The Nativity Story – Review

A guest review by Steven (Jason’s kid brother)

The Nativity is the live-action retelling of the birth of Jesus. For Christians everywhere, its story is the reason for the celebration of Christmas. In order to fully understand the movie, some familiarity with the story of the birth of Jesus is required, so if you’ve never been to church or read the Bible, it might all seem a little weird to you.

While my brother is a devout Catholic and we were both raised in Protestant churches, I am no longer particularly religious. That doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t appreciate a good story. It was easy to sympathize with a young Mary. She was from a poor family, betrothed to Joseph, supposedly a virgin, and yet still somehow pregnant. An angel told her that she would give birth to Jesus, but she was the only one he spoke to. With the exception of Joseph, no one else in town heard from the angel and Mary’s pregnancy was not exactly considered proper.

The Magi provide the comic relief in the movie. Reading through prophecy and observing the stars, one of them decides to follow the star to Israel eventually ending up in Bethlehem with the others. During the journey, they banter back and forth with one another about whether or not leaving home was a good idea. After they meet the baby Jesus, though, the three Wise Men leave happy that they made the trip.

The story has two substantial deviations from the Biblical text. Both of the occur after the birth of Jesus. In the first one, the Magi are leaving Bethlehem. In the Bible, an angel came to them and told them not to return to see King Herod. The movie, on the other hand, shows one of the Wise Men telling the others that he thinks it would be a bad idea to see Herod before their return home.

The second deviation from the Bible occurs when the angel appears to the shepherds at night. The Bible says that a choir of angels appeared, but the movie does not show them. Perhaps the special effects budget was to blame for that deviation, but it was still disappointing. This could very well have been the best scene in the movie.

The Nativity is a worthwhile Christmas movie. Despite a couple of intense scenes where pregnant women (first Elisabeth, then Mary) are giving birth, the movie is family-friendly. For those who enjoy the story, it could be an enjoyable way to spend Christmas Eve or even Christmas Day.

3 stars (out of four)

Disney and Pixar

Steve Jobs became even richer yesterday when Disney announced it is buying Pixar (Jobs is founder and CEO) for $7.4 billion. Yes, with a “B”.

I suppose it had to. The only Disney’s own animated studios haven’t put out a hit movie since “The Lion King”. The days of “Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast” are long gone. Anyone remember the debacle that was “Brother Bear”?

In the mean time Pixar has had hit after hit. They ignore the PC pandering and put out hits like “Toy Story”, “Monsters Inc.” and “The Incredibles”.

The only way this will be successful is if Disney stays away from Pixar’s creative decisions. If day Disney pushes a Pixar movie with an environmental message is the day we see Pixar’s first flop.

Doom – movie review

Movie fact: When entering a building inhabited by monsters, military tactics call for splitting the unit up so that soldiers can be picked off one by one.

Doom exploits this tactic to the fullest. A science station on Mars is being over run by monsters. Marines are sent in to search for and destroy the threat.

This is easily the best video game movie adaption. Of course that doesn’t make it good. The monsters are sufficiently scary. The special effects are good. The best part was how they incorporated an important game element. On second thought, Rosamund Pike might have been the best part.

There are some plot holes. Like why do they keep splitting up after a few of their buddies have died that way? Why do the keep referring to marines as “soldiers”? (OK, so Hollywood doesn’t know the difference.)

Be prepared for a gory, “f” bomb laden, not suitable for children flick.

2 stars (Slightly more fun that a complete game of Monopoly.)

The Perfect Man – movie review

Perfect Man

Hillary Duff and Heather Locklear star in The Perfect Man. Hillary Duff plays Holly, the daughter of a single mother, Jean (Locklear). Jean is desperate to find a good man. When she dates, she has high expectations for a lasting relationship and gets heart broken when the boyfriend leaves. Jean moves her and her daughters to a new town after each relationship where the pattern starts over.

Holly decides she is tired of moving when they settle in Brooklyn. She comes up with a plan to invent a secret admirer for her mother who is the perfect man so that Jean will be happy and they won’t have to move again. Holly gets lessons from her friend’s uncle and restaurant owner Ben played by Chris Noth in how the perfect man would treat a woman.

Meanwhile, Holly meets a boy at school and experiences her first love.

The show stealing performance was from Mike O’Malley playing Lenny – an overly enthusiastic but inept suitor for Jean. His idea of romance was a Styx concert, one of the funniest scenes in the movie.

I was expecting a “chic flick� with an over-the-top romantic dating movie. It even has the obligatory girls-dancing scene. However, the movie was well acted and not overplayed. Movies like this have a tendency indulge in the teenage angst and focus on the tears of the characters. The Perfect Man managed to avoid that pitfall for the most part. The scenes of conflict between Holly and Jean were kept brief and not overly emotional which served to subtly emphasize the characters’ problems. Even the girls-dancing scene was mercifully short.

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Girls-dancing scene

The biggest distraction in the movie came from the gay bartender at Ben’s restaurant. While some of his scenes were funny, the character did not have any impact on the plot and was irrelevant to the story. It seems the only reason he was in the movie at all was to provide a gay character. If not for his scenes where he comments on wanting to be with other men, the movie probably would have received a “G� rating.

This movie about women dating does have more to offer than a mere rehash of Mermaids or Sleepless in Seattle. The comedy is well done with good timing and the drama is not overplayed which offers a sense of realism.

3 stars (out of four)

Cinderella Man – movie review

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Cinderella Man is the story of depression era boxer James J. Braddock played by Russell Crowe. In the late 1920’s, Braddock was a title contender living in comfort if not richness. After a loss in a title fight and nagging injuries, Braddock became a washed up boxer. The market crash left his investments worthless and his family destitute.

In the middle of the depression, Braddock got a second chance. After stepping into a high profile fight, Braddock got an unexpected chance to revive his boxing career and try for another title shot.

While boxing is a central point of the movie, the story really is about Braddock’s struggle to provide for his family during the depression and the problems they face as he has difficulty finding work when there are not enough jobs. At the same time, feeling as if he has failed his family, he wants to earn back their pride in him.

Renee Zellweger plays Braddock’s wife Mae who is torn between needing the money provided by boxing and the desire for her husband to be safe.

Crowe and Zellweger work well together on screen. They portray a couple who are deeply committed in their marriage and to their family. The movie depends on this relationship for its success. It is the catalyst for Braddock’s return to the ring and emotionally involves the audience in his story.

Honeybun commented this is a movie that has everything. She said, “it made me laugh and cry and even like boxing.�

The movie is rated PG-13 for some brutal boxing scenes. There are a couple times the movie seems formulaic such as an obligatory training scene with Braddock and a speed bag (reminiscent of Rocky movies). Honeybun also pointed out that Crowe had difficulty maintaining his Jersey accent throughout the film.

Even though centered on Braddock’s boxing come back, the movie succeeds on its story of James and Mae. This is a movie couples will enjoy. Best movie yet this year.

3 ½ stars

Kicking and Screaming – movie review

Will Ferrell stars in Kicking and Screaming as Phil Weston – a man dealing with his feelings of inadequacy after being raised by an overly competitive father (Robert Duvall). He becomes a soccer coach in a league where his father coaches another team. Phil tries to change a group of misfits into a championship team.

This is strictly a formulaic movie casting Will Ferrell reacting to people and events with his usual exaggerated style. Fans of Will Ferrell will enjoy this movie as his antics do rate some laughs. Robert Duvall gives a good performance in his role of an uncaring father who drives his son to distraction.

The show stealing performance comes from former Chicago Bears football coach Mike Ditka who plays an exaggerated version of himself. His ranting and blustering is the highlight of the movie.

The themes of the movie do become heavy handed at times in telling how bad an over-competitive parent can be. As with most movies these days, a pro-gay lesson is jammed into the movie to tell us that two lesbian parents are just as good (if not better) than traditional family.

This movie will provide laughs if you can get by the PC elements.

2 ½ stars.

Kingdom of Heaven movie review

As a fan of previous Scott’s previous movies Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, I was expecting a graphic depiction of the battles in the Crusades. In this regard, Ridley Scott tops himself in the gore-fest Kingdom of Heaven.

The battle scenes are as good as any war movie and twice as bloody. The R rating is deserved. Honeybun got more and more squeamish throughout the movie. Do not take children to this one. Artistically, Ridley Scott (as he did in Gladiator) was able to convincingly bring a historical place to life. Even so, the movie was visually impressive, the scenery of the middle ages, the city of Jerusalem and especially when showing the vast Muslim and Christian armies arrayed on the field of battle.

The movie had two main problems. The main character Balian – played by Orlando Bloom – was just not believable. The movie does not explain how a blacksmith (the illegitimate son of a nobleman) who inherits his father’s lands happens to be an expert in agriculture, engineering, and tactical warfare. A contributing factor was that the dialogue was sometimes hard to follow and as a result it sometimes became confusing on who new characters were and what motivated them.

The other issue is the historical portrayal of the Crusades. Scott points out every failing of the Christian armies. In contrast, Muslims are portrayed as entirely honorable and the spread of Islam by the sword is only briefly mentioned but discredited as the comment comes from a corrupt priest.

If you like battle scenes, this movie is for you if you are patient in getting through sometimes slow dialogue. If you want to see an accurate portrayal of the issues surrounding the crusades, you won’t find it here.

2 ½ stars.

Constantine Movie Review

The first must-see summer blockbuster of the year is being released in February. I saw an advanced screening of Constantine this past Tuesday. Keanu Reeves stars as John Constantine. Constantine is a super-natural detective and exorcist. Born with the gift (or curse) of being able to see half-breed demons and angels in the world, Constantine was driven to commit suicide. However, Constantine was resuscitated. Now, condemned for committing the mortal sin of suicide, Constantine is trying to earn his salvation by fighting against the devil’s minions.

Rachel Weisz stars as Angela Dodson and her twin sister Isabel. Police detective Angela is on a mission to prove her sister’s death was murder and not suicide. Angela seeks Constantine’s help on her journey where both hope to find peace.

Keanu Reeves gives his best acting performance yet in Constantine. His convincingly portrays a cynical man who hopes to find salvation but is held back by his own selfish motivations.

Weisz give a good performance as Angela and does as well as she can as the person who the audience most identifies with. Angela is the person who does not understand the struggle between heaven and hell. It is through her we discover what is really in the world. However, Weisz’s best moments are in her eerie portrayal of the twin sister Isabel.

Any movie dealing with heaven, hell, and salvation is a magnet for controversy. This movie will undoubtedly draw that controversy but the producers did an admirable job of balancing the spiritual with the secular. Some Christians may disagree with the details of the movie, yet the messages do not disagree with their worldview. At the same time, non-Christians should not feel uncomfortable with the themes of the battle of angels and demons.

This balance also extends to the way the movie spreads comic relief among the parts that will make you jump. Special effects are excellent especially in the scenes in hell and the depiction of the demons. Stop motion is especially effective throughout the movie.

Although there is no nudity or sexual situations, the movie is accurately rated R for depictions of demons, violence and language (the “f” bomb is dropped a few times although not excessively).

A great summer movie has come early to the theaters.

3 ½ stars