Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for some sci-fi disaster images and violence.

Length: 104 minutes

Grade: CCCC=C

Budget: $80 million

Box Office: $245 million (79 U.S., 151 Intl., 15 DVD)

Written by: David Scarpa (Modern screenplay, The Last Castle) and Edmund H. North (1951 screenplay, Meteor, Patton)

Directed by: Scott Derrickson (Exorcism of Emily Rose, Hellraiser Inferno)

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connely, Kathy Bates, and Jaden Smith.


An alien in human form with a giant robot for a bodyguard comes to the Earth for reasons that are not immediately clear but seem threatening. While here, he encounters hostility and warmth and tries to understand the paradox of human nature.

Entertainment Value: C

I love a good action film, and I am particularly fond of sci-fi action films. But I want movies that make sense, follow rules I can comprehend, and then don’t make silly mistakes. For me, the enjoyability of this film suffered from a thousand paper cuts of things that just didn’t make sense, such as the initial shooting or how the parasites can eat a football stadium in seconds but don’t quite do anything to people hiding in a park tunnel and allow a man to walk fully across a field. It just seemed full of such stuff. But it was still good enough to balance out for an average grade.

Superficial Content: C

Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence C, Language B, Illegality A

This is pretty tame for a PG-13, with the only real issue being violence such as a man being shot, parasites killing people (implied, not shown), and people being hurt by piercing noises. I guess the PG-13 comes from the general tone of the movie and the “menace” of aliens threatening the Earth.

Significant Content: C Humans have the capacity for great evil and also great good. A quick examination turns up a very negative verdict, but a longer, more intimate exam would lead to an endorsement of our value. The planet has value far beyond the particular value of the human species so often responsible for destroying it. People (individuals or collectively) change when they reach a point of crisis which threatens to destroy them if they don’t. Nothing dies, it is just transformed into another manifestation. The Earth belongs to all species. We assume we have tremendous power, but in the face of real power, humans don’t seem so strong.

Artistic/Thought Value: C

Unlike great art, I felt a bit like this movie was over-blunt in its presentation of its ideas. On the one hand, the discourse on human nature is good but made so obvious that we can’t enjoy drawing it out. On the other hand, the environmentalism of the movie made me want to retch both for its silliness and for its obviousness.

Discussion Questions:

~Is it easier to love humanity in general or particular humans? What does this movie say? Consider those who claim to be acting in the interests of people (in general) but do great harm in the process.

~Two of the great themes of the Bible are the holiness and judgment of God and the intimate personal love of God. How are these themes represented in this movie? Is the alien a Christ figure? How so? Does he offer a personal relationship and salvation by his own work in us? Compare the aliens to God. Does the robot represent anything about God? Is this a religious movie? Compare the standards used to evaluate humans in this movie with those God uses.

~Are humans merely another species on planet Earth? To what degree does the Earth belong to us in particular?

~Are humans parasites? Are we a rationally justifiable species? If there were a trial on this question, how might it proceed? Is our belief that we are special just a byproduct of us being so powerful within this limited context of this particular planet?

~Is our treatment of the environment a manifestation of the same issues in our nature that are shown in our predilection toward violence and warfare?

~If the aliens knew that this day was coming, what do you think of their refusal to give us any advance warning of the fact. By contrast, what does this say about the Christian God?

Overall Grade: C
Acceptable, but rather disappointing for being only that.

Reader, The (2008)

Rated: R for some scenes of sexuality and nudity.

Length: 122 minutes

Grade: BGDA=B

Budget: $32 million

Box Office: $83 million (34 U.S., 49 Intl.)

Written by: David Hare (Nothing you’d know), based on the book by Bernhard Schlink.

Directed by: Stephen Daldry (Who must be the unacknowledged half brother of of Timothy Robbins and Greg Kinnear) (The Hours, Billy Elliot)

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Jeanette Hain, David Kross, and Kate Winslet.


In 1958 Germany, a teenage boy begins a sexual relationship with a woman in her late thirties, which eventually involves him reading classics to her because she is illiterate. Years after she breaks it off and he is a law student, he discovers himself observing a Nazi war crimes trial in which she is a defendant for having been a concentration camp guard.

Entertainment Value: B

Okay, this movie was nominated for five Academy Awards including best picture, adaptation, direction, and cinematography, but only Kate Winslet won for best actress. She deserves it, but I’m not at all convinced that the movie deserved so much attention. It worries me because there seems to be a trend that Hollywood highly acclaims any movie dealing with sexual aberrancy, and they appear especially fond of pedophilia. That said, we almost quit watching what was basically an underage porno for the first 45 minutes or so, but something in me suspected there might be more to this movie. There was, and the movie is worth watching, I guess. But even though I give it a B, I still feel like the movie was more than unnecessarily graphic about sexuality.

Superficial Content: G (as in worse than F, not to be confused with rated G.)

Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity G, Violence A, Language A, Illegality A

There’s a moderate amount of drinking and smoking. A woman is implied to have killed herself, and there is some discussion of a church burning with prisoners trapped inside it. But the real issue here is sex and nudity, which is graphic and repeated often in the first half of the film. This film should really be NC-17 for sexual content.

Significant Content: D

I have to say that the lessons here are a bit hard to identify and evaluate. I’ll give you what I think the main impact of this film is teaching. Sexual relationships between an adult woman and a teenage boy are fine. People are powerfully, even devastatingly, motivated by their notions of shame, although what they are ashamed of may not make sense to other people. Literature is often both a way of developing our moral and emotional senses as well as an expression of them.

Artistic/Thought Value: A

Like any good piece of art, the lessons here must be drawn out because they aren’t spoon fed to us. In my opinion, this is essentially a character study built around the notion of shame. It’s an unpleasant film to watch, almost a clinic in abnormal psychology only without all the gruesomeness of most such portraits.


Discussion Questions:

~Hanna often seems emotionally inept or even emotionless, but she also seems overemotional when touching moments in books occur. How do you explain this seeming discrepancy? Also consider the fact that she met Michael when she was kind to him during his illness. What is the movie trying to tell us about her or about people in general here?

~What is this movie trying to say about literature and the classics? Would Hanna have behaved differently if she had been literate or read the classics? Consider the Nazi preoccupation with high culture in your answer.

~Hanna seems virtually unashamed of her role in the death of a group of Jewish prisoners when she is testifying but is tremendously ashamed of her illiteracy. Why?

~Why do you think she tried to learn to read in jail? Why does the ending seem so frustrating?

~Why does Michael love her? Is his love mature or immature? Why? To what degree does love depend on unique, even secret, knowledge of a person? What interpretive key to this movie do you derive from the literature professor’s comments about the vital importance of secrecy in classic literature? Is this story an epic? A tragedy? Something else?

~What do you make of Michael’s decision concerning his knowledge of her and the trial?

~Why does Michael communicate with her in jail? What is he trying to accomplish? Does his persistence in doing this seem to fit with his lack of emotion about the project and her?

~Does Michael experience any shame in this movie? How does shame motivate him?

~Have you ever been ashamed of something? How did (or does) that sense affect you? How does Christianity deal with shame?

~Why do the German citizens hold the former Nazi guards in such contempt and hatred? Is this their way of proving to themselves how much better they want to believe they are? Is it because the guards remind them of their own complicity? It’s been claimed by some that black police officers are the harshest in their treatment of black criminals. Why might this be so, and what connection is there?

~Why is this movie told as a retrospective primarily? Why does it keep asking us the question of what was to be learned from various situations?

~How do understanding and condemnation tend to function against each other in our moral thinking? Is it at all frightening that God can fully understand and still fully condemn our sins?

Overall Grade: B
It’s semi-entertaining, fairly interesting to ponder, but certainly quite unfun to watch in the beginning.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Rated: R for some violence, disturbing images and language.
Length: 120 minutes
Grade: AD+AA=A
Budget: $15 million
Box Office: $ million (141 U.S., 186 Intl., 14 DVD)

Written by: Vikas Swarup (Novel), Simon Beaufoy (Screenplay, wrote Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Full Monty)
Directed by: Danny Boyle (Millions, 28 Days Later, Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary) and Loveleen Tandan (India consultant, had a hand in Vanity Fair, Monsoon Wedding, and The Namesake)
Starring: Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Madhur Mittal, and Freida Pinto.

Summary: Jamal is a contestant on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” but when he makes it all the way to the final question, the police arrest him because they can’t believe a kid from the slums could know all those answers. The story is built around him recounting the awful events of his life with his brother Salim and his beloved Latika each of which made it possible for him to know those particular answers.

Entertainment Value: A
This is gripping from the very beginning. Every vignette tears at you in some fashion without overwhelming you to the point of wanting to quit. Although the actual events seem plausible enough, the likelihood of receiving just those questions is of course absurd. But only the most persnickety of viewers would actually let that get in the way of loving this.

Superficial Content: D+
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity B, Violence D+, Language C, Illegality C
R is the correct rating, although I think teenagers could watch this because it’s not an enticing R. Every bad thing is clearly bad, so perhaps R-15 is right. The issues are actually sort of intermittent. It opens with a man being tortured, there are two murders (one of a mother), mob violence, and occasional other violence, but the most lasting image involves a man blinding a young boy with boiling oil. That image alone justifies the R. Otherwise, there is implied sex, a scene in a brothel, sporadic drunkenness and occasional strong language, mostly in text subtitles. Also, there are many scenes of poor children stealing and defrauding people. The other thing to be aware of is that there are lots of scenes shot in slums, which means scenes which are unpleasant to watch for a variety of reasons, even though they don’t necessarily merit MPAA demerits.

Significant Content: A
This is a movie which seems to be saying great things, but it’s actually a bit tough to describe exactly what they are. Clearly some of the major themes are the importance of family, the awfulness of betrayal, the power of sacrificial love, the idea of fate, and the continual oppression of the poor. But I think the most significant lesson from the movie is that love endures whereas material possessions do not, and for people to value money over love is a real tragedy.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
As just mentioned, part of what makes this movie so wonderful is that it is moving and memorable without necessarily being a morality play. This allows room for interpretation and discussion, both of which are strongly encouraged by the movie, I think. But for me there are two elements of artistic excellence here. The obvious one is the way this movie serves to make us feel (to the extent this is possible in a Western and comfortable society) the tragedy life as a poor person. In fact, the story serves so well as a pretext for exposing us to the Indian slums that I actually don’t quite know how this movie ever worked as a novel without all the visual amplification. So, in a sense this is like watching two hours of a World Vision commercial with far more devastating images and yet you actually appreciate it even as you’re repulsed. The other artistic accomplishment here is slightly less obvious. This movie seems to be primarily about the love of Jamal and Latika, but their characters don’t change. And, in fact, their story is really just an excuse to tell the truly interesting biography of Salim. So even the real focus of the movie is slightly hidden from view. Quality art, and I haven’t even mentioned to brilliant use of vivid imagery to emotional effect.

Discussion Questions:
~When a movie shows awful things, but they are shown as awful rather than celebrated or shown as enticing, should that affect the way the film is rated? Consider that the Bible contains many awful things in your answer.
~What is the meaning of the end scene with all that money in the bathtub? What is this movie trying to say about the relative value of money and of love? Why does the whole country care about Jamal? What does the audience watching this movie care most about? When the movie ends, what seems more valuable to you, love or money?
~When the movie talks about things “being written,” what is it trying to say? Do you believe in fate? In what sense is the idea of fate compatible with Christianity?
~Try to list all of the examples of the poor being oppressed in this movie. How many of these sorts of abuses are you able to avoid merely by being middle class or by living in a part of town where you can count of police protection?
~What scenes in this movie are most memorable to you? What does each of them have to teach you?
~Would you say that Jamal has earned his money? In what sense?
~Why does Maman use chloroform on the boy before he blinds him? Does this show a compassionate side of him or merely a more ruthless side? Is this scene made more or less horrifying by the absence of the child screaming?
~What lesson does Salim learn at the end of the movie which motivates his choices? Do you interpret a connection with his developing religious devotion? Is he a good brother?
~Compare and contrast the development of Salim and Jamal. Do they do different things? Are their motives and/or level of enthusiasm different? To what degree is each tarnished by his life?
~What are some examples of atonement or redemption in this movie?
~Why does Jamal lie about not knowing the answer to the literature question? What does this accomplish?
~Consider some Biblical ideas and their application to this movie? “He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword.” “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his brother.” “What does it profit a man that he gain the whole world but lose his soul.” The parable of the pearl of great price. “The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil.” How might you preach a sermon from this movie?
~Is this movie optimistic? How so? What is the pathway to success, according to this movie? What sort of salvation mechanism is this movie offering?
~In what ways does Jamal’s love of Latika remind you of Christ’s love of the Church.
Overall Grade: A
This won best picture, and it certainly deserved to do so.

Velveteen Rabbit (2009)

Rated: G
Length: 88 minutes
Grade: CAB+C=C+
Budget: $? million
Box Office: Released directly to DVD

Written by: Margery Williams (Book)
Directed by: Michael Landon, Jr. (Saving Sarah Cain, The Last Sin Eater)
Starring: Matthew Harbour, Kevin Jubinville, Una Kay, and the voices of Jane Seymour, Tom Skerrit, and Ellen Burstyn.

A business-minded London man sends his son to his grandmother’s house for Christmas. While there, he discovers an attic with magical animals that spark his imagination and restore his family’s relationships.

Entertainment Value: C
This half-live action, half-animated film is moderately entertaining. It’s simple, and generally fine for younger kids. My boys were into it.

Superficial Content: A
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence A, Language A, Illegality A
Michael Landon, Jr., rated G. What more do you want. There is one moment of slight peril in a cartoon scene with a fire and a boy has a really bad fever.

Significant Content: B+
Being loved makes us real, and loving makes us the most real. Everything that becomes real is first imagined. The heart is a great source of truth. Never let pragmatic concerns take away the fun of using your imagination. Toys help children process and deal with reality better.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
I liked the blended presentation concept, although I thought the animation was pretty weak (like Saturday morning stuff).

Discussion Questions:
~In the Bible, Paul talks about speaking as a child and playing as a child but then putting away childish things when he grew up. But Jesus teaches that we must become as children to enter the kingdom of God. In what ways is it good to be childlike and in what ways is it a bad thing?
~If it’s generally true that adults lose their flamboyance and imagination as they grow up, what causes this? Is a fertile imagination something we should nurture and protect? Which sort of person is more receptive to the Gospel: the imaginative or the pragmatic? Is a vivid imagination a help or a hindrance to accepting and serving God?
~How do grown-ups react when they are reminded of their youthful games and toys?
~Why are imaginary friends and giving toys personalities important elements of a healthy imagination? Can a child ever be too imaginative and not practical enough?
~What’s the difference between toys helping kids handle reality better and letting them escape from it? How is this distinction applicable to things like novels and movies?
Overall Grade: C+
This is probably one of those instances where the book is better off as a book rather than a movie, but if you want something safe for your kids to watch, here you go.

Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for some mature thematic material involving the Holocaust.
Length: 93 minutes
Grade: B+BAA=B
Budget: $13 million
Box Office: $41 million (9 U.S., 27 Intl., 5 DVD)

Written by: Based on the novel by John Boyne.
Directed by: Mark Herman, who hasn’t made anything you’ve heard of, Written by:
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Vera Farmiga, and David Thewlis.

A young boy in Nazi Germany finds himself separated from Berlin and his friends in Berlin when his father, an SS officer, is transferred to a rural area for oversight of a concentration camp. The boy doesn’t understand the situation and secretly befriends a boy in the camp even as his harsh tutor tries to indoctrinate him to hate Jews.

Entertainment Value: B
This is not a happy movie, although it is an interesting movie. The acting is good, the plot is quite interesting, and it’s fascinating to watch how the characters change throughout the film. The sheer novelty of the approach to such a difficult topic is fascinating. We are simultaneously drawn along with the boy as he struggles to comprehend the situation but also horrified that anyone can be so persistently naïve about what’s really going on. Plus, the idea of an SS officer as parent is certainly a fascinating perspective to see taken up, although I felt as the movie progressed that they forced him a bit too much into the expectation that overseeing the holocaust would make him a tyrannical husband and father at home. This makes it easier to hate him, but we already hate him, don’t we? Does he need to become something of a monster at home in order to make us hate him? Also, I don’t understand why they used actors with British accents for German characters.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol B+, Sex/Nudity A, Violence B, Language A, Illegality NA
Aside from social drinking and smoking, the only issues in this movie are the difficult topic of a Nazi Germany concentration camp and some violence. The violence is not quite what you might expect, rather a boy being shown after receiving a harsh beating, a man being dragged out of a room to be beaten, and the implied deaths of people. This is a rare case where I think the PG-13 is correct not because of anything especially awful in the movie but because this is not a movie you should assume is okay for younger children. I just think they won’t understand it, and it might be quite an awful thing for them to understand it. It’s not that only teenagers should see it, but as a parent you must know whether your children are prepared to learn about the holocaust or not.

Significant Content: A
Racism depends fundamentally upon actively manipulating people’s worst natures through repeated programming and on not having very much exposure to ordinary members of the target group. All people are people. The naïve fail to see what is incomprehensible to them. Many people in Germany did not know what was going on in the camps for real or did not know for a very long time. Fascism hates frivolity. Friendship entails sacrifice. Anyone’s child is everyone’s child.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
Artistically, it seemed pretty clear that the intent here was to symbolically represent the five or six kinds of Germans involved in the Nazi era, and as such, it’s quite well done. Also, as an artistic device, it’s clear that any exposure to real Jews immediately refutes the anti-Semitic propaganda being used to justify their extermination, and we see this juxtaposition being lived out in Bruno’s own life between his tutor and his friend at the camp. It also comes out as the adults try to explain to him what’s going on in terms that try to rationalize it but essentially fail.

Discussion Questions:
~Does this movie feel like an authentic exploration of the characters it starts with, or does it feel a bit like anti-Nazi propaganda? Consider, especially, the character of the father. Do you think it’s good or bad to have anti-Nazi propaganda films?
~How does the father's character change throughout the movie? How do you explain this?
~At the moment of Bruno’s awful cowardice, what is motivating him? How does his naivete about the situation cause you to feel more horror at his behavior than even he does? Can you think of any cases where you have lied or avoided taking responsibility for something like this?
~What do you make of the fictional movie of the concentration camps? Does this idea help you understand why many Germans didn’t realize what was actually going on? Does it make you blame them more for buying such a fantasy tale?
~If each of the German characters in this film are taken as symbols of a segment of the German population, whom do they represent?
~The ending is clearly meant to horrify us. Did it succeed with you? Why or why not? What lesson is the horror of it meant to impress upon you?
~Must racism always be taught? Does it require a lack of interaction with the despised? Why are people racists? Are they ever racists on the basis of bad experiences rather than pathology?
~The scene where Pavel fixes Bruno’s leg and then asks him what he wants to be when he grows up is poignant. Why? What is the movie trying to say here?
~What is the relationship between fascism and frivolity? Is fun a good defense against totalitarianism? How is too much emphasis on pragmatism and duty dangerous?
~Why does the mother become so angry? If you were her, would you want your children to admire their father?
~To what degree is innocence a good thing? Is it ever a dangerous thing?
Overall Grade: B
Like I said, although this is a good movie to watch and discuss, I felt like at least some of it was designed a bit deliberately with the ends in mind. In a sense, I wanted to grade it higher than I feel I really can.

Bedtime Stories (2008)

Rated: PG for some mild rude humor and mild language.
Length: 95 minutes
Grade: C+BBC=C
Budget: $80 million
Box Office: $209 million (110 U.S., 99 Intl.)

Written by: Matt Lopez (Race to Witch Mountain) and Tim Herlihy (Mr. Deeds, Little Nicky, Big Daddy, Waterboy, Wedding Singer, Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison)
Directed by: Adam Shankman (Prop 8 The Musical, Hairspray, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, The Pacifier, Walk to Remember, The Wedding Planner)
Starring: Adam Sandler, Keri Russell, Jonathan Morgan Heit, Laura Ann Kesling, Guy Pearce, Russell Brand, and Courtney Cox.

A hotel janitor dreams of receiving the promise given to his father of running the hotel bought from him by a developer years ago. While babysitting his sister’s two children, some of the bedtime stories they tell each other start coming true, and he tries to use this power to his advantage.

Entertainment Value: C+
The strength of this movie is really in the concept rather than in the execution, although the disparity between great idea and awful execution isn’t quite as great as it was for Click. There are funny moments and enough silliness to entertain slightly older kids, although ours found it boring. This is like so many other Adam Sandler films, disappointing but not awful. And, sadly, it was better until the last 10-15 minutes when it became thoroughly ridiculous in terms of plausibility.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence A-, Language B+, Illegality A
The PG is for a couple of very mild language issues (like calling one fictional characters “Sir Butt-kiss”) and perhaps a lot of bikini-clad women. There are also some mild fighting sequences and a guy stung on the tongue by a bee. This could just about be G rated, and an animated version would certainly have been. Obviously, we let our kids watch it…at least until they got bored and didn’t want to anymore.

Significant Content: B
Imagination is very important, and it’s better to have fun than to be practical. Stories matter. It’s okay to break the rules so long as they’re dumb ones and it’s all in good fun. Life does have happy endings. Stories without tension aren’t interesting. Don’t give up on your dreams, and it’s important to do work you believe in.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
As I mentioned before, I was mostly disappointed that this very excellent concept wasn’t executed better. And, as my wife would complain, why does every director feel the need to include a love story in what would otherwise be a perfectly fine movie all on its own? One thing I did find neat about this film was the way it made realistically plausible scenarios to explain the seemingly impossible occurrences.

Discussion Questions:
~Why do we Americans so desire our drama to have a happy ending? Consider that the most lasting form of Greek drama was to be a tragedy. Is it good to have happy endings all the time? What value do Christians see in so-called unhappy endings?
~Are big hotels better at serving their customers than small ones? Consider Marriott, for instance.
~Do you tell bedtime stories in your house? Do you make them up from scratch? How important would you say it is for children to make up their own stories?
~What’s the difference between stories that are intended to prove a point (like the ones Skeeter finds in the kids’ room at first) and stories that are just meant to have fun? Do stories need to be plausible at all?
~What is this movie trying to say about being imaginative and eating healthy food? Is it important for kids to have strict diets? Consider obesity in this country.
~What is this movie trying to say about germs, and what might they symbolize?
~Does television cultivate imagination or hinder it? How does the absence of a TV fit in to this story? Compare the imagination of the kids with the inability of the hotel owner to come up with a good idea and his desire to watch television in his room.
~Why does this movie refuse to give any explanation for why the stories come true? Does that matter? Does that fit in with the very nature of fantastic stories?
Overall Grade: C
Adam Sandler has made four very good movies: Spanglish, 50 First Dates, Reign Over Me, and Happy Gilmore. Note, the absence of this film from that list. If you want an outstanding movie about fiction and storytelling, Big Fish is your movie.

Twilight (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for some violence and a scene of sensuality.
Length: 122 minutes
Grade: B+CBA=B+
Budget: $37 million
Box Office: $466 million (191 U.S., 191 Intl., 84 DVD)

Written by: Melissa Rosenberg did the screenplay (A bunch of TV episodes and Step Up), based on the highly popular teen novel by Stephanie Meyer
Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke (The Nativity Story, Lords of Dogtown, and Thirteen)
Starring: Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.

When her mom and step-dad leave Phoenix for Florida and spring training, Bella goes to Washington state to live with her father, the chief of police in a small town. While there, she draws the attention of a strange boy from an outcast family who turn out to be benevolent vampires. Unfortunately, other vampires are in the area killing people.

Entertainment Value: B+
First of all, this is a truly beautiful film. The visual imagery and cinematography alone are stunning, which show that Hardwicke has really mastered her visual style after Nativity Story and Lords of Dogtown. Granted, the acting is a bit overdone at times, but the plot itself is intriguing and the love story is an original and fascinating twist on the classic vampire romance because these vampires don’t try to turn people and only feed on animals. Not having read the book, but having heard from a couple who have, this seems like a fairly good adaptation of a hugely successful teen romance novel series.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol A-, Sex/Nudity B, Violence C, Language B+, Illegality NA
What you normally expect in a modern vampire movie is pretty much just what this movie doesn’t give you. There is very little sexuality, even though it’s a romance. There is virtually no drug use, other than a local drunk and a reference to heroin. The language is very mild. And even the violence is only an issue in one or two scenes, particularly the end sequence. The normal blood and gore of vampire movies just isn’t here.

Significant Content: B
Unconditional love is about sacrificing yourself for someone else. Just because you have a powerful temptation, that doesn’t mean you have to be defined by it or let it overtake you. Evil nature is not evil destiny. Self-control is easiest when you have a community of support to help you with your struggles. Vampires are people, too.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
Although I can’t quite put it in the same category as 300 or Sin City for artistic accomplishment, the fact that I want to even compare it with them should tell you something. This felt very much like a graphic novel brought wonderfully to the big screen. And at the same time as the movie is visually overwhelming me, it presents semi-familiar topics in such a fresh way that my own experience was to keep asking questions about theology and ethics that I found fascinating. Simply put, this is very good art, and I would encourage parents to not dismiss this as some silly teenage obsession. This is genuine storytelling and filmmaking. Almost half a billion dollars isn’t a fluke here.

Discussion Questions:
~Are vampire movies compatible with Christianity or should Christians avoid them? How, if at all, do vampires fit a Christian worldview? Consider ideas like that life is in the blood and that blood is the source of salvation.
~Why do you think these novels and this movie have been so wildly successful with teenagers? What does this movie’s popularity have to tell you about teenage girls? It’s been said that poetry has historically served as an outlet for sexual desires that were not allowed to express themselves directly. In what way might this idea fit in here?
~Why isn’t Bella scared of Edward? Why does he seem to want her to be afraid of her? Why is he reluctant to be around her? Does her trust in him help him to overcome himself and restrain his vampire desire to drink her blood? Is she his savior? To what degree is it fair to say that the mark of the right woman is that she is enough to motivate her man to subdue his barbaric tendencies for her?
~If you could be immortal, would you want to be? Thinking about Edward’s reading and musical interests, how would immortality make all of your choices meaningless because they don’t involve any real sacrifice of something else?
~Why is forbidden love so appealing? What do you make of the comments about the lion and the lamb?
~Do you think that powerful desires of the sort the vampires feel can be overcome by self-control? What is the Christian perspective on this? In what way are the two sorts of vampires in this movie an illustration of sinners and saints?
~To what degree is the vampire concept a good metaphor for lust, especially as opposed to love? Consider Edward as a very self-aware sinner who wants to protect Bella from himself. How does Dr. Cullen represent love as opposed to lust in his use of his own vampireness?
~For vampires trying to overcome themselves, how important do you think it is that they openly support each other in a tight community like this? How might we learn from this?
~Do you think that our natures define our destinies? To what degree can we resist an undesirable self-nature?

Overall Grade: B+
Christians might have been skeptical about this one because it’s about vampires, but there’s plenty of interesting stuff here to think about from a Christian perspective. Whereas Lost Boys turned out to be another good vampire movie, this is a breathtaking romance that happens to involve vampires.

Australia (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for some violence, a scene of sensuality, and brief strong language.
Length: 165 minutes
Grade: DCCD=D+
Budget: $130 million
Box Office: $227 million (50 U.S., 158 Intl., 19 DVD)

Written and directed by: Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet, Strictly Ballroom)
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Bryan Brown, and Brandon Walters.

At the beginning of World War II, an English aristocrat travels to Australia and finds her husband has been murdered and their property is in jeopardy from a local cattle baron. While there, she adopts a half-aboriginal child, falls in love with a drover, and vows to keep her ranch from being stolen by the wicked.

Entertainment Value: D
Here’s the basic problem. This movie can’t figure out whether it wants to be an epic, a classic film noir, or a ridiculous comedy, so it winds up being all three which means basically a terrible all three. Moulin Rouge was delightful because it leaned into its own absurdity. This movie pulls back just when it should lean forward, so it winds up being a bad (though beautifully shot) epic with ridiculous moments and a message far more serious than any element of the movie is capable of supporting.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity C, Violence C-, Language C, Illegality C
There are a couple of scenes of medium sensuality and implied sex, there are several scenes involving drunkenness, and there is moderate profanity. But the real issue here is violence, including murder, fist-fighting, and war violence.

Significant Content: C
Big business is bad, especially big cattle business. Races are different with importantly different traditions, but all equally valuable. Racism is evil. Christian missionaries are particularly bad because they turn natives into little Westerners in an effort to civilize them. Men need to form an identity by doing something, and this often drives them to do evil things in order to succeed at their goals. Women can be tough, too. It’s vital to know the difference between feeling something passionately and actually wielding enough power to do something about it. Aboriginals have real magic and telepathic powers. The most important thing in life is your story.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
If someone gets up to perform Amazing Grace, and every note is off-key, do you praise her because the lyrics are great? Everything in this movie was a little off, a problem which was not made better by the extreme length of the thing. I almost quit watching it several times, but I let my wife persuade me that we shouldn’t be quitters. She was wrong. This movie might have been quite good if it had been made 50 years ago, but it wasn’t…in both senses.

Discussion Questions:
~When Fletcher tells Lady Ashley that pride isn’t power, what does he mean? Why is this an important principle to remember in life? What is he saying about the relationship between justice and strength? Does he turn out to be right in this movie?
~What attracts Lady Ashley to Drover? What attracts him to her? Does their romance seem plausible?
~Lady Ashley tells the servants to not tell Drover when Fletcher threatens her. Why not? Was this smart on her part?
~This movie portrays Christian missionaries in a very bad light for separating children from their cultural roots and trying to foist Westernism on them. Is this a fair criticism? Does it apply only to orphanages or does it apply to missionary work in a broader sense as well? What aspects of Nullah’s heritage would be compatible with Christ and what parts not?
~Do women, including mothers, have a difficult time understanding men? What elements of this are shown in this movie? Is it possible for women to overcome such a difficulty?
~How important is it to feel like you belong to a particular tradition or group? What groups or traditions do you belong to?
~What do you think of Drover’s claim that anything you own in this world can be taken away from you, but your story is yours forever? How might this fit with Christianity?
~The movie opens with a fist-fight. What do you think of the validity of such a means of dispute resolution?
~How important do you think it is to continue making films which tell us that black people are humans, too?

Overall Grade: D+
I really don’t recommend you waste almost three hours on this movie, but if you already have, then I hope that these questions are useful for your discussion. There are good reasons this film’s only Oscar nod was for costumes.