Star Trek (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, and brief sexual content.
Length: 127 minutes
Grade: A+B-AA=A
Budget: $150 million
Box Office: $425 million (257 U.S., 127 Intl., ?40 DVD)

Written by: Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Both did Transformers 1-2, Mission Impossible 3, The Island, The Legend of Zorro, and Alias and Fringe on TV) along with Gene Roddenberry (Shame on you if you don’t know who he is)
Directed by: J.J. Abrams (Mission Impossible 3, and the creative force behind Cloverfield and TV’s Lost, Alias, and Fringe)
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Winona Ryder, and Leonard Nimoy.

In this reboot to the entire Star Trek universe, we get to meet the original Star Trek cast under completely new circumstances as they crew the Entertprise in an alternate universe time path created by Romulans from the future who have come back to the time of Captain Kirk’s birth seeking revenge for the destruction of their home planet.

Entertainment Value: A+
When the movie was over and I had been given a few minutes to recover, my wife looked over at me and asked, “So what did you think.” Forming my hands into the hang-ten extended thumb and pinkie shape, I eagerly moved them back and forth saying, “Four thumbs up!” Look, I had heard this was really good, but that did nothing to prepare me for how much I was going to enjoy this movie. Having recently seen big budget action flicks like Transformers 2 and GI Joe: Rise of Cobra, I had already experienced the dizzying action and effects possible in big budget blockbusters. But the real difference is that, unlike either of those movies, the plot here is tight, super-tight even, and the dialogue is wonderful. Combine all that with doing an homage-based recrafting of a universe I have loved since childhood while still being highly faithful to that universe, and I was overwhelmed. At the risk of hyperbole, this is the single best sequel/remake I’ve ever seen. It’s so good that it almost makes up for the sluggishness of the Star Wars sequels (Phantom Menace, Clone Wars, Revenge of the Sith). For those who don’t know the Star Trek universe all that well (particularly the original TV show and movies 2 and 4), this will be just excellent. For the rest of us, look out! And in case I haven’t already overinflated your expectations, it is possibly also the best time-travel movie ever made, and that’s territory well-populated by the excellent efforts like The Terminator franchise, Timecop, Frequency, 12 Monkeys, The Final Countdown, Groundhog Day, The Butterfly Effect, Time Bandits, and (although I’m reluctant to include it in an otherwise truly sci-fi list) Back to the Future.

Superficial Content: B-
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity B, Violence B-, Language B-
Let me start by saying that I’m baffled about this one being PG-13. In a rare case where they didn’t just try to filthy-up a sequel of a kids series, I think they stayed quite faithful to the level of superficial content you would expect from any of the Star Trek series or movies. The profanity is mild and occasional, although they could have done without the S-word twice. Bones, of course, uses his trademark D-profanity. Sexuality includes one scene of Kirk in the bed of a green underwear-wearing space cadet. There is a bar scene in the beginning. The only really obvious concern here would be violence, which includes lots of space violence and people being killed (one by impaling heard but not seen) and general action peril. The opening scene has a young boy stealing and driving a car recklessly. I wouldn’t let Spencer watch this yet, but it’s PG-11 at worst and probably more like PG-8. In the days before PG-13, this would certainly have been PG (as were Top Gun, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and five of the six Star Wars movies), and given the awfulness of most PG-13 movies (like Transformers 2), I think that rating is misleading.

Significant Content: A
Vengeance is an overpowering motivation, which will lead you only to inflict misery on others for no redemptive purpose whatsoever. A diversity of talents all working together form a powerful team. Being logical is not necessarily evidence of no emotion, but often the best coping mechanism for profound emotions. The undauntable belief that success is possible is often the only reason that success occurs. Sometimes rules need to be broken. Authority can coexist with disagreement so long as everyone agrees who is responsible for the ultimate decision and that decision is honored by all. Also, such an open process yields better decisions and better sense of participation by the members.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
The sheer art of taking an entire established universe and undoing it by keeping all the best original elements and sending them off in a completely new direction is brilliant enough on its own to justify an A. But Trekkies will particularly enjoy the loving incorporation of various elements from both the series and the movies (like the Kobayashi Maru, the modified Khanian earwigs, one man sacrificing himself for the greater good of a whole ship, and even the trick of going into the past to give people a technological insight like clear aluminum or transwarp transportation). Pardon me, I’m still giddy.

Discussion Questions:
~Although Nero begins his time quest by trying to save his home planet, this leads him to do so much evil that eventually when that goal is impossible, he is still willing to kill billions just out of revenge. Have you ever talked yourself into doing something evil for a seemingly noble reason? How do you feel about that decision now? Can you think of any particular examples in history, such as the bombing of Hiroshima? What is the difference between justifiable evil done to accomplish good and evil that goes too far? Why does doing evil tend to corrupt us so that we can’t judge rightly about such things after awhile? What is the Biblical answer to all of this?
~The classic Star Trek tension was between the emotional Bones, the logical Spock, and the bold Kirk. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each of these dispositions? In what ways might you say that the Enterprise Crew represents the ideal healthy human mind? What parts might be missing? Considering the cosmopolitan composition of the crew, what ideal of human society is being offered here? Compare this with the homogeneity of other ships’ crews. How does the common devotion to the principles of the Star Fleet bring them together in unity? Compare this with the erosion of class and race barriers which occurs in truly Gospel communities?
~What do you think of the portrayal of discussions on the bridge, where everyone is allowed to argue with the commander? Does this produce better decisions? Does it undermine the command structure? Compare this with what you know about how decisions are made in the military, for instance on board an Aircraft Carrier.
~Spock’s nature as half-human, half-Vulcan is a constant theme in this movie. Why is this so important in the movie? Have you ever felt alienated from a group? How did eventual membership in a group change your outlook? ~What do you think about the idea that logic is a control mechanism for properly channeling strong emotions? Was his response to the childhood bullies logical? How should one respond to bullies?
~What do you think of the purpose of the Kobayashi Maru exercise? What do you think of Kirk’s solution?
~In what sense might it be fair to say that Spock adheres too much to rules (like a legalist) whereas Kirk knows when they need to be broken because the purpose for which they were written would actually be undermined by following them (like Christ)?
Overall Grade: A
I’m happy. So very happy. Just knowing such a movie can be made restores my long-decayed hope in the possibility of sequels and remakes. Thank you, J.J. Abrams.

Up (2009)

Rated: PG for some peril and action.
Length: 96 minutes
Grade: CB+BC=B-
Budget: $175 million
Box Office: $595 million (293 U.S., 214 Intl., 88 DVD)

Written by: Pete Docter (WALL-E, Monster’s Inc., Toy Story 1+2), Bob Peterson (Ratatouille, Finding Nemo), and Thomas McCarthy (The Visitor, The Station Agent).
Directed by: Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.) and Bob Peterson (First Movie)
Starring the voices of: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo, John Ratzenberger, and David Kaye.

After a lifelong delay in fulfilling their dreams of adventure, an elderly man decides to fly his house to South America via helium balloons in honor of his recently deceased wife. Along the way, he encounters a portly wilderness explorer, an overly needy dog, a strange mythical bird, and many adventures.

Entertainment Value: C
First the good stuff. This is Pixar, and Pixar never fails completely. The animation is amazing, the voice work is outstanding, and the comic timing is impeccable, especially their new trademark of comedy without dialogue like from WALL-E. My kids of course love it, which means I’ve seen it many times already in bits and pieces myself. But in this case, the characters, animation, and comedy (even when added to the heart-strings they yank on in the excellent opening sequence) aren’t enough to cover over a crazy plot built around an absurd premise: a balloon flying house. I could have overlooked this as the admission price to the plot, but they just kept shoving the impossibility of the physics in my face again and again. I know this seems like a petty thing to fixate on, and I’m sure it didn’t bother everyone. But since it was the pretext for half the events in the movie, I had trouble over and over with it. For instance, how didn’t the house lift-off as soon as the balloons were filled rather than at the desired moment? How did he keep a balloon cluster twenty times the volume of his house hidden either inside or right behind his house? How does one fly to South America via balloon house overnight? How does an elderly man get enough grip on the ground to hold that house from dragging him over a ledge? Why, oh why, didn’t he keep a few canisters of compressed air to reinflate more balloons later? Still, for those who can ignore such issues (like all children, I suspect), I’m sure it’s great fun.

Superficial Content: B+
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence B, Language A
There are a couple of difficult moments in the very beginning where a woman is implied to have been discovered infertile and possibly having lost a baby and she later dies. A man falls to his death (out of sight), and several scenes of what the MPAA calls “peril” occur. But for the most part, this is just barely not a G movie. Both of our young boys watched it, and Ethan was only slightly bothered by the dogs being scary and now loves the movie.
Significant Content: B Always be sure you’re pursuing the most important objectives. Heroes don’t always turn out to be noble people. Corporations and land developers are evil. Society really takes advantage of the elderly in the name of helping them. When you invest your life in fame and reputation, you’ll do anything to get it back if you feel it’s been unjustly taken from you. Being an explorer is fun, but not usually what it seems like in books and movies. Adventure is good, but ordinary life is also good.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
Obviously the animation is outstanding. Also, you have to give Pixar tremendous credit for having mastered the art of non-dialogue storytelling and comedy. But I don’t think there’s a ton worth talking about here. So thought value is a little scarce.

Discussion Questions:
~This movie seems to want us to believe that the most significant thing in Mr. Fredricksen’s life was the big adventure he took to Paradise Falls. Looking over the story about his life and marriage to Ellie, do you believe this is true? If he had died when she did, would his life really have been left unfulfilled? Do you think this emphasis on the extraordinary and exotic as opposed to the regular and calm is healthy? Is it a common idea in our society?
~Russell talks about sharing the boring moments with his dad and that those are actually the most important. What “boring” parts of life are important to you or to your kids?
~The difference between adventure as we imagine it and exploring in real life becomes somewhat clear in this movie. Do you think it’s good or bad for kids to dream of adventure? Does real life usually live up to that, even when that real life includes actual exploring?
~Russell is trying to get a merit badge for helping the elderly, but he winds up imposing on Mr. Fredricksen to get it. How often are our efforts to help other people really impositions upon them? Did Fredericksen need help? By the end of the movie, would you say Russell actually helped him in any way?
~Muntz seems to want the bird as a bit of proof to earn back his reputation, Russell just loves the bird as his friend. What do these different motivations tell us about their characters? What is the difference between a desire, a dream, and an idol? In what ways does Fredericksen’s goal start out as an idol to him? How does this change?
~This movie portrays developers as evil capitalists and elderly people as noble (though crotchety) obstacles to progress. How fair are either of these stereotypes?
~Even if Muntz wasn’t believed about the bird, can you think of any reason he wouldn’t have returned to civilization to show them the genius of his talking dog collar? What do you think dogs would say if they had such a collar?
~If you are an adult who has engaged in the longstanding cultural practice of sending newbies snipe hunting, what do you think of the exposure of this tradition in a movie like this? Do you feel betrayed by the people at Pixar, or do you feel this was an appropriate exploitation of a well-known cultural ritual?
~Were you impeded in enjoying this movie by any of the plausibility problems with the balloons or with the age of Muntz compared to Fredricksen? What does it say about people who are bothered by those things? What about those who are not?

Overall Grade: B-
Kids will love it. I can’t predict parental reaction. I only know that I fell asleep for 20 minutes during the first time through and even almost did so again when I diligently tried to rewatch the part I had missed. Some parts, especially the opening, are brilliant. After that, only the sometimes quite funny jokes make it worthwhile.

The rental DVD (from Blockbuster at least) does not have the main menu and access to special features standard in Pixar DVDs. Instead, it plays in a continuous loop. If you intend to watch it more than once or want the extras, this is one case where buying the DVD makes good sense. Also, this seems to be part of Disney’s practice of encouraging purchases by discouraging rentals as much as possible. That’s why your video store seems to always be out of such a popular movie. Disney won’t release more copies for rental, knowing this irritation will drive up purchases.

The Rocker (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for drug and sexual references, nudity and language.
Length: 102 minutes
Grade: BDBD=B-
Budget: $15 million
Box Office: $15 million (6 U.S., 2 Intl., 6 DVD)

Written by: Maya Forbes (Monsters vs Aliens), Wallace Wolodarsky (Monsters vs Aliens), and Ryan Jaffe (First movie)
Directed by: Peter Cattaneo (Opal Dream, Lucky Break, Full Monty)
Starring: Rainn Wilson, Christian Applegate, Teddy Geiger, Josh Gad, and Emma Stone, with appearances by Will Arnett, Jason Sudeikis, Bradley Cooper, Jane Krakowski, Jeff Garlin, Jane Lynch, Demetri Martin, and Lonny Ross.

When their drummer is expelled prior to the prom gig, the teen trio of ADD look to the keyboardist’s uncle (Fish), a washed up former rock drummer booted from mega-super-band “Vesuvius” just before their big break in this comedic mockumentary ever so loosely based on the tragic life of former Beatle Pete Best. Even though prom is a disaster, a viral video of Fish drumming in the nude propels the band on a nationwide tour.

Entertainment Value: B
I didn’t actually expect very much of this movie, but as you can tell from the huge number of comedic actors involved in it, the thing really was pretty funny. Hilarious in some parts, clunky and cumbersome in others, and certainly not anything like a great story. Think of this as Spinal Tap meets Saturday Night Live.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sex/Nudity D, Violence C, Language D
This isn’t the most vulgar PG-13 movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s certainly in the running. It’s full of drinking, drunkenness, partying, comic violence, vomiting, sexual references, and extended scenes of partial or back nudity. Language is heavy for PG-13. I’d say PG-15 at least is appropriate here.

Significant Content: B
The world is full of people who obey the rules and behave and also those who are full of life and live accordingly. Rock and Roll needs and breeds the latter type, who are obnoxious and yet endearing for their childish enthusiasm. Growing up and settling down aren’t everything they’re cracked up to be. Holding onto grudges will poison you forever. Follow your dreams, and eventually you’ll get what you deserve. Live your life with no regrets. Success can change you for the worse if you aren’t careful. Agents are evil…shock.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
The best way I can think to describe this movie is as funny but ugly. It’s just a big old mess, artistically speaking, but that’s probably on purpose, and the jokes are what keep it from being terrible.

Discussion Questions:
~Who changes the most in this movie as a result of achieving success? What keeps them from going totally bad?
~Would you want a friend like Fish? Do you think he would be good for you?
~If you had been in Fish’s situation with Vesuvius (or Pete Best’s with the Beatles), how hard do you think it would have been to accept? What part of what you had missed out on would be most difficult to let go?
~Are drum machines and synthesizers good for music?
~What is the downside of living you life with the only goal being to have no regrets for not trying something?
If teenagers want to start a band, would you generally encourage them or discourage them?
~Do you think the real life implications of hard partying are as innocent and inconsequential as this movie seems to portray?

Overall Grade: B-
I must have clipped at least fifteen hilarious one- or two-liners, but the vast majority of them I can’t play on the air. That should tell you everything you need to know about this movie.

Taking of Pelham 123

Rated: R for violence and pervasive language.
Length: 106 minutes
Grade: C-FCD=D+
Budget: $100 million
Box Office: $150 million (65 U.S., 85 Intl.)

Written by: Brian Helgeland (Man on Fire, The Order, Mystic River, A Knight’s Tale, Payback, The Postman, Conspiracy Theory, L.A. Confidential, ), based on the 1974 novel by John Godey.
Directed by: Tony Scott (Déjà vu, Domino, Man on Fire, Beat the Devil, Spy Game, Enemy of the State, The Fan, Crimson Tide, Last Boy Scout, Days of Thunder, Beverly Hills Cop 1-2, Top Gun, and one of the best unheard-of action films ever: True Romance)
Starring: John Travolta and Denzel Washington, with Luiz Guzman, John Turturo, and James Gnadolfini.

A terrorist hijacks a subway train, and the authorities must decide how best to rescue the hostages in this remake of a 1974 Walter Matthau film.

Entertainment Value: C-
Tony Scott has made some of my favorite movies, and he is a fantastic action film director. Obviously Denzel Washington is nearly flawless as an actor. John Travolta has been a little less reliable, but with supporters like Gandolfini and Turturo (we’ll ignore Luiz Guzman for the moment), this movie should have been outstanding. It was not outstanding, except in the negative sense, given this talent pool. The problems were plausibility (especially when the criminals were all vulnerable to snipers several times) and a terribly weak ending. I wanted to love this movie, but I really couldn’t. Plus, the bipolar character Travolta was playing didn’t match a criminal mastermind so much as an out-of-control abuser. All those negatives aside, it wasn’t awful, just nowhere near what you would expect from Scott and Washington, et al.

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity B+-, Violence F, Language F
One scene has a girl taking off her shirt online for her boyfriend, and there’s some talk of affairs. No drugs or alcohol to mention. Several people are killed by guns in realistic fashion, and the entire movie is about holding hostages. The language is horrendous, and certainly either this or the violence alone would justify an easy R here.

Significant Content: C
Greedy people are prone to doing anything to get the money they think they deserve. Money can entice you to do things you justify as being okay even though you really know they aren’t. Power corrupts, even petty positions of power. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a chance to atone for your mistakes. Sometimes the most liberating thing of all is to be forced into a confession.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
For yet a second time this week, I have to observe that there really isn’t much to talk about here, other than greed.

Discussion Questions:
~Does Ryder’s revealed occupation surprise you? Who do you think is responsible for Ryder’s progression toward murderer and terrorist? Who would he blame?
~What do you think of Walter’s actions in Japan? Is it bribery even if you do the thing you were going to do anyhow? Why?
~Ryder coerces Walter into a public confession during their conversations. Do you think this was actually a blessing in disguise for Walter?
~What aspects of this movie seem implausible to you?
~Why do you think Ryder made the choice at the end that he did?
~Greed is clearly a theme in this movie. Can you identify some examples of it and how it influenced people? Would you say that Walter and Ryder are only different in degree, or does something else separate them?
~How does Walter’s reputation (and being seen as possibly involved in this caper) suffer from his other errors in judgment?
~Are movies like this helpful to our society or harmful?
~Discuss Ryder’s religiosity. Is it helpful for semi-theological ideas to be presented by a terrorist in a movie?
Overall Grade: D+
This is one of those cases where there isn’t enough good in this movie to persuade me to ignore its superficial content in overall grade. Whereas Swordfish was excellent, this is (in the end) mediocre.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for strong sequences of action violence and mayhem throughout.
Length: 118 minutes
Grade: BC-CD=C+
Budget: $175 million
Box Office: $342 million (150 U.S., 151 Intl., 41 DVD)

Written by: Stuart Beattie (Autstralia, 30 Days of Night, Pirates of the Caribbean 1-3, and Collateral), David Elliot (Catacombs, Four Brothers), Paul Lovett (Four Brothers), Michael Gordon (300), and Stephen Sommers (All 6 Scorpion King and Mumy movies, and Van Helsing).
Directed by: Stephen Sommers (3 of the 6 Mummy movies, and Van Helsing)
Starring: Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Rachel Nichols, Sienna Miller, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Dennis Quaid.

An ancient arms dealing family is involved in a plot to steal the “nanomite” weaponry they have manufactured for NATO. In the process, a secret super-team of high-tech military heroes comes out to do battle against the equally secret super-team of villains led by the arms dealer himself.

Entertainment Value: B
If you want a nice tight plot for a big-budget action movie, shop elsewhere. But if you want an intensely modern excuse to relive the campy cartoons you loved as a teenager, well, “Yoooo, Joe!” The acting is basically weak and campy, and it’s really quite silly to even discuss the plot or it’s subplots (such as they are). But the effects and the action are over-the-top fantastic, which is really all you need to know since knowing is half the battle.

Superficial Content: C-
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity B, Violence D+, Language C
No substance use at all. Sex is some kissing, a few implied romantic comments, and the busty women in tight outfits one would expect from a good cartoon adaptation. Language was the surprise here, being not that heavy, but including several S-words that just didn’t need to be in there. Violence, as you would expect, is the main concern, and they opted for the more gruesome end of what they needed to show here. A couple of people suffer Raiders of the Lost Ark style demises and there are lots of killings, including blood and some beheadings. The sad part is this movie could easily have been made PG after the style of the original cartoon, and it would have been find for even younger kids. As it is, I’d say PG-13 is probably right. It’s not nearly as bad as Transformers in content, just for comparisons.

Significant Content: C
Science is powerful, but maybe we shouldn’t trust it completely or rely on what it values unquestioningly. Arms manufacturers can’t be trusted. The military is full of good people. Loyalty is important, betrayal is really bad. And true love is powerful enough to overcome technology.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
It’s what you’re expecting, and what you’re not expecting is art and thinking. If you want to have some fun, you could try to identify the absurdities in the movie, such as only the women not wearing facemasks (and letting their hair flow around during combat), who would have built these massive and secret military bases, why would McCullen have needed to NATO’s money for research if he had enough money to fund COBRA and it’s secret underwater base?

Discussion Questions:
~Do you think kids cartoons from the past should be remade into big-budget PG-13 action films today? Have you ever gone back to watch something you loved in the past? What was your reaction?
~In what ways would you say the nanomites are a good metaphor for sin? When thinking of how they influenced Ana’s behaviors, did they create her bitterness at Duke or just enhance it as a way to totally take her over?
~Do you believe that romantic love (like that between Ana and Duke) can conquer everything?
~In what ways did The Doctor make science and knowledge his idol? How did serving and pursuing them lead him to do evil? Do you see this being an issue in our society?
~In what ways did Storm Shadow make martial arts skill and parental approval his idol? How did he let his failure to get his father’s approval warp him? How important is parental approval to you? What is the Christian perspective on and solution for this problem of disapproving parents?
~Comparing this movie with Transformers, do you think there’s a significant difference in impact when people see machines get killed/destroyed rather than human beings?
Overall Grade: C+
My biggest disappointment with this movie was that at the end of the credits, they failed to give me a public service announcement with the actors in the style of the old cartoon. Yes, Quaid gives lipservice to some of the old liners, but they really could have done more with that. Still, $175 million buys some sweet effects. Just don’t let the young kids watch this.

Akeelah and the Bee (2006)

Rated: PG for some language.
Length: 112 minutes
Grade: BBBB=B
Budget: $8 million
Box Office: $19 million (19 U.S.)

Written and Directed by: Doug Atchison (Spinning Into Butter, an excellent play that flopped as a movie this year)
Starring: Keke Palmer, Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, and JR Villarreal

A young inner-city girl discovers she has an aptitude for spelling, but conflicts with her mother and a difficult coach cause her stress while the community encourages her in successive spelling triumphs.

Entertainment Value: B
Dead Poet’s Society, Man Without a Face, Stand and Deliver, Mr. Holland’s Opus, The Emperor’s Club, Searching for Bobby Fisher, and even Spellbound. Educational triumph movies are a well-travelled genre with many outstanding members. Judged against that backdrop, this is merely good, not great. I expected a bit more from Larry (excuse me, Laurence) Fishburne, but this is certainly a solid film that brings home the tensions of life for the less privileged. The kids make it worth watching.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence A, Language B
The only concern here, ironically, is with vulgar language. There are plenty enough of all the mild swear words. On the one hand, this makes sense given the setting, but it’s a little odd in a PG movie about kids in spelling bees. I get why they wrote it this way, but I wouldn’t recommend this for younger kids. PG-8 or 10 maybe.

Significant Content: B
If you have a talent, you should pursue it. Parents need to be honored, even if they’re wrong. Losing someone you love can be a serious blow to your ability to function in the world. People in chaotic situations are usually desperate to create a sense of order and control. The fear of failing can cause you to fail, but our greatest fear is to succeed. A community of support makes a huge difference in your success.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
I particularly liked some of the implied ideas about how life is like the English language and spelling. There are rules, there are exceptions, and there is a certain (though limited) amount of predictability to it. Also, there are two different characters who both suffer from the same formula. Trauma leads to fear, which leads to the desire for security and order, which leads people to shun unpredictable situations. Parents of high achievers often put too much pressure on them to succeed.

Discussion Questions:
~The 5th Commandment says to honor our parents. Who in this movie honors or dishonors parental authority? Why does Akeelah’s mom want her to stop spelling?
~Have you ever done something that made you scared or put you under pressure? How did you handle it?
~How did Akeelah’s spelling bring unity to her community? Compare this with the sort fo unity that comes from a common devotion to Christ.
~How is the ability to handle unpredictable situations important in a healthy life? Why do Dr. Larabee and Akeelah’s mom both struggle with this?
~How important do you think it is for kids to learn how to spell well and to participate in spelling competitions? How much emphasis does our society place on academic competition compared with athletics? What do you think about this?
~Why might someone in Akeelah’s situation try to hide her intelligence at school? How might this be connected to the problems of black students in America? Compare the attitudes and expectations of the black, Hispanic, and Asian parents in this movie.
~A big theme in this movie is the idea that we are more scared of success than failure. Have you ever experienced this? Which is more terrifying: insignificance or great achievement? Why?
Overall Grade: B
It’s good. It’s not great. If you like mentor movies, you’ll enjoy this.

Flash of Genius (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language.
Length: 119 minutes.
Grade: CCBB=C+
Budget: $20 million
Box Office: $5 million (4.5 U.S., 0.5 Intl., DVD)
Written by: Philip Railsback (First movie)
Directed by: Marc Abraham (First movie, but he’s produced a ton, including Children of Men, Dawn of the Dead, Bring It On, Rundown, Emperor’s Club, Spy Game, Thirteen Days, Family Man, and Air Force One)
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Dermot Mulroney, Lauren Graham, and Alan Alda

This is the true story of the man who invented the intermittent windshield wiper and then spend years of his life trying to reclaim damages from Ford for stealing it from him.

Entertainment Value: C
This movie was very frustrating, mostly because it’s not anything you want it to be. You want it to be a story of triumph and victory against all odds, but it’s not. You want it to be uplifting and inspirational, but it’s not. You want to see a man exercise wisdom and perspective in the conduct of his life, but he doesn’t. You want to see the greedy corporation admit fault and be humbled, but they aren’t. It’s just irritating. And to top it all off, you can’t possibly like the main character the way you can love Jeff Bridges in Tucker. But, then again, that’s the nature of true stories, and this is a great example of a true story that’s so unpleasant to watch that you have to wonder whether it’s worth telling. Still, kudos for being willing to honestly tell such an unenchanting tale.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol B+, Sex/Nudity A, Violence B+, Language C
There is some social drinking, some depiction of cadavers, and the language you have come to expect from a PG-13 movie these days. There’s just one word between this and straight PG.

Significant Content: B
Corporations can’t be trusted, except that they can be trusted to behave badly. A man is successful by pursuing a dream and making sure he gets credit for it. There’s a hefty price to pay for demanding your rights. Engineering is one of the most important areas for ethics. Greed, whether financial or for reputation, is a powerful force. Annoyance is the mother of invention.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
As I’ve already mentioned, I have to say this is art in the sense of being a faithful depiction of what can only be called a tragic life. I applaud the determination to tell this story without making it into an “underdog triumphs” whitewash, even though I enjoyed it much less because of that fact. It’s useful, even if it isn’t fun. And the anguish of the characters is beautifully portrayed.

Discussion Questions:
~Why is ethics so important in the field of engineering? Would these same concerns apply to science? Why is it so difficult to get men who work on “how to” do something to stop and seriously ponder “whether” they should be doing it in the first place?
~Should our system of justice provide some other way of punishing corporate crimes besides mere monetary penalties? Should companies be subject to losing their business charters or incorporation status temporarily or permanently just as citizens can go to jail? Should corporate officers have to pay these penalties themselves?
~Who in this movie is using someone else for his (or her) own purposes? Is anyone in this movie not using other people?
~Discuss the role of greed in this movie, both for money and also for recognition. Did Kearns turn recognition into an idol? Consider how his pursuit of his notion of justice led him to neglect and destroy other areas of his life.
~Who betrayed the marital vows: Bob or Phyllis? Who betrayed the marriage?
~Given Ford’s history of ethical lapses such as this case, the Pinto, and the Explorer rollovers, should their company be disbanded?
~How important is it to you that you get credit for the things you’ve done? Is your desire for recognition Biblical?
~From God’s perspective, does it matter whether Kearns gets paid by Ford or not? Would a more Christian Kearns be satisfied merely to know that millions of people were living less aggravated lives because of his invention, even without being paid for it? Why is Bob so emphatic about demanding compensation?
~To what degree would you say Kearns’s bullheadedness is irrational? Why does he want to manufacture the part in the first place? Is his obstinacy sinful? Is it a noble crusade?
~Is Kearns a success? Is his victory Pyrrhic? Do you think what he gained was worth what he lost?
~Kearns’s lawyer tries to convince him that a large settlement with no admission of wrongdoing is the essence of victory in the legal arena. What do you think of this?
Overall Grade: C+
Tucker was inspiring, despite suffering defeat. Flash of Genius is depressing, despite achieving victory.