A Perfect Getaway (2009)

Rated: R for graphic violence, language including sexual references and some drug use.
Length: 98 minutes
Grade: B+FCC=B
Budget: $14 million
Box Office: $27 million (16 U.S., 7 Intl., 4 DVD)

Written and Directed by: David Twohy (The Chronicles of Riddick, Pitch Black, The Arrival, and Timescape. Also wrote GI Jane, Waterworld, and The Fugitive)
Starring: Steve Zahn, Timothy Olyphant, Milla Jovovich, and Kiele Sanchez.
With: Marley Shelton and Chris Hemsworth.

A newlywed couple on their honeymoon in Kauai run into trouble on a remote hike when it seems they are either being stalked by or actually accompanied by a newlywed-murdering couple.

Entertainment Value: B+
The one thing I can say about this movie is it was very fun. I found is much more interesting than I expected. In fact, I think I got this because it was available and I hadn’t seen it yet when nothing else fit that category. It’s a suspense thriller with interesting characters and enough mystery to make it interesting. Call it a much less psychedelic version of Natural Born Killers. I can’t really explain why this did so poorly at the theaters. It really has all the right elements for a successful thriller. Even Rotten Tomatoes gives it 61% favorable.

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sex/Nudity C, Violence F, Language F
One scene involves Crystal Meth. There is sporadic sexuality, some almost-nudity, and a couple of sexual remarks. Language is 20+ F words and about the same for medium profanity, enough on its own to easily earn the R rating. Violence is fairly strong, including murders, violent fights, and enough blood to also justify the R rating. Definitely not for kids!

Significant Content: C
Envy is very dangerous. Psychopaths learn to be very good at lying. Be careful whom you trust. Sometimes our first impressions of people can be very mistaken. Even paranoid people have real enemies.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
I think my favorite concept in this movie is the brief line where Tim Olyphant says to Steve Zahn that the key to a good movie is having a good story. Say whatever else you might about this movie, the story is excellent. This means the writer (David Twohy, with plenty of credits) believes his own advice.

Discussion Questions:
~As the movie unfolds, which characters do you bond with? Which ones do you want to see succeed, and why?
What are your initial impressions of each character? How do your prejudices bias you for or against them? How many of your initial impressions turn out to be right? Wrong?
~It’s been said that a good movie is really just a con game (Brothers Bloom is a good example of this taken seriously). How is this movie a con? Who in this movie is conning whom?
~People who themselves have boring lives often envy people who have “lived” more fully. How is this a factor in your own life? Have you ever wished you could be someone else? Have you ever embellished on your own life to seem more interesting than you really are?
~Would you say this movie is an extended morality play about the dangers of envy? How does this movie manipulate our own sense of envy and resentment to accomplish its purposes?
~Solipsism is the philosophical theory that only I exist and everything and everyone else is just a figment of my imagination. Who in this movie is a solipsist? What artistic device does this movie use to portray the reality of a solipsist? How is selfishness just the beginning stage of solipsism?
~Why do you think we aren’t more worried about our safety when out in the wilderness away from society? Should we be? Do movies like this help?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~At the top of the waterfall.
~On the beach, frozen in time.
~Gina telling about her past.
Overall Grade: B
A far more entertaining film than the box office would indicate. Nevertheless, it’s definitely R and don’t watch it if language or violence bothers you.

Get Him to the Greek (2010)

Rated: R for strong sexual content and drug use throughout, and pervasive language.
Length: 109 minutes
Grade: DNF
Budget: $40 million
Box Office: $105 million (61 U.S., 30 Intl., 14 DVD)

Written and Directed by: Nicholas Stoller (Yes Man, Fun with Dick and Jane, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), with additional writing by Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall)
Starring: Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, and Rose Byrne.
With: Mario Lopez, Pink, Kurd Loder, Christina Aguilera, Sean “P Diddy” Combs, and Elisabeth Moss.

A mid-level flunkie at a record company must transport a debauched rock star from London to a special anniversary concert.

No, no, no, no. I know, you already thought that a movie by the people who made Forgetting Sarah Marshall and starring Russell Brand and Jonah Hill was likely to be unfunny and horribly vulgar. Well, you’re 2 for 2. I think we managed to endure about 17 minutes of this, mostly on the absurdly irrational hope that somewhere underneath all the filth there might be a brilliant satire a la Spinal Tap. Alas, although there were hints of self-loathing from music industry big-names, there was certainly not enough entertainment value here to justify watching it even if it hadn’t been so deep into the R-rated category. But since it was, this was an easy abandon.

Overall Grade: DNF
As in Do Not Flush your money down the drain by renting this movie.

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

Rated: PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language.
Length: 98 minutes
Grade: AA-/B+A+A=A
Budget: $165 million
Box Office: $494 million (218 U.S., 276 Intl.)

Written by: William Davies (Flushed Away, Twins), based on the children’s books by Cressida Cowell
Also Written & Directed by: Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch, and writers for Mulan)
Starring the voices of: Jay Baruchel
With the voices of: Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hil, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Kristen Wiig

On a fiercely independent Viking island, the disappointing son of the uber-manly chief wants nothing more than to kill a dragon. However, after he wounds the most dangerous type of dragon there is, he can’t do the deed and winds up secretly befriending the monster. This leads him to know more about dragons than anyone ever has but it causes conflict with the village and his father when the truth comes out.

Entertainment Value: A
Dreamworks Animation may finally have found a winning formula, whether by making an already-popular book series or by using former Disney writer/directors. But in any case, this is the second big success for them after Kung-Fu Panda, not in the sense that they make money (since Shreks and Madagascar did that), but in the sense that these are their only two movies to rival Pixar in quality. Excellent characters, plot, writing, and animation. Our kids absolutely loved this, and it has an unbelievable 98% favorable rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

Superficial Content: A-/B+
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence B+, Language A-
One of the funnier moments in the movie has to do with a joke about women’s attire, and there is some very mild language. The only real concern here is violence, which I have to rate fairly at a B because there’s so much “peril” and combat in the movie. That being said, there actually isn’t much killing (although there are enough big action moments to possibly bother a younger child), but the ending has a rather unexpected element to it that might bother some but I thought was brilliant. Our kids (4, 6) loved it, so I’d say PG-5.

Significant Content: A+
There are three kinds of movies. Movies that encourage us to be sinners, movies encourage us to overcome sinners, and movies that teach us to redeem sinners. This is as close to category three as you can get without actually being a movie about sin and justice. But it’s certainly a movie about compassionate mercy and the possibility of bridging differences based on a shift in paradigm about our enemies. Yes, this movie has the rather common theme of kids knowing better than parents, so parents must be careful to listen to their kids. But the big message is that making war is easier and more obvious than making peace. It’s ultimately about a culture of war learning that its identity as warriors is part of the problem. The underlying premise is that we start to move toward peace when we finally realize that we have more in common with our enemies than whatever divides us.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
The animation and the story are brilliant, obviously. But the thing I loved most here was the way the plot all worked itself out, including the final development. The books were written starting in 2000 and then 2003+, so it’s hard to know motives for sure. But I think at least some people are going to see this movie as a vivid parallel with our current global conflict with radical Islam. As such, much of the movie might seem like a kind of relativism regarding the terrorists (dragons). But the ultimate point is that most dragons are relatively decent but rigidly terrified of a fearsome over-dragon who coerces them into evil a la Stalin, Hitler, or bin Laden. Thus, if we can overcome our own prejudice, eliminate the corruptive leadership, and find common ground with our enemy, we can really make a much better society. As I said, I doubt this is the point of the movie, but it’s an unfortunate fact about all art that it gets made at a particular historical moment and therefore can’t be completely disentangled from the times. Even the Adventures of Robin Hood had clear cultural significance.

Discussion Questions:
~When two groups are in conflict with each other, why is it usually the children who are most likely to find a way to bond with each other rather than the adults? Consider Romeo & Juliet, for instance.
~Every culture wants its kids to grow up and reproduce its values. But how should parents and children balance the demands of conformity with the importance of each individual being whoever God made him to be?
~Why do children have such a deep need for their parents’ approval? Is it a form of abuse or neglect when parents don’t give this?
~To what degree do you think Americans are like the Vikings on this island?
~How does being warlike or prone to violence prevent you from seeing other solutions to a conflict or problem?
~How important to making peace with enemies is it to view them as fellow humans who are very much like us? How important is it to making war with them to view them as evil, subhuman or worthless?
~If this movie is taken as a parable about our current global conflict, what lessons do you draw? What does the end scene have to say or show us about soldiers returning home? How did you react to that scene? Why might someone say that scene was a truly exceptional way to end this movie? Why is it important for movies to acknowledge that military victories have a cost?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Hiccup’s moment of mercy.
~Befriending Toothless.
~Toothless coming to the rescue.
~Hiccup feeling like his entire self is a disappointment to his father.
~The end after the big fight.
Overall Grade: A
Very impressive, and much more entertaining than I even expected. It’s a movie with lots of meat, even if kids might never think much about it.

Karate Kid, The (2010)

Rated: PG for bullying, martial arts action violence and some mild language.
Length: 140 minutes
Grade: B-BB+C=B
Budget: $40 million
Box Office: $358 million (177 U.S., 181 Intl.)

Written by: Christopher Murphy (First movie) and Robert Mark Kamen (Transporter 1-3, Kiss of the Dragon, Fifth Element, original Karate Kid 1-4, and Taps )
Directed by: Harold Zwart (Pink Panther 2, Agent Cody Banks, and One Night at McCool’s)
Starring: Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan
With: Taraji P. Henson, Wenwen Han, and Zhenwei Wang.

When his mother is transferred to China, a Detroit boy finds himself in love with a local girl but in trouble with a gang of thugs. Desperate, he turns to the maintenance man for kung-fu training in this remake of the Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita classic.

Entertainment Value: B-
I don’t know why, but remakes are always an impossible difficult thing. If they honor the original too much, they’re just being parasites. If they deviate from it, they’re defiling the thing I love. In this case, it’s a true remake, from the broad plot strokes even down to several of the specific lines. Although this happens all the time with plays, it just always seems wrong when done with movies. I have to admit, I wanted to dislike this film. Nevertheless, I found myself enjoying it at least moderately well. The problem here, of course, is that in the parts where the original is brilliant, this is only decent. And in the parts where the original was weak, well they’re just part of the charm of a “classic,” right? For instance, I can watch the tournament sequence in the original and get goosebumps every single time. The tournament here did nothing for me. Also, there seemed to be something missing in the menace of the gang if only because they’re so much younger here, but when your hero is the 84 pound Jaden Smith, I guess the bad guys need to be smaller, too. All that being said, it’s good and if it brings this wonderful story to a new generation of kids, I can live with it.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol B+, Sex/Nudity A, Violence B, Language A-
There is one scene of drunkenness. There is no sexuality other than young people dating. I think there was one mild profanity. The bullying and fighting are the only real concern, and they’re more tame here than in the original. PG is just right. We didn’t let our kids watch it only because they already fight enough and we didn’t want to encourage kicking “to boot.”

Significant Content: B+
Fighting is not just a specialized set of motions but an integrated part of an overall life philosophy. We must learn to have patience inside ourselves and to create peace around us through balance. When life or people knock you down, you can still choose to be brave and get back up to try again. Confronting fear is the only way to conquer it. Respecting others is an essential element of personal self-worth. If you behave with dignity and valor, even your enemies may come to admire you. Weak people are shaped by their environment, strong people shape their environment.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
I’ve tried three different times to figure out what to write in this section, and I can’t find the heart to say much of anything. The original is brilliant. Everything here seems like a muted and slightly “less” version of that. Besides, with the nearly verbatim reproduction, I feel like I can’t comment on this one beyond what I figure we all know of the original. It’s a morality play about bullies, underdogs, and peace-seeking violence.

Discussion Questions:
~In this movie, the “good guys” are ultimately the strongest and therefore they win and earn respect. How would this have gone differently if that had not been the case. In real life, the bad guys are often actually stronger. How should we deal with bad people when they cannot be beaten at their own game? Consider how Mr. Han might have dealt with the evil teacher differently if he didn’t believe his own kung-fu was strong.
~Was Meiying’s father right or wrong to forbid his daughter from seeing Dre? Do you think he is a good or a bad influence on her? What does his final solution show about him?
~How difficult do you think it is to raise a child by yourself as a working mother? In what ways could our society do better at helping single mothers? How might the church meet needs in this area?
~One of the repeated ideas is that we have to “play the spaces or pauses” properly. What does this mean?
~Do you think it’s better to completely remake a great original movie almost verbatim or to try to tell a new story with the old characters? Why do we tend to think so differently about plays being performed by different people as opposed to movies being remade?
~Are there any ways in which Dre was responsible for or contributed to the conflicts he had with Cheng? Can you think of any ways he could have handled the situation differently?
~Does this movie offer a real solution to the problem of bullying? Have you ever been the victim of bullying? Have you ever been the bully?
~Dre eventually becomes frustrated with Mr. Han because it seems he isn’t teaching him Kung-Fu at all, when of course he is. Has God ever taught you something even though it didn’t seem like He was doing anything productive in your life?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Watching the cobra lady.
~The anniversary of the car crash.
~The tournament.

Overall Grade: B
A decent if unnecessary remake of the now-dated but brilliant original, but why didn't they call it "The Kung-Fu Kid?"

Repo Men (2010)

Rated: R for for strong bloody violence, grisly images, language and some sexuality/nudity.
Length: 111 minutes
Grade: C-HBD=D+
Budget: $32 million
Box Office: $35 million (14 U.S., 4 Intl., 7 DVD)

Written by: Eric Garcia (Matchstick Men) and Garrett Lerner (TV like Boston Public, John Doe and Roswell)
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik (First movie)
Starring: Jude Law and Alice Braga
With: Forest Whitaker, Live Schreiber, and John Leguizamo.

In a world where people who can’t afford the payments on their artificial organs have them repossessed by above-the-law mercenaries, one of the best suddenly has a change of heart (sorry) when he becomes a client of the company.

Entertainment Value: C-
This is a great concept mostly ruined by bad writing and a decision to make it as gory and vulgar as possible. I wanted to enjoy this more than I did, and I watched it despite the universally bad reviews. In the end, it’s such a great concept that just simply could have been done much better. The twist ending only winds up being annoying, even though it ties together with the beginning fairly well.

Superficial Content: H
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sex/Nudity D, Violence H, Language F
There is occasional use of some unknown drug that seems like cocaine. There are several scenes of nudity and sexuality. Language would be an F all on its own and is quite heavy. The really awful part of this movie, however, is all the gore involved in killing people by removing their artificial organs. When I say this is an H on an A-F scale, I’m not kidding. R just doesn’t cover it. Absolutely no kids, and probably not many adults either.

Significant Content: B
Corporations that charge hefty fees for doing humanitarian deeds are evil. We must never let our society get to the place where people can be slaughtered just because they are delinquent on their body part payments. The world seems to run on rules and need people to enforce them, but the people who use that as an excuse to do wicked things are the most awful people of all. A job is a form of self-definition and identity. If you want to change who you are, change what you do.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
The science-fiction tradition is well-populated by films that depict unsettling future realities which then force us to consider the path we’re currently on. The reason this works is because they provoke our thinking. The problem in this case is that the idea is overwhelmed by the vulgarity of the presentation and the failure to make a choice between this being an action movie, a slasher movie, or a science-fiction movie. Thought value isn’t too bad, but it’s terrible art. This is a case where having slightly better writers or a more experienced director might have made all the difference.

Discussion Questions:
~How much of our identity and place within society is a function of our job? Is it a modern luxury to think this way about our labor?
~Is this movie trying to say that all forms of repossession are inherently immoral? What is it about repossessing mechanical organs that is so different from taking cars and houses?
~The company is running a kind of scam that actually depends on taking back people’s organs and reselling them to other people to make money. Are there any similar practices in our current world?
~It is occasionally debated whether people should be allowed to sell their organs and/or pay others for them. Based on this movie, what do you think?
~If you could exist in a world where you were happy all the time but it wasn’t “real,” would that be an option you would choose?
~Schroedinger’s Cat is a thought experiment in which the cat is inside a box with a random machine that may or may not yet have killed it. According to quantum theory, the cat is both alive and dead until it is observed as either. Why does the movie open with this idea? What question does it want us to ask about our current reality? Is this movie primarily about body parts and science fiction futures or is it primarily about the nature of modern entertainment?

Overall Grade: D+
If you haven’t seen it, don’t. Sadly, this is a brilliant idea with some interesting things to say botched terribly in the actual execution.

Letters to Juliet (2010)

Rated: PG for brief rude behavior, some language and incidental smoking.
Length: 105 minutes.
Grade: C+BCC=C+
Budget: $30 million
Box Office: $83 million (53 U.S., 19 Intl., 11 DVD)

Written by: Jose Rivera (Trade, Motorcycle Diaries, ) and Tim Sullivan (Flushed Away)
Directed by: Gary Winick (Bride Wars, Charlotte’s Web, 13 Going On 30, Tadpole)
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Redgrave, and Christopher Egan

Sophie is an aspiring writer who travels with her workaholic fiancée to Verona on a pre-honeymoon, where she discovers a group of women who give romantic advice to those who come to Juliet’s balcony asking for it. This leads to a grandmother and her grandson traveling to Italy in search of her long lost true love and a quest which gives Sophie both a story opportunity and romantic complications.

Entertainment Value: C+
The problem here is that the movie offers the hopes of greatness but winds up suffering from improbable character choices and periodically painful bad acting. It’s sad, really, because the story itself is fun and the lightness of the movie makes you want to like it more than it deserves. The most pivotal moment of the movie is completely unbelievable, even though the plot completely requires it.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity B, Violence A, Language B+
There is a lot of social wine-drinking, but no drunkenness. There are a couple of references to sexuality and some kissing. An unmarried couple shares a hotel room, but nothing is ever shown or even implied particularly. The language was perhaps most annoying only because in a movie which was otherwise virtually squeaky, a character quickly uses medium profanity (S) in the beginning and there is a middle-finger moment later, both unnecessary. This is PG-8 or so, and only girls older than that would care to watch it anyhow. It could easily have been a much lighter PG.

Significant Content: C
True love never dies, and you should always act on what your heart tells you. Destiny has a way of working its magic. Sometimes the most promising relationships start out poorly.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
The most interesting thing here is the idea that a passionate man can actually be something of a curse in disguise if he turns out to be more passionate about something else (like cooking and his restaurant) than he is about you. But the other hidden gem is the presentation of the secretaries of Juliet meeting a need that certainly can’t be monetized and yet is very helpful and even culturally shalom-building for the women they write to. It nicely pictures the unseen world lost when wives and mothers enter the workplace.

Discussion Questions:
~If you were rating movies, what rating would you give Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” especially given that it ends in such tragedy?
~Which do you think is worse: being married to someone who is just plain passionless or someone who is more passionate about something other than you?
~What impact on society comes from women working in ordinary jobs rather than doing all the sorts of pro bono things they might otherwise feel free to do, such as answer Juliet’s letters?
~Do you believe in true love? What about love at first encounter? How much of a successful marriage is from passion, from reason, and from commitment? Does God arrange marriages? How do you explain bad ones?
~Sophie observes that the most dangerous sign for her relationship is that both of them seem perfectly happy spending time on their pre-honeymoon doing different things. Is she right about this?
~Charlie is initially angry at Sophie for her meddling and for leading his grandmother into a wild goose chase. Is he right to be angry? What sort of responsibility do aspiring advice-givers have for what people do with their suggestions?
~What, exactly, is adultery? Are any of the characters in this movie guilty of it? What about just having divided loyalties or alienation of affection?

Overall Grade: C+
“A Good Year” was a more entertaining and more meaningful version of what I think this film is trying to accomplish. That said, it’s a fairly clean romantic comedy about what else: true love.

Furry Vengeance (2010)

Rated: PG for some rude humor, mild language and brief smoking.
Length: 92 minutes
Grade: B+B+CF=B
Budget: $35 million
Box Office: $38 million (18 U.S., 15 Intl., 5 DVD)

Written by: Michael Carnes & Josh Gilbert (Mr. Woodcock)
Directed by: Roger Kumble (Cruel Intentions 1+2, Just Friends, College Road Trip)
Starring: Brendan Fraser and Brooke Shields
With: Matt Prokop, Ken Jeong, Angela Kinsey, Skyler Samuels, and Wallace Shawn

When the supervisor of a forest construction development realizes his company is eco-unfriendly, he must decide whether to side with his job or with the animals who have so ferociously attacked him.

Entertainment Value: B+
First and most importantly, this is a kids movie! Calling it slapstick is almost too mild a description. In reality, this is a live action cartoon a la Merrie Melodies and Looney Toons. As such, it’s very funny. My kids loved it and laughed pretty continuously. The plot is mostly a pretext for physical gags. Judged by any other standard and this would be terrible. Judged as a clean source of comedy and it works just fine.

Superficial Content: B+
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A-, Violence B, Language A
A couple of the gags involve gender-crossing (a man mistakenly wearing a bra or, later, a woman’s sweatsuit). Language and drugs are squeaky clean. The main issue, such as it is, will be all the slapstick violence such as being overturned in a porta-potty, skunk attacks, dive-bombings by birds, and a wide variety of physical humor gags. One exception is that the very opening scene of the movie culminates in a man being forced off a cliff by animals to his death in a car. Because of that scene, it probably can’t be G, but I’d still almost give it one, quite frankly.

Significant Content: C
It’s important for dads to balance the interests of their careers and their families. Although it’s easy to go along with gradual bad decisions, you have to eventually stand up and do what’s right. Animals are people, too. Companies that make a big show of being green can sometimes be the biggest eco-hypocrites.

Artistic/Thought Value: F
Not so much.

Discussion Questions:
~This movie shows how a decent guy can get involved in doing basically bad things. What was the progression for Dan? How can we avoid letting this happen to us?
~What do you think of the idea that animals should be considered like people? Do animals care for their young as we do? What sort of moral obligations do we have to animals?
~How important is it to conserve green spaces like forests?
~Tyler is sarcastic and disrespectful to his dad. Does his father deserve this attitude based on his choices?
~Nobody wants to take Dan’s claims of animal terrorism seriously until they must. Have you ever felt like people didn’t take you seriously about something happening to you?
~Why is it so important to make decisions as a family? How does this fit with democracy? Are there ever times when a man must make an unpopular decision? What’s the right way to handle this? In this particular case, what should Dan have done differently?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~The crow.
~The skunks.
~Dive-bombing the festival.

Overall Grade: B
It’s an entertaining and harmless eco-propaganda cartoon that most kids will enjoy.

Just Wright (2010)

Rated: PG for some suggestive material and brief language.
Length: 100 minutes
Grade: DB-BC+=C-
Budget: $12 million
Box Office: $27 million (22 U.S., 5 DVD)

Written by: Michael Elliot (Brown Sugar, Like Mike)
Directed by: Sanaa Hamri (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2)
Starring: Queen Latifah, Common, and Paula Patton
With: Pam Grier, Phylicia Rashad, James Pickens Jr., Dwight Howard, Dwayne Wade, Rashad Lewis, Jalen Rose, and Marv Albert.

An injured NBA superstar is torn between his gorgeous golddigger fiancée and her lifelong friend, an overweight but otherwise wonderful physical therapist.

Entertainment Value: D
It’s possible that this movie is just not my style, but this was pretty bad. I wanted it to be better, but it wasn’t. The writing was weak, the plot is utterly predictable, and the acting is thin to the point of non-existence. Every moment of this movie felt contrived, and not even contrived in a good way. That being said, be sure to read below what I have to say about art value.

Superficial Content: B-
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity B-, Violence A, Language B-
This is marginal for a PG movie, but it really didn’t have to be. There is one rather glaring outburst of profanity (BS), and a couple of minor ones (D). Characters drink socially, but discuss “getting toasted.” Sex is probably the major concern, with several innuendos, discussions of “bagging a man,” and one longish scene of Latifah in bed presumably naked. I’d say PG-10, but the good news is that no kids are going to care enough about this movie to watch it anyhow.

Significant Content: B
Some women are predators every bit as much as men. Other women are just good women, and they are the ones who will make the best wives even if they aren’t superhot. Wisdom is knowing the difference between them. Also, there’s an oblique criticism of “The Secret” thrown in for fun.

Artistic/Thought Value: C+
Okay, here I need to talk about a very difficult subject as it relates to this movie. Objectively speaking, this is a pretty bad movie. As I mentioned above, the script, plot, and acting are all low quality compared to most movies. That being said, this is a relatively clean movie portraying basically good versus evil in relationships and marketed specifically to black audiences. As such, it deserves credit for being such a refreshing contrast to the vast majority of filth and foolishness marketed to black audiences. Having watched a number of “black” films in recent years, I can tell you that they usually aren’t very good, sort of like all too many “Christian” films. But to make matters worse, they’re showing and telling all the wrong things to a community which, as a whole, needs much better guidance. So here’s a movie with better role models and (mostly) without the filth, which I admire. I think the presence of big name black actors like Phylicia Rashad, Pam Grier, and James Pickens Jr. plus all the NBA stars reinforces what they think of the importance of movies like this. It isn’t great by any stretch, but it should get some credit for simply choosing to be so unlike most “black” films in this regard. Art for a particular audience needs to be art which that audience will actually consume. In that sense, this is at least decent art. The $22 million certainly wasn’t generated from white audiences.

Discussion Questions:
~Morgan wants to marry an NBA player, and she says that she intends to treat man-hunting as a job to get what she wants. Aside from the ethical problems with her in particular, do you think spouse-huntig should be treated like a job? Does your answer stay the same for men as for women?
~When Morgan reacts to being criticized for leaving Scott, she says “we can’t all be like Saint Leslie Wright.” Do you think wicked people actually believe they are morally deficient or do they really believe that virtue is a kind of defect to be scoffed at like this?
~Why is Leslie friends with Morgan? Do you consider it a moral defect that she stays friends with someone so vain and manipulative?
~Scott has built his entire life around being a basketball star. How does he handle it when that might end? How much of a man’s place in this world is based on what he does for a living? In what ways is this good and in what ways is it dangerous?
~Do you think it’s an advantage or a disadvantage for a woman to be beautiful if her goal is to find a good man? What about being overweight? What about for a man to be successful, handsome, or wealthy…or not?
Overall Grade: C-
A potentially significant “black” movie, but not much of a movie in comparison with most comedy-romances.

Ghost Writer, The (2010)

Rated: PG-13 for language, brief nudity/sexuality, some violence and a drug reference.
Length: 128
Grade: BCDC=C+
Budget: $45 million
Box Office: $60 million (16 U.S., 41 Intl., 3 DVD)

Written by: Robert Harris (Wrote the novel “The Ghost”)
Directed by: Roman Polanski (Frantic, Ninth Gate, Chinatown, rosemary’s Baby)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Olivia Williams, and Pierce Brosnan
With: James Belushi, Timothy Hutton, Kim Cattrall, Tom Wilkinson, and Robert Pugh

After the mysterious death of the previous ghost writer, a new writer is brought in to complete the memoirs of a widely loved and widely hated former British Prime Minister. As he begins, evidence of some sort of conspiracy cause him to solve the puzzle and bring the truth to light.

Entertainment Value: B
All the way through, this felt like a Polanski film: stylized rather than realistic, and stilted characters where everything is just a little bit off kilter. Having basically talked myself into watching this because everyone reviewed it so highly, despite my internal ethical concerns about even indirectly supporting Roman Polanski, I was very disappointed that this was the end result. The ending, in particular, totally failed to deliver what the buildup to it seemed to promise. If the previous ghost had really known what he did long enough in advance to do what he did, I don’t understand how this was the actual shape of it all. It’s the sort of ending that seems cool at first until you think a little about it. Also the final, final ending was also just disappointing for the sake of being disappointing, I think.

Superficial Content: C-
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity C, Violence B, Language D+
Lots of alcohol consumption. An occasional scene of partial nudity and some sexuality. There are a couple of deaths, and torture is a subject in news reports. Language, oddly, is probably the major reason for the PG-13, and this is almost R when you add it all together. I’d say R-15.

Significant Content: D
Politicians are corrupt. Governments are corrupt. Book publishers and agents are moneygrubbers. Only idealistic writers are not corrupt or money grubbing, although they are often alcoholics and adulterers.
Artistic/Thought Value: C The thought value is only in trying to figure out the mystery, and the art value is the skill of creating the atmosphere of this movie. Otherwise, not so much, and certainly not given the ending.

Discussion Questions:
~Why is the ghost writer not given a name in the movie?
~What do you personally believe about spies and the government?
~To what degree should we care about the off-screen lives of people who make films? If you believe Roman Polanski should be in jail right now, is it contradictory to watch his movies? Do you think any less of actors and others who participate in making films with him? What about other products and services? How much should our consumption of something be driven by the product itself as opposed to considerations about who made it?
~When movies make allegations of terrible evil and corruption about government leaders, do you think the fact that these movies are allowed to be made discounts their claims?
Overall Grade: C+
This wants to be hip and cool, but in the end it simply fails to live up to its own aspirations. If you’ve wondered whether to avoid Roman Polanski films on principle, well, don’t make your compromise for this film. I did, and I’m disappointed with myself for it.

Adventures of Robin Hood, The (1938)

Rated: Unrated (Exclusive unrated DVD version available)
Length: 102 minutes
Grade: AAAA=A
Budget: $1.9 million
Box Office: $1.5 million

Written by: Norman Reilly Raine (Captain Kidd, Tugboat Annie) and Seton I. Miller (Sea Hawk, Dawn Patrol, G Men, Charlie Chan’s Courage)
Directed by: Michael Curtiz (We’re No Angels, White Christmas, The Egyptian, The Jazz Singer, Casablanca, Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Sea Wolf, The Sea Hawk, Angels with Dirty Faces, Charge of the Light Brigade, Captain Blood) and William Keighley (Master of Ballantrae, Fighting 69th, Pince and the Pauper, G Men)
Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia deHavilland
With: Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, Alan Hale, and Ian Hunter

In this classic adaptation of the legends, Robin of Locksley stands up for the weak and oppressed Saxons under the tyrannical rule of Prince John, the simpering brother of King Richard the Lionheart, who is away fighting the Crusades.

Entertainment Value: A
As one of the more well known early Technicolor films, this all-time classic actually failed to make a profit at the box office but has long since recouped its investment in syndication and cultural significance. The script, the costumes, the action, and the acting are all brilliant. Something you’ll see only with classic films like this, Rotten Tomatoes has it at 100% fresh. (Even Casablanca is only 97%.) It’s funny, engaging, action-packed, substantial, beautiful, and just plain fun. Generations of kids have grown up returning dropped fake swords to their enemies in the middle of a fight because of this movie.

Superficial Content: A
Drugs/Alcohol A-, Sex/Nudity A+, Violence B+, Language A+
There’s occasional mead consumption, no sexuality at all, and not even a rough term, let alone any actual profanity. The only possible concern might be violence, with hangings, swordplay, men being killed (without blood), and action peril. Common Sense Media says PG-9, but I can’t think of a young boy who shouldn’t watch this. I’d say G.
Significant Content: A Men are supposed to be heroic protectors of women. Loyalty to the principles of charity comes before loyalty to a despotic usurper to the throne. Christian leaders should be helping people, not profiteering from them in complicity with corrupt governments. A true noble puts his own livelihood at risk by siding with the oppressed and being willing to speak truth to the powerful. Cunning will get you out of trouble, and a sense of irony and wit make you charming to everyone.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
Seriously? Of course it’s an A. Aside from all the fantastic lessons and the costumes, the movie, like Robin Hood himself, knows how to make a dramatic entrance and a graceful exit from the screen. Although the lessons are mostly obvious, my personal favorite is the shown-but-not-told contrast drawn between the corrupt Bishop of Black Canons and the more modest Friar Tuck.

Discussion Questions:
~Abuse of power is clearly one of the main themes of this movie. How many examples of power used badly and of the attitudes of those who do so can you identify in this film?
~Since this movie was made in 1938, do you perceive any broader cultural or political messages being sent through it? Consider things like the Great Depression, the beginning of World War II, the rise of the labor movement, and class conflict in America.
~What message (and warning) is this movie sending to religious leaders who find themselves tied in too closely with political leaders or wealth?
~In what ways is Robin Hood a Christ figure? If you didn’t know that he was a Christian (from seeking Friar Tuck to give his men spiritual guidance), what markers of Biblical faith could you find?
~One of the more highly emphasized themes in modern Evangelicalism is submission to authority, but both the American Revolution and this film show a decisive refusal to submit to injustice. Do you think conservatives have overemphasized authority and underemphasized fighting it for the right reasons?
~Did Robin properly try to confront injustice by appealing directly to those responsible for it before resorting to violence against them? How does this bolster his claims to virtue?
~When Robin calls the men together, airs the grievances, and administers them their oath, does it remind you of the Declaration of Independence?
~Is Robin Hood a virtuous man or a thief? Does the fact that the poor so love him argue in his favor? He takes from the rich to give to the poor. Would he be called a liberal today? The system of politics which forces him into this response is unjustly high taxation. Would he be called a conservative today? He works for a country where men can fend for themselves and be free to live their lives. Would he be called a libertarian today? What do these tensions indicate about him?
~Is Robin’s willingness to jeopardize his own life a result of a reckless attitude, too little regard for safety, or the confidence of someone whose cause is just?
~What does Robin’s carefree attitude and jovial demeanor say about him? Is he capable of being serious? What gives him the ability to literally laugh in the face of death?
~What message is this film offering about the responsibility of real kings (or leaders) at home versus abroad? Is it advocating isolationism?
~When Much thanks Robin for saving his life, he asks only to follow Robin even if there’s no pay in it. How is this like a Christian’s devotion to Christ?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Rescuing the poacher.
~Confronting Prince John at the feast.
~Robin’s encounters with Little John and Friar Tuck.
~The archery tournament.
~Robin talking about King Richard being to blame.
~The final fight sequence with Guy of Gisbourne.
Overall Grade: A
Since I recently watched this again in preparation to watch the new Robin Hood, I thought I’d share my thoughts with you and remind you what a fantastic movie this is to share with your own children as I did. My boys loved it every bit as much as I did when I was their age.