God’s Not Dead: A Review

2014 has been a fabulous year for Christian films at the box office.  We had Heaven is for Real cost 12 million and made 101 million.  Noah (I know some Christians didn’t care for it but I liked it!) cost 112 million and made 359 million.  While not a huge hit, Mom’s Night Out doubled it’s budget.  The Bible on History channel was a massive success and Son of God spinoff from that film made 67 million.

This makes me very happy because I want Christian films to be made and made well. If Hollywood knows they can make serious money the quality will continue to improve and we can hopefully get messages of faith without the excessive preaching and poor production values of direct to video variety films.  People of faith deserve to have their stories told and have a spot for them at the movies just as they do in music and literature.

Of all of the Christian releases this year the one I was looking forward to seeing the most was God’s Not Dead.  This scrappy little Christian film made 62 million off of a 2 million dollar budget! It was in the top 10 for a long time and earned 8.6 million in it’s opening weekend.  In contrast, Disney’s Muppets Most Wanted earned 16.5 which is shocking when you consider its wider demographic and marketing budget.

gods-not-deadSo is it any good?

Remember my post on Consider the Audience?  Most of the critics hated it but the audience felt favorably.  That is because it is a movie made for a specific Christian audience, which many critics do not fall into.

I really enjoyed it and was moved by it.  In fact, I related to it quite strongly.  It is about a boy named Josh who is asked by his philosophy professor to sign a paper saying ‘God is Dead’.  Being a man of faith he cannot sign such a document.  The teacher challenges Josh to prove God is not dead or he must sign the document and fail the class.

Kevin-Sorbo-in-GODS-NOT-DEADSome not of faith may think this scenario is ridiculous but if you talk to most Christians who have attended secular higher education they have faced similar circumstances.  While perhaps not as dramatic as the movie portrays, most of us have been forced to defend our ‘insane notions’ of our particular faith before academics who think they know better than us (and I love academics BTW).

Before I was accepted into a church-ran school, I was called out in front of my history class and forced to debate my teacher about my faith on more than one occasion.  At first it started with Mormon history and defending Brigham Young and Joseph Smith.  Then it moved to basic Christianity and theology.  He proceeded to try and enlighten me on why I was stupid and foolish and the whole class should take note.  A similar incident actually happened that same year in a political science class I took (you see why I was so glad to go to BYU!)

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This type of attempted public shaming of those of any faith is unfortunate but it has an opposite effect of what’s intended by the person doing the shaming.  It only makes us stronger and more aware of God’s strength and power.  While my class didn’t stand up and cheer like in this movie, several came up to me after the sessions commenting on how impressed they were with me and my courage.  Again, not having the effect the teacher was intending on any of the students.  If anything it just makes them look like atheist bullies.

Capturing this kind of challenge of faith is where God’s Not Dead is very strong.  Shane Harper as the student is very good.  He’s confident but nervous and doesn’t have an answer to every question Professor Radisson, played by Kevin Sorbo, throws at him. I liked that.  None of us have every answer but enough to carry us through.

Some of the other side plots are more mixed.  I enjoyed seeing the guys from Duck Dynasty but they are a little wedged in to the story.  Dean Cain has a laughable scene where his fling girlfriend tells him she has cancer and he says ‘and this couldn’t wait…’. I don’t pretend to understand atheists but feel confident none of them would be so cold to anyone who has just found out she has cancer!

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The cancer sufferer is played well by Trisha LaFache and a Muslim girl who is converting to Christianity is also very convincingly played by Hadeel Sittu.  Radisson’s Christian girlfriend is played effectively by Cory Oliver.  All in all a good cast.  We also get cameos from the Christian rock band Newsboys and I liked them also.

This is one of those movies if it sounds like something you will like than you will probably like it.  If it sounds like something you’d hate than you’d probably hate it.  It is made for a specific audience and especially the scenes of debate between Radisson and Josh are very moving for a Christian audience.  Most of us can relate to those moments and can empathize with what Josh is going through.  Like I said, a few of the subplots are forced and cliched but all-in-all I really liked God’s Not Dead.

There’s nothing wrong with a film being made for a select audience, and I’m glad they do not seek to be well-rounded and appeal to everyone who could see the film.  There’s plenty of movies atheists or agnostics can see that praise their perspective.  They can see those.  We can see this.  I’m hopeful the money trail will lead to even better movies for those of faith in the future.

Content Grade- A+ (nothing offensive in this at all) Overall Grade- B

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Best Disney Villain Songs

Disney-Villains-ReelGood1

I already did Best Villains  so in honor of Halloween it seemed appropriate to talk about some villain music.  Particularly my favorite villain songs.  Actually there aren’t as many as you’d think.  Classic villains like Lady Tremaine and Maleficent don’t have a villain songs.

Special Notice- Hellfire-  I could not put this on my list but I know everyone will ask about it.  I just can’t support a song that is openly supporting the rape and murder of a woman.  I’ve talked about it so much on the blog.  It crosses a line I am not comfortable with.  That said, it is very well sung and the animation is haunting, so for that reason I am honoring it as separate from my list.

So that said- my list.

10. Trust in Me- One of the first villain songs in any Disney film and it is close to an Adam and Eve type villain as Disney gives us.  Like the serpent in the Biblical story, Kaaa oils and slithers his way around the jungle, hypnotizing his victims with his beguiling song.  It is made all the more creepy by the fact it is Sterling Holloway, the voice of Winnie the Pooh claiming to be Mowgli’s best of friends.

9. Gaston- Perhaps the funniest villain song.  It’s a big pep talk for our town hero.  The fact that we know he wants to make our heroine unhappy at whatever cost gives it an eery undertone.

8. Heffalumps and Woozles- One of the spookiest moments of Disney.  We’ve got a true nightmare with all the minor chords and inflections of a haunted house song.  There is also always something creepy about toys like jack in the boxes.  Plus, they want to steal Pooh’s honey!   This song is especially effective when you think it is aimed at toddlers. It’s in every shape and size, size, SIZE!

7. Prince Ali Reprise- While a reprise and not a complete song it is very effective.  A joyous number from earlier in the film is now used to control and manipulate.  At this point in the story Jafar has total control of the Genie and everything else.  It all looks very bad for our heroes.

6. Mob Song- An extremely chilling song because it’s an entire town taking on our heroes that are basically household items.  How is this going to work?  As the music escalates the tension gets tighter and stronger until we feel real panic, like a mob would feel.  The animation is striking and captures the darkness and increasing madness of Gaston and the crowd.

5. Savages- Perhaps the most thoughtful Disney villain song and it is the redemption of Pocahontas which made my bottom 10 Disney movies.  It is a cliche ridden historical travesty but in this song they reach some emotional truth.  Some criticize it for the way it stereotypes people but that’s the whole point of the song.  Both sides have rationalized why the other is the villain and needs to be done away with.  It’s very profound and beautifully drawn and sung.

4. World’s Greatest Criminal Mind- Brought in a series of villain songs in movies that would go nearly uninterrupted for the next decade of Disney movies.  Ratigan is a hilarious villain with Vincent Price as one of the best voices ever. The fact he kills a mouse for calling him a rat when his name is Ratigan is so funny.  Kind of like Gaston it is a funny villain song but very effective.  Ratigan is the closest Disney has ever gotten to an over-the-top Bond villain and I love it!

3. Mother Knows Best- As far as straight singing this is probably my favorite Disney villain song and one of my favorite songs.  Donna Murphey is amazing as Mother Gothel.  It is Sondheim level quality.  It takes the nurturing of motherhood and uses it to control and manipulate a child.  Is there anything colder than that?  It’s so effective.  I just love it!

2. Poor Unfortunate Souls- One of the most brilliant voice casting in Disney history.  Pat Carroll gives Ursula a mix of a truck driver and a drag queen.  She is on full saleswoman mode and uses every sweet and conniving method she can muster to tempt Ariel into her web. She would have said she’d cured cancer if it would have gotten her the ending she wants.  That’s my kind of villain.  The animation is brilliant and funny and I love that ursula is the only octopus we see aside from a brief glimpse of one in Under the Sea.  There is nobody who looks like her.  She is blackness, overweight, with red lipstick.  Got to like that!

1. Be Prepared-  In a movie where almost nobody did their own singing (even Broadway star Matthew Broderick didn’t),  it is especially compelling Jeremy Irons sang Be Prepared.  It is as close as Disney gets to a Hitler villain.  He even has Nazi hyenas.  He oils and defines his plan dripping with disdain for everyone including his brother.  He is a sociopath who has no guilt throughout the movie for any of his choices.  All he cares about is himself to the detriment of the entire kingdom.

2013 Movie Scorecard

And here’s my scorecard of a ton of movies from 2013 you guys might find interesting.

Smilingldsgirl's Weblog

This is way late but I wanted to see all the big 2013 movies and it took me a while.  There are still a bunch I’m missing including Star Trek: Into Darkness, Philomena and Her.  I figure I have to draw the line somewhere or it will never be posted.  I would like to do a video to accompany this post but we will see.

I have rated each film a clean content grade and an overall grade.  D is adults only, C is mature content, B is a few scenes of concern, A is appropriate for whole family.

Some of the movies are bold and that is because they are hyperlinked to my full reviews on those films.  I am as slow seeing movies this year as I was last.  Only seen Lego movie so far…

What movies did you like in 2013 and what do you think of…

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Lego Movie: A Review

I realized you guys might be interested in my review of The Lego Movie. I thought it was pretty spectacular. A definite A+. What a great year in animation it has been!

Smilingldsgirl's Weblog

the_lego_movie_2014-wideSeveral posts ago I mentioned having seen The Lego movie a few weeks ago, but I didn’t really get to do a proper review, so here goes…

I was completely surprised by this movie.  When I first heard about the concept I thought it sounded really stupid, ala Transformers, or at best it would be a Toy Story rip-off, but it really isn’t.  As much as I love the Pixar movies, this has an entirely different feel and concept.

The plot is difficult to describe (I know. The Lego movie is difficult to describe. How weird is that?).  Basically if you have ever sat down with a kid and a pile of random toys that is what this movie is.  It is as close to capturing real-life play as I have ever seen in movie or television.

Where the Toy Story movies had a plot peppered with gags and references…

View original post 517 more words

Scary Movies for Wimps

I did this video for my youtube channel and I thought you guys would enjoy it.  I am a horror movie wimp but there are still a few movies I can watch on Halloween.  What are some of your favorites?  Have you seen any of my selections?

scary movies

How to Train Your Dragon 2 Review

htyd2What a year in animation 2014 has been!  If Big Hero 6 is the masterpiece it looks to be (currently 100% on Rotten Tomatoes!) than I wonder if this is the best year in animation since the renaissance?  2010 was a also great year too with Toy Story 3, Tangled, Secret World of Arriety, Megamind and the original How to Train Your Dragon.

That film was a fun adventure about an underdog kid named Hiccup in a viking culture that thinks Dragons are an enemy.  He befriends a hurt dragon named Toothless and realizes they are kindly, peaceful creatures.  Unfortunately nobody including his father Stoick will believe him and they insist upon hunting down the nest of the dragons. Eventually Hiccup helps the dragons prove their worth and they win over the town including Stoick.

how to train your dragon cast

For this update Hiccup is now a young man and expected to follow his father Stoick as Chief of the town.  His girlfriend Astrid is a winner in the dragon races.  The plot gets going when an enemy named Drago threatens to conquer them and take all of their dragons.

Hiccup wants to talk to Drago but his father says it is madness and they must prepare for war.  It is a great very grown up discussion for kids about whether seeking peace is correct or appeasing your enemy.  When do you fight for your family or seek peace at all costs?  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes had a similar debate and I LOVED that movie.

I don’t want to spoil it for any of you but this is an epic movie.  If your kids are frustrated they can’t see Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter this is a perfect option for them.  It feels like that kind of  epic fantasy.  As fun the first one is, this sequel is even better.  It’s bolder, it says more and has a very meaty story.

New characters are introduced including a special relation to Hiccup.  And the villain Drago and his hypnotizing Beast called the Alpha are very effective.   It does a good job of making things seem without hope for our heroes which is key to this type of movie.

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Drago and Alpha

The animation is stunning.  I still wish they wouldn’t make the dragons so separated from the styling of the rest of the film.  All the fluorescent colors don’t seem to fit in well. I love in animated movies when characters fly and in this movie Hiccup even does some base jumping!

base jumping

While I am still not in love wiht Jay Baruchel as Hiccup’s voice, he is fine.  Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera and Jonah Hill all return and do a good job as their characters.  Cate Blanchett and Djimon Hounsou are new to the cast and both good; although the inconsistencies on accents is a little annoying.  Why does Hiccup and Astrid sound like  Americans,  Blanchett’s Valka sound British and the rest Scottish?  But that’s a nitpick.  It’s a good cast .

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The disappointed Dad storyline is a little tired but there is so much else going on I didn’t mind it.  It might be a little complicated for some kids but there is enough excitement that I think they will still enjoy it.  There are also some scenes of real heart and not to repeat myself it is an epic fantasy story!

The score is phenomenal by John Powell who earned an Oscar nomination for the first movie and he should win another.  It was so good in building tension and excitement without being overbearing.  Evidently they used an array of Viking and Celtic instruments including harps, uileann pipes, tin whistles and bagpipes and you can hear it.  It’s gorgeous.

The official trailer gives away a big spoiler so I wouldn’t watch it if you care about spoilers.  This one just shows the amazing flying sequences.

Aside from a few squabbles it is a very strong film and should be a huge hit for all ages of kids and adults.  I loved it!

For very emotional kids there are a few moments of death and sadness and battle that gets intense.  It’s also probably a little long for very small kids at 1 hr 41 minutes.

Have any of you seen it?  What did you think?

Overall Grade A   Content Grade A

Double Feature Part 2: Boxtrolls

The_Boxtrolls_posterThe second part of my double feature was the Laika follow up to the wonderful Paranorman stop motion animated movie The Boxtrolls and it is such a delight.

If you have kids that love slime, ooh and goo and things that are disgusting this is a movie they will LOVE!  But also kids who like creative worlds and fun characters will like it too.

Again I will try and tell you a little bit about it without spoiling anything.

It is set in Cheesebridge, a town where there are heavy class distinctions. The main being those with status get to eat cheese.  The designated cheese-eaters are identified by a tall white hat.

cheeseThe aristocrats are led by Lord Portley-Rind who in a lesser movie would have been a total villain but as it is he’s just in love with cheese (seriously at one point they choose a large gouda over a children’s hospital!).    The Lord has a daughter named Winnifred, voiced by Elle Fanning, who is spunky but not in the typical way we see in these types of movies.  She’s actually not in the movie that much and I could have seen even more of her.

The Boxtrolls

A man named Archibald Snatcher wants to eat cheese more than anything even though he is so allergic he puffs up with boils all over his face when he does.  Mostly he wants status and the importance of the hat and cheese eating.  Snatcher is voiced by Ben Kingsley but he sounds just like Michael Gambon.

snatcherSnatcher makes a deal with Lord Portley-Rind that he will remove all the boxtrolls, a race of stealing trolls, that are the outcasts of the town.  If they are all dead than he can be given a white hat and eat cheese.

boxtrollsThe boxtrolls have been raising a human boy who is abandoned by his father.  They call him Eggs because that’s his box.  Eggs is voiced very well by Isaac Hempstead-Wright.

eggs2The Boxtrolls are creatures of habit.  They operate only according to their nature but Eggs does not and tries to get them to adapt as the story goes forward.

It’s a lot for a kids film to take on- class strife, fighting your nature, loving the downtrodden and seeing value in everyone no matter their label. But fortunately Boxtrolls is up for the challenge.  I really loved it.

It clips along very well and the score by Dario Marianelli is a lot of fun with a little opera and barbershop quartet music thrown in occasionally.  The villain is allowed to win for a lot of the picture.  There’s a long time when I didn’t know how they could dig themselves out of the hole they’d created he was doing so well.

Winnifred and Eggs are very endearing and the Boxtrolls are kind of like grimy versions of the minions- very cute and sweet.

The world they created is vivid and it teaches some great values to kids without it being too heavy-handed.  Very imaginative and fun.  I loved it!

There is a scene with a character in drag showing a lot of skin if that is of concern to parents. And like I said it is kind of gross at times but in a fun way.

Content Grade- B+  Overall Grade- A-

Oh and stay for the credits!

Oh and it is not as scary as Paranorman.  More appropriate for the whole family.

Double Feature Part 1: Book of Life Review

Today I decided to go to the movies! In fact, I decided to go to two of them! Book of Life and The Boxtrolls and boy did I have a fantastic time at the movies!  Anyone who thinks Hollywood has stopped making original stories hasn’t seen these 2 animated features.  I liked them both a lot.  Perhaps Boxtrolls a little bit more than A Book of Life but they were both great!

book of life

I am going to try and be less detailed in this review than some of my others because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.

Book of Life is a very complicated story (perhaps too complicated?) but it starts out in America somewhere and a tour guide tells some rebellious children that it is the Day of the Dead and their is a famous myth told from the Book of Life.

This narration is completely unnecessary.  Why does Hollywood always make a white person tell an ethnic group’s story?  The Rulers should have done the narration.

The rulers are Xibalba that rules The Land of the Forgotten (voiced by Ron Perlman) and Muerte ruler of The Land of the Remembered.  Basically as long as your progeny remember their ancestors you are in the Land of the Remembered when you die.  Cool concept right?

They make a bet over which of 2 boys, Joaquin and Manolo will marry Maria.  The voice casting in this movie is a problem.  Why not Penelope Cruise, Javier Bardem, or Salma Hayek?  So many great latino actors they could have used but Channing Tatem?  It sticks out like a sore thumb.  Diego Luna who is Manolo is good but Zoe Saldana is miscast as Maria.  Even latino actors like Hector Elizondo sound very American.  I wished they’d let their accents flow more freely.

The dialogue is also very modern and distracting and there are a lot of characters to keep track of in each of the lands.  If I was a kid I might be pretty confused with the story.

The worlds are amazing.

land of remembered
Land of the Remembered
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San Angel the Mexican town of the story

Also the design of the people were neat.  The museum guide is telling the story using wooden dolls so everyone looks like they are made of wood.  Then when they venture to the other lands they turn into Day of the Dead etched wood.

made of wood
You can see how the characters are made of wood.  Manolo, Joaquin and Maria
day of the dead
This is the Day of the Dead look in the Land of the Remembered

They are consistent with the wood look even to the bulls, pigs and villains look like carvings.  It’s very cool.

I also liked the 3 lead characters.  Maria is a pretty layered female character.  Not just the damsel in distress or the warrior although she has moments of both.  She likes both Manolo and Joaquin and that’s probably because the movie makes both very likable.  In these kind of movies usually Joaquin would be a total jerk, a pompous Gaston type and he has moments like that but enough softer moments to understand why Maria might pick him.  The three remain friends throughout despite being romantic rivals and I thought that was neat.

The story is very complicated and it is a little bit too long, maybe one fight scene with Chakal too many.  Also the music is a mixture of original songs and covers of song like s I Will Wait and Da Ya Think I’m Sexy.  The original songs are kind of forgettable but not bad.  They could have had more of a latin flair to them.  The score is very good by Gustavo Santaolalla.

I also really liked the message of remembering those who have gone on before us and honoring all they have given us. Also the idea that if you are remembered you never really die.  That’s lovely.

But really the reason to see this movie is the animation.  It is stunning and the story is good enough to give it a hearty recommendation.  My friend said her kids did Ok following it and enjoyed it.  It’s not perfect but I really liked it.  I would definitely try to see it in 3D on the big screen if you can.  Definitely on HD so you get the full effect of the bright colors.

Content Grade- A    Overall Grade B+

10 Movies

If someone were to come up to me and say ‘Rachel, I’ve never seen a movie.  What are 10 movies I should start with?’.  What 10 movies would I pick?  It’s a really hard question.  I figure I’d want to pick 10 films that showed different genres and styles.

1. Vertigo- Got to include a Hitchcock and this is my favorite. The imagery is amazing. The story is layered.  It’s so suspenseful because we as viewers are never sure if Jimmy Stewart is insane or not.

2. The Shining- The only horror movie I like.  It builds tension so well and it is scary because it is about a man slowly going crazy over the course of the movie.  It’s so well filmed.  The imagery stays with you but not in an uncomfortable way.  The music is perfect.

3. Bringing Up Baby- A hilarious comedy and romantic comedy in one.  Great performances and showcases a lot of different kinds of comedy.

4. Mary Poppins- It was either Mary Poppins or Wizard of Oz for my children’s flick. So tough to decide but Mary Poppins is basically a perfect movie.  The songs are amazing.  The story is wonderful.  Mary is actually a pretty complex character.  Mr Banks isn’t the one note workaholic Dad in a million other movies.  When he is walking back to be fired from his job at the end it is so moving.  The whimsy is perfect.  The animated scenes charming.  Mary Poppins is also my nod to the musical in this top 10.

5. Casino Royal- I figure you have to pick one spy/mystery type movie and my favorite Bond movie is Casino Royal.  It has heart, amazing action and some of the best poker in movies. Very well filmed and great stunt work.

6. Star Wars- Again, how can you not put Star Wars on the list? It is such a well edited movie.  Everything clips along and by the time we reach the climatic ending we are cheering (literally when I saw it in theaters for a rerelease everyone stood up and cheered).  Charismatic performances, layered and vibrant world, and a great story about good vs evil.

7. Avengers- Got to put one comic book movie and I know most of you would put Dark Knight and I get that but I prefer comic book movies that are a little bit fun.  Avengers is my favorite.  The action is fun.  Loki is a great villain and the actors are so charismatic in their ‘dream team’ roles.

8. Godfather Pt 2-  I am not as in love with these movies as everyone else.  I just don’t like mob movies that much but mafia movies are a huge part of cinema and this is certainly the most well made of them all.

9. Lord of the Rings- I don’t know which Lord of the Rings I’d pick so perhaps this is a cheat and I’d do all 3.  They would be my nod to fantasy and epic storytelling. Great acting, special effects, battles, and a completely immersive world.

10. Schindler’s List- Tough to decide between Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List. They should both be included. Everyone should see Schindler’s List once to know about evil and what horrors humans are capable of. What moves me the most is Oscar Schindler is a bad guy but even he is forced to look upon great evil and do something good.  That’s how bad it was. The black and white cinematography is stunning and when we get the single image of a girl with a red coat it is something I will never forget.

Boy is that hard!  Seriously try it and you will find how tough it is. No room for To Kill a Mockingbird,  Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Harry Potter, Raiders of the Lost Arc, The Mission, Fantasia, It’s a Wonderful Life, and a million other amazing movies.  These are not my favorite movies or the movies I would most like to rewatch. It’s what introduces a non-moviegoer to as many genres in 10 movies as I could pack in.

What do you think?  I would love to read your lists.

Here’s watchmojo’s list.