Saturday, April 9, 2011

Soul Surfer (MPAA rated PG)


Soul Surfer is based on the true story of Bethany Hamilton, the young surfer who had her arm bitten off by a tiger shark when she was 13,  just as her professional surfing career was looking to take off.  Instead of letting the accident control her future, she rebounded with amazing strength and grace to work her way back into the pro circuit. 

This movie was just as amazing as the story itself.  Bethany is played with a phenomenal intensity by AnnaSophia Robb, who does a fantastic job portraying a strong young woman doing her best to recover what was taken from her.  Her parents, Tom and Cheri Hamilton, were lovingly played by Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt, who gave us beautiful glimpses into the fun, loving, and faithful Hamilton family dynamic.  Kevin Sorbo takes the role of Holt Blanchard, a family friend who was the man responsible for getting Bethany out of the water after the shark attack, and is credited with being the one to save her life. All of these talents, combined with am inspiring story to tell, and a great screenwriter, came together to create an absolute vision.

The movie begins with following Bethany through her daily life, full of happiness, family, friends, church, and, of course, surfing.  It gives us a good, solid understanding of Bethany before the life-changing accident.  Though there is a little bit of suspense, the director giving us lots of "Jaws" shots from under the water as people float along the surface of the waves,  it doesn't go overboard into the realm of "oops, did I mistakenly step into a horror flick?".  The accident itself isn't overdone,  merely shown how I'd imagine it occurred: quick and shocking. 

After a week in the hospital, all Bethany can think of is getting back into the water, and she works hard to heal and to gain strength in order to accomplish this.  With the help of her family and her friends and her youth group leader Sara (played by Carrie Underwood), she gets back up and into the water, entering a competition less than a month after the attack occurred.  When the competition doesn't go well, a despondant and confused Bethany decides to stop surfing, trying to figure out who she is supposed to be if she can't be who she wants to be.

After joining Sara on a trip to help the 2004 Thailand tsunami victims, and in seeing the suffering there, she learns that sometimes surfing isn't the most important thing. 

The trip gives her the courage to continue on, and fight to be the best person that she can be, no matter how much she may have lost. 

I really can't express how much this movie moved me.    There is such a loving, gentle touch to the writing, the acting, and even the locations.  I haven't walked out of a movie feeling this inspired in many years.  I especially love how they portrayed the amazing faith of the whole Hamilton family, and how important their beliefs were in helping with Bethany's rehabilitation.  The touch on religion was important, but not heavy-handed or overdone.  The entire film had a dignity to it that has been so sadly lacking in many movies nowadays.

I give Soul Surfer a SOLID 5 stars out of 5.....and I wish there were a 6th!

For the Moms:

The only part of this movie that I would warn about would be the shark attack itself.  It is really fast, and done as gently as possible, but it is pretty striking.  It  may be difficult for smaller kids to watch.  There is no gushing blood, or over-filming of the damage on her arm, but the actors are all vastly talented, and the scene is heart-rending.

Girls will like this movie because it is the ultimate girl-power movie, made even cooler because it is true.  The graceful triumph of Bethany Hamilton through all of her obstacles is absolutely wonderful, and shows us how strong girls can be!

Boys will like this movie because it is VERY cool!  There are multitudes of very good surfing scenes, and the family is funny and playful with one another.  They can also see how awesome girls are!

Topics of Discussion:

In the movie, Bethany makes an effort to make sure that the people around her are okay after she has been bitten.  Why does she do this? How do you think worrying about others may have helped her in her own recovery?

Why does Alana not want to see Bethany right after the accident?  Is she right or wrong to react this way?  How do you think you would react in Alana's place?

While working towards getting back into the water, Bethany's father tells her it isn't going to be easy.  Bethany's response is "I never asked for easy, I'm only asking for possible."  What does this say about Bethany?  How can we use this question in our lives to make them better?

How does Bethanys trip to Thailand help her?  How do you feel when you serve others?  Do you think that service is a good way to make your own life better? If so, how?

When Bethany is attacked, her friends know what to do to help her, and stay calm.  How would being prepared for something like this help you even if this never happens to you?

How important is faith to Bethany?  How did their faith give the family the strength to move forward after the accident?  Do you have faith in something that gives you that strength?  How does the faith help you in your life?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Jane Eyre (MPAA rated PG-13)


 Jane Eyre is rated PG-13 for "some thematic elements including a nude image and brief violent content."  I think that the MPAA needs to reconfigure their rating scales....there is no WAY that "Sucker Punch" and "Jane Eyre" should have the same rating!  I'm just sayin!

OK on to the actual review:  Jane Eyre is a classic story about a young woman who grows through adversity, leading herself to happiness which is then wrenched from her.   It has been done countless times on screen, and this is one of the better incarcations.  Not the BEST, but pretty good. 

Mia Wasikowska plays Jane, a plain young woman with no connections who takes a job as governess for the young ward of the mysterious Mr. Rochester (played by Michael Fassbender). Hired by the housekeeper, Mr.' Fairfax (as portrayed by the ever-amazing Dame Judi Dench),  she meets her employer only after spooking his horse on a lonely lane, landing him with a sprained ankle and an interest in the ethereal sprite who he finds in his employ. 

First I must make a special mention about the casting of this version.  It is absolutely gorgeous!  Mia Wasikowska does a splendid job of creating a quiet strength in the character of Jane that is simple, honest, and true to the spirit of the book.  Likewise Michael Fassbender, thank heavens, is NOT handsome, but is highly charismatic and strong,  guiding his version of Mr. Rochester just as honestly alongside Jane.    Dame Judi Dench...well, she's Judi Dench.....there's nothing more to say! 

As for the screenplay, I am a bad person to ask about that.  They sacrificed many of my favorite parts of the book in order to fit the movie into its 2 hour slot, but they did stay true to the feel of the story.  This rendition starts in an odd place, backtracking through both short and extensive flashbacks to catch up with itself,  which is both interesting and slightly annoying.  It also ends far too abruptly, and I have to wonder how much of the movie is lying sadly on a cutting room floor somewhere.  It feels slightly lacking in places; but again, I don't know if that is because I know the book backwards and forwards, or because it is actually will have to decide that for yourselves!

The costuming is also lovely.  BBC always does a fantastic job with creating realistic period costuming, and they did a beautiful job with it once again! 

All in all, this is a beautiful telling of a beautiful story, portrayed beautifully by talented actors in a beautiful location!  I wished fervently for more, and walked out of the theater feeling serenely happy.  I give the movie 5 stars.  I wished for more, and wouldn't have minded sitting there for another hour to see some of the cut scenes...I am praying for a director's cut version when it comes to DVD!  I am also planning on showing this version to my daughters and hoping that they become interested in the story because of it and finally read the book!

* * * * *
For the Moms
Language:  Thanks to the writers sticking pretty close to the book, there is no serious language in this movie.  References are made to Hell, and that is about as bad as the language gets.

Nudity: Part of the PG-13 rating is due to the image of a painting of a naked woman (I'm not an art person, aside from just liking it, but think of Michaelangelo paintings....those kinds of nudes).  Other than the painting, the likes of which are in many museums aroun the world, there is nothing.

Violence:  there is a crazy woman in the movie who sets the house on fire twice, and Mr. Rochester attacks another character in a moment of passion. There are also  brief images of children being caned during school, and fighting amongst one another.

Boys will like this movie because Mr. Rochester is a man's man; strong, confident and very in charge. 

Girls will like this movie because it has a wonderfully romantic storyline, headed by a strong, solid woman who possesses grace and poise. 

Topics for Discussion
In the movie, Jane does not turn out to be a bad person at all, despite her difficult upbringing and all of the losses which she endures as a child.  Why do you think that she became a kind, good person instead of letting the abuse turn her into a mean person?  What did she rely on when the people around her let her down?

Mr. Rochester wants Jane to go against a social tradition and marry him.  Instead of agreeing, she leaves.  Why did she do this?  What was more important to her than Mr. Rochester's happiness?  Was she strong to make the decision that she made?

How much can the actions of others affect who we let ourselves turn into?  What can we draw strength from when the people around us behave badly?

How is society the same, and how is it different from the world of Charlotte Bronte?  Do you think that it is better or worse now?  Why?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Girlfriend's Boyfriend (2010, MPAA rated PG)


Now, I know that I've been reviewing movies that are out in theaters in mainstream circulation, but I saw this today on my Netflix Streaming, and I just adored it!  So you all get exposed to it, too!  So there!

My Girlfriend's Boyfriend was released in 2010, and I don't know how I missed it!  It opens with a young writer, Ethan (played with an endearing charm by Christopher Gorham), getting turned down at a publishers house yet again.  He retreats to a small cafe where his waitress Jesse (captured well by the talented Alyssa Milano), spurred into action by her loving uncle's (Beau Bridges...I love that guy!) teasing,  introduces herself to him. The connection between them is immediate and very sweet and humorous.  Sadly, 5 minutes later, a strong, confident Troy (Michael Landes...who I was prepared to hate on Ethan's behalf, but just couldn't!) walks in and asks Jesse out.  Troy and Ethan seem to have a lot in common, and they both click well with Jesse as she gets to know both of them....but who will she ultimately choose? 

This movie is so sweet, and so endearing, and so tempered with humor and wit, it made me happy watching it.  There are strong foundations in the characters' lives of values and love, and everyone treats everyone else with strength, poise, and consideration.  Beautiful examples of loving families who care for one another, and fight for one another's happiness litter the story, giving it a depth that is so sadly lacking in many of today's Rom-Coms.  If I was 16 again, going on my first date, this movie would be so beautifully perfect!  It brings back the idea that dating isn't about hopping into the sack at a specific point in a timeline, or moving in together after a month.  Dating is about getting to know one another.  Dating is about those sweet, awkward moments where nerves get in the way of being your best self, but the other person sees your best self shine through the nervousness.  Dating is about getting the opportunity to fly during that first sweet kiss, and being able to savor it for the special moment that it is. 

Have I said that I liked this movie?

I won't even say anything else about this movie, except this:  If you like romantic comedies, you will like this one!

I give this movie 5 stars out of 5.  I couldn't find a single thing that I thought horrible or wrong with it. 

For the moms:

Language:  nope, not a problem!

Violence:  None (unless you count the teasing of beloved brothers)

Sexuality:  Not a problem.  The main characters indulge in some very beautiful kisses, but there is no nudity or overt sensuality.

Boys will like this movie because the characters tease and play with one another.  There is a good amount of silly humor to the script, but this really is more a girls movie.

Girls will love this movie because it is sweet, romantic, fun, and ends happily.  A Happily Ever After for the 21st century!  Yay!

Topics of Discussion:

What is the ultimate purpose of dating?  Did the characters go about it well or badly?

How would you have behaved if you were in Jesse's position? Would you have done the same as she did? Why did she choose to hide her "secret"?

Does family have a part in the dating life?  If so, why? If not, why not?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sucker Punch PG-13


Sucker Punch is pretty much what it tells you it's going to be:  a high-impact, CGI-laced, weapons-blazing girl-power extravaganza.  Pretty much.  Kinda.  Well, there are definitely PARTS that are all that!  Sadly, the other parts are kind of slow, a little contrived, and a trifle self-aggrandizing. 

The story begins as the mother of two young girls passes away, leaving them with their Evil Step-Father.  After a tense situation between Baby Doll (played with wide eyed innocence by Emily Browning) and the E.S.F., the girl is sent to a lunatic asylum, where the ordely is paid off to get her lobotomized (oooh, all this AND lobotomies?  SWEET!)

Up until this part, the story is easily followed.  AFTER this part, you're not quite sure what, exactly, is going on.  Somewhere along the way Baby Doll falls into a world inside her own imagination that gives her a chance to find the keys to the release from the asylum for her and the other imprisoned girls.   In her imagination, the asylum is a brothel, and all the girls are "dancers" held under the mafia-tastic thumb of the orderly/pimp Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac) and directed by the Madam/therapist Dr Gorski (Carla Gugino....who plays up her fabulous face and form with some seriously gorgeous costuming).

Long story short (too late),  Baby Doll is apparently a very talented dancer who can transport the viewer into insensibility, and herself and her fellow "dancers" into a magical world in which she is guided by a strange and wise man (Scott Glenn) to find the keys to their escape. 

FINALLY!!!  The entire reason I went to go and see this movie was for the Final Fantasy-esque battle scenes full of giant Samurai warriors, zombie Nazis, dragons, orcs, androids, and chicks with machine guns and a varying assortment of bladed weapons.  The battle scenes were full of imagination, fantastic music, great sci-fi special effects, and girls in short skirts working everything from choppers to a bunny-faced battle machine.  Everything you need to feel like you are inside your favorite video game!  Over-saturated colors, gravity-defying leaps into the air, and never-ending ammunition gave me the fun adrenaline rush that I had been waiting for.

Sadly, it was too little, too late.  The long, dry stretches between battle scenes, and the "wait, what is ACTUALLY happening here?" factor made it a fun movie, but not a great one.    The girls all did a great job with what they were given ( special props to Vanessa Hudgeons, who dirties down from her squeaky clean image pretty darn well as Blondie....thank heavens, now I don't have to think of HSM when I see her!).  They kicked butt and took names, and looked FAB doing it...but it just wasn't enough.

I give this movie 3 out of 5 stars....I was going to give it 2, but the battle scenes were really just down my alley (I'm a geek-in-disguise with a "girls rock!" fetish, what can I say?), so I popped in another star just because it made me happy!


For the Moms:

Language:  I have a feeling that they kept the language pretty light so that they could rack up the ratings points on content and violence.  Several "S-H" words mainly, but nothing horrifying.

Sexual content:  The entire movie's premise lies on the basic situation of a young girl being sexually abused by a guardian,  then put into a brothel.  there is no nudity, but the situations are really not good ones at all,  very sexually charged, with young girls taking the brunt of the sexuality hits.  Several scenes of attempted rape, though never actually "showing" anything, are disturbing enough in and of themselves.

Violence:  Loads and loads of it.  Both "real" and "imaginary".  The main violence is very video-game like, with the girls fighting imaginary beings.  However, there are portions of physical abuse and fighting between the characters themselves.

All in all, I would much rather this movie had made an R rating.  It never crosses the line on paper, but in spirit it does.  It's too much for kids to deal with, put into a video-game package. 

For the boys:  Boys will love the action and all of the amazing creatures created for the girls to fight.  Lots of blades, guns, bombs, zeppelins, and tricked-out helicoptors make it pretty exciting

For the girls:  Girls kicking cute outfits, too!  What more could we want?

Again, I would recommend treating this as an R rating.  Don't take a 13 year old girl to's just not the greatest subject matter for youngsters to deal with.

Topics of discussion:

How far is "too far" when fighting to save a loved one?  Is there a right and a wrong way to go about saving someone?

People can and do retreat into their own minds during crises.  Is this a strength or a weakness?

In the movie, Dr. Gorski tries to "help" the girls to deal with their fate, instead of helping them to escape.  How is she right or wrong?  If she tried to just help them escape, would she be helping them more or less, seeing as how she would most likely have been killed herself?

If we are witnesses to a situation where someone is taking advantage of others, what is the best way to handle it?  Who do we tell?  What do we say?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Due Date (R)

Due Date is rated a well-deserved R by the MPAA for language and drug use, mainly. 

This is why I don't like it when people tell me how drop-dead hilarious a movie is.  It just didn't stand up to the hype I've gotten, so I was pretty disappointed.  There were some humorous elements, and each of the leading men (Robert Downey Jr and Zach Galifianakis) were amusing at times, but it just wasn't the roll on the floor riot-fest that I was expecting.  Much of this was due to several of the "humorous" situations....yeah, I don't find them as funny as others may.  Getting an unwilling participant high is really NOT funny to me.  The overuse of the F word is also not humorous to me. It was rampantly present, and didn't add a darn thing to the movie.  Public masterbation just doesn't make me burst into hysterical laughter.

It was also one of those movies where you spend the entire time thinking "dude, you're being an idiot.  Why don't you just do {{x, y, or z}} in order to fix this problem? Easy peasy, done and done."  Right from the beginning, it was further on the absurd side that I like, but not so far on the absurd side that it becomes funny again.  I really just wanted to throttle both of the main characters.  Zach Galifianakis lacks the endearing sweetness that would make his character a bit more palatable, and RDJ, much as I generally adore him, seemed half-hearted in his reactions most of the time, and his inevitable turnaround to the point where he becomes besty's for ever with just seemed too sudden and incomprehensible to me.

All in all, I'm glad that I wasn't subjected to Z.G.s naked tush at any point during this movie (which I was kind of expecting, to be honest), but that's about as far as I'm going to go.

I give this movie 2 out of 5 stars (I know, I many of my friends are going to HATE me for this one!  But it's what I think :)


For the Moms:
First of all, I want to say one thing:  In my opinion, kids  should NEVER be allowed to watch this movie. There are no good role models, nor are there any parts which make me think that it would be beneficial if its contents were to be embedded in a child's brain.  That being said:

Language.  This movie has it.  Lots of it. Perpetually.  All over the place.  Lots.
Drugs (marijuana).  This movie has it.  Lots of it. Perpetually. All over the place. Lots.
Luckily for all of our retinas, there is no nudity in this one.  However, there is a scene in which (without anything being shown)  Zach Galifianakis' character proceeds to masturbate in front of RDJ's character.
There are also several situations in which the troublesome twosome break many, many laws without much in the way of justice catching up with them....unless being subjected to one anothers' company is justice....which, in this case, just might have been.

The boys might like this movie because there is a lot of physical humor. 

Girls might like this movie because the dog in it is pretty cute.

Topics of discussion:

What did the two main characters do wrong right from the beginning?  What would proper behaviour be in dealing with airplane travel?  How are being calm and talking about your problems going to get you out of bad situations?

Was the marijuana used as a medicinal aid, or was it abused?  Should you ever subject an unwilling person to drug use?  Why or why not?

The two main characters ended up respecting one another. How did this respect lead to them having a better relationship?  When you respect others, is it easier to deal with their failings?

Why was it so important for RDJ to get to his wife's side?  Why did he place such a high value on becoming a father?

Was he justified in breaking laws and being a danger to others simply because his wife was having a baby?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Skyline (PG-13)


Skyline, due to be released on DVD, was rated PG-13 by the MPAA.....I'm thinking it should have been rated R, for Ridiculous.

In this alien-invasion flick, the aliens are coming to take us away, ha-ha!  They need something that we have in order for them to live.....our brains!!!

The movie begins with old friends Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and Terry (Donald Faison, from Scrubs) reuniting in Terry's swank digs in L.A.  Terry is now a hot recording star, and has brought Jarrod, an artist, out to offer him a swank new job so that he, too, can afford swank new digs.  The problem(s)?  well, Terry is cheating on his wife, and Jarrod's girlfriend is newly preggers, which is freaking Jarrod out.  Oh, yeah, and Aliens are invading to take people's brains.

During the course of the movie, several other characters are introduced to us.  The plucky superintendant of the swank condo complex, a random couple from the parking garage...several people for us NOT to care too much about.  The group, after much soap-opera styled drama and debating, decides that they need to get to a boat and escape to the ocean (because the aliens will NEVER find them there!).   They are repeatedly attacked by the extra terrestrials on the way to the parking garage, and, after a few brains are consumed, decide that hiding in the apartment is a better, wait, the aliens find them there, too (crazy how smart these aliens are!),  oh no!  Head for the boat again!  No, wait, the ROOF is the best plan!

I must say, by the end of the film, I was rooting for the aliens. 

There was not a single character in this film that I liked, despite the fact that I was predisposed to like the two main actors (I'm a big fan of Scrubs, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the first episode of which featured Eric Balfour).  They were all catty, obnoxious, rather stupid, and morally annoying, if not reprehensible.  The alien special effects were serviceable, but in no way amazing enough to even begin to give this epic monstrosity any kind of redemption.  In fact, the only interesting bit of the entire movie occurred during the closing credits! 

I give this plodding disappointment one out of five stars....and it only gets that one because the sound effects were kind of neat.


For the moms:
There is a lot of violence in this movie, both from the aliens ripping peoples' brains out and from people being generally nasty towards one another.  There are some highly charged situations in which the people are attempting to hide from the aliens that are rather intense. 

As far as sexuality is concerned, there are several situations involving characters having affairs, as well as a premarital pregnancy.  There isn't nudity, but there are scantily clad females.

There is a bit of language in this movie, but not enough to push it over into an R rating.  Lots of swearing as the characters run from the big-bad-brain-eaters.

The aliens are interesting, but very large, loud, and rather creepy.  They are not humanoid, but are much more "monster" like.

I really don't recommend this movie for anyone, child, teenager, or adult.  It had absolutely no redeeming values to it whatsoever.  However...

Boys might like this movie because the special effects and alien CGIs are pretty neat. The sound effects are also nice and loud and scary, which gives you a nice little adrenaline rush.

Girls might like this movie because......well, gosh. I honestly can't think of anything.  If your girls like sound effects and CGI,  that's pretty much all this movie offers!

Topics to Discuss:

While we don't have any threat of alien invasion (that we know of),  we do have other disasters that may occur. Discuss whether the characters were prepared or not for such an emergency. Discuss different ways that you can be prepared in case of emergency (or alien attack).

There are several examples of relationships in this movie.  Discuss how you can make a relationship work, and whether or not the characters had good relationships with one another.  Talk about how trusting one another can help during a crisis.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

General Review

It's really difficult to do a "new" alien movie nowadays.  With the advance of special effects, so much has been possible, but it seems to have mostly been done.  This movie, in which aliens invade the earth for its resources (this time it is our water that they want), is a pretty cookie cutter incarnation of the Alien Invasion genre.  Stranded in the middle of the battlegrounds, a platoon with a war-weary Staff Seargent (Aaron Eckhart, who does a good job at being tough, but accessible) must fight their way out, only to realize that they are the only ones who can stop the encroaching menace.  Oh, and yes, they also have a small bands of civilians which they must get to safety.  Same old, same old, really.

That being said, I did enjoy the movie.  Sometimes the classics are the classics for a reason.  They work.  The aliens were fun and interesting, the sound effects creepy and heart-jarring, and the different personalities of the Marines shone through pretty well. The camera work was that shaky "I'm running right along with them" work, which I can live without, but it didn't resort to that style to an absurd degree.  I'm also always a sucker for Michelle Rodriquez.  Anytime that woman is given a gun and told to kick some butt, I'm happy.    It was 2 hours of lots of running, jumping. shooting, explosions, and a nice, simple plot line that didn't get in the way of said running, jumping, shooting, and explosions. 

I also enjoyed the fact that this is a movie that highlights the honor and dedication with which the soldiers in the Armed Forces serve.  The platoon had its internal struggles, but there was a good underlying strength that shone through the little bit of drama tossed in to make them more human.

All in all, I had a good 2 hours, and I don't want my money or my time back.  Standard plot, solid, if not amazing, acting, some good special effects....I'm happy!

3 out of 5 stars

(some small spoilers, so be prepared)

The language in this movie is VERY light for a military based movie. However, it IS a military movie. There are several Sh** words, and a few G-D's, and a single F bomb used during a pep talk before heading into the final battle.  Not bad when it's 2 hours of Marines!

There are a lot of very loud portions in which the noises made are very creepy and unnerving, and vision is highly obscured.  These portions are pretty intense, and may not be suitable for your kiddos.  There are a lot of dead bodies lying around, but surprisingly little gore, aside from one sight of a badly burned woman's body.  The main characters are oin constant danger, and the aliens will be pretty darn scary looking to a young one. 

There is a scene in which (spoiler, but not too bad of one) the platoon captures a barely-living alien, and tries to figure out with certainty where to strike it in order to kill it. There is a lot of stabbing, and "look, there's an organ, try that one" to it, and some alien innnards are shown, as well as the basic savagery of ultimate survival. 

Topics of discussion:

You may want to discuss the difference between torture and trying to define a route to your own survival with your kids.

You may also like to talk about the Armed Forces' views on "Leave no man behind" and how that kind of focus takes a different kind of bravery.

The boys will like this movie because...well, heck.  Lots of explosions, aliens, giant spaceships making noises like a moose and an elephant both being stepped on at the same time, grenades, missiles, and loads of action.  This is definitely a boy's movie!

The girls may like the fact that not only is Michelle Rodriguez present, but she is capable, and accepted by the Marine platoon which she ends up joining forces with.  One of the female civilians, also, is a very strong character who shows bravery and tenacity in a difficult situation.