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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bourne Ultimatum, The (2007)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home of the Brave (2006)

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Brooks (2006)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death Proof (2007)

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

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

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

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

Superbad (2007)

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

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

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

Reaping, The (2007)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1408 (2007)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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