Sunday, November 11, 2018

Associations Make a Difference - A Review of Baby Driver

It has been several weeks, but I finally got around to watching the movie Baby Driver.  This is the story of a young man who drives fast and is basically the driver for a group of criminals even though he would prefer to be an "above board" young man. The main character who is mainly known as "Baby" has suffered a lot in his past with losing his parents, and although he has suffered much emotionally chooses to lose himself in his iPod for a lot of the movie.  When he is stressed - Baby turns on his iPod to an appropriate song.  When he is happy he picks another tune that matches his mood.  After a while, you see that music is how Baby has coped through his tough childhood and how he adapts to stress in his adult life. Unfortunately for Baby,  he has gotten wound up with many less than legal people.  Even though he wants to live right (or so the movie portrays) his hands and actions are tied in with men and women who seem to want to keep him doing criminal things due to his skill with the car wheels.  This movie is exceptional at illustrating the principle that 1 Corinthians 15:33 so clearly states:

Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” (NASB).

Baby wants out of his life of crime, but criminals don't like to see people changing from what profits them. Kevin Spacey plays one of his crime bosses and does a decent job showing the tension between wanting to give Baby a chance to cut free, and the greed that happens when someone proves to be more useful when you have them "under your thumb".  Without giving away the ending,  I will make some remarks about this movie:

1. This movie does a great job showing how music can be helpful for coping with emotional pain.  The soundtrack was very well put together, and I have to admit I give extra credit to any movie that can pair a good soundtrack with a good scene. "Baby Driver" does indeed do that,  but unfortunately it can leave the impression that a good song is all you need to get you through tough times.  While I agree music helps, it shouldn't be our only source of comfort nor does it bring true healing.  The Truth alone can bring healing, and Truth is a Person (John 14:6, John 8:31-32)

2. Some of this movie falsely conveys that you have to compromise to do the right thing.  I don't want to add any spoilers, but this movie does paint a picture for Baby that leads the viewer to believe he HAS to compromise in order to get out of a criminal way of life.  Of course this isn't true,  there is always a way out for those who are trusting God (1 Corinthians 10:13).  Even when things look deadly, God can get you out.  Read the book of Daniel for true stories of this happening.

3. I applaud the writers and director for showing to some degree the truth of Galations 6:7-8 : "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life." (NASB) Many crime movies show the bad guys getting away with it all. They ride off into the sunset and crime in the movie appears to pay off. Of course that is just in the movie. Thankfully "Baby Driver" doesn't paint that picture, but it does show some of the pain and consequences that crime can produce. It was a wild ride showing the story, but it kept me engaged despite some violent moments. The soundtrack was very well chosen, and although

I don't think I would watch it more than once, I did think it showed some key principles from the Bible being worked out in the lives of the characters. Although I wouldn't classify this movie as an edifying example of cinema, it still was better than average in my opinion. Too bad they couldn't tone down the bad language and violence a bit to illustrate the story more artistically and tastefully. I would give this 3 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

War Dogs from a Teenage Perspective : A Review of Max

I like dogs. I also really like working dogs.  The fact that people can train them to do important work always amazes me and enjoy seeing how loyal they do their jobs.

With that in mind, I decided to rent Max which is the fictional story of a German Shepherd that helped Army troups in war zones.  Max was a loyal dog who did his job well, but there were complications involving people to this story and Max is narrowly saved from death.

I initially rented this movie for my family.  However my kids were a bit young for the subject matter of this PG rated movie.  There are definitely complicated themes in this movie, and young children will probably not understand all that is going on.

Acting in this movie was well done. I believe the target audience might be teenagers and dog lovers.  There is definitely a teenage vibe coming from this movie as far as how to relate to other family members and deal with grief and distant parental relationships.  The other thing about this movie is that it is fiction.   I realize that the old show "Rin-Tin-Tin" was also fiction, but true stories have a little more impact I think.  I have also viewed the movie Megan Leavey which is another German Shepherd army dog movie.  That one was even less of a family movie, but both of them delivered in showing the value of trained working dogs in a war.   I liked them both.   I liked Max, but I also would have preferred A. either more true tales of working war dogs, or B. more of a kid-friendly look at war dogs and less teenage drama. 

Max was a good movie.  It showed the challenges of a war dog even showing the effect of PTSD on animals.  Don't expect mind-blowing plot points or deep philosophical points in Max and you will probably enjoy it quite a bit.  It shows the value of war dogs, and in some ways I enjoyed it more than the recent movie Megan Leavey.   Good movie and 3.5 stars out of 5. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

When Disney Tries Science Fiction Stories - Tomorrowland Review

Ok this movie didn't great reviews, but sometimes the reviews are wrong.  I rented Tomorrowland starring Hugh Laurie (from House), also starring George Clooney and someone who also plays in it is singer/actor Tim McGraw.    This starts out kind of interesting - but unfortunately the negative reviews are kind of true.  The main character - Casey Newton (played by Britt Robertson)  is a typical teenage girl and unfortunately they don't make her endearing AT ALL. She is annoying and never really grows on you as worth rooting for in this movie.  Tomorrowland has potential - but it is one of those movies where tight plot lines and good characters make or break the movie.  Unfortunately the movie plots kind of break the movie and the plot lines really never deliver the movie enough to get a high score.  Casey Newton screams most of the movie, and as the viewer tries to understand what exactly is happening, you never really feel for the characters. George Clooney's character is bossed around constantly and you feel like he never got off the ground.  Although he may have had a chance to develop as a younger version of himself, that story is left alone so that other less important pieces of the story can be developed.  Unfortunately the writers of Tomorrowland try to add in some mysterious pieces that come off like Terminator 2, yet still don't deliver as effectively as the characters in Terminator 2.   Sadly this is a science fiction movie that tries to show you the hopeful future, but has been done much better in other movies.  I wanted to like this Disney movie starring George Clooney and Tim McGraw - but I just couldn't.  So,  how could this scifi movie been much better and warranted a second watch?   Here are my recommendations:

1. Make Casey Newton scream and whine 75% less.  Yeah I realize teenage girls may accurately show the behavior of Casey - it STILL doesn't make a great movie watching her behave that way. It is annoying and disrespectful.

2. Make George Clooney have a more major role in the movie - show his younger self more in the movie, and develop an actual story rather than letting Casey's story overtake any sort of character development he may have.

3. Keep the message of hope, but make it build-up to the message much more throughout the whole movie.  Maybe remove some characters so the audience can be invested in the story and really see where it is developing to.  Instead we are left with a bunch of side characters all trying to make a hodge-podge of a plot into a semi-hopeful ending.    Not well executed. 

4. Never underestimate the power of a good screen writerI think this movie tried to do things well, but it just failed in many departments.  The special effects were nicely done, but people long for a good story.  Too many directors seem to think that special effects can make/break the movie.  They can't.   A good story is enhanced by them, but even a poorly produced movie has a chance if it is told well with good writing. 

Good science fiction is hard to pull off and rarely ever wins awards.  I wanted to like the movie Tomorrowland but unfortunately it wasn't one I would watch over again.   This one you may want to skip.  One thumb up for encouraging ending, and one thumb down for execution. 

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Justice League - Did it Do Justice?

I heard reviews of this movie and decided to see what it was like.  I wanted to like it.  I think DC Comics heros have great potential to become some great movies (as Batman movies have already proved),  but yet this one just wasn't one I would re-watch and return to. 

First - a bit about the plot.  The plot is that Superman is dead (watch Superman vs. Batman to find out why that is), and it seems that Batman and Wonderwoman are the two main characters trying to fill in for him.  I do think that both Ben Afflect and Gal Gadot did great with the material they were given.  The plot is one bad guy (forget his name) is trying to get 3 powerful pieces so that he can get superpowers (who would have thought?) and take over the world.  The Justice League becomes aware of this and realizes he must be stopped before the world is no more. However, in order to stop this insane bad guy, they most rely on the strengths of all of the league characters to be successful.

Now that you know the overall plot, let me go into the 3 new characters : The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg.  Out of these 3 characters,  I think Aquaman has the best potential for a spin-off movie, and after watching a recent movie in the theaters see that a stand-alone movie of him is coming out soon.  Cyborg seems confused in this movie - either that or his introduction wasn't very well done.  The Flash in my opinion probably shouldn't have been included or his character and dialog should have been re-written.  His humor is juvenile and stupid.  His dialog is lame.  He comes off as annoying and really distracts from the story in my opinion.   Now to be fair,  maybe that is how his character is in the comic book stories, but in this story it just sort of distracted from the true character development of the others.   I like good superhero movies where the characters are good, the humor well executed and the action complimentary.  One of the better superhero movies for me was Ironman 3.   I also really enjoyed Captain America: Civil War.   These movies were able to intertwine many characters, great story and action, and keep the pace so you never got bored.  Plus you wanted to root for the heroes and didn't get lost in poorly written jokes that are poorly delivered.  Somehow I felt like Justice League somehow missed it in a few places.  I thought overall the movie wasn't bad,  it just could have been much better with some better writing for the characters and a tighter plot that made you care a little more about the outcome.

TLDR : Good movie, but not great.  Could have been better, but if you like DC comics you should still check it out.  If you are a Marvel fan mainly, save yourself the time.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Van Gogh biography movie review

So I had some extra time and had never seen Kirk Douglas in the classic movie "Lust for Life".   I decided at the click of several buttons which Amazon makes so easy to stream this movie and see how they portray the artist Vincent Van Gogh.    I didn't realize until recently that Vincent started out as a missionary, and this movie portrays that really well.  He tries to be a missionary but is turned off by the church approach to poverty.   Admirably, Vincent felt that to reach people it helped to live like them.  The clergy who was responsible for sending him to his mission field felt differently.  They thought he needed to be staying in nice hotels instead of beat-down huts helping the people he was attempting to witness to.   I have to agree with Vincent on that point.  Anyway, he left the mission field and started to paint.  Vincent was very blessed to have a brother who was a strong believer in his talent, and (at least in the movie) helped support him throughout his painting career. 

I thought Kirk Douglas did a wonderful job in this movie portraying Van Gogh.  He played the part very well, and gave me a deeper understanding of some of the struggles that Van Gogh dealt with.  Vincent Van Gogh was a troubled man who used art to express some of his frustrations and also used it as therapy.    Throughout the movie it showed Vincent Van Gogh as a troubled but brilliant artist.  Toward the end of his life he checks himself into a mental health asylum (very admirably) and stayed there until they deemed him fit enough to return to society.  The sad part is that they released him into society and he didn't seem to be ready.  He unsuccessfully attempted suicide, and didn't really seem to fit into society throughout the remainder of his life. 

Overall, I found this movie insightful and informative into the life of Van Gogh.  Most people are familiar with some of his paintings, and the guy clearly had talent.  Unfortunately,   he was misunderstood and troubled about several things in his life.  He didn't seem to understand how love could be one-sided, nor did he have many close friends other than his brother.  He was a great artist but sadly it appears from this movie that he may have left the abundant life offered in Jesus Christ to try to make sense of the world with art.  That didn't end up very well for him.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Romance That Leaves You Wanting More : A Review of The Age of Adaline

My wife and I sat down to watch The Age of Adaline and I thought it started out very strong.  It had
excellent acting, an interesting story,  and a romantic plot.   My wife was hooked.  The story is about Adaline who through some freak accident never ages past the age of 29.  It was well told and really drew you into the story - that is -  until the last 30 minutes.  First of all I will say that Blake Lively did a wonderful job in the role she played.  She really helped the viewer be invested in the character and that is no easy feat in the modern world of movies.  However, unfortunately the plot of the movie didn't stay as strong as the acting talent involved. It was produced and acted very well, but the story seemed to fall short.  I won't be-labor the point,  but here are some issues I had with The Age of Adaline:

1. A Better Written Ending - just when I was emotionally invested in the characters,  the ending was taped on with very little thought of closure for the viewer.   It left me feeling like it didn't give the writers enough time to close up the story in a satisfactory way.   When viewers spend over 60 minutes watching a story like that,  you want something more.

That's it.  I just want some decent script writing.  The Age of Adaline drew me in.  I wanted to root for Adaline, but the way it tied it all up - I was disappointed.  I like romantic movies, and I was hoping this one would be another highly rated one - but unfortunately it failed in the writing department.  The script ends with a small indicator of change.   It didn't show me enough closure with everything else going on.  The viewers deserve more than that.  Hopefully Hollywood will take note.

An Exceptional War Movie : Review of Hacksaw Ridge

Let me start this review saying I have seen a lot of war movies.  I do mean A LOT.   My brothers and dad had me growing up viewing many war movies - some good - some not-so-good.  I was a bit hesitant starting this movie just because I didn't want to witness another gore-fest with no heart.   However,  this movie proved to be the opposite.  It surprised me in many ways and many positive ways.  It was edifying, encouraging and it was true.  These all made it stand apart from the average war movie.  The other beauty of this movie was that it showed the Christian faith can be a source of strength regardless of whether the Christian carries a weapon.  That was a powerful statement for any movie to make.

The story is of Desmond Doss a conscientious objector who entered WW2 and declined to carry a weapon but served the US Army by being a medic.  He was persecuted by his own fellow army guys.  He was ridiculed and beat by men on his side.  Yet he stayed true to his convictions and not only that - he eventually earned the respect of his fellow army guys, he demonstrated Matthew 5:5 in a way that is hard to deny.   Jesus said "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth." in that verse - and Desmond Doss showed how that worked in real life.  Many people think "meekness" and "weakness" are synonyms.   They aren't.   Meekness is controlled strength and it takes more self-control to exercise meekness than anger.   Desmond Doss showed meekness is an amazing way in this movie.   It inspired me to stand by my convictions and not give up when God calls you to a mission.  Kudos to Mel Gibson for showing this with high production values.  If you are curious in how that looked, watch the movie.  I doubt you will be disappointed.

The Heroine Quitter: A Review of Bad Moms

Well, Paul added to our repertoire of movies by purchasing a Ruku. I am not the most technical side of this relationship. So, all I know is he went to Best Buy, came home and did some finagling and in Emeril fashion "BAM!" we have a one month trial period of all these popular recent movies. Our Netflix que is looking quite sparse lately. The Netflix selection is bland. I mean gluten free bread type bland. Yet, with many choices comes the need for discernment. Sadly, one night while searching for a flick that did not have animated characters and singing in it, I settled on Bad Mom's. (Spoiler alert: I blatantly reveal the movie ending). 

This flick was released around the same time that Mom's Night Out was out in theaters. I remember enjoying a trip with some MOPS (Mother's of Preschoolers) friends to see that flick, but I was curious about the other "Mom" movie from a non conservative point of view. I grew up in the 80's where I truly felt that Christina Applegate was my long lost big sister. In fact, when my real life Sister last visited we watched Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead for the 100th time. 

The beginning of this movie starts out with f-bombs every other word. I do tend to guard what I view and take-in from a media stand point quite a bit, so this was frankly a little shocking to me coming from a cast of women. It was really unexpected. Do women talk like salty Navy sailors in real life? The cast of women is quite impressive as far as talent is concerned too. The cast is filled with strong female leads: Mila Kumis, Kristin Bell, and Kathryn Hahn. All of these women have been perfecting their acting chops from a young age. They have experience on screen to blend their strengths with great comedic timing.

I really enjoyed the PTA meeting where Christina Applegate is discussing what foods are allowed to be brought into the school bake sale. Every Mom can relate to his ordeal of "appropriate" food with the list of allergies and concerns growing every year. Yet, we also have a stereotypical portrayal of stay-at-home Mom's as nosy busybodies or slaves to housework. What lies! Anyone can tell you, it is a choice between a husband and wife to have one person stay home and live on one income to raise your own children. It comes with sacrifice and difficult choices for your family. 

Yet, when I got to the midpoint of this movie I realized that I would label Bad Moms a "bleak comedy." See, black comedy would indicate someone dies. So, what do you call it when marriages die and it's applauded all through out the movie? I will call it bleak. This movie delves into joining the rest of Hollywood in the blatant attack on traditional values, conservatism, marriage, and men. Who is writing this garbage? Oh, it is Scott Moore and Jon Lucus (most known for The Hangover and other raunchy films which I haven't seen). Several times we hear Amy Mitchell (Mila Kumis) say she is going to do everything she can for her two kids as she contemplates her marital woes. 

Yet, this main heroine is totally befuddled with how she got to this point in her relationship with her husband!? She is, of course, just an innocent victim in her life. She hasn't dated her husband in the last several years. In fact, she can't even remember when they last had intimacy. She disrespects him and treats her husband like a child. There is no fight for her marriage. There is really no commitment on her part except to the children. She forgot that marriage has to be her first priority. As Dr. Laura says, "You have to be your husband's girlfriend first."

So, the film portrays there is only one option for a dysfunctional marriage and here come the Hollywood smoke and mirrors solution: being a single Mom is great!  How insulting. Yes, oh yes, there is the freedom I've been looking for! This marriage is too hard. Quit. This parenting gig is too hard. Quit. The heroine is a quitter. Why am I so surprised at this movie as it is a secular point of view? I don't know. I'm just hoping that if some of these third-wave feminist ideas have seeped into my worldview; I want to be aware of it and place my feet on a solid path of biblical based common sense!

If you are struggling in your marriage (and all marriages go through seasons) the answers you are looking for are in the Bible. Start looking for older women with strong marriages that you trust for counseling suggestions. If you find a counselor find out first if they hold marriage as a sacred covenant. Get help! God loves marriage. He created it and He will see you through. A great movie on this is, War Room. This movie is so good at illustrating the POWER of prayer through life that it will even make you want to clean out your precious closet space for a quiet prayer closet! If that is not your current season; lets use our energies to encourage our husband today and our single Mom friends. 

I give this a generous .5 out of 5 stars. 

Radical Womanhood by Carolyn McCulley 
Bible Verses about Training your Children
War Room 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Well-Told Story : A Review of Rogue One

Although I didn't see this movie in the theater,  I finally received it on my Netflix queue and was able to sit down and review it.   I like the Star Wars stories and didn't really abhor even Episodes 1, 2, and 3.  I had mixed feelings about Rogue One because it wasn't going to meddle with the original story line but simply be an add-on story.  Fortunately,  I felt it was really well-done.    Here is why I think Rogue One did things right:

1. Focus was more on the story than on the special effects.  

Star Wars movies have a hard line to walk.  Not only are they compared to IV, V and VI constantly, but they have to balance a great special effects universe with a good story.  This movie seemed to have the winning combination so that I didn't feel I was watching a video game and actually cared about the characters involved.

2. Great humor used throughout without becoming a comedy

Without giving anything away, I thought the use of humor was great in this movie.   It had me laughing out loud several times and I think that added to the story.

3. Great acting from all characters

The bad guys, the good guys, and even the robots had great parts and played them well in this movie. It was refreshing to find such a well-acted movie with such high production values.

4. Noble effort to tie in other Star Wars stories

This movie did a great job giving nods to prior movies without tampering too much with the other stories.  It did the job just right of creating an add-on story without overpowering the original tales.

Overall - I was very pleased and a bit surprised as to how good this movie was.  I have enjoyed watching the rebooted Star Trek movies as well, but this one seemed to be a few notches above even the Star Trek ones.  If you have any interest at all in the Star Wars universe, you should at least give Rogue One a watch.