Review: Pixar’s “UP”

upCall me crazy, but UP was not my favorite movie ever.  It was, quite frankly, a little disappointing.

I’ll be the first to admit that my reaction might be due to high expectations.  People that I highly respect gave it very positive reviews, and I understand why: it had a positive role model, a beautiful picture of marriage and children, good lessons galore, etc.  I couldn’t wait to see it.

warning: possible spoiler alert

I really enjoyed the opening scenes in which we learn how the main character and his future wife first met.  I loved the way their characters, relationship and marriage were developed.  I loved the soundtrack.  I loved the quiet, understated humor.  I loved the way we saw time pass as they grew old together.  I felt deeply for the couple when tragedy struck, and again for the old man when tragedy struck once more.  I felt his frustration loneliness and even hopelessness with the difficult people and situations he faced later.  I rejoiced with him when his grand plan unfolded.

Carl may have been a computer generated character, but he was real.

The boy Russell was real.  The way they interacted was real.

And then the storyline took a silly, cartoonish twist, followed by the appearance of a comic-book bad guy.

From the point that the bird appeared, I thought the story felt rather disconnected from the beginning.  Most of the charm was replaced with cuteness.  There were plenty of humorous moments with memorable dialogue, but the flavor had changed.  The nostalgic feel was gone.  It was subtle but unmistakable, and I found myself feeling vaguely guilty while I watched the clock and waited for the credits to roll.

This was supposed to be a great movie – or at least a thoroughly good one.  I’ll go out on a limb and say I thought it was a charming but disjointed movie.  It was cute and funny and full of positive talking points and I’m glad I watched it once, but I don’t intend to watch it again.  The worldview was surprisingly good considering the origin, but there was a little something missing in the craft.

Did you see it?  Am I crazy?  Tell me I’m not alone in my opinion.

The Mysterious Islands

There are perks to having a husband who works at Vision Forum.  Last night our entire family attended the world premiere of The Mysterious Islands at the biggest, newest cinema in San Antonio!  The theater was packed with familiar faces and new ones, including much of the cast and crew from the film itself.

We were excited to be there, and we were not disappointed.  The film was grand and beautiful, and highly entertaining.  We love animal movies, and this one was full of spectacular video and still photos, all interwoven with a fast-paced combination of history, discipleship, and creation science.

We learned much about Charles Darwin’s life and education, his view of the origin of species and how he arrived at his theory.  We also learned about how his book and theory were received by friends and contemporaries, including the captain of the ship which took Darwin on his historic voyage, and how the insidious theory of evolution has affected the history that followed.

And of course we learned how the wonders of the Galapagos Islands – far from proving evolution – tear the theory apart from its very foundations.

But I have to confess that my favorite part was the soundtrack.  It set the mood for the movie and drew the viewer along, playing with our emotions just the way good music is supposed to do.  It was alternately grand and sweeping, dark and mysterious, sweet and soft and hauntingly beautiful…much like I imagine the islands themselves must have been.

The Mysterious Islands will be premiering in several other cities around the US soon, but you can also preorder the DVD and/or soundtrack right now.  Shipments are expected to begin on November 18, so you won’t have long to wait.  I’m hoping we can get ours sooner, since I’ve got connections. 🙂

New series of Bible videos at Vision Forum

Vision Forum has just launched an exciting new set of DVDs.  We saw three of these at the last film festival, and they were amazing!


Titles include:

  • Abram’s Reward
  • Abraham & Isaac
  • Widow & Oil
  • Jeremiah’s Call
  • Rich Man & Lazarus

These are very richly done films with sparse dialogue and a huge impact.  I think they drive home the fact that the Bible is about real people, not just names and chapter references.

The scenery and raw emotion in Abraham & Isaac blew me away!  Rich Man & Lazarus captured the hopelessness of hell with terrifying realism, without stooping to scary horror film tactics.  Widow & Oil really made us feel first the desperation of the widow’s situation, then her amazed glee and thankfulness at the miracle that followed.  I have no doubt that the other 2 are just as powerful, and can’t wait to see them!

New Video From Vision Forum.

Darwin Speaks on God, Sovereignty, and Evil from Vision Forum on Vimeo.

At the Reformation 500 Charles Darwin debated John Calvin. In this exclusive interview, Darwin reveals his beliefs about God, sovereignty, and evil.

A note from the offspring

The children think you should know that Drums Along the Mohawk is available at Vision Forum right now for $10.  That’s 50% off.

This is a fun old colorized film (1939) of frontier life back when the eastern US was the wild frontier.  Our children love the humorous snappy dialogue and lively characters.

Some favorite bits:

The newlyweds stop at an inn for the night and a sinister man with an eye patch asks them
sly political questions.  When he leaves, the landlord comments “I bet he lost that eye trying to see something that wasn’t none of his business”


Later, everyone is in church and the pastor prays for “Sixteen year old Mary who is keeping company with a soldier.
He’s a Connecticutt man, Lord, and thou knowest no good can come of that.”


When Lana is giving birth and the men are standing around waiting for news, one of them asks an Indian friend what he thinks of this business and he says “Having babies – that’s woman’s business! She go far, far, by herself. Leave husband alone!”

Frugal movies

I’m adding something new to our page of affiliate links (Stuff We Love tab at the top).  It’s Netflix.Try Netflix for Free!

We are careful about what we watch, and often have a hard time finding something suitable to rent.  I also have to say I feel vaguely guilty just standing in B’Buster looking at what’s available.  I’ve come out of the store feeling like I need to bleach my eyeballs!

I think online rentals help a lot with both issues.  I have to warn you: Netflix does have a category you’ll want to steer clear of entirely.  Ugh.  But on the bright side, you’re not accosted with the sight of the covers of all those videos while you search for safe, clean choices.

Netflix offers:

  • Over 100,000 titles on DVD – from classics to new releases to TV episodes.  OK, the banner says 65,000 but the website says 100,000.  You wanna count and get back to me on that?
  • Instant downloads – choose from over 12,000 movies (some new releases) & TV episodes (including current season) online on your PC or Mac or on your TV via an Internet connected Netflix ready device.  This is our favorite part!
  • No late fees – keep DVDs as long as you want
  • Free shipping – there is no cost except your monthly membership
  • Fast turn around – You can set up a list of what you want so that your next DVD is shipped as soon as your first one is received, and distribution centers throughout the country mean that there’s one near you.  If the first one on your list isn’t available, they’ll automatically move down the list so you’re not stuck waiting.
  • Various plans – several choices to fit your budget and needs.
  • Personalized recommendations – based on movies that you enjoyed in the past.  We have found that it’s pretty “smart.”  Many of our favorites show up on the list.
  • Free trial – enjoy full benefits for 2 weeks to see if Netflix is right for you.

Their website is very easy to use, making it very easy to get the movies you want, either on DVD or as instant downloads.  There are several plans available starting at $4.99, but we think the $8.99/month is the best deal for our family: 1 DVD out at a time (4-5/month if we watch and return them promptly, but we don’t), plus unlimited downloads.

So how does this save money?  $8.99/month is about the cost of 2 rentals from B’Buster, or less than the cost of one rental and a trip to town to return it.  If you rent from RedBox occasionally like we used to, you know that one or two movies can easily add up if you forget to take them back right away – or if you have make a special trip to return them, because they’re racking up daily charges.

Oh, and did I mention the affiliate program?  Sign up for a free trial, and we get $.   That’s another thing I like about Netflix.  Very cool.

Fireproof DVD: free!

I don’t push every sale that comes along, but this one is worth sharing.  Fireproof has just been released on DVD and you can get it free!

Vision Forum’s January Clearance Sale ends on the 31st, and they just made it better.  If 25-50% off everything in the store wasn’t good enough, now you can get a free copy of Fireproof on DVD with every order of $100 or more.  Don’t want to spend $100?  Just get the DVD for 25% off.

Hubby and I saw this movie at the theater.  It was one of our rare trips to the big screen, because we wanted to add our drop to the box office bucket.  We were hoping that the Kendrick brothers’ new film would make a good showing, and I think it’s safe to say it went beyond everyone’s expectations: Fireproof grossed over $33 million, making it the top grossing independent movie of 2008!

But beyond just supporting a worthwhile film, I was very impressed by the movie itself.  They addressed some difficult issues in a very real and believable way.  This movie did a fantastic job of showing the guilt and responsibility of both parties, letting viewers see both sides of a conflict in which each party felt justly offended by the other.  It also presented sin as the root cause of marital problems, and the Gospel as the only solution.

Fireproof did all this with plenty of action, suspense, emotion, humor and snappy dialogue – all the elements that really make you care if a movie is worth seeing.   Between me and hubby, we admitted to crying getting something in our eyes 5 times.  I won’t say whose eyes watered more often.


Don’t look if you don’t want to know how it ends.

I warned you.

One last point worth noting: Like all of the actors chosen by the Kendricks, Kirk Cameron is a principled Christian.  He absolutely refuses to kiss a woman who is not his wife.  This may be why we don’t see much of him on the big screen these days, but of course this wasn’t a problem for the Kendricks.  They hold the same standard.  So how do you think they accomplished the happy-ending-kiss?

Did you notice that the figures are silhouetted?  They actually brought Kirk’s wife all the way from California, and used her as a body double for the scene.  They filmed a married couple smooching!  How sweet is that?

Get the DVD.  Get Fireproof.

Princess Diaries 2 notes

My notes on Geoff Botkin’s talk at the film festival, How to Anyalyze a Hollywood Film. This session was by no means intended to be comprehensive, but rather a crash course in critical thinking as it applies to movies.  Likewise, my notes are not at all comprehensive, but just the highlights that I managed to record, poorly paraphrased by me.

Mr. Botkin played very short clips from the film, pausing frequently to discuss.  In all, we probably viewed less than 5 minutes of the film, but this generated enough discussion to fill the entire time alloted for the session and then some.  He first commented on individual phrases from the opening scenes, encouraging us to examine why each word, phrase and line applies in the dialogue.  Remember that in most situations every line was carefully scripted and planned.

  • You are all going out there as individuals. Children are taught at graduation that they are going out as little kingdoms unto themselves.
  • Woodrow Wilson School of International Policy: A fictitious school named after the 2nd most treasonous president in terms of constitutional fidelity, the one who instituted the income tax system and established the Federal Reserve Bank.  Who do they honor, and why do they choose him?  Look around at other public schools – who are they named after, and why?

Norman Rockwell’s slice of culture & worldview provided many teachable moments to the Botkin family: dating, courtship, relationships, kissing, marriage. We can find the same opportunities around us, e.g. in the names of institutions and in small and casual lines of movies.

  • Graduation ceremony: how did it originate?  When these scenes are portayed as a grand celebration in the life of every good citizen, do our homeschooled children begin to believe that they have missed out on something?
  • Tiger mascot: our children need to know about the  idolatry of collegiate sports that captures the hearts of so many.  Cheerleaders, etc.

Movies like this will define true love, dating, international affairs, and more for your children.  They should not be learning such things without our guidance and direct input.

  • Dear Diary, Wellll, it’s me. Brand new college graduate-slash-princess… What is the traditional attitude expressed in a journal?  What should it be?  What do we already know about the heroine from this entry?  We see how she defines herself.  Her diary is a scrapbook of experiences that revolve around herself.  The traditional purpose or tone of journals were for interpreting life in light of scripture, often being later used as roadmaps for descendents.  This one is flippant and self-centered.
  • …He went off to tour the country with his band. This is what all cool guys do, right?
  • I’m a little nervous [about becoming queen].  I didn’t have a class called “How to Run a Country 101” That would be the first 5 books of the Bible.
  • And I’ll sit on a throne.  Is that scary or what? Yes, the thought of a girl like this on a throne is scary.  Ruling takes a lot of wisdom and responsibility.  Our children need to have some understanding of how a monarchy works.   We see the nature of palace life, and the characters of palace life.  Incidentally, you never touch the royal personage, though we see it happen in the film when her tiara is knocked off her head and replaced.  Some of what is portrayed is realistic, while some is not.  Use this as an opportunity to learn the difference.
  • We see the princess.  Do our daughters want to be like her?  What do we think of her dress?  We hear gossip.  Deportment among friends: do we squeal when we see each other at a formal occasion?  How do we interact with young men?
  • “Shut up!” (said by queen, signifying amazement) Authority figures are shown to be cool, progressive and lovable when they engage in pop culture and jargon.
  • This is the 21st century! We’re moving into the 21st century.  The message is, “Let us join Hollywood in making war against blood (family), soil (traditions), father, mother and religion.”
  • Arranged marriage:  the film will define what we think of this.  We learn that marriage needs chemistry and sparks, and love as popularly defined.  We don’t subscribe to arranged marriage but we need to define these issues, not Hollywood.
  • Machiavelli: he is mentioned, and merits discussion.
  • His snake of an uncle: point out the impropriety of speaking this way about others, and the fact that it also would not happen in this setting.
  • Valley girl mannerisms, speech, facial expressions, general deportment.  Don’t let our daughters imitate this behavior!
  • Sorry. [single word, said in a sulk] A typical 21st century apology, showing no repentance or contrition.  Apparently accepted by the queen, who immediately responds by supporting the actions for which the princess apologized.
  • I have my own mall! Materialism presented as desirable.  What girl wouldn’t want her own mall?
  • I just love to look at him. While reviewing photos of eligible prospects for an arranged marriage, a photo of an ineligible young man is included.  All the women approve.  Lust is encouraged.
  • His boyfriend thinks he’s handsome also. Approved by characters, who obviously subscribe to modern definitions of sexuality.
  • He looks…decent… How should we make marriage decisions?  Based on appearance?
  • You can be a princess today just like me. This is set as an example of leadership and ruling.
  • She sneaks out the window to meet the cute boy even though she is engaged and just hours away from marriage.  Apparently this is ok because they don’t engage in sex.

What are the virtues being talked about when Christian pastors say that this movie is “loaded with virtue”?

Just a few of the messages to be found in this film: Eschew duty.  Follow your heart.  Changing your mind at the altar is not a big deal.  Good boys are boring.  Bad boys are the interesting ones, because they have a magical, debonair, resourceful presence.  Boring boy is masculine, honorable, etc. Interesting boy is an effeminate, woman-chasing cad.  Occasional good advice is later rejected in favor of a “better” course of action.

One of our most important responsibilities is to see that our children marry well; this film is a primer on marrying poorly.

In summary, don’t be fooled by a lack of gratuitous sex, overt violence, or swearing.  There can be far more harmful and insidious messages within the movies we watch, especially when we are trusting enough to allow our children to consume them freely or unattended.  Everyone has a worldview, and they do not develop in a vacuum.  Every film contains and communicates messages and a worldview, and those who don’t watch with a critical mind and eye will absorb those messages and find themselves molded by that worldview.   It is our duty to shape and form the worldviews of our children rather than allowing Hollywood to do it for us.

Is it true?

I’m listening right now to one of my favorite seesions at the Film Festival every year: Geoff Botkin’s How to Analyze a Hollywood Film.” The vicitm – er, subject this year is Princess Diaries 2.  I thought that was an odd choice, but he made an eye-opening statement when I commented on that: he says that this film has been very popular among homeschoolers.  Apparently the general consensus is that it is sweet and innocuous, or even very good.

Really?  What do you think?  Have you seen one of both of the Princess Diariesmovies?  What did you think?  Looking back, what do you think now?

So many films, so little time…

And a fussy crying baby who cares not a whit whether we see any films or not!  The Widow’s Might is just beginning, and looks like very well-done movie.  All of the elements that typically give away an amateur film seem just right: lighting, sound and picture quality, plenty of music with no awkward silences.  Though I’m not exactly paying close attention, the dialog seems snappy and the acting looks and sounds natural.  I also hear a lot of  laughs from the audience.  Not a good thing unless the movie is billed as a comedy.  Don’t worry – this one is supposed to have some laughs.  All is well.

Oh! – and is that Colin Gunn?  I had no idea!  I really need to get with the program!  Gotta go!