International, The (2009)

Rated: R for some sequences of violence and language.
Length: 118 minutes
Grade: DDDC=D+
Budget: $50 million
Box Office: $60 million (25 U.S., 32 Intl., 5 DVD)

Written by: Eric Singer (First movie)
Directed by: Tom Tykwer (Perfume, Paris je t’aime, Heaven, and Run Lola Run)
Starring: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, and Ulrich Thomsen

Two Interpol agents are trying to prove that a major international bank is actually dealing arms in an effort to shape conflicts so as to control the debt involved in war financing.

Entertainment Value: D
Let’s start with the positives. This is a visually stunning film. They intentionally wanted the architecture to be a character in the film, and they chose a wide array of amazing, truly amazing places to shoot the action. On the other hand, the plot, the action, and even the characters are a hackneyed montage that winds up feeling like a movie made to be four hours long and then chopped down to just two. And then, to finish it all off, the ending is awful, just awful. I wanted to see this movie, and I wanted to like it. But it did not deliver in the end. Even the very best scene, the amazing shootout in the Guggenheim Museum, winds up lasting so long that it becomes implausible that no police have arrived yet.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence D, Language D, Illegality D
Language and violence. At least, it’s easy to know what might be objectionable about this movie. HOWEVER, you should know that the DVD features several movie trailers with R content, including, and I was totally baffled by this, one that runs automatically before the movie which DOES have several scenes of nudity and sex in it. Yes, they warn you with a red screen rather than the normal green “all audiences” screen, but who on earth would you run a sexually explicit movie trailer in front of a movie which is squeaky clean on sexuality?

Significant Content: D
Law enforcement against multinational organizations is an act of futility. The banks control the world with the cooperation of all the governments and their agencies. Warfare is just another way to control money. Character is easier kept than recovered. To truly fight evil, you must become evil.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
And this is entirely for the visual artistry, which, again, I can’t praise strongly enough. It’s truly breathtaking. But in a movie which doesn’t even remotely do the cinematography justice. In the end, we’re supposed to do what here? Be despondent? I thought Brandon Fibb’s review for Christianity Today was particularly accurate. This movie starts a variety of things that could have been interesting, but it doesn’t finish any of them and can’t really decide what it’s trying to be. For instance, the architecture should represent “the system” which can’t be stopped, but the movie presents this architecture as overwhelmingly beautiful, which is directly at odds with that being the message intended by it.

Discussion Questions:
~Do you have to become evil in order to fight evil? What does the Bible say?
~Do you believe that international financiers are responsible for warfare in the world?
If the architecture in this film is a character, what is that character and what message is he representing?
~Is it naïve to believe in justice and to fight to bring evildoers to justice? What is the Christian perspective on justice, both now and eternally? What would Jesus say about this sort of banking outfit?
~Do movies have an obligation to give us something of what we want? How did the ending of this movie make you feel? How did it make you feel toward the director/writer?
~“The truth means responsibility.” “Which is exactly why everyone wants to avoid it.” What do you interpret this interchange as meaning? Is this a Christian concept?
Overall Grade: D+
If it weren’t for the architecture, this would be totally avoidable. But, if you love great architecture, I only mildly encourage you to watch it just for that.

Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for brief war violence, sexual content, language and smoking.
Length: 166 minutes
Grade: CD?B=C
Budget: $167 million (almost exactly $1 million/minute)
Box Office: $376 million (127 U.S., 205 Intl., 44 DVD)

Written by: Eric Roth (Good Shepherd, Munich, Ali, Insider, Horse Whisperer, Postman, and Forrest Gump) and Robin Swicord (Jane Austen Book Club, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Practical Magic), based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Directed by: David Fincher (Zodiac, Panic Room, Fight Club, The Game, Se7en, and Aliens 3, which I’m sure he’d like to forget)
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Julia Ormond, Tilda Swinton, Elle Fanning, and Taraji P. Henson.

This is a fictional biography of a baby born with all the bodily characteristics of an elderly man who then ages backward over the course of his life of many varied experiences.

Entertainment Value: C
Pace. Slow. No reprieve. To me, this was a movie that could have been extremely good, but in the end the combination of what seemed like a squandered brilliant concept and some very distressing plot developments heavily counterbalanced brilliant acting and cinematography. I wanted to like this movie much more than I did, but apparently lots of other people really loved it. It received 13 Oscar nominations including best picture, best director, and best actor and won 3 minor awards. On the other hand, I found it long, not quite “There Will Be Blood” long, but still pretty long.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity D, Violence D, Language D+, Illegality C
Given that there isn’t any actual frontal nudity, D may seem harsh, but this movie is full of sex, lots of sex, seriously, lots and lots of sexual scenes. There is some war violence including a fairly graphic death scene with blood. Later there is a car accident which maims a woman, and a man is shown humorously being struck by lightning several times. Language is right at the upper end of PG-13. I would go R-15 at least for this.

Significant Content: ?
I didn’t get it. I’ll admit the fact. I didn’t get what it was intending to say, and I didn’t get what it was trying to do with several of the devices, including the clock. That being said, there are some messages I heard. We’re meant to lose people, which is how we know how important they are to us. We must not hold onto our anger. We have no control in life because it will do whatever it will do. Nothing lasts. Even an ordinary life can be interesting. Sexual morality is just individual opinion.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
The high mark is for beauty and emotional effect. In spite of disliking and not understanding a lot of what this movie was doing, I cried a lot at the end for reasons I can’t quite explain. I guess it was the tragic nature of the relationship at that point. But there was one point in this movie where I really hated the main character for a major decision he made. I mean hated him. I thought it was far from selfless and truly misguided. Also, I know this movie was predicated on the old Daisy letting her daughter tell us this story, but the problem is that they made the old Daisy so incomprehensible when she spoke that I got frustrated with her and the sound editing. In the end, the lingering sense I got here was that, other than aging backwards, Benjamin Button’s life was completely ordinary. So why make a 166 minute movie about it? Still, the “butterfly effect” scene was brilliant in its own right.

Discussion Questions:
~To what degree do we actually grow younger when we grow older?
~The doctor says, “Some creatures aren’t meant to survive.” Do you agree?
~Which do you think would be better, to age as we do or to age backward like Benjamin? Which would be better for the people around you?
~Do you believe that our lives are a product of destiny or fate, or do our choices really make a difference? Do you believe in the “butterfly effect,” or do you believe that the major events in life are unaffected by the minor events in life somehow? Does God oversee nothing, the big things only, or everything?
~Button asserts that losing people and the pain that comes from that is the only way we know how important they were to us. Do you agree?
~Movies and news tend to cover extraordinary people and events. Are some lives more interesting than others? Do you think that every life is interesting? Are there any elements of your life which you allow to make your own life less interesting than it could be?
~What was the point of the reverse-moving clock in this movie?
~Is it noble or virtuous to keep secrets from people for their benefit which they would want to know?
Overall Grade: C
Nothing lasts, which is a shame. But the fact that nothing lasts also meant that this movie did finally come to an end, which I did not mourn.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009)

Rated: PG for some violence, mild crude and suggestive humor, and language.
Length: 91 minutes
Grade: DNF
Budget: $26 million
Box Office: $220 million (143 U.S., 34 Intl., 43 DVD)

Written by: Kevin James (first movie) and Nick Bakay (Lots of TV, no movies)
Directed by: Steve Carr (Are We Done Yet, Rebound, Daddy Day Care , Dr. Dolittle 2, Next Friday)
Starring: Kevin James, Keir O’Donnell, Jayma Mays, and Raini Rodriguez.

A single dad can’t be a cop because of a physical ailment, so he’s a mall cop desperate for affirmation hopelessly in love with a beautiful kiosk girl. Then bad guys take over the mall, giving him a chance to prove himself a hero.

This was not funny. I don’t mean that it was only moderately funny or that the jokes weren’t all that funny. I mean there weren’t any jokes. I watched about 30 minutes of this movie, which was nearly 24 minutes longer than I wanted to. But Kevin James is normally so funny that I couldn’t believe a movie featuring him in a comedic role could be so deliberately uncomedic. So I skimmed through the rest of the movie, and my suspicions were confirmed. No jokes. Ever. Just bland blandness followed by more bland blandness. A good friend of mine said this was a “clean, wholesome movie.” Yeah. All of his movie opinions and recommendations are now in the suspicious category going forward.
Overall Grade: DNF

He’s Just Not That Into You (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for sexual content and brief strong language.
Length: 129 minutes
Grade: B+C-B+B+=B+
Budget: $25 million
Box Office: $183 million (94 U.S., 71 Intl., 18 DVD)

Written by: Abby Kohn (Never Been Kissed) and Marc Silverstein (Same), based on the book by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo.
Directed by: Ken Kwapis (License to Wed and Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly, Bradley Cooper, Ginnifer Goodwin, Scarlett Johansson, and Justin Long, with cameos by Kris Kristofferson and Luis Guzman.

This is a semi-vignette collage dealing with a loosely connected group of twenty- and thirty-somethings built around the idea that women are basically fools when it comes to relationships.

Entertainment Value: B+
This movie had three phases for me. At first, for about 20 minutes, I hated it. The characters were crazy, literally unbelievably crazy and infuriating. Then for about an hour I LOVED IT! I thought it was one of the most insightful, entertaining movies I had seen in a long time. Then, at the end, I just sat there confused about what had just happened. And, to a degree, I still am. Nevertheless, I think I recommend it? It’s funny. It’s insightful. It’s well-directed. And it’s unpredictable, oddly, which is refreshing for anything funny dealing with relationships.

Superficial Content: C-
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity D+, Violence B, Language C-, Illegality NA
People are drinking all the time, although not getting drunk normally. The language is pretty heavy for PG-13, in fact, enough that I was surprised this didn’t get rated R. But the real issue here is sexuality, which involves adultery, several sexual scenes (no nudity, but lots of disrobing), and lots of sex discussions. I’d say PG-15 at the very least.

Significant Content: B+
Learn to think of yourself and your relationship as being the rule rather than the exception, and you will be far less frustrated about it. On the other hand, sometimes you are the exception, since someone has to be. He’s just not that into you if he’s not calling you, if he’s not sleeping with you, if he’s sleeping with someone else, or if he’s not marrying you. If a guy really wants to be with you, he’ll make it happen no matter what. The impulse to comfort people with well-intentioned lies is very counterproductive in the end.

Artistic/Thought Value: B+
So, there were two things that I found disappointing here. The first was the way it all ended, where, as I said earlier, I basically was left feeling quite confused. But the other disappointment was that in the list of “He’s just not that into you if”s, they never quite got to the one I sort of expected to see next: if he’s not giving you children. But there was one overwhelmingly effective element of this movie. In the end, I found myself feeling very much like God must feel toward us. Regardless of how stupid or wrong the characters were, what I found myself most wanting for them was to be happy, like a parent watching children. Given that I normally stop caring about characters who are grossly immoral or stupid, I consider this quite an artistic accomplishment.

Discussion Questions:
~Do you find women portrayed realistically in this movie? Are they this stupid? Are they this crazy?
~Consider the various stages mentioned in this movie (calling, sleeping with, marrying, e.g.). Which of them are and are not indicators of his level of interest in you?
~Neil makes the argument that marriage is a lie because only people who are insecure in their relationships need to make a big show of things and because we all have friendships that are solid without having a certificate. What would you say to him? Would it make sense for people to get “friendship certificates?” Why or why not?
~Alex says that if a guy is interested in you, he’ll find a way to find you. In your experience, has this been true? If you’re a man, have you ever done ridiculous things to find or get a girl? If you’re a woman, ask some of your guy friends what they think about this idea.
~What was your attitude toward the characters at the end of the movie? Did you have particular ones you were “rooting for” or against, or not?
~Have you ever told someone a kind lie in order to give them something to hold onto? Did it wind up actually helping in the long run? What is the difference between these sort of comfort statements and the assurances we have in Scripture?
~One of the themes in this movie is the idea of “settling” for a relationship that isn’t your ideal but is at least better than nothing or the awful prospects of dating again. What do you think of this concept? Is romance and the thrill of exciting love overrated? Is being “into someone” really all that important in the grand scheme of things?
~Why is Ginny not revolted by Alex’s ruthless truth-telling? What does this reveal about her and him?
~Starting from the premise that all the characters in this film are idolizing their partners or their potential partners, what observations and explanations can you make for each of them?

Overall Grade: B+
Refreshingly honest. Useful for women, I hope. Funny. But certainly not a great family movie. It should be R rated.

Marley & Me (2008)

Rated: PG for thematic material, some suggestive content and language.
Length: 115 minutes
Grade: B+CAA=B+
Budget: Unknown, perhaps $30 million?
Box Office: $302 million (143 U.S., 101 Intl., 58 DVD)

Written by: Scott Frank (Lookout, Interpreter, Minority Report, Out of Sight, Get Shorty, Malice, and Little Man Tate) and Don Roos (Bounce, Diabolique, and Boys on the Side), based on the memoir by John Grogan
Directed by: David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada)
Starring: Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston, with appearances by Eric Dane, Kathleen Turner, and Alan Arkin.

In an effort to slow down his wife’s biological clock, a struggling journalist buys his wife a dog, who turns out to be the most rambunctious and difficult golden retriever dog imaginable. Eventually, they start having children and he becomes a columnist, and this is basically a story of their life and struggles as a family over the lifespan of this dog.

Entertainment Value: B+
What you need to know about this movie is that it is not what you think it’s going to be. Between the PG rating, the stars, and the marketing, you’ll be expecting a comedy, probably a romantic comedy. This movie is much more of a drama with occasional funny moments. And the PG might lead you to believe this is a kids movie, but it really isn’t. More on that in a moment. But once you realize what the movie really is, it’s very good. The plot is wonderfully ordinary. The characters are believable and loveable, and this watches very much the way I expect John Grogan’s columns read: like endearing vignettes of a middle-class life observed with some degree of self-critical wit.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity C, Violence B, Language C, Illegality A
In spite of being a movie about a dog, I don’t think this is appropriate for kids under 10 at least. Our original plan had been to watch it with Spencer, but I’m really glad we didn’t. The movie abounds with sexy women in bikinis, includes several bedroom scenes and one of the married couple getting naked in their pool, and there’s lots of discussion of pregnancy. A woman is stabbed (not shown), and Marley destroys A LOT of stuff. But the real disappointment was language. Every (and I mean every) swear word other than the big one shows up in this movie at least once. And although they are always contextually appropriate rather than gratuitous, I just kept asking myself why the MPAA rated this PG when PG-13 is available. It’s certainly on the light end of PG-13, nowhere near an R, but PG just invites most parents to think any kid should watch it, and they shouldn’t, partly because of the language, and partly because of the adult subject matter. PG-10 at least.

Significant Content: A
Relationships (even with difficult dogs) matter more than any amount of stuff ever can. Sometimes we love people (and dogs) not merely in spite of their flaws but because of them. Marriage and family are far more difficult than the single life, but far more rewarding and meaningful as well. Sometimes professional success has to be sacrificed for family. And the best things in life are sometimes not where you expected to find them.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
I secretly think that this movie is not about a difficult dog at all, but about difficult people and, especially, having children. See, rationally, no one would choose a Marley (like no one would choose children with all of their inconveniences and problems), but if only once you can commit yourself to having a Marley (or children), you can’t imagine your life without them anymore. Also, I thought the continuous contrast drawn between John (the reluctant family man) and Sebastian (the gorgeous world-class single ladies man journalist) did a real service to forcing people to contemplate which trajectory provides meaning in life. Plus it wasn’t overdone or preachy, just clear.

Discussion Questions:
~What does Marley’s leash symbolize? What is intended in the scene where John takes it off at the beach?
~Consider some of the elements in this movie where things did not go as planned, yet turned out to be real blessings. How much of your own life that has been worthwhile been the part that followed your plan and how much the part that violated it?
~At one point, Jennifer says that no one tells you how hard parenting and marriage will be, but John replies that they do, but no one believes it. Who do you think is right? To what degree is our culture honest with people about marriage and children? Is it healthy or unhealthy to know in advance how hard these things really are? What are the advantages and disadvantages of ignorance in this regard?
~To what degree is grief an essential element of a full human life? When people avoid the griefs of marriage and children, what are they missing? What is Sebastian’s life missing? Does it make him a better reporter? Consider the criticism of John that his reporting has too much of him in it.
~Would you consider John and Jennifer’s marriage a healthy one or something else? Is it possible that our ideas about what healthy and unhealthy marriages look like are completely mistaken?
~Why is Jennifer so resistant to getting a nanny to help her out? How does her choice parallel those made by John?
~She says that she has given up so much of what made her who she was in becoming a parent, but she doesn’t regret any of it. How is parenting similar to committing your life to Christ?
~Would you describe this as a pro-family film? Do you think it makes people want to have kids or makes them want to avoid them?
~How important is it for children to have dogs around as they grow up? Did you? What are the negative aspects of having them around with children?

Overall Grade: B+
Very good, just not what you’re expecting. And you’ve gotta be impressed that I didn’t even downgrade it for the ungrammatical title. Don’t believe that it is? What’s that old movie about the King of Siam with Yul Brynner? Oh, yeah, now I remember. “The King and Me.”

Revolutionary Road (2008)

Rated: R for language and some sexual content/nudity.
Length: 119 minutes
Grade: DFFD=D
Budget: $35 million
Box Office: $75 million (23 U.S., 52 Intl.)

Written by: Justin Haythe (The Clearing) and Richard Yates (The Bridge at Remagen-1969)
Directed by: Sam Mendes (Jarhead, Road to Perdition, American Beauty)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslett, and Kathy Bates.

A disenchanted middle class salesman who hates suburbia struggles to keep his marriage together even as his frustrated wife offers to take them to Paris to finally try to do something great rather than waste his life away as a mid-level marketing paper-pusher.

Entertainment Value: D
This is a disastrously disappointing reunion of the Titanic stars. Here’s just about everything you need to know about this movie: It was made by the same guy who did American Beauty. Meaning? If you hate ordinary American life, you’ll probably love this. On the other hand, if you are an ordinary American and don’t understand why Hollywood has contempt for you, this movie and the view of your life it holds up might well help you understand. I wanted to quit watching this at 5 minutes, 45 minutes, and 105 minutes. Oh, why didn’t I. “Listen to your instincts, Andrew. Listen to them!” This was written in 1961, and it shows. So the real question is why make a movie that might have been relevant in 1961 in 2009?

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sex/Nudity D, Violence D, Language F, Illegality D
There are two adultery scenes. A woman performs an abortion on herself, bleeds, and must go to the hospital. Drinking is constant, there is smoking. Profanity is very heavy.

Significant Content: F
Life in the suburbs is awful. Don’t settle in life, or you’ll regret it forever. Everybody wants to believe that they are special, but they aren’t. If you refuse social graces and tell the truth too well, society will define you as insane. Polite society is a sham. Everybody has affairs. Be careful who you share your dreams or your unorthodox ideas with. Ordinary people will despise you for daring to show them that they are merely ordinary.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
In one of my favorite new shows “Better Off Ted,” one character samples some synthetic beef and is asked what it tastes like. “Despair,” he answers. If the goal of this movie is to make us feel the despair of losing a dream die and the “hopeless emptiness” of suburban life, then it’s successful in that goal. But I don’t rally savor the taste of despair, personally. Still, it is interesting that this movie directly mocks the idea that it’s a man’s duty to provide for his family and endorses him “finding himself” while his wife works. What’s interesting is that this perfectly describes so many of the relationships we see in America today where the 28 year old woman is supporting her boyfriend of 7 years while he “finds himself.”

Discussion Questions:
~We are told that John Givings is mentally unhealthy. Based on what you see, what seems to be his mental problem? Is the inability to play social games, be polite and avoid honest insights a mark of insanity? Would you want him as your friend? Do you think John is the author’s voice? If so, what is he saying about himself and his place in society?
~What do you make of the fact that the kids seem to never be present in this movie? Is this an intentional omission? Does it indicate that the writers/makers truly have no idea what a family looks like?
~What point do you think this movie is supposed to have?
~What does the title of the movie mean?
~What does it mean to be a man? When April says that going to Paris will allow Frank to be the glorious thing he was meant to be: a man, what does she mean?
~One of the big themes of this movie is the idea that settling for a safe life is a form of suicide. To what degree is the willingness to be practical a mark of maturity and to what degree a mark of self-harm? How should we decide whether to pursue our dreams or be practical in our professional efforts?
~Given the consequences of each incident of adultery, would you say this movie is promoting or discouraging adultery?
~What do you think would have happened if they had managed to go to Paris?
~Why does Frank resent his father so badly?
~To what degree does the disillusionment the Wheelers are experiencing in their lives come from their own inflated self-image, from a realistic assessment of their squandered potential, or from having been told they can be anything they want to be in life?
~Do wives have a legitimate interest in helping husbands find and do something meaningful with their lives?
Overall Grade: D
Here’s a little dittie about Frankie and April, two American kids growing up in the heartland. Frankie wants to do something big with his life. April can’t endure just being a wife. Oh, yeah, this movie went o-on, long after the thrill of watching was go-one. Oh, yeah, this movie went o-on, I can’t believe I didn’t choose to walk on.

Bride Wars (2009)

Rated: PG or suggestive content, language and some rude behavior.
Length: 89 mind-numbing minutes.
Grade: D-CCD=D
Budget: $30 million
Box Office: $142 million (59 U.S., 56 Intl., 27 DVD)

Written by: Greg DePaul (Saving Silverman), Casey Wilson, and June Diane Raphael
Directed by: Gary Winick (Charlotte’s Web, 13 Going on 30, and Tadpole)
Starring: Kate Hudson, Anne Hathaway, Chris Pratt, Bryan Greenberg, and Candice Bergen.

Two lifelong friends who have always dreamed of the perfect wedding in June at The Plaza become worst enemies when their weddings conflict and neither is willing to yield.

Entertainment Value: D-
And I must be honest, I feel pretty generous giving it that good of a grade. I nearly fell asleep twice, and the only reason I stayed awake was because I wanted to be able to give it a review without suffering the only thing worse than staying awake to watch it: falling asleep and having to watch it again later anyway. This is surely one of the most stupid plot premises in recent history staffed with unbelievable characters who are supposed to be really smart except for the things that impact on the plot somehow. But of course, all this could be forgiven if it had been what a comedy should be: funny. But, alas, no redemption there. Now, in all fairness, I worried that this movie might be worthless ever since I saw the first ad, but I tried it anyway figuring (correctly) that lots of people have seen it. But if my pain can serve as a warning to anyone else, then I’m happy to spare others the pain.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity C, Violence C+, Language C, Illegality C
PG is not right. First of all, the ads were PG-13. Then you have drunkenness (lots of beers and shots), sexuality (unmarried people living together, scenes in bed, strip club dancing, bra scenes), language (B, S, A, and “Mother-F”), and endless very harmful pranks being pulled by one girl against the other. This is not what I expect from a PG movie at all. In fact, I was a bit surprised to see it be only PG in the first place.

Significant Content: C
Friends should be forever. Even if you ruin your wedding, it may turn out to be a good thing. Having a big wedding of your dreams is really important. Women are basically crazy.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
One of my major peeves about movies is when they have entire plots built around people either not seeing or else refusing to follow simple solutions or advice, like here. In all honesty, I don’t even have the heart to continue criticizing this movie.

Discussion Questions:
~What sins would you say contributed to the problems in this movie becoming major issues? What sort of Biblical principles can you think of that might have solved these issues before they became insurmountable? Why didn’t any of the other people in these women’s lives do anything to help them not destroy themselves?
~Why is revenge a bad thing? What lessons does this movie have to teach us about revenge? Have you ever wanted to take revenge on someone? Did you actually do so? What is the Christian solution to revenge?
~How important is it to have “the perfect wedding?” What else could be done with that much money? Why do women want such things? If we imagine the wedding as a symbolic foreshadowing of our union with Christ, does it make more sense that it be a big deal? If you had a friend who was trying to decide between going to a justice of the peace and having a big, fancy wedding, what would you advise and why?
~When people are pushovers, they sometimes overreact when they finally do take a stand. This is sometimes called being passive/aggressive. Where do you see this in this movie?

Overall Grade: D
Think anti-Nike. Just don’t do it.

New in Town (2009)

Rated: PG for language and some suggestive material.
Grade: CCBC=C
Note: Full review not yet written. Feel free to share your thoughts.

Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008)

Rated: PG
Grade: CACC=C+
Note: Full review not yet written. Feel free to post your thoughts.

Milk (2008)

Rated: R for language, some sexual content and brief violence.
Length: 128 minutes
Grade: DFFD=D
Budget: $20 million
Box Office: $64 million (32 U.S., 22 Intl., 10 DVD)

Written by: Dustin Lance Black (He wrote 15 episodes of Big Love, tellingly)
Directed by: Gus Van Sant (Finding Forrester, Good Will Hunting, My Own Private Idaho)
Starring: Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, James Franco, and Victor Garber.

A gay man moves to San Francisco and founds the notorious Castro District, eventually running for and then becoming the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States, who eventually fights an anti-gay statewide initiative before being murdered.

Entertainment Value: D
I watched this movie for two reasons: it was nominated for 8 Academy Awards (including best picture), winning two, and it seemed like a culturally significant film. After having avoided seeing Brokeback Mountain for moral reasons, I can only say that I should have done the same thing here. I found this thoroughly unentertaining, uninspiring, and quite frankly very disappointing. In fact, my wife and I both had roughly the same reaction: we felt a bit polluted afterwards.

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity F, Violence C, Language F, Illegality D
First of all, let me say I am absolutely stunned that the MPAA would use the word “some” to modify “sexual content” in rating this movie. Unless by “some” what they really mean is “anything that doesn’t deserve an X rating,” I’m confused. There was no actual nudity here, but the sexuality alone merits an R rating, and it was continuous throughout the movie. Yes, of course, the fact that it’s gay sexuality makes it more offensive. If there had been this degree of sexuality in a movie about any other sort of perversion, it would be incomprehensible that the MPAA would have considered it just “some” incest or polygamy. So, no, this is not a mild R movie. Of course, the language is also continuous, and there are numerous favorable drug references. Also, there is a murder, a suicide, and talk of mob misbehavior.

Significant Content: F
Gays are normal, and should be fully included in American society. Traditional sexual ethics are ignorant and destructive, and people who believe in them are intolerant bigots. If you fight for what you believe in, you can give hope to thousands of other people.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
Here’s the thing I just can’t fathom. This is supposed to be an inspiring story of a man fighting for justice against a repressive and unenlightened society. But the movie opens by showing two gay men meeting in a subway and kissing each other about one minute afterward and immediately going back to an apartment for sex. I literally can’t even comprehend that sort of interaction happening between a man and a woman, and here it seems to be portrayed as basically pretty normal. And that’s the point. Homosexuality is male sex aggressiveness gone berserk and allowed to indulge itself without any restraint. Because of this honest portrayal and all the bizarre forms of dress and behavior it showed gays regularly demonstrating, I felt so alienated from what this movie was trying to do to my emotions that I literally felt nothing at the end when Harvey Milk was shot. I had no empathy for the characters whatsoever. And given Harvey’s aggressive use of power politics, I actually sympathized more with his opponents. It’s fascinating that he wasn’t assassinated by some homophobic stranger but by one of the few people who knew him quite well. For those who would compare this man with Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. speaks volumes about the inverted and distorted sensibilities of the gay movement.

Discussion Questions:
~Do you think that the reaction people will have to this movie is already set by their viewpoint about homosexuality and gay rights? Do you imagine anyone would be persuaded to become more gay friendly by it? To become more anti-gay by it?
~Do you think that openly gay men and women should be allowed to teach schoolchildren? Would you have voted for or against Proposition 6? What about adulterers? What about people who use or make pornography? Promiscuous people?
~Milk at one point says that gays don’t have the right to privacy because their privacy is enabling anti-gay sentiment to continue. What do you think of this and of his idea that if people aren’t willing to come out of the closet, they should be outed involuntarily?
~Did this movie portray gay life as you had imagined it or differently than you imagined it? Do you feel it was an honest portrayal? Did this portrayal make you more sympathetic to the gay movement, less sympathetic, or have no effect?
~What differences do you perceive between homosexuality and heterosexuality?
~Have you ever been close to anyone who was gay? What impact does/did this have on your views in this area? Does personal relationship make us less willing to oppose problematic behaviors?
~In your opinion, is there any correlation between the heavy profanity, drug use, and sexual immorality of the characters in this movie? How is self-control a theme here?
~Do you like Harvey Milk in this movie? Would you want him as a friend? If you had the chance to interact with Milk, how would you deal with him as a Christian?
~What is your reaction to Anita Bryant in this movie? Does her depiction make you cringe or make you happy? Would you say that moral conservatives and/or Christians have made much progress in presenting our viewpoint in the intervening 30 years?
~What do you think of the tactics Milk used to control businesses in his district? Why did the Teamsters want to work with him?
~Samoa is the only country in the world which officially banned Milk (they had also banned DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons). Samoa is very conservative and Christian. What do you think of this action by the Samoan government? Would you want to live in Samoa? How much would it cost to move there? (Just wondering out loud.)

Overall Grade: D
I would discourage you from watching this. Also, just for the record, I have had several gay friends in my life, I was raised in a very pro-gay household, and I even took a seminar in gay theory from Richard Mohr, one of the foremost gay thinkers in the United States, when I was in graduate school.

Taken (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing thematic material, sexual content, some drug references and language.
Length: 93 minutes
Grade: ADBB=A-
Budget: $25 million
Box Office: $270 million (145 U.S., 75 Intl., 50 DVD)

Written by: Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen (Transporter(s), Revolver, The Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita)
Directed by: Pierre Morel (His first directing effort)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, and Famke Jansen

When the daughter of a retired CIA operative is kidnapped in Paris, he uses his field skills to rescue her from a violent human-trafficking organization.

Entertainment Value: A
As an action flick, this is outstanding. Beyond outstanding. It’s clean (in structure), just complex enough not to be predictable, properly paced, and generally brilliant. As with any action movie, there are some implausible elements, but the key to a good action movie is minimizing them rather than eliminating all of them. As such, this is a top-of-the-genre effort, which is impressive for a first timer like Pierre Morel, although his familiarity with camera work certainly shows here.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol C-, Sex/Nudity C, Violence D, Language C, Illegality D
Women are shown strung out on drugs, women are shown in forced prostitution and being sold into slavery, lots of people die and in sometimes brutal ways, and the language is definitely PG-13. Also, the movie is all about a vigilante father who breaks laws fighting against lawbreakers.

Significant Content: B
Crime is awful, far more awful than you know. Government corruption is always a factor in the ongoing existence of crime. Extreme situations require extreme responses. A father’s love knows no limits. There are lots of evil men in the world and a handful of virtuous ones. Overprotective fathers aren’t always paranoid. Sometimes they just know how the world works. A real man protects his family.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
I know very few people would think to compare this movie with Slumdog Millionaire, but allow me a moment to do so. What was so fascinating about Slumdog is the way it crafted a brilliant movie plot which allowed the makers to expose us to the worst realities of life in the slums of India. Similarly, what Taken has done is craft a brilliant action movie which allows the makers to show us the worst realities of human trafficking and gang activity.

Discussion Questions:
~In one unforgettable scene, workers stand in line to pay for access to drugged women in a brothel. Who do you blame more for the evils done to these women: the men who kidnap and pimp them out or the men who pay to use them? If there were no customers, would there be any kidnappings? To what degree do you blame the government officials for not only allowing this to go on but actually profiting from it themselves? Do you believe that crime always exists because police or governments allow it to?
~Toward the end of the movie, one man begs for his life and tries to excuse his behavior by saying that it wasn’t personal, it was just business. Is this idea ever used to justify morally excellent behavior? This idea is a common expression even in American business, as expressed by people like Donald Trump on his show, The Apprentice. Does it ever justify behavior to say that “it’s not personal, just business?”
~Does this movie make you more or less willing to travel overseas? To let your children do so? Are such movies useful warnings or fear-mongering extremes? Consider that our society is currently very overprotective compared to previous ones? Is it the responsibility of art to nudge a culture back toward the truth, or does art have any particular obligations in this sense? Can you make a thrilling movie about a child who simply travels around Europe with nothing happening?
~There are three very different images of manhood in this movie: the wealthy but useless rich dad, the poor but loving and capable hero, and the scumbag villains. Which image of masculinity endures in your mind when it’s all over?
~Do you think that women experience this movie differently than men do?
~What things does this movie use to tell us in the character development phase that Bryan is thorough and meticulous? Why does it go to such pains to do so?
~What do you think of Bryan’s methods? He breaks laws, destroys property, puts many lives at risk, and kills many people. Could he be a Christian? Can a Christian celebrate his actions? Would a mature Christian enjoy this movie? Would your answer be any different if he had happened to harm a number of innocent bystanders in the process of his vigilantism? What about the simple fact that he put them at risk? What about the minister’s family?
~In what senses is Bryan like Jesus and in what senses different from Jesus?
~In some ways this movie is a throwback to an earlier philosophy of movie-making, where the hero is good and the bad guys are bad, and the only moral issue (of just use of force) is dismissed without comment. Compare this to the new line of Bond films, for instance, where the lead figure is morally conflicted and full of flaws. Which sort of action film is healthier for a society to consume? Which ones are more Biblical?
~Bryan offers the kidnappers a deal that he will let them go free if they merely return his daughter. Given all the other women who will still be harmed, would you consider this offer to be noble? Do you consider him less noble for only being willing to do what he does in this movie as a consequence of his own daughter being kidnapped? Should we as Christians be more willing to accept evil in the world simply because it doesn’t affect us personally? Can you think of some problems that you would not tolerate affecting your family but that you do tolerate because the don’t? Can you think of any ways that you might have an impact on any of them? How much are we obligated to sacrifice in pursuit of stopping evil in the world that doesn’t personally affect us? Was it an overblown concern with stopping evil that led Bryan to lose his marriage and have such a poor relationship with his daughter in the first place?
Overall Grade: A-
Excellent action movie. One of the best I’ve seen recently.