Premonition (2007)

Rated: PG-13 .Grade: CBBC=B-

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Julian McMahon, Shyann McClure, Courtney Taylor Burness, Nia Long, Irene Ziegler, Amber Valletta, and Peter Stormare.
Summary: A housewife experiences waking up one morning to discover her husband has been killed in a car accident, but when she reawakens the next morning it has not happened yet. As she tries to piece together what is happening to her, she also must wrestle with discovering a way to prevent the tragedy as well as deal with her own frustrations with other things she learns along the way.

Entertainment Value: C This is a decently entertaining movie, but I had two main problems with it. The first is that Linda seems totally incapable of figuring out what is going on here and never seems to grasp hold of the idea of just telling her husband what she’s experiencing. I’m not a big fan of movies where failure of the main characters to do the most obvious things becomes a central element in the plot. Second, the ending. Hated it. Hated it so much that I immediately went to the DVD special features expecting to find one or even two alternate endings so I could at least forgive the creators for picking the wrong ending rather than never even considering it. Apparently they never considered it.

Superficial Content: B Drugs/Alcohol B, Sexuality B, Violence C, Language B, Illegality N/A. Okay, it’s a creepy and slightly scary film that no child should watch. But it’s rated PG-13, so this we already knew. The violent elements include a bird being found dead and bloody, a casket coming out of a hearse with the body falling out with a severed head (but implied more than shown), a young girl having her face lacerated in an accident, a woman being restrained in a mental hospital, and a car crash where things are more implied than shown. Also, there are a couple of romantic scenes with a married couple and some not-quite-nudity, and the possibility of infidelity is implied. Language is mild mostly. Alcohol is consumed sometimes.

Significant Content: B The lessons and worldview here are mostly quite good. Even though marriages have their difficulties, it’s never too late to make things work. It’s important to have faith in something outside yourself. But clearly the main theme in the movie is the importance of choosing to fight for the things that matter the most rather than giving in to despair, and the importance of making right choices based on that. But my favorite theme in this movie is the contrast shown between religion and science. When she doesn’t understand what’s happening to her, Bullock consults with both a psychiatrist and a priest. The priest gives her very useful counsel, whereas the psychiatrist tries first to medicate here and then to commit her. It’s not an emphasized theme, but the endorsement of a religious perspective is clear. And I love a movie which simply acknowledges the possibility of a supernatural reality without making it ludicrous in this naturalistic society of ours. The only negative I see here is that the object of faith is never specified and the idea that fate is fate also bothers me.

Artistic/Thought Value: C Although in the end I liked that they didn’t ever even hint at offering an explanation of the phenomenon she was experiencing, this movie had too man problems for me to really endorse it. As I mentioned before, the plot concept was transparent to me from the beginning. The acting and some of the plot non-developments seemed flat. Some of the things in the movie seemed fated to happen whereas others were open to change. And I particularly didn’t like seeing a girl with so many face wounds. But one of my favorite redeeming elements here is the fact that it is actually a movie about redemption. Doing more than is required of you and not giving in to the temptation to do what is justified is the definition of marital love, and such love is shown. As a philosopher, the fact that a character would ponder the distinction between killing and letting die was nice, although I wish it had been explored just a tad more.

Discussion Questions:
~What in your life is not currently going as well as you would prefer that could be improved if you would choose to take a more active role in making it better?
~Is faith merely believing in something greater than yourself? Does it matter what the object of your faith is?
~The Matrix is replete with the concept that we have already made our choices, the task is to understand why we made them. How might that concept fit or not fit with this movie?
~What is the moral difference between actively killing someone and letting someone die whom you could save? Is there a meaningful difference?
~Does this movie improve, harm, or have no impact on your view of God, clergy, and medical doctors?
~Is it accurate to call medical doctors a kind of priesthood in our society? Is this a label they would be comfortable with? Why or why not?
~Science tends to think that people who are convinced they are experiencing supernatural phenomena are insane to some degree. How does this bias prevent them from being open to the possibility that there is more to the world than what we normally see?
~Why did the creators choose the ending they did? Do you think that Linda will live her live more or less satisfied now as opposed to the other alternatives?
~Do you believe that we can change the future by our choices today, or is everything already determined in advance?
~Do we have the ability to prevent every bad event from occurring if only we can plan well enough?
~Jesus seems to indicate that the desire to sin is as bad as the sin itself, but should people be held accountable for what they strongly intend to do or only for what they do?
~Does a lack of faith in God open people up for being more vulnerable to dark or sinister forces?
~What does the platter symbolize in this story?

Overall Grade: B- Like I said. I despised the ending, although I recognize that it is in some ways the perfect ending and one which could not easily be changed without undermining much of the rest of the movie.

Flags of Our Fathers (2006)

Rated: R .Grade: BDBB=B

Starring: Ryan Phillipe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, John Benjamin Hickey, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell, Paul Walker, Robert Patrick, Neal McDonough, Jamie Bell, and Chris Bauer.

Summary: This is the story surrounding the picture of American marines planting the American Flag on the top of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima in World War II. The movie covers everything from the invasion to the taking of the mountain on through to the use of this photograph and some of the men in it for subsequent war bond publicity tours.

Entertainment Value: B What is there to say? Clint Eastwood is a phenomenal director. I have yet to see his contrast piece shown from the Japanese perspective, “Letters from Iwo Jima,” but I expect it to be quite good as well. The acting, the staging, the shotmaking, and the plot are all as historical as I can tell they should be.

Superficial Content: D Drugs/Alcohol D, Sexuality A, Violence D, Language D, Illegality A. It’s a war movie. There’s a lot of warfare killing and carnage in the movie, much in the tradition of Saving Private Ryan. Also, the characters, being soldiers, swear and drink as well. A large part of the story is how Ira Hayes, one of the Navajo used as the famous “codetalkers” for communications, became plagued by drunkenness, which is shown in the movie. One other note, this movie is unashamed about the naked racism that permeated the culture in the 1940s, and it is shown many times toward Hayes.

Significant Content: B If you want a movie about war heroes and good guys and bad guys, you’ll much prefer the 1949 John Wayne “Sands of Iwo Jima.” This movie is a more jaded look at combat and politics from the perspective of 2007 looking back. The main theme, if there is such a thing here, is the importance of integrity and honesty. One character is a ceaseless opportunist and coward whereas another character is so wracked with guilt and pain that he can barely function in society. America, like all nations, wants heroes out of a comic book, but the truth is often much more complicated. The media and the war machine found an incredible picture to reinvigorate a worn out public at home, even though the image wasn’t exactly what people thought it was.

Artistic/Thought Value: B Again, Eastwood is a master filmmaker, and no one can second-guess his artistic genius. The thoughts and the discussion that this film will generate are all quite interesting and useful. The only real defects in the film are the back-and-forth jerkiness of the storytelling between the combat action and the bond-drive and the underdeveloped characters. It's a bit like Titanic, where the present-day is used as a platform to go back and tell the story but then the present-day is mostly forgotten. Nonetheless, in a two-hour film there's only so much you can do, and this does it pretty well.

Discussion Questions:
~If people today treated Native Americans the way Ira Hayes was treated in this movie, what would happen to them?
~We all prefer a simple truth with clear good guys and bad guys. Is this a problem for us? What does it tell us about ourselves that we prefer such an interpretation to one which is more nuanced and ambiguous? Compare the value to society of having comic book style heroes versus these sort of heroes. Is the Bible more like this movie or more like the comic book?
~Is anyone in this movie a healthy person? Who has a more healthy response to the circumstances he experiences: Ira or Gagnon? Which is worse, a person who feels great pain and turns to alcohol to soothe it or a person who feels no pain in the first place?
~What is your definition of a hero? Is anyone in this film a hero? Do true heroes want to be called heroes?
~What do you think of Ira’s being willing to kill in actual warfare but reluctant to give speeches in favor of that war? How is his ambivalence like or unlike the attitude an American might have toward the decision to use this picture as it was used compared with our great relief at winning a very dangerous war?
~What are some images or pictures which have been really memorable to you, especially if they are about war?
~“A picture is worth a thousand words.” How would that idea relate to this film?
~If a slightly false story truly inspires people whereas the accurate version might not, does the inaccuracy really matter? Does it matter in a way other than just the risk of being found out causing a backlash later on? The story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8 is of uncertain authenticity, but it is one of the most significant stories in most people’s idea of who Jesus was and what Christianity is supposed to be about. Should we not teach it, therefore? Compare your thoughts on this fact with the story of the flag-raising photo.
~Do you want to see the sequel “Letters from Iwo Jima?” Why or why not? Do you think other Americans are as eager to see that movie? If not, is this a defect or perfectly normal?
~If you think about widows and children of American marines in World War II, do you ever think about widows and children of Japanese soldiers?
~Many combat veterans experience psychological problems afterward, but even the most realistic of war movies never produces the same effect on movie-goers. Why do you think this is? Do you think we are helped by war movies or led by them into a false sense of really understanding what combat is like?
~What do you think would happen if the wars today, such as in Iraq, were funded by bonds rather than by tax revenues?

Overall Grade: B Very good, not great. But still very good.

300 (2006)

Rated: R .Grade: A+DAA+=A+

Starring: Gerard Butler, Lena Heady, Dominic West, David Wenham, Vincent Regan, Michael Fassbender, Tom Wisdom, Andrew Pleavin, Andrew Tiernan, and the remarkably ordinary-looking-in-real-life Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes.

Summary: Persian tyrant Xerxes is bringing his massive army to Greece with conquest in mind. Little does he realize that Sparta, the land of fierce warriors and free men. Going against the oracle who has been bought off, King Leonidas (played by Gerard Butler, previously seen as the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera) takes 300 of his best warriors north to stop the invasion in this movie recreation of the historical battle of Thermopylae based on the Frank Miller Graphic Novel of the same name.

Entertainment Value: A+ What can I say? I looked forward to seeing it until it came out in the theatres. I expected it to be outstanding, and it was better than that. This is simultaneously the best visual experience I can remember in a movie and the best war movie ever made. Period. No seriously. Period. I’d love to hear someone make a case that there’s been a better one. For all those who enjoy reading Greek mythology, this is the movie feast you’ve been waiting for. And the most amazing thing about it is that it’s basically the first major motion picture from director Zach Snyder, whose only previous work of significance was Dawn of the Dead, a gruesome zombie movie highly popular with the 15-25 single male crowd.

Superficial Content: D Drugs/Alcohol A , Sexuality B , Violence F, Language A, Illegality A. I really struggled with how to rate this movie here. It’s surely an R movie. But the real struggle for me was that the movie is so well-done in an artistic sense, that it’s tough to mark it “down” for content. This movie does nothing more (and everything more) than bring to image literature which is R rated but classic. If the Bible were made with this sort of artistic integrity, it would be R rated…just like Passion of the Christ was. So it really makes you question the issue of rating based on superficial content. That said, here’s the stuff you want to know. There are three scenes which show female nudity in what I thought was a non-erotic way, two right in the beginning and one about ¾ through. There is a sexual assault without nudity. There are also many scenes showing bare-chested men looking tough and sexy. There are pagan religious ceremonies. But obviously the main objection here is violence. Death, blood, and gruesome battle sequences are throughout this movie, but again, it’s art rather than gore, at least in my opinion, even when it’s gruesome imagery involving dead bodies. I found the violence in Saving Private Ryan and Flag of Our Fathers, but the way this violence was presented did not bother me. Again, perhaps because it’s so artistic. Oh, yeah. And you should definitely skip the DVD promos, especially the first one.

Significant Content: A The themes here are plenty. Honor over betrayal. Valor over cowardice. Compassionate strength. Being willing to risk your life to defend everything you love, and understanding that a noble death is far better than an ignoble life. Camaraderie between men. The importance of honoring the law and religious tradition, even when reason says otherwise. And knowing that a society cannot violate its own core principles even in its effort to survive, or it might as well die. Strong women who still know their place as wives. And a clash of civilizations between the free and the slaves. The major concern of the movie is that it is purely a glamorization of strength and cunning rather than Christian virtues such as humility, grace, and mercy. Still, if a war movie can be “good,” this is. Others have said that there are racist undertones in the Greek vs Persian conflict, but I frankly didn’t see it.

Artistic/Thought Value: A+ Here’s the thing to understand about this movie. It is an artistic masterpiece. I felt like I was in a museum watching a screen play for me the video version of amazing historical artwork. This is nothing less than the perfect visual rendition of any element of Greek history and mythology. Think of this as the capstone of a long tradition that began with Jason and the Argonauts and Spartacus and ran through Clash of the Titans to Gladiator and Troy. If the Odyssey or Bulfinch’s Mythology were made into a movie, this is the standard they would be trying to duplicate. The last time I enjoyed an action movie this much was Hero. If Dante and Homer had been filmmakers rather than an orator and a writer, this is what they would have made. I would truly love to see this same production team make the whole range of relevant literature into similarly outstanding movies. The thought value is also quite high, as you’ll see with the discussion questions.

Discussion Questions:
~Critics were worried about this movie being a racist piece of propaganda against Persians (modern day Iran). Do you agree with this concern? A much more emphasized concept is the vital necessity to not break your own society’s basic code of ethics even in defending it from evil. How might this be seen as a criticism of some of the Bush administrations tactics in the war on terror? ~Why didn’t critics perceive this theme as easily as they did the other? Do you think the portrayal of the Ephors was meant as a criticism of Catholic pedophile priests? Why didn’t critics seem to perceive this theme either?
~What do you think of Leonidas’s exhortation to the Ephors that they use their reason rather than their silly religious traditions? Why does Leonidas go to them if he does not respect their ways?
~What parallels do you find between the idea of dying bravely in defense of something you love with the willingness of a society to risk its own destruction by honoring the values it claims to be based on? How does this compare with the Biblical idea that it is foolish to gain the whole world and lose your soul? What are some things worth more than your own life?
~The ancient Spartans were a powerful warlike tribe that engaged in adult-teen male homosexuality as a matter of institutional training, but in this movie that is omitted and even passingly ridiculed in one scene. Why do you think this decision was made? Would your enjoyment of the movie have been changed by including it? The accurately atrocious treatment of babies and young men was included. Why this and not the other?
~Both Leonidas and Xerxes have robust, deep voices. Can a man with a high-pitched voice be an effective and revered leader?
~What do you think of Ephialtes being portrayed as a deformed creature? Was this a commentary of the danger of excluding gays from the military? What do you think of Leonidas’s decision regarding Ephialtes? What about the words he says to him near the end of the movie? How should we handle the desire of people who are not truly capable but want to be included in our endeavors? Do monsters always look like monsters? Are ordinary looking or even good-looking people generally honorable?
~How might the kingdom of Xerxes be compared with that of Satan, and how might the kingdom of Leonidas be compared with that of God? Compare and contrast the leadership styles of Leonidas and Xerxes. Consider the ways Xerxes tries to get people to do his bidding, especially Ephialtes. ~Consider the way Leonidas has many self-doubts before he decides what to do, but none afterward. Do you think Xerxes ever had self-doubts? What about the way Xerxes calls himself a god, but Leonidas never has such delusions. Can you think of some modern leaders who seem more like one or the other of these extremes?
~The Spartans fight by the code “no prisoners, no mercy.” Is this admirable or not in battle? How does it compare with the Geneva Convention?
~Are we still obligated to obey the law and the authorities (religious or otherwise) when they have been corrupted? Does Leonidas represent submission to the law or not?
~The Spartan warriors seem to be both born to kill and trained to do so. Is it compatible with your ideas of God that a person’s purpose in this world might be to be a ferocious soldier?
~Do Leonidas and Gorgo have a good marriage? In what ways?
~Does this movie cultivate pride? If so, is this kind of pride bad?
~What do you make of the principle of Spartans allowing all to speak freely but holding every person accountable for their words?
~We not only let children read Greek Mythology and Biblical stories, we often require them to do so. If those stories, such as Perseus holding Medusa’s severed head aloft, are acceptable to read, do you think they’re also acceptable to watch? What about the numerous statues in art museums of this same scene?
~Why does the violence in this movie seem less troubling than violence in other movies?

Overall Grade: A+ My only real complaint about this masterpiece is that it was made about the Battle of Thermopylae rather than about the battle of Gideon with his 300 warriors, which had been my naively optimistic hope for the film when the original ads came out which did not specify the content.

Trust the Man (2005)

Rated: R .Grade: B+DBB=B

Starring: David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, Billy Crudup, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Garry Shandling, Eva Mendes, Justin Bartha, Ellen Barkin, and Jim Gaffigan.

Summary: A married couple struggle with mismatched sexual desires and the normal problems of having children and staying romantic. Meanwhile, her brother is permanently living with a woman who wants to get married. Both men do dumb things, and the consequences catch up with them.

Entertainment Value: B+ I was laughing constantly through this movie. The acting is quite good, and the two relationships shown are probably a very good portrayal of the most common paradigms for relationship in America today. What I particularly liked about the film is the amazing ability Bart Freundlich (both writer and director) showed in creating fascinatingly realistic scenes with awkward situations. That said, there’s more than enough unpleasant material here to keep it from being an A.

Superficial Content: D Drugs/Alcohol D, Sexuality D, Violence NA, Language D , Illegality NA. My wife said to me at one point during the film, “You know you can’t recommend this, right?” I said, “Well, that’s often the problem with comedies these days.” There are more than enough superficial things here to keep you from watching this, if that is an issue for you. Lesbianism, masturbation, pornography, adultery, and simple sex are all prevalent plot elements. I don’t, however, recall there being any actual nudity. And the language is pretty normal for this kind of movie: bad but not atrocious.

Significant Content: B For all the flaws, the movie ultimately winds up vindicating marriage and real, meaningful love. I think the central premise here would have to be “fish or cut bait.” If you’re going to be married, then be married. And stop trying to have marital benefits without marital commitments. Realizing that marriage is truly worthwhile will make you willing to put forth the effort it takes to have a good one. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone is also surely a main idea here. My only real complaint is that, once again, women are smart and wise, men are dumb, except for Eva Mendes. There’s also a nice substantial critique of psychologists here.

Artistic/Thought Value: B Like I said before, what makes this movie so interesting is the way it turns very common unpolished people and situations into a compellingly accurate movie portrayal. I particularly liked the very painful way this movie showed men asked uncomfortable questions and then choosing to lie out of a fear of revealing the truth. It certainly isn’t great art, but it’s sort of the not-quite-so-Pollyannaish R-rated version of Everybody Loves Raymond.

Discussion Questions:
~Why are men reluctant to commit to marriage? Do women help or hinder this problem by being willing to have sex with them and live with them before marriage?
~How long is an appropriate courtship period?
~Is sex an addiction for some people?
~Why don’t psychiatrists give a money-back guarantee?
~Tom is clearly to blame for cheating, but do you think Rebecca has any responsibility for not giving him enough sexual satisfaction? Whose sex needs are usually larger, men or women? Men are generally more promiscuous in their sexual desires, and we expect them to give this up when they get married. What parallel thing or similar sacrifice are women expected to make in exchange for being married?
~What does the title mean?
~Are people obligated to keep secrets from their friends’ spouses? What would you do when given that choice? How does the Biblical principle of honoring marriage apply here?
~Do people simply start cheating out of the blue or overnight, or is there usually a longer progression of behavior involved?

Overall Grade: B Like I’ve said before. It’s funny. It’s painfully realistic. And it’s certainly not for young children and maybe not for adults. But we enjoyed it nonetheless.

Contract, The (2006)

Rated: R .Grade: DCDF=D

Starring: John Cusack, Morgan Freeman, Jamie Anderson, and Ned Bellamy.

Summary: John Cusack and his rebellious son are trying to reconnect during a wilderness hike. Unfortunately for them, they stumble across Morgan Freeman, a hitman who was hired to kill a reclusive but politically extreme billionaire, got caught because of a car crash, and has escaped custody in the same forest. They must decide whether to mind their own business or return him to the police, and when they opt for good citizenship, they find themselves being hunted by Freeman’s henchmen.

Entertainment Value: D And I must say, I think I know why I never give movies an F for entertainment value. It’s because if they’re an F, I don’t finish them. This movie was bad enough that it was laughable, but not quite bad enough to quit watching. Plus I kept trying to figure out how such a pathetically inept movie managed to entice two of my favorite actors to be in it (Morgan Freeman and John Cusack). The plot is poor. The acting is poor, except for my guys, and I kept feeling like I was watching a remake of The Marine without the big explosions but with (slightly) better actors. Look at it this way. The movie cost $25 million to make and grossed only $1.5 million. Sorry, fellas, the public got this one right.

Superficial Content: C Drugs/Alcohol NA, Sexuality NA, Violence C, Language D, Illegality D. I actually was surprised to find this rated R for violence. I kept thinking it was PG-13 because of some of the restraint the movie had for language and sexuality. People get shot, many times. There are some fight scenes. There is some strong language, but not a lot.

Significant Content: D The key to success is the use of force. The authorities cannot really be trusted. Sometimes it takes a character-testing experience for your son to realize you’re really a great dad.

Artistic/Thought Value: F Ugh. So, like the central premise of the wilderness trek plot is the fact that the they can’t get cell reception, but the bad guys following them keep getting updates on the terrain and the situation on their laptop? That’s symptomatic of the whole movie. Morgan Freeman seems unharmed by surviving two major car wrecks within a day of each other. John Cusack claims to be a former cop who one minute doesn’t look like he’s ever held a gun and the next is shooting bad guys with the automatic weapon he acquired with Rambo-like guerilla skills. And despite the medium budget, half the scenes looked fake. The closest thing to interesting is the portrayal by Freeman of a confused modern day samurai who has core principles but finds himself doing morally dubious things.

Discussion Questions:
~To what degree is a citizen obligated to help law enforcement?
~Would you describe Freeman as a man of principle? Do his henchmen represent him well? Can you think of other movies that portray military/government spies who begin to question why they do what they do, even though they retain a strong sense of personal honor.
~What do you think went wrong in this movie which enticed Morgan Freeman and John Cusack but turned out so poorly?
Overall Grade: D Allow me to quote my wife. “I didn’t think it was so horrible…well, don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t good.”

I Think I Love My Wife (2007)

Rated: R .Grade: CDBC=C

Starring: Chris Rock, Kerry Washington, Gina Torres, Steve Buscemi, and Edward Herrmann.

Summary: Finding himself in a marriage where he loves his wife and kids but she never wants to have sex with him, Chris Rock must decide whether to resist or give in to the temptations suddenly offered him when an old friend’s sexy ex-girlfriend shows up ready to please.

Entertainment Value: C This is directed by Chris Rock, and in many ways it’s very good. In others, not so much. One major problem is that it wasn’t all that funny. I expect Chris Rock and Steve Buscemi to be funny. The other problem is that its excessive foul language got in the way sometimes. Also, the situations and dialogue often seemed forced or awkward. Furthermore (and remember that I only gave it a C), much of this could have been solved by good advice or just a guy who didn’t keep going back for more of what he already knew he shouldn’t have. Still, I think the movie has a very useful place in our culture and much of it was very accurate as a reflection of what goes on in a troubled marriage and inside a guy’s head.

Superficial Content: D Drugs/Alcohol B, Sexuality C, Violence B, Language F, Illegality A. If you don’t like profanity, don’t watch this movie. It’s that simple. And the tragedy is that it wasn’t necessary. In fact, it often felt forced, unlike other movies where it seems to be simply well-written dialogue. The other main concern here is sex. Obviously the movie is about adultery, and, although there is almost no nudity, there are lots of sexual situations and a handful of scenes with women in lingerie. However, I was surprised to have these at the end since earlier in the film Rock had passed up including such scenes when I actually expected them in a movie like this. There is one fight scene with gunshots later heard.

Significant Content: B Marriage is worth fighting for, especially when you consider what you would be losing by cheating: kids, wife, job, and happiness. That’s all this movie is about, and it’s a very useful exploration of that one simple theme because it walks a man through the paces of an affair right up to the point of cheating and then forces him to really think about what he’s doing. However, Steve Buscemi’s character is also married and cheats on his wife all the time. He says that some people can cheat because it’s not emotional, and others cannot. This is a very scary comment to undermine the main point about how bad adultery is. Ironically, it’s he who advices Rock to not cheat.

Artistic/Thought Value: C As a piece of pro-marriage propaganda, it’s quite good. In fact, I can truly see this movie deterring men from cheating. However, it’s not a masterpiece by any stretch. And if I gave it anything higher than a C after the goofy singing-duo ending, I wouldn’t be able to sleep well at night. But there is one particular scene involving a tie that is masterfully set up earlier in the movie and then played to brilliance at the right moment. For all its flaws, that one scene justifies this whole movie, and it’s the one scene that anyone who watches the movie will remember.

Discussion Questions:
~Do you think this movie might cause husbands to not have affairs?
~Do you think this movie might cause wives to be more willing to meet their husbands’ physical needs?
~At one point, the psychiatrist writes down “delusional” after Richard says he can be happy without having sex. Who is delusional, him or his wife?
~When a husband’s sexual needs are different from a wife’s, how should they handle this? What does the Bible say about meeting each other’s sexual needs? Can a marriage be healthy without sex?
~What are some of the elements the illicit relationship which make it appealing to Richard? How can a married couple protect their marriage from such temptations?
~Why does Richard keep going back to Nikki?
~George claims he can cheat on his wife without it affecting their marriage whereas Rock will not be able to. Is this true?

Overall Grade: C Useful, but not great.

Ultimate Gift, The (2006)

Rated: PG .Grade: BBAB=B+

Starring: Drew Fuller, James Garner, Ali Hillis, Abigail Breslin, Lee Meriwether, Brian Dennehy, Mircea Monroe, Donna Cherry, and Bill Cobbs.

Directed by: Michael O. Sajbel who directed One Night with the King, Ride, and Reluctant Prophet (a biography of Chuck Colson).

Summary: Jason’s wealthy grandfather dies, leaving just some of his fortune to his ungrateful family members, but he has different plans for Jason. Instead of money, he leaves Jason a series of unspecified tasks which he calls gifts that becomes a sort of self-development scavenger hunt. Along the way, he learns some important lessons, and makes some important discoveries about life and his own family history.

Entertainment Value: B Good. Very implausible in parts. But good. I enjoyed it. Call it a charming little movie that has some really great lessons. Decent acting, obviously some big names, and a movie that got ripped by movie critics because it’s too clearly Christian and pro-life in a really meaningful way. One problem I had was that it took so long to explain why Jason had such a poor relationship with his grandfather.

Superficial Content: B Drugs/Alcohol B, Sexuality B+, Violence C, Language B+, Illegality B+. The beginning of the movie shows some partying and there are some direct references to sexuality. There is alcohol consumption fairly often. Some men kidnap others and hold them hostage, and act as if they have killed one. Some minor profanity and minor law-breaking.

Significant Content: A
Okay, here’s the premise. Money is of secondary value to becoming a good person, and only a person who has become good can use money wisely and to good purpose. In order to become such a person, you have to go through some fairly unpleasant things, and if we can begin to see our lives and their struggles as a chance to become better people, we’ll be much better off. The important gifts this movie offers are work, money, friends, family, learning, problems, giving, laughter, dreams, gratitude, a day, and love. The movie is clearly pro-life, showing the happiness that keeping an unintended child can bring, even if she suffers from cancer. The other major theme is that it is better to give than to receive. And Jesus even comes up occasionally. Not too shabby for Fox.

Artistic/Thought Value: B And mostly because many of the scenes looked fake to me visually and because of the implausibility of some of the plot elements. How is this grandfather qualified to be dispensing these lessons when his own family has so failed to learn any of them? But I love the premise. Imagine that every incident in your life was intended to teach you something…did you learn the lesson? Great perspective for God.

Discussion Questions:
~What lessons about money do you draw from this movie? Why do you think the Bible talks so much about money compared to almost all other subjects? Do you think modern American Christians have a healthy handle on money? How or how not?
~What is more important to pass on to your children: your money or the life lessons and character you acquired in earning it? How can successful people insure that they give their kids the more important parts?
~Compare James Garner’s character with God. How are they alike and not alike?
~Is this a parable for Christianity? How so or not?
~Is it good for people to have a lot of money given to them? Is inheritance a good idea? Why might someone be opposed to it?
~What ways might you incorporate the ideas of this movie into your own family culture?
~If you saw the movie Peaceful Warrior, how would you compare this movie to that one?
~Can you explain why so many mainstream critics panned this movie?

Overall Grade: B+ A bit slow, but well worth the experience, if for no other reason than that you’ll be supporting a movie that unfriendly reviewers seemed to want to destroy.

Astronaut Farmer, The (2006)

Rated: PG .Grade: B+BAB=B+

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Virginia Madsen, Max Thieriot, Bruce Dern, J.K. Simmons, Kiersten Warren, the Director’s family (Jasper, Logan, and Mark Polish), and Bruce Willis.

Directed by: Michael Polish

Summary: Charles Farmer was in line to become an astronaut until his father committed suicide and he left the program for personal reasons. Unable to return, he decides to create his own rocket and spends the duration of this movie trying to realize his dream to launch into space, a dream around which his whole family culture has been built.

Entertainment Value: B+ It’s good. But I can warn you that Blockbuster is no place to rent it, since most stores around the country only ordered 3-5 copies. When I saw it on the shelf one time, I rented it and promptly went across the road to buy some lottery tickets. (Yes, Virginia, that’s a joke.) The plot is engaging, the scenario is interesting, even if wildly improbable, and it’s certainly an entertaining family movie.

Superficial Content: B Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality A, Violence B, Language B, Illegality C. There is some minor profanity, a couple of references to sex, and a guy defying the FAA by building a rocket in his barn and fueling it up! Someone gets pretty badly hurt in an accident.

Significant Content: A If there was ever a movie made about the American spirit, this would surely be it. Rugged individualism, dreaming, family unity, and defying authority when authority is being unreasonable. It’s also a brazen commentary on news media and their parasitic nature. One defect here is the level of disregard for his family’s welfare that Farmer has when he puts himself and their financial future at such risk for his personal dream. Another problem is that authority (banks, FBI, FAA, NASA) is portrayed as bad, manipulative, and even bumbling. Then again, I loved the idea that meaning comes from a shared project and that giving up on a dream is a worse lesson than risking death in the pursuit of it. But the one element which makes me give it an A in spite of these concerns is the portrayal of a wife who properly sees her duty in life as to support and help her husband’s purpose. I can’t think of the last time I saw Biblical wifelihood so accurately demonstrated in a movie.

Artistic/Thought Value: B Why does it seem like half the movies I’ve seen recently all take swipes at the Patriot Act? Once again, we have a movie which no one would classify as “high art,” but it is certainly decent entertainment which could generate some fruitful discussions, particularly about family loyalty and love.

Discussion Questions:
~Do you think Charles Farmer was a good father/husband? In what ways? Do you think that Audie ~Farmer was a good mother/wife? In what ways? Would your answers have changed with a different ending of the movie?
~What do you think of the portrayal of authority here, especially NASA and the FAA?
~How can you tell the difference between a dream that others just don’t understand and a dream that’s truly irrational? Is there anything wrong with having rational dreams? Do you have any dreams?
~Is this truly a case of “dream oppression” or something else? Are some dreams dangerous enough that they should be prevented? Consider the scene with the test rocket and the damage that could have caused.
~Do you think that Farmer’s children would rather be deprived of their father because he risked his life on a dream and died or have him quit for their sakes? How do a man’s obligations change when he has a family? Are there any parallels to be drawn between this and being a missionary? ~What about men who are actual astronauts or drag racers?
~What point is this movie trying to make about news media? Is it fair?
~Some people describe the Farmer family as a cult. What features of the Farmer family do look like a cult and what do not?
~Which people want Farmer to succeed and fail before he tries to launch. How does this change afterward? What do you make of this?
~This movie is a work of fiction, but it freely uses elements that make it seem like it’s based on a real story. Does this bother you?

Overall Grade: B+ I wish they had named it just “Astronaut Farmer” instead of “The” Astronaut Farmer. That would have been cleverer. October Sky was also excellent if you enjoy rocket-themed movies.