Welcome to Meridian at the Movies! For Mothers’ Day weekend, I’ve rounded up the latest offerings of home entertainment to relax to or gift to Mom. Curious readers may also want to check out my recommendations of movies for Mothers’ Day. Also, I’ll try to catch the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp vampire romp Dark Shadows this weekend, so check my website. For now, though, I share my two cents on the pro-marriage romance The Vow, the Steven Spielberg epic War Horse, a new VeggieTales musical DVD, Tom Cruise’s latest stunt-filled Mission-Impossible, the female-hero action film Colombiana, the Utah-made teen comedy Unitards, and the uplifting Matt Damon-Scarlett Johansson family drama We Bought a Zoo. As always I break down each film by artistic merit, potentially objectionable content, and Gospel parallels to discuss so that you can make the best decision for your family.
THE VOW REVIEW (Grade: A-)
Your enjoyment of The Vow will depend entirely upon your taste when it comes to bittersweet, tear-jerker love stories. If you don’t like them, nothing here will convert you. Being something of a romantic myself, I must concede that this film does very well what it sets out to do. Rachel McAdams, who is becoming the modern queen of this genre, brings a fine balance of charm, confusion, and heartache to her portrayal of a wife who loses several years of memory in a car accident, forgetting her entire courtship and married life. As her husband, Channing Tatum (who I’d previously written off as mere eye-candy for women) has apparently been taking acting lessons and/or learning from his costars on previous films, because he gives a nice performance here. He’s actually quite good, conveying both the fear of losing his wife if he can’t win her heart again and the good humor necessary to endure such a trial.
The fascinating premise is taken from a true story, though the specific details and characters here are purely romantic fiction. Supporting characters (her family, her ex-fiance) and relationships are surprisingly well-rounded and complex for this type of film. The Vow is pleasantly thorough in portraying the emotional journeys of its characters, wisely opting for the less-is-more approach in its inevitable happy ending. This gives the film a satisfying realism instead of overwrought Hollywood-style melodrama. There is plenty of sorrow here, just like in real life, but there’s also hope and happiness. As someone who enjoys romantic films but thinks most modern ones ring too hollow or crass, I found The Vow to be a nice surprise.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: The Vow is rated PG-13. It has some moderate profanity and a few vulgar expressions. A married couple kisses passionately on the floor and wake up cuddling naked in bed (we see her bare back and his bare leg/chest, but a blanket covers the rest). We see a man’s bare rear for a few seconds in a humorous scene. A married couple goes swimming in their underwear (seen from a medium distance) and kiss wearing the same. A man gets punched. Two men share a drink. A car accident sends a woman through the windshield. While dating a man buys a woman lingerie and asks her to move in with him, though the very next scene is of them getting married.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: “Choose a companion carefully and prayerfully, and when you are married be fiercely loyal to each other…Commitment in marriage is absolutely essential” (President Thomas S. Monson). Sometimes our tragedies and trials are blessings in disguise (2 Corinthians 4:17, D&C 122: 5-8). Forgiveness brings healing (Ephesians 4:31). “Desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine our actions. The desires we act on determine our changing, our achieving, and our becoming” (Elder Dallin H. Oaks). A husband and wife are to leave their former lives with their parents and make a life for one another together (Ephesians 5:31). “Human [sexual] intimacy…is–or certainly was ordained to be–a symbol of total union: union of their hearts, their hopes, their lives, their love, their family, their future, their everything…But such a total, virtually unbreakable union, such an unyielding commitment between a man and a woman, can only come with the proximity and permanence afforded in a marriage covenant, with the union of all that they possess–their very hearts and minds, all their days and all their dreams” (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland).
WAR HORSE REVIEW (Grade: A-)
In films such as E.T. and Hook, Steven Spielberg proved himself a master of sentimental film-making (in the best sense of that term). With Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, he proved himself capable of gritty realism. His latest effort, War Horse, utilizes both sides of his talent. Based on a stage play by the same name, it captures both the sorrows of war and the sympathies of humanity. It has both intimate storytelling and an epic scale reminiscent of old Hollywood classics such as Gone With the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia. Those who read my Secretariat review know that no film will win me over simply for telling the tale of an amazing horse; they’re majestic animals, but rarely interesting enough to carry a movie, thus I had my doubts about War Horse. But this is Spielberg and, recent stumbles notwithstanding, if anyone could spin the first good equestrian yarn since Seabiscuit it’d be him.
Wisely, though the horse is treated as a central character, it’s also a narrative device to explore the human condition in response to war. Following the animal from owner to owner throughout World War I, we’re given a host of memorable characters to connect with and care about as the film examines the courage, terror, brutality and compassion of people who know that their lives may end at any time. Lush cinematography, fine attention to historical detail in wardrobe and sets, a stirring score by longtime Spielberg composer John Williams, and solid performances highlight this tale. Terrifying scenes of combat are mixed with moments of surprising gentility. It runs a little too long and some elements of the plot are a little too coincidental, but these detract very little from a film of this quality. I even came to care, to my surprise, about a boy and his horse. Given that this skillful director once made me care about a boy and his alien, however, I suppose it shouldn’t be too surprising
CONTENT OVERVIEW: War Horse is rated PG-13. It has very few mild profanities. There are several scenes of intense battlefield violence (shootings and stabbings, though none are graphic or particularly bloody). We see the corpses of soldiers and horses. A scene, difficult to watch, portrays a panicked horse getting caught in barbed wire. There is no sexuality, nudity, or crude humor.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: “Animals…occupy an assigned sphere and play an eternal role in the great plan of creation, redemption, and salvation” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine- Animals). “Men must become harmless before the brute creation…lose their vicious dispositions, and cease to destroy the animal race. ..unless it [becomes] necessary in order to preserve [themselves] from hunger” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.
71). War leads some to become callous and cruel, while it inspires compassion, faith, and humility in others (Alma 62: 41).
VEGGIE TALES- IF I SANG A SILLY SONG REVIEW (GRADE: B)
A highlight of any Veggie Tales outing are the “Silly Songs,” where midway through the feature the story pauses for a randomly funny tune that, in my house at least, puts smiles on our faces. These often become favorites which my stepson and I sing together all the time. This compilation DVD uses a mock-telethon as the setting to revisit 20 of VeggieTales’ most popular silly songs. This outing is not as strong as the company’s other products, as it lacks the creative storytelling and rich scriptural applications found in their narrative-based features. That said, the songs here are absolutely catchy, witty, and often laugh-out-loud funny. For fans, this is an absolute delight that kids and adults will love.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: VeggieTales- If I Sang a Silly Song is unrated, but would certainly be rated G, as there is absolutely nothing offensive here.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: The Lord delights in singing, dancing, and creativity (D&C 25:12, Psalm 33:3, D&C 136:28). He has clarified that there are certainly times to rejoice, dance, and laugh (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE- GHOST PROTOCOL REVIEW (GRADE: B+)
I’ll just say it: with Jackie Chan arthritic and far past his prime, Tom Cruise is the world’s greatest stuntman-actor. The commitment and athleticism shown by the soon to be 50-year-old over the course of his career, and the Mission Impossible films in particular, is truly astounding. There’s a vertigo-inducing, shot on-location action sequence in this film that earns Cruise a spot in the history of all-time great film stunts. Though audiences may come for the element of real danger, there’s plenty more to enjoy in the film that’s built around that sequence. True, it doesn’t have the intensity and heart of the franchise-best Mission Impossible III, but the new film, Ghost Protocol, is a fine addition to the franchise. Yes, its lukewarm plot is recycled from a dozen Cold War era Bond films and the villain lacks the memorable menace Phillip Seymore Hoffman brought to the last film, but this is easily the most breezy and entertaining film of the series. This is thanks in no small part to it truly being a team effort, with terrific supporting turns by Jeremy Renner (The Avengers), Paula Patton (Deja Vu) and Simon Pegg (Star Trek). Together with Cruise, this team (and their alternately tense and funny interplay) is the best argument for the continuation of this franchise.
Director Brad Bird (Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille) makes a fine segue into live action films with imaginative gadgets, memorable heroes, and a keen eye for what used to make adventure films engaging. In other words, it’s got a sense of fun, it’s got action scenes that are shot and edited with the notion that audiences actually want to see the action (as opposed to catching glimpses of it through quick cuts and shaky camerawork), and it’s got fallible heroes whose best laid plans often fail, forcing them to think on their feet. The only real letdown comes in how this movie handles the love story from the film that preceded it: the producers are clearly trying to maintain the integrity of their protagonist while freeing him for secret missions untethered from domestic bliss. Though it works, it’s not as satisfying as the “into the sunset” finale of MI3. As a continuation of that story, this feels like an unnecessary chapter; on its own, however, Ghost Protocol delivers fun, style, danger, and adrenaline and is one of the better action films of the year.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: Mission Impossible- Ghost Protocol is rated PG-13. It has a handful of mild profanities and one comedic use of the s-word. There is no sexuality or nudity, though a woman acts like she’s going to seduce a man as part of a cover (she just walks with him to his room, it’s not vulgar) but interrogates him instead. The film has plenty of action violence, fighting, and shooting. A man’s neck is broken just offscreen; heroes frequently twist the limbs of their opponents to disable them.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: Success often depends on teamwork, cooperation, and the application of the strengths and talents of all involved (1 Corinthians 12: 14-22). We are commanded to be united and to value one another (Doctrine and Covenants 38: 23-27
COLOMBIANA REVIEW (GRADE: F)
Mindless, heartless, and soulless, Colombiana is the worst kind of action film: one that revels in vengeance and bloodshed without remorse. Truly great action films, on the other hand, are about fighting for justice and protecting the innocent. Colombiana, with its terrible dialogue, boring characters, huge plot holes, cliched storytelling, and by-the-numbers filmmaking, also wastes the talents of star Zoe Saldana, who evoked spunk and empathy in Star Trek, warmth and charm in The Terminal, and gave the lone standout performance in Avatar. Here she’s an assassin seeking vengeance for her parents’ deaths; she tries, but the screenplay gives her nothing to work with, allowing her to show little life or compassion. Trained by her uncle to kill for money, she’s as vile as the “bad guys” she’s trying to bring down. A movie this full of action shouldn’t be so boring, but with no one to care about (paltry attempts to slip in a romantic subplot fall flat) the only hope is in the stunts and fights, but these are filmed too closely and edited too choppily. There is literally nothing redeemable in this humorless and plodding revenge movie. I wish I hadn’t watched it.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: Colombiana is rated PG-13, though it pushes an R with sadistic and glorified violence, gratuitous sexuality and immodesty (I had to skip certain scenes, though Kids-in-Mind can tell you exactly what’s in them) and dialogue that is heavy on profanity and light on intelligence.
UNITARDS REVIEW (GRADE: C)
The film critic in me wants to slam Unitards, but I just can’t bring myself to. Though some of the acting is woeful and several jokes fall flat, the cast is having too much fun for it to not be contagious. The “C” grade comes from my seeing this through adult eyes; the target audience of older kids and adolescents will likely love it.They’ll connect with it they way they have, through the generations, with other knowingly-cheesy fare like Saved by the Bell and High School Musical.
There’s even a touch of Footloose as well in this Utah-made independent comedy about a male dance team trying to create school spirit. Though the film-making is simple and direct, the characters underdeveloped, and the story predictable, the themes of dancing for joy even if one possesses zero talent, and of proudly being oneself, are worthwhile. Using real teens instead of seasoned actors, the film lovingly captures the awkwardness of adolescence and takes full advantage of the comedy potential of a male dance team trying to get their act together. At first I thought I was being too easy on the film, enjoying it because it reminded me of the fun I had in high school making cheesy movies with my friends. Then my wife chimed in: “It kind of grows on you, doesn’t it?” It may be the way it indirectly captures young Mormon culture (like Napoleon Dynamite), it may be that the film reminds audiences of young men and women in their wards (whose chastity and sobriety lead to creativity in fun-seeking) but those looking for silly, clean entertainment may find themselves smiling through Unitards.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: Unitards is rated PG. It has some mild crudities (one use each of “that sucks” and “crap”). The girls’ dance team wears shorts and tank tops. Otherwise there is nothing that could potentially offend.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: The Lord promotes dancing as a means to make friends as well as to express praise and joy (Ecclesiastes 3:4, 2 Samuel 6:14, D&C 136:28, “For the Strength of Youth- Music and Dancing“).
WE BOUGHT A ZOO REVIEW (GRADE: A-)
Director Cameron Crowe (Say Anything, Jerry Maguire) brings his love of quirky characters, left-field humor, and light rock music to family film-making with We Bought a Zoo, an engaging true story that I awarded as the year’s most uplifting mainstream film. Like all great uplifting films, there’s a strong undercurrent of sorrow and grief for much of the film’s running time. That, combined with a handful of profanities mean that parents should exercise caution with small children. This is not just the light and bubbly story of a family who buys a zoo as the trailer would suggest; it’s a tale of loss, heartache, and familial healing through forgiveness and the forming of new friendships. That said, it’s tremendously moving. It’s funny. It’s romantic. It’s got terrific acting, of course by Matt Damon, but also by Scarlett Johansen, who dials down the glamor and gives her most down-to-earth and likable performance here. The supporting characters are all great fun. Sometimes Crowe’s affinity for music montages bogs down the pace, but overall this is a film that made me want to nurture and treasure my relationships. It left a smile on my face.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: We Bought a Zoo is rated PG. There is no sexuality, crude humor, or violence. There’s a fair amount of mild-to-moderate profanity for a PG-rated film, one uttered by a small child (repeating what she overheard elsewhere).
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: We have to experience sorrow in order to grow and to appreciate joy (D&C 29:39; 2 Nephi 2:11, D&C 122: 5-9, D&C 58: 3-4). “Successful…families are established and maintained on principles of…forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World
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