Thought Value: C In this case, more definitely turned out to be less. Even though I recognized that massive time and effort went into designing the robot sequences, in the end it just became an incomprehensible jumble of action. Besides, if the Transformers can change their essence (as Bumblebee does), then why not become tanks and planes like the Decepticons instead of just trucks and cars? I was never a big fan of the original cartoon Transformers, so I came to this with no real expectations. Even so, I was disappointed. Michael Bay is a visual genius, which is why I wished he would have done better here. He was certainly the right director, it’s just that something went wrong between hiring him and the final edit. Oh yeah, and the goofy clich├ęd use of expressions by the “super-advanced” Autobots was dumb, not charming.

Discussion Questions:
  • Do you see any characters in this movie representing Christian values? Are any of them representative of Christ Himself?
  • Compare the view of technology given in this movie with the view in other movies, such as The Matrix or Terminator or Blade Runner.
  • Optimus Prime has evaluated humanity and declares them worthy of saving. Do you agree? How would something like that be decided?
  • Do you see any parallels between the two groups of robots and the sides in the war on terror? Consider that one of the primary guiding principles of the Autobots is to protect innocent life.
Overall Grade: C By far not Michael Bay’s best effort, but even his failure is still decent.

Evan Almighty (2007)

Rated: PG Grade: BBBAB=B

Directed by: Tom Shadyac, who previously directed Bruce Almighty, Patch Adams, Liar Liar, The Nutty Professor, and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.
Starring: Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, Lauren Graham, John Goodman, Jonah Hill, John Michael Higgins, and Wanda Sykes.

Summary: Newly elected to Congress on the pledge to “change the world,” Evan Baxter is visited by God and told to build an ark. He must wrestle with the ongoing inconveniences which God puts him through to get him to do this while also deciding whether to partner with senior Congressman Chuck Long a land-use bill as he struggles to be a good husband and father.

Entertainment Value: B The plot is mostly intriguing, and I love Morgan Freeman, but a lot of the humor is unfunny and juvenile: poop jokes and slapstick pretty much cover it. My wife and I had the same reaction to this follow up to Bruce Almight: it was nowhere near as funny. In spite of being less funny than it should have been and less plausible than it could have been, what keeps this movie interesting is the substance of it, in spite of what is on top. Even though the end scene is completely unbelievable, you still want to like the movie. The dancing in the end credits just weirded me out.

Superficial Content: B Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality A, Violence B, Language A, Illegality B The PG is for rude humor and some peril, notably the end scenes. Birds pooping on people is the worst of the bad humor. The B for illegality is that the ark does not have the proper permits apparently. Otherwise, this is clean, and I particularly liked the lack of profanity from Evan when he injures himself working on the ark.

Significant Content: A On the surface, there are things to be less than enthusiastic about, but underneath, this movie is outstanding. Any movie where God is at the center of it must get bonus points just for that fact. Good themes include the importance of trusting God, the importance of doing what your conscience knows to be right, and that God will punish those who use their power for selfish gain. And, wait for the trumpets, a movie where the wife is mistaken and must choose to be loyal to her husband for better or for worse. But my personal favorite aspect of the movie is that it gives you a real sense of what things might have been like for the historical Noah by putting a modern guy through similar paces. The only negative, such as it is, is the environmentalist theme here. But even that doesn’t bother me much since historical Christianity and conservatism are both concerned with being good stewards of God’s Creation.

Artistic/Thought Value: B For thought value, not artistic quality. In an effort to be silly enough to remain interesting to children, the movie loses me as an adult. However, it could be subtle genius by the producers in just the same way that the purpose of a children’s sermon is really to reach the adults (otherwise why do them in the main service rather than just in the classroom). But the themes, man, the themes. Families are strengthened by stress. Loyalty is only meaningful when you don’t want to be. Obedience to what makes sense is only obedience to yourself. Great stuff there.

Discussion Questions:
  • Morgan Freeman says that the point of the Noah story is not about God’s wrath but about His mercy. What do you think?
  • Does it bother you to see God portrayed as a man in a movie? Are you glad to see it be a black man like Morgan Freeman? Does Freeman portray God in a way that fits your understanding of His character?
  • The original promise to Noah was to not destroy the earth again by a flood. How does that knowledge affect your view of this plot?
  • Noah was a man of faith and righteousness whom God called to a mighty task. Evan was a man of no faith whom God coerced to do a mighty task. What do you make of this contrast
  • Have you ever felt like God was telling you to do something that didn’t make sense? What did you do?
  • Does it seem like Evan has any choice about whether he will participate in God’s plans? Would you call him obedient?
  • What acts of random kindness can you think of practicing?
  • When we pray for virtues like patience and family unity, does God grant those as a gift or does He give us processes that might produce them?
  • When the ark is built and the rains haven’t come, the family tempts Evan to view the “flood” as a metaphor. Is the movie saying something deeper here?
  • What should be our attitude toward the environment as Christians?
Overall Grade: B It’s surely no masterpiece, but it’s just as surely well-worth watching. And given the No Man’s Land in Hollywood between overtly religious movies like Passion of the Christ and the ordinary fare, seeing something like this is very encouraging.