Final Season, The (2007)

Rated: PG
Length: 118 minutes
Grade: CBBC=C
Budget: Unavailable, but probably very low.
Box Office: $1.1 million U.S., $0 million Intl., $1.2 million DVD

Directed by: David M. Evans, who previously made Sandlot 1 and 2, First Kid, Radio Flyer, Wilder Days, and Beethoven’s 3rd and 4th.
Written by: Art D’Alessandro and James Grayford, neither of whom has written anything notable before.
Starring: Sean Astin, Powers Boothe, Rachel Leigh Cook, Tom Arnold, James Gammon, and Larry Miller.

The school board of Norway, Iowa has decided to merge Norway High School into the much larger Madison High in order to save money, but this will mean the likely end to a decades-long tradition of outstanding youth baseball. During the last year of the program, an untested coach takes over for a legend and tries to win Norway’s 20th State Championship in this true story of a small town.

Entertainment Value: C
Being a movie about small-town baseball and underdog stories, you’d think I would have enjoyed it more. But I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine. But that’s not really enough given the plethora of outstanding sports movies one could choose from. Maybe the problem is they tried to make it too much like life, and it came off a bit undecided about whether to be a documentary or a movie.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sexuality A, Violence B, Language B
There are a few scenes with alcohol, some mention of marijuana, and some smoking of cigars. There are also a couple of fistfights and some wholesome romance. But the real disappointment of the movie was the language, which certainly wasn’t awful but was enough to rightly make it PG.

Significant Content: B
Small towns offer something special and healthy and are the ideal place to raise families and teach good values. Baseball is a community endeavor and the true American sport. Educational decisions made entirely on the basis of financial concerns will rarely be the best ones.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
The one thing about this movie that made me angry was that it could easily have been made G rated if they had just tried a little harder. Given the wealth of other good family values in the movie, the decision to include swearing and drugs baffled me. Another problem here was that the main “villain” never seems to have motives that explain his behavior.

Discussion Questions:
~What parts of this movie seem realistic, and what parts seem unrealistic to you? How does your knowledge of this being a true story influence the believability of it?
~How important was sports to you growing up? How important is sports in your community? Does sport bring people together where you live? How important is it for a place to have only one or two sports for them to have such a unifying effect?
~What are the advantages of living in a small town and what of living in a large city?
~What does this movie have to say about honesty and plain talk? Is it fair to say that small town folk are more prone to these things?
~“Baseball is 80% defense.” What does this phrase mean, especially for smaller kids, and how does the concept apply to real life?

Overall Grade: C
This is a movie that I wish I could have liked a lot more. And on top of everything else, it takes place in Cardinals country, with Sean Astin and all the kids wearing St. Louis caps. But after that it was mostly just okay.

There Will Be Blood (2007)

Rated: R
Length: 158 minutes
Grade: CDDC=C
Budget: $25 million
Box Office: $40 million U.S., $25 million Intl., $13 million DVD

Written and Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson, who previously also wrote and directed Punch-Drunk Love, Magnolia, and Boogie Nights.
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, and Ciaran Hinds.

This is the story of an independent oil man’s career based on Upton Sinclair’s muckraking book “Oil.”

Entertainment Value: C
This is a very long movie. Yes, it’s two and a half hours, but it feels more like five hours because it drags on and on and on and…well you get the picture. Everyone I’ve spoken to says the same thing. It’s long. This is unfortunate because I thought the characters and the acting were excellent. But you end the movie thinking to yourself, “Why did I watch this?” And that’s mostly because the plot never really resolves. But if you liked the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Wade, you’ll probably love this slow-moving period piece.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sexuality B, Violence D, Language B
There is enough alcohol use and drunkenness to make this PG-13, and there is certainly enough realistic violence to make it R. Mostly it’s people getting killed or maimed in oil rig accidents, but there are some brutal murders also. There are also discussions about prostitutes, but nothing sexual is shown.

Significant Content: D
Everyone is a lying, power-hungry hypocrite, especially religious leaders and oil men. Beware people who tell you what you want to hear. Human greed and cruelty knows no limits.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
I was disappointed by this movie because I liked what it was trying to do: artfully and cleverly tell what started out as a pretty compelling story of ambition and treachery. If the purpose was to make an industry look sordid 100 years ago, I suppose it was a success. But, aside from the pacing and frustrating plot, there was one other main defect: the music. When done properly, musical scoring is appreciated. When done perfectly, it goes completely unnoticed. When done wrong, it continuously jars you away from enjoying the movie. That was the case here.

Discussion Questions:
~Would you describe Plainview as successful?
~Does Plainview have any moral principles at all? Would you describe him as sane or insane?
Much of this movie is about the problem of people being something other than what they seem. ~Who in this movie is real, and who is deceptive?
~Discuss Eli and his behavior. What Biblical warnings might you say were illustrated in his life? Why do people sit through his sermons? Are there any people like him in America today?
~Is anyone in this movie genuinely Christian? Is the movie favorable or unfavorable to Christianity?
~In what way were both Eli and Plainview were charlatan salesmen selling something to the people? Why does Plainview hate Eli so much?
~When Plainview says that the competition in him wants no one else to succeed, what does he mean? Do you think this is common among ambitious people?
~Who in this movie is evil? Would it be fair to call this movie a study of evil? Was the evil in any particular case chosen or inevitable?

Overall Grade: D
If you have something really unpleasant to do in about three hours, and you want to make it seem like the intervening time is actually five yours long, watch this movie. Plus, whatever’s coming next won’t seem so bad. Nonetheless, it’s pretty and well-acted.

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

Rated: PG-13
Length: 106 minutes
Grade: AAA+A+=A+
Budget: $12 million
Box Office: $6 million US, $2.5 million Intl, $ million DVD

Directed by: Craig Gillespie, whose only other work was directing Mr. Woodcock.
Written by: Nancy Oliver, who wrote a few episodes of Six Feet Under.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner, Ned Beatty, and Patricia Clarkson.

Lars is a socially inept office worker who one day orders a life-size doll through the mail and begins to treat her like a real person. This forces his brother and his brother’s pregnant wife and, indeed, the whole town to decide how to respond.

Entertainment Value: A
Okay, I recognize that not everyone is going to love this movie the way I did. In fact, every time I recommend it, I have to tell some people that I don’t know for sure if they’ll love it. It’s a very quiet movie, but it’s brilliance is in its subtlety. The actors in the commentaries admitted that they felt like the perfect gem had been delivered to them and their job was to not mess it up. Indeed. I’m disappointed by the box office, but not surprised by it.

Superficial Content: A
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality A, Violence A, Language B+, Illegality A
Okay. Here’s the thing. You would think that a movie about a man’s fantasy relationship with an anatomically correct life-size doll would be weird and creepy in a sexual way. It absolutely isn’t, and that expectation is the reason this movie is PG-13 instead of PG or even G, which is almost could be. This says more about the viewers than it says about the movie. There is only the occasional hint of sexuality here, and if the movie hadn’t been about a doll like it is, it would surely never have been PG-13. Even the language is extremely mild.

Significant Content: A+
My original love of this movie began when I started considering all the amazing insights it was conveying about the use of pornography in our culture when compared with the completely non-pornographic but fantasy relationship Lars was having on the screen. Then, when I started to see the portrayals of religion, compassion, indulgence, love, and forbearance, I was blown away. All I can tell you is that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more powerful display of the sort of Christian love we’re supposed to extend to other people in their weakness than I saw here. And they’re all church people! Wise pastors, wise churchwomen, wise small town doctors…so refreshing in a movie not touted for its religiosity at all and which might even strike some as being anti-religious at first. There’s even one scene where manhood gets defined, not as having sex, but as choosing to do right when you don’t want to.

Artistic/Thought Value: A+
This is art in every sense of the word. The pacing, the music, the subtlety, but most of all the offering of a wildly rich discussion subject. The key theme throughout is that, though the first reaction you have to both Lars and his fantasy is to be critical and judgmental, there is a better, deeper, wiser, more loving response…both to Lars and to anyone who seems a bit odd to you at first. Just consider, as one example, that in one scene a pregnant woman tackles Lars in the driveway to try to force him to come “enjoy” dinner with her and his brother. The irony is delicious.

Discussion Questions:
~In what way would you describe Karin’s love as relentless? Is it intrusive, and hence selfish, or is it truly appreciative of Lars?
~Give some examples of love shown in this movie. What makes them so loving? Does it matter what people’s first reactions are if they subsequently do the excellent thing? Consider what the women do toward the end when they bring food to Lars. How valuable is simply sitting with someone who is in pain?
~Much of this movie could be seen as an inversion of pornography. Though the girl is tangible and fake, the relationship is deep, respectful, and meaningful. Why do people who think that pornography is normal find this situation so strange? Does the potential healthiness of Lars’s emotional connection with Bianca say something about the derangement of pornographic fantasy? Compare and contrast his relationship with the use of pornography. Are porn users hypocrites for making fun of him? Is Bianca a sex object to Lars? Compare and contrast this relationship with the reading of romance novels.
~Is Bianca a person? What does it mean to be a person?
~Are people like Lars socially inept or just honest enough to not be polite? If you hadn’t learned to put on an act for people, would you ever behave the way Lars does? If we were more like him, would people be forced to be more real with us? Is this the sort of childlikeness that Jesus is talking about us emulating?
~Why is the distinction between real and unreal so important?
~An essential theme of this movie is the virtue of catering to and condescending to take seriously the foibles and frailties of other people to the point that they actually become our own burdens. Is this Biblical? Can you think of some examples in your own life where you’ve resisted doing this and where you might try harder with someone?
~Is this a fairy tale? Explain your answer.
~Why is Lars so reluctant to have a relationship with a real woman? Is he afraid of making another woman die in childbirth? Why does he create a relationship with Bianca?
~In what ways does this movie demonstrate real Christian community?
~Is our affinity for movies, fiction, and particular characters any less odd than Lars’s relationship with Bianca? Consider someone who puts a Tinkerbell sticker on her car or wears a Tigger sweatshirt.
~How should we treat people with benign delusions? Is anything really sacrificed in treating Bianca as real? Is anything gained?
~What do you think of children having imaginary friends?
~Who is portrayed more favorably here, the psychiatrist or the pastor? Are they at odds at all? Is this movie meant to represent an ideal of coexistence between religion and science?

Overall Grade: A+
Uplifting, pro-Christian, and genius in it’s subtlety. I know not everyone will recognize it as I did, but I stand by my view emphatically. This movie is like a best friend I just discovered.

Juno (2007)

Rated: PG-13
Length: 91 minutes
Grade: ACAA=A
Budget: $7.5 million, no, that’s not a misprint.
Box Office: $143 million US, $82 million Intl, $ million DVD

Directed by: Jason Reitman, whose only full length prior work was writing and directing Thank You For Smoking.
Written by : Diablo Cody, a blogger and former stripper in her screen-writing debut.
Starring: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Olivia Thirlby, JK Simmons, Allison Janney, and Rainn Wilson.

A sarcastic non-conformist high school girl gets pregnant the first time she has sex. After deciding not to have an abortion, she finds a young couple to adopt the baby, and the rest of the movie follows her through her pregnancy and a variety of poignant moments.

Entertainment Value: A
There’s a reason this movie made $143 million. Coming in what some have termed “the year of the pro-life movie,” this is an outstandingly entertaining film with fascinating characters, real-feeling events, and lots of quick humor. It’s a great illustration of the uncool new cool with an important message as well.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality C, Violence A, Language C, Illegality A
PG-13 is just right. The language is at the upper limit of that range, and the situation itself is certainly an adult one…in a sense. Obviously, sexuality is a big concern, but this is a totally non-erotic presentation of sexuality and discussion of it, although there are some discussions of sex and sexual imagery.

Significant Content: A
This is the most ridiculously pro-life movie ever. Here’s the reason why: it makes giving up a baby for adoption look cool by having a sharp, intelligent, likeable girl choose it. There are plenty of family difficulties and disrespectful behavior, but that one point is so strong that it outweighs all other concerns. Also, though he isn’t the focus, Jesus gets mentioned a few times, and not in a negative way either.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
This movie is genius because of the familiar, unashamed, almost casual way that it brings extremely controversial subject matter in front of the viewer. In one movie, Juno has done more for showing truth on a range of subjects than all the hundreds of hours of angry talk could do. It’s this mark of hitting just the right note that makes this movie so powerful. One thing I also particularly loved about this movie was that it’s the first high school movie I’ve seen that I found realistic, at least mostly. Also, the soundtrack was perfect, so good that I almost want to buy it. I did think that it was a bit unlikely that anyone her age would know so much about so many different cultural things. But this movie engages you emotionally and makes you laugh while really presenting a memorable and insightful look at real life.

Discussion Questions:
~Given that this movie depicts very common events in the lives of many teenagers, at what age do you think this movie should be shown to kids?
~Do you think this movie would be effective at persuading young girls to give up their babies for adoption rather than having abortions? Why or why not?
~Is Juno cool? What about Bleeker? How would you define cool these days?
~Is this movie positive or negative toward premarital sex?
~Does it seem strange at all to you that there are no pastors in this movie at all? What sort of status do pastors have in the perception of a modern American teenager?
~Do you agree with Allison Janney, who says that kids have sex because they’re bored?
~Does this movie make protesting at an abortion clinic seem helpful or not?
~What do you think of Mark and Vanessa’s marriage? Compare it with Bren and Mac’s. Do you think Juno and Paulie have a future?
~How important is it to find someone who will adore and admire you even at your worst?
~What do you make of the way Juno cringes at the term “sexually active?” What is the movie trying to say about teenagers and adults here?
Overall Grade: A
Of all the pro-life movies in 2007 (Bella, Waitress, Knocked Up, and Juno), I don’t think I’m overstating the situation when I say that this is the one that has become a significant American cultural event. Significant enough that there are two kinds of people in this country: those who have seen Juno and those who haven’t.

Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)

Rated: R
Length: 97 minutes
Grade: B+DB+A=B+
Budget: $75 million
Box Office: $67 million US, $47 million Intl

Directed by: Mike Nichols, who previously made Closer, Primary Colors, The Birdcage, Regarding Henry, Working Girl, Biloxi Blues, Silkwood, and The Graduate.
Writen by: Aaron Sorkin, most famous for his staccato smart dialogue on the West Wing and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip as well as The American President and A Few Good Men.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams.

A flamboyant Texas congressman discovers the cause of the Afghan Mujahideen by accident and then spends several years secretly coordinating Congress, the CIA, wealthy right-wingers, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan in an effort to help them repel the Soviet Army during the cold war.

Entertainment Value: B+
I have yet to see anything Aaron Sorkin has written that I didn’t enjoy. Sometimes it feels a little unrealistically polished, but I’d rather have fiction that requires intelligence to follow rather than pandering to its lack. The story is amazing and, being based on reality, fascinating. Obviously, with this cast and creative team, the thing wasn’t going to be bad.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sexuality C, Violence C, Language F, Illegality C
The opening scene is the worst offender here, where several people in a hot tub with topless strippers are using cocaine, but it’s almost misleading because that tone doesn’t really continue throughout the movie. Afterward, the primary issue is language, which is certainly enough to earn the R rating, with some additional sexual scenes and innuendo. There’s lots and lots of alcohol consumption. The violence is a combination of warfare footage showing helicopters shooting people and also being shot down with missiles and children who suffered loss of limbs in refugee camps.

Significant Content: B+
File this in the category of scary and amazing at the same time. Politics is complicated and messy. Politicians are motivated by everything from decency to reelection to faith to personal vanity. People with terrible personal morals can still do very important things.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
Let’s be honest, Aaron Sorkin is a genius at bringing politics to the screen. He may not be the modern Frank Capra, but surely no one else is closer to deserving that mantle than he. This is a classic illustration of the principle that you should show people something interesting to think about rather than telling them what to think about it. The people with the most competence often violate our expectations of what they should look like and how they should behave.

Discussion Questions:
~It has been said that there are two processes you don’t want to investigate too closely: the making of sausage and legislation. How does this movie represent this concept? What is your impression of America politics after seeing this movie?
~Knowing what you know about the history of Afghanistan now, what was your reaction to the end of the movie?
~How important do you think pictures and personal contact with the victims of atrocity are in getting something done about evil?
~What do you make of Joanne Herring’s professed faith in God when contrasted with her sexual behavior?
~If you had to guess, would you say Charlie Wilson is a Christian? How would you evaluate him as a politician? As a person? What matters more in evaluating him: his private immorality or his commitment to doing what is right for people like the Afghans? What lessons do you draw from this about what things make someone a great leader? Should private moral pecadillos disqualify people from office?
~Talk about what psychological or moral factors primarily motivated the various players in this movie. Who do you think is the most decent?
~According to Mark Twain, in a twist on Lord Acton, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.” What does this mean, and how does it relate to this movie? How important is the opening claim to be based on real events in keeping you from finding this movie impossibly implausible? Since this movie depicts real events, what should we conclude about our ability to evaluate the truth of things, generally?
~Do you think that the people portrayed in this movie are as sharp and eloquent as they are portrayed? Does that bother you at all?
~Gust is arrogant and this gets him in trouble a lot, but he’s clearly more brilliant than his superiors. Would being more compliant or diplomatic have been an effective strategy for him? Compare his social strategy with Charlie Wilson’s.

Overall Grade: B+
This is scary and intriguing. If you don’t mind the realism of the language, booze, sex, and violence, it’s well worth the time to watch.

Water Horse, Legend of the Deep, The (2007)

Rated: PG
Length: 112 Minutes
Grade: BABB=B
Budget: $45 million (Probable)
Box Office: $40 million US, $59 million Intl, $ million DVD

Directed by: Jay Russell, who previously directed Ladder 49, Tuck Everlasting, My Dog Skip, and End of the Line.
Starring: Alex Etel, Emily Watson, Ben Chaplin, David Morrissey, and Brian Cox.

A young boy living on Loch Ness discovers a buried egg which hatches and grows up to become the famous monster during World War II.

Entertainment Value: B
This is another Walden Media movie, and, as they have demonstrated before, they make good family movies from books. The plot is interesting, the CGI for the creature was done by Weta, who became famous for their work on Lord of the Rings, and generally this is an entertaining film.

Superficial Content: A
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sexuality A, Violence B+, Language A, Illegality A
Yet again I disagree vehemently with the MPAA here. The only drug use is that there’s some smoking and several scenes at Scottish bars with alcohol, which strike me as particularly silly things to grade down for. The backdrop for the story is that the father has been killed in action but the boy doesn’t know this yet. There are some very moderately scary scenes with the monster, but I though less troubling than the climactic battle sequence in Sleeping Beauty with the dragon. I let Spencer watch it, and he seemed totally untroubled by it.

Significant Content: B
Imagination is important. Loyalty is important. Warfare is destructive of both bodies and spirits. Sometimes magic is real. The only real negative here is that the boy keeps the creature secret from his mother with the complicity of other characters.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
I thought the animation was particularly good, and no surprise coming from Weta. Also, although the format for the movie was a rip-off of the Princess Bride story-telling concept, it still worked rather well. But even the way the story was staged had a kind of simple authenticity that has become the expected norm for Walden Media. They’re not likely to produce any masterpieces, but so far most everything they make is pretty good. Certainly good enough to say that Walden Media is the modern-day live-action heir to the Walt Disney throne.

Discussion Questions:
~What should Mowbray have done when he discovered Angus’s secret?
~Why do you think Mowbray is so particular about who uses which name of his?
~Who in this movie demonstrates real courage? Cowardice?
~Why is it important for people to dream up imaginary creatures? Is there any harm in thinking they are real?
~Why do you think Christians are sometimes troubled by the idea of fantasy stories, magic, and imagination?
~Do you believe the Loch Ness monster is a real creature?
~Captain Hamilton tries to protect Angus from Mowbray and teach him discipline by doing soldier activities. Why does he fail? Have adults ever tried to help you in a way that wasn’t helpful? Has their help ever turned out to be good eventually even though it wasn’t enjoyable at the time?
Overall Grade: B
Once again, a fine movie for young children based on a book brought to the screen by Walden Media.

Blind Dating (2007)

Rated: R
Length: 95 Minutes
Grade: DDDD=D

Okay, it only made $90,000 at theaters, and the audiences weren’t wrong. I thought the premise was interesting, a blind guy tries to find love with the help of his friend setting him up on blind (get it?) dates with girls who don’t know he’s blind. But in execution it was pretty terrible, and at least a notch or two more vulgar than it needed to be. So, just in case you were thinking about this, I’ve endured it so that you don’t have to.

Heartbreak Kid (2007)

Rated: R
Length: 115 Minutes
Grade: DGHF=G
Budget: $60 million
Box Office: $37 million US, $91 million Intl, $11 million DVD

Directed by: The Farrelly Brothers, Bobby and Peter, whose previous work includes Dumb & Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, Me Myself & Irene, Shallow Hal, Stuck on You, and Fever Pitch (which was excellent).
Starring: Ben Stiller, Jerry Stiller (And, yes, Ben and Jerry are son and father) Malin Akerman, Michelle Monaghan, Jerry Stiller, Rob Corddry, Carlos Mencia, and Roy Jenkins.

After marrying a beautiful woman he hardly knows, Eddie quickly discovers he’s made a horrible mistake. While on their honeymoon in Mexico, he meets another woman and falls in love with her, though only he knows he’s married.

Entertainment Value: D
If you love vulgar, stupid, senseless, situational-stress comedy a la Ben Stiller’s usual junk, you’ll possibly enjoy this. Otherwise, it’s awful. I will admit that there are a handful of funny moments, but this was surely a quittable movie. But my wife likes to punish me by forcing me to finish movies we’ve started sometimes.

Superficial Content: G (Yes, on an A-F scale.)
Drugs/Alcohol F, Sexuality G, Violence C, Language G, Illegality C
There is graphic sex content and sex discussion. And the use of language is atrocious, really bringing a new low to vulgar terminology. Also, people are always getting drunk and sometimes high. But otherwise, it’s squeaky.

Significant Content: H (Again, yes, on an A-F scale.)
Simply put, this is the most evil movie I have seen in recent memory. The movie is completely hostile to marriage, enthusiastically pro-divorce, and thoroughly noxious to traditional morality. It actively makes you want divorce and infidelity.

Artistic/Thought Value: F
This is a classic piece of literature set to a brilliant score and with subtle nuance makes you think of several transcendent themes. No, wait. It doesn’t do any of that. This is dung on the garbage heap of modern culture. And in case you think I’m exaggerating, the whole reason I’m doing this review is so that none of you are even remotely tempted to rent this trash.

Discussion Questions:
No. Because that would be to imply that there is something worthwhile here and also to imply that any of you would have disregarded my advice and actually watched this movie.
Overall Grade: G
I don’t know if I’m more bothered that this movie actually made $37 million in the US or that it apparently made $91 million overseas. What an embarrassing day for America. If ever we were justified in censoring exported media on foreign policy grounds, this would be the test case.

Bee Movie (2007)

Rated: PG
Length: 90 Minutes
Grade: DB-DC=D
Budget: $150 million
Box Office: $127 million US, $160 million Int’l, $55 million DVD

Directed by: Steve Hickner, who previously did The Prince of Egypt, and Simon J. Smith, who made Shrek 4-D.
Starring: The voices of Jerry Seinfeld, Renee Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, John Goodman, Chris Rock, Kathy Bates, Barry Levinson, Rip Torn, Patrick Warburton, Ray Liotta, Sting, Oprah Winfrey, Larry Miller, Michael Richards, and Larry King.

Barry the Bee is frustrated. He doesn’t want a life of monotonous work, but adventure. So, one day he goes out with the pollen gatherers, gets separated from them, befriends a human, discovers the evils of honey farming, and embarks on a crusade to end the barbarity and return the honey to the bees who own it.

Entertainment Value: D
Wow. Look at all those voices and all that production value and all that profit. So what. This is a movie about talking bees meeting humans, falling in love with one, and then suing the humans in court to get back honey from the evil bee farmers. A bee is equal to a human is the main idea here, and I could never get past either that point or the idea that any human wouldn’t just kill a bee on sight.

Superficial Content: B-
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sexuality C, Violence B, Language B, Illegality A
Okay, I know I’m going to sound like a nut for saying this, but wouldn’t a romance between a bee and a human still count as bee-stiality? I know, I know. But how can I not find that problematic? Also, there is talk of a suicide pact, many bug deaths, moderate language, sexual innuendo, and bugs shown being gassed and behaving as if drugged. In all honesty, my dislike for this movie is probably clouding my judgment here, but there you have it.

Significant Content: D
Bees and humans are equally valuable. Work is drudgery. It’s immoral to take honey from bees, since they work so hard to produce it, without giving them the profits. Evil corporate lawyers are also usually Bible-thumpers. On the other hand, I’ve got to admit that what seems like do-gooderism winds up almost destroying the whole planet, which certainly could be seen as a commentary on the dangers of environmentalism and the very sort of animal egalitarianism which I am penalizing this movie for. And, in the end, the movie also heavily criticizes the idea of bees living lives of leisure instead of work.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
The animation is spectacular, though it’s still Dreamworks and not Pixar. But given the premise and worldview issues, it’s hard to go above a C here, even though it has many clever lines and lots of “pay attention” gags.

Discussion Questions:
~Do you think this movie is promoting environmentalism and animal rights or satirizing the concept?
~Is it plausible that a bee and a human could ever become friends? Would anyone act so as to save a bee from being swatted?
~Why do bees exist?
~What does this movie have to say about American society and our pursuit of leisure? Is this movie advocating something like the Protestant work ethic?
~Can animals own things? What does the Bible say?
~Is there anything wrong with taking honey from bees? Milk from cows? Making meat?
~Do you think it could be dangerous for kids to watch a movie which portrays bees as our friends and killing them as wrong? Why?
Overall Grade: D
The comedy here is clearly Seinfeldesque, but the message is so wrong and the plot so dumb that I had a hard time really enjoying it.

Nancy Drew (2007)

Rated: PG
Length: 99 Minutes
Grade: BB+A-B=B+
Budget: $20 million
Box Office: $26 million US, $5 million Int’l, $8 million DVD

Directed by: Andrew Flemming, who’s made a few TV episodes of Arrested Develoment and Grosse Pointe as well as Bad Dreams, Threesome, and The Craft.
Starring: Emma Roberts, Rachel Leigh Cook, Tate Donovan, Barry Bostwick, Laura Elena Harring, Rich Cooper, Max Thieriot, and a cameo by Bruce Willis.

Frustrated with his daughter’s self-endangering sleuthing activities, her father gets her to promise she’ll give it up during their temporary relocation to Los Angeles. She doesn’t, and she tries to solve a decades old murder mystery and also make friends in a new school.
Entertainment Value: B Solid. This is a good movie for young boys and girls, very much in the same class as the Nancy Drew books (and Hardy Boys, for that matter). If you aren’t familiar with the books, think live action Scooby Doo without the ghosts or the talking dog.

Superficial Content: B+
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality B, Violence B, Language A, Illegality AThis is almost a G rated movie, but not quite. There is a lot of talk of the murder, love affairs, and general life-threatening situations On the other hand, if it were a cartoon, it would certainly have been G rated. I’d say PG-5 or 6.

Significant Content: A-
The only mark against it is that she breaks a promise to her father and keeps this from him throughout the movie, but because everything turns out in the end, it’s okay. Otherwise, this movie is truly conservative: modest attire is fashionable, being smart is cool, courtesy and obeying the law matter, both the ends and the means are important, traditional values are good, and religion is even present in a healthy way in the beginning.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
Like I said before, it’s solid. I would love to see this launch a series of movies on the character, just so that young women get a healthy alternative to all the crud that they’re exposed to about how they should dress and behave. Just like the books, the ideal here is excellent.

Discussion Questions:
~In 2008 America, what ways are left to be independent and rebel against the norms? Is Nancy Drew a rebel against current teenage girl norms?
~Do you think Nancy should have been punished for lying to her dad? What would have been appropriate.
~Have you ever been the victim of a practical joke intended to embarrass you? Is there a difference between practical jokes by friends and those by enemies?
~Have you ever felt like an outsider or felt pressured to conform to standards you didn’t like? How did you handle it? What does Nancy do, and how realistic is this?

Overall Grade: B+
Well done, folks. My wife thought the last 20 seconds tainted it for her, but this movie is very good. I have friends with girls who will love this.

Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (2007)

Rated: PG
Length: 94 Minutes
Grade: BBCB=B
Budget: Unknown.
Box Office: $9 million US, $22 million Intl, $6 million DVD

Directed by: David L. Cunningham, whose previous work was The Path to 9./11 and To End All Wars.
Starring: Alexander Ludwig, Christopher Eccleston, Ian McShane, Frances Conroy, James Cosmo, Jim Piddock, and Amelia Warner.

In this adaptation of the second book of Susan Cooper’s excellent Dark Is Rising series, Will Stanton begins to have strange experiences at the time of his birthday. He learns that he is a central figure in an epic battle between the powers of light an those of darkness and must battle his own uncertainties and the real dangers to find the ancient signs that will save the world from darkness.

Entertainment Value: B
I read these books in grade school, and loved them. Not quite as much as Lloyd Alexander’s Taran series, but I still loved them. But the movie, though good, was a little flat for me. As so often happens, the richness of the book, where the author can take time and put you into the story, just isn’t easy to bring to screen. Cooper, at 73, was not apparently involved in making the movie, and as critical reviews have noted, the story is significantly different from the book.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality B, Violence C, Language A, Illegality A
The language is clean, and there is a minor romantic interest between a girl and a boy. But the real issue here will be supernatural scary weird magic stuff. In one scene, a flock of crows attack people a la The Birds, and one character is implied to have been killed. There are several scary battle sequences. I’d call it PG-8 or 9.

Significant Content: C
Good must fight evil, but the outcome is not guaranteed. Good and evil are both real forces, which makes this a semi-manichean movie rather than a Biblical one, even though it’s made by Christians. The weapons of choice are not natural, but supernatural. The family is large, which I like.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
It definitely had the feel of a Walden Media film, which isn’t a bad thing. Their films have a certain over-colored realism that I recognize immediately from Bridge to Terabithia, Mr. Magorium, and Charlotte’s Web. With the exception of Mr. Magorium, which was never a book, I generally would prefer to see kids read the books Walden makes into movies. They’re good movies, but they’re far better books.

Discussion Questions:
~Are people special because they have massive historical significance and supernatural powers or because they are made in the image of God? Which answer does this movie encourage?
Are the Old Ones like God or angels, or what? Is the worldview here one of a personal God and Satan or more like the Force of Star Wars? Is evil an actual force, or merely the absence of God? Does this movie represent a Biblical worldview in your opinion? Consider the way the dark and light seem very evenly matched and also the lack of a transcendent God governing things.
~This movie advocates the notion of sacred objects and sacred spaces of refuge. Is this a Biblical idea?
~Have you ever been wrong about who was really your friend? Have you ever been betrayed by someone you trusted? Have you ever felt the need to cover up a mistake you’ve made which then led you into deeper trouble?
~The Rider offers eternal beauty as a reward for helping him, think of some ways in which this offer is made to women in America in 2008. Who is the Rider, then?
Overall Grade: B
I found it enjoyable and action-filled. Certainly medium aged children will enjoy it as well. It may sound like a Harry Potter knock-off, but since the books predate Rowling by over 30 years, the likely truth is the other way around.

TV Set, The (2006)

Rated: R
Length: 87 Minutes
Grade: CCBB=C
Budget: $2 million
Box Office: $265 thousand

Directed by: Jake Kasdan, who wrote, produced and directed this as well as Orange County and Zero Effect and the new on DVD Walk Hard.
Starring: David Duchovny, Ioan Gruffudd, Sigourney Weaver, and Judy Greer
Summary: A semi-successful writer struggles to bring his beloved television pilot to air against the stifling and commercial minded network corporate types.

Entertainment Value: C
This was an occasionally funny one-trick satire intended to show how art becomes mediocre garbage through the process of turning a script into a show. It had to be a nearly volunteer gig for the actors given the budget, and it shows, even though it’s one point is well made.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality B, Violence A, Language C, Illegality A
Rated R for language, and that’s correct, given the number of F-words and other profanity. The only other concern is some discussion about a suicide being the key theme element in a show and some mild romantic kissing.

Significant Content: B
When art and profit collide, the result is usually well-polished garbage that moves no one. But artists have families to feed in addition to their art to make. One could call it a cynical look at how TV is made, but given the actors involved, I’d suspect this is disturbingly close to real life.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
It’s agonizing to watch what happens to Duchovney and to his little creation over the course of this movie. The movie definitely succeeds at bringing us in on his perspective. An additional bonus is the outstanding supporting role of Alice Greer as the peacemaker/truthtwister assistant who serves as the clutch that lets the artist’s engine function properly with the transmission mechanism of the network. She is currently starring in Miss Guided, a very funny satire on school administrators, and starred in 27 Dresses, which I now want to watch.

Discussion Questions:
~What does the phrase “sell your soul” mean in the context of this movie? Do you think Duchovney did that here?
~Do you think the portrayal of actors is accurate here? If it is, what does it tell us about their character as people?
~Does Weaver’s character understand what she’s doing in this story? Is she ignorant, evil, or what? Are corporate representatives wrong for putting money first, given that this is actually their legal obligation?
~Given the tremendous success of innovative shows such as Desperate Housewives, Lost, ~Pushing Daisies, and even American Idol why do you think networks still rely on knock-offs, imitations, and other garbage so much of the time? Is it because they can’t find good innovation or is it because they want to play it safe in case things don’t work out?
~What do you think of the assistant? Is she doing good by her spin tactics, or is she responsible for helping talk the artist into compromise?
Overall Grade: C
If you’re interested in watching a disturbing process that probably goes a long way to explaining why most TV is such drivel, you’ll want to watch this. Besides, it’s pretty short.

Kite Runner (2007)

Rated: PG-13
Grade: CCBC=C
Full review not yet written. Feel free to post your thoughts.

Bee Movie (2007)

Rated: PG
Grade: DB-DC=D

Full review not yet written. Feel free to post your thoughts.

Dan in Real Life (2007)

Rated: PG-13
Length: 99 Minutes
Grade: B+B+B+AA=A-
Budget: $25 million (est.)
Box Office: $48 million US, $12 million Int’l, $12 million DVD

Directed by: Peter Hedges, who wrote and directed the obscure Katie Holmes film Pieces of April and wrote the screenplays for About a Boy, A Map of the World, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
Starring: Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook, Alison Pill, Brittany Robertson, Marlene Lawston, Dianne Wiest, and John Mahoney.

Dan Burns is a parenting columnist struggling to raise his own two daughters after the death of his wife. While on the annual family vacation, he happens to meet the lovely and enchanting Marie, who at first seems like his second chance at a soulmate until she turns out to be dating his immature playboy younger brother and staying at the family’s beachfront cottage.

Entertainment Value: B+
It was really, really, really almost an A. But I think I’ve been giving too many As lately, so I’m raising my standards. The picture of a family is wonderful, perhaps a little too wonderful, but nonetheless a great image to hold in our minds. The realities of parenting and relationships are clearly shown. This is Steve Carells make-up movie for what Little Miss Sunshine could have been but wasn’t because of its excessive vulgarity. Mr. Carell, I accept your apology.

Superficial Content: B+
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sexuality B, Violence B, Language A, Illegality A
There is one scene of a woman and a man in a shower for comedy, but nothing is shown. There is some implied romantic activity, including shown kissing, and a girl dancing suggestively at a bar. And there’s one scene with a man getting punched. Otherwise, clean. That’s why I’m very surprised this was PG-13. I would certainly rate it PG.

Significant Content: B+
There is a difference between being a father and being a dad. When you’ve found the perfect person for you, you cannot go on acting as if you haven’t. Just because someone is a great catch doesn’t mean they’re a great match for you. Don’t make plans, the future will surprise you. True love can be known very quickly, and very deeply. What we want out of life is a bundle of contradictions. Children often know things that adults have lost sight of, even though they lack knowledge. Love, family, honesty, and authenticity are all very important in this movie.
Artistic/Thought Value: A I love a movie that explains itself without explaining itself too obviously, and that’s what happens in this movie in the bookstore scene. Even though you sense that you know what’s going to happen all along in this movie, it’s still quite wonderful watching it get there, even the anxious moments, which are usually my least favorite in awkward situation stories. I particularly valued the way this movie portrayed family and real intimacy among family members. It’s sort of the opposite of The Family Stone.

Discussion Questions:
~What is the difference between loving someone and loving the idea of that person?
~What does it mean when the daughter tells Dan that he’s a good father, but not a very good dad? ~Why does Dan refuse to believe she came up with that idea herself? How does this notion of original ideas become a theme in the movie? Consider the role that Dan’s book plays in the plot.
~How long do you think it takes before you know that you truly love someone enough to commit your life to that person? Do you think the daughter’s romance is authentic? Consider the willingness of the boy to come to Dan for permission.
~How would radical honesty changed the plot of this movie?
~Is it really as impossible to plan for the future as this movie seems to say?
~Do you feel sorry for anyone in this movie? Why?
~What does this movie intend to say about advice columnists? How does the Biblical instruction to judge a tree by its fruit fit here?
~Is this movie a realistic portrayal of what tight families can really be or a caricature of them? Consider the aerobics scene, among others.
~What do you think about Dan’s choice regarding Marie? Marie’s choice regarding Mitch? How would your answers have changed if Marie and Mitch were engaged or married? What does all this have to say about the value of exclusive dating relationships?

Overall Grade: A-
Very enjoyable and thoughtful. And certainly fine for most anyone to watch, even younger kids.

No Country for Old Men (2007)

Rated: R
Length: 122 Minutes
Grade: AFAA=A
Budget: $25 million
Box Office: $74 million US, $79 million Int’l, $31 million DVD

Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen, who have previously made The Ladykillers, Intolerable Cruelty, O Brother Where Art Thou, Big Lebowski, Fargo, Hudsucker Proxy, Barton Fink, Miller’s Crossing, and Raising Arizona.
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Kelly MacDonald, and Garret Dillahunt.

While out hunting one day, Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon the scene of a major drug deal gone bad and he makes off with a suitcase full of money. Unfortunately for him, a ruthless sociopathic killer is on his trail, while the local sheriff tries to figure out who is killing all these people including one of his deputies.

Entertainment Value: A
It felt a little like a hybrid of Pulp Fiction and Kalifornia, but told at a Tommy Lee Jones pace. In short, it was excellent. You don’t know for sure what’s going to happen, but it’s not going to go just as you wish it would. And the key to this movie being so engaging, of course, are the three lead roles: the wise sherrif, the competent protagonist, and the mercilessly shrewd villain. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won four of them for Best Director, Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor. That last one was a lock for Javier Bardem. Only someone with an objection against this kind of movie would dare doubt it deserved everything it won.

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sexuality A, Violence F, Language D, Illegality F
I went back and forth on whether to call this a D or an F, and I almost gave it a D only because I could almost see this movie being shown on network television with some editing. But in the end, I had to give it an F for all the killing, killing, and more brutal violent bloody killing. I admit that may say more about network TV than about this movie. There is also some strong profanity, no sexuality, and some alcohol consumption as well as the premise of the story being about a drug deal gone bad. Certainly, this is rightly R rated, and it is not for kids.

Significant Content: A
The subtitle for this movie is, “There are no clean getaways.” And since the movie itself is far from moralistic, I’ll take that as my cue for the lesson, which is that everyone connected with crime suffers from it eventually, whether they were personally guilty or not. At the risk of giving away too much, I believe the point of this story was to be a story without a point…other than to make us ask questions about ourselves in the watching of it. Efforts to moralize here are a waste of time, in my view. One lesson that comes across, however, is that the notion that horror is new in history is a narcissistic self-delusion. There is no new atrocity under the sun, just na├»ve golden age revisionism that is shocked only because of its short memory.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
Precisely because of what I’ve just said, I’m compelled to give it an A for art value alone. One of the great strengths of this movie is its restraint in deliberately refusing to show us things we want very badly to see, especially the penultimate scene. The discussions between Chigurh and his victims are ripe with material, as are the commentaries of Sheriff Bell. This is a masterpiece by the Cohen brothers, but not their first.

Discussion Questions:
~What does the coin flipping symbolize? What does Moss mean when she says that the coin does not actually have a say? Did Chigurh kill her or not? Why do you think so, and how does your answer fit with his character? Why did the filmmakers refuse to show us what happens?
~Fatalism is the idea that we have no free will, even our choices are an illusion, and the world is playing itself out just as it must. Discuss whether this movie is fatalistic. Do the choices people make in this movie matter or not?
~Why does Chigurh use the device he does to kill people? What is that meant to symbolize? What is it intended to tell us about such brutality and the psychology of a sociopath? Would you describe him as a hunter?
~In what ways would you say that Chigurh is like Satan? In what ways not? Consider his eloquence and the fact that he doesn’t use profanity. Does Chigurh live by any rules? If so, what are they? Is there any sort of honor in him? Consider his explanation of why he visits Moss.
~One might say that every character in this movie who came in contact with Chigurh played by his rules except for Moss. If Chigurh represents the devil, why is this insight significant? Would you describe her response as a Christlike one?
~Who in this movie is the most terrifying, and why?
~Discuss the varying perspectives from which we see Carson Wells, from the ultra-confident problem-solver to the other ones.
~Is crime these days significantly more deranged than crime used to be? How do you know? How does modern media influence our perception of such a thing? How does the lack of camera footage from the past keep us from accurately perceiving it? Why do we idealize the past? Is this tendency psychologically healthy or unhealthy?
~What does this movie say about the presence of evil in the world and about the possibility of quietly avoiding it?
~In what way might this movie be seen as a metaphor for the current conflict between a civilized Western world and the barbarism of Islamic terror? Consider the way that Sheriff Bell seems to take the entire movie just to come to grips with the reality of the evil he is facing. Also consider the issue of principles in both men.
~Does justice ever occur in the end of this movie? How is that fact relevant to the message it intends to convey?
~Discuss Sheriff Bell’s comments about expecting God to come into his life somehow later in life.
Overall Grade: A
This is a fabulously engrossing movie about evil and horror set against a landscape background that is nothing short of breathtaking.