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Batman Begins

“Why do we fall, Bruce?  So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

Bats.  Ever since he was attacked by bats as a child, Bruce Wayne has been afraid of the creatures.  When actors dressed as bats appear on-stage at an opera, Bruce begs his parents to leave early.  They exit through a back door into the alley–where Bruce’s parents are robbed and murdered by a thug.  Driven by guilt and anger, Bruce waits for 14 years for his chance to kill his parent’s murderer, but someone else gets there first.

Broken and shamed, Bruce abandons his estate and wanders the world, studying the criminal mind.  But “The world is too small a place for someone like Bruce Wayne to disappear,” and Bruce is discovered by a mystical group that offers to train him to fight crime.  But when Bruce learns that the group’s plan for abolishing evil involves destroying Gothem City, he must decide for himself what is the right way to achieve justice–and determine just how far he’ll go to protect his hometown.

Batman Begins tells the enthralling tale of how the Dark Knight embarked on his journey to fight evil.  It was the first “grown up” superhero movie I ever watched, and my mind is still spinning from the onslaught of this new action-packed world.  Batman Begins is a complicated film on many levels–but in a good way.  Here’s why.

The Just

The story of how Bruce was inspired to join the fight against evil is not only engaging–with a realistic set-up and a very endearing young Bruce–it’s thought-provoking.  Bruce’s family is portrayed as loving and stable; Bruce’s father, in particular, is kind, caring, and generous.  It’s Bruce’s devotion to his father that plays perfectly into his transformation into Batman, making his character transition realistic and engaging–and it also incites a lot of questions about the nature of justice.  Throughout the film, the theme of justice is expounded–and contrasted with revenge–on many levels.  Although I didn’t necessarily agree with every thought presented, the film shed light on many angles of the subject and gave me much to ponder.  It’s a film that makes you think, which makes it an excellent piece for discerning audiences.

One particularly interesting element regarding the theme of justice is Bruce’s resistance to killing his enemies.  He staunchly refuses on several occasions, instead leaving them for the police to arrest and try lawfully.  While Bruce isn’t entirely consistent with this ideal, as I’ll discuss below, it does motivate him to make on crucial and very admirable decision.  [spoiler!]  When the mystical group reveals that they want to destroy Gothem City, a rat’s nest of evil, Bruce refuses.  No matter how much evil there is in the city, the people are still worth fighting for.  (Gen. 18:32)

Aside from the main plot of Bruce and his search for justice, there is a delightful cast of secondary characters, and I found several of them to be very endearing–and admirable.  Alfred is a wonderful example of loyalty; even though he is only a butler, he watches over Bruce like a father.  He doesn’t give up on Bruce, despite his mistakes, and he challenges Bruce to do something with his future–and begs him not to destroy the family name in the process.  Gordon, the police officer that Batman wins as an ally, shines as a just soul who is willing to go against an unjust system.  And Rachel, the district attorney and long-time friend of Bruce’s, is a rare and lovely example of femininity.  She fights for what is right and isn’t afraid to stand up to bad guys or Bruce.  She takes action and challenges Bruce to achieve a higher standard, yet she doesn’t run into danger or try to save the world on her own.  Her primary role in the final climactic battle is defending and comforting a small child, a very endearing and feminine moment.

On a related note, the developing romance between Rachel and Bruce is very subtle and tame.  For most of the film, their attraction manifests itself in their desire to take care of each other–Bruce protects Rachel, and Rachel supports and challenges Bruce (and Batman).  Near the end of the film they do exchange some romantic words and one kiss, but there is no flirting or sexual overtones.  In fact, Rachel is never shown flaunting herself or wearing noticeably immodest clothing, a very refreshing portrayal.

The Unjust

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the two girls Bruce takes out on a date.  In an attempt to conceal his secret identity, Bruce tries to fill the role of a millionaire playboy.  This results in a decadent evening out that ends with Bruce in a pool with two women who have evidently undressed.  While very little skin is shown, it is still worth noting.  What’s also worth noting, however, is that this behavior is not condoned.  Bruce runs into Rachel shortly after and feels the need to explain that “all this” is “not the real Bruce.”  Rachel replies with, “It’s not who you are underneath that defines you, but your actions.”  Although the scene was unnecessary, and certainly isn’t appropriate for children, I do think Rachel’s response shows good character.

Aside from that one scene, the adult content in the film is very mild.  A few men are shown shirtless briefly, but there is no other overt immodesty or sexual content.  There is a fairly generous dose of moderate language, in addition to at least one swear word and direct misuse of God’s name.  The mystical group has some quasi-religious rituals and claims to have supernatural influence; it mostly comes off as bizarre and is not explained in detail.

The main content concern is, of course, violence.  As is to be expected with an action movie, there’s ample amounts of flashy violence–explosions, car chases, etc.  There is also a substantial amount of gang violence and several gun/fistfights.  Gore is not excessive, but there is a moderate horror element to one bad guy’s methodology–he uses a toxin to induce panic in his victims, causing them to imagine the people around them as horrid creatures.  The disturbing nature of this, and the psychological implications of his weapon, provides interesting material for adults but may be a concern for younger audiences.

Interestingly, while Batman claims to be against killing his enemies, he does not appear to have any qualms against causing destruction and chaos.  He blows up the monastery where the mystical group resides, supposedly killing many of them.  He wreaks havoc during some of his escapades, damaging buildings and crashing police cars.  And during the climax [spoiler!] he intentionally leaves the villain in a doomed train.  He’s statement of “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you” makes one wonder just how deep his devotion to saving lives really is.

In the end

The superhero genre was a new experience for me, and I’m still trying to process my reaction to the film.  I was expecting ample violence and also hoping for deep themes to ponder.  I got both, and thankfully the objectionable content in the film was not high enough to muddy it.  I’m not sure yet whether Batman Begins will be a film I enjoy watching repeatedly, or whether it will be a film I watch only a few times and ponder.  But I have decided on one thing–superhero movies may just be worth my time.

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The Adventures of Tintin

“A man’s been shot on our doorstep!” “Again?”

What boy could resist a gorgeous model of a triple-masted, double-deck sailing ship? Tintin can’t – especially when someone runs up to him and warns him that by buying the ship he’s asking for a lot of trouble. Trouble indeed – within twenty-four hours Tintin has had his flat ransacked, witnessed a drive-by shooting, and been kidnapped. Well, when you’re adrift in the middle of the ocean on a ship with a revengeful gentleman who’s happy to dispose of you, you can’t really turn back and go home. So Tintin sets off with his faithful dog and a drunken sailor to escape and uncover a mystery involving pirates, sunken treasure, and a centuries-old plot for revenge.

And so begins The Adventures of Tintin, a wild tale of nonstop action, adventure, and mystery. An instant favorite, Tintin is a great adventure to lose yourself in. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride, but the journey may not be for everyone. Here’s why.

The Good

Tintin is basically pure fun. There isn’t much moral substance, but there are a few subtle themes. Determination and discipline are stressed as necessary qualities; Tintin and his drunken friend Captain Haddock learn that they cannot allow failure or bad habits to define their lives. Additionally, there are several moments of self-sacrifice, where the good guys are willing to set aside their goals to save someone’s life; most notably, a sea captain reveals the location of his hidden cargo to spare his crew from pirates.

The main appeal of Tintin, however, is that it’s clean enough to be innocent. There’s only a smattering of mild language and light crude humor, nothing repulsive that ruins the fun. It’s an adventure teens and adults can go on without consequence.

The Bad

There are a few elements, however, that might disturb some, particularly younger children. Violence is the main issue; Tintin’s adventure is pretty perilous, and there are several near-death experiences. There is ample fighting with swords, guns, and fists, resulting in some blood and a few casualties. Tintin is drugged once. At sea, ships are destroyed in pirate raids and many men drown, which is perhaps the most disturbing image of the movie.

Also worth noting is Captain Haddock’s drinking problem. The man is almost perpetually drunk and is constantly downing some form of drink, including medicinal alcohol. His habit is not portrayed as admirable; Tintin thoroughly disapproves, and whiskey gets the Captain in trouble on occasion. However, his drunkenness is also played up some for laughs, and once Tintin’s intelligent dog gives the Captain some alcohol to help stimulate his memory.

In Conclusion

I thoroughly enjoyed Tintin. The crazy adventure captured my interest and held it fast, and the cleanliness made it an instant favorite. I highly recommend it as a good film to relax with, but the violence and drunkenness are worth noting. While these elements may not be suitable for all, anyone who can handle the intensity is in for a fantastic ride. Hold on tight, because we’re jumping off this ship and heading on a quest to find the last scroll before the bad guys do. You coming?

Gnomeo & Juliet

“The story you are about to hear has been told before. A lot.”

It’s the classic tale of romance and tragedy – two free-spirited youths fall in love, only to discover that they come from feuding families. Meeting in secret, the lovers are torn between tradition and happiness while their families continue to war. Yes, it’s Romeo and Juliet – only this time, it’s told with garden gnomes.

Gnomeo & Juliet is a light-hearted spoof that follows the exploits of two garden gnomes who meet from across the fence. Caught up in a battle between neighboring yards, the ceramic lovers face furious parents, revengeful friends, and lawnmower races in an attempt to find true happiness. Needless to say, it’s ridiculous and proud of it. Despite the silliness, it was a comedy I enjoyed, but it wasn’t quite innocent enough to be a favorite. Here’s why.

The Good

As is the case with the original play, the movie speaks out against discrimination and prejudice. When they fall in love, Gnomeo and Juliet begin to look past each other’s color and family history, and they ultimately force their families to do the same.

To help the lovers get over their differences, a sprightly lawn flamingo tells the story of how a divorce split him from his plastic mate. This sad tale demonstrates how the pain caused by divorce extends past the couple and affects the world around them, draining the happiness that was brought by love and marriage. The flamingo tells the lovers “Hate tore my relationship apart, and I couldn’t do anything about it. But you can.”

On a related note, the folly of revenge is revealed. Within the feuding families, certain gnomes are bent on seeking payment for personal wrongs. The relentless pursuit of revenge ends in disaster, even death, multiple times.

The Bad

As is to be expected, Gnomeo and Juliet’s forbidden love brings a lot of friction from their parents. The youths lie and sneak around without permission in an attempt to keep their romance concealed. This seems to cause more problems for Juliet than it does for Gnomeo. Juliet’s father wants to keep his “delicate” daughter safe, which means confining her to her pedestal in the garden. Juliet is less than compliant.

The movie also features a lot of flirty love. Besides Gnomeo and Juliet’s relationship, which can be excused, several secondary characters have unnecessary romances. Juliet’s friend exaggerates the tragic intrigue of Juliet’s forbidden boyfriend, and there are a few subtly sexual comments, such as the line “I am not illiterate – my parents were married!”

On top of all this, the movie is heavily smattered with crude content. Gnomes are dressed (er, painted) immodestly, a little crude humor is used, and some mild language is tossed around, including lots of insults.

Overall

In the end, Gnomeo & Juliet was a “just miss” for me. Its silly story was surprisingly enjoyable, with solid animation and goofy humor, but the list of negatives is rather long. While there was nothing extremely repulsive, there was just one too many smudges to make the film truly enjoyable. I’d consider watching it again, but you’re not missing anything if you skip this one.

The Lion King

“Ah yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you either run from it or learn from it.”

Life in the African savannah is peaceful and thriving under the reign of Mufasa, a noble lion. The birth of Mufasa’s son Simba brings joy to all but one – Scar, Mufasa’s envious brother. Intent on claiming the throne, Scar incites a stampede that kills Mufasa – and blames Simba for the tragedy. The terrified cub flees to the desert and is left for dead. But the adventure has only begun when the carefree Timon and Pumbaa, a meerkat and warthog, rescue Simba and raise him as their own.

With thrilling music from Zimmer and bright 2D animation, The Lion King dramatizes a young king’s struggle to look beyond the past. Despite simplicity of the storytelling, The Lion King is one of the classic Disney films that have earned a permanent place on my shelf. Here’s why.

The Good

Under the care of Timon and Pumbaa, Simba learns the motto “Hakuna Matata” – or “No worries.” Simba forgets his past and assumes Timon and Pumbaa’s carefree lifestyle with “no rules and no responsibilities.” But that isn’t the end of the story. [spoiler!] Nala, Simba’s best friend, finds Simba and challenges him to come home because it’s his responsibility. After arguing with an old baboon, Simba faces his fears and returns to claim his throne. Timon and Pumbaa even pull themselves together to help. The result is a message to let go of the past while holding on to duty – or “learn from it, not run from it.”

As a young cub, Simba is eager to become king and be in charge – for all the wrong reasons. He wants to make the decisions, do exciting things, and be brave. But when Simba’s search for adventure nearly gets him killed, his father takes him aside and gives him a stern lesson about true bravery. In this way, Mufasa not only exemplifies noble kinghood, but he also models strong fatherhood by punishing his son for misbehaving in a firm but edifying way.

The Bad

The Lion King is a pleasantly clean film, with the only notable language being a few uses of “geeze” and some name-calling. There is, however, a dose of mild crude humor, as well as a romance between Nala and Simba.

Perhaps of most concern about this movie is the animals’ “religion.” Mufasa teaches his son that everyone has their place in the endless “circle of life.” He also tells his son that the great kings of the past watch down from the stars. Later, Mufasa’s spirit appears to his son in the clouds, and the baboon claims that Mufasa lives in Simba. Additionally, the animals have a few mystic rituals, most of which are performed by the baboon with his stick and symbolic fruit. While this shallow mysticism is tolerable in a movie about animals, it is worth noting.

Overall

The Lion King is a film that, although not very memorable, is timeless enough to be enjoyed as an adult. The animals’ religion needs to be noted as false, but it does not detract from the good morals about worry and responsibility. If you like a simple but enjoyable animated movie, this is a classic worth keeping around.

Inkheart

Mo is a Silvertongue. That means when he reads aloud, characters and objects from the book appear in the real world – and sometimes people from our world disappear into the book. Mo discovers his ability when he reads several villains out of a book – and his wife vanishes.

For years Mo desperately hunts for a way to bring is wife back. But the characters from the book have other ideas. Dustfinger, a fire performer, wants to be read back into his world, while the villains are very content to stay in ours. Bent on terrorizing the world, the villains kidnap Mo and demand that he read for them. And the villains know exactly how to get Mo to bend to their will – by threatening his daughter Meggie.

Inkheart, based on Cornelia Funke’s book by the same name, is a masterful drama that captivated me with the intensity. With all the impossible situations and endearing characters, I often feared the worst would happen – even though I knew there would be a happy ending. But for all the intrigue, Inkheart still rides the line. I cannot decide whether to love it or leave it be. Here’s why.

Regarding Silvertongues

The Silvertonge ability to read characters into and out of books is an intriguing premise that provides both pros and cons. On the list of pros is the dramatic and complicated situations the ability creates. Silvertongues cannot control what will come out of a book or who will go in, making it impossible to please the bad guys without creating disaster.

High on the list of cons, however, is the magical/mystical nature of the Silvertongue ability. Silvertongues can hear books whispering to them in the silence. While they cannot control who is read in, Silvertongues can often determine what comes out of a book by choosing which passage to read. At the climax, [spoiler!] the author and a Silvertongue write and read a revised ending to the book to defeat the bad guy.

The Silvertongue ability also raises interesting questions about destiny. Dustfinger, after hearing the end of his story, hotly tells his author “You’re not my god.” Later, the author tells him “You don’t have to be selfish just because I wrote you that way!” Dustfinger’s struggles show us that we have free will and need to make the right decisions; we are not a slave to destiny, and we must take blame for our own faults. However, in other places, things happen exactly as the Silvertongue reads it. While this may be similar to our lives – where some “plot twists” are ordered by the master Author beyond our control – it raises questions about the consistency of the theme and the rules dictating the magic.

The Good

Outside of the magic, however, there is a good dose of positive subthemes. Both Mo and Dustfinger are extremely devoted to their families, giving them a strong desire to protect and restore. This sacrificial affection is wholesome and thrilling. However, the men are desperate to the point of being willing to manipulate each other in pursuit of their own goal. When both men realize that they are being driven by the same honorable motive, they keep their promises to help each other, even at the sacrifice of themselves.

Meggie’s aunt starts out as an obnoxious tagalong who is grumpy, short-tempered, and fussy. She would rather stay out of the adventure, but in time she realizes her own devotion to her families and risks all to help them.

The Bad

Unfortunately, the movie also has a significant amount of negative attributes. While most of the issues in and of themselves are minor, the combination of them might tip the scale:

  • There is a smattering of language and some level of immodesty – both cleavage and shirtless men.
  • Although Meggie cherishes her father and ultimately seems to trust him, she rebels against his wishes once or twice. She is also sometimes disrespectful – even occasionally calling him “Mo.”
  • While discussing the disappearance of Meggie’s mother, her aunt talks about how the women in their family always seem to run off on adventure (except for her). She also claims that she’s no worse for having been raised without a mother, although Mo snorts at this.
  • The other Silvertongue that appears in the story stutters. He is mocked for this disability and appears to be a bit of a weak man overall, although he ultimately fights on the good side.
  • Mo reads a thief out of Arabian Nights, who proceeds to use his ability for “good” causes without being reprimanded.
  • One of the henchmen is superstitious and carries a magical pouch. Dustfinger uses this against him by stealing the pouch and then pretending to curse him.
  • Dustfinger is able to generate fire on his hands. It is not explained whether this ability is magical or just an illusion, although he teaches another character to do it.
  • Lastly, the intensity of the film is somewhat of concern. It is a reasonably dark film, with a lot of scary images, violence, men threatening each other, and the bad guys mistreating their prisoners.

he End of it all

Overall, it is still hard for me to say where I stand with Inkheart. I cannot deny the drama, and the emphasis on family is both endearing and wholesome. But the magical nature of the Silvertongue ability is of concern, and darkness is not to be laughed at. Will the negatives tip the scale and keep the movie from finding a place on my shelf? I don’t know yet. But perhaps I shall try the original book.

Kung Fu Panda 2

“You guys see that? It’s called being awesome.”

The big fat panda is at it again. This time, Po and the Furious Five must stop Shen, a commanding and revengeful peacock, from developing a weapon that can defeat even kung fu masters. But the battle gets personal when Po realizes Shen was there the night Po’s parents abandoned him as a baby. Po sets out to save the art of kung fu – and conquer his fears about his past.

When I heard Dreamworks had released a sequel to Kung Fu Panda – aptly named Kung Fu Panda 2 – I was optimistic. I enjoyed the first movie because of its clean content, but the story was shallow. I was hopeful that the sequel would have a deeper story while maintaining the clean bill of health.

Amazingly, that’s what I got. Kung Fu Panda 2 is a riot. I laughed for the first 2/3rds and cried for the last 1/3rd, all the while thoroughly enjoying the wild action sequences. The film won my heart and instantly found a place on my list of favorite movies. Here’s why.

The Good

The movie employs the overused premise of a child discovering they are adopted and setting out to find the truth about their past. I generally dislike such stories because of the bad light they cast on the adoptive parents. However, I felt this film handled it tactfully and wholesomely. Po comes to realize the beauty of adoption and the love he has for his adoptive father. His adoptive father is caring and supportive, and the two’s final scene is heartwarming.

Like its predecessor, this film has very low content. There is only a smattering of crude humor; there is no gritty language, immodesty, or romance. There is a lot of exaggerated action-violence, but it is not graphic. Even the bad guys show some restraint; when Shen orders his captain to shoot, the toughened wolf refuses because his own men are in the line of fire.

As an added treat, Kung Fu Panda 2 far surpasses the first film for artistic competence. The red-gold color scheme is rich, the Asian setting is vibrant, and the character design adds depth to the story by giving each character a strong visual presence. Of particular interest is the use of “cut paper” animation, a simplified style reminiscent of Asian art, that is mixed with the standard 3D modeling. To top it off, an evocative score brings out the emotion of the story.

The Bad

Like the original, Kung Fu Panda 2 features Asian-esque mysticism. The primary focus in this film is on “inner peace.” Kung fu master Shifu tells Po that once he achieves inner peace, he will be able to harness the energy of the universe. A meditative ritual accompanies this teaching. Po gains inner peace by [spoiler!] coming to terms with his past, and he is then able to use the meditative move to defeat Shen’s army.

In addition, there is some talk of destiny, although it is not as heavy as in the first film. A soothsayer is consulted a few times. Also, the yin-yang symbol appears fairly frequently. Thankfully, there is none of the accompanying theology; good defeats evil, rather than coming into “balance” with it.

While it is minor and perhaps unintentional, the film could be seen as having a message against the use of firearms. Shen takes his parents’ discovery of fireworks and uses the firepower to design weapons for evil purposes. Shifu tells Po that the weapons must be stopped or they will destroy the art of kung fu. While Shen’s use of the weaponry is despicable, it is worth noting that firearms are not necessarily inherently evil themselves. Whether such weaponry should have ever been developed is a complicated subject that might make an interesting discussion point after watching the movie.

In Conclusion

Kung Fu Panda 2 isn’t perfect. The mysticism is something that needs to be approached with discernment. But, thankfully, that’s about the only element of this film I need to worry about. The rest of the journey is wild, vibrant, and clean; it’s just as fun as the first while being a great deal more emotionally engaging. Kung Fu Panda 2 found a place on my list of favorite movies, and if Dreamworks’ continues this trend, it’s likely their future films will also find a home on my shelf. I can’t wait to find out.

Despicable Me

After someone steals the Great Pyramid, mean-spirited Gru is put under pressure to prove to the world (and his mom) that he’s still a profitable villain. But the sarcastic and confident bachelor has the perfect plan – to steal the moon. To complete his missive he must infiltrate a rival villain’s lair and seize a shrink ray gun. Thankfully, his enemy has a soft spot for the cookies sold by the girls from the orphanage. Gru adopts three sisters to use as a ploy, but he soon realizes he may have bitten off more than he can handle.

Accompanied by his army of adorable “minions,” Gru is forced onto a roller coaster ride (literally) where he has to decide which is more important – being a super villain, or being a super dad. Despicable Me captures the chaotic tale with slapstick humor and crazy characters. The sweet storyline and goofy minions stole my heart instantly, but the content of the film left me with mixed feelings. Here’s why.

The Super Good

The plot is a classic tale of reformation – Gru loses his heart to the rambunctious orphan girls and begins to waver in his pursuit of evil. Even though we’ve seen it before, the transformation from self-centered to loving is no less wholesomely charming.

One aspect of the film I found surprising and endearing is Gru’s relationship with his minions. Unlike many careless evil overlords, Gru knows his minions by name and seems to have a working friendship with them. He is a fair employer and they are happily loyal to his projects. The positive attitude in Gru’s lair is quite refreshing and sweet.

Gru struggles with being rejected as a failure. His plans and dreams are mocked by the bank that supplies his funding, just as they were scorned by his mother during his childhood. This rejection is rebuked as Gru learns to support the girls’ pastimes and hobbies.

The Super Bad

Despite all of the charm of the story, the movie is tainted by rather prolific use of crude humor. There are frequent gags involving bathroom humor, underwear, and immodest gestures; there are even a few shots with nudity obscured just enough to keep it PG. There are also a few instances were death, blood, and villainy are portrayed as funny in an off-kilter fashion. This is, unfortunately, a significant concern regarding the movie.

While it is not necessarily unwarranted, the girls – particularly the eldest – are far from well-behaved. They do not listen to Gru’s orders at first and are quite hard to manage. While this helps him come around, it is worth noting that the girls’ attitude is not admirable.

One thing about the film I found kind of confusing is the nature of the orphanage. The head mistress is not a caring person and is sometimes a bit unethical. While the film does not portray this as good, I felt that it was a bit unrealistic and shouldn’t have gone unaddressed.

In Closing

Despicable Me is an adorable story with quirky characters. I enjoyed it and will perhaps watch it again on occasion, but the crude humor prevents the film from being something I can enjoy repeatedly. If you watch it, prepare the fall in love with the minions – but if you’re looking for clean fare, I would suggest picking up a different movie.