Archive for the ‘Talking To Kids About Movies’ Category

MCDGODZ EC052Sherrylee and I almost always choose our movies by consensus. Occasionally, however, one of us gets a wild hair and just wants to go see something that neither of us would normally choose.  If I want to remind her of some crazy films that we have seen together which were her choice, then all I have to do is refer to Snakes On A Plane (2006), which is so bad that it might become a cult movie someday.

Thursday night she decided we needed to see the premiere of Godzilla (2014), so we invited friends to join us and hurried to buy early tickets and beat the crowd. Before the film began, we were talking about the older Godzilla films, and Sherrylee says, “I liked the one with Faye Raye better than the Jessica Lange version.”  Oops!

After a little research, it turns out that Sherrylee was more right than she thought; apparently, the word godzilla was intended originally to invoke the idea of a gorilla. Gojira is the Japanese name, which is a combination of their words for gorilla and whale. In spite of the fact, that Sherrylee was disappointed not to see King Kong, I think she enjoyed the film!

The first Godzilla film, a Japanese film, was released in 1954, and most people agree that the monster was originally a metaphor for nuclear war. This sauric creature is awakened from his pre-historic sleep by nuclear blasts, he feeds on nuclear energy, and one of his trademark weapons is his atomic breath, with which he can destroy his enemies. In later films, he even has the power to shoot out atomic laser-like beams through his eyes!

Nuclear fears were behind many of the 50s monster movies, but even though Cold War fears subsided and nuclear energy became more common, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, survived by becoming a more sympathetic creature, often saving humanity rather than destroying it. Buildings, mountains, weapons, cities were destroyed, but not human existence.

Interestingly, however, Godzilla is not really the friend of humanity; rather, the monster usually acts out of a sense of self-preservation.  His now famous signature roar (at which the audience on Thursday night clapped in delight!) seems like rage, but the roar is more animal than human, a physical response to threat more than an emotional reaction to evil.

The producer Shogo Tomiyama reportedly was asked if Godzilla was good or bad.  His reply was that the creature was neither; Godzilla, he says, is more like the Shinto “God of Destruction,” not human and not moral at all.

This is where I slip over into Christian movie-watcher mode because the message of the 2014 Godzilla, is “if you leave it alone, nature will take care of itself and preserve its own balance.” 

As have been many of the earlier Godzilla films, this movie also pits modern technology and modern science against nature. Modern science and modern technology—especially weaponry—really only feed the monsters and do nothing to save humanity.  Only when left to its own devices can Nature (Godzilla) overcome the threats to the world.

I really have no trouble with the current recurrent cultural bent toward nature.  But I do find it atheistic!  Our world has adopted both figures, the more benign and comforting Mother Nature as well as the frighteningly powerful and destructive monster Nature (Godzilla), to explain the world we live in.

As a Christian, I do not believe in Mother Nature or Godzilla because I do not believe in a self-created, self-sustaining, self-preserving force called Nature.  I believe rather in God the Creator who through the Son created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command (Hebrews 1:2-3).

There is nothing amoral about God. He creates the world and sustains it and holds it together because of His nature. There is purpose and plan in life and death; there is a beginning and an end, terminal warfare between Good and Evil, and, best of all—God so loved the world!

Godzilla is a good Saturday matinee film! The well-known actors have almost cameo parts, which should tell you that the monsters, the battles, the action are what the film is about. It is not really one of those sneakily propagandistic eco-films that you have been mildly disappointed with in recent years, so go see it!

But don’t forget that Nature is just as fantastical as Godzilla. Only God can save the World.




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Mary PoppinsWhy is Saving Mr. Banks (2013) such a wonderful film? You can start with Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks, two of the finest actors of our time.  You could follow them with Mary Poppins (1964), the Disney family classic starring a very young Julie Andrews and a very likeable Dick Van Dyke.  Is that enough?

No, well then how about 45 minutes of music from the Mary Poppins soundtrack, including still recognizable songs like Chim Chim Cher-ee, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, and Let’s Go Fly a Kite, all composed by the Sherman brothers.

Still not enough?  OK, then I’ll mention great supporting performances by Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, and Bradley Whitford, all of whom had to play roles that moved from comedy to pathos, from frustration to almost frolic, without letting themselves slip into tripe on either end of the spectrum.

In addition–even though you didn’t ask–Saving Mr. Banks is a wonderfully told story—but not the same story as the book.  The book Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers (born Helen Lyndon Goff, 1899–1996) first appeared in 1934, and is about a magical nanny and her adventures in the household of Mr. Banks.

Prior to the Disney film, only five books appeared in the series. After the film, Travers published three more volumes to add to the series, the last Mary Poppins and the House Next Door appearing in 1988.

But the film dramatizes the internal struggle of Travers to let go of her characters, to let Disney give them to the world, risking an almost unbearable exposure of her own family’s story buried especially in the character of Mr Banks.

Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Walt Disney—the first time Disney is ever portrayed on-screen by an actor—is absolutely believable. Disney was an unusual businessman, artist, and a visionary. Hanks is able to capture all of these qualities without caricature.

What makes Saving Mr. Banks work is that the audience is able to believe in the transformation that takes place. It’s not miraculous, it’s not without struggle, it’s not even without loss, yet the redemptive story results in a typically British understated happiness that the audience can believe and share in.

The only parts of the film that would be difficult for younger children are the flashbacks to Travers’ childhood. Her father’s alcoholism and eventual death emotionally impact his daughter, so your sons and daughters will be confronted equally.

If you want some talking points after the film is over to use with your children, you might try these:

  • How did you feel about the father and daughter’s relationship in the flashbacks?
  • Why do you think the young girl felt betrayed when her father died?
  • Why do you think Mrs. Travers was so hard to get along with in the beginning?
  • Did you feel like Walt Disney liked Mrs. Travers or was he just trying to make his movie so he could make more money?
  • Did you like the car driver?  Was he important in this movie?
  • Did sharing her characters in the movie make Mrs. Travers happy?

Saving Mr. Banks is definitely one of the top films of 2013.  It should be nominated for Best Picture, but even if it is too schmaltzig for the Academy, I think you will love it!

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Jackie Robinson We finally saw 42 last night! The theater was so full that we could not sit with our friends who came with us, so either lots of people are seeing it more than once, or we are not the only ones who waited too long to see it.

If you haven’t seen 42 yet, go see it tonight before it disappears from the theaters in your city.

42 is the story of Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) and Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman)  breaking the color line in Major League Baseball.  Sure, it’s a baseball movie, but it’s so much more.  It’s a reminder of how ugly racism and prejudice are; the film is also a lesson in the kind of bravery and extraordinary effort required to challenge the status quo.

In 1943, Branch Rickey, then general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, quite intentionally began looking for the right black ballplayer to be the first African American in Major League Baseball since the1880s.  He may not have chosen the best baseball player in the Negro League, but he chose the one who could withstand the intense and acrimonious personal attacks that would come with being the first black major leaguer.  The one chosen had to not only be a great ballplayer, but one who “had the guts not to fight back” when the inevitable blows and threats came.

branch rickeyIn 1945, Rickey signed Jackie Robinson! The real drama of the film is Robinson’s struggle to answer the brutal harassment and racial slurring without stooping to similar tactics—a great lesson for the kids that will watch this movie!

The movie carries a rating of PG-13, not really because of the usual suspects: sex, violence, or even bad language, but because of the vicious racial comments. One particular scene has the opposing manager smugly slandering Robinson with every racial slur you’ve ever heard and it just goes on and on and on! I don’t know if a 10-year-old should be exposed to such vitriol, perhaps at least until they have studied some of the history and have a context for understanding it.

But your teenagers should see it!  They need to know what racism looks like and what it has taken to make any progress, so that they are not guilty in the future of the same social hatred.

Here are some ideas for the conversation on the way home—or if you are renting, even as you watch.

  • Why was Branch Rickey willing to go against all of his friends and advisors, why was he willing to “cause trouble” just to have a black baseball player on his team?  What would it take for you to do something like that?
  • How hard was it for Jackie Robinson to always “turn the other cheek?”  Do you think he should have fought back in a different way?
  • Did you notice one of the last scenes when the little boy learns to use the “n” word from listening to his dad at the ballpark?  What happened then that really confused the boy?  (The boy’s baseball hero Pee Wee Reese puts his arm around Robinson as a friend! Now the boy is getting two conflicting messages about Robinson.)
  • Are there any people around that our family looks down on? Or certain groups of kids at school that other kids look down on? (Be quiet and let your kids answer! You could really learn a lot!)

Don’t let your kids forget that this is a true story—and only part of the story.  A strength of the film is that it doesn’t take on Robinson’s whole career or his life story. It’s just the story of the breakthrough.  That does give you and your children plenty of space for further reading and research if you want.

Branch Rickey—and despite some critics who thought otherwise, I thought Harrison Ford did a terrific job, both of not just playing Harrison Ford, but also of bringing a historic  person to life—had some especially memorable lines.

But the speech that made the audience clap was when Rickey is talking to another GM who is refusing to allow his team to take the field against the Dodgers if Robinson is on the field, Rickey asks if him if he thinks God likes baseball. Rickey then tells him that if on Judgment Day God asks him why his team didn’t take the field and his answer is because of Robinson, that God is going to find that answer “insufficient!”

I think Rickey is right!  This movie portrays good people doing good things in the face of an immoral system propagated by hatred and ignorance, and the good prevails!  That’s a movie you should watch!

And, btw, God does like baseball!  His first book starts out, “In the big inning!”

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IronmanIf you haven’t seen Iron Man 3, you are among the few! Much of the world has already seen it.  The film premiered in Paris in early April, then worldwide to record setting opening audiences in late April, and finally on May 3 in the U.S.

Not only are Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Tony Cheadle back to head the good-guy team, but well-known and greatly admired actors like Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce appear on the dark side to create a dynamic contrast.  I like Rebecca Hall, but her character did not bring much to the film.

The plot itself has an occasional twist, but not enough to keep it from being as predictable as comic books usually are.  One new character, eight-year-old Harley (Ty Simpkins) becomes Tony Stark’s younger counterpart and even rescues Stark during one of the more interesting fight sequences, but, unfortunately for the film, this young sidekick is virtually abandoned for the rest of the film.

Iron Man 3 is rated PG-13, and rightly so! The audience comes expecting the comic-book action, but some of the violence borders on being up-close torture.  Trying to roast people alive is pretty disturbing; even the self-repairing bodies appear to be burning. Limbs are severed and people are blown up—all in tolerable ways for teens perhaps, but pretty rough for younger children.

In addition, though subtle, there are some sexual references you probably wish your kids didn’t have to hear.

But since lots of kids are going to see Iron Man 3, let’s talk about a few ideas that you can bring up in the car on the way home.

  • Many ideas start out as good ideas, but then are turned into bad things! Self-repairing bodies would be a good thing, wouldn’t it!   If this were real science, we’d be glad!  Can you think of other areas of science today that might be good, but could be turned toward evil if misused?  (Some answers:  cloning, genetic engineering, nuclear power, new drugs—really almost anything.  In fact, in God’s creation, everything was created good!  So what went wrong?)
  • “We create our own demons” – Tony Stark (Iron Man).  (You might want to point out that he is talking about evil, not literal demons.) What went wrong with God’s good creation is that people made bad choices and took His good things and used them for bad purposes.  Show them James 1:14,15 – “But people are tempted when their own evil desire leads them away and traps them. 15 This desire leads to sin, and then the sin grows and brings death.”
  • Tony Stark actually started this chain of events:  he lied to the young Alldrich Killian about meeting him on the roof, when he had no intentions of doing it.  Being kind and honest all the time can prevent lots of bad things from happening.
  • Being the good guy (even the Superhero) does not mean you are going to win every battle.  The good guys had to learn how to be defeated, then to come back and try again.  Learning to bounce back from defeat or failure is a very important lesson for our children to learn. You don’t always deserve a trophy.

Well, you probably don’t live that far away from the theater, so maybe that’s enough to get you home.

Remember two things if you talk with the kids about movies:  first, you are just planting seeds, so don’t dig too deep and don’t over water.  Secondly, you don’t have to get to agreement. They absorb a lot more than they want us to believe!

And it is just a comic-book movie after all!

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Just got back from taking four of the gkids to the Friday children’s matinee where we saw Despicable Me (2010, PG), which was a surprisingly good film. Somehow we had heard a bad report on it when it first came out, so had avoided it. I loved the little minions, but especially the transformation of one of the villains. Did everyone else think that Vector was supposed to look like Bill Gates??

Anyway, it reminded me of how helpful recommendations for kid films are, and since we have been doing grandkids now for a week and have seen several, I thought I’d give you a short review of several current movies playing.

Cars 2 (G) was entertaining for all of the grandkids, but the younger ones (4-6) lost interest several times.  This sequel brings back characters like Lightening McQueen (Owen Wilson) and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) from the first movie, but introduces new British car-characters Finn McMissle (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) for the James Bond – like plot.  In the spirit of Wall-E (2008), this film has an eco-message about oil and alternative fuel, but don’t worry because this message is totally lost on all the children.  It does open good conversations about the need to adapt to different cultures and about the value of every person’s culture—even if it doesn’t seem like culture at all.

Super 8 (PG-13) As you probably have heard, this is a nostalgic piece by J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg, so it is everything you hoped it would be.  I have described it to friends as a mix of Stand by Me (one of my favorite films ever!), Goonies (one of our kids’ favorite films ever), and E.T. (one of everyone’s favorites ever!), so how could it go wrong.  The children are the stars, the government men are the bad guys, and the alien is the victim.  I’m sure the PG-13 rating is for bad language (just like Stand By Me and Goonies) and for some pretty heavy emotions (just like ET).  I would pay attention to the age recommendations on this one, but for teens and you adult kids, you’ll love it.

X-Men: First Class (PG-13) The whole X-Men series has been especially good for a superpower series. For the most part, it has avoided silliness and has maintained some level of real human emotions to carry the characters. Hugh Jackman, the best of the X-men, only has a cameo in this prequel, but even that is done well.  Those of you who have seen the others will enjoy learning the backstory of Professor X and Magneto.  For those who need a redemptive message to enjoy this kind of fantasy, the ongoing conversation about “others” is more significant in this film than in previous four X-men films, i.e., how the society treats people it deems to be different. If you can’t generate a meaningful conversation with your teens from this film, then you weren’t paying attention!

I have given up completely on the Pirates of the Caribbean series. I really like Johnny Depp, but these films deep sixed about two sequels ago! We won’t be seeing Mr. Popper’s Penguins either because Jim Carrey’s films of this genre are the same exaggerated gags over and over again.

Harry Potter: Deathly Hallows 2 comes out this week. Sherrylee doesn’t like the Potter films, so I’ll probably go with someone else, but I have intentionally avoided seeing Deathly Hallows 1, so I could see the whole finale at once. I’d love to see it at an IMAX.  We certainly will take the kids to see The Smurfs and I hear good things about Green Lantern.

Just for you adults out there, I think Midnight in Paris looks like it could be the movie that brings people back to Woody Allen. Many of us who were fans of his earlier films have yearned for something truly interesting and intelligent instead of what he has offered over the last couple of decades: quirky and off-color.

Any word on Captain America: The First Avenger?  I usually don’t care much for revenge films, but I have not really seen what the storyline is yet.

Our grandkids loved Hansel and Gretel which we downstreamed on Netflix, and they loved the Yul Brenner – Deborah Kerr version of The King and I (1956). Anna designated it her now most favorite movie! But she prefers the original name Anna and the King of Siam. That’s a pretty big award for a classic film from an eight-year-old!

Hope that helps you in your summer film watching. I’ll try to update as we see more.

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My special guest blogger today is Anna, my seven year-old granddaughter. On Friday, we went to see Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole with her and her sister Olivia. This morning, Anna was reading my blog on Alice In Wonderland and offered to help me with blogging, so we decided to do something with this movie.

I will say that we all enjoyed the movie very much. It has wonderful animation and design. The plot is a little scary sometimes.  Olivia, six-years-old, found it a little too scary.

Well, here is what Anna would like to tell you about the movie!

  1. Don’t get moon-blinked!  When you disobey God, you could get moonblinked. You can’t think anymore for yourself. You can’t see with your eyes.
  2. How far do we have to go? When you are exhausted, then you are halfway there!  Some things are worth really straining for, really doing even more than you think you can do.  Everything for God is worth straining for.
  3. Don’t get too out of control when you are playing. When you get too rowdy, then you fall out of the tree.  When you fall out of the tree, then bad things can happen!
  4. Listen to the old birds—some of them! Some old birds are good; some old birds are bad. How do we know which one is which? The ones who tell us the truth about God are the ones we want to listen to. They tell you the right things to do—just like the Bible says.
  5. Different children in the same family have different problems. Brothers and sisters sometimes make bad choices, but that doesn’t mean we have to. We should always love them and try to help them make good choices.

Thanks, Anna! Great thoughts—and keep on thinking when you see movies!

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Take your kids to see Nanny McPhee Returns (2010). I did not see the first Nanny McPhee (2005) nor have I read the Nurse Mathilda (Christiana Brand) books that the movies are based on, so I came to the film with three grandkids and no expectations. I loved it and they did too.

Emma Thompson once again is the force behind this film.  She wrote the film script, she stars as Nanny McPhee (“small c, large P”), and she co-produced the film, the role that likely gave her the most influence over the film.  The staging, the acting, the casting, the dialogue, and the plot are wonderfully crafted. I know I’m gushing, but I can’t help it—a superbly done film which children will enjoy and adults as well.

Justly briefly, let me list for you some reasons that you parents and grandparents will enjoy the film:

  • The adult humor is not based on double entendre. You get to laugh innocently—such a rare pleasure.
  • Look at the quality of the cast:  Emma Thompson (Oscar winner), Ralph Fiennes (2x Oscar nominee), Dame Maggie Smith (one of the greatest actresses ever and 2x Oscar winner), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Oscar nominee).
  • With the exception of the lone “villain” (Rhys Ifans), none of the characters is caricatured! They all have wonderfully humorous moments, but the slapstick does not overwhelm the humor!
  • The children are also well cast and well directed. They behave quite believably and are very likable!

As you leave the theater , here are some talking points for you if you like to use films as teachable moments for your kids.

  1. Why were those kids so rowdy—so out of control before Nanny McPhee arrived? You can go two directions here: one, the dad was gone to war (which is true for lots of kids today as well),  and two, Mom had to work, so they were left alone a lot. Kids really need two parents—or they can get out of control!  It may surprise your children to know there are reasons why kids are rowdy and out of control.  Help them think of those possibilities—and they might begin to understand themselves better.
  2. Why were the rich kids so uppity to the other children? I heard the story from my grandkids once about their visiting at a friend’s house who was quite wealthy. When it came time to pick up the toys and go home, the little friend said, “Don’t do that. We have people!” I’m sure the parents of that child would have also been embarrassed, but the fact is most of us have—or wish for—certain privileges. When we have them, we have to really work hard not to make ourselves more important than others. That’s hard for kids—and for their parents.
  3. What if you had to live in “the land of Poo?” When I was a boy, we used to love to go to my uncle’s dairy farm. It was a whole different world of experiences, smells, and adventures!  We hunted lizards with bows and arrows, swam in the cow tank, drank milk straight out of the cow, and ,yes, I even shoveled cow droppings sometimes for my uncle—great lessons for a city kid.  If your kids are overly homogenized, you might want to make friends with a farmer . . . .It’s good for kids to learn that much of the world does not use hand sanitizer—and to be flexible.
  4. Why did Nanny McPhee look so ugly at the beginning of the story? Especially young kids may need help with the subtle transformation of the nurse. As the movie children learn each lesson, the ugly characteristics of Nanny’s face disappear.  Sometimes other people look ugly to us because of the way we are acting more than the way they are acting.  

Of course, the obvious lessons of obeying, sharing, courage, faith, and working together can be covered. In fact, you might want to start giving medals for learning lessons as Nanny McPhee did. Just be sure, like Nanny McPhee, that you don’t make them cheap.  I loved the line when she actually hinders the children from catching the piglets; she says, “Already caught two? Hm, let’s make it more difficult!”  She was not being mean; she knew that all of us need a serious level of difficulty to really learn any of life’s important lessons.  Don’t make your medals too easy to get!

Now that I’ve discovered this series, I intend to find a copy of the original Nanny McPhee (2005) and watch it soon. The reviews say it too is “magical.” Goodness is always magical.

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