30 May 2014

Quickie Movie Review: "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action
Starring: Jake Gyllenhall, Gemma Arterton, and Ben Kingsley
Released: May 28, 2010 (US theaters)
Dastan (Jake Gylenhaal) was once a street urchin, but the King of Persia adopted him after Dastan's act of heroism saved his life.  When the Persian military is commanded to attack the holy city of Alamut, Dastan finds the beautiful princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) who claims that the weapons they're seeking don't exist.  After the king asks Tamina to give Dastan her hand in marriage at a lavish ceremony, Dastan innocently gives his father a robe as a gift...only for it to be poisoned, and for the King to be killed.  Dastan knows he is innocent, but the rest of the world doesn't think so.  His only salvation may be in a dagger that has the power to turn back time...but will that be enough to prove his innocence?
Based on the popular video game series.

My Review
Wow; what a rush! Right from the get-go, this flick moves at a breakneck speed, with plenty of action, heroism, and despicable villains.  However, this film is rated "PG-13" for a reason, and the violence does go over the top at times.  Still, the stunts, action sequences, acting, and choreography are outstanding; some of the acrobatics reminded me of Super Smash Bros. Melee! The ending was a bit of a head-scratcher, I thought; regardless, action fans will find plenty to love about this.

Content Concerns
  • Sex: Kissing; a few crude remarks. 4/5
  • Nudity: Tamina and other women wear clothes that show off their cleavage and/or midriff throughout the movie. 3.5/5
  • Language: About as bad as it gets is the usage of the word "turds". 4.5/5
  • Violence: Characters are stabbed, impaled, struck, and otherwise hurt or killed throughout the movie, and it is bloody quite a few times. 1/5
  • Drugs: Wine is drunk once, and referenced once. 4/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Along with what was mentioned under "Violence," the scene where the King is killed may be too much for some viewers.  Also, the climax is rather intense. 1/5
  • Other: Polytheistic spirituality; spitting. 3/5
Score: 4/5

27 May 2014

Quickie Movie Review: "Loving the Bad Man"

Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic material, violence, and some language
Starring: Christine Kelly, Arturo Fernandez, and Stephen Baldwin
Released: July 10, 2012 (DVD)
Julie Thompson is a twenty-three-year-old Christian woman who, while on her way to do mission work, has automobile trouble, and stops in a local bar to call for help.  When mechanic Mike Connor hears of her predicament, he reluctantly helps her, but, out of anger over circumstances earlier in the day, he ends up raping her.  Soon after, Julie finds out that she is pregnant.  Her parents want her to abort the baby, but not only does she not want to, she also wants to show Mike love and forgiveness.  Will Mike be receptive, and find redemption before it's too late?

My Review
Some Christian movies have a certain low-budget feel; sort of like the short films aired on the Bob Saget episodes of America's Funniest Home VideosC Me Dance and Hollow are two such flicks, and were so horribly produced that they're among the worst I've ever seen.  However, though Loving the Bad Man's production values aren't all that--for example, the soundtrack was annoying, and where are the subtitles mentioned on the cover?--the film's heart, messages, and even the acting make it ring true.  To see a young woman who suffers the unthinkable at the hands of an unfortunate individual, only to openly forgive him in the process, is quite moving.  I would suggest taking the PG-13 rating seriously, though; the themes of this film definitely aren't for kids.

Content Concerns

Sex: A woman is raped, but nothing graphic is shown.  There is a childbirth scene, but nothing explicit is shown. 3/5
Nudity: Shirtless guys and slight cleavage are seen briefly a few times each. 4/5
Language: The h-word and one b-word are used three times each; the p-word, once.  Slang terms for male anatomy and feces are heard once each.  There are derogatory names such as "freak" and "moron" thrown around several times, as is the racial slur "crackers". 2.5/5
Violence: A prison fight with some slight blood, and prisoners kill a man by strangling and two more via stabbing. 3/5
Drugs: People drink at a bar.  It is mentioned that alcoholism led to a rape. 4/5
Frightening/Intense Scenes: The aforementioned rape and prison fights, of course; also, a few scenes involve characters experiencing extreme emotional upset. 2/5

Score: 4/5

26 May 2014

Quickie Movie Review: "Mail to the Chief"

Rated: TV-G
Starring: Bill Switzer, Randy Quaid, and Holland Taylor
Released: 2000 (Wonderful World of Disney premiere)
Kenneth "Kenny" Witkowski (Bill Switzer) is just a regular eighth grader...until, via an online chat room, he converses with "Average Joe", who ends up being none other than the President of the United States (Randy Quaid)!  President Osgood, however, is having trouble with his re-election campaign, only because the citizens feel that he isn't connecting with them.  Kenny gives him quite a bit of advice, and the polls go up...but, President Osgood's opponent is onto him, foreign governments find out, and, worst of all, Kenny's parents believe he is lying through his teeth and proceed to ground him! Will the truth be revealed once and for all...without hurting the Chief Executive's chances at a second term?
From ABC's The Wonderful World of Disney.

My Review
I often find that telefilms--also known as TV movies--are not really worth watching more than once.  No matter how entertaining they are, there's no reason to pop the disc or tape in again, unless you've completely forgotten that you ever saw it in the first place.  Such is the case with this film.  Sure, it's entertaining and light-hearted, and rather fun at times, but, I can't imagine anyone wanting to watch it again and again.  Even Disneyphiles--of which I am one, to a degree--will likely wish they only rented it.

Content Concerns

Sex: A few kisses, and a remark that "summer was good to" a girl, and that she "could pass for ninth grade." 4/5
Nudity: Girls and women in short skirts, and a girl's outfit shows a little of her midriff. 4.5/5
Language: "Crap" is used twice. "Dork" is used as an insult. 4.5/5
Violence: Hardly any.  A violent video game is referenced, but nothing graphic is shown onscreen.  A would-be robber is thwarted by guns being pointed at him, but no shots are fired. 4.5/5
Drugs: It is speculated that a boy is on drugs, but the viewer knows it isn't true. 4.5/5
Frightening/Intense Scenes: Kenny is bullied, but it is more demeaning than violent. An argument between Kenny and his parents is slightly intense. 4/5
Other: Kenny hacks into his school's computer system to help a girl cheat, and is never punished for his actions. 4/5

Score: 3.5/5

Quickie Movie Review: "Breaking the Press"

Rated: PG for brief teen partying, sensuality, some language, and thematic elements
Starring: Drew Waters, Farah White, and Tom Maden
Released: September 20, 2011 (DVD)
Joe Conaghey (Drew Waters, Friday Night Lights) is the head basketball coach at small-town Woodrow Wilson high school.  Both of his adopted sons are star players, but Josh has a natural talent, though his self-centered lifestyle gets in the way of him being a team player.  When Josh has the opportunity to leave home and play for a school in Dallas, it seems great...but the temptations prove to be too much for him to endure.  Will he find his way back to his family? Will his family accept him? Packed with drama and on-the-court action, Breaking the Press is inspired by the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son.

My Review
It seems that Christian cinema has become big business as of late; it attracts mainstream talent and even gets acclaim from some secular critics.  Even though sports isn't really my thing, I found the narrative compelling and the production values to be mostly great, though the sports sequences were a little too frenetic, and the acting at times could have been better.  Still, the themes in this film make it not for the VeggieTales crowd; this may not be as hard-edged as To Save a Life, but it comes close; see below for why.

Content Concerns
  • Sex: An abstinence plan is discussed.  Several couples are seen kissing.  A teenage girl makes sexual advances on a guy. 3.5/5
  • Nudity: A party scene has several girls in bikinis; other girls, and one woman, are seen in outfits that reveal leg or cleavage. 3.5/5
  • Language: Two uses each of one b-word and the d-word; God's name is misused once, and the term "butt" is heard. 3.5/5
  • Violence: Some of the sports action is a bit rough-and-tumble, especially when name-calling leads to a fight on the court.  Another scene shows the two brothers fighting. 4/5
  • Drugs: Underage drinking is shown at a party, and high schoolers are shown smoking.  A boy is offered a bag of cocaine, and a storefront advertises "tobacco". 3/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: It is shown that a boy's possessions are stolen.  Some of the scenes are emotionally intense. 3/5

Score: 4/5

23 May 2014

Movie Review: "Bedtime Stories"

Rated: PG for some mild rude humor and mild language
Starring: Adam Sandler, Keri Russell, and Courteney Cox
Released: December 25, 2008 (theaters) / April 7, 2009 (DVD / Blu-Ray)
Skeeter Bronson (Adam Sandler), the resident handyman at his local hotel, is asked by his sister Wendy (Courteney Cox) to babysit her two young kids while she is away.  Without television or video games to entertain them, the only thing Skeeter can think of to amuse them is to make up stories, like his own father (Jonathan Pryce) used to do.  After he and the kids construct a fantastical yarn, Skeeter is surprised to see that the events in the story end up taking place, even the part about it raining gumballs.  Skeeter aspires to own his own hotel someday, but his longtime nemeses Kendall (Guy Pearce) and Aspen (Lucy Lawless) are standing in his way.  Will Skeeter fulfill his dream...or is something better waiting for him?

Artistic Merit

Plot: 4/5
Sure, it's silly and a bit inane at times, but this works really well for such a movie.  The writers really know what goes through a child's mind, and it shows.

Production Values: 5/5
Excellent acting, a great, classic-rock-infused soundtrack, wonderful special effects...what's not to like?  Everything in this department is impressive.

Moral Content

Positive Elements
Skeeter learns what is truly important, and realizes that life isn't all about personal gain.  The entire film also promotes the lost art of storytelling.

Sex: 3/5
Several near-kisses; two full-on kisses, including one prolonged one.  A little boy refers to a slightly older girl as "hot" twice.  A young woman asks a little boy how old he was when he first kissed a girl.  A woman is said to be "hot" and "loose", and it is mentioned that she "knows how to have a good time."  The song during the closing credits has sexually-themed lyrics.

Nudity: 3/5
Two scenes in the film have several people in swimwear and other revealing clothing; in another scene, a woman is seen in a golden bikini.

Language: 2.5/5
God's name is misused about six or seven times.  The British crudity "bloody" is uttered once.  Along with a bit of more innocent name-calling, a character is referred to as "Sir Butt-Kiss," which is repeated several times along with other similar names.

Violence: 3/5
Comedic violence and fantasy violence are the rules here.  The fantastical stories involve a Grecian Colosseum brawl, a space duel, and a Wild West robbery/shootout.  Elsewhere, two guys are sprayed in the eyes, and there are several slapstick pratfalls: a dwarf kicking a guy in the leg, a guy thrown into a pool, etc.

Drugs: 4/5
Alcoholic beverages are mentioned a few times.

Frightening/Intense Scenes: 3.5/5
The "booger monster" in one fantasy sequence may be too much for some kids.  Also, Skeeter's niece and nephew enter a building that is about to be blown up.  (Spoiler: They are saved just in time.)

Other: 2/5
There's a bit of lying, stealing, and racial stereotyping going on; also, bathroom humor is somewhat frequent.

Before watching this movie, I had heard quite a bit about it.  Some of my friends had said it was cute and funny; however, the conservative movie review groups didn't like it.  I can kind of see both parties' feelings; this film did have its humorous and touching moments, but it still felt like a regular Adam Sandler comedy that was simply edited for younger viewers.  Most adult viewers won't have much of a problem, but...I would still recommend screening this before showing it to young children.

Score: 3/5

21 May 2014

Quickie Movie Review: "King of Kings"

Rated: PG-13 for some violent content (US) / PG (Canada)
Starring: Jeffrey Hunter, Siobhan McKenna, and Hurd Hatfield

Released: October 11, 1961 (theaters)
The power...the passion...the greatness...the glory.  Jesus of Nazareth changed the face of history like no one else.  Who was He, though? What was the world like when He was born? What did He teach? Why was He crucified? This movie answers all those questions and more! Featuring an expansive cast--seven thousand extras in the Sermon on the Mount scene alone--this movie is based on the best-selling book of all time: the Bible.

My Review
Before Roma Downey and Mark Burnett's Son of God movie tugged at the heartstrings of moviegoers everywhere, this was how Hollywood did the life of Christ.  I have to admit, the scale was epic, and some of the scenes were remarkably well done.  On the other hand, the film focuses a bit too much on extra-biblical material, and the crucifixion scene wasn't as heart-wrenching as it should have been.  Still, for those who are curious about the history of Christian cinema, this is worth a look.  If you're looking for a well-made movie about Jesus that stays true to the Word, check out The Gospel of John, a film made about a decade ago that uses the Good News Translation of the fourth gospel as its script, and is compellingly well made.

Content Concerns

  • Sex: A young woman does a rather sultry belly dance routine.  It is said that a woman was caught in adultery. 3.5/5
  • Nudity: Shirtless men are seen in several scenes.  A young woman is seen in an off-the-shoulder outfit in one scene, and in a top that somewhat resembles Leia's metal bikini in Return of the Jedi in another. 3.5/5
  • Language: Occasional name-calling, i.e., "fool". 4/5
  • Violence: The crucifixion is only slightly bloody.  Jesus' flogging and John the Baptist's beheading are implied, but not shown.  However, several battle scenes shows spears thrust into men's bodies, which is bloody at times.  Another scene implies the murder of multiple infants. 3/5
  • Drugs: Wine is consumed on several occasions. 3.5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: As usual for these kinds of movies, the crucifixion scene may be too much for some kids.  The battles and infant killings could also be a problem for the young ones. 2/5
  • Other Negative Elements: Well, not exactly negative, but...the archaic language and hard words ("harangue", for example) may confuse many kids and even some adults, especially if they're not used to hearing or reading the King James Bible. 4/5

Score: 3.5/5

12 May 2014

Quickie Movie Review: "Thor"

Rated: PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, and Stellan Skårsgard
Released: May 6, 2011 (theaters) / September 13, 2011 (DVD / Blu-Ray)
In the land of Asgard, King Odin (Anthony Hopkins) lets his son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) inherit his throne, much to the chagrin of Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Odin's other son.  After Thor starts a war with the denizens of enemy world Jötunheim, Odin banishes him to Earth, where he meets a group of scientists, including the lovely Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).  Loki is ready to wreak havoc on both Earth and Asgard, and it seems that Thor is powerless to stop him.  Will he save his world and ours, and claim his rightful throne?
Based on stories from Marvel Comics.

My Review
This movie's story is wonderful; if I hadn't been having tech issues this past week, I'd have gotten through it much sooner.  It definitely gripped me, and held me to the end.  All of the actors are amazing, especially Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth as the two leads.  The special effects are spot-on, and the soundtrack serves the movie well.  All of that made for a great viewing experience, which makes me excited to see what the sequel has to offer.  The only problems I had were some slight content issues--see below--that muddled things a bit...but only a bit.

Content Concerns
  • Sex: Two kisses on the hand; one full lip-lock.  A woman makes references to a guy's appearance. 4/5
  • Nudity: Thor is seen shirtless once or twice. A man's bare rear end is seen, but it's non-sexual. 4/5
  • Language: At least four uses of the h-word, and six misuses of God's name.  The a-word and d-word are used once each. 3.5/5
  • Violence: As usual for a blockbuster inspired by a comic book, fight scenes, explosions, and battles are common.  Humans, humanoid aliens, and various monstrosities get hit, kicked, punched, thrown, impaled, and, in a few instances, killed.  It's mostly bloodless, however, though one scene shows Thor with some nasty gashes on his face. 2/5
  • Drugs: Wine and/or beer are consumed two or three times, and there is a reference to being "hammered". 3.5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Other than what was listed under "Violence," some of the alien beings could be scary.  Two characters nearly die, and one appears to commit suicide.  One near-death is emotionally intense. 1.5/5
Score: 4/5

03 May 2014

Quickie Movie Review: "Hollow"

Rated: Not Rated (Dove approved for ages twelve and up)
Starring: Stephen Schmaltz, Catrina Fagundes, Peter Wayne Burke, and Charles Upshaw
Released: September 6, 2011 (DVD)
Harrison is a reformed drug dealer who has gone back to the old neighborhood to share Jesus.  Sam is a narcotics detective whose marriage has gone south because of his porn addiction.  Chelsea is an exotic dancer who is being taken advantage of by a club owner.  Jordan is forced to look after his sister after his single mother becomes addicted to drugs.  When their lives intersect, big changes happen.
From Pure Flix, the makers of What If...?, Jerusalem Countdown, and God's Not Dead.

My Review
This flick may only have a running time of eighty-four minutes, but it felt like it was three hours long! Between the sub-par acting, the annoying soundtrack, the jerky camera work, and the overall amateurish feel, I found this one rather difficult to finish.  It's not the worst Christian film I've ever seen--I don't think any other movie will ever relieve C Me Dance of that title--but it was still pretty bad, so much so that I can't even recommend renting this.  Sure, its heart is in the right place, but the shoddy production values overpower anything else about the film.  Pure Flix's productions are usually well-crafted, but, this one is definitely not.

Content Concerns
  • Sex: One character is an exotic dancer, and is seen doing a pole dance, though the camera work intentionally makes it less sultry.  The same character sexually propositions a guy, though he refuses.  (Spoiler: She learns the error of her ways by the time the credits roll.) It is implies that a guy is a porn addict, though that is vilified. 2/5
  • Nudity: A girl is seen in a low-cut top and short shorts, and, later, in a midriff-baring outfit. 4/5
  • Language: One usage each of the a-word, h-word, and p-word.  "Shut up" is also heard a few times. 4/5
  • Violence: A guy is robbed; guns are pointed at him, and he is left with a bruise on his face.  A guy is shot dead.  A mother hits her own son several times; she also takes a knife to his arm, which leaves him with a bloody wound. 3/5
  • Drugs: The main antagonist is a drug dealer, and several characters are said to take and/or distribute drugs.  Wine is consumed at least twice. 2/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Along with what was mentioned under "Violence," a few scenes could be emotionally intense.  Also, the whole look and feel of the movie is intentionally dark. 1/5
  • Other: The low-budget feel makes Christian movies look bad. (Try and sit through it if you don't believe me!) 1/5

Score: 1.5/5

01 May 2014

Quickie Movie Review: "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within"

Rated: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Starring: Ming-Na Wen, Alec Baldwin, James Woods
Released: July 13, 2001 (theaters) / October 23, 2001 (DVD)
The year is 2065 A.D.  The Earth is infested with alien spirits, and mankind faces total extinction.  Led by a strange dream, and guided by her mentor, Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland), scientist Aki Ross (Ming-Na Wen) struggles to collect the eight spirits in hopes of creating a force powerful enough to destroy the alien presence, and pure enough to protect the planet.  With the aid of the Deep Eyes Squadron, Aki must save the Earth from its darkest hate and unleash The Spirits Within.
From the creators of the best-selling Final Fantasy video game series.
(Adapted from the back cover of the DVD)

My Review
This movie looks incredible! Even on my iPad, the details of every single character and location are amazingly well-done.  Unfortunately, the story doesn't make all that much sense, and the overuse of profanity also ruined matters a bit for me.  This might be a good rental if you have an insanely top-tier home theater system, but, even then, you likely will still come away at least somewhat disappointed.

Content Concerns
  • Sex: One brief, yet passionate, kiss. 4.5/5
  • Nudity: None. 5/5
  • Language: Two s-words, eight h-words, four d-words, a b-word,  one misuse of Jesus' name, and three or four misuses of God's. 2/5
  • Violence: Shots are fired, people are attacked by alien entities, ships explode...the usual blockbuster-style violence, though not graphic and only occasionally bloody. 2/5
  • Drugs: Someone is seen consuming alcohol once. 4.5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: The aliens are rather nightmarish.  At least three characters die.  A seven-year-old girl's death is discussed. 2/5
  • Other: Some people may have a problem with the spirituality, calling the Earth "Gaia" and talking about its "spirit". 3/5
Score: 2/5