Unstoppable (2010)

Rated: PG-13 for sequences of action and peril, and some language.
Length: 98 minutes
Grade: BBBD=B-
Budget: $100 million
Box Office: $190 million (82 U.S., 86 Intl., 22 DVD)

Written by: Mark Bomback (Race to Witch Mountain, Deception, Live Free or Die Hard, Godsend, The Night Caller)
Directed by: Tony Scott (Taking of Pelham 123, Déjà vu, Domino, Man on Fire, Spy Game, Enemy of the State, The Fan, Crimson Tide, True Romance, The Last Boy Scout, Days of Thunder, Beverly Hills Cop 2, and Top Gun.)
Starring: Denzel Washington and Chris Pine
With: Rosario Dawson and Kevin Dunn

While training a rookie, a veteran train engineer is in a unique position to try to stop an unmanned runaway train at great personal risk to avert a much greater tragedy in an urban area.
This looks and feels like a Tony Scott film. It’s far more engaging than I anticipated, and the story is pretty good. Denzel and Chris Pine both do fine. There isn’t a lot to say about the film other than that the end lesson is that ordinary people area capable of great heroism precisely because they know that it’s the right thing to do. The film follows the basic outline of a real event from 2001, although it was predictably exaggerated to make it bigger than life as a Tony Scott film always will. If this was some sort of apology film for Pelham 123 which both Scott and Washington made, well, apology accepted. Now don’t ever do that again.

Morning Glory (2010)

Rated: PG-13 for some sexual content including dialogue, language and brief drug references.
Length: 107 min
Grade: B-C+AC=B
Budget: $40 million
Box Office: $59 million (31 U.S., 21 Intl., 7 DVD)

Written by: Aline Brosh McKenna (27 Dresses, The Devil Wears Prada, Laws of Attraction, and Three to Tango)
Directed by: Roger Michell (Changing Lanes, Notting Hill)
Starring: Rachel McAdams
With: Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton, Jeff Goldblum, and Patrick Wilson.

A passionate television producer is tasked with fixing the worst-rated network morning show, which leads her to coerce a cranky veteran newsman into anchoring the show against his will.

Entertainment Value: B-
This is mostly any ordinary comedy romance in terms of script quality and humor, perhaps a slight nudge better than most. They overuse music scenes, and they have too much profanity (which was unnecessary). But it’s cute enough and the messages are very good. Also, Rachel McAdams is an excellent casting choice, and Harrison Ford doesn’t disappoint as the crotchety and pompous career newsman.

Superficial Content: C+
Drugs/Alcohol B+, Sex/Nudity C+, Violence A-, Language C+
There are some mild references to drugs as comedy. A few scenes play on physical comedy by treating an on-location reporter badly (making him ride a roller-coaster or jump out of a plane, for instance). There are a couple of semi-sexual scenes, but no nudity and some off-color remarks, such as about “hookers.” Profanity is not heavy, but just surprising since it didn’t seem at all necessary and sort of garishly out of step with the overall tone of the movie, which could easily have been PG without it.

Significant Content: A
Here is where this movie really shines. It is essentially a movie about redemption. The main character dreams all of her life about being able to work with the very best show in the world: Good Morning America. But, taking what’s available, she naively tries to save (!) a collapsing show with ratings so bad that the network intends to scrap it entirely. In the process, she manages to make it start clicking so well that GMA actually offers her a position. But in the supreme demonstration of loyalty and the joy of a reclamation project gone right, she decides to stick with the family she’s created through optimism, brilliant decisions, and extremely hard work. So the lesson here is that it’s much, much, much more satisfying to pick a loser and fix it rather than to just attach yourself to an already successful thing. Where’s the glory in joining what someone else has already made good? Regardless of the total lack of religious references, that’s a tremendous Gospel metaphor! There are also some themes about pride and devotion (in a bad way) to just one thing.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
Despite the great themes, I think the mediocre packaging and too-fluffy-ness of it all probably will keep most people from noticing the great message coming across.

Discussion Questions:
~Is it better to fix something that’s already broken or to just join something that already works well? Why do we root for underdogs (like Arizona or Butler) so heavily against favorites (like Duke and Pitt)? How would you preach the Gospel from this movie?
~What is this movie saying about media and the news? What is it saying about American culture? Does it hold normal news anchors up as real role models or is it trying to say they’re all really self-important jerks? Why did so many actual news people want to participate in this movie?
~Do you think Patrick Wilson is really just Matthew McConaughey in slacks instead of cargo shorts?
~Pomeroy resists becoming part of the show at every step. Why? Is he right for feeling contempt for this job? What does the Bible say our attitude should be toward doing anything we are given? Is there any failure by Becky to find a real way to use his actual talents?
~Compare the ways in which Adam’s interest in Becky parallels her own interest in the IBS show. Is she only dating this show until she can upgrade to a better model? What does he know about the “beautiful” women that makes him want someone like her? How does this subplot work to reinforce the major theme of the movie? Consider that she must rescue and reform the show whereas it’s not obvious that he needs to rescue and reform her. Why does she run away from him at first?
~To what degree would you describe Becky as worshipping an idol of career success or the news? Is her fanaticism unhealthy? Does this movie seem to be saying that if you’re really devoted enough, you can make it at last? Is that a healthy message? What would have become of her if things hadn’t worked out?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~The IBS interview.
~Meeting Pomeroy in the elevator.
~Confronting Pomeroy while hunting.
~Pomeroy showing up on set.
~At the GMA interview.
~Getting the mayor.
Overall Grade: B
It’s definitely neither the funniest nor the most engaging PG-13 movie in the world. Nevertheless, there is a very useful message here worth knowing for illustration purposes.

Waiting for Superman (2010)

Rated: PG for some thematic material, mild language and incidental smoking.
Length: 111 minutes
Grade: CABB=B
Budget: Unknown, but small, perhaps %500,000
Box Office: $6 million

Written and Directed by: Davis Guggenheim (Gracie, An Inconvenient Truth, Gossip, and a smattering of TV)
Also written by: Billy Kimball (Some TV)
Starring: The students and families of several failing schools.

This documentary from the man who made An Inconvenient Truth is an expose of the brutal realities facing inner city minority children because of their broken schools and what might be done to make things better.

Entertainment Value: C
This was nowhere near as compelling or entertaining as I had anticipated it being. I’m a fanatic about education and educational issues, and I found it a bit soft on meaningful content. I think the problem is that it tried to tell these stories and grab you that way, but it doesn’t really tell enough of them to really captivate. And at the same time, especially the second half, I found myself bored by it all. That being said, it’s still worth seeing, but I just don’t want you to be expecting this amazing thing, such as The Corporation, when it’s really just sort of okay. I will say this, despite a fairly mediocre first 100 minutes, the final sequence with the lottery is moving to the point of tears. Seriously. I cried continuously for 4-5 minutes during that portion just watching the horror of it all.

Superficial Content: A
Drugs/Alcohol A-, Sex/Nudity A, Violence A-, Language B+
There is one character whose father is said to have used drugs and died. Some extremely mild profanity. Although this is PG, I simply can’t imagine any child old enough to want to watch this who shouldn’t be allowed to.

Significant Content: B
This is a difficult one to assign. On the one hand, you see some extremely devoted people trying to do the very best they can for their students or their own children. And clearly the system of teacher’s unions, incompetent teachers, and overall educational bureaucracy is the villain. But on the other hand, it’s not so obvious what the solution would be, other than some radical dismantling of the current behemoth that is education in America. The whole point of the movie is that parents desperately want better for their kids but there just aren’t enough slots available in alternatives to the public school failure factories they live near. That’s why they wind up enduring these unimaginably barbaric admission lotteries to find out whether their kids will have promising futures or not.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
The movie doesn’t really seem to have a particular agenda other than reframing the discussion in terms of what’s best for the kids rather than what’s best for the system or the adults in that system. I can imagine highly invested union teachers finding this statement by me ridiculous. But most criticism of unions is pretty fair and understated, if anything.

Discussion Questions:
~One complaint regularly heard about the inability of poor and minority schools to function properly is that they have the worst sort of kids from the worst sort of families to deal with. But the movie claims that the community is at least as much a result of the schools failing as a cause of it. What do you think of the idea that the schools have failed their communities rather than that the communities are failing their schools?
~Clearly, unions are a primary target of this movie. Do you think it makes a serious case against them? How might things be changed, especially given their tremendous political influence?
~Where did the concept of tenure come from originally? Does the concept make sense at the K-12 level? Consider some of the differences between the difficulty of obtaining it in a university and the ease of obtaining it in K-12 education.
~One idea about low income parents is that they don’t really care about education. How does this movie reveal the truth of the matter?
~What do you think this movie is advocating should be done to fix education in America? What would you do if you were able? Are there any major issues or sources of the problem you think this movie has neglected to consider?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~The lemon dance and the NYC holding pattern.
~The end lottery scene. What is so upsetting about this? Why do some people rejoice? What does even their celebration mean for the non-winners? Considering the lengths parents go to in trying to have just a chance to be in these lotteries, what does that say about the parents and the schools?

Overall Grade: B
It may be because I already know too much about this issue to find any of this surprising or revealing. Nevertheless, the information does need to be more widely disseminated, and there is really no substitute for watching the lottery scene and pondering the implications.

Town, The (2010)

Rated: R for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use.; Extended cut Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, sexuality, nudity and drug use.
Length: 125 min, extended cut 150 min
Grade: B+FFC=B
Budget: $37 million
Box Office: $173 million (92 U.S., 53 Intl., 28 DVD)

Written by: Peter Craig (First script), Ben Affleck (Gone Baby Gone and Good Will Hunting), and Aaron Stockard (Gone Baby Gone), based on the novel by Chuck Hogan
Directed by: Ben Affleck (Gone Baby Gone)
Starring: Ben Affleck
With: Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Jon Hamm, Chris Cooper, and Pete Postlethwaite

Charlestown is the roughest neighborhood in Boston and a breeding ground for criminals, especially bank robbers. A failed hockey player turned crew leader tries to escape that life and discovers it’s much harder than it sounds.

Entertainment Value: B+
Once you get used to the nearly incomprehensible gibberish people call a Boston accent, this is really good. Jeremy Renner (Hurt Locker) is again fantastic, and everyone else is at least very good. The plot is full of chilling scenes and fascinating plot development. The crux of it all is the tension you feel between wanting the protagonist to win (because he’s the protagonist) and yet wanting him to fail because he’s a criminal.

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol D+, Sex/Nudity D+, Violence F, Language F
Look, it’s R for every reason you can name, except there isn’t a ton of sexuality/nudity. But people are killed, beaten, every form of profanity is used a ton, and characters talk about using drugs and drink heavily. As if that weren’t enough, bank robbers are the heroes.

Significant Content: F
Here’s what’s so terrible about this movie in the end. You never wind up really wanting justice because the “good guys” are the bank robbers and the cops are presented (at best) as neutral opponents trying to thwart them. The criminals are clever, they have honor and a code, and especially Doug is someone you somehow want to see succeed. Cops and decent people are killed or injured a lot, but the only people we are told to care about are the criminals. There’s just no portrayal of redemption or decency as virtues in here.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
Certainly as a portrayal of life in the bad part of Boston, this is quite good. Also, precisely because of the turmoil it generates in you as a viewer, there’s enough to discuss here. However, I’m suddenly quite troubled by the fact that Hollywood thinks “gritty” is inherently good. Near as I can tell, “gritty” means “ugly, uncomfortable, and disturbing.” It seems like “uplifting” and “edifying” would be inherently bad to them, but I know sometimes they surprise me.

Discussion Questions:
~When James says that it’s ridiculous how some guys in prison pretend they want to get out, what is he getting at? Why would someone prefer prison?
~Would you describe Doug’s crew as having a code of ethics? What about the criminals in Charlestown? Is it a code that makes sense?
~Given all the precautions the crew takes to not get caught, why do you think they have tattoos at all? Imagining that they chose to have them anyway, what does that say about them and their values?
~Who in this movie do you want to “win?” Why? What would winning entail? Do you think it’s evil for movies to be made that encourage the audience to admire criminals and hope they succeed? Can a movie be “good” without advocating goodness in any discernible way? If God were watching real people like this, what would He want for them as a loving Father?
~Why are movies like this always built around main characters who are relatively smart, dapper, and entertaining even though the real life versions of them are rarely anything but brutal monsters?
~What makes it hard for Doug to escape his life? To what degree do you blame him for this difficulty?
~A central feature of this movie is Doug’s relationship with Claire. What do you make of this? What do you make of the ending?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Claire telling Doug about the robbery prior to their first date.
~Their lunch in the café.
~Doug and his dad at the jail.
~The two of them having a discussion about whether she should tell the FBI.
~Confronting James about wanting to leave.
~Calling Claire’s apartment after Fenway.
Overall Grade: B
Judged on its face as a bank robbery story about hard life in Boston, this is very good. Just be careful what it does to your sense of law and justice.

Life As We Know It (2010)

Rated: PG-13 for sexual material, language and some drug content.
Length: 114 minutes
Grade: BCBB=B
Budget: $38 million
Box Office: $110 million (53 U.S., 45 Intl., 12 DVD)

Written by: Ian Deitchman & Kristin Rusk Robinson (First major script for both)
Directed by: Greg Berlanti (Broken Hearts Club, mostly a TV writer/producer for No Ordinary Family, Eli Stone, Brothers & Sisters, and Everwood)
Starring: Josh Duhamel, Katherine Heigl, and Josh Lucas

Two opposite personalities are thrust together when their best friends die in a car crash, leaving their daughter to be raised by her incompatible godparents.

Entertainment Value: B
It’s a slightly better-than-average comedy romance with a good soundtrack and funny enough to justify its existence and refraining (generally) from being anywhere near as vulgar as something Judd Apatow might write. However, the question of whether you ever actually get to the movie may be an issue since there’s like 15 minutes of ads on the DVD.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity C, Violence A-, Language C
Marijuana is used in brownies, and there’s some drinking with one scene of a woman being drunk. The man is known for being promiscuous, and there is one scene of prelude to sex and people in bed together afterward, but there’s no nudity at all. The violence of the car killing two parents is only hinted at. Language is semi-constant but mostly mild with occasionally heavier words. There’s no one thing that will stand out as offensive here, but PG-13 is definitely the right rating.

Significant Content: B
The normalcy of sexual promiscuity and pre-marital sex is completely taken for granted here, which is certainly a problem. But the bigger themes are actually pretty healthy, namely that two people who have a common object of love can eventually be brought together by that alone. Parenting requires massive and inconvenient sacrifices. Opposites both repel and attract. Teams are more powerful than just a set of individuals. Raising a child together is the essence of marriage. And getting help doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it just means you’re not in it alone.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
There are plenty of things to gain from this movie, and it falls into one of my favorite categories of movie: an entertaining comedy funny enough to get people to hear and consider its message.

Discussion Questions:
~After overhearing a fierce fight between Messer and Holly, Dr. Sam says, “If my wife and I had fought like that, we’d still be married.” How is fighting the key to a good marriage? What does the will to fight indicate? Who is more prone to bad fights, those who love or those who hate each other? If people in a marriage rarely fight, what does that mean?
~Messer tells Holly, “Having someone help you doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It means you’re not in it alone.” What do you think of this idea? Why are we prone to view receiving help as failure? Is this a healthy attitude? Is it Biblical? How does helping and being helped build community?
~“If you want to understand marriage, just imagine a prison…then don’t change anything.” Comment on this idea. Why is this funny, even if it isn’t all that true?
~“You’re not married? You’re raising a kid together, which is about as married as you can get.” What do you think of this? Is parenting the core of marriage? Why does our culture not think so? Which couple is more married in your opinion, the one having sex but not children or the one raising a child but not having sex?
~Social workers are often portrayed as stupid, incompetent, or harmful. What do you think of the portrayal of one in this movie?
~Why do Holly and Messer ultimately make a good team? Do you think the key to a strong team is similarity or complementarity?
~Why does parenting tend to bring people together and give them a reason to stay together? Why does it also tend to cause them conflict and make them want to split up?
~Is the point of marriage happiness or something else? What about parenting? How essential is personal sacrifice to both? What sacrifices do both Holly and Messer make in this movie? Does this movie remind you in any way of “The Gift of the Magi?”
~What message does our culture send about personal fulfillment and happiness? Could you say that both of them are living the current American dream before their friends die and eventually wind up living the real human dream afterward?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Having all sorts of parenting details dumped on them at the dinner party.
~Messer’s big chance and the cab driver.
~The big fight.
~The airport. What is this scene spoofing or poking fun at in other movies?
Overall Grade: B
Some pretty solid messages about all the right things wrapped in a fairly funny comedy with just enough vulgarity to irritate most religious people.

Megamind (2010)

Rated: PG for action and some language.
Length: 95 minutes
Grade: B+B+AA=A-
Budget: $130 million
Box Office: $318 million (148 U.S., 170 Intl.)

Written by: Alan J. Schoolcraft & Brent Simons (First script)
Directed by: Tom McGrath (Madagascar 1+2)
Starring the voice of: Will Ferrell
With the voices of: Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, David Cross, Brad Pitt, Ben Stiller, and JK Simmons.

When an evil genius actually succeeds in destroying the hero of Metro City, he must decide who he will be without a nemesis to define him.

Entertainment Value: B+
It’s solid. Not quite as funny as Despicable Me, and not quite as bad as a variety of other Dreamworks offerings have been. It’s entertaining enough, although I have to be honest, Will Ferrell sounded to me more like Robin Williams and Brad Pitt’s MetroMan should have been voiced by Patrick Warburton. Nevertheless, it’s a clever plot concept which violates the basic paradigm of comic book Manicheanism slightly, wherein the good guys normally win but both sides remain in play eternally. Also, the use of several excellent rock riffs (Welcome to the Jungle, Crazy Train, Back in Black, Bad to the Bone, A Little Less Conversation, and even Bad by Michael Jackson) certainly appealed to my classic rock sensibilities.

Superficial Content: B+
Drugs/Alcohol A-, Sex/Nudity A, Violence B, Language A-
Everything here is virtually squeaky and the only mild concern would be comic book violence including the death of a superhero and some menacing battles in the end. PG-5 I think. Our kids (6,4,2) had no problem with it. They even make a gag out of interrupting AC/DC’s famous song, “Highway to ---“ as a technical glitch, just so you know how much they were careful to keep it clean. One minor thing for those of you who care, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy are listed (along with the Queen of England!) as fairy tales at one point.

Significant Content: A
The only way to discuss this is to spoil some of the plot, for which I apologize. But the broad strokes aren’t too hard to sniff out by the 30 minute mark. Basically, the love of a woman turn an evil genius into the better man/hero he always could have been if only that role hadn’t always been occupied by his popular and handsome boyhood enemy. The idea that evil could be redeemed into goodness is wonderful, and that being a hero can be such a burden that one might actually prefer to quit the profession. There’s also some very deep stuff about the inability of evil to exist or have an identity in the absence of goodness. Plus, evil can lay dormant in the form of a seemingly sweet person who has merely lacked the means to do to the world as he would have always preferred.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
As alluded to, the interesting premise/plot development here makes for plenty of things to talk about in contrast with the ordinary superhero and supervillain movie. In fact, on second watching I picked up a lot more on the variety of elements that were either violating or mocking that paradigm like the bad witty banter as definitive of the game, the slow pace of technology in the real world versus in movies booting up, and the Jimmy Olsen character being a villain-in-waiting. I’m actually pretty impressed with how thoroughly they tinkered with (while still homageing) the Superman comic paradigm.

Discussion Questions:
~Describe the process of how Megamind became a bad guy. Is there any aspect of it that he had control over? How might Megamind have turned out differently if he had landed in the wealthy home, had better parents, had good looks, or even been treated better at school? Why is it so important to consider formative environment whenever we evaluate other people. Why are people who enjoy advantageous circumstances so quick to discount the adverse effect of being raised in bad ones?
~If Metro Man had been a Christian, what might he have done to prevent Megamind from becoming a criminal? Is there any sense in your mind that the entire plot of this movie might have been a deliberate plan of his to redeem Megamind?
~Why is it so important to find productive ways to use people’s talents and give them both a place in society and something to lose by behaving antisocially?
~There has been a marked and disheartening shift in movies, TV, and comic books since my childhood from whimsical, sardonic heroes to somber, almost sinister ones. Do you see this progression represented in this movie by the subsequent rivalries? To what degree could you say that fighting evil used to seem fun but no longer is? Is this our culture’s way of dealing with the shift from national warfare to terrorism?
~If Megamind hadn’t employed a deceit, do you think he would have ever had a chance with Roxanne? Does that justify what he did? To what degree would you describe him as misunderstood, even by himself?
~Manicheanism is the philosophy that God and the Devil are eternal and equal combatants, but Christianity teaches that only God has essential reality and evil is defined only in relation to good without its own essence. How does this difference show up in this film? Why is Megamind so deeply dissatisfied with his victory?
~Tighten seems like a pretty good guy at first, but when he has power things change dramatically. How much of the apparent goodness of weak and socially marginalized people is just a ploy because they can’t take what they want? How does this relate to the idea that some people only do good things to coerce God to bless them even though their heart is really quite selfish? Consider that he goes from becoming a “loser” to being powerful and handsome and yet also a villain.
~What do you think of Metro Man’s choice? Was it negligent? In the end of the movie, who looks like the real hero? The Bible says, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” How does this relate?
~In a lot of movies, the bad guy looks funny, dresses funny, and talks funny. Why is it so important that Megamind has all these flaws but still turns out to become an extremely good person? What is this movie trying to say about our social norms and the way we treat people for their superficial defects?
~“Heroes aren’t born, they’re made.” What do you think of this idea? Why does Megamind think it takes the right sort of DNA for a hero? How does this believe interfere with him realizing who he can and should be?
~To what degree is this movie saying that society constructs villains and heroes as much as they make themselves. Are “hero” and “villain” socially constructed identities? Consider the influence of The Warden, the teacher, the kids, the crowds at Metro City, Roxanne Ritchie, and Metro Man himself.
~Why do you think it’s so common for similar movies to be released near each other? Is it corporate espionage, God providing a message through multiple vehicles, outrageously repetetive coincidence, or something else?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~The ark of the covenant in the treasure trove.
~Megamind having his existential discussion with the dunking bird toy. What does it say about his own belief in himself and his plans that he seemed to have absolutely no idea what to do with Metro ~City once he actually controlled it?
~Tighten threatening to actually kill Megamind rather than just arrest him. Why is evil suddenly far less fun when your opponent doesn’t play by the good guy rules?

Overall Grade: A-
A very interesting and unusual paradigm-inverting superhero movie that’s entertaining enough for the kids and innovative and humorous enough for the adults. It’s not quite as entertaining as Despicable Me, but it makes up for this by presenting the progression and the themes a bit more richly.

RED (2010)

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence and brief strong language.
Length: 111 minutes
Grade: ACCB=A
Budget: $58 million
Box Office: $208 million (90 U.S., 95 Intl., 23 DVD)

Written by: Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber (Whoiteout, Montana), based on the graphic novel by Warren Ellis & Cully Hamner
Directed by: Robert Schwentke (Time Traveler’s Wife and Flightplan)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren.
With: Rebecca Pidgeon, Karl Urban, Richard Dreyfus, Brian Cox, and Ernest Borgnine.

A retired group of ultra-dangerous CIA assassins is forced to return to the action when someone seems bent on trying to kill everyone involved in a classified past operation.

Entertainment Value: A+
I don’t know for sure whether it was the recent experience of the awful Expendables and disappointments with Salt, Jonah Hex, Machete, and Wild Target, but I was ready for a really good action movie. This was that PLUS a tremendous variety of devices (fascinating characters, witty dialogue, postcards to show places, unusually cool camera angles, and the superb acting by especially Mary-Louise Parker) make this a really good time. And the plot, oh the plot, is phenomenal! Knight and Day is the closest recent offering, and where that was very good, this was outstanding.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity A, Violence C, Language C
The drugs are used to abduct someone and LSD is referenced. There’s no sex stuff at all other than one very oblique conversation. Language is PG-13 and violence is surely the other major concern, including lots and lots of gunplay, killings, and blood hand-to-hand combat.

Significant Content: C
There are good guys and there are bad guys, and the difference isn’t whether you kill people. It’s whether you fight for justice and truth and whether you’re capable of love and loyalty. And, of course, the bad guys and the good guys often aren’t what they originally seem. People who like excitement in fiction may not love the real thing, and those who know the real thing may crave the simple life (even if they find it unfulfilling by contrast).

Artistic/Thought Value: B
Not really a thinker, but certainly high marks for art value, especially shotmaking and bringing out the best the genre has to offer.

Discussion Questions:
~Why does Sarah enjoy reading pulp fiction spy novels? Why does she at first react so negatively to being caught up in one? What brings her around, and what does this say about such people? What does it say about us? Is it likely that people who like action movies and their vicarious thrills would actually enjoy being in such a situation?
~Several characters in this movie seem to miss the action, either secretly continuing to take jobs or just missing the old game. What do you think of this? Does it bother you to imagine that some people might really enjoy fighting epic international battles against each other?
~How has the change of international relations since the end of the cold war affected both movie villains and real life enemies?
~“They just don’t make spies like they used to.” Is it fair to also say they don’t make spy movies like they used to?
~In this movie, what things differentiate heroes from villains?
~Why is the theme of apparent villains being wrongly accused and trying to clear their names/reestablish justice so appealing? What does this theme’s appeal tell us about human nature and the universe?
~How might our love of the amazingly capable hero who rights all wrongs be a variation on our desire to see an omnipotent God come back and fix the universe? What’s the difference between destroying the enemy in action movies and redeeming them in the Bible?
~It bothers me tremendously when objectively great movies (like Red) do significantly worse at the box office than objectively awful movies (like Expendables). Does this bother you, and it is a healthy reaction?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Being John Malkovich
~The conversation in the Russian embassy.
~Frank with Cooper’s family.
~Taking on the Vice-President.

Overall Grade: A
Original. Unpredictable. Funny. Well-written and acted. A genuinely outstanding action, spy, assassin, conspiracy movie.

Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language and thematic elements.
Length: 133 minutes
Grade: DC-DD=D
Budget: $70 million
Box Office: $145 million (52 U.S., 80 Intl., 13 DVD)

Written by: Allan Loeb (21) and Stephen Schiff (True Crime and Deep End of the Ocean), based on characters created by Stanley Weiser and Oliver Stone.
Directed by: Oliver Stone (W., World Trade Center, Any Given Sunday, Nixon, Natural Born Killers, JFK, The Doors, Born on the Fourth of July, Talk Radio, Wall Street, and Platoon.)
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Michael Douglas, and Carey Mulligan
With: Josh Brolin, Frank Langella, and Eli Wallach.

23 years after the events of the original (and classic) Wall Street, Gordon Gecko is out of prison and his daughter is engaged to an idealistic broker caught up in the middle of the 2008 banking industry collapse, trying to do right, make money, and maybe get some revenge on his own enemy with Gecko’s help.

Entertainment Value: D
This was profoundly disappointing, and it’s actually sort of pathetic in my mind. Oliver Stone made a masterpiece with his original, but he really hasn’t done anything worthwhile other than World Trade Center since the early 90s. And now, in the wake of the economic meltdown, he just couldn’t resist the urge to wade into the old plotline and update it by saying SOMETHING about the current situation. But that something is highly contrived, poorly written, badly acted, and difficult to follow. All this despite the presence of acting powerhouses Josh Brolin, Frank Langella, and of course Michael Douglas. Perhaps the very worst part of it was the weird and inexplicable cameo by Charlie Sheen in which he seems much more like Charlie Sheen than Bud Fox. And maybe I’m the only one, but I found the “twisty” plot to be pretty predictable, at least the parts I wasn’t having trouble following.

Superficial Content: C-
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity B, Violence B, Language D+
This is right on the edge of PG-13 from language alone, but beyond that there isn’t too much else to worry you here. There is a subway suicide, some implied sexuality, and semi-regular drinking and cigar smoking. I’d say R-15, but the good news is younger kids won’t likely have any interest in it anyhow.

Significant Content: D
Despite the hefty themes of money and how it can change you and the importance of family over money, the most successful people in this movie generally represent immorality and selfishness. Also, it seems to endorse revenge and blames the financial system meltdown on greedy jerks who forgot that they were supposed to be the stewards of the system rather than parasites upon it.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
Seriously, what in this movie wouldn’t you already perfectly expect Oliver Stone to say, and then have to listen to him say it throughout the movie? Even the very interesting speech by Gecko at the college lecture hall was just a rip-off from the famous scene from the original and not believable in any case. I think the most hilarious one was the head of the Federal Reserve Bank explaining about how the bailout is socialism, which he’s fought all of his life.

Discussion Questions:
~Does Gecko really change in the end? If you think he has, would you say that this shift is a form of redemption which validates everything that had been suffered to that point? What do you think it would take for the “captains of industry” in the real world to have a shift in social conscience?
~Gecko says it’s not about the money but about the game, implying that money is just a measuring device. What do you think of this idea? How does it explain Brolin’s character and his answer that the number he needs to walk away is, “More.” To what degree is either money or the significance of winning at the money game an idol in various people’s lives here?
~What is the right attitude to have toward money? What does the Bible say?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~The conversation with Shia’s boss in the park.
~Gecko’s speech to the college.
~Entering Gecko’s apartment with the Tulip Bubble picture remaining.
~The final scene with Gecko and the kids.
Overall Grade: D
Hackneyed and poorly executed. A terrible sequel that was made mostly because Oliver Stone just couldn’t resist trying to dive back into the waters that produced the masterful original. Unfortunately, this movie hits its head on the shallow bottom of what was once a pretty deep well. Still, I couldn’t help enjoying the David Byrne reprise.