29 March 2013

Movie Review: "Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior"

Rated: TV-PG (US); PG: "Not Recommended for Young Children, Violence" (Canada)
Starring: Brenda Song, Shin Koyamoda, and Ellen Woglom
Released: June 16, 2006 (Disney Channel Premiere); October 24, 2006 (DVD)
Synopsis: Wendy Wu is very excited; she knows she is a shoo-in for Homecoming Queen.  Out of nowhere, a guy claiming to be a Chinese monk named Shen arrives at her doorstep, and he believes her to be the Yin warrior, who will defeat the evil Yan Lo.  Wendy doesn't believe him, but Shen keeps following her around, weirding her and everyone else out.  Will Shen jeopardize her chances at becoming Homecoming Queen? Will Wendy be able to defeat Yan Lo?

WARNING! Possible spoilers below!

Story: 4/5
Disney Channel's telefilms usually have engaging yarns, and this one is no exception.  Though the plot is slightly contrived--how many times have we seen a movie where the entire planet is doomed if the hero/heroine fails?--the film makes it work.

Production Values: 5/5
The film really shines here.  The actors/actresses are all great, especially Brenda Song, whose character here is a far cry from the ditzy heiress she played on Suite Life.  When it comes to special effects, the film is good in that department, though they are nothing extraordinary.  Where the film rules are the fight scenes, which were amazingly choreographed and kept me glued to the screen.

Moral Content: 3.75/5
If I were the MPAA, I would rate this movie "PG for action violence and scary scenes."  In fact, I think that a more accurate TV rating would be "TV-Y7-FV"; that is, not for kids under the age of seven because of fantasy violence.  As is typical of kung fu films, there are plenty of hand-to-hand combat scenes, and it gets really intense towards the end.  Also, the main villain, Yan Lo, possesses various people and even Wendy's dog throughout the film, which might scare some kids.  Parents of young children might want to screen this before letting their kids watch it, though I doubt anyone over ten would be bothered by it.

Conclusion: Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior brings to mind everything from the old NES game Double Dragon to Saturday morning shows ranging from Jackie Chan Adventures to Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.  It's actually a well-made, zany action/fantasy/comedy that proved to be quite entertaining; unfortunately, due to its age and little-known status, a DVD of this movie may prove to be hard to find.  If you see this film for rent anywhere, or even for sale at a cheap price, it would probably be worth it to pick up; I had to make a special request from my local library to get it.  I don't know that I would watch it again, but it made for ninety-one minutes well-spent.

Score: 4.25/5

27 March 2013

Movie Review: "Gods and Generals"

Rated: PG-13 for sustained battle sequences
Starring: Jeff Daniels, Stephen Lang, and Robert Duvall
Released: February 21, 2003 (theatrical)
Synopsis: A sweeping epic charting the early years of the Civil War and how campaigns unfolded from Manassas to the Battle of Fredericksburg, this prequel to the film Gettysburg explores the motivations of the combatants and examines the lives of those who waited at home.
(From the DVD's Amazon.com page)

WARNING! The below sections may contain spoilers!
Story: 3.5/5
I'm not a history buff at all; in fact, I always considered social studies my worst subject.  Nonetheless, I found Gods and Generals to be not only an involving piece on history, but a portrait of the Christian faith.  (More on that later.)  Unfortunately, a sad, though likely historically accurate, ending, and a cliffhanger ending, along with a boring moment here and there, made this a bit imperfect.

Production Values: 5/5
Gods and Generals was obviously a big-budget production, and it shows.  The realism is everywhere, and at no point did I get the feeling that they were just actors on a set; it really takes you back in time.  I don't know what to say other than that.

Christian Content: 6/5
A new category? Yes, but Gods and Generals deserves a review in that department.  From the start until nearly the end, God, the Bible, and Christian faith are all portrayed in a positive light, which some might find surprising from a movie produced by Ted Turner.  Sometimes, I felt like I was watching a celluloid version of a Brock and Bodie Thoene novel.

Moral Content: 3/5
Gods and Generals was rated "PG-13" by the MPAA for "sustained battle sequences," and they are the main concern.  Though most of the war violence is neither bloody nor graphic, some of it is the former, and a little of it falls into the latter category.  There are also some dashes of profanity and alcohol consumption, though there is no nudity and sexual content is limited to kissing.  Also of note: A child dies of a sickness.

Conclusion: Anyone who thinks Hollywood in recent years is devoid of faith in God need look no further than Gods and Generals, which respectfully portrays Christians in an allegedly historically accurate setting.  Some of you may be thinking of Ted Turner's notorious declaration, "Christianity is for losers"; he may have said that, but his film says otherwise.  I doubt I will be watching this ever again--it was a bit of a grueling journey--but I have to say that it is one of the best history-themed flicks I have ever seen.

Score: 3.5/5

22 March 2013

Movie Review: "Spy Kids 3: Game Over"

Rated: PG for action sequences and peril
Starring: Daryl Sabara, Alexa Vega, and Ricardo Montalban
Released: July 25, 2003 (theatrical) / February 24, 2004 (DVD)
DISCLAIMER: This review is of the 2-D edition available on the double-disc set.  I did not watch the 3-D version because not only did I buy the set used--therefore, no glasses--but 3-D flicks have previously given me headaches.

Synopsis:  The Spy Kids are back again! This time, their trademark action is combined with the very latest digital technology and the thrill of the 3-D experience to deliver a motion picture event that pushes family fun to the next level! Secret agents Juni (Daryl Sabara) and Carmen Cortez (Alexa Vega) set out on their most mind-blowing mission yet: a journey inside the virtual reality world of a 3-D video game where awe-inspiring graphics and creatures come dangerously to life! As they face escalating challenges through increasingly difficult levels of the game, the Spy Kids must rely on humor, high-tech gadgets, and the bonds of family in order to stop a power-hungry villain (Sylvester Stallone) set on controlling the youth of the world! Also featuring familiar faces Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, and Ricardo Montalban in an incredible all-star cast!
(From Amazon.com's page for the DVD, which seems to be taken from the back of the case)

Story: 2.5/5
Some of the criticism available elsewhere online says that Spy Kids 3: Game Over didn't have any story.  I disagree with that; it did...just not a great one.  The whole thing about a video game maker trying to take over the world by capturing all the planet's children is both creepy and ridiculous.  I doubt most gamers over the age of eight would be fooled by anyone promising them "riches enough for ten kings."  Though I didn't like the core plot, the themes of heroism, looking out for one another, friends being like family, self-sacrifice, forgiveness, etc., kept the entire yarn from being ruined.  Still, many video games, including some popular ones, don't have much of a story; for example, what made all the characters in Super Smash Bros. Melee decide to fight against each other? Even Nintendo can't answer that one.

Production Values: 3.5/5
Despite what some other critics said, I didn't notice any poor acting.  The majority of the film takes place in a video game world, which means that much of it is computer-generated.  Though it doesn't look realistic, it seemed to me that non-realism was the whole point; that didn't prevent it from being annoying at times, though.  Those who enjoyed gaming around the time this film was made would likely appreciate the visuals; however, others may not.  The scene after the closing credits, which showed Ms. Vega and Mr. Sabara in their original Spy Kids auditions, was awesome.

Moral Content: 3.75/5
This third Spy Kids outing was remarkably clean in many areas.  As bad as the language gets is "shut up"; there's nothing resembling sexual content, even when it comes to the young ladies' outfits; and no drug or alcohol use, as you'd expect.  However, the violence quotient is ramped up compared to the first two films in the series, and there's also an increase in frightening moments.  A set of monsters called the "Tinker Toys" look like little metal demons, and they're not the only scary thing you'll see.  Even the plot is a bit creepy, when you think about it.  Easily scared youngsters might want to stay away from this one.

Conclusion: I'm very late to the Spy Kids game; I didn't see the first movie in the series until late last year.  For some reason, I previously didn't care for Alexa Vega at all, though, to this day, I have no idea why.  Though the first two were great, this third flick is, while not terrible and definitely not among the worst films I've ever seen, the worst in the series so far.  Apparently, it was still a success, since they made a fourth flick; I just hope it's better than this one was.  If you've followed the series up to this point, you'll probably see it regardless of what anyone says; still, you probably should get it from the library or rental store before you shell out big bucks to buy it.

Score: 3.25/5

21 March 2013

Movie Review: "Good Luck, Charlie: It's Christmas!"

Rated: TV-G
Starring: Bridgit Mendler, Leigh-Allyn Baker, Mia Talerico
Released: December 2, 2011 (Disney Channel premiere) / December 6, 2011 (iTunes) / October 23, 2012 (Wal-Mart Exclusive DVD)
Synopsis: The Duncan family is planning on spending their holiday season away from home for the first time ever; they're heading to sunny Palm Springs, California, to meet mom Amy's parents.  Unfortunately, things end up going quite awry.  It all starts when oldest daughter Teddy volunteers to take another flight in hopes of getting a free plane ticket, which she plans to use for Spring Break.  Amy decides to go with her...only to find that all the flights are booked! Their journey takes them to small towns and even Las Vegas...but Amy isn't acting quite normal. Is she hiding something? Meanwhile, Amy's mom locks Mr. Duncan in a room for time-out, middle son P. J. is getting entirely too much sun, and Amy's dad is addicted to younger son Gabe's video game.  Can the Duncans have a Merry Christmas despite the craziness? Hang in there, baby!

Story: 4/5
You'd probably expect this to be an extended sitcom episode...and, for the most part, it is.  Though there is no laugh track, the set for the Duncan household is the same, and there are plenty of the usual hijinks.  However, it isn't all laughs and chuckles; a few poignant moments can be found.  The one problem I have with the story is the "big secret" that's revealed mid-movie.  Though I won't say what it is, I will say that most people over the age of 13 who watch this will see it coming a mile away.  Then again, maybe that's just because I'm late to the party, and was just introduced to Good Luck, Charlie in December of 2012, a full year after this movie premiered, with episodes that took place after this telefilm.

Production Values: 5/5
Disney Channel usually knows how to make a quality telefilm, and this is no exception.  Everything in this department--the acting, the sets, the filming, the English SDHs, etc.--is great.  Not much to say other than that.

Special Features: 0/5
Anyone who has been a student in a traditional school will tell you that, if you don't do an assignment, you get a zero.  Well, Good Luck, Charlie: It's Christmas! gets a zero in the special features department because it is completely devoid of them.  Other than the aforementioned English SDHs--which no one considers "special" anymore--there is nothing on the disc but the movie.  No foreign subtitles or dubbing; no deleted scenes; no music video for Bridgit Mendler's song that is featured during the opening credits; not even a menu screen or scene selection options.  When you put the disc in, the movie starts, and, as soon as the closing credits finish rolling, the movie starts all over again.  Apparently, Disney Channel really rushed the production of this one.

Moral Content: 4.5/5
Good Luck, Charlie: It's Christmas! was made for the Disney Channel, so you'd expect clean content, and that's what you'll get...for the most part.  Here are the slight complaints I have: Amy spends much of the first part of the movie being ill, which may gross out some viewers.  P. J. spends some time shirtless, and two nameless young women are seen in one-piece swimsuits that show quite a bit of legs and shoulders.  Gabe plays a video game that involves the usage of a gun, which could unsettle some people in light of recent violence.  A scene that involved a car literally breaking down might freak out those who have had traumatic experiences with automobile accidents.  You may say, "That's small potatoes!" I know; that's why I gave it a 4.5.

Conclusion: Disney Channel sitcoms are easy for me to like; they're funny, clean, current, and almost always have an attractive female lead.  Though Good Luck, Charlie is a great show--I've watched countless episodes on TV and via my Watch Disney Channel app on my iPad over the past three months or so--this movie still feels slightly lackluster.  Seriously, though every fan of the show should see Good Luck, Charlie: It's Christmas!, I can't imagine purchasing the DVD, even at a cheap price.  If you've seen it on TV, you've seen all you probably would want to see.  Unfortunately, it seems that this Yuletide movie is all the Good Luck, Charlie we'll get on DVD; still, your money would be better spent buying your favorite episodes from iTunes.

Score: 2.5/5

17 March 2013

Book Review: "The Sanctuary" by Ted Dekker

Synopsis: Danny Hansen, a "vigilante priest," is trapped in a correctional institute in California for allegedly murdering two men.  Renee Gilmore, his significant other, gets a box with a cut-off finger delivered to her house, along with a message that says Danny is in danger.  Scared out of her mind, she contacts Keith, a former cop, to help her get to Danny before it's too late.  At first, Renee and Keith give in to "Sicko"'s demands...but, he goes too far when he asks them to kill someone.  Will they be able to save Danny?

Story: 5/5
Ted Dekker is a master writer, and this book proves it.  The novel makes a good point: When does "the law" go too far? Why is it now illegal to do what was considered "normal" in years past?  Add to that how gripping and involving The Sanctuary is, and it's a great yarn.

Writing: 5/5
Again, Ted Dekker does great here, as usual.  The narration, whether first-person or third-person, is wonderfully done, and the details are spot-on.

Moral Content: 2.5/5
Mr. Dekker may be a Christian author, but his books are edgier than, say, ones by Beverly Lewis and Karen Kingsbury.  Alongside a bit of sexual content--that is, rape and genitalia are discussed--there is extreme violence: some of it intense, a little of it bloody, and all of it creepy.  Drunkenness is also mentioned.  Those who are faint of heart and/or under the age of fifteen should avoid this one.

Conclusion: Ted Dekker has made a name for himself in the secular publishing world, something that has proved hard for other Christian authors.  Fans of his works will probably like this, but, you would have to read The Priest's Graveyard to understand some of it.  It's creepy and a bit extreme, but, by now, everyone knows to expect that from Mr. Dekker, whether or not they like his works.

Score: 4/5

16 March 2013

Movie Review: "Let It Shine"

Rated: TV-G
Starring: Tyler James Williams, Coco Jones, and Trevor Jackson
Released: June 15, 2012 (Disney Channel premiere) / August 7, 2012 (DVD)
Synopsis: Cyrus DeBarge, a preacher's son, has serious hip-hop skills. Unfortunately, his father detests that genre of music, a local stage rapper makes Cyrus cower in fear, and Cyrus feels he doesn't have the looks or style to make it. When he submits a song to a contest sponsored by big-name artist Roxie, who happens to be a childhood friend, he includes a picture of him with his best buddy Kris. Upon meeting them, Roxie incorrectly believes that Kris is the one with the talent, not Cyrus. Cyrus helps his friend fake it, but will the truth ever come out? Will Cyrus get the recognition he deserves? By film's end, everyone will be in for at least one big surprise...

Story: 5/5
More than just a flimsy "follow your dreams" title, Let It Shine is a morality play.  The consequences of lying are shown.  A father learns to be more involved with his son, much like the protagonist of Courageous.  Being fake in the name of stardom is vilified.  All the while, I was entertained.  To me, that's a good story.

Production Values: 4.5/5
A musical isn't any good without well-produced musical numbers, right? Well, every song in here is great, if not amazing.  The rap battles are outstandingly done; they have to be seen to be believed.  The actors did really well, especially Brandon Mychal Smith as the antagonist, whose character was much different than the one he played in Sonny With a Chance.  The only thing that prevents it from getting a perfect score in this department is the closing, which features annoying outtakes while the credits roll.  You probably would want to push the "skip" button when those come up.

Moral Content: 5/5
No profanity! Zero sexual content, save for an occasional immodest outfit! Hardly anything even resembling violence! No drug use! Seriously, this is one of the cleanest movies I've seen in a while.  Better yet, the Christian faith is portrayed in a positive light! Some parents may quibble with the "rap battles," but the movie shows that they're simply for sport, and they're more innocent than the average "yo momma" joke.

Conclusion: How you would feel about Let It Shine hinges on two questions: Do you like rap music? Are you okay with contemporary Christian music? If you answered yes to both of those question, you would likely enjoy this movie; if hip-hop gives you a headache, and/or you believe the only Christian songs should be sans instruments, then this is not for you.  As someone who can enjoy the occasional rap tune, and as a long-time fan of Christian music, I find this kind of flick right up my alley.  Even those who have avoided previous Disney Channel movies should check this out; they'd likely be surprised, as was I.
A postscript: Some people have largely assumed that Christian faith has no place anywhere in Mickey Mouse Land, including on their cable network.  That's not true; years ago, CCM pop quintet Jump5 made it big on Radio Disney and had a song featured on Lizzie McGuire.  Around the same time, Superchic[k]'s "One Girl Revolution" was used as the theme song for Disney Channel's telefilm Cadet Kelly, which had the highest viewership of any DCOM up to that point.  Later on, the all-female rock trio Everlife also jammed on Radio Disney; I'm sure that very few people would have even guessed that they previously guest starred on ApologetiX's album Adam Up.  Even Wizards of Waverly Place and Camp Rock actress Maria Canals Barrera was featured in two issues of CCM Magazine.  Despite what some would have you believe, you can still find faith in Jesus on the Disney Channel; Let It Shine is perfect proof.

Score: 4.75/5

12 March 2013

Movie Review: "Revelation"

Rated: PG-13 for violence
Starring: Jeff Fahey, Nick Mancuso, and Carol Alt
Released: 2000
Synopsis: Three months after his wife and daughter were among the millions who mysteriously vanished, counter-terrorism expert Thorold Stone is trying to discover what happened. Does the answer lie with the "true messiah" and his one-world government? A breathtaking climax will encourage you to examine your place in the battle between good and evil.
(From CDB's page for the DVD)

Story: 4/5
This part of the movie is hard to score.  On the one hand, it kept me glued to my seat the entire time, which is something no movie has done since I saw The Avengers in 3-D last summer.  However, I'm not really sure that the "end times" are going to happen like this; the whole theme seemed more like a SyFy channel telefilm than a Christian flick.  It does serve as a bit of a parable nonetheless, but don't go into this expecting the works of Jenkins and LaHaye.

Production Values: 5/5
Often, Christian-themed movies suffer from a low budget, which usually turns off some viewers.  However, poor special effects can be overpowered by a compelling story, as was the case with The Witches of Oz, which kept me up past midnight last August to see how it ended.  The good news about Revelation is that its production values match the grip of the plot.  Though Apocalypse, the first movie in the series, suffered from a eighties, made-for-TV-quality feel, this one seriously improves on that.

Moral Content: 2.5/5
If you thought Apocalypse was freaky, wait until you see this.  The "violence" the MPAA warned about includes everything from shootouts to an arson attempt to cruelty to an innocent animal to a guy slicing his bare chest with a conch shell to even a near beheading.  None of it is graphic, but there is some blood, and all of it is quite creepy, as are some nonviolent scenes.  Elsewhere, there is a "bombshell" female character who is seen wearing a bare-midriff top, and a guy makes lecherous taunts at her.  There is also one mild profanity.  Though I feel that the rating is right, I would make the content advisory "violence, frightening sequences, brief language, and occasional off-color dialogue".

Conclusion: When I randomly decided to see The Great Buck Howard a few years ago, my thoughts as the credits rolled were, "I've never seen anything like that!"  I hadn't felt like that since...until tonight, when I watched Revelation.  I'm not sure that it would exactly qualify as a Christian movie; though it has Biblical elements, so do some secular films, such as Knowing and the first Mission: Impossible.  Still, for those who enjoy a well-made and gripping, if strange, celluloid yarn, this is for you.

Score: 3.75/5

10 March 2013

Movie Review: "Radio Rebel"

Rated: Unrated
Starring: Debby Ryan, Adam DiMarco, and Sarena Parmar
Release Date: February 17, 2012 (Disney Channel); June 19, 2012 (DVD) 
Synopsis: Tara is just a shy girl who usually doesn't have much to say, and tends to avoid attention instead of seeking it.  What her classmates and teachers don't know is that she is Radio Rebel, a DJ who has her own podcast and urges others to be themselves and avoid simply being the status quo.  Her stepfather of two months finds out, and hires her to be on his radio station.  Though her popularity soars, some of her enemies, as well as her principal, are so unhappy that they will stop at nothing to find out who Radio Rebel is.  Will Tara be able to keep up the facade, or will her secret identity get revealed?

Story: 3/5
Though this isn't the best when it comes to story, I thought it was cool to have a flick that uses the secret identity device (i.e., Superman/Clark Kent) without being all about superheroes or even in the action/adventure genre.  That said, some of the characters were slightly annoying; Larry and Barry were like an unfunny version of Rutt and Tuke, the moose from Disney's Brother Bear.  Even some of the slang used was grating at times.  Still, the core story, for what it is, is good.

Production Values: 3.5/5
Though definitely not a summer blockbuster, Radio Rebel does pretty well for what it is.  All of the actors are at least passable, except for the lady who played the principal; she seemed like a Trunchbull (remember Matilda?) wannabe, and was not very convincing.  The soundtrack has some good songs, and a few mediocre ones.

Moral Content: 4.25/5
Since this movie was made for the Disney Channel, one would expect it to have clean content, and it pretty much does.  No profanity, no drug use, and hardly anything resembling violence.  Sexual content is limited to some innocent kissing and a few slightly immodest outfits.  Still, Tara and her best friend do show occasional disrespect for adults, which is worth noting.

Conclusion: Debby Ryan may be a young actress, but she already has an impressive résumé.  She has starred in two Disney Channel sitcoms--The Suite Life on Deck and Jessie--and Radio Rebel is the third movie of hers (that I know of, anyway).  Unfortunately, it is her weakest work; though the content is clean and the plot is decent, it still had a bit of a lackluster feel.  If you're curious about Ms. Ryan, I would suggest watching Jessie on the Mouse network, or watching her other films, 16 Wishes or What If…? Though definitely not a terrible movie, even fans of Disney Channel Original Movies can do better than Radio Rebel; I should know, since I am one myself.

Score: 3/5

Movie Review: "Apocalypse" (1998)

Rated: PG for violence and thematic elements
Starring: Leigh Lewis, Richard Nester, Sam Bornstein
Released: 1998 (original VHS) 
Synopsis: Helen Hannah is the lead news anchor for WNN, the World News Network.  When countries from all over the planet are firing deadly weapons at each other, and it seems that the world will implode, there are mass disappearances of people everywhere, and the missiles and nuclear bombs all vanish.  New world leader Franco Macalousso says that he is responsible, but Helen's grandmother left a video before she disappeared that said otherwise: such a man is the Anti-Christ.  After converting her longtime co-anchor and best friend Bronson Paul, both of their lives are on the line, along with those of all of the others who refuse to worship the new leaders.  Will they be able to spread the Word in time? What is the fate of those left behind?

Story: 4/5
As I have done with some other films recently--G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, for one--I read the novelization of Apocalypse before seeing the movie.  The book version was compelling, though I was unsure how some of the plot elements would translate to film.  It turns out my fears were justified: The movie leaves out some poignant plot points that were in the book, such as Helen's backstory and the romance between her and Bronson.  It's quite surprising, especially since the novel was written by one of the producers of the film.
Despite it not meeting this bibliophile's expectations in that department, Apocalypse spins a convincing yarn, even though I'm not sure the end times will occur exactly as these films show it.  I started it before going to bed last night, and finished it today; I don't usually finish movies that quickly.

Production Values: 3.5/5
According to the copyright during the final credits, Apocalypse was released in 1998.  However, it has the feel of a telefilm from no later than the early nineties.  The video quality isn't the best, and some scenes are a little hokey.  Even the soundtrack was especially annoying.  Still, the showings of mass destruction, despite the fuzzy picture, were quite visceral.

Moral Content: 3/5
This movie may be rated "PG," but it would likely unsettle some kids.  Not only are there numerous scenes involving places being blown up and mobs attacking innocent people, but it all plays out as a news report.  If your children are freaked out by CNN or Fox News' coverage of incidents like 9/11, you should definitely wait until they're older to let them watch Apocalypse.
Elsewhere, there is a bloody wound caused by a mishap, someone is shot and killed--not graphically--and an imminent hanging is implied.  Language is limited to one or two misuses of God's name by non-Christian characters.  No sexual content or drug use, however.

Conclusion: Though the "end times prophecy" has always been part of the Bible, society in general is thinking about the end of the world, whether it be from the book of Revelation or the Mayan calendar.  Apocalypse was made over a decade ago, but it would likely ring true for many today.  That said, many are likely to disagree with how "the end" is depicted in this film, and the book version is better than the celluloid one.  For those who enjoy Christian cinema, though there are better flicks in the genre--Courageous, Carman: The Champion, October Baby--you could also do much worse. (C Me Dance and The Fourth Wise Man, anyone?)

Score: 3.5/5

Movie Review: "Carman: The Champion"

Rated: PG-13 for street and ring violence, and drug content
Starring: Carman, Michael Nouri, Patricia Manterola 
Release Date: March 2, 2001
Synopsis: Orlando Leone was once a champion boxer, but, after losing his title in a big bout, he begins an inner city ministry, where he is known as The Preacher.  When larger-than-life pugilist Keshon throws a raucous party at a hotel, Orlando is called in to stop him, and ends up knocking Keshon to the ground.  The highly publicized altercation makes Keshon challenge Orlando, who hasn't been in the ring in ten years.  With criminals out to get him, a ministry to run, a woman who is reluctant to get involved with a minister, a kid under his wing, and Orlando's dream on the line, it seems that faith is the only thing that can save him…but will it be enough?

Story: 5/5
This one kept me involved until the end.  Rarely do I watch an entire movie in one day, but I was flipping back and forth between American Idol on live television and this movie on my DVD player just to see how it ended.  It proved to be a rather inspirational tale of faith and strength--of more than one kind--and had positive Christian elements worthy of a Ted Dekker or Karen Kingsbury novel.

Production Values: 5/5
Carman: The Champion was a winner in this department, too.  The acting was great; the action scenes were spot-on, both inside and outside the ring; the soundtrack, which featured other CCM artists/bands such as KJ-52 and Skillet alongside a song or two by the movie's titular star, was amazing; and, frankly, I can't come up with any complaints in this department.

Moral Content: 3.5/5
This film may have been made by TBN, but its content is in the same territory as same-rated Christian flick To Save a Life.  The violence is very intense; not only do the boxing matches get a bit bloody at times, but there is a combination gunfight/car chase that ends with a fatal explosion.  A scene where a bunch of guys gang up on someone in a van and smash his vehicle would likely unnerve kids, especially since a cute Golden Retriever puppy is sitting right next to the victim.
When it comes to sexual content: A woman getting pregnant as a teenage by an older man is discussed.  Keshon is a bit of a womanizer, and the party where he and Orlando features some slightly immodestly dressed women dancing a bit provocatively; however, that is all vilified.  They're not the only ones, though; the female lead is almost always wearing something low-cut or off-the-shoulder, and a minor female character is seen in a bikini.  There are even some shirtless guys, as well.
The only profanity is when Keshon endorses a drink with a profane name, though it is referred to multiple times--including seeing the name onscreen--during the scene.  That, along with the implied drug usage, is shown as those characters' downfalls; still, everything I mentioned in this section makes this inappropriate for young kids and even overly sensitive teens and adults.

Conclusion: I was really surprised by this one!  Well-made Christian movies are hard to find; for all the good ones, such as those by the Kendricks, you have inane dreck like C Me Dance, which was tops on the list of the worst movies I saw last year.  Still, Carman: The Champion deserves a spot alongside The Imposter and October Baby as one of my favorite Christian movies, ever.  Though not for children because of content--I hope you read what I said above before deciding to watch this with your family!--for most other folks, this movie is a definite Champion.

Score: 4.5/5

04 March 2013

Movie Review: "The Final Countdown"

Rated: PG (for reasons unspecified by the MPAA)
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, and Katharine Ross
Release Date: August 1, 1980
Synopsis: Warren Lasky, of the Department of Defense, is asked to accompany Navy ship USS Nimitz to see how well they operate, and how things can be improved.  After the ship sets sail, they encounter a weather phenomena unlike anything they've ever seen.  When the raging storm becomes calm, everything seems the same at first...but then, they hear old-school comedy on the radio, and they've lost contact with all the other ships in the area.  The Nimitz's crew finds out that they've somehow arrived on the day the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor...but will these accidental time travelers be able to stop one of the worst terrorist attacks in United States history?

WARNING! The sections ahead likely contain spoilers!

Production Values: 4.5/5
This is where the movie excels.  Despite this film being released over three decades ago, the cinematography, acting, action sequences, scenery, and such are both high-quality and timeless.  That may be why it is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Story: 1.5/5
The movie has an intriguing premise, especially in this day and age; seriously, which of you reading this would give your life to go back in time and prevent 9/11 or other recent acts of terror from happening?  Unfortunately, this flick fails to deliver on that, because the Nimitz and its crew and planes are all taken back to the present before they can stop the attack.  Though the film's finale has a triumphant tone, it all seems for naught because of that one plot point.

Moral Content: 2.25/5
I was expecting better in this area, too.  Alongside a small amount of sexual dialogue, some violence, a bit of it bloody, and at least forty--no exaggeration!--profanities plague this film.  Discerning viewers should either watch this edited on live television--if they ever show it--or use ClearPlay or a similar service to eliminate the language.

Conclusion: This has to be the biggest cinematic disappointment I've experienced since The Black Hole or C Me Dance! Between content issues and a terrible ending, I can't help but feel that this movie is simply 1.75 hours that I'll never get back.  Yes, The Final Countdown is considered a classic; I know that.  Still, I didn't care for it.

Score: 1.75/5