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Plenty of intriguing choices at the movie theater right now. We’ll have reviews of Captain Marvel and How to Train Your Dragon 3 for you pronto, but for now we’ll tell you about a Christian drama produced by Tim Tebow, a wrestling dramedy, an uplifting animated sequel, and the latest sci-fi project from the creator of Avatar.

For daily faith-friendly movie reviews, follow us on Facebook and Twitter! For sure-fire picks that meet your standards, pick up 250 Great Movies for Latter-day Families.

RUN THE RACE

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?    

This faith-based football drama (produced by NFL superstar Tim Tebow) takes a look at the importance of family and faith in the midst of challenges. The metaphor of running a race is compared to the spiritual challenge of earning faith, especially during obstacles in life.  In the New Testament of the Bible, the apostle Paul compares keeping the faith as fighting the good fight and running a race.  In 1 Corinthians 9:24 we read, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.”

IS IT ANY GOOD?  (GRADE: B-) 

I always feel so bad grading Christian movies poorly because I want them to do well at the box office.  Unfortunately, this one probably won’t.  There wasn’t much advertising for it, so it’ll mostly have to rely on word-of-mouth. It’s not a true story, which would have given it more impact like the film My All American had. Run the Race tries to address complicated issues but preaches only at a surface level. Yes, the gospel of Jesus Christ is simple, but this saccharine sermon probably won’t convince the unbeliever.

The conversion process of a character named Zach was quickly brushed over. It would have been nice to spend more time on that. That would have been the meat of the movie and something that could have provided depth and heft to the film.  For many people, it takes a lifetime to build faith.  I thought all of Zach’s questions about Christianity were really good.  Unfortunately, they weren’t answered in the movie. It made me sad that he was judged for simply having questions. We should never judge one another on the journey we’re taking to find Christ in our lives.  Another change that was only lightly addressed was the father/son relationship.  While not perfect, everything was happily tied up in a bow at the end.

The good news is that the acting is pretty solid.  Tanner Stine and Evan Hofer play brothers who have been abandoned by their alcoholic father after their mother died.  The two handsome teens have a sweet relationship and it’s fun to watch their banter and love for each other.

I liked the rap cheer Coach Hailey did for the team to get them riled up for their game in the locker room. The devoted coach is played by Mykelti Williamson. How wonderful to have a role model who really supports teens, even in their personal life. I have four sons who all played sports and I felt very lucky to have one of my son’s coaches be a man like Coach Hailey.

I also liked Frances Fisher’s character who was fiercely loyal to the two brothers and provided them with financial opportunities, spiritual support, and affection. We should all be that kind of Christian, right?

That first game scene really showed the fun and excitement of an American high school football game.  Foreign audiences will get a kick out of it.

I’ve never seen so many montages in my life.  Some would consider that lazy filmmaking.

IS IT OKAY FOR YOUR KIDS? (PG)

  • Underage drinking, an adult alcoholic, all frowned upon.
  • No profanity.
  • A teen has several seizures on the ground.
  • One of the teenage boys has a girlfriend, but nothing inappropriate is shown or implied.

ANY WORTHWHILE MESSAGES?      

One of the strongest themes of the movie is that we’re all a work in progress.  Family, forgiveness, brotherhood, and trusting God are also strong themes.  Two characters share a favorite scripture of faith: Galatians 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

There are some good lines that are insightful:

  • “Two steps forward and one step back.” – Paster Baker (played by Mario Van Peebles) says to Louise (Frances Fisher) to which she replies, “As long as we keep moving.” 
  • “I’m not saying his behavior is excusable, but it is forgivable.” – Louise
  • “What kind of a man walks out on his two sons when his wife dies of cancer?” – Zach

         “A broken one.” – Dave

  • “I know a lot about Jesus, but I don’t know if I really know him.” – Zach

“God loves you. He loves you like crazy.” – Zach (Tanner Stine)

FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?     

Based on the true story of Raya Knight (also known as “Paige”) who became the youngest World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Divas’ Champion in history, this movie combines an underdog sports story with humor and emotion.  Raya Knight’s popularity and influence helped usher in the “women’s revolution” in professional wrestling. 

Comedian/writer/director Stephen Merchant wrote a funny, real, and endearing biopic.  It’s a gentle introduction into the world of professional wrestling but one that also honors the passionate fans. You pretty much know going into it how the story is going to end, so I was surprised to get teary-eyed in the end.

Even if you’re not a professional wrestling fan, you can still appreciate the journey of persistence and reaching for your dream.  It’s moderately family-friendly entertainment and will make for a fun family movie night once it’s out on DVD.  It’s currently in theaters.

IS IT ANY GOOD?  B

Florence Pugh gives a knock-out performance as Paige and Nick Frost is hilarious as her father, Ricky Knight.  The non-traditional family dynamic is very sweet. The brother/sister relationship is very touching and gives the movie its emotional depth.  You get to see video clips of the real people at the end of the movie.  The Knight family actually has another daughter who is not a wrestler. She’s currently a dentist and wasn’t featured in the movie.

The movie starts with footage of “The Rock” in his fighting days. If you’re a fan of Dwayne Johnson, you’ll get a kick out of his speech to Paige and Zak.  He doesn’t get a lot of screen time, despite the movie poster that makes it look like he stars in the film, but his role is important in motivating character development.  There’s also footage of some of the other great wrestlers through the years.

The thick British accents might make it difficult for Americans to understand some of the dialogue.  British actress Lena Headey had a hard time with that ring stuck in her lip and her mouth was always making weird expressions.  The ending felt a bit rushed, but the movie was all about the journey anyway.

IS IT OKAY FOR YOUR KIDS? (PG-13)

  • Some profanity and crude language.
  • A young man tosses drugs into a garbage bin and an older woman sees it and retrieves it for herself.
  • A blind teenage boy flips the bird.
  • Talk of a boy getting aroused.
  • A man throws a heavy ball at another man’s genitals.
  • A guy and girl have a baby out of wedlock.

ANY WORTHWHILE MESSAGES?      

When Paige meets The Rock for the first time, she and her brother want him to give them some advice so they can be like him.  He wisely counsels, “Don’t worry about being the next ‘me.  Be the first YOU.”  Paige spends the movie trying to discover exactly who she is.  She feels like an outsider and just wants to belong.  She also tries to decide what it is she really wants in life.  It’s a bit of a coming-of-age tale about reaching for your dream. 

Another insightful storyline was about Paige’s brother who didn’t get the dream he wanted, a frustrating reality many people have to learn to live with.  Paige points out to him that the work he does by teaching kids is truly meaningful.  She reminds him, “Just because millions of people aren’t cheering when you do it, doesn’t mean it’s not important.”  That’s a powerful lesson.

THE LEGO MOVIE 2

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?   

Fast-moving and quick-witted, this The Lego Movie sequel has plenty of laughs for kids and their parents.  It’s definitely helpful to have seen the first movie, but young kids won’t necessarily care.  Like the original, it includes plenty of references to pop culture, other movies, cartoon characters, famous athletes and celebrities, people in history, musicians, and even Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  It has some musical numbers and is well aware that the song “Everything Is Awesome!” from the first movie got stuck in our heads. It’s not as great as the first Lego Movie, but good enough.

In this adventure, the familiar lead characters battle other Lego creatures from afar to save their planet.  The last ten minutes show deep maturity and teach an important life lesson, similar to the tone of Inside Out.  Emmet learns “Everything’s not awesome, but we can make it a little more awesome if we remember we’re not alone in this world. We’re in it together.” To be honest, I was getting a little bored and thought the movie was just silly until the movie slowed down and showed some depth.

IS IT ANY GOOD?   B+

Yes.  The talented leads are Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks, with Will Arnett as Batman coming in at a very close, and hilarious, third place. The new song “Gotham City Guys” mentions every actor who has ever played Batman in a movie.  They all seem to be able to laugh at themselves and offer a very playful experience.  The line that pokes fun at some of the big roles Chris Pratt has played over the years in other movies made me laugh out loud. It refers to the new character named Rex, who is also voiced by Chris Pratt, along with the main character, Emmet from the first movie. 

Jason Momoa voices Aquaman, appropriately, but Wonder Woman is not voiced by Gal Gadot. Instead, it’s Cobie Smulders from the hit TV show How I Met Your Mother. It’s also super clever to make baby characters out of the Duplo Lego blocks.  Even Emmett said, “Oh, that’s just adorable.”  Other voice talents include Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Will Forte, Bruce Willis, and Richard Ayoade.

There are numerous callbacks to the first film and jokes about Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney. All in all, it’s clever fun with a powerful third act.

IS IT OKAY FOR YOUR KIDS? (PG)

One of the messages is to not be cheerful like Emmett, but instead, to be tough like Rex. Emmett tries to “brood” in order to be cool and accepted. Along those lines, the movie also makes fun of music and sends a message that listening to happy music is uncool.  Don’t worry though, the lessons taught during the end of the movie correct those ideas. Hopefully, your kids will understand the mistaken ideas.  Parents will love the message to kids about playing together nicely.

Legos are in perilous situations in the movie and there is some name-calling, but no profanity.  Yay!

ANY WORTHWHILE MESSAGES?   

The main themes involve growing up, loneliness, changing yourself, and helping other people.  It takes a long time for Chris Pratt’s character and the audience to see the important lessons after the adventure.  Some insightful things Emmett says are:

  • “You are just as special as we are.”
  • “It’s easy to harden your heart, but to open it is the toughest thing you can do.”
  • “I’m going to grow up, but I won’t stop caring about the people in my life. I might see things differently, but that’s not bad. I think it’s inspiring.”

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?     

Directed by Robert Rodriguez and produced by James Cameron, this highly artistic collaboration was inspired by Yukito Kishiro’s graphic novel manga books called Motorball and Gunnm. A teenage cybernetic girl searches for her true identity and capability. Those who are familiar with the source material original source material are definitely going to hope certain aspects of the story are handled correctly.

The action is full of fantastic sci-fi special effects and impressive CGI world building that will make your eyes feel saturated by the end. It’s an action movie, romance story, and futuristic look at humanity.  The budget for this anime adaptation was close to $200 million!  As Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) says in the movie, “I’ve never seen anything like it.” Indeed.

IS IT ANY GOOD? 

James Cameron is a master at world-building. There are some really epic snapshot images. Alita’s world has been carefully crafted and it shows.  If you’ve read any of my movie reviews before, you know I LOVE details. This movie has tons of them. Itty bitty details that show you how much thought and attention was given to every frame. Love it!  The details and creativity of the design of the bounty hunters were fantastic and intricate. Ed Skrein/Zapan’s back design was especially impressive.  The action and fight scenes are thrilling and extremely inventive.

Rosa Salazar voices the CGI Alita. Her facial expressions and movements are truly amazing and realistic. You almost forget she’s not a real actress on the screen. While her cybernetic body is impressive, the film also addresses her heart and soul.  Dr. Ido says, “Well, look at you. This is just a body. It is not good or bad. That part is up to you.”  That caught my attention and made me think about how we, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, feel about our bodies.  They are gifts from a loving Heavenly Father who has given them to us to help us learn and grow in this life.  Our choices will be reflected in the health of that body.  We consider our bodies as temples to house our spirits and they must be treated with respect and care.

Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz always gives us an intriguing character in his films and is perfectly cast as the protective father/creator.  Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connelly, both Oscar-winners themselves, give this film a deep pool of talent. Unfortunately, Jennifer Connolly didn’t have much to do. Her character was bland and her hatred towards certain people didn’t really get explained.  Michelle Rodriguez offers a voice cameo.  Another fun cameo appearance is by Edward Norton who plays the main villain, Nova.  We don’t really learn much about him until the very end when the curtain is drawn back.  Amazingly, he never says a word, but I’m assuming he will in the sequel. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the manga stories and characters, you’ll hear a lot of new names for creatures, wars, and locations. It can get a little bit confusing without understanding the backstory. Some flashbacks in the movie help a little bit.  There is a tiny bit of humor, but I would have loved more.  It’s definitely a drama. There were a couple of editing issues that jolted me.  The movie was filmed in 3D and really should be seen in 3D to truly appreciate the visual magic.

IS IT OKAY FOR YOUR KIDS?  (PG-13)

James Cameron wanted this movie to be rated PG-13. While there is blood, it’s mostly blue, with only some red. There is, however, a lot of killing.  There are words like “crap”, name-calling, and 1 F-bomb.  There is a lot of violence, fighting, and destruction. The red stripes Alita paints under her large eyes are from the blood of a dog that was killed.  There is talk of harvesting of body parts (dark subject matter).  Alita quickly falls in love, kisses a human, and readily offers to rip out her cyber-heart for her new boyfriend. Not a smart choice, Alita! Your daughters might think that’s really romantic, so you might want to talk to them about healthy relationships.

ANY WORTHWHILE MESSAGES?      

  • Self-discovery
  • Sacrifice
  • “You got to stay focused on your dream.” – Hugo (Keean Johnson)
  • “I do not stand by in the presence of evil.” – Alita (Rosa Salazar)  Alita refuses to accept the status quo, especially because it exists because of evil men who desire power above all else.  She is willing to risk her life to fight for good and the oppressed.
  • Female empowerment (see 1 Nephi 17:2)
  • Power.  The villainous Vector tells someone in the movie, “Personally, I’d rather rule in hell than serve in heaven.” Yikes.  The scriptures teach us that a life of service is one of meaning (Matthew 25:40).  Life in heaven will be filled with love and service for one another (Mosiah 2:17).

Trina Boice teaches for BYU-I and is an author of 29 books.  Her newest book helps families with tons of ideas for the new “home-centered, church-supported” program and is now available on Amazon’s Kindle. You can read more of her reviews at www.MovieReviewMom.com  Because she is a popular speaker in China and loves to travel around the world, she created www.EmptyNestTravelHacker.com  You can see all of her books and win prizes at www.TrinasBooks.com  You can also find @TrinaBoice on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.