Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008)

Rated: PG for thematic material, some disturbing images and brief smoking.
Length: 90 minutes
Grade: AAAA=A
Budget: $3.5 million
Box Office: $7.7 million (7.7 U.S.)

Written by: Ben Stein and Kevin Miller
Directed by: Nathan Frankowski, with his second documentary.
Starring: Ben Stein and a bunch of scientists on both sides of the evolution/IDT debate.

Ben Stein travels around like Michael Moore, an ordinary guy trying to get to the bottom of the Evolution/Intelligent Design Theory controversy in education. He interviews advocates on both sides, and eventually connects Darwinism with Naziism and the Holocaust.

Entertainment Value: A
As a propaganda piece, which this surely is, it’s excellent. It’s been heavily criticized for being biased and selective in its use of material. This is true. So what? The other side of this story can be heard 24 hours a day on any of a variety of cable channels or in any public school in the country. The movie regularly intersplices scenes from the Soviet and Nazi era as well as from old movies to emphasize various points it makes, such as that the science-academic complex behaves like bullies. The point is not to be fair, but to expose how unfair the current system is. That opponents complain about unfairness is patently self-incriminatory. Much as an attorney presents one side, Ben Stein is making the best film-making case against the exclusion of IDT he can.

Superficial Content: A
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence B+, Language A, Illegality A
There are a handful of archive scenes from concentration camps and a guy smokes in an old ad. Seriously, that’s it. Why is it PG? Perhaps to deter kids from seeing it? I really don’t know.

Significant Content: A
Freedom is the key operating value of America, and our history of choices in favor of freedom is the legacy we think of with pride. By excluding IDT from discussions of human origins, the current science-academic establishment is reducing freedom of inquiry. Shame on them. This history of Darwinism’s influence (Neo-Darwinism, today) has led many people to become atheists and was ideologically instrumental in Hitler’s Nazi purges of inferior races. Caricatures of IDT as a secret form of religion are the political tool used to suppress academic freedom.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
This is an excellent visual piece of persuasion about bias and academic bullying. Critics have complained that the examples aren’t what they seem, but I doubt their versions, too. I don’t need a movie to tell me that people get fired or miss tenure for questioning Evolution. I know this first-hand. And as the anonymous testimonies show, many people aren’t even willing to be shown because of their fears. Simply put, the science-academic complex can’t claim that IDT is merely religion and then turn around and say that it doesn’t discourage people from investigating that direction of research. Also, many of the pro-Evolutionists complain that they were interviewed under deceptive pretenses. Does this mean they wouldn’t have been so honest if they had known the real project? The raw truth is that there are moral implications to the denial of God’s hand in the origin of humanity. Though the vast majority of people who believe in Evolution also believe in God, the question of compatibility is a serious one.

Discussion Questions:
~What sort of influence does the teaching of Evolution have on a culture if they take the ideas seriously? Is it unfair to use Nazi Germany as an example here? Can you name any truly great civilizations or societies who were based on this theory?
~What do you think of the message in this movie that the science-academic complex is suppressing information and restricting freedom? Do you perceive that the Theory of Evolution is allowed to be criticized openly in schools, even if alternate ideas are not allowed?
~Social Darwinism in the early 20th century led to great abuses of ordinary people by wealthy business owners, among others. Were they misapplying the theory or understanding it properly?
~Does belief in Evolution encourage atheism? What would atheists believe without this theory?
~Given the worst implications of Evolution, why do so many people believe in it but not in these horrible conclusions? Are they being irrational? Under an Evolutionary worldview, what would the ultimate authority of moral commands come from?
~Does it bother you that the college crowd at the opening was made up of extras, not students? Does it bother you that the evolutionists were not told the truth about the nature of this movie? Do either of these things bother you as much as the treatment of IDT and pro-IDT thinkers by the education establishment?
~Science involves observable, repeatable, and measurable phenomena, and it’s ideas must make predictions, be falsifiable, and be held tentatively. Which of these criteria does the Theory of Evolution satisfy? Which does IDT?
~How useful is the analogy of the Berlin Wall? What does the wall represent? Are walls ever good?
~Why are Evolutionists so interested in always claiming that E is science but IDT is religion? Is IDT religion? What is at stake in winning or losing this category debate? How is this effort different from claiming that E is true, but IDT is false? What is being admitted by refusing to approach the discussion this way?
~Do you think this movie is effective at persuading people to ask questions about E and about education? Is it too over-the-top to reach those who aren’t already on its side?
~Is this movie about IDT and E, or is it about the systematic exclusion of IDT from science and academia? Why doesn’t the movie actually go into any details about what either theory holds?
Overall Grade: A
I still say that the single best visual argument for IDT and against Evolution is the scenes of cellular activity at about 40 minutes into the movie. How anyone can see that and claim that this was an undesigned result baffles me.

Incredible Hulk, The (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images, and brief suggestive content.
Length: 114 minutes
Grade: AC-C+B+=B+
Budget: $150 million
Box Office: $263 million (135 U.S., 128 Intl.)

Written by: Zak Penn (X-Men 2+3, Fantastic Four, Elektra, Behind Enemy Lines, The Grand, Inspector Gadget, and Last Action Hero), with an uncredited heavy rewrite from Edward Norton.
Directed by: Louis Leterrier (Transporter 2, and Danny the Dotg)
Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, and William Hurt.

In this alternate universe re-boot of the Hulk franchise (ignoring Ang Lee’s version in 2003), Dr. Bruce Banner hides from the military in South America while he tries to cure himself of the condition that makes him the big green beast whenever he gets excited. When they find him, he flees home, rediscovers his beloved Dr. Ross, and must battle a soldier who has allowed himself to become the Hulk’s longtime nemesis, “The Abomination,” by undergoing an experimental super-soldier treatment. It’s a comic book, duh!

Entertainment Value: A
I enjoyed this thoroughly. The best way I can describe it is that it felt like I was watching a two hour comic book brought to life on the big screen. There was good action paced with good story and just enough wicked cool impossible stuff to keep it fun. As much as I did enjoy Iron Man, I definitely liked this more. Plus, you gotta love the cameos with Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno (including voicing the Hulk).

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity B, Violence C, Language C+, Illegality B
There’s no problematic drugs here, but there’s plenty of chemical experimentation, so I wanted to mention that. There is some mild profanity. There is one not quite sex scene (his heart rate endangers the moment). But the obvious concern here is violence, and the scenes are pretty scary for younger kids, lots of mayhem and even some killing. Spencer started this one, but we stopped letting him watch it after about 15-20 minutes.
Significant Content: C+
Science is dangerous. The military is dangerous. Love is really important. And self-control is a crucial trait. Clean up your messes, if you can. It’s a Hulk movie, not a sermon.

Artistic/Thought Value: B+
Again, just for doing such a brilliant job of bringing a famous comic book character faithfully to life onscreen. Not so much for thought value. However, as many people have noted over the years, the Hulk is a brilliant metaphor for Christianity and sin. When we give in to anger, he literally takes over our lives and we wind up destroying things we regret after it’s over. This danger is always with us and cannot be stopped just by better self-control. What we need is a total cure, you know, a Savior.

Discussion Questions:
~How would you explain Christianity to someone using the Hulk?
~In what sense is Major Blonsky’s sense of identity tied to his fighting ability? Is this his idol? What does his declining physical ability prompt him to do because of this?
~In what sense is Bruce Banner’s sense of identity tied to his intellectual skills? Is the Hulk unacceptable to him because of the destruction he does or because of the loss of intelligence he suffers? Would you describe the Hulk’s condition as the result of intellectual greed, even though pursuing a good cause?
~What impression of the military does this film give? Compare it with the impression given by the Iron Man movie.
~What messages is this movie sending about science and technology? Can you name some other movies that have sent this same message? Why are we so worried about the dangers of technology even as we embrace technology? In what sense might you say that we have all suffered a “hulk-effect” from technological development?
~How might the Hulk plotline be an argument against any arms race and even for pacifism?
~Is self-control something that we practice like an athletic skill or something that comes directly from God as a gift of His Spirit? What are the dangers of thinking of it as a skill? What are the difficulties of thinking of it as a gift?
~Do you ever find yourself getting really angry? Does the Hulk’s example help you to calm down or encourage you to think that anger is cool?
Overall Grade: B+
Entertaining. Really entertaining. Hulk like. Hulk not smash.

Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything, The (2008)

Rated: G
Length: 85 minutes
Grade: CABC=B
Budget: $15 million, est.
Box Office: $13 million (All US)

Written by: Phil Vischer, one of the two primary creators of all the Veggie Tales stuff.
Directed by: Mike Nawrocki, the other primary creator of the Veggie Tales universe.
Starring: Um, the voices of Phil and Mike, and a handful of others.

Three distressed employees at a pirate dinner theater yearn for adventure and heroic accomplishments. They get their chance when a princess in a distant land sends for them with a magic ball and recruits them to help her rescue her brother from their evil uncle who intends to usurp the throne while their father is away.

Entertainment Value: C
I used to love Veggie Tales in the beginning. But the last few movies have left me pretty flat. I thought for the most part that this was silly and didn’t make much sense, but my boys seemed to love it. But what 4 year old wouldn’t love 85 minutes of vegetable cartoonery, especially when it involves cannibalistic screaming cheetos?

Superficial Content: A
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence B+, Language A, Illegality A
It’s G rated, right? Do you know how clean a movie has to be to get a G rating? Well, actually, not super clean, it just needs to be a cartoon. Well, this was definitely a G rated movie. There’s some very mild pirate violence and ship-based warfare okay? Even the bar scenes explicitly involve ginger ale and root beer.
Significant Content: B
The key theme of this film is that God, though distant, has given us everything we need in order to accomplish His purposes for us if we’ll just follow the course He’s laid out for us, no matter how much it might not look that’s the case. Heroes aren’t necessarily the ones who itch for a fight, but simply those who do what is right and necessary when it’s called for. One thing I didn’t like was that it made it seem like having a lowly job could never be enough to inspire your kids to admire you.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
My main annoyance here is that this movie’s basic premise felt so overused. Then again, it’s the basic story of the Bible of a returning king, although without the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ. One other minor gripe: the pirates who don’t do anything were hilarious before and it seemed to me like this movie borrowed on their entertainment quality but didn’t continue it.

Discussion Questions:
~Veggie Tales prides itself on being a Christian company, but is this message a Christian one? Since the characters basically find strength within themselves rather than needing to be redeemed by a savior, would you consider this evangelical? Is this the lesson the Bible really teaches: go do right and try hard?
~What makes Robert so evil is his desire to use the money his family owns on himself. In what ways are we like Robert in America? In what ways not?
~Have you ever wanted to seem like a hero without actually putting yourself at risk? How did it turn out?
~What makes a hero? Is it exotic adventures in faraway places or ordinary decency towards other humans in regular everyday life? Why might it be dangerous to give people the idea that heroism can only be had in adventure?
~Would you like to have a ball that told you when your tasks are done? How is that ball like a conscience or not?
~Have you ever made a list of all the things you’re afraid of? If you have, how did you approach overcoming those fears?
~How do the pirates deal with their own weaknesses? How do their weaknesses affect into their overall ability to do what the king wanted? Why do you think God allows us to have weaknesses?
Overall Grade: B
It’s Veggie Tales, which is a lot like saying it’s Walden Media. Good, not excellent. But certainly better than a lot of junk that’s out there.

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, language and nudity, although the DVD is unrated.
Length: 113 minutes.
Grade: DFDD=D
Budget: $90 million
Box Office: $211 million (100 U.S., 100 Intl., 11 DVD)

Written by: Adam Sandler (Little Nicky, Eight Crazy Nights, Big Daddy, Waterboy, Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, and the Hannukah song), Robert Smigel (of SNL), and Judd Apatow (Pineapple Express, Walk Hard, Knocked Up, Fun with Dick and Jane, and the 40 Year Old Virgin.)
Directed by: Dennis Dugan (I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Benchwarmers, Saving Silverman, Big Daddy, Beverly Hills Ninja, and Happy Gilmore)
Starring: Adam Sandler, Emmanuelle Chiriqui, John Turturro, Nick Swardson, and Rob Schneider, with cameos from Chris Rock, Mariah Carey, John McEnroe, George Takei, and Henry Winkler.

After years as the most heroic Israeli commando in history, hyper-sexual Zohan decides to fake his own death and move to America to make it big as a hair stylist. Changing his name to Scrappy, He winds working for a Palestinian beauty in a small shop and eventually falling in love with her. But his past follows him, and he must once again confront his nemesis, the Phantom.

Entertainment Value: D
Judd Apatow, Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel, and Dennis Dugan. What more do I need to say? I actually had the ridiculous gullibility to hope that this might be a return to the funny days of Adam Sandler (Happy Gilmore, e.g.) based on the ad, but I was wrong. The opening five to ten minutes is funny, but the rest is somewhere between stupid and raunchy, and I wouldn’t want to have to pick between them in a contest. I’m worried about a world where this movie makes $211 million. Are you serious?

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity F, Violence C, Language C, Illegality D
The ongoing theme of this movie is that Zohan will have sex with anyone, especially the old women who come to get their hair done by him. There isn’t any actual nudity, other than some back nudity of Sandler, but there are endless suggestive scenes with him gyrating on his clients and more. Trust me when I tell you it’s an F for sexuality even though there’s no nudity. I can’t believe this unrated DVD was PG-13 in any form it could conceivably been released in the theaters in. It’s the classic MPAA problem of grading on superficial markers without considering the real substance of the vulgarity.

Significant Content: D
The theme they hope you’ll take from this is that peaceful non-resistance and working together is the key to peace in the Middle East, but seriously, Adam Sandler is going to preach foreign relations? The other good theme here is that once Zohan finds a woman to really love, no other woman even interests him sexually. But should this be the new test? Have sex with anything that moves until you find you can’t except with one person? Even though it’s superficial content, the dominant theme of sexual permissiveness here cannot be understated. Otherwise, the real lesson here is that vulgar comedians can make a lot of money. Oh, yeah, and terrorists are people, too.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
Haven’t I sort of already explained all of this already? One thing I noticed was a thousand jokes I didn’t quite get because they are presumably inside humor about the Middle East. That’s fine for an audience of such folks, but the rest of us just watch in bewilderment.

Discussion Questions:
~Do you think this movie is an effective ad for passive resistance and cooperation with your enemies? How does Zohan’s seeming immunity to being harmed make it possible for him to endure the attacks against him? Is that invulnerability shared by the ordinary sufferers of violence and terrorism?
~How much did the use of inside jokes you didn’t understand affect your enjoyment of this movie? What lessons could you draw from this?
~Are the ethnic jokes in this movie funny or offensive? How does the presence of Sandler and Turturro in the movie make them more acceptable?
~To what degree is it useful to make jokes about the Middle East? Can you see this movie functioning to bring Arabs and Jews together?
~Is Zohan a hero?
~Do you think it’s correct to say that when you find the love of your life, your interest in all other people will disappear permanently?

Overall Grade: D
Don’t do it. You’ll be sorry if you do. Don’t let the clever ads mislead you. Most of the funniest parts are in the ads.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

Rated: R for sexual content, language, and graphic nudity.
Grade: BGCD=D
Length: 111 minutes
Budget: $30 million
Box Office: $120 million (63 US, 40 Intl, 17 DVD)

Written by: Jason Segel, with his first script.
Directed by: Nicholas Stoller, with his first movie. So the real name you want to know is…
Produced by: Judd Apatow, Pineapple Express, Superbad, Walk Hard, Talladega Nights, 40 Year Old Virgin, Kicking and Screaming, Anchorman)
Starring: Jason Segel, Kristin Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, and Bill Hader of 30 Rock.

After an unexpected breakup with his celebrity girlfriend, a devastated music writer heads to Hawaii and discovers his ex vacationing with another man. He starts to fall for the hotel employee, and a strange love rectangle begins to develop.

Entertainment Value: B
It’s funny. Not as funny as it could have been, and Paul Rudd wasn’t as hilarious as he’s been elsewhere. Oddly, the funniest person in this movie was Russell Brand, despite his deplorable MTV VMA rant a few weeks ago. Also, Apatow has a real gift for creating real and interesting characters who don’t always do the predictable thing. That’s probably the real foundation of his particular form of moviemaking, sort of an anti-Will Ferrell, if you see what I mean.

Superficial Content: G
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sex/Nudity G, Violence C, Language F, Illegal Activity NA
Here’s a clue, whenever the MPAA says, “graphic nudity,” they’re talking about men. Several times. In addition, there are a variety of overt sex scenes, although I don’t recall there being any actual nudity in any of them, which is unusual. Language is certainly enough to merit an R rating, with 35 F-words according to Kids-in-mind. Violence is some implied fighting and a scene of coral being stuck in a man’s leg and removed. There is a lot of alcohol and drunkenness.

Significant Content: C
When someone breaks your heart, it can be a chance to start over with an even better person. Follow your dreams. Don’t be depressed. Sex is important. Cheating is (mostly) bad. Modern society has turned women into men and men into women.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
The issue here is with superficial content. I’m pretty tolerant of vulgarity, but there were several moments in this movie that I am sure did not need to be there. I’d like to believe that this could have been made PG-13 with a little self control. It’s sort of like a comedian who swears for shock value even though you know he’s actually clever enough to not have to. One of these days Judd Apatow is going to get married and have children, and I hope he starts making more digestible movies when that happens. Well, sadly, I just checked and he is married with two daughters whom he has included in some of his worst movies, so, no luck there.

Discussion Questions:
~In what ways is Sarah Marshall really living out a male set of values? In what ways is Peter living out a female set of values? Consider Rachel and Aldous, and evaluate them on the male-female spectrum.
~Why does this movie only show Peter naked and not any of the women, even though that would be expected in a movie with so many sex scenes?
~In the scene where Sarah tries to outperform Rachel, Aldous refuses and complains about being used. Why would it bother him to be treated as he treats all women?
~When Peter tries to get over Sarah, he does it through meaningless sexual encounters. Why doesn’t this work?
~The newlyweds who have sexual trouble are Christians. What is this film trying to say here? Do Christians ever create problems by implying that if you just wait until marriage all the sexual stuff will just sort itself out perfectly?
~What does the ugly shirt symbolize?
~What do you think of Peter’s act with the photograph? Is that chivalrous? Is there a deeper symbolism for this particular act vis-à-vis the modern culture?
~What makes these characters believable instead of mere caricatures? Why do you think that comedies so often prefer their characters to not be innovative or realistic?
Overall Grade: D
This is Apatow in all his vulgar comedic glory but without many of the deeper (and even pro-life) themes that his other movies have contained. There are things here you can't unsee and will want to.

American Carol, An (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for rude and irreverent content, and for language and brief drug material.
Grade: C+C-B+D=C-
Length: 83 minutes
Budget: $20 million
Box Office: $6 million so far (6 US, 0 Intl, 0 DVD)

Written and Directed by: David Zucker, who directed Scary Movies 3 and 4 and wrote and directed Baseketball, the Naked Gun series, Top Secret, and Airplane.
Starring: Trace Adkins, Kevin Farley, Kelsey Grammer, Bill O’Reilly, Dennis Hopper, John Voight, Leslie Nielsen, James Woods, Gary Coleman.

In this spoof (did I give away too much?) of the Christmas Carol concept, Michael Moore gets a visit from the angel of death, who intends to show him the reality of America and the world and jar him into repenting for his anti-American filmmaking and his plan to stage a massive protest rally against the 4th of July.

Entertainment Value: C+
I laughed many times, but the problem here is that this is much more like the Scary Movie series than it is like the Naked Gun series. Also, it has the feel of something thrown together in time to release before the election rather than something nurtured to perfection over the normal process of refinement that any good satire should be. Nonetheless, I want to repeat that I laughed a lot.

Superficial Content: C-
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity C, Violence C, Language D, Illegal Activity C
Once again, we have a movie that is properly PG-13 but feels a lot worse due to the overall crudeness and vulgarity of it. One thing I particularly disliked was the use of so much profanity the young (grade-school age) children in the movie. That’s a bad example as well as disturbing. Think South Park. And there’s lots of violence in the bits about terrorism and suicide bombers. The sex is more in the form of references than anything else, although there is one fairly unpleasant scene of a cavity search at the airport. Definitely not a movie for kids.

Significant Content: B+ America is decent. Christians are not like Islamofascists. The ACLU are mindless zombies. Colleges are indoctrination centers. War is often necessary as a force for good. Modern liberals are betraying the ideals of their own heroes like JFK.

Artistic/Thought Value: D Contrived, hackneyed, and obnoxious while missing the elegance and polish that a real satire could have achieved. The problem here was not the quality of ideas, but the quality of presentation, and the poor quality of presentation winds up reflecting badly on the quality of ideas. I doubt this movie will make anyone change their minds or cause them to rethink their views, which means that it fails precisely where Michael Moore’s films (as bad as they usually are) at least have a chance at succeeding. Political conservatives who enjoy vulgar humor will love this. I’m not sure anyone else will.

Discussion Questions:
~Do you think this movie is likely to appeal to people who don’t already share its worldview?
~Is there a contradiction between the political conservatism being advocated here and the vulgarity with which it’s being advocated? Is Zucker trying to mix things here that don’t really mix? Can a pro-American film be simultaneously not family-friendly?
~Do you think this film was released at this time intentionally to influence the election? Does that bother you? Do you think this rushed production and made it a worse movie? What do you think of the release of political movies close to elections in general?
~What would Michael Moore think of this movie if he saw it? Rosie O’Donnell? The ACLU? College liberal students or professors? If the target were to persuade any of these people, how would you change it to accomplish that?
~Would you consider this negative advertising? Is it beneath conservatives or contrary to our ideals to make a film like this? How effective is satire in general? Does it do more to persuade the opposition or to make those who agree with you disrespect those people?
~Why did the makers of this film change the names of the people being satirized, even though it’s obvious which people they are?
~Do you think it’s possible that Michael Moore is a conservative plant acting like such a bad guy the way pro wrestlers do just to generate news and opposition? If he were, is he doing a good thing or not on net?
Overall Grade: C-
It has its moments, but this is surely no masterpiece, either of political satire or of jokesmanship.

Leatherheads (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language.
Length: 114 minutes
Budget: $58 million
Box Office: $45 million (31 US, 9 Intl, 5 DVD)

Written by: Two movie writing unknowns, Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly, two Sports Illustrated writers. However, Clooney had significant impact on the final version of their 17-year-old script, though the WGA declined to grant him writing credit for the film. Stephen Soderbergh also had a hand in the finished product.
Directed by: George Clooney, most famous for his acting, but also the director of Good Night and Good Luck and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.
Starring: George Clooney, Renee Zellweger, John Krasinksi, Jonathan Pryce, and Stephen Root, yes Milton the stapler guy.

This fictionalized account of the origins of modern professional football in the 1920s tells the story of a longtime pro player who tries to rescue the game from extinction by recruiting one of the top college players, a war hero, to play. But there are rumors that his war story is exaggerated, and a sarcastic reporter is tasked to expose the truth.

Entertainment Value: A-
Silly, charming, cute, and witty. This screwball comedy version of the original story was extremely entertaining. In fact, it sort of grew on me as the movie played on. Clooney and Zellweger are brilliant, and the thing that makes this movie work is the staccato dialogue which harkens back to the golden age of black and white romantic comedies of the 30s and 40s.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity B+, Violence B, Language C-, Illegality C
Set during Prohibition, the consumption of illegal alcohol is a constant issue, with several scenes taking place in speakeasies and people getting drunk and even brawling. There is plenty of smoking. Language justifies the PG-13. There are some mild sexual references, but certainly nothing awful. There are some war scenes and plenty of fighting. I wish they would have done it without the language, because it would otherwise be an outstanding film.

Significant Content: B
The major themes here are about corruption, honesty, loyalty, rules, and perseverance. It’s important to tell the truth and not exaggerate. People need heroes, even if they’re fabricated ones. Rules bring order but they eliminate the fun of chaos and cheating. It’s pretty much okay to do whatever you think is necessary to get the results you need. Mutual contempt is a great basis for romance.

Artistic/Thought Value: B+
This is a light-hearted, feel-good sort of movie, so it’s not heavy on the deep stuff. But for artistic value, the detail in the scene creation is amazing, especially given the difficulty of finding this vintage of props. And, once again, I loved the recreated feel of the old style romantic comedies of yesteryear.

Discussion Questions:
~Why do people need heroes? Is their need for heroes more important than their need for the truth? Which is more valuable: fake heroes or disappointing truth? Why do people get so angry when you try to reveal the imperfections or flaws of a hero? How is hero-worship an element of any country at war and also of sports? What about celebrities? Where do we get our heroes today?
~Is football better because of all the rules, or would you rather watch a game more like the way it was portrayed in this movie?
~Is Dodge a good person? Consider his wisdom, his honesty, and his friendship in your answer. Would you want him for your friend?
~Does the exaggeration over Carter’s story bother you very much?
~CC, Lexie, and Dodge all go after their goals with ruthlessness. But the movie clearly intends us to see their endeavors differently. Why so, and is the movie’s perspective fair?

Overall Grade: B+
Thoroughly enjoyable. I’m annoyed that this didn’t do better at the box office, and it kills me that Forgetting Sarah Marshall made three times as much as this film.

Iron Man (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content
Grade: B+CBB+=B+
Length: 126 minutes
Budget: $135-185 million
Box Office: $572 million (318 US, 254 Intl.)

Written by: Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, whose only notable previous work was the science fiction film, Children of Men.
Directed by: Jon Favreau, who previously made Zathura, Elf, and Made, also writing and producing Swingers.
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

After being captured by cave-dwelling terrorists and forced to build them an advanced weapon system, Tony Stark instead creates the prototype for his Iron Man suit. After discovering that his own company is the source of most of the evil in the world, Stark dedicates himself to turning his technical genius toward nobler pursuits. But not everyone is in agreement with his plan.

Entertainment Value: B+
Okay. I know I’m going to get a lot of grief for this one, but this movie was not the tightly wrapped work of genius that most everyone seems to think it is. It’s very good. And it’s in the long tradition of excellent adaptations of Marvel comic books to the big screen (ignoring Fantastic Four 2 Rise of the Silver Surfer). The problem is that it starts us off with sex scenes and playboy living, which is fine in the grand scheme of character development but annoying for a movie that kids should be able to watch. Then the entire first Act revolves around a ridiculously implausible scenario of virtually unsupervised work on the suit while he’s supposed to be building a missile. Plus, as later plot details show, the guys didn’t know they were getting Stark in the first place, but they still have this excellent plan for using him? All that being said, the action sequences and the rest of the movie are generally very entertaining. Downey Jr and Jeff Bridges are both brilliant in their respective roles, and the robot has comedic timing with machinelike precision.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity B-, Violence C, Language C , Illegality C
Lots of alcohol, a couple of unexpected sexual scenes in the beginning, comic book mayhem violence including people being killed, a smattering of minor vulgarities, and plenty of destruction of property in the fight scenes. In other words, it’s an Iron Man comic book. PG-13 is probably a bit high. PG-10 perhaps. We let Spencer watched the second hour or so. He likes jets and flames. However, be aware that the DVD deleted scenes have two much more sexually suggestive scenes included.

Significant Content: B
The worldview here is simultaneously dark and yet optimistic. The weapons manufacturers are evil, but the government is basically good. Even reckless playboy billionaire geniuses can learn to adopt decent values and take the world more seriously. It’s a shame to find that you’ve lived like Solomon but not lived for anything meaningful. Even tremendously flawed people can be superheroes.

Artistic/Thought Value: B+
First of all, this movie got right what the Transformers got completely wrong. The gadgetry wound up being mystifyingly cool without being so over-technologized visually that it couldn’t really be comprehended. One very interesting line of thinking here is the idea (not new) that innovators of weapons (such as Oppenheimer) wind up making the world worse even though they’re trying to make the world better. This is because the weapons they give in one generation to the good guys wind up being used to devastating effect in the next generation by everybody. This strikes me as a powerful example of the corrupting effects of worldly solutions. If that’s the progression, Jesus’s quiet admonition to turn the other cheek and to lay down your life for others winds up looking like a powerful preemptive rejection of the arms race.

Discussion Questions:
~In what sense is this a redemption story? Does Tony Stark succeed at redeeming himself from his own guilt and past? Does he do this by fixing all his character flaws or by transcending them? Do you think it’s possible to redeem yourself before God? What about before man?
~What’s your definition of a superhero? Why do all the modern incarnations of comic book heroes have serious flaws? Does this make them more or less believable? Does it make them more or less ideal as cultural icons? Does it make them more or less like Biblical heroes? What would you say to someone who complained that heroes should be pure and thoroughly heroic? Why the shift do you think? Is it a good one for our culture? What’s the main difference between the new breed of comic book movie heroes and Biblical heroes? What is the source of their success?
~In what sense would you say that Stark’s reform of his business principles is connected logically with his reform regarding women? Was Pepper a cause of his reform or just the natural corollary of it? In what sense would you describe her as the ideal wife even when she was just his secretary? Is it fair to describe secretaries as surrogate wives? In what ways is the secretary a good and in what ways a bad model for a wife? What insights about adultery does this line of thinking give you? Consider shared projects, competence, admiration, respect, and power in your answer.
~Although Stark changes in principle, business, and women, he doesn’t seem to become more humble after his ordeal. Does his arrogance and pride bother you?
~If developing weapons only makes the world worse eventually, should we simply abandon the project? Does it only make the world worse? What would happen if we invested a fraction of the money we spend on military R&D on political, social, or ethical R&D? Is this even a realistic or meaningful question?
Overall Grade: B+
Solid. Entertaining. Robert Downey Jr. might just be my favorite super-hero casting choice yet.

88 Minutes (2008)

Rated: R for disturbing violent content, brief nudity, and language.
Length: 108 minutes
Grade: BD-CB=B
Budget: $30 million
Box Office: $36 million (17 U.S., 14 Intl., 5 DVD)

Written by: Gary Scott Thompson, who is the main creator for the TV show Las Vegas, he also wrote for Hollow Man, Fast and the Furious, and is involved with the current Knight Rider series.
Directed by: John Avnet, whose previous work includes Red Corner and Fried Green Tomatoes, although he’s been the producer for Sky Captan and the World of Tomorrow, Inspector Gadget, Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her, When a Man Loves a Woman, and both Mighty Ducks movies.
Starring: Al Pacino, Alicia Witt, Leelee Sobieski, Amy Brenneman, William Forsythe, and Neal McDonough.

On the eve of the execution for a brutal serial murderer he helped convict, forensic psychiatrist Jack Gramm is being threatened with death if he can’t figure out who is behind a series of copycat crimes that seem to implicate him.

Entertainment Value: B
It’s a good thriller, although I’m generally not particularly fond of thrillers that are predicated upon bizarre sexual deviance, as this one is. Pacino is great, as usual. Neal McDonough is frightening, as usual. Sobieski is outstanding. Everyone else is, well, everyone else. It’s a well-designed whodunit with tension and uncertainty enough to keep you guessing…even if it’s sometimes totally implausible.

Superficial Content: D-
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sexuality D, Violence F, Language D, Illegality F
This pretty much has it all. The main issues here are some gruesome scenes of violence and torture and several violent episodes including people being shot and killed. Otherwise, there is one scene with nudity, several sex scenes, discussions of sex, plenty of alcohol, language, and, of course, it’s a movie about a serial murderer.

Significant Content: C
Justice matters. Sometimes the truth is hard to find through a court trial. People can be easily misled by psychologically deranged individuals. Grief combined with guilt are powerful motivating factors in some people’s lives. The path to victory is through strength and intelligence, taking matters into your own hands.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
As a thriller, it’s very well done in terms of misdirecting you. As expected, there are some unbelievable elements, such as the events at the apartment. But mostly, when judged as a thriller, this works quite well. One thing I really disagreed with here was the choice to go with the shortened ending. I strongly preferred the alternate ending, and I recommend you watch it if you get the DVD. It not only brought better closure to the movie, but it dealt with some of the substantial themes that had been previously ignored. Like the movie earned the right to say what it wanted to say about capital punishment and grief.

Discussion Questions:
~Consider how this movie tries to direct and misdirect you in order to keep the plot a mystery to you until the time they want to reveal the truth. Is such misdirection a form of lying? When you’re watching mystery movies, do you use your observations about what the movie is trying to get you to believe in order to figure out the truth of the plot?
~How does this movie leave you feeling about psychiatrists, police, and the law?
~Do you feel like justice was done at the end? What about in the alternate ending?
~Does this movie affect your view of the world and the safety of the world?
~What is all the commentary about free will supposed to mean?
~What is this movie saying about the people who get attached to murderers and strive for their release?
~Would it matter to you if he had coached the witnesses if it was patently clear to him that this person was guilty?
~Who in this movie is sane and insane?
~What do you think of Jack’s comments about the death penalty and personal grief in the alternate ending?
~Would you say that Jack is trying to atone for his earlier failure with the rest of his life? Why does he find it so hard to form attachments with people?

~Is Jack a hero?
~How might becoming a Christian have transformed Jack?
Overall Grade: B
If you can stomach the bad stuff, this is a very good thriller in the tradition of DOA and No Way Out.

Made of Honor (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for sexual content and language. (Downgraded from R)
Length: 101 minutes
Grade: C+D+BC=C+
Budget: $40 million
Box Office: $111 million (46 U.S., 59 Intl., 6 DVD)

Written by: Adam Sztykiel in his first film and Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, who previously wrote Can’t Hardly Wait and Josie and the Pussycats,
Directed by: Paul Weiland, who previously made City Slickers 2 and everything connected with Mr. Bean.
Starring: Patrick Dempsey, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin McKidd, Kadeem Haerdison, and Chris Messina.

A perpetual playboy, Tom Bailey finally realizes that the woman of his dreams is his longtime best friend, Hannah, who, gasp!, winds up getting engaged to an exotic Scottish Duke at the same time as he has this revelation. She asks him to be her maid of honor, and he must find a way to win her back before losing her forever.

Entertainment Value: C+
It was fairly funny in the beginning but gradually declined over the last half of the movie. The biggest problem here was that everything here felt soooo formulaic. It just seemed like everything here had been seen or done before, and often enough for me to have that feeling about it. Nonetheless, Dempsey and Monaghan are entertaining, and it’s not awful, if completely implausible.

Superficial Content: D+
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sexuality D, Violence B, Language C, Illegality A
Okay, the running gag in this movie was the grandmother unwittingly wearing a glow-in-the-dark sex toy as a necklace. That should tell you something about the overall class of this movie. Several sex scenes, although no nudity. One discussion is a man haggling over the precise commitment to sex acts with his bride for their prenuptial agreement. There’s plenty of coarse jesting, and the language is definitely PG-13. Honestly, I know that PG-13s get one F word, but the choice to use one in this movie was totally unnecessary and felt very much like they were just trying to satisfy their quota. This movie was originally rated R and then carefully edited down to squeeze into PG-13. I didn’t watch the deleted scenes, but be aware that they probably reflect this reality.
Significant Content: B
Sleeping around is ultimately unsatisfying because marriage is the only way to really be happy and fulfilled. Until you realize this, you’ll just be a guy. When you realize this, you’ll become a man. Or something like that. It’s okay to break up an engagement if you’re really in love. But my favorite theme here is that the person you should marry is the person you are best friends with and can spend hours of time with easily.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
There’s a fair amount of good stuff to discuss here, but the overall movie artistic value is pretty average. One thing I found irritating, the Scottish fiancée serves as the pretext for the second half of the movie, but isn’t it more plausible that they made this decision more so to guarantee an international market for the film? Also, please explain to me the geeky basketball hangabout guy.

Discussion Questions:
~In this movie, Tom and Hannah know they are right for each other because of friendship despite never having had sex. Despite all the sex Tom has with others, is this movie trying to teach people that sex is unnecessary in a premarital relationship? Is it even trying to teach them that it’s counterproductive?
~What do you think of Tom’s subversive activities? Was he being a true friend or not to Hannah? What would she have said?
~What do you think of Tom’s final act? Was he right or wrong for doing what he did? Did the punch exonerate him? What tactics did this movie use to manipulate you into thinking this would be best for Hannah also?
~Tom advocates the idea that it’s okay to be selfish and immoral as long as you’re honest with people about it? What do you think of this idea? Why is honesty important to him if sexual fidelity isn’t? Is honesty about your debauchery a virtue?
~Tom has crafted a whole series of rules to protect himself from any serious relationship? Are these rules wise or foolish? Why did he do this? How is his father’s love life a cause here? What does this say about the influence of divorce on children?
~Why is Tom so committed to his father’s re-remarriages but not to marriage himself.
~How often do you think that real friendships start with disliking someone?
~Do you think Tom and Hannah’s marriage will work? How likely is it that Tom will cheat in the future?
~In what ways does this movie parallel the process described in the parable of the prodigal son? Did Tom benefit from learning about the emptiness of meaningless sex by indulging in it? Was Hannah his savior?
Overall Grade: C+
Moderately funny. Interesting stuff to discuss. But pretty raunchy, even though it’s only PG-13.