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The BFG (2016)
Charming throughout
27 June 2016
The BFG began as an imaginative book by Roald Dahl about a giant that captures and saves dreams so that he can bring happiness to sleeping children and adults as well. The movie begins as the BFG is seen by the cute-as-a-button insomniac orphan Sophie. The BFG takes the terrified Sophie gently from her orphanage bed and spends the rest of the movie bonding with her, precious soul to precious soul.

My family (one teen, one "tween") loved the movie. The story is about trying to live a kind and gentle life in a world that is not always so kind or so gentle. The BFG has his tormentors, and Sophie becomes his little supporter, encouraging him to deal rightly with his problem. Likewise, the BFG looks out for Sophie who needs all the love she can get.

The movie tells a most unique tale that will keep you involved until the end. There are some giants that might be a bit much for preschoolers. I did see a two year old crying when they appeared.

The BFG is a fun and warm movie with laughs and a fine message. Great fun!
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Little Boy (2015)
Little Boy - good stuff
22 April 2015
Warning: Spoilers
One of the knocks on "Christian" films is that they lack subtlety; the message is wielded like a blunt force instrument, and the story resolution comes by way of a pat ending, reached always through faith in God. Heroes and villains are drawn in stark contrast, and the heroes are the ones that believe in God the most. I don't agree it is a valid knock in all cases, but I appreciate at least that criticism, and see the point.

Then there is Little Boy. First, I would hesitate to call it a "Christian" film at all, as the message seems broader than that, but what the heck - call it a Christian film. In fact, call it a Catholic film. Perish the thought!

Little Boy is a meditation on many things - the belief that faith without works is dead; the belief that works without love are also dead; the corporal works of mercy. All of these are Catholic beliefs, some uniquely so. But they are also all human. Should we treat each other well because we love God? Or because it's right? Does it matter?

In the end, Little Boy is also a mediation on the nature of faith itself. Does our faith in God change God? Or cause him to do what we want Him to do? Or does our faith simply allow us to see what God does through the eyes of trust and love, through the eyes of a little boy gazing upon a father that he worships? The formula in a lot of Christian films is that faith helps us get what we want. The reality is that faith helps us to deal with what God wants. There is a big difference.

I enjoyed Little Boy, but not simply for its message of faith. We can all see ourselves in one character or another as they all deal differently with the tension of WWII. Overall, Little Boy is a touching and poignant film, well worth a shot.
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The Croods (2013)
Pixar it's not
17 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The technical attributes of The Croods are many; I saw the movie in 3D with my wife and two children (11 and 8). The adults and the kids will marvel at the 3D, like the little glowing red cinders that would come floating out of the screen toward the audience, byproducts of a fire on screen. Technically, The Croods is solid.

The problem is that the kids, who grew up with this stuff, have seen the 3D magic done many times before, and that alone will not win their enthusiasm. The movie must do more than dazzle; it must also entertain, and to do that it must make some sense. Sadly, The Croods comes up a little short in both respects.

First, The Croods, as far as I could tell, are human beings. That means they can't run like gazelles, or hurl rocks five hundred yards, or survive getting thrown off a cliff etc. These Croods bear little resemblance to human beings. The baby scuttles across the ground like a wild animal; the daughter clambers up vertical cliffs like no animal I've ever seen, human or not. With the disconnect, I never knew what species I was watching, and it put the premise of the plot on shaky footing going in.

I know, it's only a movie. I get that. If it was a Superman movie, maybe then it would make sense, but there's no part of the plot that gives the family super powers, and yet they appear to have them. And yet despite these powers, the father keeps telling them how dangerous the world is.

The Incredibles was a movie featuring a family of "supers." That movie, with a premise as equally impossible as the premise The Croods, was at least internally consistent. For instance, Flash could run fast, and that's what he did. Elasti-Girl could stretch herself, and she did that. It was part of the plot, and it was explained as such. In this movie, there are too many things that seem to make no sense, and are not explained. Like, how the baby can outrun a wild animal.

Setting all of that aside, I asked my eight year old how she liked it, and she told me it was "weird" (see above), and that "the same things kept happening." That was the other problem – as dazzling as the technical side of it is, the action had a certain sameness to it after a while.

Should you go? Sure, why not. Bring the kids. They'll get a couple of chortles; they'll enjoy the 3D stuff, all of that. Pixar, it's not, but it's good enough to get you through the night.
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Nyuk nyuk nyuk
11 April 2012
The Stooge legacy exists apart from time itself – I loved them when I was nine for the eye-pokes; I loved them in later life for the knowing humor (and the eye-pokes). I loved them even though they were from a long gone era. And most people I know hold the Stooges in the same high esteem I do. Among goofy guys like me, they are the high priests. They are sacred cows.

There is a great risk in taking on a sacred cow. If nothing else, I admire the courage of the Farrelly brothers, goofy guys themselves, who would know the risks all too well. Die-hard Stooge fans might even wish for the failure of the project, if nothing else but to affirm the irreplaceable nature of the Stooges.

All that said, I admit I approached the movie skeptically. In the end, I was won over. The movie's homage to the Stooges is in getting them right. All of the slapstick humor is there; all of the wisecracks are there. These Stooges capture the craziness and the randomness of the original Stooges without trying too hard to "interpret the role" or any such silliness. It's respectful of the original.

For me, once I was comfortable with these guys as the Stooges, the fun was in seeing the Stooges in the present day, where smacking someone over the head with a sledgehammer is even less acceptable than it was in the 1930's. They goof on all sorts of present day annoyances- Jersey Shore, the Kardashians, just like they goofed on high society and other annoyances of their own time.

The bottom line: I was laughing the whole time. If you're a Stooges fan, there's a lot to like – just give the movie a chance.
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A fine, fun movie for the whole family
18 October 2011
I saw the Mighty Macs in a preview screening tonight, and came away impressed.

First, the themes, or messages, of the movie are good ones. The movie is about a small, cash-strapped girls' school that hires a basketball coach who has visions of greatness. She tries to bring the team around to her vision. So the first theme explored is the theme of staying the course, overcoming obstacles and struggling through adversity. That theme is pretty standard fare for these underdog stories, but it is done well here, and it is all the more resonant because the movie is based on a true story.

The second theme, as I see it, was about the emergence of women in sports and in life in general, and I liked the way that this theme was presented. Nowadays in movies and in the media I often see the raising up of a woman represented by radical cosmetic makeovers or some other reference to external appearance. In the Mighty Macs, the theater actually laughed when they first saw the girls' uniforms. And in one scene, one of the girls on the team who had very little money was called out by someone outside the team for her rundown clothing. Rather than gang up on her, the team rallied to that girl's help. And rather than getting new uniforms so they could be elevated by the clothes, it was the other way around – their inspired play elevated the uniforms, and now the dowdy uniforms are fondly recalled (I know because we got some nice literature from the school at the screening).

Finally, and it's sort of a side note, I liked that there were nuns in the movie, lots of them, and they were not cartoon characters. The movie showed their different personalities; their individuality even amongst their identical appearance, not unlike the team itself. At one point, one of the nuns described her journey toward her vocation, and the treatment of it was entirely respectful. It dignified rather than ridiculed her choice. That should not be remarkable at all, but to me it was, as I almost now expect to see nuns ridiculed.

A fine, fun movie for the whole family.
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A solid family movie
31 August 2011
Seven Days in Utopia tells the story of a man's failure and then his struggle, and it's a familiar storyline, as old as the heroes of Greek mythology.

I watched the movie with my wife, who knows nothing about golf, and my two children, ten and seven. My wife enjoyed it most of all because it was clean, meaning it had no profanity, and the romantic leads were not rolling in bed ten minutes into the movie. The kids liked it too – it was easy to follow, easy to understand, and had plenty of fun parts.

I recommend the movie because it is a pleasurable way to spend a little time. It is not heavy handed in what little preaching it does, which I know puts some people off. Even for those who are put off by Christian movies, I can recommend that they see it and try to think about the values espoused without dwelling on the source of those values.

I am always hesitant to reveal too much plot, but suffice to say the movie touches on many subjects, one of which is small town life. I took away the idea that our frenzied lives are not always good for us, and especially if they deprive us of the time or the mood to reflect on and renew our purpose and our convictions.

It is about golf, and the idea that the game is an individual game, one player vs. the other, as much mental as physical. In the movie, the main character needed to renew his convictions in order to fulfill his purpose, which in his case was excellence at golf.

It is also about the struggle toward redemption, and the path shown in the film is a surrender to God, letting Him take charge and letting go all of the angst that burdens our failures, whether it's a missed golf shoot or even alcoholism.

Recommended as a good solid family movie.
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Fireproof (2008)
Very thought provoking
22 September 2008
Hollywood is great at letting us participate in the victories of those who conquer long odds, whether it's sports movies in which the underdog wins the championship or even movies about unlikely romantic pairings (geek meets beauty) that end happily in, say, a wedding. But we see few movies about the joy we feel in conquering the mundane - like in making a marriage work after both sides have lost the motivation to do so.

This is a movie that shows us how hard it is to revive a near-dead marriage, and why it matters so much. Yes, there is a religious context to the movie. A partner in a healthy marriage, we are shown, struggles to emulate the selfless love and service of Jesus by loving and serving his or her spouse, as Jesus would. But the religious aspects of the movie ought not keep away those who are religion-averse. Selfless love and service as the keys to a joyful marriage are not exclusive to any religion.

A great movie for married couples - very thought provoking.
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