Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Finest Hours features a truly honorable hero

Movie Title:     The Finest Hours

Grade:   B

Rating:   PG-13, 1 hour 57 minutes

In a Nutshell:  
This movie honors the heroes who participated in the greatest small-boat rescue in Coast Guard history.  

Based on the book by the same name, the film seems almost old-fashioned, as if it were made in 1952 when the rescue took place.

Uplifting theme: 
  • When life gets hard, we have to have hope and take action.  Casey Affleck’s character, Ray Sybert, says at one point, “I’m scared too.  I got a life just as you.  I just don’t see any point standing around talking about it.”
  • Chris Pine’s character, Bernie Webber, states “We all live.  We all die.”  True. We’re all in this thing we call life together, so we might as well help each other.
  • The unwavering courage demonstrated in this true story is extremely inspiring.  All of the characters were afraid.  I love the quote attributed to Ambrose Redmoon, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather, the judgement that something is more important than fear.”

Things I liked: 
  • Ahhh, Chris Pine.  He gives a solid performance and nails the New England accent. Thankfully, his baby blues were sephia-toned down a bit in this film so that I wouldn’t be so distracted by gawking at them the entire time.
  • It's fun to love a bad-boy who kicks butt in an action film, but it’s so refreshing to have a protagonist in a movie who is kind, obedient, and respectful.  Bernie Webber was an incredible man.   
  • I love it when a movie includes photographs of the real people in history at the end of the film.  I love it even more when the actors actually look like the people they are portraying, which is the case in this film.
  • The sound effects were chilling.
  • The special effects are effective and believable.
  • Can you imagine how unpleasant the filming conditions must have been for the actors and crew? 
  • Actress Holliday Grainger was perfectly cast.  She looked like she really stepped out of the 1950’s.

Things I didn’t like:
  • You might get a little bit sea sick.  I had to close my eyes a few times so I wouldn't feel nauseated.
  • Sometimes it’s hard to hear what everyone is saying with all of the waves and other things crashing around in the background.
  • Bring a jacket to the theater.  Seeing all that snow and icy water might make you cold.
  • Although I didn’t know the details of the rescue before I watched the movie, everything was pretty predictable and straight-forward.  There were no surprises.
  • It could have used a little bit more of humor.  
  • The land scenes are a bit dull, but the ocean scenes are extremely engaging.

Interesting lines:
  • “In the Coast Guard they say you go out.  They don’t say you gotta come back.” – Bernie Webber
  • “Just relax and be patient.” – Bernie, teaching Miriam how to dance.  That was kind of his philosophy throughout the entire ordeal.

Tips for parents:   

  •  This is a serious film.  Although it’s a Disney movie, it definitely does not have a light-hearted “happily-ever-after” tone to it.
  • There are some deaths and tense moments that might frighten very young children.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3 shares insights on fatherhood and self-worth

Movie Title:       Kung Fu Panda 3

Grade:  A-

Rating:  PG, 1 hour 40 minutes        

In a Nutshell:  I loved the first one and don't even remember what happened in the second one, but this new addition in the Kung Fu Panda franchise should get a thumbs up from fans of all ages.  It builds on the fun tradition of the Panda movies and adds new, delightful characters that top off the trilogy.

I got to meet James Hong recently at an event I attended.  In Kung Fu Panda , he plays Mr. Ping, Po’s adopted goose father, who has some profound insights into fatherhood in this installment of the animated trilogy.  There are also some very sweet messages about self-worth and unconditional love.  It's a fun family film everyone will enjoy.

Here's a picture of  James Hong and I together:

Uplifting theme: 
  •  “If you never do more than you can do, you will never be more than you are now.” – Shifu (Dustin Hoffman)
  • “Your real strength comes from being your best you.” – Po (Jack Black)
  • “When will you realize the more you take, the less you have?” – Oogway (Randall Duk Kim)
  • “Before the battle of the fist, comes the battle of the mind.” – Shifu
  • “No matter what kind of animal you are, change starts with you.” - Shifu

Things I liked:
  • Beautiful colors and scenery.
  • Cute transitions between scenes.
  • Absolutely adorable Dreamworks logo presentation at the beginning of the movie.
  • There was a lot of discussion about inner peace and chi.  Chi is described as power and the energy that flows through all living things.  Shifu explains that mastery of chi is mastery of self.  That's something we all need to work on.  Well, at least I do!
  • Watch the rolling credits at the end and you’ll notice that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s children are some of the voice actors!  Voice talents of some of the other new characters include the amazing Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons and Kate Hudson.
  • There is an elegance about this movie that successfully captures the search for inner peace, nature, and understanding that many Asian cultures are known for.
  • The Hans Zimmer score was really nice.

Things I didn’t like:
  •  Some of the chaotic mayhem gets a little tiresome.
  • It’s never quite explained how Po’s father lived, yet his mother did not.
  • It was nice to have a lot of new characters introduced, some of them absolutely adorable, although that gave less time for the original cast to shine.  Even Jack Black's panda got overshadowed at times.
  • The song at the end kind of the movie cracked me up.  It’s the 1974 Carl Douglas hit song Kung Fu Fighting but with the words changed to: “Everyone is Kung Fu Fighting.  Our chi is what we’re finding…”
  • The transition from mortality to beyond and back is a bit...fuzzy.
  • Without all of the adorable pandas to go crazy over, this third film would have probably ended in a thud.  Watch the sale of stuffed panda bears skyrocket!
  • I would have loved to see more of Kate Hudson's new panda character Mei Mei.  Her confidence was hilarious.

Funny lines:
  •  “I’ve always thought I wasn’t eating up to my full potential.” – Po
  • “You’ll never be able to save the world on an empty stomach.” – Ping
  • “We’re pandas.  We don’t do stairs.” – Li
“I’ve waited my whole life to hear those words.” – Po
  • “Just a little more confusing, Master, and you’ll be the next Oogway.” – Shifu
  • “I think I just peed a little.” - Po
Interesting lines about fatherhood:
  • “Your son got mad at you.  Welcome to parenthood.” – Mr. Ping (James Hong)
  • “Having you in his life doesn’t mean less for me.  It means more for him.” – Mr. Ping to Li

Tips for parents:   

  • This is a safe family film for all ages.  The villain, Kai, is somewhat comical at times and even the bad “jade zombies” aren’t scary.
  • No profanity. 
  • Expect your kids to start asking about taking Kung Fu lessons.
  • This is a great opportunity to teach your children about Ying/Yang, balance in life, and the need for opposition in all things for growth.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Ride Along 2 is a lazy sequel

Movie Title:     Ride Along 2

Grade:  D for Dumb

Rating:  PG-13, 1 hour 42 minutes

In a Nutshell:    If you liked the first one, you’ll laugh again.  If you thought the first Ride Along was lame and annoying, then you’ll definitely want to skip this one.  Produced by Ice Cube, this action flick features lazy mayhem, Kevin Hart’s exaggerated physical comedy, and tired shenanigans.

Uplifting theme: 
  •  Family matters.

Things I liked:
  • This buddy cop sequel features Ice Cube and Kevin Hart, who undoubtedly have great chemistry together.
  • Tika Sumpter is beautiful.
  • Lots of fun music.
  • The cell phone scene in the store was pretty funny.  You know you’re low on someone’s “favorites” list if the ring tone they select for you is the Apple default.   
  • Benjamin Bratt and Olivia Munn join the ensemble.

Things I didn’t like:
  • Ken Jeong can always be counted on for nasty laughs.  Did you know he was actually a doctor?  He has a new TV sitcom coming out based on his real life called “Dr. Ken.”
  • Lots of rude and bad behavior.
  • Kevin Hart is both adorable and annoying.  This is not his best movie.
  • Lots of irritating screaming and nonsense.

Funny lines:
  • “I don’t compliment no marshmallow.” – James Payton (Ice Cube)
  • “Do you ever hear the XXX that flies out of your mouth?” - James
“No.” – Ben Barber (Kevin Hart)
  • “Quiet.  The adults are talking.” –Lt. Brooks (Bruce McGill)
  • “Look at me.  Don’t look at me.  Look at me.  Don’t look at me…that was a test.” – Ben
  • “I’d love a wonton or two.  It’s not racist if I say it.” – A.J. (Ken Jeong)

Tips for parents:   

  • Lots of scantily clad women.  Tons.
  • Lots of profanity.  Tons.
  • Pre-marital relations.
  • Lots of shooting and fighting.

The 5th Wave mixes elements from every dystopian teen movie you've seen before

Movie Title:  THE 5th WAVE

  5th Wave, The

Grade:  C

Rating:  PG-13, 1 hour 52 minutes

In a Nutshell:    I think this is the 5th wave of teen dystopian moviesUnfortunately, it’s nothing you haven’t seen already with elements from Red Dawn (I loved the first one), Independence Day (loved the first one), Divergent (liked the first one), and even The Walking Dead (horrified and then addicted to the first one). 

Those drones aren’t the ones from Amazon.  It’s another teens vs. grownups movie….um…teens vs. aliens movie.  Of course, the teens are smarter than both grownups and aliens. 

Cassie asks rhetorically, “How do you rid the earth of humans?  First, you rid the humans of their humanity.”  Or…you make really dumb movies so they want to kill themselves.

Uplifting theme: 
  • “Love’s not a trick.  It’s real.” – Evan Walker (Alex Roe-Brown)
  • “The others see our hope as a weakness, as a delusion, but they’re wrong.  It’s our hope that lets us survive, that lets us bend, but remain unbroken.  It’s our hope that will let us win some day.  It’s our hope that makes us human.” – Cassie (Chloe Grace Moretz)

Things I liked:
  •  I’ve always liked Chloe Grace Moretz, who plays Cassie, the heroine in the story.  She has quite a long film history, considering how young she is.
  • Some of the transitions were cool.
  • I always like a good twist.
  • I liked the version of “I was born in a thunderstorm” song at the end.

Things I didn’t like:
  • Some of the special effects look pretty lame.
  • Some of the acting was really terrible.  Black eye-linered Maika Monroe’s character, Ringer, was so clich├ęd and stiff that it was laughable.  So was Maria Bello’s character, Sergeant Reznik.
  • Cookie-cutter romance scene where someone accidentally stumbles upon a good-looking person bathing in a lake. 
  • Zackary Arthur sure is adorable, but needs time to develop his acting skills.
  • There are a lot of really dark scenes that make it hard to see what’s happening.
  • SPOILER:  Unfortunately, the movie ends with a wink to a sequel.  Uggg.  Please don’t let there be a 6th wave.
  • The trailer shows scenes that don’t actually play in the movie.  Odd.  Did I blink and miss them?
  • Did you see the poster for the movie “Big Fish”?   Was it a random ad placement or is there some reason behind it?  Does anyone know?
  • An awkward love triangle made me laugh out loud.  Are the directors hoping to spur on a fan debate like we saw with the Twilight series?  I mean, why would you choose Ben Parish when Evan Walker is an option?   (wink)
  • Dumb character names like Dumbo, Fintstone, Poundcake.
  • The first act was actually pretty compelling, but then it turned into every other dystopian YA movie you've ever seen.  What a shame.

Funny lines:
  • “Are we still alive?” – Teacup
“I think so.” – Zombie
  • “You want me to shoot you?” – Ringer
“Don’t pretend you haven’t thought about it.” - Zombie
  • “I was named after Ben & Jerry’s.  Truth!  Nothing made him happier than ice cream.”  - Ben Parish/Zombie (Nick Robinson)

Interesting lines:
  • “No more everything we took for granted.” – Cassie
  • “I thought we were safe here.” - Cassie
“Pumpkin, there’s nothing safe anymore.” – Oliver Sullivan (Ron Livingston)
  • “We’re not fighting the 5th wave.  We ARE the 5th wave.” – Zombie

Tips for parents:   

  • Some profanity, shooting, and blood.
  • Lots of guns and shooting.  LOTS.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Woodlawn blends football with faith

Are you ready for some football?   The Superbowl is coming up soon, so I thought I'd review a football movie you may have missed when it hit theaters a few months ago.

Movie Title:     Woodlawn

Grade:  A-

Rating:  PG, 2 hours 3 minutes

In a Nutshell:    Based on a true story, Woodlawn High School’s glory emerges out of faith during the race wars in the 1960’s and 70’s. Directed by siblings Jon and Andrew Erwin, this film creates a powerful mixture of religion and gridiron drama.     

This is one of the better Christian movies I’ve seen in awhile.  It’s kind of like a Sunday School lesson with some football added in.  But it’s a really good Sunday School lesson. 
We’re told by the narrator, “Something’s bigger than football, bigger than winning.”  Sean Astin’s character (Hank) explains, “This is what happens when God shows up.”

Uplifting theme: 
  •  The movie begins with a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
  • “Some call what happened here a miracle, and there is only one explanation, only one way any of this could have happened.” – Coach Gerealds  (Nic Bishop)
  •  “Rise up!” – preacher (DeVon Franklin)
  • “Believe.  No fear.” – written on one of the player’s helmets
  • “Adversity is the crucible of greatness.” – Coach Gerelds

Things I liked:
  • Great sweeping music by Paul Mills.  Sometimes it’s a bit overdone for the moment, but I still really enjoyed it.
  • Football fans will get to see some cool plays and crunches.  I’m always amazed how they film those scenes.
  • I love the demonstration of the candles in the stadium.  Change can begin with only one person.  Expect to see Christians holding up 1 finger often.
  • We tend to see the same actors in Christian movies, but this film introduces us to a lot of new faces, including Nic Bishop, who plays a likeable Coach Tandy Gerelds and the fantastic Caleb Castille, who plays Tony Nathan.
  • I love Sean Astin in anything.  (How could you not love Mr. Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings?)
  • Jon Voight and Sherri Shepherd play small roles, but are both nice additions.
  • The relationships that are built are sweet and inspiring.  You care about the characters and their journey and growth.
  • The “Jesus Revolution” really was featured in Time Magazine.  The very end of the movie shows footage from the famous stadium event that started it all, as well as an invitation to join the movement, listing dates in 2016 with websites for more information.  One thing I really admire about Christian movies lately is that they leave audiences with a call to action.

Things I didn’t like:
  • It’s definitely heavy on the preaching side.
  • It’s fairly predictable, but still stirring.

Interesting lines:
  • “A time and a place for everything.  Ain’t that what the good book says?” – Paul Bryant (Jon Voight)
  • “Winning fixes just about everything, doesn’t it?” – Coach Gerelds
  • “Let me tell you something Jesus said: ‘I am the way.  I am the truth.  I am the light.’ And that means something to me, because I let it mean something to me.” – Hank
  • “I’m asking you to choose Jesus.  Can you do that?  Will you do that?” – Hank
  • “What just happened?” – Coach Gerelds
  • “I just let an untrained religious nut convert the whole team.  The whole team.” – Coach Gerelds
“Is that good or bad?” –  Debbie (Virginia Williams)
“I don’t know.” – Coach Gerelds
  • “Why don’t you all go out there and show me what you believe.” – Coach Gerelds
  • “Maybe God is testing us to see if our commitment is real, not just to win football games.” – Hank
  • “When you play for yourself, you can be great, but when you play for something higher than yourself, something extraordinary can happen.” – Hank
  • “I believe in what I can see.” – Coach Gerelds
“With all respect Coach, you better start looking around.” – Banks Assistant Coach (Danny Vinson)
“What is more important than winning football games?  You are.”  - Coach Gerelds
  • “Do you believe in miracles?” – customer in insurance store
“Yes, I do.  I am one.” – Coach Gerelds
  •  National Geographic wrote about the big game that’s featured in this movie as being “undeniably spiritual, supernatural even.” 

Tips for parents:   

  • Birmingham bombings are mentioned in the beginning to show the terrible state of race relations that existed in 1970.  Young children and even teens may not know about those historical, turbulent times in Alabama.
  • You might need to explain the principle of “separation of church and state” that this movie discusses.
  • No profanity.  How refreshing.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Suffragette movie honors women who sacrificed so much for our voting rights

Movie Title:    Suffragette

Grade:  B+

Rating:  PG-13, 1 hour 46 minutes

In a Nutshell:    I teach a Politics class at a local college, so I was especially excited to see how Focus Features would handle this period piece in film.

The story is compelling and yet, it's only a short introduction to what some of our female forebears went through to secure for us the right to vote.   With a presidential election occurring in the United States this year, how many of you will take the time to vote?  Do you appreciate your right to vote?

The list of countries and the dates that women were given the right to vote is shown at the very end of the movie.  What’s surprising is the absence of many countries around the world who have still not granted women’s suffrage.

Uplifting theme: 
  •  Like all rights, we who have them often forget the terrible price that was paid to have governments recognize and protect them.
  • The ability to effect social change always requires sacrifice.
  • “Never underestimate the power we women have to define our own destinies.” – Emmeline Pankhurst
  • “We do not want to be law breakers.  We want to be law makers.” – Emmeline Pankhurst
  • “Never surrender.  Never give up the fight.” – Emmeline Pankhurst
  • “If it’s right for men to fight for their freedom, then it’s right for women to fight for theirs.” - Maud (Carey Mulligan)
  • What rights are you willing to lose everything in order to gain?

Things I liked:
  • The incredibly talented cast includes Carey Mulligan (I adore her), Meryl Streep (who doesn’t adore her?), Helena Bonham Carter (talented character actress), and Brendan Gleeson (I really hated him by the end of the movie).
  • If you continue to think about a movie after watching it, then it's a good movie, right?
  • The sets were generally believable.  Nice job.
  • Your heart will break for these women.  Nice job.
  • The main events illustrated in the film were historically accurate.
  • It will leave you wanting to know more.
  • Abi Morgan, who also wrote “The Iron Lady” (which I loved), creates interesting characters who have internal struggles of morality and doing what's right.
Things I didn’t like:
  • After decades of being ignored on the issue of women’s suffrage, Emmeline Pankhurst issued a call for civil disobedience.  It definitely caught everyone’s attention, and the women involved felt they had no other option in order to be taken seriously.  Some people in today's society feel the same way about certain issues. Unfortunately, it's a dangerous course of action.  As Brendan Gleeson's character states, “Violence doesn’t discern.  It takes the innocent and the guilty.”
  • The majority of the men are portrayed as disgraceful monsters.
  • Meryl Streep gets very little screen time (4 minutes).  Shame.  To learn more about her character, check out the 2007 film "Suffragettes'.
  • All of the bad reviews I've seen about this film were written by men.

Interesting lines:
  • “You want me to respect the law?  Then make the law respectable.”  - Violet Cambridge (Anne-Marie Duff)
  • “It’s deeds, not words that will get us the vote.” – Helena Bonham Carter
  • “We break windows.  We burn things, because war is the only thing men listen to.” – Violet Cambridge
  • “I would rather be a rebel than a slave.” - Maud 

Tips for parents:   

  • Some profanity, including 1 F-bomb.
  • Some violence, including bloody scenes.
  • You see the rear end of a woman in the first jail scene when the women are changing into their prison clothes.
  • Women are subjected to all kinds of terrible treatment by men.  
  • Teenage girls need to get off their cell phones and watch this.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Star Wars mania

Star Wars mania is still going strong!
I know several people who have already seen it 4 times!  

One of my sons is serving a church mission in Nicaragua where everyone is excited about the Star Wars movie and merchandise.  Here are some pictures he shared with me.

What's happening in YOUR country?   I'd love to see some pictures!
Please share your comments and pics and even your thoughts about the film!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Creed packs a punch for fans

Movie Title:    Creed

Grade:  A-

Rating:  PG-13, 2 hours 12 minutes

In a Nutshell:    The Rocky franchise is back and better than ever!  It packs a punch for fans with humor, drama, emotional growth for the main characters, that amazing theme song, a respectful nod to the past, and lots of boxing.

My husband and sons box….so yeah, this film was preaching to the choir.

Uplifting theme: 
  • “1 step.  1 punch. 1 round at a time.” – Rocky
  •  “You can’t learn anything if you’re talking.  It’s a fact of life.” – Rocky
  • “Build your own legacy.” – Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad)
  • “The plan is just to do what I love for as long as I can.” – Bianca  (Tessa Thompson)
  • “You are your father’s son.  You’re a part of him, but that doesn’t mean you have to be him.” – Mary Anne Creed
  • We all have to fight mortality.  Sylvester Stallone said in an interview with Jimmy Fallon that it's how we choose to fight mortality that makes the journey interesting.

Things I liked:
  • Michael B. Jordan does a believable job as Adonis Johnson Creed.  I liked him soooo much more in this film than in the recent Fantastic Four.  Yes, Michael Jordan is his real name.  Once, he received a $40,000 royalty check that was supposed to be sent to the NBA star Michael Jordan!
  • How do they film some of those shots?!  Wow!
  • Well done, Sylvester Stallone.  He did a great job acting, producing and allowing Ryan Coogler to direct.  He has just received a nomination for a Golden Globe!  Stallone admits that he didn't want to make another Rocky movie, but the story was so compelling that he agreed to do it.
  • Great training sequences.  Just what we love.
  • It was cool watching Adonis shadow box to the original Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed fight on YouTube.  You can too!  Here’s the same video he watched:  
  • I loved seeing Rocky hit the speed bag next to Adonis, the original who started the whole story and the young buck who is going to carry on the legacy.
  • When the camera zoomed onto the aquarium in Rocky’s house, my husband whispered to me “Cuff and Link!”  Now, there’s a true Rocky fan who remembers even the water turtles’ names.
  • Young people will be able to relate to the struggle of following in their parents’ footsteps vs. making a name for themselves.
  • I loved the camerawork in the scene in the locker room when the shot followed Rocky and Creed out into the big arena.
  • I got a kick out of seeing Liverpool, England again.  I was just there this summer!
  • I liked the helpful stat boxes that popped up on the screen when the film introduced new boxing characters.

Things I didn’t like:
  • Adonis grew up with a silver spoon, but they tried to make him appear Street.  With some work, they were actually pretty close to making us believe it.
  • It was odd to see a tough boxer like “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Anthony Bellew) talk with an Irish accent.  Sometimes I couldn’t even understand what the heck he was saying.
  • No big surprises here.  You’ve seen the story before.

Funny lines:
  • “I otta knock you out myself.” – Mary Anne Creed
  • “I think they added a few more steps.” – Rocky, after he climbed to the top of the steps in Philadelphia again.
  • “Women weaken legs.” - Rocky

Interesting lines:

  • “We’re making champs in the Delphi ring.  We aren’t dancing.  We aren’t singing.  We’re fighting.” –  Tommy Holiday (Graham McTavish)
  • “Apollo didn’t get hurt.  He got killed.” – Mary Anne Creed
  • “It’s you against you.  He’s just in the way.  Get him out of the way.” – Rocky
  • “So, what are you afraid of?” – Bianca
“I’m afraid of taking on the name and losing.” – Adonis
  • “Prove what?” – Rocky
“That I’m not an accident.” – Adonis
  • “Time takes everybody out; time’s undefeated.” - Rocky

Tips for parents:   

  • Be forewarned: your young children are going to learn a bad word in sign language.
  • There is a steamy kissing scene on a couch.
  • Some profanity.
  • Lots of fighting: some of it in the ring and some of it not.
  • Some discussion of Cancer and death.