Bounty Hunter, The (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for sexual content including suggestive comments, language and some violence.
Length: 110 minutes
Grade: DC-CD=D
Budget: $40 million
Box Office: $146 million (67 U.S., 69 Intl., 10 DVD)

Written by: Sarah Thorp (Crazy, Twisted, See Jane Run)
Directed by: Andy Tennant (Fool’s Gold, Hitch, Sweet Home Alabama, Anna and the King, Ever After, Fools Rush In, and It Takes Two)
Starring: Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston
With: Christine Baranksi

After a bitter divorce, a former cop now bounty hunter has a chance to bring in his ex-wife journalist after she missed her trial date while trying to uncover a story involving police corruption.

Entertainment Value: D
The biggest disappointment here is that the guy who directed Hitch is still capable of making anything this bad. Apparently writing, not directing, is the key to a quality movie. I mean this was terrible. Laughably bad. Rotten Tomatoes has it at 8% out of 100. About halfway through the movie, I realized what I was watching. It’s a two-hour long 80s TV show (like Moonlighting, Hart to Hart, or Magnum PI) except that it’s not even that good as entertainment goes. But that’s what it feels like, and it feels like that for a very, very long time. In more particular terms, the characters, plot, and scripting are just plain weak. Weak like Clay Aiken in a World’s Strongest Man contest.

Superficial Content: C-
Drugs/Alcohol C-, Sex/Nudity C, Violence D+, Language C-Gambling, strip clubs, a semi-sex scene, fistfights, physical assault, torture, shootings, and plenty of PG-13 language. PG-13 is definitely right.

Significant Content: C
People who loved and now hate each other may have the chance to love each other still, if only the right set of circumstances and personal growth can happen to them. Oops, did I give something away here? I doubt it.

Artistic/Thought Value: F
No thinking necessary, either during or afterwards.

Discussion Questions:
~It’s been said that there is only a fine line between love and hate. What does this mean, and why might someone say it’s the theme of this movie?
~How many people who go through bitter divorces do you think could learn to reconcile if only they had the right set of reminders about what their love once meant?
~Who in this movie suffers from pride issues? Who has an idolatry problem?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~In the trunk.
~In jail at the end.

Overall Grade: D
Let me repeat. Not funny. Not clever. Not entertaining. Even Rotten Tomatoes gave it only 8% favorable. And I’m amazed they managed to find 8% of positive reviews.

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

Rated: R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, drug use and pervasive language.
Length: 99 minutes
Grade: BHFF=D+
Budget: $36 million
Box Office: $ million (50 U.S., 13 Intl., 14 DVD)

Written by: Josh Heald (First script), Sean Anders & John Morris (She’s out of my League)
Directed by: Steve Pink (Speechless, Accepted)
Starring: John Cusack, Clark Duke, Craig Robinson, and Rob Corddry
With: Cispin Glover and Chevy Chase

Three middle-aged men try to recapture their youth by vacationing at their old stomping grounds, which is now a run-down resort town. While there, they travel back through time via a hot tub along with one member’s nephew, and must figure out how to get “back to the future” without making him unexist by changing the past.

Entertainment Value: B
Back to the Future meets Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, with a little The Final Countdown sprinkled in at the end. This is incredibly vulgar and at least mostly funny. Chevy Chase was completely superfluous and unnecessary in this. Maybe he wanted to be able to claim a sci-fi role? One good decision made by the writers here was to completely embrace the total rip-off of Back to the Future they were making here, as evidenced by casting Crispin Glover (George McFly, remember?) as the one-armed bellhop. The other (even better) decision was to make a running gag out of him not losing his arm when it seemed like he might. I believe they could have made this PG-13 by losing the nudity and excessive profanity, sadly. The writing when it’s funny is quite funny, and with Cusack and Robinson, clever shouldn’t have been an issue. Horribly vulgar, but we laughed a lot.

Superficial Content: H (yes, on an A-F scale)
Drugs/Alcohol F, Sex/Nudity F, Violence D, Language H
This is R+. Absolutely NO children. And most Christians I expect would not find this entertaining because it is truly filthy. However, if that doesn’t bother you (as it at least sometimes does not bother me), then perhaps you’ll be okay here. The language is at maximum. Seriously, Kidz-in-mind gave it a 10, averaging about 2 F-words per minute (191, an approximate total, for a 99 minute movie). Several sex scenes, including top nudity. Recurrent drug use and drunkenness. Lots and lots of innuendo and vulgar comments. Plus, as I mentioned already, one running gag revolves around a guy getting his arm not cut off. Again, let me be clear. If vulgarity bothers you, avoid this at all costs. And NO children!

Significant Content: F
Middle age is awful, as you struggle to live with all your previous bad decisions. Sex is whatever you want it to be with whomever you prefer. The best part of life are those days when you can have as much sex, drugs, alcohol, and partying as you can physically endure.

Artistic/Thought Value: F

Discussion Questions:
~Even I can’t think of any here.

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~I’d like to politely decline to mention any.
Overall Grade: D+
Horribly vulgar, but mostly funny. Not as funny as Borat or 30 Rock, but given the rarity of funny comedies these days, worth watching only if you don’t mind all the nasty filthy trash in it.

Losers, The (2010)

Rated: PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, a scene of sensuality and language.
Length: 97 minutes
Grade: D+C-DF=D
Budget: $25 million
Box Office: $29 million (24 U.S., 5 Intl.)

Written by: Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Very Bad Things), James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, The Rundwon, Basic, Darkness Falls) based on the comic books by Andy Diggle.
Directed by: Sylvain White (Stomp the Yard and the classic [kidding] I’ll Always Know what You Did Last Summer)
Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, Columbus Short, and Oscar Jaenadda
With: Jason Patric and Holt McCallany

A special forces unit is hung out to dry by their CIA handler and presumed dead, but they are determined to clear their names and get revenge on the power-hungry maniac bent on reigniting global conflict to the benefit of the United States military establishment or something like that.

Entertainment Value: D+
I haven’t read this comic series, but that’s okay since its creator claims not to have read the original DC series from which the concept and title is taken. Mostly I was disappointed with this, perhaps because I was actually so hopeful that it would be both good and only PG-13. It’s a case where the preview made it look super-cool and the fact that it was based on a Vertigo (DC subsidiary) series made it likely to have strong writing and interesting characters, but the end result is completely two-dimensional, even for a comic book adaptation. It’s frivolous action with fun music and a couple of twists, but mostly this is just a frustratingly inept knock-off of the A-Team concept without enough diversity among the team members to be nearly as intriguing as that series was. It’s the sort of movie you don’t really enjoy too much when you’re watching it, and then the more you think about it, the less it makes sense. Is it a comedy? Not quite. Is it a suspenseful thriller? Not quite. Is it a reliable action flick? Not quite. Is it as hip and cool as it wants to be? Not even remotely.

Superficial Content: C-
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity C, Violence D+, Language D+
PG-15 or more. This is one of those “let’s make an action movie based on a comic and let’s put as much vulgarity in it as we can without getting an R rating” movies. Language is pretty constant, violence is certainly constant (the opening scene involves twenty-five children being killed in a helicopter), and there is regular drinking and three sex or sexuality scenes. Not for kids, in addition to not being all that entertaining.

Significant Content: D
The way to do good in the world is through force. Bad guys are people who kill everyone for their own personal or political reasons. Good guys are people who kill either those they’re told to kill or else bad guys who tell them to kill good people. Having a family gives you split loyalties, which can keep you from becoming a ruthless killer. Revenge is legitimate and yet can drive you to do foolish things.

Artistic/Thought Value: F
Actually, I wish I could stop thinking about it, really.

Discussion Questions:
~Why do you think that Rocque did what he did? Why didn’t Clay try to rescue him?
~Does it seem plausible to you that a person like Max could do what he did in this film in the real world today?
~Sometimes the team uses bullets and sometimes tranquilizer darts. Why the difference?
~As with any bad movie, can you list the number of things that don’t make sense here? Begin with the inclusion of a Ducati motorcycle along with the four Snukes as a demand from a guy who drives up to buy them in a yacht or why the super-awesomest special ops team in the world can’t figure out how to get back into the US on their own.
Poignant or memorable scenes:
~The opening scene with the children.
~The hotel room fight.
~The ending scene with the soccer game.
Overall Grade: D
When a movie like this is only rated PG-13 and still flops at the box office, you know something has gone terribly awry. Roger Ebert said 3½ stars? Please. The biggest tragedy of this all for me is that this director (also of “Stomp the Yard?”) is apparently involved in the making of Frank Miller’s classic comic book limited series “Ronin” into a film. Gosh I hope he gets that better than this one. Frank Miller deserves much better than this.

From Paris with Love (2009)

Rated: R for strong bloody violence throughout, drug content, pervasive language and brief sexuality.
Length: 92 minutes
Grade: DFFFF=F
Budget: $52 million
Box Office: $59 million (24 U.S., 28 Intl., 7 DVD)

Written by: Adi Hasak (Shadow Conspiracy) and Luc Besson (Transporter 1-3, Taken, Arthur and the Invisibles, Revolver, Unleashed, Kiss of the Dragon, Joan of Arc, Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita, and Big Blue)
Directed by: Pierre Morel (Taken)
Starring: John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys Meyers
With: Kasia Smutniak

Summary: An aide to the US ambassador to France gets entangled in stopping a terrorist plot when he is assigned to partner with a foul-mouthed American spy with an itchy trigger finger.

Entertainment Value: D
No more Luc Besson films, ever. The tragedy is that he is capable of such amazing things, like Revolver, but most of his films suffer the same inability of some filmmakers to distinguish between clever and vulgar. It’s like Pixar always says: story, story, story. You can’t build an entire movie around killing people and snorting cocaine, at least not if you want to make it work. The tragedy is that John Travolta can be a fantastic good guy/bad guy (Swordfish, Basic, Broken Arrow, Face-Off), but his recent films have been terrible. There are things in this movie that could have been made into something interesting, but the good stuff was either overwhelmed by the craziness of it all or not explained well enough to even make sense in the first place. I love a good action movie, and I know when I’ve been robbed of enjoying that pleasure by a pretender and failure like this.

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol F, Sex/Nudity C, Violence F, Language F
The only bright spot here is that at least they declined to have any nudity or actual sex in a movie that clearly could have had much of it if they had wanted. Otherwise, everything here is as bad as it can be, and no children should watch this movie. One rare and awful thing: the heroes carry cocaine around in a vase all movie-long, snorting it occasionally.

Significant Content: F
Break all the rules, and eventually you’ll be the hero that saves the day, although the stupid politicians will never give you credit for it.

Artistic/Thought Value: F Seriously?

Discussion Questions:
I refuse to participate in this activity an longer.

Poignant or memorable scenes:
Do I look like I play board games?
Overall Grade: F
Completely worthless and ludicrous. I don’t give out many actual Fs for movies I watch all the way through. Usually, when it’s an F, I have enough sense to quit early. This is awful. If you want something set in France that’s FAR better to watch, go see Ronin again.

Duchess, The (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for sexual content, brief nudity and thematic material.
Length: 110 minutes
Grade: BC-AB=B
Budget: $25 million
Box Office: $52 million (14 U.S., 30 Intl., 8 DVD)

Written by: Jeffrey Hatcher (Casanova), Anders Thomas Jensen (A lot of stuff in Denmark), and Saul Dibb (Nothing worth noting), based on the book by Amanda Foreman.
Directed by: Saul Dibb (Still nothing worth noting)
Starring: Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes
With: Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper, and Hayley Atwell

A young girl is chosen by the Duke of Devonshire for marriage with the purpose of producing a male heir. He turns out to be a surly, cold, deceptive philanderer who treats her about as badly as a “gentleman” could. In turn, she tries to keep her life together and have an impact on politics, all the while nurturing the dream that she might be free to experience love with a lifelong friend.

Entertainment Value: B
This is a horror of a movie where the abuse is everything the opposite of what you see in a modern horror. The performances are excellent and the plot is gripping. I have trouble watching Keira Knightly only because I keep forgetting she’s not Anna Paquin or Winona Ryder, but I know that’s my problem, not hers. The costuming (Academy Award) and artistry are both outstanding. But the genius of this movie is the way it preaches by contrast. More on that in a moment.

Superficial Content: C-
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity D+, Violence C, Language A
The biggest issues here are plot, which involves open adultery, rape, and a range of family/sexual horrors. Most of it is not shown, rather implied, but there are some scenes which will make parents rightly nervous. This is rightly rated PG-13, and no one under that age should see it. On the other hand, precisely because this is such a fabulous portrayal of evil under a pretty surface in a man, it may well be an excellent educational film for women about to start dating.

Significant Content: A
Now, I know some people will be shocked to find me rating this an A with so much awful content, but that’s because they’re missing the whole point. This movies is overtly preaching BY CONTRAST with what it’s showing us on the screen. It’s showing you a horror story made possible by a world in which arranged marriage, patriarchal power, the preference for male offspring, and the inaccessibility of divorce ruin women’s lives. And by the way, I’m not so sure this story isn’t relatively common these days as well. Precisely by showing the Duke’s evil, this movie is declaring things about how the world should be and about the valiant virtue of people who make the impossible choices within such dilemmas as this society presented for them. Appearances can often be deceiving. Privilege can create its own set of burdens.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie which offered such a powerful argument for divorce as this one. But it does more than just this, by telling a historically accurate story about a woman struggling to do as much good with her life as she can while fighting forces mostly beyond her control. It’s also a virtually Biblical critique of the abuses of power, privilege, and money. One thing that frustrated me about this movie was that it failed to properly portray the gambling and fame issues as well as they intended, major elements of her life, but not integrated effectively in the movie.

Discussion Questions:
~As a villain, what makes the Duke so terrifying? Which is more disturbing, evil like his or evil like the bad guy in a horror film? Which sort of evil is the Bible more interested in? What are some of the things you might look for in a person who is at heart like the Duke?
~What do you think are the proper fault-based grounds for divorce? Which of them would have applied to this marriage?
~What parts of this world do you find difficult to fathom? Are there any parts which seem intriguing to you?
~Is this movie primarily about the evils of arranged marriage or about the particular evils of this arranged marriage?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~The political speech at dinner.
~The discussion between Bess and Georgiana in the powder room. Do you think there are limits to what a mother should do for her children? What does the ultimate plot of the movie say about Georgiana’s position on this matter? What do you think of Bess’s choices? Which woman’s choices were harder?
~Confronting the Duke about Bess.
~Giving up the child.
~Returning to the palace after the encounter at Bath.

Overall Grade: B
A gripping portrait of evil and goodness striving to survive when it can’t be destroyed or avoided.

Young Victoria (2009)

Rated: PG for some mild sensuality, a scene of violence, and brief incidental language and smoking.
Length: 105 minutes
Grade: BB+BC=B
Budget: $35 million
Box Office: $40 million (11 U.S., 16 Intl., 3 DVD)

Written by: Julian Fellowes (Vanity Fair, Gosford Park)
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallee (First major film)
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, and Paul Bettany
With: Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, and Julian Glover.

In this historical romance, Queen Victoria (not Queen Elizabeth!) must take the throne, discern difficult politics, and find a man to marry for the right reasons.

Entertainment Value: B
Whenever I watch historical films, I always wonder how much of it is accurate, and apparently most of this one is pretty faithful to real events. The only major difference is the shooting scene, which has artistic justification even if not quite factually correct. Emily Blunt is refreshing as the Queen, and Rupert Friend is quite good as Prince Albert. The drama of it all is quite good, but most of all the presentation is exquisitely beautiful. Fellowes knows how to write (Gosford Park was a gem), and his long history of British productions surely helped Vallee get the cinematography right.

Superficial Content: B+
Drugs/Alcohol B+, Sex/Nudity A-, Violence B, Language A-
PG is precisely correct. I can’t imagine anyone who would be interested in this movie who shouldn’t watch it. In fact, given the proclivity of Hollywood for ruining family movies with objectionable content, this is a wonderful rarity. There is an attempted assassination at the end, and a man is shot but does not die. There is one very mild love scene of a married couple, social drinking, and an occasional mild profanity. Call it PG-7, but that’s only because under-7s probably won’t care for it.

Significant Content: B
The duty of politicians or royalty is to make a difference in the world, but doing this takes savvy awareness of political realities. Thus, the key is to master the game until you can play it better than everyone else. Love is loyalty, and loyalty is love. Pride can keep us from seeing what is really going on, both with others and with ourselves. A man who has no work becomes ridiculous. True love can exist and is a very healthy thing for us to acknowledge.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
As I mentioned, the presentation is truly beautiful, and the events are largely constrained by the reality they represent. I must admit that part of my initial problem with this movie was that I didn’t realize Victoria wasn’t Elizabeth. Well, forgive me for being an easily confused American. I’m sorry. But obviously I’d never admit this error to anyone out loud. It’s far too embarrassing.

Discussion Questions:
~Why does Victoria have trouble taking the advice of people who tell her to watch out for Lord Melbourne? What tactics does he use to gain control of her? In his mind, is he being manipulative or is he just being prudent?
~One advisor mentions that politicians always resent monarchs because politicians are always only temporarily in power. What do you think of this? Would you find it useful to have royalty in America?
~Benevolence is having the characteristic of good will toward someone, and it has often been listed as the essential feature of a good leader or monarch. Who in this movie displays benevolence? Is benevolence without wisdom or prudence enough?
~One of the major conflicts in this movie is about the duties and authority of a husband who is not actually the king. How do you think the characters handle this situation?
~What image of marriage is presented in this movie as the ideal? History says that Victoria wore black for the remainder of her life after Albert died. Does this seem extreme or perfectly noble to you? What do you think of our culture’s advice to mourners to “move on” or “get on with your life?”

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~The chess game with Albert.
~The king publicly humiliating Victoria’s mother.
~Melbourne praising her instincts, when the reality is that they just already fall in line with what he wants her to do.
~The attempted assassination. In reality, no one was shot, but does the depiction reveal something true about Albert nevertheless? Can art tell the truth even when it does not show reality accurately? Can something be accurate and yet lie? Is the job of art to be accurate or to be revealing?

Overall Grade: B
A perfectly fine British historical romance with excellent acting and beautiful scenery.

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Rated: PG for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar.
Length: 108 minutes
Grade: BC+CB=B
Budget: $200 million
Box Office: $1.080 BILLION (334 U.S., 688 Intl., 58 DVD)

Written by: Linda Woolverton (Mulan, The Lion King), based on the book by Lewis Carroll
Directed by: Tim Burton (Sweeney Todd, Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Big Fish, Planet of the Apes, sleepy Hollow, Mars Attacks!, Ed Wood, Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands, Batman, Beetle Juice, and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, and Alan Rickman.

It’s been thirteen years since Alice first visited Underland, mistakenly called Wonderland by the youth. Now, as she stalls for time from responding to a marriage proposal, she returns and must try to thwart the plans of the evil red queen according to a prophetic scroll referencing her.

Entertainment Value: B
It’s visually stunning and basically fascinating, despite a hackneyed plot. Tim Burton is all you really need to know. I spent most of the time wanting it to be better than it actually was.

Superficial Content: C+
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity A-, Violence C+, Language A
As in the tradition, potions for size-changing are imbibed and there’s a general unrealness to the whole thing. Violence is pretty shocking at times, including an eyeball getting plucked out with a sword and various scary scenes and fighting. The well-known “off with their heads” is yelled repeatedly by the creepy-scary Red Queen. I think the PG is misleading. PG-10 is probably right.

Significant Content: C
As with the other story, the story itself isn’t necessarily the point. This is more of an adventure in imagination than a coherent plot, and that’s fine. As for themes, the ability to wonder whether you are insane (mad) is a good indicator that you are not. Decisions should be made for your own reasons, and not for those of anyone else. Sometimes fulfilling your duty is the way to become who you are, but first you must know who you are. Dreaming is at least as important as being practical.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
Burton is a master of visual amazement, and this certainly shows here. One thing that pleasantly surprised me was that it was less psychedelic and creepy than I anticipated, especially after Willy Wonka. If only the plot had been a bit more discernible, but that’s a trademark of Carroll’s to begin with. It’s meant to be more fun than thoughtful, and as this sort of art, it works fine.

Discussion Questions:
~What’s crazier: Alices “real” life above or her adventures beneath? In what way is the clarity about who is bad and good a virtue of Underland?
~Do you think our current culture is suffering from too much emphasis on being practical or too much emphasis on being a dreamer? Which tendency do you have to beware in yourself?
~Are there ever times to make decisions by tradition, convention, or according to authority? How can you tell whether a particular choice is one of those times or whether to do what you think best?
~Do you believe that dreams take us to places that are real? Have you ever had a recurring dream? Does that make it harder to believe something is just a dream? What do you think is the meaning of our dreams?
~Is it true that being worried about being crazy is one of the best indicators that you aren’t? How is self-doubt a virtue and its lack a serious danger? Do you think people who worry about being normal are doing something valuable or not? How might these questions play out for Tim Burton?

Overall Grade: B
I’m a bit amazed this made a billion dollars, but I am beginning to suspect that the next wave of films to do so will be primarily visual events in 3-D rather that excellent plots with fantastic acting.

Crazy Heart (2009)

Rated: R for language and brief sexuality.
Length: 112 minutes
Grade: CDBC=C+
Budget: $7 million
Box Office: $59 million (39 U.S., 7 Intl., 13 DVD)

Written and Directed by: Scott Cooper (For Sale by Owner), based on the novel by Thomas Cobb.
Starring: Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal
With: Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall

An extremely talented old-time country star is now a has-been drunk. As he meanders through a life of drinking whiskey and performing at bowling alleys, he tries to form relationships and come to grips with the tremendous success of one of his protégés.

Entertainment Value: C
I went in expecting great things from this movie, which seemed to be getting tremendous reviews from everyone. In the end, however, it was mostly just frustrating and painful to watch. But I suppose that’s the point. This is intended to be a morality play about alcohol, squandered talent, and foolish single mothers as far as I can tell, and I guess it works for that. But mostly it’s just sad. And when it’s not being sad, it’s being downright disturbing. One thing I did really appreciate, however, is that in the end everything doesn’t just work out to be rosy and happy. So many movies can only bear to show bad things by having it all turn out in the end, and I like that this movie didn’t do that.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol F, Sex/Nudity C, Violence C, Language D
This is rightly R rated, and only for adults. There is no nudity, gratefully, and I suppose the portrayals of sex are pretty moderate. But the entire movie is full of moderate to strong profanity from the beginning and, of course, drunkenness is the key plot element. There is one fairly bad car wreck and a scene of danger to a young child. Adults only.

Significant Content: B
Alcoholism makes you a terrible and irresponsible person. It’s a tremendous shame to squander talent other people would probably kill to have. It’s never too late to try to rectify the mistakes you’ve made, but sometimes other people will not allow you to do that, which is their prerogative. It often takes a catastrophe and real tragedy to give people enough of a system shock to realize they have to change. Don’t base your relationships on a hope for the best, but on a realistic assessment of what’s likely.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
What I really wonder about this movie is whether it will have any real impact on the people who are likely to need to watch it or if it’s just a kind of misery voyeurism for the rest of us who like to think that supporting this is a way of solving some problems afflicting others. I personally hated the scene with the bar and the boy, because as a parent I have no interest in seeing anything like that happen. On the bright side, however, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Farrell and Bridges did their own singing. Impressive.

Discussion Questions:
~Jean claims to have “known” Bad was bad for her, but still pursued a relationship with him. If she did really “know” this, why did she do so? If she wasn’t so sure, why does she talk about it this way? If things had worked out, would she have said she knew he’d change for her? Have you ever pursued something or someone that you really knew was a bad thing? Why did you? What do you think of her decision to entrust her son to Bad for the day? What do you think of her ultimate decision?
~If Bad could reasonably know that alcoholism was causing his talent to be squandered, would this be an additional sin to that of merely being drunk? How big a sin is it to squander talent?
~Do you think this movie would have a useful influence on alcoholics? What about on single mothers?
~What do you think is the meaning of the title?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~The mall scene. Who do you blame for what happens: Bad or Jean?
~Tommy and Bad talking in the restaurant booth. Why does Bad have so much difficulty with Tommy? Is Tommy at all to blame, or does he behave uprightly?
~Bad composing a song in the bed.
~Bad calling his son for the first time. What do you make of the results? What do you think of his discussion with Wayne out fishing? Is it ever too late to reconcile some relationships?

Overall Grade: C+
A tremendous acting performance by Jeff Bridges in an otherwise mopey and disappointingly average movie about alcoholism and country music. Bridges certainly deserved the best actor Oscar.

Twilight Saga, The: Eclipse (2010)

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some sensuality.
Length: 124 minutes
Grade: BD+AA=B+
Budget: $68 million
Box Office: $109 million in two days (93 U.S., 16 Intl.)

Written by: Melissa Rosenberg (New Moon, Twilight, and TV shows), based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer.
Directed by: David Slade (30 Days of Night, Hard Candy)
Starring: Kristen Stewart, David Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner
With: Billy Burke, Anna Kendrick, Peter Facinelli, and Bryce Dallas Howard.

Victoria has returned with a plan to finally kill Bella in revenge for the death of her beloved James by creating an army of “newborn” vampires. In response, Edward and Jacob must cooperate to protect the woman they both love.

Entertainment Value: B
Let me start with a relatively minor complaint. The original Victoria was played by Rachelle LeFevre, who was everything an evil female vampire should be: stunningly beautiful, fierce, and smoldering in her hatred. Bryce Dallas Howard, in contrast, is not any of these things. However, she is Ron Howard’s daughter. Hmmmm. There were some minor scheduling conflicts used as a pretext by Summit to replace LeFevre with Howard, a move which stunned LeFevre and makes for a gaping discontinuity between the films for fans. Think of replacing Carrie Fisher with Sissy Spacek or Jodie Foster as Princess Leia in Return of the Jedi. (They were early candidates, by the way.) But the truly annoying thing is that Howard had been the first pick for the part originally and turned it down because she though it was too small and beneath her. I say reward pride with prejudice. But enough about an error that will cost them nothing at the box office. The plot here is fairly interesting, although it seems based on a premise that is contrary to lore of vampires, namely that the newest vampires are the strongest they’ll ever be. This idea undermines the presentation of the Volturi as the typical ancient and powerful vampires. But neither of these issues is central to the story, which is essentially a conflict of romantic interests from two boys from different tribes, each with different things to offer Bella. I still think the first movie was the most entertaining, but this one is better than New Moon and certainly enjoyable enough for anyone who knows the characters. Also, there were some pretty hilarious sardonic moments in this movie, which I don’t remember from the others.

Superficial Content: D+
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity B, Violence D+, Language B
There is no nudity, no sex, and no strong language here. However, there is a scene of implied sexual assault and several make-out scenes. Lots of scenes with muscular boys sans shirts and implied sexual desire. But precisely because the movie is all about sexual restraint, I have to grade it better than some reviewers are. No parent would keep this from a teenager because of sexuality. Rather, the issue is violence, and this is the most violent of the three, with lots of vampires and people being killed or turned into vampires, even from the very beginning of the movie. I was actually surprised at how much violence there was in a PG-13 movie. I’d go R-15, but I doubt anyone will stop a teen who’s seen the other three already from seeing this one. (Besides, she’s two years older than she would have been for the also PG-13 Twilight in 2008, right?)

Significant Content: A
At first, I gave this a B, but after sleeping on it, it has grown on me that this movie is presenting a rare and profoundly Biblical portrayal of the ideals regarding manhood and virtue. Putting aside the vampire angle for a moment, realize that this movie is primarily about showing us the three kinds of men, all of whom are monsters in one way or another. They all suffer from anger and lust. The worst (the newborns) have no control at all and are purely a menace. The middle (Jacob Black) have some self-control and are appealing for their sometimes danger, sometimes safe persona. But basically, Jacob is the type of boy who wants you because he wants you, not because he really truly cares about you. Rejecting him is the worst thing he can imagine. The best man-type, of course, is Edward Cullen, a man so firmly in control of his inner barbarian that he can actually tell the lusty Bella to wait until marriage and can even endure smelling her blood without it affecting him a bit. How did he learn this self-discipline and impulse-mastery? Through the patient instruction of his father-in-the-faith Dr. Carlisle Cullen. What is his vision of manhood? To be the protector and provider for his woman, even if that means pushing her away from himself because either her desires or his reality will ultimately harm her. Some mistaken commentators will say that Edward represents a juvenile female fantasy of the boy who wants to spend time in a meadow and caress her hair but doesn’t want her sexually. No. His maturity is poignant precisely because we know how deeply he desires her, desire to the point of wanting suicide when he thinks she was killed in New Moon. He’s self-mastered, not asexual. So here we have an incredibly countercultural presentation. The best man is restrained by his love, and this in turn makes him the very most desirable man to a woman who must be protected even from her own sexual urges. In short, he’s far more like Christ than he is like the lampoon of Christ in the Simpson’s Ned Flanders. The other big theme here is the ongoing one of Bella wanting to become a vampire so she can be with Edward but everyone, including most importantly him, trying to dissuade her. Making her into a man/monster is the one thing he would never want her to do, a view decidedly contrary to modern feminism which virtually worships men by wanting to make women into them, sexually, culturally, and politically, even to the point of saying that women don’t even need men the way Bella so clearly needs Edward. Is it a Christian story? Not particularly. But is it a counter-cultural gender re-straightener? Absolutely. If you ever had to pick between letting a teenage girl watch this movie or watching Sex and the City or anything on the CW, the choice is easy. This may not teach her how to be a woman, but it will certainly teach her what to look for in a man.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
I’ve already mentioned most of the big, deep stuff here, and you can see how there’s plenty to think about and analyze.

Discussion Questions:
~Our culture seems to think women are responsible for saying no to sex, not men. What does this view imply about men? What impact does this have on women?
~Why does Edward not want to turn Bella into a vampire? Are his concerns well-founded? Do you think that deathlessness makes life meaningless as well? Why does everyone else seem to want her to not become one, either? Why is she always refusing to listen to their advice? Have you ever been told by a bunch of people who have done something that you shouldn’t do it? Did you listen?
~Bella wants to make a life-altering and permanent decision quickly, but Edward keeps making her postpone it. Why is it important to wait on big decisions that can’t be easily undone? How many mistakes might be avoided just by waiting a month or a year to act? Do you agree with Jessica’s graduation speech that we find ourselves and who we want to be by making a bunch of mistakes?
~Victoria is consumed with wanting to inflict on Edward the sort of pain she suffered when he killed James. If she succeeded, would it actually satisfy her? Have you ever wanted to do back to someone what you perceived them having already done to you? What does the Bible teach about this?
~In the movie, it seems to make no sense for Bella to have any real feelings for Jacob at all. In fact, he seems like a particularly dangerous guy for her to be around. Do you think this is intended to show young girls how stupid it is for them to be attracted to the beautiful bad boy?
~Bella says that she has never felt normal or “in step” in the regular world but feels that way with Edward because she can fit in there without having to be normal. Have you ever felt alienated from what everyone else seems to think is normal? Do you think our culture has an unhealthy idea of what’s normal or that even having a single picture of normality for all people is healthy? Does Jesus want us to conform or to be different in our own special way?
~What do you make of all the fire and ice imagery from the beginning? How does this theme play out in the movie?
~Do you believe in love at first contact? How does this relate to the idea of “imprinting” in the movie?
~In what ways might you say that the Cullen family is like a Christian community? What roles do forgiveness and acceptance play in their group?
~Some women seem to thrive on drama and would love to have two men fighting over her. Does Bella seem to be this woman? Is she being fair to Jacob? Is she being loving to Edward?
~In what ways is Edward like Jesus Christ? In what ways not? Is this relationship at all representative of Ephesians 5 and the pattern of Christ’s relationship to His Bride?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~The meadow.
~The tent on the mountain.
~Edward trying to reason with Riley about Victoria.

Favorite lines:
~“Let’s face it, I am hotter than you.”“If we weren’t natural enemies and you weren’t trying to steal my reason for living, I might actually like you.”
~“Doesn’t he own a shirt?”
~“Can you at least attempt to control your thoughts?”
~“Marriage is just a piece of paper.” “Well, where I’m from it’s the way you say, ‘I love you.’”

Overall Grade: B+
There’s a lot to like here and plenty to talk about, but I still think the first movie was more entertaining. Shame on Summit and Bryce Dallas Howard.