Beowulf (2007)

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sexual material and nudity.
Length: 113 minutes
Grade: B+DBB=B
Budget: $150 million
Box Office: $231 million ($82 U.S., $114 Intl., $35 DVD)

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis, who made Polar Express, Cast Away, Contact, Forrest Gump, Romancing the Stone, Romancing the Stone, and (most famously) all three Back to the Future films.
Written by: Neil Gaiman, of comic book fame whose best movie was Stardust, and Roger Avary, who wrote Silent Hill, Rules of Attraction, and worked on the Tarantino films Pulp Fiction, True Romance, and Reservoir Dogs.
Starring: the voices of Robin Wright Penn, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, Crispin Glover, Ray Winstone, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Coppola, and Angelina Jolie. Summary: Based on the ancient fantasy hero tale of Beowulf, this story follows the legendary hero as he comes to Denmark to kill the demon Grendel, only then to discover that the mother demon is far more insidious.

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

Speed Racer (2008)

Rated: PG
Length: 135 minutes
Grade: B+BCA=B+
Budget: $120 million
Box Office: $68 million ($38 US, $30 Intl)

Written and Directed by: Andy and Larry Wachowski, who made all three Matrix movies and V for Vendetta.
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Nicholas Elia, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox, Scott Porter, Benno Furman, and Richard Roundtree.

Speed Racer has continued in the racing tradition of his family, even after the untimely death of his elder brother, Rex, who was heavily maligned by the press for his racing tactics. Speed is offered the chance of a lifetime to become a racer for the powerful Royalton Industries, but he soon discovers that giving up independence for a corporate sponsor is not the sweet deal he imagined.

Entertainment Value: B+
I really enjoyed this movie, which we saw as a double-header after Indiana Jones. As with any Wachowski brothers production, it’s hard to separate art impact from story and acting because the visual effects are so amazing, but this movie still had good acting and a compelling plot, not because it was believable but because it was exactly as over-the-top hyperbolic as a live-action adaptation of a Japanese anime series should be.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol B+, Sexuality B+, Violence B, Language B+, Illegality B
There is racing action and several crashes, including discussion of at least one death. There are some fights with guns and poisonings as well as a man having his finger implied to be chewed off by piranha. The language and sexuality are pretty tame. PG-5 or 6 is just right. Again, we let Spencer (4) watch this and never felt the need to cover his eyes, although he did fall asleep after half an hour, amazingly for a car racing movie.

Significant Content: C
Corporations are evil. Racing is fixed and managed by media and money interests. But virtuous people win in the end with a little help from their friends. Justice will prevail if only you’re willing to work for it long enough. Loyalty matters tremendously.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
I was constantly blown away by the visual effects in this movie, which are truly overwhelming. The overall style is quite unique, feeling a little like Pushing Daisies crossed with a cartoon and the Matrix, as you would expect given the directors. It’s not so much a thinker as a flat-out feast of hyper-stylized visual action sequences.

Discussion Questions:
~Are corporations as evil as this movie portrays? What are the benefits and disadvantages of having corporations?
~Are independents always virtuous just because they don’t go along with the big companies?
~If you follow professional racing, how much of this movie is applicable to that sport today?
~Do you think this movie is meant as a critique of any other industry, such as filmmaking itself? If so, does it’s release by Warner Brothers and production by Joel Silver seem at odds with this message? What about other professional sports such as baseball, football, basketball, and hockey?
~How important is winning? How important is competing fairly?
~Compare and contrast the lessons of this movie with those of the movie Cars.
~Do the good guys always win? How important is it to have movies where the good guys always win, even if they don’t in real life?
~“It doesn’t matter if racing changes, it only matters if we let racing change us, “says Racer X. What does this mean, and do you agree? Consider the applications to real world social issues, for instance. Is this a martial arts concept?
Overall Grade: B+
Okay, confession time. I never watched the original cartoon growing up, so everything I’ve said must be taken as a stand-alone commentary. For those of you who loved the cartoon, I just hope it lived up to your expectations as much as it enthralled me, who had never seen it before. That said, very entertaining and fun to watch.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for adventure violence and scary images.
Length: 120 minutes
Grade: B+BBC+=B
Budget: $185 million
Box Office: $315 million ($165 US, $160 Intl)

Directed by: Steven Spielberg, ‘nuff said.
Written by: George Lucas and David Koepp
Starring: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, and Jim Broadbent.

Flashing forward from The Last Crusade 19 years to match the aging of the star actor, we find our famous hero battling the Russians who hope to take over the world by using the powers contained in a legendary skull and the city of gold it leads to.

Entertainment Value: B+
I liked it. It had a good beat I could dance to. But seriously, this was very much in the tradition of the two great Indiana Jones movies (few fans discuss Temple of Doom in polite company). They managed to keep it entertaining, only modestly over the line of believability, and somewhat thematic. Some people (my wife) will complain about the ending, but real fans of the series will feel like this is an excellent fourth installment. It’s certainly far better than National Treasure 2, which was bad and then felt like a rip-off as well after I saw this and realized the basic plot concept was the same.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sexuality A, Violence D, Language C, Illegality C
This is by far the cleanest one yet, sex-wise. Even kids-in-mind gave it a 1. The violence is similar to previous, some quite violent scenes of death such as being killed by a rocket blast, and some semi-scary supernatural creepy-horror stuff. Breaking of the law is common, including grave-robbing. There’s a bit more language than I would prefer, but not so much that it felt out of place. PG-13 is correct, although we let Spencer (4) watch it and only had to tell him to cover his eyes about three times. Last Crusade was PG-13 and the other two were made before PG-13 was a rating in mid-1984.

Significant Content: B
The world is full of adventure. A full life is a combination of book-learning and real life application. Power must always be pursued by good people in order to keep it out of the hands of bad people, who will always pursue it on their own. Family matters. Supernatural things might be real. Self-reliance is a good thing, but working as a team is better. Beware of governments. The Communist era was one of great suspicion, where innocent people were harmed by associative guilt. Real strength is shown by restraint and calm, not by rash threats. But the main theme here is that knowledge is real treasure.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
As a wild action movie, this is very satisfying. As a thought-starter, not so much. The end scene was well over-the-top and implausible, but so what. It’s Indy. Anything can happen. My wife disliked that the supernatural power in Raiders and Last Crusade was God-centered, but this wasn’t, and I agree that’s a defect. I will give credit for something that I wouldn’t have noticed except for having just recently seen National Treasure 2. This movie takes enough time to explain itself to the audience so that we can understand what’s going on whereas that other series doesn’t. This makes Indy’s movies much easier to enjoy. Given that Indy has had clear evidence of God’s power previously, I do wish he had learned this lesson and applied it here.

Discussion Questions:
~Why does Mutt seem so angry? Compare his level of strength and confidence with Indy’s. What does over-aggressiveness say about a person?
~Do you believe in supernatural things other than God?
~Have you ever been accused of something only because you happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or because of people you hung around with?
~Which is more precious: gold or knowledge? Why? What does the Bible say?
~Have you ever been betrayed by someone who you trusted? What was that like?
~Indiana Jones has seen God’s power clearly demonstrated before. Does he seem like a person transformed by this experience? Would Indy likely pray or seek God if he were real? Why doesn’t he in this movie?
~Which matters more: academic learning or real-world activities?
Overall Grade: B
Good and faithful to the tone of the former movies, and certainly far better than National Treasure 2.

Flicka (2006)

Rated: Rated PG for some mild language.
Length: 100 minutes
Grade: CBBC=C+
Budget: $15 million
Box Office: $72 million ($21 US, $1 Intl, $50 DVD)

Directed by: Michael Mayer, whose only other movie was A Home at the End of the World.
Written by: Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner, who collaborated before on wrote Mona Lisa Smile, Planet of the Apes (2001), Mercury Rising, Star Trek VI, and and Superman IV.
Starring: Tim McGraw, Maria Bello, Alison Lohman, and Ryan Kwanten.
Full review not yet written. Feel free to post your thoughts.

Untraceable (2008)

Rated: R for grisly violence and torture, and some language.
Length: 101 minutes
Grade: DFDD=F
Budget: $35 million
Box Office: $29 million US, $22 million Intl, $9 million DVD

Directed by: Gergory Hoblit, who previously made Fracture, Hart’s War, Frequency, Fallen, and Primal Fear.
Written by: Robert Fyvolent and Mark Brinker, which is their first effort.
Starring: Diane Lane, Billy Burke, Colin Hanks, Joseph Cross, and Richard Lewis.

An FBI cyber-crimes expert and her team try to stop a computer expert who uses a website that tortures people to death at a rate determined by how many viewers are logged in.

First, I hate gore, and this was unpleasant to watch. Second, many of the plot elements were unrealistic, such as the number of viewers involved. Third, whatever consistency the criminal had at first was destroyed when he went after the FBI itself. I watched it hoping it might prove worth watching, but it didn’t. This is not a clever whodunit, this is a horror film, and the content elements are awful, especially the violence and gruesome killing of people. I won’t even describe it to you. The movie intends itself as a social commentary on news voyeurism, but the message is simultaneously so redundant and exaggerated that it becomes unpersuasive. Besides, how can you make a movie criticizing watching violence which indulges in this very violence? There are only a couple of meaningful questions you might ask:
~Who is sicker, the villain in the movie, the fictional accomplices to his crimes, or the real-life audience who watches this movie?
~Who is responsible for violence which is done in order to be reported upon: the criminal, the media, or the viewers?
~What other activities might have similar parallels for culpability as the ones in this movie? Consider drug consumption and the current violence in Mexico, for instance.

Gone Baby Gone (2007)

Rated: R for violence, drug content and pervasive language.
Length: 115 minutes
Grade: CFDB=D
Budget: $19 million
Box Office: $20 million US, $10 million Intl

Written and Directed by: Ben Affleck, in his directorial debut, although he did previously write the excellent Good Will Hunting.
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, John Ashton, Amy Madigan, and Titus Welliver

When a little girl is taken from the home of a lousy mother in a Boston neighborhood, the other relatives hire Patrick Kenzie to find her, using his unique street connections. Over time, drug dealers, pedophiles, and the police become embroiled in the thickening plot.

Entertainment Value: C
If you want an immersion experience into the uglier side of Boston life and language, perhaps you’ll like this. For my taste, the excellent acting by Casey Affleck and Ed Harris is undone by the frustrating plot and a simple difficulty understanding what anyone is saying because they mumble or swear it all Boston-style.

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sexuality D, Violence D, Language F, Illegality F
If superficial content will bother you, this will bother you. Admittedly, there’s no sex or nudity, but the plot involves pedophilia, which alone should rightly make it R. Otherwise, lots and lots and lots of profanity, enough violence to also justify the R, and the whole thing centers around illegal activity. So…F.

Significant Content: D
If you actually intend to watch it, then stop reading. I can’t discuss the movie any more without revealing plot elements. But the content here is bad, too. Cops are dirty, even when they’re trying to be decent. The world is full of scary people. And, even if you do the right thing, you’ll suffer for it because those who love you will want you to do the wrong thing that they think is right.
Artistic/Thought Value: B For recreating a slice of authentic Bostonia, it’s good. Otherwise, I have trouble here. However, the one thing I will give credit for is that you’ll want to talk about the ending with anyone you watch it with. In the end, this is a classic ethical dilemma scenario between consequentialism (which says to do the thing that produces the best results) and deontology (which says to do the thing that follows the rules).

Discussion Questions:
~Does guilt over our behaviors always mean that we committed a sin?
~Does our unwillingness to do something again mean that it was automatically wrong to do it the first time?
~Would you have done what Patrick did inside the house?
~When Bressant explains what he did in planting evidence one time, what do you think of his decision? Are his descriptions of how kids forgive and don’t judge, is he referring to anything Biblical? How does this influence the way you analyze his behavior?
~Would you have done what Patrick did in the end? Was the child better off? What do you think about his girlfriend’s decision?
~How should we balance our obedience to the rules with our obligation to practically make the world a better place?
~In the beginning Patrick says that the important parts of our identity come from the things we don’t choose, like our neighborhood and our family. Do you agree? How might this explain his later decision?
Overall Grade: D
I have trouble enjoying such a morally ambiguous movie, especially where even the otherwise likeable girlfriend leaves the hero in the end. Nonetheless, the acting is generally excellent.

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)

Rated: R for violence, gore, and language.
Length: 86 minutes
Grade: DNF
Budget: $40 million
Box Office: $42 million US, $87 million Intl

Directed by: Colin and Greg Strause, who haven’t directed anything worth noting, but have worked as visual effects supervisors on a ton of high-quality action movies, including the new Incredible Hulk, Jumper, and previously made The Invasion, Fantastic Four Rise of the Silver Surfer, Shooter, 300, X-Men, Poseidon, Aeon Flux, and T3.
Written by: Shane Salerno, who wrote UC Undercover episodes, Shaft, and Armageddon.
Starring: Steven Pasquale, Reiko Aylesworth, John Ortiz, Johnny Lewis, Ariel Gade, and other people.

You have to understand something. Alien, Aliens, and Predator are some of my all-time favorite action/horror movies. (Alien Resurrection was universally recognized as silly.) AVP 1 was pretty lame as I vaguely recall, but I thought I’d give this a try anyhow. Oh how disappointed I was. This was awful. I had to force myself to even make it 40 minutes in before I just quit in frustration, and I only got that far after three different attempts. The plot makes no sense. It’s neither scary nor good action. It’s impossible to visually follow what’s going on. And they seem bent on destroying all the characters. There just wasn’t anything in this to draw me in or to keep me there once even if they had. And the goofy premise of the half-Alien, half-Predator was nothing more than an Alien derivative that I don’t know why they bothered. As Homer Simpson would say, “Boooring.”

Bella (2007)

Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements and brief disturbing images.
Length: 91 minutes
Grade: ABAA=A
Budget: $3.3 million
Box Office: $8 million US, $1 million Intl

Written and Directed by: Alejandro Gomez Monteverde, who’s never directed anything you’ve heard of before.
Starring: Eduardo Verastegui, Tammy Blanchard, Manny Perez, Ali Landry, Angelica Aragon, Jaime Tirelli, and Ramon Rodriguez.

Jose is the brilliant cook in his brother’s restaurant who was once in prison for killing a child while driving. When he learns that a recently fired waitress is pregnant and wants to have an abortion, he spends some time with her, discovering that life is full of little wonders.

Entertainment Value: A
This is a sedate movie that takes its time showing us life at its pace, by which it entices you to become more aware of life around you as well. The characters are fairly straightforward, and good. It has a captivating sense, like it’s a foreign film, but one you still want to watch.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality A, Violence B, Language A, Illegality A
This movie is mostly very clean. However, the opening sequence involves a child being killed by a car, which is extremely disturbing. Obviously, the overall plot of the movie involves sex and abortion, but this does not entail anything explicit. I think PG-9 would be about right.

Significant Content: A
The subtitle of this film was “One day can change your life forever,” and so the movie shows, both for the awful and for the wonderful. And this movie is essentially about the power of time and particular events to shape us. It is one of the clearly pro-life movies of the year, doing so without being anti-abortion. Families matter greatly. Food matters. And the pace of the city influences people to make bad decisions, which they’d learn if they would just slow down a bit. The things we think matter the most at the moment often matter very little in realty. And, most importantly, God's plans are not the same as our plans, but His certainly are better.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
The year 2007 will surely be noted as the year that Christians figured out a way to bypass the standard battle lines in the culture war and simply show meaningful movies. It’s a movie that’s hard to describe because it’s so much of a visual-emotional experience.

Discussion Questions:
~Have you ever had to choose between some pressing obligation and spending time with someone who clearly needed it? What did you do? Would you describe that as ministry?
~How is the pace of this movie connected with the events it portrays? Consider the food being made in the restaurant with the food being made at the family’s house.
~Why do you think Jose takes the time to spend with Nina? How did his previous life as a soccer star and then killing the child change him? Would you call him a crusader?
~What comparisons might you draw between Jose and Jesus Christ?
~Have you ever lived in the city and also in the country or the suburbs? How does the difference in pace between them affect people? Why do you think that people in cities are so much more likely to favor abortion, for instance?
~What is the scene with the blind man in the city meant to show us?
~Verastegui was a very successful Mexican soap opera star before he came to Christ and realized his acting wasn’t doing anything beneficial. How does his choice to do this movie also parallel the motives of Jose?
~How might the events of this day have turned out differently if Jose hadn’t spent time with Nina? What if she had encountered a pro-life protestor rather than Jose?

Overall Grade: A
It surely didn’t make as much money as Juno, but this is a wonderful and equally potent film that all people would benefit from watching.

30 Days of Night (2007)

Rated: R for strong horror violence and language.
Length: 113 minutes
Grade: CFDB=D
Budget: $30 million
Box Office: $39 million US, $35 million Intl, $24 million DVD

Directed by: David Slade, whose only other work was the disturbing Hard Candy, which I have not seen.
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Meilssa George, Ben Foster, and Danny Huston.
As vampire movies go, this has one strong and many weak points. The strength is the portrayal of the vampires, which is brutal, violent, and cleverly written with the subtitles. The problems were in the plot. This was the action flick with a hundred implausibilities and unexplained developments. Plus, where’s the scare factor in killing everyone in the beginning and then wondering what the plot will be for the next hour? The movie felt simultaneously like The Thing (for obvious reasons) and any number of recent bio-hazard/zombie/vampire movies, but it wasn’t as good as any of them. I watched it alone in the dark, and I can’t think of a single moment where I felt any fear at all. It was more of an action movie than a horror, even though I do think the vampire portrayal was solid. It’s very heavy on gore, and there are several very disturbing images. You'll enjoy I am Legend or even 30 Days/Weeks Later better if you enjoy this genre.

27 Dresses (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for language, some innuendo and sexuality
Length: 107 minutes
Grade: D+C+DD=D
Budget: $30 million
Box Office: $77 million U.S., $76 million Intl., $ million DVD

Directed by: Anne Fletcher, whose only previous directing was Step Up, although she’s worked on a bunch of movies, and produced The Wedding Planner.
Written by: Aline Brosh McKenna, who wrote Devil Wears Prada, Laws of Attraction, and Three to Tango.
Starring: Katie Heigl, James Marsden, Malin Akerman, and Edward Burns.

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. That’s Jane’s life story, but now that her deceiving sister has scammed her way into being engaged to the boss Jane secretly loves, and she even wants Jane to plan the wedding, she has to decide what to do. Oh, yeah, and the guy who writes all the wedding columns she adores is a jaded jerk who happens to have the hots for her.

Entertainment Value: D+
Only grading it a D+ was generous. I’ve only seen her in two films, but Malin Akerman is already on my list of people whose movies I refuse to watch. Heartbreak Kid was the other one. This movie was far less funny than it could have been, and all the major opportunities for good plot moves went the wrong way. The best thing about it were the credits, which were actually fairly cute. And the opening DVD menu has weird flecks on it that seem like they’re on your TV.

Superficial Content: C+
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity C, Violence B, Language C
Given that it’s a romantic comedy, it’s fairly clean. Language, sexual situations and jokes, people drinking alcohol at weddings, and some suggestive attire are the only issues here. PG-13 is correct.
Significant Content: D
Jane is portrayed as a barren doormat for other people because she brings joy to them by helping them enjoy their weddings. When she finally does confront her sister, this is treated like a bad thing. You can tell who you love by kissing them. Rather than any one thing, it was more the death of a thousand paper cuts for me with the substance here. When the movie acted like something was right, I thought it was wrong, and vice versa. I will grudgingly admit that the whole premise of the movie is to move a relationship toward marriage, so I guess that’s a good note.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
A mish-mash of a thousand other dating and wedding movies with nothing particularly unique to offer here, this was an interesting concept bungled into mediocrity.

Discussion Questions:
~Think of some situations in this movie where honesty would have averted problems.
~What is the Biblical pattern for confronting someone who is sinning? Do you think that Jane followed it? Did she do anything wrong in your opinion? If the purpose of confrontation is to provoke repentance, was the confrontation here successful?
~How important is kissing to love and a strong marriage?
~Did Kevin lie to Jane? Is there a difference between allowing someone to believe an error and leading them into it?
~In what ways is Jane living in a fantasy world? Is her life dysfunctional or a proper use of her gifts to bless people? What would happen if more people were like her? What would happen if more people took the advice of this movie to be more into themselves? Do we have a selfishness deficit right now in America?
~What do you think of Kevin interviewing her and taking pictures to use in a story without telling her or getting her permission first? Is this honorable behavior? Is journalism generally honorable, in your opinion?
~Can you tell whether you’ve done the right thing by how you feel about it afterward?
~Do you know anyone in your life like Jane? Tess? Who are you more like?

Overall Grade: D
Annoying, not cute, from menu to movie.

Golden Compass, The (2007)

Rated: PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence.
Length: 113 minutes
Grade: B+BBB+=B+
Budget: $180 million
Box Office: $70 million U.S., $301 million Intl., $ million DVD

Directed and written by: Chris Weitz, who has produced a handful of things and previously wrote/directed About a Boy.
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards, Christopher Lee, Eva Green, Sam Elliott, and the voices of Kathy Bates and Ian McKellen.

Based on the first Phillip Pullman novel in the His Dark Materials series, this is the story of a group of people in an alternate universe where souls travel beside them as animals. There is a sinister plot to kidnap children because of the danger that they will be polluted by some mystical substance called dust, and a motley crew of outcasts is fighting to stop it.

Entertainment Value: B+
This is a lot to pack into a single movie, and even though I watched it and understood everything, it felt like I was missing stuff because so much was going on. But the sheer visual wonder of the other world is breathtaking. It’s a visual masterpiece, which really put the creation of Narnia to shame by contrast. Plus there are lots of fascinating characters. On the downside, it felt a bit derivative of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and even the slightly obscure but delightful Stardust. Still, a very enjoyable experience.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity A, Violence C, Language A
Sex and language are non-concerns here, so the only real issue is violence. There are battle scenes involving people being killed (and their soul-animals disintegrating) and some frightening scenes with children being threatened or harmed. Also, an entire race of people are witches.
Significant Content: B
There is clear good and evil, although the evil may appear good at first. Dust is a substance that brings insight and wisdom. Some people are able to tell the truth with the use of a special device. Freedom and independence are good. Authoritative oppression of free will and independent thought are evil. Souls are not firmed up in their shape until later in life.

Artistic/Thought Value: B+
As I said, I thought the creation of a truly impressive visual world here was fabulous, and the world itself was very interesting. The unfortunate part was that several of the plot elements and particular scenes felt like Star Wars to me, and they didn’t have to. But the really interesting part of this movie was the basic element of the animal-souls. The idea of picturing your soul as some sort of intelligent animal and interacting with it seems like a very useful allegory to me. But here are the two concerns I suspect people will have. One, why should human souls look like animals? Two, why on earth did they make the colossally unsavvy decision to call them daemons? Pullman is an atheist and has said that he wrote this to be the anti-Narnia, and the books eventually culminate in liberation by killing God supposedly, but this movie doesn’t contain any of that stuff. The movie on its own is just good fantasy fiction.

Discussion Questions:
~Who in this world acts most like the magisterium in this movie? Is it religious authorities, academics, politicians, media makers, or someone else? Who does Pullman want you to think of in this connection?
~Does Pullman’s anti-Christian agenda show in this movie? Does the viewer have to accept his intended meaning for it? Does it matter more what an artist intends to say or what people get out of the work?
~In what says is dust like sin? In what ways is it like the presence of God?
~Discuss the scene where Kidman physically abuses her own soul. Are there people who abuse their soul like this?
~What animal would represent your soul, if you’re honest about it? Are you happy with this or would you like your soul to look like something else?
~How is the elithiometer like the Bible and how not?
~What similarities do you see here with Star Wars? What with Lord of the Rings?
~How should we view authority in this world, according to the Bible? How should we balance doing what others want (submission) with what we want (independence)?
Overall Grade: B+
Despite some flaws and a too-rapid plot, I enjoyed this movie and generally think American Christians were wrong for refusing to watch it.

Cloverfield (2008)

Rated: PG-13
Length: 84 minutes
Grade: BC?C=C
Budget: $25 million
Box Office: $80 million U.S., $88 million Intl.

Directed by: Matt Reeves, who has directed a handful of TV show episodes. But the key here is that the producer is JJ Abrams, the maker of Lost and Alias.
Written by: Drew Goddard, who is a writer for Lost, Alias, Angel, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Starring: Mike Vogel, Michael Stahl-David, Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, TJ Miller, and Odette Yustman.

On the eve of his departure for Japan (hint, hint), Rob’s party is interrupted by an attack on New York City from an unknown creature. Separated from his true love, Rob and a group of friends try to find her as they try to escape Manhattan alive.

Entertainment Value: B
It would have been an A, except that the ending was so disappointing. Here’s the key. If you love JJ Abrams’s style, you’ll love this. Think of it as Godzilla meets Lost told in the style of the Blair Witch Project. I was frustrated by the lack of explanation of anything and the disappointment with things getting resolved, which is the same reason we don’t watch his hit TV show either. But it certainly does what it tries to do, make an entertaining action-immersion film.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity B, Violence C, Language C
There’s gore and gruesome activity here, but it’s nothing you couldn’t easily show on network television. Likewise, the language here is rightly PG-13, but probably not in need of much editing to make broadcast standards. There is one opening scene in a bedroom where nothing is shown, but prior sexual activity is implied. And the movie starts with a party scene and people drinking.

Significant Content: ?
What lesson could possibly be drawn here? It’s just not that sort of movie. Scary monsters are scary? Living through a tragedy feels very different from the news coverage you’re likely to see about it.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
Very, very, clever, but perhaps too much. The real problem here is that it never quite delivers, plus, as I said, I despised the ending. Nonetheless, the style of filmmaking here does a very good job of putting you in the frame of mind of being these people. At the same time, I kept being reminded of the implausibility of the notion that anyone would actually film ALL OF THIS while living through it precisely because of the device of showing it through that camera.

Discussion Questions:
~How do you get your information on major breaking news events? Does that information seem reliable?
~Why do you think this movie ended the way it did?
~Did your experience of this movie help you have any understanding of what it might have been like to live through 9/11 in New York City?
~Compare the use of the Statue of Liberty in this movie and your reaction to it with the use in other movies, such as Planet of the Apes, Escape from New York, Independence Day, AI, and The Day After Tomorrow. Why is the Statue of Liberty so powerful as a symbol? What does it mean to you?
~Does processing fear in movies like this help you handle fear and anxiety in ordinary life?

Overall Grade: C
I’m sure there are a thousand blogs and dozens of insider clues to find in the movie, but I just don’t care enough to go back and look for them. This was fine to watch for 75 minutes (without credits), but it didn’t deliver nearly as well as I had hoped it would.