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Excellent Indepentent Christian Action Film!
Young men look up to heroes. In days of old, the heroes of young men were the godly older men who had come before them, and before their fathers. Men like the apostle Paul, George Washington, Winston Churchill, Stonewall Jackson, and many others. All flawed men (heroes tend to be that way), but also good men. Men who stood for what was right against great odds.
Sadly, in the past few years, we've seen a change in heroes. Now, the "heroes" this generation looks up to are sports figures, actors, musicians, and even fictional characters from popular films. These people tend to give young men a false sense of heroism, especially when you consider that they often live very immoral live driven by pride, lust, and greed.
Enter Jimmy Valiant. He's flawed, but then again, we all are. And while he starts out living for himself, throughout the film he grows to realize that it is not his duty to deal out God's judgment on all his foes, but that vengeance truly is God's.
Action, Adventure, and Real Heroes: As I mentioned earlier, heroes have been going downhill for quite some time, and there's no better place to see that than in the movie theater. Independent Christian Filmmakers have made great strides in many areas and genres, but one genre that we haven't fully attacked yet is the action/thriller film. As a young man, I know that is one of the film genres that speaks strongest to men. Sure, a good love story can be inspiring (particularly to you ladies out there), but quite frankly, I'd rather see a good hero take out the evil bad guys any day. Apparently, Nathaniel Darnell feels the same way.
And thus, Jimmy Valiant was born. Both Nathaniel Darnell and his co-producer, Nathan Barns, are dedicated to raising the bar for Independent Christian Filmmaking and discipling young men through the action/thriller genre. Jimmy Valiant: Scions of Danger is their first step into that arena.
True Heroism: The message of this film is that true heroism starts with the heart. As he goes through this exciting adventure, Jimmy Valiant learns that he cannot be a law unto himself, because ultimately, God is the one who rules this world and punishes evil doers.
Besides having several excellent themes, Jimmy Valiant: Scions of Danger, is also completely clean. No unwholesome language, no immorality, no gratuitous violence (more on that later), nothing to offend! The film is also well done technically speaking, with the visual effects from The Effects Forge being especially good.
There will always be bad guys: Quite frankly, there's very little for me to say against the film. That's refreshing! I've watched so many films that when I get to this section, the hard part is choosing what to say and what to gloss over, but with Jimmy Valiant, I almost left this section out! I will mention however, that there is a bit of violence and some families may be uncomfortable with it, especially if they have young children. It's not over-the-top, nor is it gratuitous, but this is an action film, and some people do get beat up, and at least one is killed.
The only other thing I'll mentions is this: keep in mind that this film is actually a pilot episode for a 13-episode series that will be produced if enough interest and funding can be generated. As such, it can be a bit rough around the edges at times, and some of my family found the plot a bit hard to follow. Hopefully this will change when the full series is released and the story is expanded.
End Game: Overall, this was a good action film that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to action lovers everywhere. The story was well-paced, the fight sequences believable, and the dialogue completely clean! It can be streamed online for only $3.99 or bought on DVD for $12* from Persevero Films.
Horton Hears a Who! (2008)
Excellent Adaptation of the Book
I have always been a fan of Dr. Seuss (which may explain why I've enjoyed so many films which can only be described as 'odd') and, while I was not sure how anyone could make an 86-minute film out of one of his books, I was curious as to how it turned out. Surprisingly, it was done quite well and Horton Hears a Who turned out to be an enjoyable journey.
The Story: Horton Hears a Who is based on Dr. Seuss' classic book by the same title. The story is about an elephant named Horton who hears a cry for help coming from a small spec on a clover flower. Horton responds to the call and decides to help the small people who live on the flower. The other inhabitants of the jungle take offense at Horton, as they can't hear the people on the speck, and declare he is going mad and must be stopped. Still dedicated to helping his small new friends, Horton must get the clover to safety before it's too late.
The Good: This film, like the book, contains biblical pro-life themes. Throughout the film Horton insists that "a person's a person no matter how small" and is dedicated to his mission of protecting the small people no matter what the cost. Down on the spec, the mayor must overcome the corruption in his town and convince the people of Whoville that while their town may have been stable for centuries, it's not stable anymore. The people then band together to help Horton save Whoville from imminent destruction. Also present in this film are sub-themes of friendship and dedication to a higher cause.
On a more technical note, the film's animation is quite well done, but what really stands out here is the soundtrack. John Powell has once again composed a score that fits the movie like a glove but is also quite enjoyable in it's own right. While some of the characters seem a little overdone at times, they were cast well and the sound design complemented the picture excellently.
The Bad: Toward the beginning of the film it becomes evident that the mayor of Whoville and his only son, Jo-Jo, do not have a healthy relationship. The father's and son's visions for Jo-Jo's future are at odds with each other and it plays out in a sullen silence on Jo-Jo's part. Fortunately, by the end of the film, father and son work together to save Whoville and I think it's safe to assume that their relationship goes uphill from there. Besides that, some slightly rude humor and a bit of name calling is all that can be considered negative in this film. As a warning, there are a few scenes that may be slightly scary for young children.
Conclusion: Horton Hears a Who is a safe, clean option for an enjoyable family night. While there are a few problems with it, I believe that it can be enjoyed together by people of all ages. It's another one of those films that gives me some slight hope that Hollywood might not be completely dead.
Let's hope they make many more.
Most beautiful film ever
I've got to admit Disney's Tangled is the most beautiful animated film I have ever seen. Unfortunately, it also has the one of most dangerous messages of any animated film I've ever seen.
The Story: Once upon a time in a land far away, a drop of sunlight fell to the ground. From that drop grew a magical flower which would heal any wound and could even reverse the affects of time. Some years later, a queen in a nearby kingdom was giving birth. It was a difficult labor, and the kingdom's doctors were afraid she wouldn't make it. So the entire kingdom set out to find this flower to heal the queen. Their search was successful, and the queen gave birth to a beautiful baby daughter.
Unfortunately, someone else knew about the flower and would stop at nothing to get back it's power.
The Good: Technically speaking, this film excelled. The animation was beautiful, the story was well thought out, the characters were delightful, and, despite my not being a big fan of musicals or Alen Menken soundtracks, I actually enjoyed the music of Tangled. Sadly, while there are several other themes which could have been very powerful, the overarching message of the film corrupted them to the point that they are hardly worth mentioning here.
The Bad: As I mentioned earlier, this film has some very dangerous messages. While Mother Gothel isn't Rapunzel's real mother, and is in fact a very evil woman using Rapunzel for her own good, Rapunzel believes that Gothel is her mother and therefore she deserves her respect and obedience. After Rapunzel runs away with Flynn, she does feel some regret for her actions, but doesn't repent of her disobedience. While Rapunzel later learns that Gothel isn't her mother and doesn't deserve any respect or obedience, this cannot be used to excuse her intentional disobedience. Flynn also mentions that rebellion is just part of growing up, and while that does seem to be true nowadays, it is certainly not right.
Also troubling is the relationship that grows between Rapunzel and Flynn. For most of the film it's handled fairly well, but towards the end of the film they blow it with a kiss and a rather lengthy embrace. There are also some low-cut dresses, particularly on Mother Gothel, and magic is involved in the story, though to a lesser extent than in many other fairy tales.
Conclusion: I have rather mixed feelings about this film. On the one hand, it is a beautiful piece of animation, and I found the story to be both entertaining and enjoyable. On the other hand, some of the messages tangled into the story are quite dangerous. Sadly, I cannot recommend this movie for families.
An Enjoyable Cruise
As you may be able to tell by now, I'm a big fan of Pixar. I've watched almost all of their films, and I hope to re-watch (and review!) many of them later this year. So while I'm not a big fan of car racing, I was still looking forward to watching Cars. I'm glad I did.
The Story: Lightning McQueen is a rookie race car intent on one thing - winning the Piston Cup. While on the way to the final race of the season, he ends up stranded in the small town of Radiator Spring with an obligation to repair their road which he wrecked on his way through the town.
The Good: This film has several important lessons, including putting other before ourselves, respecting our elders, and setting a good example for those looking up to us. Perhaps the most important theme, however, is just to slow down and enjoy life. One of Lightning's biggest problems is that he's impatient and selfish. He's living life in the fast lane and he wants everything done his way. After he gets stranded in Radiator Springs he's forced to slow down and enjoy life and the relationships it brings him. A much needed lesson in the hectic consumer culture we live in today.
The Bad: This is a little edgier than Pixar's other films, though in comparison to many other films it's still fairly clean. Among the offensive elements are a few uses of language, a couple of slight references to drug use, and several of the race cars' very prideful attitudes (though these are resolved pretty well by the film's conclusion). Towards the beginning of the film Lightning races a train to a crossing and darts in front of it at the very last minute. While it is a very brief scene it is not portrayed as a bad thing, whereas in reality it is a very dangerous and foolish thing to try.
Conclusion: While Cars is certainly not Pixar's greatest film, it is a very enjoyable ride. There are a few uncomfortable bumps every once in a while, but on the whole Pixar has once again taken us on a smooth and delightful cruse.
Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Who Would Have Dreamed Monsters Could Be So Much Fun!
Who would have thought that a film about monsters could be so much fun? While this certainly isn't Pixar's most intellectually stimulating film, it is an enjoyable way to spend an evening as a family... unless, of course, your children are afraid of monsters.
The Story: Mike and Sulley are workers at Monsters, Inc., the huge power plant that keeps the city of Monstropolis running smoothly. Their job: to collect the screams of little children. Screams are what power Monstropolis, so every night the monsters must enter the world of humans in order to scare the children as they fall asleep.
But the children are not the only ones being scared. The monsters believe that children are poisonous and that just one touch from a human child will kill them. So when a two year-old girl follows Sulley back through her closet door into Monstropolis, the monsters' world is turned upside down.
The Good: As with many Pixar films, friendship and looking out for others is a major part of this story. The relationship that grows between Sulley and Boo is very sweet and he goes to great lengths to keep her safe. This is a wonderful example of what we should be willing to do to protect widows, orphans, and all those weaker than ourselves. Also noticeable was the contrast between good and evil and the lesson that laughter and joy are more powerful than fear.
The Bad: This film is very clean. Besides a few monster kisses and one use of the word darn, there's really nothing offensive here. One thing parents of young children may want to keep in mind, however, is the fact that the film is about monsters who come out at night and scare little children. While this is resolved nicely in the end, some young children may find a film about monsters to be more scary than funny.
Conclusion: While Monsters, Inc. may not be a very deep film, it is an extremely entertaining one! If you're looking for a delightful way to spend an evening, and you are not afraid of monsters, Monsters, Inc. may just fit the bill.
Not as Good as the Other Two, But Still a Good Film
I went into this film with really low expectations. Almost every person I have spoken to about it said it was a disappointment. But, being a big Narnia fan, I decided to brave Prince Caspian anyway. I'm not disappointed that I did. I'm not saying it is a great film, since it certainly has problems, but overall I found the second installment of the Narnia series to be an enjoyable experience.
Most of the time, that is. Other times, I thought that Andrew Adamson had been watching too much of The Lord of the Rings.
The Story: Prince Caspian is on the run from his uncle, who is trying to steal his throne. When Caspian falls in with the old Narnians, he thinks he is about to be killed, so he blows on Queen Susan's magical horn, summoning the four Penvensie children back to Narnia. Under the leadership of the kings and queens of old, the Narnians unite to win back their freedom from the cruel reign of the Telmarines.
The Good: As usual the film has excellent themes of sacrificial love. Characters frequently put themselves in danger to save others and some even go to the point of sacrificing their lives for their friends. But the biggest theme in this movie is far deeper than that. Throughout the film, the heroes talk about proving themselves to Aslan and how they have to do all the work this time. Every time they try this though, things go wrong, men are killed, and battles are lost. Finally they realize that they cannot succeed alone, and that they need Aslan's help for all of life. It's a powerful metaphor, and one I am thankful they included.
I am also very pleased with how the film handled magic. In the book, 'white magic*' is used several times and is not portrayed as being evil. In the film, however, none of the heroes use magic and the one time magic does appear it is portrayed as obviously evil.
The Bad: Women in combat was the big one. Susan fights right up front with the guys, dispatching Telmarines with her bow in classic Legolas style. There are also several female centaurs who can be seen charging into battle. Other negative elements include a bit of immodesty and a completely unnecessary kiss between Caspian and Susan.
Also, while this film is darker and more violent than the other two, it contains less scary creatures than either of the others. the violence is mostly bloodless, but the battles are large and intense, though not on the scale of The Lord of the Rings.
Conclusion: While this film is not as inspiring as the others in the series, I still found it to be an enjoyable addition to the Chronicles of Narnia. I can't wait to see where they take us in the future.
Footnotes: * By using the term 'white magic' I'm not trying to imply that there are different types of magic. All magic is evil, whether it is called white or black. The term 'white magic' in the context of this review is only used to imply that the magic is being wielded by a character usually portrayed as good.
City of Ember (2008)
Excellent Idea, Poor Execution
The first word that comes to mind when trying to describe this movie is 'interesting', and it was a very interesting concept. Unfortunately, the execution of that concept was a bit on the poor side, which might explain why this film was such a flop at the box office a couple years ago.
The Story: Mankind is in danger. The world has been enveloped in a deadly war which threatens to wipe out the entire population of the globe. A small group of scientists decides that the best way to preserve the human race is to send a group underground. They build a city and place instructions inside a sealed metal box set to open in two hundred years showing how to leave the city once it is safe above ground. The box is entrusted to the care of the first mayor of Ember and a group of people are sent to safety underground.
As time passes the box is lost and, when the two hundred years are up, the box clicks open in the back of a small closet, out of sight and out of mind. As more time passes and no one finds the box, the generator that keeps the city alive begins to fail.
The Good: The filmmakers had an outstanding idea. Making a movie about people who survive the end of the world has been done before and, from what I hear, not very well. But making a movie about people who go underground for 200 years to keep the world from ending? That's pretty unique. Also, the film is clean. No cursing, misusing of the Lord's name, or teenage love story. That alone is enough to set this film apart from most of the sci-fi world.
The main goal of the film's heroes is to save mankind from death when the generator powering their underground city fails. Along the way the lead young man looks out for the safety of his female counterpart and tries his best to keep her out of danger. While this theme of protecting woman and children is not spelled out as clearly as it could be, it was there.
This film also features a rather interesting example of the Bible's plan of salvation. The citizens of Ember have a strong belief that the city's builders (a reference to a Creator, perhaps?) will someday return and show them the way out. While they never do come back, they had left instructions in a box (a bible) which is found by Doon and Lina (the proclaimers of the truth), who follow the instructions and are able to lead the people to safety again. I'm not saying it was intentional on the part of the filmmakers to include something like this, but it was still an interesting part of the plot.
The Bad: The young man's relationship with his father is far from perfect. His dad is not featured often, but things get a bit uncomfortable when they share screen time.
The real disappointment in this film was that it was not as well done as it could have been. The set pieces and locations were amazing, the cinematography was well done, the lead actors were quite believable, yet the film was a flop. Why? Well, for one thing, it was a bit disjointed at places. It also had a slow opening, and we never did get a very clear sense of why they were all living underground. I had read enough reviews to know the answer to that question, but it should have been made clearer in the film.
Conclusion: While I found the film to be fairly enjoyable, it was hard to keep from thinking, "If they had only improved this, and fixed that, we could have an excellent film here". It's disappointing, especially as this is one of a very few sci-fi/fantasy films available that is completely clean. Just goes to show that even a good story can be told poorly.
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Best Dreamworks Film Yet, But That's About It
I'm not a huge fan of Dreamworks. Nothing personal, but none of their films have really interested me. I've only seen two, so I'm not working off of much, but the first one I watched (Over the Hedge, for any of you who are wondering) was a waste of time. So, while I was looking forward to watching How to Train Your Dragon, my expectations weren't very high. Quite frankly, I wasn't sure what to expect.
However low my expectations were, I was pleasantly surprised. The story was interesting, though not as good as most Pixar films, and the quality of the animation wasn't bad, despite the highly stylized people.
The Story: The film is set in a Viking village with a serious pest: dragons! The dragons have an inconvenient habit of attacking the village at night and carrying of the village's food supply. The villagers fight back, attempting to kill as many dragons as possible. The young hero of the film, Hiccup, attempts to help fight dragons, but is told to stay inside and out of the way, despite this, he runs out and joins in the fight, and even manages to shoot down one of the most dangerous of all the dragons! Unfortunately, no one believes him when he claims to have done it, so, the next morning, yet set out to find and kill his dragon.
To cut a long story short, instead of killing the dragon, he befriends it, and finds out that everything his village knows about dragons is wrong. In the end, the village finds out that Hiccup was right, they are able to set free the enslaved dragons, and everybody lives happily ever after.
The Bad: The story is set in a pagan viking culture, which poses some obvious problems. There are multiple reference to praying to the viking gods, which, as Christians, we know to be wrong.
At the beginning of the film, the son's relationship with his father is very poor, with multiple instances of disrespectfulness, which the film usually portrays in a humorous light. Fortunately, this relationship improves toward the end of the film, giving the impression that the father and son will grow closer as time passes. The relationships between the "teenage" vikings also is rather poor, though in the end, they too work together for the good of the village.
There are also a couple of sexual innuendos and a few kisses between the hero and heroine.
The Good: The entire theme of the story was redemption. The viking's need was to stop the raids from the dragons, which could only be accomplished by freeing (or redeeming) the dragons from the even bigger dragon that enslaved them. The story also dealt with motives, and the need to have good ones. At the beginning of the story, the vikings kill dragons because they "are vikings, and that's what vikings do." Hiccup is the first person to stop and think about whether or not that was really a good enough reason to kill them, and in the end, they find out it's not.
The film also provides an example, albeit a rather poor one, of a father and son growing closer as the work together towards a common goal.
Conclusion: While the story was enjoyable, it does have some major problems. This film is only suitable for discerning audiences, and I can't say it's high up on my list of recommended films to watch.
Amazing Grace (2006)
Amazing Grace is the story of British abolitionist William Wilberforce and his struggle to end slavery in Great Brittan. The film follows him through his struggles and joys as he fights what appears a first to be a losing battle, but in the end, wins.
The Good: The overall message of the film is about fighting for something bigger and more important than ourselves. At the beginning of the film, Wilberforce is striving to be a politician, but his friends are all trying to get him to take on the issue of slavery. After becoming a Christian, Wilberforce does tackle the issue, and continues to fight for the abolition of slavery year after year, through defeat after defeat. The film is an excellent example of persevering through seeming overwhelming odds to, in the end, achieve a noble victory.
Also, I think it is worth noting that technically speaking, this film was excellent. The amount of detail taken in choosing and decorating the sets was incredible! While BBC didn't (to my knowledge) have anything to do with this film, I came away with the same sort of feeling I get after watching one of their more recent films - "Wow, why haven't we independent Christian filmmakers done so well?" The Bad: There wasn't a whole lot in the film that was offensive. John Newton was not portrayed very accurately (though besides that, the film was surprisingly historically accurate), and there where several instances of language, and a few scenes which included a low cut dress or two, but that was about all.
There are however, some scenes which would only be appropriate for mature audiences. The evils of the slave trade are discussed several times, and the characters use some rather vivid descriptions, which, while not inappropriate, are probably not suitable for young ears.
Conclusion: I enjoyed this film, and would probably recommend it to mature audiences who where aware of the few problems this film contains. It is an excellent example of perseverance.
A Christmas Carol (2009)
Was This Just a Showcase for Disney 3D?
I must say that I had high expectations for this film. While I am very familiar with Dickens' masterful tale, I had never seen it as a movie, and was greatly looking forward to it.
Unfortunately, Disney has almost ruined it in this animated feature film.
The Good: It was very well made, technically speaking. The detail they put into the animation of the film was incredible, and it would have been amazing in 3D! That is also however, where Disney failed in this film.
It was also good in that, for the most part, it stuck to the book. There was only one place where the changes made to the story made no sense what so ever, but more on that later.
The Bad: I believe that the film was mainly made to show off what could be done with 3D. As I mentioned, the animation was technically well done, but there where many things that seemed like they had been added to the story just to show off what Disney can do with 3D. For example, toward the end of the film there's a scene where Scrooge is chased through London in miniature by the ghost of Christmas-yet-to-Come, who turns out in the end to also be the angel of death.
While I'm sure it looked great in 3D, it didn't really have anything to do with the Christmas Carol Dickens wrote. The whole scene should have been cut and replaced by other, more meaningful, scene that Disney left out.
Conclusion: While I was very much looking forward to watching the film, I was greatly disappointing. Maybe if I hadn't had such high expectations I would've enjoyed it more, but I doubt it.
Hopefully I can find a better rendition of Dickens' classic story to enjoy later this Christmas season.