Robin Hood (2010)

Rated: PG-13 for violence including intense sequences of warfare, and some sexual content.
Length: 140 minutes (156 director’s cut)
Grade: A-CAB=A-
Budget: $200 million
Box Office: $310 million (105 U.S., 205 Intl.)

Written by: Brian Helgeland (Green Zone, Cirque du Freak, Taking of Pelham 123, Man on Fire, The Order, Mystic River, Blood Work, A Knight’s Tale, Payback, The Postman, Conspiracy Theory, and LA Confidential), Ethan Reiff & Cyrus Voris (Kung Fu Panda, Bulletproof Monk).
Directed by: Ridley Scott (Body of Lies, American Gangster, A Good Year, Kingdom of Heaven, Matchstick Men, Blackhawk Down, Hannibal, Gladiator, GI Jane, 1492, Thelma & Louise, Black Rain, Legend, Blade Runner, and Alien)
Starring: Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett
With: Max von Sydow, William Hurt, Mark Strong, Oscar Isaac, and Danny Huston.

In this prequel to the more well-known Robin Hood story which has been made into at least 4 movies already, a relatively minor archer in King Richard’s returning army returns from the crusades masquerading as a noble but finds himself embroiled in trying to save his country from the despotic but incompetent Prince John and the conniving traitor, Sir Godfrey.

Entertainment Value: A-
I did a very unusual thing, I suppose. I deliberately watched the 1938 classic starring Errol Flynn first with my boys and then watched this film with my wife later that same night, so I had the cinematic tradition fresh in my head. And I must say that at first, I wasn’t thrilled because there are some substantial elements tinkered with here compared to what I knew. (Other versions of the story offer more of a basis for this version.) But then as it unfolded, I started to really like what I was seeing. They carried through the hefty criticisms of power being abused by both lords and bishops from the original. And they successfully did what few sequels do, put enough twist on what I already knew to be interesting while somehow still making me feel like they were very faithful to the old. This was especially true with some of the romantic plots and the overall laugh-in-the-face-of-danger lightness of Robin and his men. Ridley Scott is of course a filmmaking genius and there are few writers more adept than Brian Helgeland. Simply put, this is excellent, and an homage surpassed in recent films only by JJ Abrams’s Star Trek.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity B-, Violence C, Language B+
There’s a lot of drinking and carousing. There are a couple of romantic scenes, with some implied nudity and sex. The biggest issue will be violence, which isn’t nearly on the scale of a Braveheart, but still is more than younger children should likely see. I’d go PG-10.

Significant Content: A
Abuse of power toward the defenseless means you lose God’s protection. Churches can be both evil and also decent. Charity is a the core of what Christianity is supposed to be. A corrupt Church is as bad as a corrupt government. The key virtue of a man is a willingness to defy corruption both in word and deed while fighting for justice. It’s important to hold this world loosely enough to laugh at it when it might otherwise make you despair. A man most directly learns character from his father.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
It certainly looks and feels like a Ridley Scott film, plus he really seems to like working with Russell Crowe. What I think I liked the most here was the slightly to significantly adapted homage nature of the whole thing, even down to a twist ending very much in keeping with the original. One small complaint. There is a vivid scene where a noble dies and is burned in effigy, but this seems at odds with the standard Christian practice of burial and with earlier burials in the film.

Discussion Questions:
~Which is worse: a corrupt government or a corrupt church? Why? Which matters more, preserving the safety of a land or preserving the honor and credibility of God?
~Robin Hood is historically a benevolent vigilante. Under what circumstances is vigilantism justified, if ever? How do you decide between active use of arms to fight and other tactics such as civil disobedience? What should be done with a corrupt or negligent government? What do we do with the children of abusive or neglectful parents?
~What do you make of Robin’s impersonation of a noble? What about deserting the army? Do these actions make him seem less of a hero to you?
~John demands loyalty and says that he should not have to ask for it. Where does this authority come from? Is this a Christian way for a king to behave? Does our duty of submission to authority apply even to corrupt leaders? When, if ever, does it stop applying?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Robin confronting John about the charter of liberties. Why does John scoff? Why do people in the upper reaches of society usually scoff at such ideas?
~The sequence with the shell game and King Richard being chastised by Robin. Why is it so important for people to speak the truth to power when it is wrong? What makes it possible for Christians to do this even though it may be dangerous? Why do some people keep quiet when the powerful do wrong?
Overall Grade: A-
A very satisfying homage prequel made by one of the best directors. Thank goodness they didn’t turn Robin Hood into some dark monster the way they have with James Bond and Sherlock Holmes.

Crossing Over (2009)

Rated: R for pervasive language, some strong violence and sexuality/nudity.
Length: 113 minutes
Grade: CFAB+=B
Budget: Perhaps 20 million
Box Office: $7 million (5 U.S.,, 2 DVD)

Written and Directed by: Wayne Kramer (First major film)
Starring: Harrison Ford, Ray Liota, Ashley Judd, Jim Sturgess, Cliff Curtis, Alice Braga, Alice Eve, and Summer Bishil.

This is a montage of vignettes dealing with various aspects of illegal immigration cases wrapped around the main character of a career ICE agent who really tries to do right in his difficult job.

Entertainment Value: C
I can’t say I enjoyed this, and many of the scenes were chopped together in a way that didn’t make them sit right all the time. The fact that this is a significantly edited version of a film originally 140 minutes long makes sense. It’s more painful and frustrating than entertaining, and it’s also pretty heavy-handed as a propaganda piece. Nevertheless, the stories are interesting and they aren’t all that predictable.

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sex/Nudity F, Violence F, Language F
This is definitely an R movie. And one problem with it is that there are prolonged several scenes of nudity that weren’t necessary or could have been shot far less graphically. Language is very heavy, and violence involves several people being killed. There’s minor drug use and a fair amount of drinking. Definitely a heavy R movie, so no kids and maybe not even a lot of adults should see this. I wish they had done it differently in this regard.

Significant Content: A
It’s not so obvious what the overall point here is, but I’d say it’s meant to show that the immigration problem in this country leads to all sorts of really ugly situation. People are so desperate to be here that they are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Trying to be decent under these circumstances is very complicated. Several scenes show both what it looks like to have moments of grace fulfilled and also missed opportunities for grace.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
First, the thing I admire about this film is that it didn’t just write clichéd stories. It both picked very interesting plot ideas and then dealt with them unabashedly. This was especially interesting when assimilation issues like with Asian gangs, Muslim family honor, and an atheist trying to exploit his Jewish heritage became major plot elements. At the same time, as I hinted at before, this certainly isn’t Crash. And one of the major failings is to really generate a high level of sympathy for any of the characters. We watch what happens to them and are horrified to a degree, but not the way we would be if we had learned to really care about them. Compared to Trade or The Visitor, for example, this movie probably just tried to do too many stories to make any of them really compelling.

Discussion Questions:
~Think of some of the plot turns in this movie where characters had the opportunity to be merciful or extend grace. When did they do so and when did they choose not to do so? How important is the discretion to do less than you can an important aspect of grace?
~If you weren’t American, would you try to come here? Would you break the law to do so?
~Do you think a good person could do Brogan’s job? If a job is so difficult that a virtuous and compassionate person can’t do it, does that mean that the job should not be done or that the laws that require that job be done should be changed? How do decent people deal with the challenge of indecent situations? How did Jesus deal with them?
~Do you think all the vulgar content of this movie makes it more realistic? Would the movie have been as memorable without so much “content?”
~Which do you think it’s harder to live with: guilt or failure?
~One character says that we should understand our enemies, especially when they resort to terrorism to try to express themselves. Is she right?
~Do you think it’s inherently evil to split up families? How might a family ethic change our treatment of illegal immigrants? How is this different from sending criminal parents to jail?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Discussion at the diner.
~Raiding the sweatshop.
~FBI at the family’s house.
~The convenience store. What would you have done? What did you want to see happen?
~The airport at the end.
~Telling the family in Mexico.
Overall Grade: B
A heavy R rated movie that is certainly guilty of overdramatizing its vignettes, but still leaves you with poignant memories and questions to discuss.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action.
Length: 116 minutes
Grade: AB-AC=A
Budget: $200 million
Box Office: $337 million (91 U.S., 244 Intl.)

Written by: Boaz Yakin (Dirty Dancing 2, A Price Above Rubies, Fresh, The Rookie, and The Punisher), Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The Uninvited, The Great Raid) based on the video game by Jordan Mechner.
Directed by: Mike Newell (Love in the Time of Cholera, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Mona Lisa Smile, Pushing Tin, Donnie Brasco, Four Weddings and a Funeral, )
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, and Ben Kingsley
With: Alfred Molina and Richard Coyle

Adopted into the royal family as a boy because of his bravery, Dastan must fight for his life and reputation after being framed for the murder of his adoptive father then King. In the process, he comes into possession of a magical dagger which under the right circumstances can turn back short amounts of time.

Entertainment Value: A
If you told me that a movie based on a video game would be this entertaining, I’d never believe you. None of the others ones have been. But, if you put the money of Disney and the genius of Jerry Bruckheimer behind the project, maybe it makes sense. Sometimes when I watch a movie late at night, I fall asleep or have to quit and finish it another day. I was tired, but I deliberately stayed awake because I wanted to keep watching this. In the end, this reminds me of all the great action swashbuckler type movies Hollywood made in the past from Adventures of Robin Hood to Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Superficial Content: B-
Drugs/Alcohol B+, Sex/Nudity A-, Violence C+, Language A
Some drinking in a few scenes. Some belly dancers in the background in one scene and minor romantic moments. Language is almost church-like. Violence is the main concern, and there is one scene with a man being burned to death (but it’s not as bad as it sounds), some creepy scenes with snakes, and several battle sequences including people being killed, usually without blood, although often with arrows or axes penetrating them. As I mentioned above, it reminded me of all the old action movies. Certainly Raiders of the Lost Ark is more concerning than this movie. This is at the very light end of PG-13. I’d say PG-8. We almost let Spencer watch it at 6.

Significant Content: A
This is where the movie really shines. Unlike so many modern films, the good guys are really good guys. Kings are really virtuous men who advocate things like mercy, standing up for what’s right, and the rule of law. Honor and loyalty are big themes, as is self-sacrifice for a greater good. Greatness is a result of goodness. One repeated message is to listen to wise counselors but to also trust your heart in big decisions. In short, there are heroes here to emulate. Also, there’s one character who is always making side comments about taxes and secret government killers being a bad thing.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
It’s not great art in the “makes you think for days” sense. But if the point of a movie is to give you entertainment and decent role models, this movie certainly outperforms a lot of offerings these days. Also, I loved the idea of a device that grants very limited minor amounts of time travel as a premise.

Discussion Questions:
~Who in this movie reminds you of God? Who in this move reminds you of Satan? Who reminds you of Jesus?
Dastan is adopted into the royal family, and this is always a source of some identity issues for him and others. Given that the idea of Christianity is to be adopted into God’s family, how do you think you might explain Christianity with respect to this movie?
~Dastan gets adopted because he does something noble in standing up to unjust use of authority. Is it Christian to resist abuses of authority? Do people get adopted by God because they have a noble heart already?
~What are some of the principles various characters in this film either live by or advocate?
~How important do you think it is for a culture to give young men images of virtuous heroes to emulate?
~If you could go back in time, what choices or events would you change? Would a power like that be too tempting for people to have? How does the villain in this movie plan to use the power if he gets it? What does that say about good and evil people?
~Would you call this a “conservative” movie?
~Have you ever stood up to do the right thing when it was unpopular or costly to you personally? Have you ever failed to do so? How did each feel?
Overall Grade: A
There’s something both thoroughly modern and yet wonderfully classic about this unexpectedly good film based on a video game series. A genuinely quality film from Disney and Bruckheimer.

Date Night (2010)

Rated: PG-13 for sexual and crude content throughout, language, some violence and a drug reference.
Length: 88 minutes
Grade: C-DBB=C+
Budget: $55 million
Box Office: $171 million (99 U.S., 54 Intl., 18 DVD)

Written by: John Klausner (Shrek Forever After and Shrek the Third)
Directed by: Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum 1+2, Pink Panther, Cheaper by the Dozen, and Just Married)
Starring: Steve Carell and Tina Fey
With: Mark Wahlberg, Common, Kristen Wiig, Mark Ruffalo, James Franco, Mila Kunis, and Ray Liotta.

Summary: When a suburban couple decides to have a special date night in the city, they are mistaken for a couple of criminals and must find a way to stay alive long enough to solve their problem while being hounded by corrupt cops.

Entertainment Value: C-
I like Tina Fey a lot. A lot of other people like Steve Carell. Ironically, the funniest parts involved Mark Wahlberg. I had pretty high hopes for this movie, but the overall result made perfect sense after I saw who wrote the script. It is of course a ridiculous plot, but it’s funny enough often enough to not be completely unworthy of a watch.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity D, Violence C, Language D
There is moderate alcohol consumption in one scene and apparently a drug reference. There are several scenes of danger where people are threatened with guns and one very prolonged car chase scene. Language alone would make this PG-13, and I would have given it an R for language, quite frankly. This is as close to the line as they could go and not be pushed into an R. But the more surprising part was sexuality, which is mostly just discussions throughout the movie, but then at the end there is one long scene in a strip club and Tina Fey and Steve Carrell pole dance while the District Attorney looks on in lustful enthusiasm. It had already seemed to be a borderline R to me, but that scene (even without nudity) made it an R, or R-15 at least.

Significant Content: B
Ordinary life is a grinding challenge to even well-intended people who want to keep a healthy romance alive. It’s easy for people to become too well-adjusted to each other. Some marriages are dying even when they seem okay on the outside. When our spouses are disappointing us, there’s a good chance they feel it in themselves, too. Men and women have very different ideas of what tempts them.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
Although this is sold as a comedic action flick, the relationship stuff is certainly interesting. And as has quite nicely become the fashion lately, it’s brutally honest about things people sometimes just don’t realize happen to everyone. I can easily imagine married couples leaving this movie and wanting to talk about some of this stuff afterwards. Even if they don’t work with everyone, movies that give people an excuse to discuss uncomfortable things have quite a bit of value.

Discussion Questions:
~Phil and Claire’s favorite game is to have imaginary conversations while looking at other couples in the restaurant a la Mystery Science Theater 3000. What do you think of this habit? Is it loving? Is it contemptuous? Do you think these conversations bond them with each other or are unhealthy? Would they ever let those other people hear them?
~Having a “date night” each week is something a lot of couples have taken to doing as a way of preserving alone time and romance. Can such a night become it’s own sort of chore and actually undermine the point of having one? What do you think of having a “date night?”

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Shirtless Mark Wahlberg. Are Phil’s concerns about him fair?
~The discussion in the car about husbands fantasizing about other women and wives (mothers) fantasizing about being alone. Does this fit your experience? How many husbands realize that this is what mothers dream of? How many women realize that this is what men dream of? Would you characterize the desire to be left alone as a sin in the same way that the desire to have an affair is? Is isolation merely healthy or is it anti-social or anti-community?
~In the restaurant watching in disbelief as the married couple makes out. Do you think most people in marriages wish they had that sort of spark? Do you think that’s a healthy desire or sort of like wishing you were young again? How realistic is it to think that every couple will have ongoing passion of such a demonstrative sort?
~Finding out about their friends getting a divorce. What do you think about the idea that married people would be more like roommates than lovers? Does that seem like a problem? How important is friendship as opposed to passion in a marriage?
~The very opening scene with Blitzkrieg Bop being played while they get ready for work. What is this scene trying to say?
Overall Grade: C+
Not as funny nor as entertaining as I expected, but some interesting things to think about, nevertheless.

Killers (2010)

Rated: PG-13 for violent action, sexual material and language.
Length: 93 minutes
Grade: B-CCF=C+
Budget: $75 million
Box Office: $ million (47 U.S., 44 Intl., DVD)

Written by: Bob DeRosa (The Air I Breathe) and Ted Griffin (Rumor Has It, Matchstick Men, and Ocean’s Eleven)
Directed by: Robert Luketic (The Ugly Truth, 21, Monster-in-Law, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!, and Legally Blonde)
Starring: Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl
With: Tom Selleck, Catherine O’Hara, and Martin Mull.

When a CIA assassin falls in love with a strangely uncool woman, he leaves the business and tries to create a normal life with her until his past catches up with him and drags her into mortal danger.

Entertainment Value: B-
I know this is not a great movie. But I have to admit that I enjoyed it pretty well. Sure it’s mostly predictable, but the silliness of the whole thing is part of what makes it just fun to watch. It’s certainly not as good as True Lies or Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but it’s still fun. It’s a great antidote to the current spy/action vogue of taking everything so seriously with dark brooding leads who once were fun-loving and sardonic (like James Bond).

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity C, Violence C, Language C
The mother drinks constantly, but I don’t think anyone got drunk. There’s no nudity, although there are a handful of sexual scenes and comments. Language is pretty light other than the no-no word and a couple of other mild profanities. Violence is certainly enough to justify the PG-13, since a lot of people are killed in fights or with guns. PG-13 is correct.

Significant Content: C
Dishonesty is the most dangerous thing to a relationship. The world is not always what it seems. Killing people is a distasteful business.

Artistic/Thought Value: F
Remember before when I said this is fun. Well, fun and thoughtful often don’t hang out together, and in this case, they aren’t even in the same zip code. There’s really no thinking here at all.

Discussion Questions:
~At one point, Spencer tells Jen that he’s the same person she always thought he was, just with a different resume. How credible a statement is this? How much does your past make you who you are? Can someone else really know you without knowing your past? What if you keep parts of it secret from them? Isn’t that an admission that your past is a vital part of knowing who you are?
~What about the idea that a person is not his occupation? How closely connected with your identity is your work?
Spencer tells Jen that all married people keep secrets from each other in order to protect them. Is he right? Does God keep secrets from us? Is it for our protection?
~Is failing to reveal a truth someone doesn’t ask about better than lying if they do ask? Are people entitled to the truth from us if we are in an intimate relationship with them? Can we have intimacy while withholding such information?
~Jen’s dad is constantly emphasizing the value of safety. How important do you think safety is in comparison with other values it might tend to impede? What parallels exist between physical safety or the safety of our possessions and the safety of our hearts in relationships? Which does this culture think is more important to protect? Which one do you think is more important to protect?
~People go to the movies to watch exotic or unusual things happen, but people who live such lives often yearn for ordinary lives. Can you explain this? Who has it right?
Overall Grade: C+
Fun and frivolous. The kind of movie you watch when you’re feeling a bit like some escapism and you don’t have too high expectations for the depth or brilliance of the writing.

When in Rome (2010)

Rated: PG-13 for some suggestive content.
Length: 91 minutes
Grade: B+B-BD=B+
Budget: Unknown, perhaps $20 million
Box Office: $50 million (33 U.S., 10 Intl., 7 DVD)

Written by: David Diamond & David Weissman (Old Dogs, Evolution, and The Family Man).
Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson (Ghost Rider, Daredevil, Simon Birch)
Starring: Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel
With: Anjelica Huston, Danny DeVito, Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard, Alexis Dziena, Kate Micucci, Lee Pace, and Don Johnson.

When a workaholic art curator is disenchanted with love unintentionally invokes a spell on five other men in an Italian wishing well, she must free them from the spell and figure out whether the one man she really likes is for real or just bewitched.

Entertainment Value: B+
I went into this movie not expecting terribly much. I was hoping for a not-too-terrible comedy romance with a few laughs that might be cute enough for me to not care how weak the plot was. What I got was an unexpectedly delightful little film. Oh, sure, it’s not great art (even though great art is part of the plot), but this is still a movie well worth watching. It is one of the few examples of an ensemble comedy sub-cast really working, including numerous cameos like Shaquille O’neal and Jack Black. There’s even a special appearance by Efren Ramirez (Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite) that’s hilarious. It’s silly and frivolous and quite funny.

Superficial Content: B-
Drugs/Alcohol B-, Sex/Nudity B-, Violence B, Language B
There are a couple of artistic renderings of nudity (brief, all of them), some alcohol consumption, a smattering of mild language, and some slapstick violence. I was actually surprised this movie got a PG-13. But given the vastness of the PG-13 scale these days, this is really on the lighter side. Maybe PG-10. If “Date Night” is PG-13, this should definitely be only PG. Then again, I think only teenagers would really care all that much about what’s going on in this movie anyhow.

Significant Content: B
The main themes here are not to be a workaholic and not to give up on the passionate sort of love that really lasts. The main character is afraid of becoming vulnerable to a man for real because she’s been burned so many times before. Instead she loves her job, which has become her spouse in a way. Another late development of this movie is that real love means sacrificing what you want for the benefit of someone else, brilliantly embodied by the four admirers deciding to help Beth get Nick at the end. And I must say that the best line of the movie comes from the multiple-marriage dad played by Don Johnson, who says, “The passion is in the risk.”

Artistic/Thought Value: D
It’s clearly not a deep film. Nevertheless, the ideas about love and idolatry of work are worth saying, even though they seem to be said in a lot of movies these days.

Discussion Questions:
~The message of this movie might be rephrased in Christianese as “Don’t let work become an idol which prevents you finding a relationship.” But is this movie simply offering romance as a substitute idol for work? What does this movie have to say for single people? What does Christianity have to say for single people? What important cautions does Christianity have against depending on a relationship with a mere human being for our deepest needs?
~The entire premise of this movie takes a kind of spell or witchcraft for granted. Does this bother you as a Christian? Should it? In what way might the spell in this movie be compared to the bewitching effects of sin and lust on men? If that comparison is made, does Kristin Bell become a kind of Christ figure who refuses to take advantage of a spell to get love?
~Have you ever become vulnerable and then been burned by it? How did that affect your willingness to try love again? In baseball, they say that you just go up and keep swinging. Is this a good piece of advice for single people?
~The question of whether you can ever know if love will last is major in this film, but it seems to be based on a false dilemma between either “just knowing in your heart” that something is right and “seeking more and more evidence to confirm a choice.” Is there any other way of thinking about love and commitment? Is there such a thing as true love? Is it something you discover or something you manufacture?
~Since women often have the luxury of not working when married, do you think these themes of work versus romance (such as in this movie or in Post Grad) work the same when the lead character is a man? Many men feel trapped by overwork precisely because leaving the job simply isn’t a gender-permitted option for them with a family. How would these movies change if the lead were a man?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Trying to break the wedding vase.
~The little Italian car, especially in the elevator.
Overall Grade: B
Fun. Much more fun than I expected. All the supporting comic characters seem to have been given the freedom to improve, and the result is entertaining. I seem to be one of the few who enjoyed this, but I don’t mind. I did.

Post-Grad (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for sexual situations and brief strong language.
Length: 88 minutes
Grade: DB-BF=D-
Budget: $15 million
Box Office: $7 million (6 U.S., 0 Intl., 1 DVD)

Written by: Kelly Fremon (First movie)
Directed by: Vicky Jenson (Shark Tale, Shrek)
Starring: Alexis Bledel and Zach Gilford
With: Michael Keaton, Jane Lynch, Carol Burnett, and JK Simmons.

A goal-oriented young woman has her entire future planned out, including where she wants to work, but reality sets her off course and forces her to reconsider her priorities as she returns home to live with her oddball family after getting her degree.

Entertainment Value: D
It’s not good. I mean it’s the sort of movie you laugh at rather than laughing with. At $7 million box office, I think it got a bit more than it deserved. The basic problem is that, despite the wonderful spice brought in by Burnett, Lynch, and Keaton, the plot is so predictable that my wife and I literally paused the movie after about 6 minutes, planned it out, and then sat back to see 90% of what we said come to pass. I don’t mind a Com-Rom that’s either funny or original (ideally both), but one that’s neither needs to never mature beyond the paper stage.

Superficial Content: B-
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity C+, Violence B, Language B
I was surprised that this got a PG-13 rating, quite frankly. I’d say PG-9, although there are a few sexual situations, a discussion about birth control, and a handful of medium profanity. The violence is slapstick (such as running over a cat) and a car accident in which no one is hurt. There is some situational mild drinking.

Significant Content: B
Family is important, even if they’re total weirdos. The people who perform aren’t always good people. Having a plan is good, but it’s at least as important to travel life’s journey with the right people as it is to be travelling toward the proper destination. People matter more than goals, and we often risk losing what’s right in front of us because we’re too busy trying to achieve something else. The one big thing they did right in this movie is that the guy is the smart one, whereas the girl is the fool. I’m not saying that’s always correct, but given the number of movies in which men are portrayed as buffoons (like Michael Keaton in this movie, tragically), I give extra credit to movies when they’re just fair to men. On the other hand, he’s dumb enough to stay interested in her even when she’s obviously not really worth the trouble. Oh, and parents should spend time with their kids.

Artistic/Thought Value: F
Like I said, this is utterly predictable, and it’s not saying anything we haven’t heard a hundred times before.

Discussion Questions:
~Adam seems overwhelmingly loyal to Ryden. Do you think he is wise for continuing to want to have her in his life, or is he a fool? Does she deserve his loyalty? Would you want a girl like her for your wife?
~Given the economy and the challenges recent graduates are facing, do you think this movie is useful for them or not helpful?
~Which do you think is more important: following your dream or maintaining the right relationships?
~For people who are hyper-organized, is there a danger that when they decide to be impulsive they’ll go too far the other direction? In this movie, should she have done what she did or should she have called first?
~One of the most prevalent lessons our culture promotes is to “follow your dream” and never give up. But this lesson is often heard only from the people for whom it worked, which is statistically rare. Why don’t movies usually get made about the lives of people for whom it didn’t? To what degree should you “follow your dream” and to what degree should you be prudent and practical?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Being asked about careers at the party.
~Being confronted by Adam after she forgets to go to his big show.
Overall Grade: D-
The few moments with Burnett and Keaton are not nearly enough to justify this trite, boring, music-montage driven rehash of any romantic comedy you might randomly select off the shelf at the video store. Rotten Tomatoes gave it an 8 out of 100, and they aren’t wrong.

Pirate Radio (The Boat That Rocked) (2009)

Rated: R for language, and some sexual content including brief nudity.
Length: 116 minutes
Grade: BDBB=B
Budget: $50 million
Box Office: $37 million (8 U.S., 28 Intl., 1 DVD)

Written and Directed by: Richard Curtis (The Girl in the Café, Love Actually, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Notting Hill, Bean, and Four Weddings and a Funeral)
Starring: Charlie Rowe
With: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Kenneth Brannagh, Emma Thompson, Jack Davenport, and Gemma Arterton.

A fictionalized amalgam of the pirate radio ships anchored off England in the 1960s enjoys life and brings Rock to Britain as they battle against a despotic minor bureaucrat bent on shutting them down.

Entertainment Value: B
The latter half was better than the beginning, but the overall thing is at least interesting with enough funny moments to be worth watching. Bill Nighy is, as always, fantastic. My favorite part of this movie was the combined playing of about 60 fantastic songs and the interactions among this bizarre little community on a boat.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sex/Nudity D, Violence B, Language D
People risk dying in a boating accident. There are many sex-related scenes, discussions, and comments, but very little actual nudity. Language is enough to get an R, but not overwhelming. And characters drink and do mild drugs. This is definitely an R movie.

Significant Content: B
Okay, obviously the standards being shown onboard are pretty terrible all around. So it can’t be an A. But that being said, there is a much more significant point being made in this movie by the contrast between the world of the pirate radio people and their listeners (alive, energetic, interesting, and meaningful) and the world of the bureaucrats trying to stop them (dead, lifeless, boring, and shallow). Of course this is an overstatement compared to reality, but the point being made is that a community of loving misfits is far more beautiful and fascinating than the sterile collection of clones some moral conservatives seem to prefer.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
Partially for giving me the feeling like I know something I didn’t before about this historical reality and culture and partially for giving me a nice vivid contrast between two excesses in community standards to compare.

Discussion Questions:
~Part of this movie is about the sexual coming-of-age story of young James, who rather hilariously keeps failing to get the girl. When you are watching this, do you “want” him to score? If so, what does that say about your sexual ethics? Are movies like this which encourage you to think of non-marital sex as normal dangerous?
~What sort of values does Rock ‘n’ Roll represent? 50 years down the road begun with Rock, do you think we are better off because of it? In what ways does Rock fit with or violate Biblical values, such as regarding authority?
~Given the choice between asceticism and hedonism, which is better? Is this a false dilemma?
~One character says that governments hate freedom and try to stop it whenever they can. Do you agree with this?
~Which of the two communities seems more Christian to you: the boat or the government ministers? What lessons could Christians learn about love and relationships from the pirates?
~There is a long history of government feeling the need to control artistic expression going all the way back to Plato, who thought this was an essential part of a strong city. Does government have a legitimate interest in controlling art, music, film, etc.? Do you believe in any forms of censorship?
~Does music have any influence on the way you live? Can you imagine things being inverted, with the suits playing Rock and the pirates trying to broadcast classical? Why not?
~Would you have listened to Radio Rock? Would you have gone on a boat to promote music like this? Would you have fought to stop it?
~Given the massive popularity of pirate radio in Britain, how should the government have responded?
~Some have criticized this movie for badly misrepresenting the reality of the radio boats, in part because the musical selection is wrong but more because the radio boats were quite ordinary places without so much sinful behavior. If that's true, do you think the movie represents a kind of libel against the DJs? Why would a movie creator change such details? Would the movie have been as interesting otherwise?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Airing the F-word.
~The various attempts by James to get the girl.
~Two Christmases contrasted
~The very end sequence.
Overall Grade: B
It’s not great, and it’s certainly vulgar, but it was both entertaining and quite a profound depiction of the contrast between unloving legalism and loving libertinism.

Note: Based on the comment below and other research following my initial post, I have changed two parts of this review. The comment she refers to has been deleted, and the last discussion question was added.

Nine (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for sexual content and smoking.
Length: 118 minutes
Grade: CC-B+C=C
Budget: $80 million
Box Office: $ million (20 U.S., 34 Intl., 4 DVD)

Written by: Michael Tolkin (Changing Lanes, Deep Impact, Deep Cover, and Gleaming the Cube) and Anthony Minghella (Talented Mr. Ripley, Cold Mountain, and The English Patient), based on the musical by Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston, itself based on the Italian musical by Mario Fratti
Directed by: Rob Marshall (Memoirs of a Geisha and Chicago)
Starring: Daniel Day Lewis, Marion Cotillard, and Penelope Cruz.
With: Sophia Loren, Kate Hudson, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman and Stacy Ferguson (Fergie from the Black-Eyed Peas)

In this adaptation of Fellini’s 8½, an Italian movie director tries valiantly to come up with a movie he’s already supposed to be filming. In the process, we are taken on a musical tour of his life as it has been influenced by a variety of women.

Entertainment Value: C
On the one hand, there are some really excellent elements of this film, particularly several of the musical sequences, performed by some of today’s biggest female stars. On the other hand, none of it hangs together very well, and it winds up seeming mostly like a chance for the makers of Chicago see if lightning will strike again when they string a bunch of semi-lurid musical numbers together. It did not. Nevertheless, Marion Cotillard is brilliant. Everyone else is pretty good. The story about how casting occurred is pretty fascinating, if you’re interested. That was actually more interesting than the movie itself.

Superficial Content: C-
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity C-, Violence B, Language B
The real content in this movie is smoking (lots) and ongoing constant sexuality. There’s no actual nudity, but there are several burlesque or strip-tease scenes and sexy women walking around in very little clothing. I’d say R-15, especially not for teenage boys. But then again, this may finally be a musical they would watch…for all the wrong reasons.

Significant Content: B+
Men are heavily influenced by women. The ego-maniac will always see women as objects to be used or manipulated as he sees fit. Being a great director basically means never growing up, at least with respect to imagination. It may be possible for this man to mature without losing his childlike creativity and ability to entertain others, but it probably will not come easily. Marriage means much more than you think and integrates your entire life because only your wife can know all the things about you no one else does.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
The big problem with this movie is that it has so much potential in the first few minutes, all of which is squandered either immediately or over time. The opening commentary about how making a movie is the gradual killing of a dream but every once in awhile something worthwhile survives to touch the audience was brilliant. And since I didn’t know the Broadway form here, I was not sure what the ladies in the opening number might represent. In fact, I hoped they would all be various scripts or movies trying to seduce the director into making them, with some of his former movies (the older women) looking on and hoping to recapture his attention and devotion as they once had. With that metaphor in mind, I was excited to see where it would go, but it turned out these were merely all the real women in this Italian’s life. Since Fellini was the director of the original source material, we can only assume Guido is meant to represent him or some semblance of his Italianism in a brilliant surface-over-substance director. The irony, therefore, is that this movie about brilliant filmmaking is not itself an example of brilliant filmmaking.

Discussion Questions:
~To what degree do you think that Italian men are different from other men with regards to women?
~Are artists inherently immature?
~How is Guido’s handling of the press in this movie similar to his treatment of the women in his life?
~Are directors naturally egomaniacs? Do they need to be?
~In what ways is a film like a mistress or lover? What level of passionate commitment to a project does a director need to make it succeed?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Penelope Cruz’s burlesque.
~Fergie’s “Be Italian”
~Kate Hudson’s “Cinema Italiano”
~Marion Cotillard’s strip tease
~Telling the new actress the same line he used on his wife.
~Guido’s wife telling him that he’s a man who is 100% appetite, and if he stops being greedy, he’d die.

Overall Grade: C
An Italian musical burlesque that could have been much more interesting than it really was, in spite of the star-studded cast.

Back-Up Plan, The (2010)

Rated: PG-13 for sexual content including references, some crude material and language.
Length: 106 minutes
Grade: D-D+FF=F
Budget: $35 million
Box Office: $77 million (37 U.S., 40 Intl.)

Written by: Kate Angelo (TV only, like Bernie Mac, Will & Grace, and Becker)
Directed by: Alan Poul (TV only, like Swingtown, Big Love, and Six Feet Under)
Starring: Jennifer Lopez and Alex O’Loughlin
With: Michaela Watkins, Anthony Anderson, Robert Klein, Tom Bosley, and Linda Lavin (Yes, Arthur Cunningham and Alice are in this!)

Zoe is a commitmentphobe who wants children but can’t find a man worthy of her, so she artificially inseminates only to immediately run into the man of her dreams. Then they break up, but they get back together. Then they break up again, but they get back together. Then they break up again, but they get back together. Sound repetitive? Predictable? Try actually watching it for 80 minutes after the opening sequence ends.

Entertainment Value: D-
I’m sorry, did I give away my opinion of this movie? See, I actually was the one who said, “Hey, it’s Jennifer Lopez. I bet it’ll be cute and funny if not basically devoid of substance.” Well, one out of three in this case is bad. The only moments of humor were the over-the-top negative comedy riffs on parenting by Michaela Watkins and Anthony Anderson. Other than that, it was just so absurd and annoying that it was hard to watch. And remember, I wanted to like this! My wife looked at me afterward and, without having to actually voice the question said, “See?”

Superficial Content: D+
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity D, Violence C, Language D
There are a lot of sex and baby delivery related scenes, which are mostly revolting. Just to give you a sense of the experience, during one session where the gynecologist is probing around internally in the presence of the new boyfriend, the comedy comes from him deliberately repeating the word, “vagina” to get the guy over his embarrassment about the whole thing. Isn’t that lovely? There are several sex scenes, lots of sex talk, an overabundance of JLo in skimpy clothing (or less), and enough general vulgarity and profanity to make it at the upper end of PG-13, including an extended scene of a woman giving birth. I would have given it an R. R-15 at least.

Significant Content: F
I know there are some slightly deeper themes here, and I must begrudgingly note that the guy in the film is basically the normal, decent, and responsible one while the woman is the flake. Nevertheless, the idea that making a baby for yourself is good and normal (there’s a “single mother’s and proud” group), the optionality of marriage, and the normalcy of premarital sex as a lifestyle just got to me this time. That and the idea that children and parenthood are awful, basically. Not that any of the critiques are wrong, but the movie is oddly not at all parenting, a very odd flavor given the subject matter.

Artistic/Thought Value: F
Mostly because this movie just kept irritating me more and more. Are there really so few people capable of writing a decent script left in Hollywood?

Discussion Questions:
~What do you think of the ethics of a single woman choosing to have a baby? What would you say to someone considering this as an option? Given all the mocking of the single parents group, is the movie itself affirming or criticizing them and the idea of being proud of being a single mom?
~Does this movie seem to be advocating having children or not?
~This movie clearly intends us to believe that there is no right or wrong way to do sex, marriage, or parenting. What do you think? Does it matter what order you do things in?
~What are the differences, if any, between how Zoe and Stan’s relationship develops in this movie and how it would have been if she had already been a mother when they met?
~Is there any meaningful difference between raising babies which are biologically your own and those that you did not personally make?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Playground treasure find.
~The birthing experience.
Overall Grade: F
A movie like this could have been cute and funny, but it was mostly just vulgar and irritating. My greatest hope is that a week from now I won’t actually be able to remember any of it.

Cop Out (2010)

Rated: R for pervasive language including sexual references, violence and brief sexuality.
Length: 107 minutes
Grade: BFCD=B
Budget: $30 million
Box Office: $66 million (45 U.S., 11 Intl., 10 DVD)

Written by: Robb and Mark Cullen (TV shows like Las Vegas and Heist)
Directed by: Kevin Smith (Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Clerks 1+2, Jersey Girl, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Dogma, Chasing Amy, Mallrats, and Clerks)
Starring: Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan
With: Seann William Scott, Jason Lee, Kevin Pollack, Adam Brody, and Michelle Trachtenberg.

An odd couple of unorthodox detectives get involved in bringing down a Mexican drug gang when the leader comes into possession of a rare baseball card one of the detectives had stolen from him when he was about to sell it to pay for his daughter’s wedding.

Entertainment Value: B
Hilarious, but terribly vulgar. That’s pretty much what you need to know about this movie. I don’t even need to watch the director commentary to know what Kevin Smith was trying to do here. This is an homage (especially obvious given the entire scene where Tracy Morgan can’t pronounce that word properly) to 80s interracial police action comedies such as Beverly Hills Cop, Lethal Weapon, and 48 Hours. There’s a hilarious black guy, a rival team of detectives, weak plot, and lots of dark humor. Not black humor. Dark humor. Judge Reinhold would be proud, and I’m actually a bit surprised he didn’t cameo. Sean William Scott and Tracy Morgan are hilarious. One note, Guillermo Diaz is genuinely brilliant as Poh Boy, and it’s a shame that a movie like this would never permit him any consideration for best supporting actor. Best new bad guy since Christopher Walz.

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity D, Violence F, Language F
It’s all about a drug gang, although I don’t think any drugs were shown. Plenty of people are injured, killed, and even tortured. Language is extremely heavy, both in explicit words and in vulgar subject matter, including sexual references. This is definitely R rated and not for kids.

Significant Content: D
Pride will get you in trouble, but it’s okay if you’re Bruce Willis. Breaking the rules is fine if it’s funny. Clean up your own messes. Trust your wife. And always make sure you get the bad guys.
Artistic/Thought Value: D
There’s no particular thought value here at all. The only reason this isn’t an F is because I recognize the artistic talent it required to successfully make such a faithful homage to a genre. I mean this had it all: getting suspended by the chief, pursuing the case anyhow, marital struggles, a bad guy who takes the beautiful girl, and a hilarious minor criminal who bonds with the detectives and almost becomes a sidekick.
Overall Grade: B
It’s not as good as any of the movies it’s trying to honor, but it is worthy of being in the category. Enjoy it if you don’t mind all the filthy content. Learn what you need to know from the subtitle: “Cop Out: Rock Out With Your Glock Out.”