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 clichéd 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.

We Are Marshall (2006)

Rated: PG Grade: AAAA=A

Directed by: McG, who makes the current series Chuck and has formerly worked on some episodes of Fastlane, directed both Charlie’s Angels movies, and made music videos for Korn, Sublime, Offspring, and the Pussycat Dolls.

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox, David Straithairn, Anthony Mackie, Ian McShane, Kate Mara, January Jones, and Kimberly Williams.

Summary: This is the true story of what happened when the plane carrying all but four members of the Marshall University football team, the coaching staff, and many boosters crashed with no survivors in West Viginia in 1970. After the tragedy, everyone affected had to decide what to do about rebuilding the football program. In the end, they hired the only man willing to take on the task, an unusual coach and father of two boys named Jack Lengyel, who went on to create a program that thrived.

Entertainment Value: A After the first few times I cried or wanted to do so, I started counting. Seven times. What can I say? This movie is outstanding. It’s gripping. It’s realistic. It’s triumphant with characters caught in the various stages of grief, pain, hope, and redemption. I’d have trouble thinking highly of the film skills of anyone who didn’t think highly of this film.

Superficial Content: A Drugs/Alcohol B+, Sexuality A, Violence B+, Language B, Illegality A The only real violence in the movie is the plane crash, which is not shown. There are some scenes of angry behavior, including unsportsmanlike conduct. There’s no sexuality at all. There is some profanity, but it is necessary and appropriate in the circumstances. Some scenes involve drinking beer. Obviously, PG is the correct rating given the very heavy themes of loss and death, but the movie is virtually squeaky as a PG.

Significant Content: A Recovery from loss. How to honor the dead. How to have hope in the presence of tragedy. The importance of winning. Trying your best, no matter what the odds or the circumstances. Not quitting.

Artistic/Thought Value: A Again, what more can be said. You should just watch it. It’s that simple. If a movie can be described as a feel-awful/feel-great movie, this is the ultimate expression of that concept.

Discussion Questions:
  • Do you think that the actions of Marshall, coach Lengyel, and the broadcaster’s son honored those who died?
  • Much of this movie is dealing with the question of the importance of winning compared with simply doing your best. The line, “Winning is everything” gets discussed heavily. What do you think of this concept and the discussions of it in the movie?
  • Coach Lengyel used some very unorthodox methods in his coaching. Do you think that a more orthodox or safer approach could have gotten any results worth having?
  • How would you feel if you were the coach who had been on the plane but switched places with another coach? What about the players who had stayed home? Have you ever had to deal with guilt over an incident that produced grief? What should we do when things like this occur?
  • In retrospect, rebuilding the team seems like a great choice, but can you think of reasons why the people would want to not do so? Compare this decision with the decision to not rebuilt the world trade towers.
  • Are there any “bad guys” in this movie? Does your view of the more difficult characters depend on sympathy for them? How does the difference between judging and sympathizing with these characters imitate our attitude toward other people who do things we dislike as compared with God’s attitude toward them? Consider the relevance of the phrase, “Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.”
Overall Grade: A Seriously. If you haven’t yet seen it, do so. It’s that simple.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)

Rated: PG Grade:BBCC=C+

Directed by: Tim Stone, who directed the first Fantastic Four and several episodes of the action television series Standoff.

Starring: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, Kerry Washington, Andrew Braugher, Doug Jones, and the voice of Laurence Fishburne.

Summary: On the verge of marrying, Sue Storm and Reed Richards find their plans interrupted by the arrival of the Silver Surfer, a stoic demi-god who prepares worlds for consumption by his master Galactus. Somehow they must stop him, get married, and entertain us all at the same time.

Entertainment Value: B Although I’m tempted to go lower for one simple reason. The Silver Surfer rocks! But in this movie, he’s so, um, how can I put this properly…blah. Every comics nerd like me grew up loving the Silver Surfer because he was so cool. I can’t imagine anyone seeing this movie and being stimulated to go read the comics. Tragic. Nonetheless, it’s pretty well-paced, somewhat humorous, and fun, just like a comic movie should be.

Superficial Content: B Drugs/Alcohol B, Sexuality B, Violence B, Language B, Illegality B. Here’s what I didn’t like. Even though it’s a B, it’s one of those movies where you just wish they had kept it one notch cleaner, like a comic book. There are many sexual innuendos and mild crass language which you wouldn’t want a younger child to watch. I’d rate it PG-11. One main scene involves a bachelor party at a bar where sexual and alcoholic references are made and the groom dances with sexually provocative women. There’s also a scene where Jessica Alba is suddenly naked outside. Obviously there’s some comic book violence.

Significant Content: C Reed Richards promises his fiancée that he will focus on the wedding, but then secretly builds this detection device and convinces his pals to help him cover it up. Violence is the solution to our problems. At least marriage is held as an ideal, although Johnny Storm clearly is sexual without being married. Reed Richards strikes a solid blow for the value of education and nerds over the jocks in one part. The one main message is “to whom much is given, much is expected,” as the team struggles with the need to use their gifts for good instead of just running away as if they haven’t been given them.

Artistic/Thought Value: C Eh. Some of it was pretty cool. Although I don’t really grasp how the Earth would recover from all those cylindrical holes in the crust. Plus, draining the Thames would drain the Atlantic would be the death of a lot of people, but let’s save the Ferris Wheel?

Discussion Questions:
  • Why do people have bachelor parties? Is it healthy to prepare for a life of devotion to a single woman by indulging in a night of wild behavior?
  • Do you think it’s ever appropriate to deceive your spouse or keep secrets from that person? What do you think of Reed’s deception and of Sue’s response?
  • If you’ve been given great gifts, are you obligated to use them as productively as possible?
    Reed Richards says that he has power because he is smart rather than being good at sports. Is this accurate? Is Mr. Fantastic powerful because of his brain or because of his super-powers?
  • The Silver Surfer chooses to destroy worlds in order to protect his own. What do you think of this choice ethically? Does your answer have any impact on your thoughts about America’s actions in Iraq?
  • The army mistreats the Surfer and justifies this by saying he’s not human. Should a being like the Silver Surfer be viewed as having human rights? Do you think this scene is meant as a commentary on America’s treatment of terrorists?
Overall Grade: C+ It was fine, but I wish they had really impressed me.

Knocked Up (2007)

Rated: R Grade: BHBC=C+
Directed by: Jude Apatow, who previously made the 40 Year Old Virgin but has written Fun with Dick and Jane and Celtic Pride, as well as producing Talladega Nights, Kicking and Screaming, and Anchorman.
Starring: Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel, Johan Hill, and Martin Starr with cameos by Harold Ramis and Joanna Kerns.

Summary: While celebrating her promotion to on-air host at E TV, Alison winds up getting drunk and going home with Ben, a drug-using degenerate, who gets her pregnant. She decides to keep the baby and he decides to be involved, so they try to make a relationship work against the advice of her family.

Entertainment Value: B Okay. This is funny like Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle or Borat is funny. It’s way over-the-top vulgarity that is incredibly clever. The thing that kept it from being more entertaining was the feeling that virtually every step in the plot was impossible in real life, especially the decision to try to make a relationship with the father work.

Superficial Content: H, yes H. As in ABCDEFGH. Which if about right if I gave Borat a W. Drugs/Alcohol F, Sexuality F, Violence B, Language F, Illegality(other than drugs) B. This movie should be rated NC-17, although, in fairness, we watched the unrated version, which is usually the only one the video stores stock. There are many graphic sex scenes with nudity, limitless profanity, and continual drug use and reference. Just to give you an idea, the five friends are working to create a website that would index movies showing nudity of major female stars. I’m sure the movie could have been made cleaner, a lot cleaner, but at some point the overall impact would have been lost. Nonetheless, even I found it shocking.

Significant Content: B There are three main lessons I think people might draw from this movie if they’re paying attention. The first is obvious. Be careful who you have sex with because that person may wind up being a parent with you. The second is that men left to themselves are total barbarians but can choose to become productive members of society if they are required to do so by the right woman in marriage. The third is that no matter how inconvenient an unwanted pregnancy is, giving birth and trying to provide that child with two parents is the best option. The downside is that drugs are never really treated as problematic.

Artistic/Thought Value: C I’m torn on this one. It’s certainly not great art. But it’s also a pretty unique movie which has a point, unlike most of the similarly vulgar comedies I’ve seen. So how do you advertise a message like this to the people who most need to hear it? Probably in this manner. They’re not exactly going to Wednesday night Bible study, you know? And how often do you find a vulgar comedy like this preaching an abstinence and pro-life message anyhow?

Discussion Questions:
  • What do you think of a Christian who finds a movie this vulgar to be entertaining?
  • Do you think the pro-life and abstinence messages of this film are likely to have an impact on the people likely to watch it?
  • What do you think of Pete’s participation in a fantasy sports league without his wife’s knowledge? How does it compare with a sexual affair? Compare that with the Las Vegas trip.
  • Why is it so important to women to be seen as sexually desirable? Is this a healthy desire?
  • How much of a reflection of reality do you think this movie is?
Overall Grade: C+ If you don’t mind all the awful content, it’s worth watching. If you do, then pass by quickly. This is certainly no charming barely R-rated romantic comedy.

Next (2007)

Rated: PG-13 Grade: ABCB=B+

Directed by: Lee Tamahori, who previously made XXX State of the Union, Die Another Day, Along Came a Spider, the Edge, and Mulholland Falls.
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Jessica Biel, Julianne Moore, Thomas Kretschmann, and Peter Falk.
Summary: Chris Johnson, aka Frank Cadillac, is a Vegas magician who can actually see two minutes into the future. Because of this talent, the FBI wants to use him to prevent a terrorist group from detonating a nuke in LA. Unfortunately for him, the terrorists also know about him and will stop at nothing to make sure he doesn’t stop their plan. All he wants to do is fall in love with, literally, the girl of his dreams, Jessica Biel. Now who can blame him for that?

Entertainment Value: A I love a good sci-fi time-travel action movie, and although this isn’t technically a time travel movie, it seems like it belongs in that genre rather than with the paranormal psychology movies. Philip K. Dick has had 9 movies made from his short stories or novels including Blade Runner, Total Recall, Paycheck, and Minority Report which have made over $1 billion. So I was excited when I saw that at the beginning. The storytelling technique of showing a sequence and then flashing back to show a different outcome because that was only Cage’s vision into the future was quite effective.

Superficial Content: B Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality B, Violence D, Language B, Illegality B. There is a relationship between Cage and Biel that becomes sexual, although very little is shown. Violence is the main issue here, including terrorists blowing a person up with explosives, a woman’s dead body lying on the floor, and many people being shot.

Significant Content: C It’s really a time-travel action film with virtually no real message or significant content other than protecting the innocent and getting the bad guy. There are themes about free choice and fate, but mostly it’s a paranormal episode of 24 rather than any sort of ethical discourse.

Artistic/Thought Value: B As I mentioned, I thought the storytelling was quite good and the device of flashing back into the past always caught me forgetting that might happen. I particularly liked the presence of Dr. Strangelove and Clockwork Orange references. This was certainly the best work from Lee Tamahori.

Discussion Questions:
  • Given the remarkable ability Chris has, what do you think of his way of using it? He would be described as a super-hero by any definition, but he makes a living in a two-bit magic show and playing cautiously at the casinos. What would happen to him if he revealed his talent and people believed him?
  • Would you want to have his ability or not? How might it be a blessing? How might it be a burden? What would it be like to live constantly with the vivid memories of horrible things that were averted?
  • How might our experience of movies be similar to or different from Chris’s experience of the future?
  • In what ways do you think that the view of the future and of free will in this movie is Biblical or not?
  • Do you believe that an ability like his is possible in real life? What do you think of his notion that many magicians are real paranormals hiding in plain sight? How might our assumption that they are doing merely physical things help us ignore the truly supernatural in what they might be doing?
  • What do you think of coercing Chris to cooperate because of the power he has to save millions of other people? What is the difference between someone being a hero voluntarily and being forced to do the same things against his will?
Overall Grade: B+ Well worth watching, especially if your last experience of a Philip K. Dick-based movie was Paycheck.

You, Me, and Dupree (2006)

Rated: PG-13 Grade: DCBD=D+

Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo, who have made episodes of Arrested Development, What about Brian, LAX, and the recently worthless Carpoolers.

Starring: Kate Hudson, Owen Wilson, Matt Dillon, and Michael Douglas.

Comments: There’s a reason we didn’t get around to watching it until just now, and that’s because there always seemed to be better movies to watch. Now if I had just maintained that same vigilance, we would have been fine. This is something of a blend between Wedding Crashers and One Night at McCools, only, sadly, less entertaining than either of those. The lessons about honesty, friendship, marriage, and loyalty are good, but they come buried in so much slop of content and plot that it’s not enough to make the movie worth watching. I’d rate it PG-15, mostly for deviant sex stuff.

Pride (2007)

Rated: PG Grade: ABBB=B+

Directed by: Sunu Gonera. If you ask, “Who?” That’s right. His first movie.

Starring: Terrence Howard, Bernie Mac, Kimberly Elise, Tom Arnold, Brandon Fobbs, Kevin Phillips, Nate Parker, Regine Nehy, Evan Ross, and Alphonso McAuley.

Summary: In this true story set in 1973, Howard plays Jim Ellis, a black swimmer who was kept out of competition and coaching because of racism and now has been hired to help tear down a community rec center. In the process, he befriends a few local teens, teaches them to swim, and then finds out that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Entertainment Value: A I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about this movie at first because it had both Tom Arnold and Bernie Mac in it. But I usually enjoy Terrence Howard, so we tried it. Call me a sucker, but I just love a feel-good sports movie. And despite so many of them being made recently, they’re still all good. The plot, the characters, and the overall effect are quite good. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

Superficial Content: B Drugs/Alcohol B , Sexuality B+, Violence B , Language B, Illegality B. This is a solid PG. Most of the objectionable elements here involve a local thug who is trying to get the boys back into a life of crime and drugs with him. And everything is well within the PG range.
Significant Content: B And here I find myself in a bind I wish I weren’t in. The movie is clearly an A for significant content. Racism is awful. Believing in people but holding them to a standard that challenges them is the best way to cultivate their hidden talents. Do the thing that’s in front of you, and you may find your calling. Plus there’s a healthy critique leveled at shrugging off failure and joking around about it instead of taking seriously the obligation to be excellent at something. But I can’t give it an A because of one scene involving a fist-fight which the movie portrays as a grievous mistake although I thought it was perfectly justified and appropriate. If a 5th grader could tell you all the capitals of every state but couldn’t tell you the country he lived in, you just couldn’t give him an A.

Artistic/Thought Value: B Perhaps it’s because there have been so many movies made criticizing racism and because there have been so many good sports stories that I just can’t give another member of that crowd an A for art value. Don’t get me wrong, for a first effort, it’s fine. But some of the elements are a bit far-fetched and overdone in my opinion.

Discussion Questions:
  • We think of it as being very normal to take the side of our family members or of our country, but we tend to think of it as being very wrong to take the side of people who share our race. What do you think of these distinctions? Is racism just family-ism taken to a larger scale? Should Christians favor even their own family in this way?
  • What do you think of the two times people threw punches in this movie? Were they justified? What about the consequences of each?
  • Do you think it’s important to keep making movies that show how awful racism is? Why do you think moviemakers believe this but then don’t think that drugs, sex, irreverence, and violence matter much in movies?
  • Many times movies based on a true story are shown in a compacted way with the events of several years shortened and shown as one sequence with the same people. If events are worth retelling, why do filmmakers feel the need to enhance them beyond the original facts?
  • What do you think of the way the boys treat their friend who stutters? Would you describe them as good or bad friends for this treatment? Do you think they love him?
  • Marcus’s sister is concerned that her brother will fail at school because he’s trying to succeed at swimming. What are some of the benefits students gain from being in sports? How would you compare these with the benefits of academic education?
  • The boys at one point act as if losing does not matter because acknowledging that it did would have been embarrassing for them. Is this a healthy way to deal with failure? Talk about whether this tendency shows up more or less in different ethnic groups. Consider blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and whites for starters.
  • What matters more in competition: heart or skill and training?
Overall Grade: B+ Good. Solid. Like most other racial sports movies. I think Glory Road was better, but this was still good.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Rated: R Grade: ADBA=B

Directed by: Guillermo del Toro, who previously made Hellboy, Blade 2, and Mimic.

Starring: Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Doug Jones, Ariadna Gil, and Alex Angulo.

Summary: During Franco’s fascist rule in 1944 Spain, a young girl finds herself forced to submit to a sadistic stepfather who is a colonel in the army. As he fights the local rebels in a remote area, she enters a fantasy realm where she is the daughter of a great underground king and must perform several bizarre tasks to prove her soul has not been corrupted by being imprisoned in a human body.

Entertainment Value: A If by entertainment, you mean that you can’t stop watching it and want to see where it all goes, then it’s an A. If by entertainment you mean that you enjoyed it and it made you feel good, then it’s certainly not. I would prefer to call it compelling rather than entertaining, but I don’t give movies a score for compellingnessicity. Characters, plot, imagination, creativity, and acting are all outstanding here. It is in Spanish with English subtitles.

Superficial Content: D Drugs/Alcohol C, Sexuality B, Violence F, Language C, Illegality NA. Though there is some harsh profanity in subtitle form, the real objection here is the gruesome violence and creepy images. Some Christians also won’t like the magic, but there’s not so much of it really. If blood, killing, and even torture are going to bother you, then this movie will bother you.

Significant Content: B But I’m not sure it’s fair to say this movie is even trying to teach anything. The lessons, such as there are, might be that power and ruthlessness are wicked and that the representatives of Franco’s Spain were downright soulless. But the unstated conclusion here is that when reality is a nightmare, even a nightmare you create for yourself is a welcome escape from it. Clearly the movie wants to endorse the value of imagination and fairy tales, but I’m not sure that it really does so in the end.

Artistic/Thought Value: A What is a real monster? That’s probably the question this movie is intending to answer. Is it a creature who chases disobedient children by holding eyeballs to his face and eats them with his teeth? Or is it a sadistic officer in a fascist army who doesn’t care whether his wife lives so long as his son is born? The only problem with such a discourse is that the actions of the captain are themselves so horrific that you don’t have to even ask the question. If he were a robber-baron or a pornographer or a corrupt politician, the comparison would have been left for the audience to draw. Fairy tales are valuable because they bring meaning and perspective to reality. But they have to help rather than just being weird to do so. My main complaint here is that I still don’t feel like I quite grasped why he made it in the end. I truly love a great art film, but I want it to render itself into something I can actually digest when it’s over, and this never did. But this is obviously an outstanding piece of art, and to give it anything less than an A would be unfair.

Discussion Questions:
  • Some people see the world as a place of conflict between the brutal pragmatists who only do what works or makes money and the creative artists who imagine all sorts of unproductive but wonderful things. Is this a fair assessment? On which side do you tend to fall?
  • Fairy tales almost always involve gruesome and violent and truly scary elements, but when we make them in America they become sanitized and then rated G or PG. Does this sanitization take away from the value of their purpose? Do gruesome fairy tales scare children to no purpose? Is this change a reflection of the general safety of a modern American child’s life? Would the scarier stories fill a need better in the life of a less safe child? What need is this?
  • Who do you think the eyeless monster is meant to represent? Consider the symbolism of a terror who has destroyed many innocents but who leaves you alone until and unless you take a small thing from his feast of plenty or break in a minor way one of his rules.
  • Why does Ofelia take the grapes? What does this represent?
  • Fairy tales usually end well. Why is this? How is our impulse for justice related? What about reality? Is it as neat and clean as a fairy tale?
  • Discuss the choice offered to Ofelia at the end of the movie.
  • Are there any elements of the Bible or the Gospel in this movie?
  • Have you ever wanted to believe that your real parents were kings in a powerful distant place? Do you think this is a common wish? How would you compare that with the story of God in the Bible?
Overall Grade: B I can’t recommend it, but if you like complex, gruesome, fairy stories…well, you’ve probably already seen this one.

D.O.A. (2007)

Rated: PG-13 Grade: BCCD=B

Directed by: Corey Yuen, who has acted in or directed in about a thousand Asian movies, but his only other American work was directing The Transporter.

Starring: Jaime Pressly, Devon Aoki, Holly Valance, Sarah Carter, and Eric Roberts.

Okay, here’s what you need to know about this movie. It’s terrible. And very entertaining. PG-13 is just right, and for anyone who’s seen The Transporter a lot of this will seem familiar. It’s a martial-arts-Charlie’s-Angels-evil-plot-to-take-over-the-world extravaganza for 14 year old boys without any real nudity or violence. Think Mortal Kombat meets the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. I enjoyed it, but even I wouldn’t dare to call it good. But if I ever catch myself flipping through channels at 3AM, I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself watching it again on the USA network.

Guardian, The (2006)

Rated: PG-13 Grade: BC+BB=B

Directed by: Andrew Davis, who previously made Holes, Collateral Damage, A Perfect Murder, Chain Reaction, Steal Big Steal Little, The Fugitive, and a bunch of action flicks such as Under Siege, Above the Law, and Code of Silence.

Starring: Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Sela Ward, Melissa Sagemiller, John Heard, and Neal McDonough.

Summary: Ben Randall is an aging original tough guy, a rescue diver for the Coast Guard who has set every record there is, but had a horrible event place him out of commission for awhile. His superiors transfer him to become a trainer at the academy, where he runs into the overconfident Ashton Kutcher. There’s banter, romance, and some interesting dialogue.

Entertainment Value: B It’s good. But here’s the problem I had with it. I’ve seen An Officer and a Gentleman 3-4 times, and I’ve probably seen Top Gun in excess of 10 times. In other words, I’ve already seen this movie about a dozen times over a decade ago. It’s fine, but I kept feeling like it was so derivative of these two that I had trouble really enjoying it. The one thing this movie has going for it in the uniqueness category, however, is its emphasis on the teachers rather than only on the students as characters to study.

Superficial Content: C+ Drugs/Alcohol C, Sexuality B, Violence C, Language B, Illegality B. Bar celebrations which involve fights between the Coast Guard and the Navy including people getting knocked out violently. A couple of sexual scenes, although very little is actually shown. Some mild profanity. There are some scary scenes including dead bodies at the beginning and the end…just like the other two movies I mentioned. PG-13 is correct, although before there was PG-13, this would have just been PG.

Significant Content: B Don’t be selfish, be a servant. Real superstars aren’t the ones who have the abilities, but the ones who help others and subvert their individual desires to the needs of a group. Um…that’s it, I think. Oh yeah, and be careful that your exciting day job doesn’t ruin your marriage.

Artistic/Thought Value: B Davis knows how to direct action, and Costner knows how to act. The scenes in water are pretty clearly CGI, but it’s good CGI, so who cares?

Discussion Questions:
  • What do you think of Randall’s methods for training his cadets? Should this program be trying to make anyone who is not a superstar drop or only those who are not very good?
    What is your perception of the service rendered by someone in the Coast Guard compared to the Marines, Army, Navy, or Air Force?
  • How would you compare this movie to other military training movies such as Top Gun, An Officer and a Gentleman, Full Metal Jacket, GI Jane, or Heartbreak Ridge?
  • “It ain’t boastin’ if you done did it.” What do you think of this statement? Should we brag about gifts God has given us? Should we deny that He gave them? How should we handle success and praise?
  • Have you ever been motivated by guilt to do something to compensate for what you think you did wrong?
Overall Grade: B A movie about Coast Guard rescue divers? Cool. How many other movies have been made to glorify the Coast Guard compared with other branches of the Armed Forces?

Accepted (2007)

Rated: PG-13 Grade: BDDD=D+

Directed by: Steve Pink, who hasn’t directed much, but did write Grosse Point Blank and High Fidelity. If he had written this, it probably would have been much better.

Starring: Justin Long, Jonah Hill, Adam Hershman, Columbus Short, Maria Thayer, Lewis Black, Blake Lively, Mark Derwin, Anthony Heald, and Ann Cusack.

Summary: A disappointed high school senior discovers that he has failed to be accepted into any of the colleges he applied to. To avoid telling his parents, he and some friends create a fake college and then discover that they have inadvertently admitted hundreds of other outcast students.

Entertainment Value: B This is Revenge of the Nerds for the new Millenium, only without some of the vulgarity. It is PG-13, after all. It’s fairly clever, if contrived, and it certainly has some genuinely funny scenes. If you can swallow the preposterous premise and collateral plot issues, it’s a fun watch.

Superficial Content: D Drugs/Alcohol: C, Sexuality C, Violence C, Language C, Illegality C. This is a case where the whole is less than the sum of its parts. There are plenty of things to be bothered by here, but they’re all carefully crafted to be non-R material, even though there’s plenty of vulgarity. A couple of sexual scenes, plenty of women dressed suggestively, talk of masturbation, and a statue carved with outrageously large genitalia. There is profanity, and some violence, caused often by mind powers.

Significant Content: D There is just one theme here. Education is about learning what you want to learn, not about going through a ridiculously structured and boring classroom process. What starts as a semi-prank becomes almost embezzling and then becomes a cause for a kid who didn’t realize he was in search of one. Other minor elements include parental stupidity, anti-authoritarian rants by the “dean” of the fake school, and anti-fraternity plot. In two words: outcasts rule, and they’ll rule well if you’ll just let them be who they really are. Oh, yeah. And if you just lie to your parents really well, in the end they may wind up happy that you did.

Artistic/Thought Value: D Only in a movie. That’s the problem here. If you tried this in real life, it would certainly have a very different outcome. But, that being said, the idea that education should cultivate passion and enthusiasm is, of course, correct. And it’s the “of course” that irritates me here. I totally agree that people often have undiscovered talents that they could use to great advantage. Does that mean that a self-directed university would reveal and cultivate them? I doubt it. In the end, this is so bad as a message-movie that only the low-competence students of South Harmon would believe it anyhow.

Discussion Questions:

  • The primary activity of college is reading, writing, and listening to lectures. To what degree is it fair to say that college today exists because people won’t use their library cards?
  • This entire movie is based on deception, first of the parents and then of other students and their parents. What do you think would have happened if the main characters had told the truth from the start? If people won’t go along with your project when they know the truth, is it okay to deceive them because you really believe in what you’re doing?
  • “Diversity” is a hot topic in educational circles. How does the process of selecting only the academically talented interfere with real diversity? Why is lower intelligence not considered a legitimate sort of diversity? Should it be?
  • Have you ever seen a movie that portrayed high school or college realistically? Does this one? Why are movies about education so eager to exaggerate? What lesson can be drawn from this concerning movies about other subjects?
  • Have you ever sought approval from people you later recognized weren’t worth seeking it from?

Overall Grade: D+ You can safely pass on it and never feel like you missed anything.

Alex Rider: Stormbreaker (2006)

Rated: PG Grade: CACD=C

This movie was directed by Geoffrey Sax, whose main prior work has been TV movies, which should really surprise no one who saw this. If you’ve seen Agent Cody Banks, you already know the plot. Bad guy, somewhere between Dr. Evil and a real villain, can only be stopped by a teenager who didn’t know his CIA agent uncle had been secretly training him for spy work. The movie is silly and ridiculous but fairly harmless. At least it’s clean, which is nice. But the real error here is they couldn’t decide whether to make a Bond movie for the youth or Austin Powers 8: The Teen Years. And their indecision shows, in spite of or perhaps because of some very unimpressive performances by really good actors like Mickey Rourke, Ewan MacGregor, and Bill Nighy. If you’d let them eat cotton candy, you might let them watch Alex Rider: Stormbreaker. But be sure to brush afterwards.

Disturbia (2007)

Rated: PG-13 Grade: A-CDB=B+

Directed by: D.J. Caruso, who has previously directed episodes of The Shield, Dark Angel, and Smallville as well as the movies Two for the Money and Salton Sea.

Starring: Shia LaBoeuf, Sarah Roemer, Carrie-Anne Moss, David Morse, and Aaron Yoo.

Summary: After suffering a shocking death of his father, Kale becomes a problem student who eventually is put on house arrest for punching a teacher. While there, he starts spying on his neighbors, developing a crush on the new neighbor girl and deep suspicions about another neighbor being a serial killer.

Entertainment Value: A- This was very entertaining. I wouldn’t call it great, but it definitely kept me guessing and made me want to keep watching. For whatever reason, I had thought the star was Elijah Wood rather than Shia Leboeuf. No matter. If you like mystery thrillers, this is a fairly good one.

Superficial Content: C Drugs/Alcohol: A, Sexuality C, Violence D, Language C, Illegality C. The premise of the movie is spying on neighbors, so that’s a bit creepy. There are a few sexual situations, and a teenage boy with binoculars will choose to look at what, do you think? His hot neighbor undressing and swimming. But it’s still PG-13, perhaps PG-15 only for scary stuff. And yes, there is some scary stuff, but not a ton of it, although there are some pretty creepy images. Also, some young neighbor kids leave a bag of flaming feces on the porch as a prank and later are shown in their rooms watching pirated porn films.

Significant Content: D This is a movie about someone misbehaving, getting caught for it, acting like a brat even afterwards, and then spying on his neighbors. In the end this gets him the girl he spies on and unintentionally resolves some questions he has about his other neighbor. So it’s hard to find praiseworthy behavior anywhere in this movie. The whole of suburbia is a cesspool of hypocrisy and subterfuge from bad marriages to adultery to potentially much worse. And cops are foolishly motivated by personal revenge.

Artistic/Thought Value: B Very clever. And David Morse, as always, is a genius as an actor. This movie does exactly what it’s supposed to do: it keeps you guessing and it keeps you tense pretty much the whole way through. One note, I had real trouble watching Carrie Anne-Moss of Trinity fame in the Matrix playing a suburban housemom.

Discussion Questions:

  • Why does this movie have the title, Disturbia? What is the point of the movie concerning the suburbs?
  • Are most neighborhoods really this dysfunctional, in your opinion? Why do we enjoy exaggerated portrayals of reality like this?
  • Have you ever been suspicious of your neighbors? What did you do about it?
  • Is it healthy for people to spy on their neighbors? Is it immoral? Are people entitled to their privacy, even if they don’t take special precautions like closing the blinds?
  • When Kale punches his teacher, do you think he did anything wrong? Would it matter in your answer whether you think the teacher knew about his father’s death or not?
  • Does this movie wind up endorsing or criticizing the concept of things like neighborhood watches?
  • Generally speaking, should we be more or less trusting of our neighbors than we already are?
  • How much leeway and forgiveness should be given to teens who suffer a tragic loss like Kale did with his father?
Overall Grade: B+ It’s not Hitchcock, but it’s not a bad effort, either.

Blades of Glory (2007)

Rated: PG-13 Grade: DDDF=D

Directed by: Josh Gordon and Will Speck, but does anybody really care?

Starring, well, including anyhow: Will Ferrell, Jon Heder, Will Arnett, Amy Poheler, Jenna Fischer, William Fichtner, Craig T. Nelson and a bunch of real life skaters like Mark Hamilton, Nancy Kerrigan, and Sasha Cohen.

Summary: Banned from singles competition for life, arch-rivals and sworn enemies Will Ferrell and John Heder decide to re-enter competition and seek the gold by becoming the first male-male pairs skaters.

Entertainment Value: D Will Ferrell has only ever been in one movie I liked, and it was his dramatic role that made him good: Stranger than Fiction. Although Elf was okay. Jon Heder is now guilty by association. Unfunny, vulgar, and stupid. So, in other words, it’s a Will Ferrell movie. The only reason it’s not an F was because they chose Flash Gordon by Queen for one sequence, and I just can’t totally pan any movie with “Flash…Ah-ahhh” in it.

Superficial Content: D Drugs/Alcohol D, Sexuality D, Violence C, Language D, Illegality C. It doesn’t have a lot of particular things to offend, but it has an overall “Ick” factor well beyond PG-13. The most egregious elements are Will Ferrell’s constant sexual references and situations. And there’s a continual undertone of incest between the pair who are the boys’ closest competitors. I easily give it a D for sheer crudeness. Crudity? Cruditivenessity? Whatever. You know what I mean. It’s a Will Ferrell movie.

Significant Content: D Lessons? What lessons? Break the rules. Do your own thing. If at first you don’t succeed, perhaps you just aren’t ruthless or ridiculous enough to be in ice skating?

Artistic/Thought Value: F Here’s the main thing I totally didn’t understand about this movie. Why did so many real-life skaters participate in making it? I was embarrassed for them much the same way I was embarrassed for John McCain that he chose to participate in Wedding Crashers. But even more so since it was a direct send-up of their beautiful sport, in which they participated. Like so many, wait, all, other Will Ferrell movies, I have the distinct impression that it was a decent premise which could have been made well…but wasn’t.

Discussion Questions:

  • Why did so many skaters participate in this movie?
  • Should Will Ferrell movies get an automatic R rating?

Overall Grade: D If you love Will Ferrell and Saturday Night Live and you don’t mind sitting through a 93 minute long SNL sketch that should have been about 4 minutes, you’ll like this. For the rest of us…no.

Wild Hogs (2007)

Rated: PG-13 Grade: FCDF=D-

Directed by: Walt Becker, whose previous work is Buying the Cow and Van Wilder, which should tell you all you need to know about Wild Hogs.

Starring (tragically): Tim Allen, John Travolta, Martin Lawrence, William H. Macy, Ray Liotta, Marisa Tomei, Stephen Tobolowsky, and my favorite actor on Scrubs, John C. McGinley.

Summary: Four middle-aged men who like to ride Harleys take a road trip to discover their wild side, which brings them into conflict with a real biker gang.

Entertainment Value: F How can a movie with John Travolta, William H. Macy and John C. McGinley be this bad? Easy. It also has Tim Allen and Martin Lawrence and was directed by, well you get the point. Incoherent. Illogical. Frustrating. And definitely unfunny. So why did we finish it? Because I held out the irrational hope that it might be something worthwhile. Truly irrational in retrospect. The first funny joke in this entire movie came in the end credits.

Superficial Content: C Drugs/Alcohol: C , Sexuality: C , Violence: C, Language D, Illegality D. Much mild profanity. Some alcohol and drug references. There is some fighting and threatening. Bikers threaten people, break stuff, and steal things. A bar gets blown up. John C. McGinley plays an aggressively homosexual highway patrolman. Bill Macy opens a website inadvertently with deviant sex on it. PG-13 is right, even though no one should have to watch the movie.

Significant Content: D It’s hard to find any significant content here, but probably the closest thing would be to stand up for what’s right, even if it means putting yourself at risk. Buried in the rubble of this plot is the message that honesty will prevent a lot of problems since most of the plot hangs on John Travolta’s deceptions and pride. What I hated about this movie was the overwhelming theme that men are absolute dolts. Find me man worthy of respect in this movie. One. You can’t. However, I will admit that the four friends do demonstrate loyalty to each other, which is nice to see.

Artistic/Thought Value: F I’ve said my peace.

Discussion Questions:
  • John Travolta doesn’t want to tell his friends that his life is in a shambles, why is this? How does social approval cause pride and then keep us from sharing our troubles? How does this show up in the Christian community?
  • Do you think the ending of this movie was plausible?
  • In what ways does Martin Lawrence’s wife disrespect him? How important is admiration and respect for a man?
  • How are bullies and gangs able to do bad things and avoid punishment? What happens when people ignore each other’s problems versus when they band together to help out?
  • How important is adventure and danger and a challenge to men? What can the church do to affirm this about men and use it for the cause of Christ?
  • Does any man in this movie represent a good standard of masculinity?
  • A common complaint is that our culture is too dominated by men and masculine notions. Do you agree this is true? Does our culture tend to affirm men in healthy masculinity or not? What happens to men when they give up their masculinity?
Overall Grade: D- If you like tension-comedy like you’d get in Meet the Parents, you might like this. I do not. City Slickers is a much better, and time-tested, alternative.

Lookout, The (2007)

Rated: R Grade: ACBA=A-

Directed by: Scott Frank in his directorial debut, who had a hand in writing The Interpreter, Minority Report, Out of Sight, Get Shorty, and Little Man Tate.
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, Isla Fisher, and Bruce McGill.

Summary: Chris Pratt was a high school jock who wrecked his car, killing two friends and giving himself brain damage which makes it hard for him to sequence anything in his life. Working as a bank janitor in a small town, he winds up in league with a sexy girl and her friend who convince him to help them rob the bank.

Entertainment Value: A The other recent movie I saw Gordon-Levitt in was Brick, and I must say that I really enjoy his acting. The characters here are fascinating and intriguing. The directing and writing are truly marvelous, and the thing hangs together like a true work of art with many elements of uncertainty and ambiguity. I had only one real problem with this movie, and it was with one plot development that did not seem believable in connection with the punishment given for a crime. I don’t want to say more for fear of spoiling the plot.

Superficial Content: C Drugs/Alcohol C, Sexuality C, Violence D, Language D, Illegality D. There’s plenty of alcohol use and some drug use. It’s a movie about bank robbery and it has some people getting killed. But the one thing I wanted to praise here was the sexuality. There are a couple of sexual scenes, but I truly admire the director here because he clearly decided to not indulge an R-rated movie in unnecessary eroticism at times when most others surely would have. Yes, there is such content, but it is so clearly restrained that I was shocked in a good way.

Significant Content: B If you think this movie is going to preach its own message, you’re mistaken. But if you understand that a little reflection about the movie will yield plenty of rich insights, then you’ll grasp why I give it a B. Pride, greed, entitlement, power, contentment, forgiveness, and atonement are all major themes in this movie. If you’re looking for a movie that shows humanity’s weaknesses in a fascinating way, this does that.

Artistic/Thought Value: A The movie is full of good themes and things worth talking about, but it was also a directorial masterpiece. You have to understand that most of the good stuff in this movie is not overtly on display. But one of the key demonstrations here was Luvlee’s demonstration of what a stripper does for men. It’s not about the lust so much as about the admiration, and she uses these things to manipulate Chris perfectly.

Discussion Questions:
  • Do you think that Luvlee had genuine feelings toward Chris? What do you think of her ultimate decision?
  • Why was it possible for Chris to be led into participating in the robbery? What forms of seduction were used on him by Luvlee and by Gary? How did pride, entitlement, and frustration make him willing?
  • If Gary had never come along, do you think Chris would have been happy?
  • How is Gary like Satan? How does the Christian virtue of contentment protect us from so many of the Devil’s strategite?
  • A major theme in this movie is “whoever has the money has the power.” What do you think of this concept? How should Christians approach the use of money and the power that comes with it?
  • Many times when we make bad choices, we find ourselves regretting them when we’re still in the process of following through on them. Is it ever too late to try to change direction and do the right thing? How do pride and fear keep us from doing the right thing?
  • Have you ever done something that harmed others for which you had difficulty forgiving yourself?
  • Why do you think the director chose to use so much violence and profanity but restrained himself on showing nudity and erotic sexuality?
  • Filmmakers often defend their use of profanity by saying that to leave it out would make the film feel less real since such language is so common. Do you think this is true? If it is true, do you think that filmmakers are partially to blame for making it true? If so, is it strange of them to use that as an excuse? Do filmmakers have the ability to change cultural norms? If so, do they have an obligation to cultivate better ones, particularly less use of profanity? Consider smoking for comparison. What about sex?
  • Do you think the scenes with Kelly represent reality or Chris’s imagination? Did she survive the accident?
  • Who in this movie is a true friend? Who is not?
  • What do you think of the parenting choices made by Chris’s parents?
  • One of the problems Chris suffers from is the inability to not say his sexual urges out loud. How does this problem change his relationships with others? How do you think the world would be different if people were unable to not say their thoughts out loud, particularly their sexual ones?
Overall Grade: A If you liked this, you may also like Brick. Then again, you may not. It’s certainly a very unusual movie.

Fracture (2007)

Rated: R Grade: BBBB=B

Directed by: Gregory Hoblit, who previously made Hart’s War, Primal Fear, Fallen, and Frequency.

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, David Straithairn, Rosamund Pike, Embeth Davidtz, and Billy Burke.

Summary: Ted Crawford, an aeronautical engineer investigator for the NTSB, discovers that his young wife is having an affair and murders her. Willy Beachum, a hotshot lawyer leaving the DA’s office for more lucrative private practice inherits the case and discovers that the case is much more challenging than it originally seems.

Entertainment Value: B Hopkins is great, of course. Gosling is also quite good in this movie that feels a bit like a John Grisham novel. If Hannibal Lecter were an NTSB investigator with an adulterous wife…. The plot is excellent and intricate. And I always enjoy a movie which gives you just enough information that you can figure things out if you’re really paying attention.

Superficial Content: B Drugs/Alcohol B, Sexuality B, Violence C, Language B, Illegality C. The sexuality is in the plot and not so much shown, although I will warn you that a fairly graphic scene was in the deleted scenes on the DVD, so don’t watch them. Obviously the central plot element is a murder, which is shown, and there are other elements of violence.

Significant Content: B Here’s my big problem with this movie. They take for granted that killing an adulterous spouse is totally wrong, and I had a hard time hating Hopkins the way they wanted me to. Pride is clearly shown to be a defect. Justice and the desire to see it done is a strong element. Police corruption is an implied part of this. One of the major themes in this movie is the temptation to do law for money or for meaning, and a strong endorsement of the value of doing it for meaning is given.

Artistic/Thought Value: B What do you want me to say? It’s a very well-designed murder mystery where the mystery is not whodunit but is-anyone-going-to-get-punished-for-it-and-if-so-how? Gosh, that’s a lot of hyphens.

Discussion Questions:

  • Why is adultery wrong? Should it be illegal? If so, what should the punishment be? Consider that the Old Testament punished adultery with death. If you were on the jury trying this case, would you find Hopkins not guilty, guilty, or guilty of some lesser offense than Murder in the First Degree?
  • Humans have a universal impulse toward vengeance for wrongs done, especially when done to those we love. In what ways is this a sinful response and in what ways a Divine one? Is vigilantism wrong always or just some of the time? Why? Is it more noble to pursue justice within the system rather than outside of it? Why? What about when the system does not concern itself with a particular injustice, such as adultery?
  • How do you make sense of the love story in this movie? Why was it included?
  • Hopkins is proud and competitive. Likewise Gosling. Even though one is cast as a good guy and the other the villain, discuss how different or similar they are.
  • This is a film-noir, or at least largely so. Do you think the director intended this as an homage to older Hollywood detective mystery movies?
  • Is Willie Beachum a guy you would want your friend to marry?
  • Hopkins says that Beachum’s greatest weakness is that he’s a winner. What do you think of this assessment? How is being a winner dangerous?
  • Does it matter if you do the right thing for the wrong reason? Discuss Beachum’s motivations at varying points in this movie.
  • Why do we have the Constitutional rule protecting defendants against Double Jeopardy?

Overall Grade: B It’s solid.

Peaceful Warrior (2006)

Rated: PG-13 Grade: BCB+B+=B+

Starring: Scott Mechlowicz, Nick Nolte, Amy Smart, Tim DeKay, Ashton Holmes, and Paul Wesley

Directed by: Victor Salva, who previously made Powder and Jeepers Creepers.

Summary: This is based on the real life story of Dan Millman, an Olympic-caliber gymnast career-ending injury and must struggle to find meaning in a life whose only previous source was competition. He works his way back to competition with the help of a neo-Buddhist mentor who tries to get him to recalibrate his empty life.

Entertainment Value: B Two things kept this movie from being an A. One is the feeling that I had seen all this before in various preincarnations such as Karate Kid, Powder, and the Legend of Bagger Vance. The other is that I never managed to much care about the main character because he was a punk, and not the endearing outcast in love with the hot-chick Daniel Caruso punk. But a popular over-confident punk. Otherwise, however, the movie is quite good.

Superficial Content: C Drugs/Alcohol C, Sexuality C, Violence B, Language C, Illegality A. PG-13 is a consistent rating here. There’s plenty of mild profanity, sexual scenes, references to sex, and consumption of alcohol. There is a serious car crash and one scene showing a dream where a gymnast’s leg disintegrates. The one note about all of this is that the bad behaviors are generally shown as negative.

Significant Content: B+ I can’t give it an A, and the reason is simple. This is largely a movie promoting New Age Self-Help Buddhism rather than Christianity. Nonetheless, it’s about as good as such a thing can be. I was always a fan of Powder and Phenomenon (not the same director), and this movie falls right within that tradition. The premise is that a wise mentor who has learned to overcome attachment to this world will teach you how to do the same and thereby achieve happiness and meaning. Give more than you take. Don’t worry about the future. Results are beyond our control, so do not define your happiness by them. Enjoy the journey, not the arrival. Life is suffering, happiness is learning to care without caring by realizing that there are no ordinary moments. And if you learn to focus on “the now,” you can do anything, even jump to the top of buildings.

Artistic/Thought Value: B+ Not for art value, but for thought value. This movie can and should generate plenty of meaty discussion. The danger of it is that people might swallow it in its entirety without discerning the good from the bad. But that’s the danger with any self-help offering, whether it’s a movie or book or a guru. The main problem with it from an art perspective is that the movie preaches detachment from results, but it rewards the viewer with a victorious comeback based on a real life story that surely wouldn’t have gotten made into a movie if Millman hadn’t.

Discussion Questions:
  • Are answers to be found within us our from outside? What is the Biblical perspective? Does your answer depend on whether the person is a Christian or not?
  • Is emptying your mind of all concerns Biblical?
  • This movie says that people are not their thoughts. The Bible says that a man is how he thinks in his heart. Are these compatible?
  • Do you think Nick Nolte’s character was real or a creation of Dan’s imagination?
  • What do you make of the supernatural feats done in this movie by Nolte?
  • Can focused perception lead to understanding people almost as well as real telepathy would?
  • Should we ignore the future? Is that healthy?
  • The three lessons listed during the climb up the mountain are that life is a paradox, we should have a sense of humor, and that change is constant. What do you think of these as basic life principles?
  • Herodotus said, “No man steps into the same river twice.” What does this mean, and how does it relate to this movie?
  • “The journey is all that matters, not the destination.” Do you agree?
  • Are things like smoking and drinking only bad when they are in control of us? Which is worse, addiction or total abstinence out of fear of addiction?
  • Does Nick Nolte’s character seem happy? Would you want to be him?
  • “Death is not sad, the sad thing is most people don’t live at all.” What would Jesus say?
  • Does competition pervert love of an activity or enhance it by pushing people? Can you enjoy competition without also succumbing to wanting to see others lose?
  • “It’s how you play the game that matters, not whether you win or lose.” How does this idea fit or not with this movie? Do you agree with it?
  • The core message of the movie seems to be that the results are not important, yet taking that seriously often produces great results. How can this tension be resolved? How does it relate to the idea of doing what God says in order to get the rewards and blessings which God promises to the obedient?
  • The movie ends with Dan succeeding. What do you think of a movie that preaches indifference to outcomes but ends on such an emotionally rewarding victory? Would anyone care about this story if Millman had not actually come back from his injury? Is that in conflict with the message?

Overall Grade: B+ Some Christians will dislike it for good reasons, and some others will really love it for good reasons. They’re both right.