Valkyrie (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for violence and brief strong language.
Length: 121 minutes
Grade: ACAA=A
Budget: $75 million stated, but possibly as high as 100
Box Office: $200 million (83 U.S., 117 Intl.)

Written by: Christopher McQuarrie (Way of the Gun,Usual Suspects) and Nathan Alexander (No previous credits)
Directed by: Bryan Singer (Superman Returns, X-Men 2, X-Men, Usual Suspects, and Apt Pupil)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Thomas Kretschmann, and Terrence Stamp.

In the waning years of WW II, as more Germans are becoming aware of the evils of Hilter, several high-ranking military and civilian officials conspire to simultaneously assassinate Hitler and use Hitler’s own contingency plan to secure the government as a way to successfully pull off a coup d’état .

Entertainment Value: A
Gripping. There’s really no better way to describe this. From the very beginning, this mostly unknown true story is really quite amazing in its own right. The makers kept as closely to the true life events as they could. In fact, they left out some true details that they thought no one would believe if they had left them in. The acting is fabulous, and part of what makes this movie work is that you want for it to work out so badly even though of course you know it won’t.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity A, Violence C, Language C, Illegality ?
The violence is moderate, although the opening scene involves a military attack, in which many die and a man loses his eye. There are suicides, a bombing, and a firing squad. The language is perfectly PG-13, neither excessive nor inappropriate given the setting.

Significant Content: A
When your country is being led by an evil man, the only way to show loyalty to your country is to take it back from him. Many Germans not only hated Hitler but actively gave their lives trying to bring him down. It is better to die trying to oppose evil than to cooperate with it. It’s important to know that this movie refuses to preach a message. Instead, it is merely dedicated to telling the story.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
One thing that was interesting about this story is how it demonstrated that , during any coup, lots of people who are neither loyalists nor rebels are forced to place their lives on the line by betting not so much on who they support but on who they think will succeed in the end. These bets are instrumental in actually determining who wins. The thing I think made this movie stay completely gripping even after the bombing scene is that we don’t really know for sure whether the second half of the movie is being told as accurate history (in which we know that Hitler didn’t die) or as hypothetical history (in which they succeed). Through brilliant storytelling, they manage to maintain interest and plot tension right to the end.

Discussion Questions:
~Stauffenberg could be described as either dedicated, driven, decisive, impatient, or even rash. How would you describe him? It could be argued that his determination alone is responsible for this plot taking place at all. Do you think he would be glad to have tried or not?
~Is Stauffenberg a hero? What marks of a hero does he display? Stauffenberg is shown as a devoted Christian. How does this affect your view of him or of his actions? How do his wounds factor into his willingness to follow this path?
~How do you think German people today feel about a movie like this?
~Do you think this is an important story to be told? Why? Why do you think it isn’t more well known?
~Hitler claims to have been saved by Providence. How do you assess a claim like this? Why do you think God allowed Hitler’s life to be spared? How does this make you feel about God? If Germany had self-corrected rather than being conquered, what would have happened to all those responsible for her crimes? Is it possible she would have regrown yet a third time to threaten the world?
~Do you think it ever becomes morally right to seek the violent overthrow of a government? Does it ever become right to seek the death of a particular leader? Is this murder? Under what circumstances might this be appropriate? What Biblical justification would you give? Can you simultaneously pray for someone like Hitler and also seek to kill him? Stauffenberg says at one point that he is forced to choose between serving the Fuhrer and serving Germany. How is this relevant? Read Romans 13:1-7 and discuss how it relates to this discussion.
~What sort of reaction did you have to the secretaries tearing up when they first heard about Hitler’s death? Did this seem hard for you to comprehend? What can you learn from their reaction as well as from your own?

Overall Grade: A
Very good. Excellent, in fact. This almost didn’t get made because of Cruise’s Scientology and Germany being virulently anti-Scientologist, but I’m certainly glad it came together with all the parts it has.

Fanboys (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for pervasive crude and sexual material, language and drug content
Length: 90 minutes
Grade: ADB+B+=A-
Budget: Unknown
Box Office: $800,000 (0.7 U.S., 0.1 Intl.)

Written by: Ernest Cline (No notable priors) and Adam F. Goldberg (No notable priors)
Directed by: Kyle Newman (No notable priors)
Starring: Sam Huntington, Chris Marquette, Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel, Kristen Bell, and Seth Rogen, with cameos by Kevin Smith, William Shatner, Billy Dee Williams, Carrie Fisher, and Ray Park.

Prior to the release of Star Wars Episode 1 The Phantom Menace, four lifelong buddies decide to implement a plan they hatched years ago to travel to the Skywalker Ranch and steal a copy of the movie for themselves. In the process, their quest winds up reenacting many elements of the original Star Wars movies.

Entertainment Value: A
The Force was with them. Despite a bundle of delays and a limited release, this is everything Star Wars fans have been anticipating since the project was first advertised more than two years ago. I would worry that only Star Wars fans would enjoy this, but even my wife thought it was hilarious in spite of her lack of great admiration for all things Lucas. The plot is certainly not the greatest, but the characters are fascinating and the jokes (many, many inside jokes) are hilarious.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity C, Violence B, Language F, Illegality C
The characters get high with an Indian on peyote and the movie opens at a party with alcohol. Language is constant and strong. I was a bit surprised it only got PG-13, given the language. There is one sexual scene with no nudity, although there are several vulgar discussions and actions, about what you’d expect from twenty-ish Star Wars geeks. In fact, the basic lack of sexuality is actually one of the bright spots here. Also, the plot is about stealing and breaking and entering. There is one fight between the boys and a bunch of Star Trek fans, which is more hilarious than violent.

Significant Content: B+
Love is often right where you least expect to find it. Star Wars and Star Trek are incompatible. Loyalty to friends is essential. Impending death makes you really think about what significance your life has and how to accomplish something meaningful to you with what’s left of it. The key to life is finding your Death Star, conquering it, and then living on the memory of that one great deed the rest of your days.

Artistic/Thought Value: B+
This movie was clearly made by people who have a real love of Star Wars. It was given George Lucas’s blessing, and the presence of several actors from the movies shows that real fans will love this. The homage starts even as early as the production company ID, where the sounds of light sabers are used to coincide with the logo developing. It’s not really a thought-producer, but as a Star Wars homage, it’s brilliant.

Discussion Questions:
~One key theme of the movie is the importance of finding your Death Star and conquering it to give your life meaning. Do you agree with this assessment? Is it a Christian perspective? Have you ever done something magnificent? Is it better to have your big accomplishment early in life, late in life, or never? How do you think musical artists feel that fans want them to play a hit from 30 years ago more than their current work? How does this concept apply to the people involved in Star Wars themselves? What is your Death Star?
~How many Star Wars parallels and connections can you find in the movie? Consider, for instance, the vocational parallels between Luke and Eric.
~Do you think someone who doesn’t know the Star Wars series intimately will enjoy this movie very much?
~Can someone be both a Star Wars and a Star Trek fan? Which group is more cool? Why are things like these two fantasy worlds so important to men and generally far less important to women? How are the discussions fans have about Star Wars (or comic books, e.g.) similar to theological discussions?

Overall Grade: A-
Funny, entertaining, and for all those who love Star Wars a bit more than we really should, this movie is affirmation that we are not alone in our galaxy far, far away.

Seven Pounds (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for thematic material, some disturbing content and a scene of sensuality.
Length: 123 minutes
Grade: BCBB=B
Budget: $55 million
Box Office: $189 million (70 U.S., 99 Intl., 20 DVD)

Written by: Grant Nieporte (First movie)
Directed by: Gabrielle Muccino (Pursuit of Happyness)
Starring: Will Smith and Rosario Dawson.

An IRS agent behaves mysteriously as he meets seemingly unconnected people, all of whom are suffering from major health problems.

Entertainment Value: B
Okay, here’s the problem for me. This is a movie predicated entirely on a mysterious ending which you’re supposed to spend the duration figuring out. Unfortunately (I guess) for us, we figured it out after about 30 minutes. I don’t know whether they gave us too much information (probably) or whether we just got lucky, but I really spent the rest of the movie feeling basically like I do when I go to watch a Cardinals game that someone has ruined by telling me the final score. It’s a fine movie, but I would have liked it better if they hadn’t disclosed so much so early. The premise is certainly interesting enough to merit a movie, and Will Smith is obviously one of the best actors in America.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity C, Violence C, Language C, Illegality C
The characters drink alcohol a few times. There are a handful of scenes with partial nudity and one extended romantic scene. Language is fairly mild for PG-13. But the likely concern here is with some of the violence, including a graphic suicide, serious car wrecks, and surgical scenes. PG-13 is correct.

Significant Content: B
Okay, there is no decent way to review this movie without revealing the basic plot premise. Since the movie does an inadequate job of shielding this from you, I don’t feel as obligated to protect it. But if you intend to watch the movie and want to see if you can figure it out for yourself, read no further. That said, this movie is entirely a matter of guilt driving a man to try to make the world right by giving life to as many deserving people as he killed. Atonement, guilt, redemption, evaluating people’s lives, and personal sacrifice are therefore clearly the major themes.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
Despite the twist being too easy to figure out (excuse my repetition of this if you did not figure it out when you watched it), the basic idea is still fascinating. There are plenty of discussion questions to be had on the movie and specifically on Ben’s choices. One question I never got answered was why this movie was shot with a handheld camera rather than on a stand.

Discussion Questions:
~If you were one of the recipients of Ben’s gifts, how would you feel about the gift? What if you were Emily? Does his choice create a community of gratitude? In what ways is this similar to Christianity?
~Compare Ben’s sacrifice with the sacrifice of Jesus. In what ways is it similar? In what ways is it different? Was Christ driven to the Cross by his need to redeem himself? Would it be fair to say that Seven Pounds represents the very best version of secular salvation imaginable (as in, not really good enough at all)?
~Ben seems to believe that he will be able to make up for the bad he feels responsible for by doing some compensatory good deed. Is this impulse a correct one? What does the Bible have to say about restitution? Is his form of restitution praiseworthy?
~Would it make a difference if Ben had been killed by a doctor against his will rather than voluntarily sacrificing himself? Is there an ethical difference between a soldier who throws his body on a grenade in the foxhole and what Ben does? What about a soldier who simply agrees to a dangerous mission in order to win a war and save lives? If you were Ben’s friend or family member, would you encourage or discourage his choice? Would God approve of his decision?
~Ben clearly wants to pick beneficiaries who seem morally deserving to him. What do you think of his judgment in this regard? Does God evaluate this way? Consider the way he provokes people to see what they're really made of or how he watches them secretly. Compare his actions to a wealthy benefactor who selects needy families on the basis of their virtue rather than only on the basis of need.
~What would happen if we took all our good deeds so seriously?
~How does Ben’s knowledge of his future choice affect his willingness to put himself at risk and break rules now? Would you call him a vigilante? Agent of justice?
~What is harder to live with, suffering that has no explanation, suffering you brought upon yourself, or suffering that you know you inflicted upon others?
~Do you think Ben will go to heaven?
~Why is the music off-key?
~What does the title mean?

Overall Grade: B
Will Smith apparently loves playing Christ figures: this, I Am Legend, Hancock, etc. This movie is worth seeing, but the others are better, and this one would have been better without the opening scene essentially giving it all away.

Bolt (2008)

Rated: PG for some mild action and peril.
Length: 96 minutes.
Grade: BA-BB=B
Budget: $150 million
Box Office: $356 million (114 U.S., 180 Intl., 62 DVD)

Written by: Dan Fogelman and Chris Williams
Directed by: Byron Howard and Chris Williams
Starring: The voices of John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman, and Mark Walton.

Bolt is the dog star of a spy action television show who believes the show to be reality, including his own super-powers. When he escapes the studio set, he must come to terms with his own non-super-ness as he journeys across the country hoping to be reunited with his beloved Penny.

Entertainment Value: B
There’s no way to say this too strongly. The first five minutes of this movie make the most exciting opening scene to an animated movie (possibly any movie) ever. But the problem is that the rest of the movie is what happens when the dog doesn’t have super-powers. So, even though I knew the premise of the movie, the beginning was so awesome and the rest so comparatively bland, that it was a letdown. And, to be honest, I was mostly bored by the movie, which seemed predicated on a seriously flimsy premise. Nevertheless, my kids loved it, although Spencer admitted not understanding the plot premise, which is confusing to younger kids. They even went so far as to play Bolt and Penny all this last week in the house. It should be mentioned that this movie probably became what it is as a result of John Lasseter (Pixar) becoming creative director at Disney in 2006.

Superficial Content: A-
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence B, Language A, Illegality A
A girl gets trapped in a studio fire and her life is in danger. The opening sequence and several subsequent scenes involve sci-fi action violence such as helicopters, missiles, and electricity-spewing handed henchmen. Otherwise, there’s nothing. I thought this was perfectly fine for both of my boys, but then again, they’re boys who love Star Wars.

Significant Content: B Loyalty is important. Even without super-powers, sometimes we can do great things. It’s better to be normal than to be famous. It’s really silly to idolize celebrities. Fame is no good if you don’t enjoy it. The movie industry is exploitative. Agents are slimy. Dogs (like children) need to be dogs (or children).

Artistic/Thought Value: B
I would almost give this an A if only for the animation, which was mind-blowing and apparently based in the photo-realism genre and highly influenced by the paintings of Edward Hopper (Nighthawks, the diner painting). As for substance, I was torn, because for a long time I didn’t actually think there was any. But my subconscious kept probing (perhaps knowing that anything John Lassiter touches is going to have a point) and after several days I figured it out. The movie seems to be about Bolt, and it seems to be saying that it’s better to be an ordinary dog than to be a self-deceived movie star. But if you look again, you’ll see that the message is really about Penny and the ways Hollywood exploits child stars. Here’s my evidence: they swap her for another girl by changing faces in the end, the agent is a total cad to her and then tries to exploit her injuries at the end, everyone abandons her (except Bolt) in the fire, and her mom finally wises up and turns her back into a normal kid. But even the lessons with Bolt have too many obvious implications for child stars: his tragedy is never being able to play like a normal dog, he is so weird that he has to be taught how to do dog-things by a cat, and he isn’t even allowed to have a normal self-image. So, I think this movie is definitely taking a position on child-stars in movies, which is interesting since Miley Cyrus (herself a youth star) voices Penny.

Discussion Questions:
~If you had your choice, would you rather be a celebrity or an ordinary person? What answer do you think celebrities give? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
Mittens is sometimes mean and sometimes cynical. Why is she this way? How does Bolt change her? Have you ever met someone like this? What does Bolt’s example have to tell you about how to help such people?
~When Penny is pressured into accepting a replacement for Bolt, do you think she made the right choice? How does the studio executive try to persuade her?
~Can you see any ways in which the story of Bolt and his false sense of reality might be similar to our ideas about the truth and importance of this life prior to understanding the truths in the Bible?
~Bolt doesn’t realize he’s a superstar of a television show. In what ways does this prevent him from enjoying his status as a famous person? Can you think of some other movies involving heroes who either had to learn they weren’t as special as they thought or tried to prove that they really were more special than others believed. Consider Cars, Toy Story, Ratatouille, Monsters Inc., and Antz)
~Can false beliefs still inspire us to do good things? Is it always better to know the truth about things?
~In order to enjoy a film, the audience has to at some level believe the things are really taking place. If that’s so, what do you make of the ethical issue of actually deceiving actors (a dog) into believing he is his character? What about movies that try to convince you they really are real (such as start with “based upon a true story”)?
~Are television shows that disappoint us or frustrate us more popular than ones that always resolve in an hour? Consider Lost, 24, Desperate Housewives, and Heroes, for starters.
~Have you ever found yourself admiring or even idolizing celebrities? Why do we tend to do this?
~If it seems wrong to deceive a dog like this (perhaps because a dog can’t be expected to distinguish such a well-crafted make-believe from true reality), would that also make it immoral to make movies and television for children who can’t either?

Overall Grade: B
It’s good, the animation is amazing, and I suspect a slightly slower production schedule (the normal 4 years rather than 18 months after major changes were made) would have turned this into a significantly better movie.

Doubt (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for thematic material.
Length: 104 minutes
Grade: A+BAA+=A+
Budget: $20 million
Box Office: $57 million (33 U.S., 17 Intl., 7 DVD)

Written and Directed by: John Patrick Stanley (Joe Versus the Volcano, January Man, and Moonstruck)
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep, and Amy Adams.

When a young progressive priest comes to a Bronx parish in 1964, the stern headmistress suspects that he has been having an inappropriate relationship with an acolyte.

Entertainment Value: A+
This is simply outstanding filmmaking. There’s just no way around it. Doubt got 5 Academy nominations, and the only reason it didn’t win anything is that it came up against other movies and performances which were equally outstanding, particularly Hoffman against Ledger for The Dark Knight, although I would have gone with Streep over Winslett for The Reader. I was not at allsurprised to discover this movie was based on a successful play. The writing here is as tight and powerful as anything I’ve recently seen. It is a masterpiece of complexity. The acting is truly amazing. In short, if you don’t want to immediately discuss this movie with someone after seeing it, it’s hard to imagine you ever wanting to discuss any movie you’d ever see.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity B, Violence A, Language B, Illegality ?
The only flaw in this movie is the one time a boy swears, which was completely unnecessary. Other than that and the couple of times we see people drinking wine with their meals and smoking, the movie is squeaky clean. Nonetheless, the PG-13 rating is correct, given the very difficult subject matter being discussed.

Significant Content: A
Doubt is at least as much a choice as faith. In life, we are continually required to pick what we believe about things and people, and how we make those choices defines us. People who are emphatic about rules do not have very much capacity for love. Dogmatism is usually a mask for tremendous uncertainty. It’s important to be tolerant about things we do not agree with.

Artistic/Thought Value: A+
Let me tell you what I think this movie is really about. It is not about whether Father Flynn really molested Donald. That is the springboard for the much larger questions about our belief in God and Christ. See, what Sister Beauvier is saying to Sister James is that this question (of Father Flynn’s guilt or innocence) is simply too big a question to take any chances on. Were it a lesser matter, then simply moving along would be acceptable. But precisely because he is either the greatest of pastors or else the most despicable of men, a decision must be had. I think this is intended as a practical application of the (never-mentioned) question of faith in God. The thing is simply too important to be ignored or answered based on some weak general-case sort of principle. In this sense, I believe this movie is really designed to rip out from underneath the agnostic his comfortable indifference to picking a side on the question of religion. In other words, I believe the message of this movie is essentially, “Sister Beauvier had to decide. Sister James had to decide. Now you have to decide, not merely about this fictional priest, but about the greatest question of your life.”

Discussion Questions:
~What are Sister Beauvier’s views on sugar, ball-point pens, and secular songs intended to tell us about her character? What bothers her more about Father Flynn: that he disagrees with her on some matters or that he isn’t even concerned that there might be something problematic involved in others?
~Sister James accuses Sister Beauvier of being predisposed to hate Father Flynn and therefore being too eager to see him as guilty. Do you think this is true? Have you ever been too eager to see someone this way, either a particular person or even a group of people?
~Sister Beauvier responds that Sister James is too trusting and naïve. Is this true? Have you ever been oblivious to danger because of your eagerness to trust or your naïveté? Between these two extremes, which is the better side to generally be on?
~Which is easier: believing the best about people or believing the worst about them? To what degree is apathy a byproduct of laziness? Consider some current examples such as 9/11 conspiracies, the justice of the Iraq war
~“It’s an old tactic of cruel people to kill kindness in the name of virtue.” What applications of this idea can you see in this culture?
~It would seem that this movie was meant to be about the Catholic priest abuse cases and how they could go on for so long, but do you think that is the primary purpose of the movie?
~Between Sister Beauvier and Father Flynn, who do you finally side with? Who in this movie do you most closely see yourself as being? How might this affect whom you see as the hero or villain of the movie? Since the movie is clearly intended to leave us wondering what really happened, what is our own belief about what happened intended to reveal to us instead?
~Real freedom of belief can only exist in the presence of some uncertainty. How does this movie allow you freedom of belief? How does that make it uniquely useful? Do you prefer movies that give you definite endings and revelations about all the facts? What does that preference teach you about yourself? Which characters in the movie would like or dislike this movie, and why?
~In what sense is doubt and skepticism itself a form of faith? Is Father Flynn right that doubt and even despair, like faith, if collectively experienced (such as in the wake of JFK’s assassination) can itself be a source of unity and bonding?
~Which of these characters seem truly happy? Which of them seem basically healthy? How might that influence your decision about whom to believe?
~Whom would you prefer to trust with your children: Father Flynn or Sister Beauvier? Is Sister James an ideal?
~Father Flynn complains that Sister Beauvier violated important rules of protocol and authority. Why do such procedures exist? What is the Biblical pattern for confrontation? Did Sister Beauvier follow it?
~Donald’s mother responds very unexpectedly to Sister Beauvier. Discuss her attitude. Is she a good mother?
~Why do you think Sister Beauvier is the way she is? What is your explanation for her?
What things does this movie tell us about Sister Beauvier’s character that make her a difficult person to categorize? Would you call her loving?
~Sister Beauvier is portrayed as a very unchristian example. Make the best case you possibly can that she is actually a very good Christian.
~Legalists essentially distrust people who are able to enjoy themselves. Why is this? Do you agree?
~Sister Beauvier says, A dog that bites is a dog that bites.” Do you agree? Is this a Christian attitude?
~Is it true that the pursuit of wrongdoers and the prevention of wrongdoing actually takes us a step away from God, even if it’s the right thing to do? If so, what implications does this have for police, judges, prison guards, lawyers, and members of the military? How can something right take us away from God?
~To what degree would you say that Sister Beauvier’s assertive certainty about everything is really just a smokescreen to cover over her own profound doubts? What is she most deeply afraid of? Are loud and dogmatic people usually really confident or really insecure at bottom?
~Once we have decided to see something a particular way, we often find confirming evidence to reassure us. Can you think of some cases in your own life where this has been true?
~Can you think of some examples in your life where you are currently experiencing doubt?
~How does Donald’s race and the isolation that it engenders function both to make us sympathize with Father Flynn for treating him tenderly and also raise our level of disgust at him potentially singling out this particular boy?
Overall Grade: A+
I upgraded it from just an A the more I thought about it. This is a fantastic film that could be the source for many sermons.

Role Models (2008)

Rated: R for crude and sexual content, strong language and nudity.
Grade: C+FBC=C+

Note: Full review not yet written. Feel free to post your comments.

Spirit, The (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of stylized violence and action, some sexual content and brief nudity.
Length: 108 minutes.
Grade: C+DCB=C-
Budget: $70 million (best guess)
Box Office: $45 million (20 U.S., 19 Intl., 6 DVD)

Written by: Frank Miller (Sin City, 300, The Dark Knight Returns comics) and based on the comic book series by Will Eisner.
Directed by: Frank Miller (Sin City)
Starring: Gabriel Macht, Eva Mendes, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, and Louis Lombardi.

When a precious cargo shipment is mixed up, each of two criminal masterminds winds up getting the wrong half and scheme to get the part that is valuable to them. In the process, the man pledged to defending the city this happens in must try to stop them and their evil plots. Unfortunately one of them turns out to be his first love from so many years ago.

Entertainment Value: C+
I love Frank Miller’s work. It’s that simple. Whether it’s his Daredevil stint, Batman:DKR, or whatever, the man’s a creative genius. Unfortunately, this did not work for me at all. The feeling of it is clearly Sin Cityesque, but the plot just isn’t there, and the whole thing winds up being more creepy and crazy than great. That said, the style and some of the crazy characters are entertaining enough to keep this out of the D range. But mostly I was disappointed, especially since Sin City and 300 were both such masterpieces. Perhaps I had my hopes too high, and perhaps if I knew The Spirit comics better, I would have appreciated it more. But I don’t, and so I didn’t.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity C, Violence D, Language C, Illegality F
There is a lot of stylized and quite brutal violence. Let me repeat, lots of stylized and quite brutal violence. There are several sexual scenes involving partial nudity. The language is a bit more coarse than I expected. I was pretty surprised this got only a PG-13. It wasn’t quite Sin City, but it was certainly close enough to merit an R rating. Certainly R-15, if we had it, would be appropriate. Also, you should know that the previews are certainly unfit for a PG-13 rating, themselves being R rated in my opinion.

Significant Content: C
Money and power both corrupt. Violence solves problems. Death and avoidance of death is the main motivating factor in life. Everything we do is inspired by our efforts to immortalize ourselves. An obsession for good and justice is useful.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
This is not quite the ultimate film noir, but it certainly tries to be close. But again I feel this suffered from the defect of too many obscure ingredients to be great art. On the other hand, just as with Sin City, there’s plenty here to preach on if you were so inclined, particularly regarding idol structures and the tendency to want to make anything we’re good at into the thing of ultimate value in the world so that we will seem even more valuable on that scale.

Discussion Questions:
~Sand Saref is beautiful and seductive. What does she worship? The Octopus is smart and powerful (consider his science projects). What does he worship? If you had to preach a sermon on idolatry using this movie, how would you do it? Does The Spirit have an idol? Is this portrayed as a virtue or a defect?
~To what degree does the reality of death make our lives meaningful? Can you think of some examples of how death motivates us to do things to immortalize ourselves? How does Christianity solve this problem? How might someone who does not believe in the afterlife explain our powerful desire to be immortal?
~To what degree does enjoyment of this movie depend on a knowledge of Greek mythology and terminology?
~The movie clearly implies (much like Unbreakable did) that heroes and villains need each other and have intertwined lives. To what degree do heroes need their nemeses? What would heroes be without their villains? Does God need the Devil?
Overall Grade: C-
And that’s probably generous and derives in part from my reluctance to give anything Frank Miller does a D or worse. If you hated Sin City, you will certainly hate this. If you loved Sin City, you will still probably be disappointed by this. If you haven’t seen Sin City, well, go ahead and skip this, too. Christianity Today gave it zero stars, just so you know.

Yes Man (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for crude sexual humor, language and brief nudity.
Length: 104 minutes
Grade: ADAB+=A
Budget: $70 million
Box Office: $243 million (98 U.S., 131 Intl., 14 DVD)

Written by: Nicholas Stoller (Fun with Dick and Jane, directed Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Jarrad Paul, and Andrew Mogel, based on the book by Danny Wallace.
Directed by: Peyton Reed (The Break-Up, Bring It On)
Starring: Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, John Michael Higgins, Bradley Cooper, Danny Masterson, and Terence Stamp.

Carl Allen is stuck in a dead-end life because he never wants to do anything new until one day he is dragged to a self-development seminar where he makes a pact to say, “Yes,” to everything.

Entertainment Value: A
Extremely funny. Very much in the Carrey tradition of The Mask, Bruce Almighty, and Dumb and Dumber. The pretext for the story is a brilliant way to give the writers freedom to interject bizarre (and comical) scenes. But more than this, the movie ties events together in a way that starts to seem like Providence almost. So it’s not just entertaining, but it’s well-crafted and even meaningful. Nice.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sex/Nudity C, Violence B, Language D, Illegality B
There are several scenes involving alcohol and drunkenness, a man breaks a bank store window with a rock, and there are several sexual references, a naked crowd in an auditorium, and one entire scene built around the idea of a very elderly lady being sexual with the main character. Aside from this, the language is pretty heavy for a PG-13 film. I’d certainly go R-15 here.
Significant Content: A
Life is a risk, and it’s generally better to take chances and try new things because you never know what you might discover and whom you might meet. A wide variety of experiences, skills, and friends will prepare you to be able to solve problems you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Life is a playground.

Artistic/Thought Value: B+
This is yet another case of a movie that could have been so much better if they had only bothered to exercise enough discipline to clean up the language and maybe a couple of the references. Though it winds up being really strong in some parts (such as tying the song he learns on guitar in to a later scene on the ledge), I wish they could have done it in a way that was less offensive overall to a pretty large group of people who will miss the message because of the content or because they won’t even watch the movie.

Discussion Questions:
~Carl starts the movie saying, “No,” to everything, and he spends most of the movie saying, “Yes,” to everything. What are the advantages of each of these dispositions? The disadvantages? If you had to live toward one or the other extreme, which would be more fun? More safe? Toward which extreme do you think our current culture tends to live?
~We tend to think of most sins being matters of agreeing to do bad things, but can you think of some ways in which it is sinful to refuse to do good things?
~What message is this movie giving about the importance of good judgment? Consider what this movie might have to say about zero tolerance policies.
~What sort of personal hindrances, fears, or stigmas does Carl have to give up or overcome in the process of learning to embrace every new idea?
~Make a list of five new things that you are inclined to not do. What keeps you from trying them? Are you hindered by reluctance or laziness or something else? Can you make a goal of trying one new thing every month?
~Do you actively try to meet new people outside your normal circles? Do you think a Christian has an obligation to do this?
~Carl begins the movie as an extremely sarcastic person. Do you think there’s a connection between saying, “No,” to things and being sarcastic?
~When the bank exec praises Carl for the microloans, he says that people are so grateful for the help that they’re paying back the loans at a really high rate. What implications might there be here for Christian ministry, especially as an alternative to Payday Loans?
~I claim that this movie would be better if they had cleaned it up a bit. In what ways does the vulgarity reinforce the main point? Are the people who would object to the PG-13-ness of this movie precisely the sort of grinchy naysayers who need to embrace the message of the movie more?
~This movie could clearly have been made with the main character starting out as a conservative Christian or something similar and moving toward a more “liberated” perspective. Why do you think they didn’t take this approach?

Overall Grade: A
Another success for Jim Carrey, both as a movie and at the box office.

Quantum of Solace (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sexual content.
Length: 106 minutes
Grade: DDDD=D
Budget: $200 million
Box Office: $610 million (168 U.S., 408 Intl., 34 DVD)

Written by: Pall Haggis (In the Valley of Elah, Letters from Iwo Jima, Flags of our Fathers, Million Dollar Baby, Crash, and Casino Royale) and the team of Neal Pervis, and Robert Wade (Casino Royale, Die Another Day, The World Is Not Enough).
Directed by: Marc Forster (The Kite Runner, Stranger than Fiction, Finding Neverland, and Monster’s Ball)
Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, David Harbour, and Mathieu Amalric.

Still bent on revenge from the last movie, James Bond now finds himself in the middle of a plot to overthrow the Bolivian government being perpetrated by a secret organization fronted by environmentalists with the consent of the American government. There’s girls, guns, and a lot of stern looks.

Entertainment Value: D
Slower is faster. Less is more. These are simple words which the makers of the new Bond movies need to learn, which is weird since both the Marc Forster and Paul Haggis have created some brilliant stuff before. This is a simple case of craziness and disjointed filmmaking which is trying to do far too much and thus winds up doing far too little. I have a hard time believing that anyone could really follow this story and make sense of it. I couldn’t. My dad couldn’t. Even my wife couldn’t. And we’re fairly sharp people. Then again, who am I to argue with 600 million dollars of revenue? Still, they’re all wrong, and I am right. Old Bond good (though campy), new Bond bad (though profitable).

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity C, Violence D, Language D, Illegality D
As in the first “new” Bond, there is much more distressing violence in these movies, including torture and sexual assault. Some back nudity and implied sexuality, occasional strong language, and fairly constant alcohol consumption. But violence is certainly the main concern, which has become realistic rather than cute. I would go at least R-15 on this. PG-13 has been granted on reputation, not on a realistic standalone evaluation.

Significant Content: D
All the world’s problems are solved by stern-faced violence. Governments are all corrupt, at least mostly, and if not corrupt, then so practical that they wind up behaving immorally to their own self-benefit. Revenge is unfulfilling, but really enticing. Morality is highly relative in foreign policy and spy work. No one can really be trusted.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
It’s very simple. People must be able to properly understand what is happening and they must be given sufficient time to merge their emotional states with a movie before they can fully enjoy the tensions and developments of that movie. Hitchcock was a master of this, and even modern filmmakers like Marc Forster usually grasp the concept, but he seems to have just forgotten it here, as did Martin Campbell in the remade Casino Royale. My frustration is I grew up liking Bond movies, and I want to like them as I keep watching them, but I may be done with the modern versions unless I hear that something has substantially improved.

Discussion Questions:
~When Bond says that the dead don’t care about vengeance, what is he getting at? Is he admitting that his own crusade is misguided? Do you think that when we act vengefully, we are really serving those we are avenging or merely using them as an excuse for justifying our own needs? Does revenge affect the person on whose behalf it was done?
~Do you believe that governments are as corrupt and immoral as portrayed in this movie? What do you think about the repeated refrain that one must compromise and deal with unsavory people in foreign politics?
~Would you want to be a spy like James Bond? What do you think would be the costs involved in such a life? Can morally deep, conscientious people succeed as spies? Can they be happy in such a life?
~Who in this movie seems healthy? Admirable? Heroic? What impact does it have on viewers to watch movies that don’t offer anyone to particularly emulate?

Overall Grade: D
$600 million still isn’t enough to convince me that a movie I wanted to like and really didn’t is anything better than what I experienced it as. If you like Bond movies, go watch one of the ones not starring Daniel Craig.