Fired Up! (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, partial nudity, language and some teen partying.
Length: 90 minutes
Grade: ADCB=B+/D
Budget: $20illion
Box Office: $23 million (17 U.S., 1 Intl., 5 DVD)

Written by: Freedom Jones (First movie)
Directed by: Will Gluck (First movie, although he was a writer and producer for the short-lived television show, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, which we loved)
Starring: Nicholas D’Agosto, Eric Christian Olsen, and Sarah Roemer, with Molly Sims, Philip Baker-Hall, David Walton, and John Michael Higgins.

Two high school jock stars go to cheerleader camp instead of football camp so they can have more women, comedy and personal transformation ensue.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sex/Nudity D, Violence C, Language F
Okay, I know this is out of order, but there’s a really important reason for it. This movie is absolutely not for any teenagers at all, period. It should definitely be rated R, and I wouldn’t encourage any one to let their teens watch it. In fact, the reason I rented it was precisely because I suspected that this might be an over-the-top content movie that might seem harmless to an uninformed parent because of the cheerleader theme and the PG-13 rating. Profanity is unbelievable in this movie, and I cannot believe it didn’t receive an R just for profanity. Kidz-in-mind only gave it a 5, but yet they counted over 130 profanities. Now, you know this sort of measurement doesn’t usually impress me, but in this case it really was overwhelmingly pervasive. Also, sex is a constant theme, both because the guys are trying to sleep with everything that moves and succeeding at it and also because sexy young women are shown pretty much continuously throughout the movie. Additionally, there are sporadic intense lesbian and gay scenes, lesbianism encouraged, gayness mocked. Two boys barely covering themselves cheerleading naked. Two girls being repeatedly sexual. There are several scenes of teenage partying and alcohol consumption. Seriously. The only thing missing here was violence. So this definitely should not be a PG-13 movie. R and a solid R at that. And that’s the theatrical version. I have no idea what the unrated version is like, which thankfully our Blockbuster didn’t stock. Now, the reason I put this element first was because of the following.

Entertainment Value: A
This was hilariously funny. The dialogue is amazingly clever, so clever that I actually had hoped the writer had done other things, but he hasn’t. We were laughing the whole way through this movie, and not just a little but guffawing. I replayed several comments because they were so funny, and the gags are constant. This is a classic case of comic genius covered in filth. Sadly, the movie didn’t need any of the profanity to make it work, and although the plot alone would have required this to be PG-13, I’m certain they could have kept the other stuff down to a level where I would have felt PG-13 was appropriate. So here’s my warning (again). Don’t let your kids watch this, but if you don’t care about the superficial content stuff, this is a very funny for-adults-only comedy.

Significant Content: C
If you’re funny, all else is forgiven. (Ironic, right?) Loyalty to your best friend is essential. Long exposure to women in their environment at least has a chance of turning from a sexual predator into a real human being. In fact, despite all the content, I have to acknowledge that for at least one of the characters here, this movie shows him growing into a man and thereby growing unsatisfied with the boyish antics of his friends.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
The credit here goes toward really understanding the standard cheerleader movie and then creating a send-up of it that doesn’t go in the direction of the movie genre mockumentaries so popular in recent years. Although I think there’s a solid message to coax out of this movie about manhood and maturity, this lesson is overshadowed by the vulgarity and juvenile antics.

Discussion Questions:
~What’s the substantial difference between the guys and Dr. “Rick? Is it merely that he’s crass and stupid whereas they are clever? If so, is that enough to justify liking them and despising him?
~What role does the Casanova archetype play in our society? Consider examples like James Bond, Sam Malone from Cheers, Joey from Friends, and Charley in Two and a Half Men. Is it healthy for our culture to have this ideal set forth for men? Is it more or less damaging than the archetype of the “Mook,” the fool who is incompetent, and irresponsible. How do you feel about Nick and Shawn as a viewer seeking entertainment? How would you feel about them if you were a parent of a teenage girl?
~Why do girls fall for guys like Nick and Shawn? Do they not care that they won’t stay faithful or do they hope that they might be the one who finally encourages them to become faithful (like Carly)?
~What does Nick’s diary reveal about him and about men in general? Consider its erffects on Diora.
~Considering Nick, Diora, and Coach Keith, what does this movie make you want to see happen? What is the right thing to have happen? What does this show about the persuasive power of fiction on our moral sensibilities?
~What does Nick’s pursuit of Diora say about him? Is he intrigued because she’s married, because she’s older, or because she seems like an impossible conquest? How does Shawn’s developing interest in Carly follow the same pattern? Why are men drawn to women who reject them? What happens if this rejection returns after they are married? How is admiration important to men?
~If Shawn had been honest from the start, would he ever have had a chance with Carly? So is it unfair of her to be angry at him after discovering his plot? What about the fact that he had already forsaken the original plan to stay?
~What stereotypes are presented in this movie? Which ones are shown not to always be true?
In the extra features, they discuss how both lead actors were sick for two weeks because they each kissed two girls in the movie who kissed each other. What lessons might this basic lesson in biology have for the sort of promiscuity this movie is encouraging, at least in the beginning?
Overall Grade: B+/D
I’m glad I watched this for all the right reasons. I was right this would probably be a movie parents wouldn’t realize was so vulgar. And in the process of finding that out and being able to warn you about it, I also got to watch a highly entertaining adult comedy.

Race to Witch Mountain (2009)

Rated: PG for sequences of action and violence, frightening and dangerous situations, and some thematic elements.
Length: 98 minutes
Grade: B-B-DC=B-
Budget: $50 million
Box Office: $119 million (67 U.S., 39 Intl., 13 DVD)

Written by: Matt Lopez (Bedtime Stories) and Mark Bomback (Deception, Die Hard 4, Godsend), based on the book by Alexander Key
Directed by: Andy Fickman (Game Plan, She’s the Man, Who’s Your Daddy?)
Starring: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig, Carla Gugino, Ciaran Hinds, and Garry Marshall.

A reformed felon who now drives a cab in Las Vegas finds himself embroiled in intergalactic conflict when two teenagers from another planet jump into his cab and lead him on a series of adventures to elude both the federal agents and the alien assassin hot on their trail.
Entertainment Value: B-
On the pure fun scale, this gets an A. If you ask too many questions (and even one is likely to be too many), this immediately slips into the B range. But if all you’re looking for here is a fun action alien romp, then you’ll be satisfied, at least you will be after the overlong 3 minute opening credits. It reminded me a bit fo Journey to the Center of the Earth. All bang, no content, which is fine for comic books and sometimes PG movies.

Superficial Content: B-
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence C+, Language A
This is squeaky clean on language, drugs, and sexuality. Seriously, Kidz-in-mind gave it a zero for language and a 1 for sex. That’s as clean as it gets. The issue, however, is going to be violence and scary scenes. This was too much for our three-year-old, but not too much for our five-year-old. There’s plenty of fighting, car crashes, explosions, alien spacecraft, and a scary-looking assassin from outer space. Actually, I thought the alien assassin was too creepy for young kids, and I would have preferred something a little more tame when he took off his helmet at the end. But PG is clearly the right rating here.

Significant Content: D
Aliens are real, and some of them (the scientists) are good whereas others (the military and the government) are bad. Our government is also bad, preferring to dissect aliens than to comprehend them. UFO believers are mostly deranged, but a few are just curious and exploring. If we would use more of our brains, we would exhibit paranormal abilities, too. Other than this, there really aren’t any lessons, although the kids do steal from an ATM at the beginning.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
Seriously? I can’t grade it any higher but I can’t justify grading it any lower since it clearly isn’t even trying to score points on this scale.

Discussion Questions:
~What image of our federal government does this movie give to kids who might see it? Should movies try to make federal agents seem better than this, or do you think portraying them this way is a health thing for our society?
~Have you ever been ridiculed for your beliefs? Do you think it’s ever good for us to laugh at the beliefs of other people? What about extreme examples such as UFOs, holodaust denial, and conspiracy theories like about 9/11 or the Moon Landing? How does “love your neighbor as yourself” play out in such cases? If you truly believed some of those things, how would you want others to treat you? If you believed them but also somehow could know you were wrong, how would you want others to treat you.
~Do you think that paranormal abilities such as seeing the future, moving objects you’re your mind, reading minds, and body mass manipulation are really possible? Do you think that all humans have these abilities, at least potentially? Consider some of the strange stories about Jesus after the Resurrection. He walked through a door, He flew up into the sky, and He was able to conceal or reveal His identity to His disciples at will. Do you think we might have similar powers when we are in our glorified bodies?
~At one point, Sara tells Jack that he already knows the truth about who they are but just isn’t willing to believe it. What role does our will have in accepting and rejecting beliefs? Have you ever believed something too easily that you later regretted? Have you ever refused believing something too hard that you later regretted?
~Do you think aliens exist? If they do, do you think they look like we do? Would the existence of aliens challenge any of your beliefs, especially about the Bible? Do you think it’s healthy for a culture like ours to be so fixated on aliens and alien movies?
Overall Grade: B-
My favorite part of this movie, and I will certainly prove myself a total geek with this comment, was the Tron costume worn at about 62 minutes. Look for it and enter total happiness. Tron was a Disney production, in case you didn’t remember. Otherwise, this is a fun romp of sci-fi remakery. The originals were classic. This is a bit more scary, but also good clean fun, if a bit scary for young kids. Turn your mind off for an hour and a half, and you’ll do just fine.

I Love You, Man (2009)

Rated: R for pervasive language, including crude and sexual references.
Length: 105 minutes
Grade: BDBB+=B
Budget: Unknown, maybe $15 million?
Box Office: $ million (71 U.S., 19 Intl., DVD)

Written by: Larry Levin (Dr. Dolittle 1+2, and some TV) and John Hamburg (Meet the Fockers, Zoolander, meet the Parents)
Directed by: John Hamburg (Along Came Polly and some TV)
Starring: Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, JK Simmons, Jaime Pressly, Jon Favreau, with just enough Thomas Lennon to deserve mentioning it.
About to be married to the girl of his dreams, a moderately successful LA real estate agent starts doubting himself when he is forced to realize he has no male friends. So he actively tries to find a guy to be his best friend, which eventually causes some tensions with his fiancée.

Entertainment Value: B
Even though this deserves a B, I was disappointed. What I still don’t understand is why they decided to make a movie starring Paul Rudd (who is hilariously funny) in which he plays a guy who isn’t funny, but rather just awkward. I expected this to be fantastic, and it was merely good, which was a letdown. However, even though he’s only present for about three minutes total, Thomas Lennon once again steals the show, just like for 17 Again.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity B, Violence B, Language F
Language is the only real issue here, including (as the MPAA rightly noted) lots of crude references. There’s a lot of crude talk about homosexuality and sex jokes, but there’s no nudity and I think only one or two scenes of people in bed. There’s some drinking and drunkenness, one scene of vomiting, and some physical gag comedy with people getting hurt. Still, language and the content of that language is enough to justify the R. Also, the DVD opens with an R-rated promo for Road Trip: Beer Pong, just so you aren’t surprised.

Significant Content: B
There’s something weird about a guy who doesn’t have any male friends, but there’s also something weird about a guy who continues to live as if he’s single even when he’s married. Sometimes friends will do things you don’t like and cause disruptions in your life, but that’s just part of the nature of having friends. Finding a good friend can be difficult, but having one makes you into a better you.

Artistic/Thought Value: B+
The concept here is actually quite simple. Instead of a movie about a guy with lots of buddies who finds a woman who then interferes with his life, this is about a guy with a great woman who finds a man-friend that interferes with his life. In other words, they’ve taken the typical comedy-romance and inverted it into a comedy-bromance. As such, it’s very well done.

Discussion Questions:
~Is there something unhealthy about a man or a woman who doesn’t have close same-gender friends? What does it say about a person who doesn’t have friends? Is it sinful to not have friends?
~Have you ever had trouble finding friends? Do you think there’s anything weird about using traditional dating techniques and methods (such as the Internet) to find same-sex friends?
~In what ways does Sidney help Peter become a better man? In what ways does Peter help Sidney? How have your friends helped you develop in your life? How has your spouse or your romantic relationships helped you develop? Are they different?
~Why was Zooey so bothered by Peter telling intimate secrets to Sidney even though she so clearly shared that stuff with her girlfriends?
~Do you think it’s ever appropriate to tell your friends things you wouldn’t tell your spouse?
~Discuss Barry and Denise’s relationship. Does it work? Do they seem happy? Do they love each other? How is honesty both about how they feel and what they want a part of their marriage?
~What do you think of Oswald’s treatment of Robbie, especially his participation in the gay bowling team?
~What stereotypes are present in this movie, and what ones are violated?
~Consider the scene where Doug confronts Peter and Sidney while trying on tuxes. Would that scene have been funny without the profanity? Is profanity always wrong?
Overall Grade: B
Not as funny as I expected, but still funny enough to be worth watching. Skip the deleted scenes and extras, there’s nothing there that didn’t deserve to get cut from the final version.

Great Buck Howard, The (2009)

Rated: PG for some language including suggestive remarks, and a drug reference.
Length: 90 minutes
Grade: FB-DC=D-
Budget: Unknown
Box Office: $790,000

Written and Directed by: Sean McGinly, who hasn’t made anything you’ve ever heard of.
Starring: John Malkovich, Colin Hanks, Emily Blunt, Steve Zahn, and Tom Hanks.

This is a fictionalization of the life of the famous mentalist The Amazing Kreskikn written by the man who was his one-time road manager and displaying the life of a vaudeville-era entertainer struggling to remain relevant in a modern world that no longer cares much about him.

Entertainment Value: F
We nearly quit this movie several times, but we persisted mostly because of the involvement of John Malkovich and Tom Hanks. In the end, despite my hopes that something meaningful might happen, it didn’t. This is meant as an homage to Kreskin, the mentalist who appeared so many times on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, but for those of us who only barely remember him, it’s just a strange and not particularly interesting movie about a has-been entertainer who's obnoxious off stage.

Superficial Content: B-
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity B, Violence B, Language B-
There is some alcohol consumption, implied sexuality, and some mild profanity. Oddly, though this movie is PG, the DVD previews were PG-13, so even if you persist in seeing this, be warned that the previews are not for the kids. There is a lot of verbal berating in this movie, though usually without profanity.

Significant Content: D
Don’t just conform to the goals your parents have for you. Do your own thing. It’s better to be the road manager for a small-time entertainer than to do something society puts more value on. Entertainers may be difficult to work with, but that’s because they have trouble reconciling their own internal sense of greatness with being treated as anything less by others.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
I’m going to give this movie credit for what it was trying to do, once I understood it. See, the movie doesn’t tell you in advance that this is all about Kreskin, and I only knew because I checked out some of the extra features. Malkovich is always fascinating, and I have the sense that if I knew more about Kreskin, I would probably appreciate this more. Nevertheless, it’s really a study in tragedy, and not a particularly enjoyable one to watch.

Discussion Questions:
~Who decides what’s cool or impressive? If Buck Howard can satisfy a few hundred people in hundreds of American cities with his repetitive schtick, who is to say that’s not impressive?
~Although Kreskin says that the private moments were fictionalized, what do you believe? If he wasn’t like this in private, why would McGinley write it that way? Even if he was, do you think McGinley is writing this with anything other than genuine admiration and affection?
~Troy views the one-time failure of Buck’s talents as evidence that they’re real since only a fake can work 100% of the time. What do you think of this idea?
~Why do you think people want so badly to prove that Kreskin was faking or cheating? Why do so many other people want to believe there’s real skill here? What do you believe? When he tries his signature effect at the end of the movie, what do you want to see happen?
~Why does Troy stay with Buck for so long? Is it better to be in proximity to greatness than to be mediocre all on your own?
~What role does dignity play in this movie? Does Troy display dignity by enduring Buck’s abuse? Does Buck display dignity in how he reacts to his treatment by the Leno experience? How much is Valerie motivated by her sense of dignity? How much of Troy’s dad’s worldview is defined by his notions of dignity? How important is your dignity to you? What is the Christian perspective on dignity?
~The movie itself is remarkably unglitzy, rather like Buck’s act. Would the movie have been improper if it had tried to make a glossier version of this portrayal of a relatively unglossy person?
Overall Grade: D-
There are some interesting ideas about performance and show business, but unless you are really a big fan of Kreskin, you won’t enjoy this very slow-moving homage.

What Just Happened (2008)

Rated: R for language, some violent images, sexual content and some drug material.
Length: 107 minutes
Grade: DNF
Budget: $25 million
Box Office: $5 million (1 U.S., 4 Intl., DVD)

Written by: Art Linson (No writing credits, but he produced Into the Wild, Black Dahlia, Lords of Dogtown, Spartan, Heist, Fight Club, Pushing Tin, Singles, Untouchables, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High)
Directed by: Barry Levinson (Man of the Year, Wag the Dog, Disclosure, Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam, Tin Men, The Natural, and Diner…but everything good he’s done was over a decade long time ago)
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Stanley Tucci, John Turturro, Bruce Willis, Kristin Stewart, Robin Wright Penn, Catherine Keener, Sean Penn, and Michael Wincott.

A famous Hollywood producer struggles to save his career when a big movie flops and he doesn’t seem able to get anyone do the things they’re supposed to do in his movies.
Even a really powerful and successful Hollywood producer doesn’t necessarily know how to write a good movie. And even a formerly great Hollywood director doesn’t necessarily know how to direct a good movie anymore. And even if you put a bunch of very successful actors in the flop these two guys cook up, it doesn’t necessarily produce a good movie. This is self-indulgent and unentertaining semi-autobiography (I presume). We made it 35 minutes into this before deciding that the first five minutes hadn’t been lying. The only reason we continued that long was the names involved, who probably did this worthless movie as a personal favor to Art Linson. The only possible redeeming value here would be to rub the face of the audience in the fact that we’re dumb enough to believe that a bunch of names make for a great movie. Other messages? Hollywood is a cesspool of stupidity and egomania? Oh, I didn’t realize that before. Thank you for clarifying.

Coraline (2009)

Rated: PG for thematic elements, scary images, some language and suggestive humor.
Length: 100 minutes
Grade: BBBB=B
Budget: $60 million

Box Office: $142 million (75 U.S., 42 Intl., 25 DVD)
Written by: Neil Gaiman (Beowulf, Stardust, Mirrormask, and, of course, the brilliant comic book series Sandman) and Henry Selick on the screenplay.
Directed by: Henry Selick (Monkeybone, James and the Giant Peach, Nightmare Before Christmas)
Starring: The voices of Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Keith David, Ian McShane, John Hodgman, and Robert Bailey Jr.

A young girl is frustrated with her parents neglecting her until she discovers that the new house they have moved into has a secret doorway into an alternate universe where her “other” mother and father shower her with the love, attention, and food she desires. Unfortunately, things there turn out to be not quite as rosy as they first seem.

Entertainment Value: B
You’ll be thinking Tim Burton at first here, and the similarity between Selick and Burton is hard to ignore. This has a slightly cool, slightly creepy tone about it from the start. The animation is beyond brilliant, and the thematic premise is wonderful. On the other hand, trying to make sense of it all in the end eluded me, and even though it’s a movie whose theme is best digested by younger kids, I though it was a bit too scary for my boys. If you ever read Grimm’s Fairy Tales or similar stuff, you’ll notice that they’re pretty gruesome, really. Well, within that genre, this movie fits quite well, although without some of the elegant simplicity of those stories. But showing such stuff is often much more frightening than merely reading it.

Superficial Content: B-
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity B-, Violence C+, Language A-
There’s one sort of creepy scene where two women are performing a kind of burlesque and not wearing very much clothing on their exaggerated (but unsexy) bodies. I think the real issue here is violence, scariness. For instance, there are some creepy ghosts, a scary spider, threats against a girl, and (probably the worst) a constant depiction of people with their eyes replaced by giant sewn-on buttons and the presentation of a demand that Coraline sew buttons into her own eyes. Some people might also be bothered by the fairly constant presence of supernatural stuff and possibly even witchcraft/magic. This is just barely PG, and I would be a lot more comfortable with PG-10 or even PG-13.

Significant Content: B
Real parents may have their flaws, but at least they are what they seem to be. Sin always tempts us into believing we can have everything our selfish selves want with no real consequence. When you follow your idols, they will always ask you to make massive sacrifices that cost more in the end than you think they will. Things are not always what they seem. Loyalty requires putting yourself at risk to protect those you love.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
Okay, the themes and good and the artistry is brilliant. On the other hand, here’s what neither my wife nor I could figure out: Who is this movie made for? It’s too scary for young kids. It’s too lame for older kids. And it’s certainly not interesting enough for adults. So who is the audience? In a way, though, you might say that this movie is a lot like the “other mother” in that it gradually becomes more and more frightening until it’s downright scary at the end. But a movie for kids just shouldn’t be that way.

Discussion Questions:
~A paradigm-shifting movie is one in which the circumstances of the character don’t change, but the character experiences a revolutionary breakthrough in perception which changes his attitude toward those circumstances. In what ways is Coraline such a movie? Do you think movies like this are helpful in getting us to have such improved perspective on our own circumstances and lives? Can you name some other movies that function like this?
~Would Coraline have been better off obeying her mother and not rescuing the key again?
~What do the buttons on the eyes in this movie symbolize? In what way is vision a key element of deception? How is this reinforced by the circus and burlesque performers?
~If it’s true that we’re all prone to being deceived, especially by our eyes, what tools do we have to avoid the dangers of such deception?
~To what degree is this movie preaching a doctrine of hell? Even though the “other” world is so much nicer, what is intended by the presentation of it as both small and also having nothing around it?
~Is “other mother” the devil? What function does “other father” have here? Why does this movie seem to emphasize women so much?
~When you were a kid, did you find fairy tales scary? Do you think fairy tales are more or less meaningful when seen rather than read?
~Do you think it’s healthy for kids to learn that life is scary and even horrific at an early age, or is it better for them to be sheltered from that side of life for awhile?
~As a parent watching this movie, what does it remind you to be more attentive about regarding your children?
~Normal Wybie (like many parts of her normal life) is very annoying to Coraline. How is annoyance an important part of what we need to be unselfish? In what ways is the “other” world a true depiction of how we would all refashion our worlds if we could exert our selfishness fully? What does the Bible have to say about this impulse? Is it possible that difficult people in our lives are actually a gift from God? For what purpose?
~If you were to preach a sermon using Coraline as an illustration, what would you say?

Overall Grade: B
I don’t think I can recommend this to anyone, but if you like the other movies by Selick and Burton, you’ll probably like this one. Definitely not for young kids, maybe for older ones and adults.

17 Again (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for language, some sexual material and teen partying.
Length: 102 minutes
Grade: A+C+A+A=A+
Budget: $20 million
Box Office: $135 million (64 U.S., 71 Intl)

Written by: Jason Filardi (Bringing Down the House)
Directed by: Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down)
Starring: Zac Efron, Leslie Mann, Thomas Lennon, Matthew Perry, Sterling Knight, Michelle Trachtenberg, and Jim Gaffigan.

One-time high-school basketball star Mike O’Donnell chose to walk away from the sport in order to marry his pregnant girlfriend. Twenty years later, he regrets his life in a shambles and is given a chance to try it all again when a mysterious janitor makes him 17 again.

Entertainment Value: A+
Okay. I know that will seem high to many people, but in all honesty I haven’t had this much fun watching a movie in a long, long time. My wife and I were dying the whole time. When I really laugh hard, I slap my thigh. Today, I worried I would wake up with bruises. I didn’t really expect much from this movie, especially since Matthew Perry has delivered such inconsistent results and it was basically two first-time creators. I actually chose to watch this instead of “I Love You, Man” because I didn’t think we’d have time to finish a whole movie, and I expect to enjoy that one greatly. We stayed up about an hour later than normal because we didn’t want to stop watching this. I’ll grant that the first few minutes are shaky (like why on earth would she confront him at the game on the biggest night of his life) and there are some minor plot elements which require suspension of disbelief (the kids not recognizing him, for instance). But not only was it hilarious in places we didn’t expect, but the ending was tremendously satisfying. All the characters contribute, but Thomas Lennon is fantastic! Now here’s the problem, I’ve so over-sold this that it can’t possibly live up to my billing. So, let me rephrase. This is an above average teen comedy that is occasionally funny. Now go rent it.

Superficial Content: C+
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity C, Violence B, Language C+
There is a big party scene with teens drinking, getting partially naked, and acting sexually. There are a couple of fistfights. I thought the language was fairly mild for a PG-13, although Kids-In-Mind apparently heard a lot more than I did, and the sexuality was a lot of comments and a couple of romantic scenes, including some gags predicated on the near-incestuous situations created by the plot. PG-13 is probably right, but it’s definitely on the light end of PG-13. I would go PG-10 or so. I don’t think younger kids would enjoy or understand it very well, anyhow. But this is a movie about teens that teens can certainly watch if they’ve seen very many other movies.

Significant Content: A+
I’ll try to do this in such a way that I don’t give too much away, which is difficult. Bullies are weak people. Everyone can do something special, if only they have guidance and help. The key to rediscovering our joy is to constantly remind ourselves why we chose things in the first place. Blaming others for your failures never solves anything. High school is an awful place for a lot of people. Resentment destroys love. Love is sacrifice, and you should only make sacrifices if you can live with them forever. Be persistent in going after what you really want. Be patient in fixing problems and remind yourself that not all problems are yours to fix. Be yourself, and everything will work out fine.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
Here’s what I loved about this movie. It’s the ideal preaching platform: a highly entertaining movie that delivers a profoundly powerful lesson at the end which you aren’t really expecting because of the movie itself. I actually cried happy tears at the ending because it was so beautiful and vivid.

Discussion Questions:
~What was high school like for you? Thinking back to some of the other people you knew in high school, what do you think it was like for them? Why is high school so difficult for so many people? Is that a legitimate argument against having public high schools?
~If you could go back to high school knowing what you know now, what do you think you would do differently, if anything? What would you tell kids in high school, if you could?
~What do you think of Mike’s tactics for handling Stan? Can you think of anything that would have worked better?
~The plot depends on Mike and Ned lying to everyone else about who Mike is. Does this seem like a problematic lie under the circumstances? If someone said he didn’t like this movie because of this aspect of it, what would you say to him?
~Considering Mike at his real age, what mistakes do you see him making as a husband and a father? Would you say that Scarlet doesn’t admire or respect him anymore? What about his kids? What did he do to allow this to happen? Would you say it’s a man’s duty to live his life so that his family can easily respect and admire him?
~Considering the sex-ed class scene, what lessons can be learned about the differences between male teenagers, male adults, and females when it comes to sexuality? What role does fatherhood play in sexual wisdom? Why is it so important for boys to have adult male mentors?
~Given the way things work out, especially for Mike, would you say this movie is encouraging teenage sexuality or discouraging it? Is there a difference between what the movie is saying and what it is showing? What impact do you think it will have on the average teenager?
Overall Grade: A+
I just hope you enjoy it as much as we did. I particularly wanted to review this one today so that you might be able to watch it this weekend, which was the other part of why we stayed up last night to finish it. I just hope the next work from these two heretofore unknown artists comes out nearly as well.

Apaloosa (2009)

Rated: R for some violence and language.
Length: 115 minutes
Grade: CDCD=C-
Budget: $20 million
Box Office: $37 million (20 U.S., 7 Intl., 10 DVD)

Written by: Ed Harris and Robert Knott (First screenplay for either), based on the novel by Robert B. Parker
Directed by: Ed Harris (Pollock)
Starring: Um, Ed Harris? And Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger, Jeremy Irons, and Lance Henriksen.

When a small town’s marshal is killed by a local bad guy, the town hires two mercenaries to protect them. In the process, one falls for a woman, who becomes a liability as they try to bring the bad guy to justice.

Entertainment Value: C
This movie lied to me! Ed Harris, Viggo, Renee Z, and Jeremy Irons? I expected a masterpiece. And then, the first fifteen minutes were terrific! Seriously. But an hour later, I realized that I was having to force myself to keep watching it. I can’t decide what, precisely, went wrong here, but something definitely went wrong. I think, quite frankly, that it became boring. Perhaps realistic, but boring nonetheless. Somewhere along the line, Ed Harris didn’t quite learn the lessons Unforgiven had to teach about how to make a realistic and brilliant western, even if it doesn’t have a lot of action.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity C, Violence D, Language D, Illegality DLots of drinkin’, pardner. Several implied sex scenes, and a couple of scenes with a man and a woman in bed, including one where she is partially naked. Language is remarkably strong, and would merit an R on its own if the movie didn’t already deserve it so heartily for the violence. It’s not just that there’s killin’, ma’am, it’s that there’s killin’ with lots of blood. That and several fairly brutal beatings.

Significant Content: C
In order to fight real evil, you have to be a little bit crazy and a lotta bit ruthless. There isn’t much real difference between being an outlaw and being a law man. Laws are often nothing more than a sham to give what is necessary the pretense of being what is authorized. The law can be avoided if you know the right people. Even a flawed romance can be a meaningful romance. Sometimes all you can do is kill a guy to make things right.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
I think this is Ed Harris trying to follow in the footsteps of Clint Eastwood. And even though the movie starts with a good basic idea of studying some odd characters, it seems to throw too much of their chaos at us to make enough sense of it. One theme here is the relationship between grammar and vocabulary and a sense of legitimacy. Unfortunately for Harris, 3:10 to Yuma pretty well addressed that already.

Discussion Questions:
~What do you think of Virgil’s tactics? What does this movie have to say about the war on terror?
~Why does Virgil want so badly to develop his vocabulary? What does it say about him that Everett is his sidekick but knows the words he wishes to learn?
~Why does Virgil love Allison? Why does Allison love Virgil? When Everett says that she will pursue whoever is the lead dog in the current environment, do you think his assessment is correct? Is this movie trying to say something about women?
~If you were the town leaders, would you have taken Virgil’s offer in exchange for giving him carte blanche to make laws as he wants? Did granting him this power wind up being good or bad for the town?
~Why do we believe in limited government? Is limited government actually a bad thing when you have really good people in power?
~What are the similarities and differences between Virgil, Everett, Bragg, and Ring? Do you agree with the implication that the main difference between criminals and cops is the steadiness of the pay?
~Is Virgil a little bit crazy? Why does he react so aggressively to the man at the bar? What does Everett mean when he says that the town hired Virgil Cole to be Virgil Cole?
~One of the ancient theories about how despots come to power is because people in desperate situations turn to them to solve their problems. Is this theory shown or refuted by this movie?
~What do you think of Everett’s decision in the end?
Overall Grade: C-
Seriously. It was great for 15 minutes and really mediocre for another hour and a half after that. Watch it with this warning, if at all.

Outlander (2009)

Rated: R for violence.
Length: 115 minutes
Grade: CDCD=C-
Budget: $50 million
Box Office: $6 million (0.166 U.S., 6 Intl., DVD)

Written by: Dirk Blackman and Howard McCain (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans) Directed by: Howard McCain (First movie)
Starring: Jim Caviezel, John Hurt, Sophia Myles, Jack Huston, and Ron Perlman.

A spaceman crashes into Earth in Viking territory in 709 AD and teams up with the locals to destroy the dragon-like being that he brought with him which threatens all of them with destruction.

Entertainment Value: C
How did two no-name writers score a $50 million movie with Jim Caviezel and John Hurt? I don’t know, either. Here’s what I can tell you about this movie. Despite being everything a B-movie should be, it was still fairly fun in the end. If you’ve seen Predator, Alien, Road Warrior, Conan, 13th Warrior, Dragonslayer, Dragonheart, Beowulf, and Excalibur (or even just a couple of these) this is going to feel pretty derivative. Nevertheless, I maintain that it was fun—frivolous, ridiculous fun. Obviously the plot makes no sense, especially the part about him refusing to go back to his ship for better weapons earlier in the movie. But, oh well. Did I mention it was fun?

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity B, Violence D, Language C-, Illegality A
They’re Vikings, right? So there’s a bit of drinking. There is only one implied sex scene and nothing else, which is nice. Language, as I remember, was one F-word and nothing else or very little else, oddly. Violence is definitely the issue here, and you should know that there is a lot of killing and violence, including a wriggling person being eaten alive by a dragon and many gruesome corpse scenes.

Significant Content: C
Clean up your own messes? Sometimes the simple life is better than interstellar space jockey. Earth is an abandoned human colony. Leaders are made through surviving extremely difficult situations. Don’t try to capture dragons. Two big hammers won’t protect you from a dragon’s tail. Good life lessons here.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
The dragon is cool, no doubt about it. Otherwise, thought value? Really? No, not really.

Discussion Questions:
~Can you think of any reason why Kainan didn’t go back to his ship for another gun after he lost his first one?
~What examples of human arrogance are shown in this movie, either by the spacemen or by the Vikings?
~Given that Kainan feels remorse for having exterminated the Moorwens, what do you think of him trying to kill this one?
~Is this movie trying to say something about human nature and it's conquest mentality?
~What about life in 8th century Norway would appeal to Kainan? If the woman you fell in love with lived in that sort of barbaric situation, what would you do?
~Does this movie portray women as equal to men or not in the end? Would you call it a feminist movie?
~What is the value of B-movies? Is it coherent to say, “That’s terrible, I loved it?” What are some of the worst movies that you nonetheless love?
Overall Grade: C-
Most of the time “For rent exclusively at Blockbuster” means “this movie is not going to be great.” Sometimes they are great nevertheless (Miss Potter, e.g.). But not this time. Campy, silly, yet still fun so long as you don’t care how silly and campy it is.

Push (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, brief strong language, smoking and a scene of teen drinking.
Length: 111 minutes.
Grade: B+CCB=B
Budget: $38 million
Box Office: $59 million (32 U.S., 16 Intl., 11 DVD)

Written by: David Bourla (First major script)
Directed by: Paul McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin, Wicker Park)
Starring: Chris Evans, Camilla Belle, Dakota Fanning, Djimon Houjnsou

The world is full of mutants (think X-Men) who live among us and operate in secrecy, some for good and some for evil. One group affiliated with the government has a formula for amplifying their powers, but it’s killing the subjects. Another group wants to stop them from developing it any further.

Entertainment Value: B+
Despite the surplus of mutant movies recently (Jumper, Wanted, X-Men, Hellboy, Watchmen, Incredible Hulk, Hancock, not to mention Heroes on TV) so many of them have been disappointing, at least the ones most like this one (Jumper and Wanted). So although I was excited to see this, I was concerned it would be yet another disappointment. But I really enjoyed this. My wife even made fun of me for being so engrossed in it, like a little kid. I don’t care. This is fun, fast, and a little weird. I must admit that plot has a zillion holes in it, but I didn’t care. I let it entertain me on its own terms, and it didn’t disappoint.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity B, Violence C-, Language C, Illegality C
PG-13 is right. There is some swearing throughout, there is implied sexuality, and one scene has a young girl getting drunk. The main issue here will be violence and overall creepiness of some scenes such as men with Banshee powers using their sonic voices to kill people by exploding their cranial blood vessels, a fair number of people are killed or threatened with guns.

Significant Content: C
Sometimes it’s hard to tell the truth from a lie someone has put in your head. Governments will always try to weaponize anything powerful. You have to be willing to risk death to stop bad people from succeeding. The good guys don’t always have the best chances, and they don’t always win. If you would pay closer attention, you would realize things all around us fit the existence of mutants like these.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
I was particularly impressed with the camera work here. The director seemed to constantly select unique vantage points which amplified the scenes quite a bit. Despite all the flaws (How can people sniff the future? How could Cassie’s mom have known so much when the future is always changing? Why can Nick have trouble with dice and then suddenly have perfect control of guns and bullets?), the art here is in bringing a mutant world to life believably. And I loved the idea of mutants coming in categories rather than having any power imaginable. The big thought issues here have to do with fate, free will, and the future.

Discussion Questions:
~Do you believe it’s possible for mutants like these to be real? Consider the categories of Watcher, Mover, Pusher, Stitch, Shifter, Sniffer, Bleeder, and Shadow. Which seem most plausible and which least? If they were real, would it change your perception of occupations like media, PR, magician, doctor, and psychiatrist? Given that we are all (to some degree) energy fields impacting each other, is it possible for objects to carry the residual effect of activities in their vicinity as Sniffers detect?
~If you could have any of these abilities, which would you most like to have? Which would you least like others to have?
~Do you think it’s possible that humans have special abilities, even if not quite to this degree? Do you think it would be good to try to investigate them as the Nazis, Russians, and we have done? Would you think of these things as being gifts from God or as being demonic or witchraft stuff?
~Have you ever wondered why so many people believe seemingly ridiculous things? Is it possible they’ve been pushed?
~What makes the good guys in this movie particularly good? Is opposition to bad guys enough to make you good?
~What do you think of the mutants who work for Division? Are they traitors for helping hunt and exploit their own kind? If mutants were real, would you want them running loose or under the control of the government?
~Does the idea of the future being the outworking of our intentions do anything to explain the Christian notion of God knowing the future while we have free will?
~Was it important to Dakota Fanning’s character to be dressed the way she was?
~Are there any memories which you wish you could eliminate? Are there any which are so important to you that, without them, you feel like you wouldn’t be you anymore?
Is it better to be predictable or to be spontaneous? What’s the relationship between strong character and predictability?
~Does someone else knowing your future diminish your free choice of it?
Overall Grade: B
I liked it better than a B indicates, but I can’t give it an A or even a B+ with a high degree of integrity. And given the surprisingly low Box Office, all I can say is, “I enjoyed it a lot, but I can’t promise you will.”