Monday, December 23, 2013

Author Alcove: Audrey Assad

Hello all. Now that we're on break, we hope to have more posts, or at least regular ones.
This post is the first in a series of Catholic music artists. While we do hope to do a week in the future for each series, since we are approaching Christmas quickly we may not post every day. We will, however, complete seven full days of Catholic Music Artists Series posts. Each "day" will consist of an Author Alcove followed by an Album Review. This is an attempt not only to bring you good (enjoyable) Catholic music, but also to make these incredible artists known to a wider audience. We hope you find this series helpful during this blessed Christmas season and wish you a very blessed Christmas.

Audrey Assad is an amazing Catholic singer. Her music is poetic and reaches deep into the soul. With an angelic voice, she sings songs filled with metaphor, describing the beauty of God and over and over pointing to His hand in the world. Somehow, she manages to make every day life look beautiful and reveals God's hand in everything.
While most, if not all, her music is acceptable for small children, they may not understand the deeper meaning. Still, they will be lulled by her soothing voice and beautiful music.
You can find more on Audrey Assad here, at her website.

Album Review: The House You're Building

Title: The House You're Building
Author: Audrey Assad
Genre: Catholic, Inspirational
My Rating *****
Official Rating: all, a few songs teen
Age Group: 6+, 14+

Audrey Assad is a Catholic singer with a beautiful voice. In this album she addresses some of the challenges people have every day and puts them into the proper context. The quote from St. Augustine, "My heart is restless until it rests in you, Oh Lord" would be a great way to sum up her approach to a solution. And yet, it's not a cheesy solution. It's a very heartfelt solution filled with beautiful metaphors pointing to the only solution that ever succeeds: God.

"For Love of You"
Summary: This is a reflection on God's great power and existance everywhere. It is because of Him that the singer does anything. She goes through various metaphors, describing just how great God is and what He does with her life and how she responds to that. Quite simply, "For love of You, I'm a sky on fire. And because of you, I come alive. It's Your Sacred Heart within me beating, Your voice within me singing out, for love of You."

"The House You're Building"
Summary: The singer is weary of wandering the world and has "been lookin' for a place to lay my head. All this time, like a vagabond, a homeless stranger, I've been wanderin'." And she finds home in God's house. He is her shelter from the struggles she has encountered, holding her up when she is no longer able to stand alone. And yet, she has a hard time turning to Him for help--and God keeps calling. "In You I find my meaning."

"Breaking Through"
Summary: Still wandering the world, the singer is searching but struggling to listen to the call. She notes that everything around her is pointing toward God and if she just takes a moment to observe the little things, she'll see, "Heaven is breaking through. And it's You." Even though she struggles at times to see this, she knows God is there in everything.

"Everything Is Yours"
Summary: We all know the feeling: "When all the world is on fire. When skies are threatening to thunder and rain. And I am overcome by fears that I can't see." The singer takes a step back, comforting herself with a simple fact, "Everything is Yours, and I'm letting it go. It was never mine at all." She the goes on to observe God's great power not only in protection but also in creating beauty, bringing home the notion that God really does have it all under control and she really can let go. Because "It was never mine at all."

Summary: St. Augustine is very well known for that one quote, "My heart is restless until it rests in You, Oh Lord." The singer observes that God dwells in everything we do, good and bad, and we are constantly searching for an answer. "You are the keeper of my heart. And I'm restless, oh I'm restless, til I rest in You, til I rest in You." Just an absolutely beautiful illustration of St. Augustine's words. She longs to surrender her love to God and let Him touch every aspect of her life.

"Carry Me"
Summery: "Pain is a forest, we all get lost in. Between the branches, it can be so hard to see. And in the darkness, we've all got questions. We're all just trying to make sense out of suffering.....As I carry this cross, You carry me." The singer admits fear and pain can be overwhelming and it is hard to see the way out, or the purpose, of suffering. So she turns to God, who has not left her alone in her pain. "I know Your promises are faithful. And God, I've seen, Your purpose in my life. You're mercy is a river. Your love is an ocean wide."

"Ought To Be"
Summary: The singer begins by trying to describe her great love for God through metaphors, then slows and admits that her love isn't as great as it should be. She comforts herself with "love planted deeply becomes what it ought to be" and continues on to describe God's love for her, far greater than her own. She longs to rise up and meet that love but knows full well that it's not what it could be yet but "love given freely becomes what it ought to be."

Summary: The singer meditates on God's great knowledge of her, using various metaphors including one which may be uncomfortable for younger children "as the lover knows his beloved's heart, all the shapes and curves of her even in the dark." There is contentment, a feeling of safety and freedom to be oneself and nothing else, when one is aware God knows all, "Savior You have known me as I am. Healer You have known me as I was, as I will be, in the morning, in the evening, You will know me."

"Come Clean"
Summary: Stunned by the mess of her soul, the singer wonders how she got here. She realizes that things just added on bit by bit and that she needs to come clean, face the facts, and move on. She admits that it's hard and she struggles with figuring out just what to do with the pieces but perseveres, seeking God's help to make progress little by little. This is a song about Confession if there ever was one.

"Run Forward"
Summary: This one is incredibly hard to interpret, but I'll do my best. Hurt by rejection,the singer turns to the Lord, seeking strength where she knows she should have looked for it all along. She confesses she is desperately in love with Him but not deeply. Heart is shutting down thanks to lack of communication, she seeks support from the Lord. She says it simply, "I'll run forward, and you fall back, and grace will come and clear our path." Finally, she thanks the person who rejected her for bringing her closer to the Lord, then begs the person to come back to her once more and offers forgiveness.

"Show Me"
Summary: The singer is content to do whatever the Lord asks of her--in the future. She feels unprepared to fulfill God's plan for her, seeing her own brokenness, and requests He set the plan into motion "but not before you show me how to die." Indeed, she struggles, just as we all do, with following God's will and seeing the beauty in it and needs His help so that she might make her will one with His. She finishes with the humble request, "but for now, just stay with me."

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Movie Review: Overcome

Title: Overcome
Author: N/A
Genre: Romance, Christian, Drama
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: Unrated (probably PG or a light PG-13)
Age Group: 14+

Summary: Ever since Sarah Taylor told the pastor who destroyed the statue of Jesus, Colton really hasn't wanted to have much to do with her. Understandable, given he was humiliated in front of those he knows and was forced to serve community service hours.
Things went downhill from there. Colton became a bit of a jerk. To his parents, his sister, people at his former church (he really doesn't have any interest in returning), people at his school, Sarah Taylor, and just people in general. He's even got some friends who help him out with this.
Then drunk driving results in a freak accident and Colton dies. Just for a few minutes, but enough to completely change him. Suddenly, he's different.
And nobody's going to believe that. He's Colton, after all.

Word of Warning
  • A group of four teen boys draw graffiti on the wall of a church building. When caught, one of them attacks the witness by knocking him over and kicking him a few times (no lasting injuries).
  • A teen steals from his sister and from his job. He does return all the money, but that doesn't undo the fact that he did it.
  • Teens at a party who are drunk put a cell phone in a blender, completely destroying it.
  • Underage drinking and drunkenness. This later results in driving while intoxicated and a crash (more on that later).
  • Complete disrespect for parents (this changes).
  • Three teens are injured in the car crash (a girl and then the two drunk teens who caused the crash). We see them with neck braces and a few bloody scrapes in the back of the ambulance. One of them dies, then miraculously returns.
  • As mentioned in the summary, a teen destroys a statue of Jesus (this is not seen, just mentioned).
  • The girl injured in the crash hurts her knee and needs surgery. This is assumed to destroy her hopes for a tennis competition.
  • Claims are made that Colton has pretended to be Christian while hitting on a girl. The guy continues, saying soon enough the couple is making out, then the next day Colton has forgotten and moved on.
  • A girl is forcefully shoved into a closet and locked in.
  • Some pushing and shoving. Random violence (cutting a volley ball with a knife, throwing a Frisbee out of reach, etc). Teasing, mocking, and just general cruelty to fellow teens. All things considered, none of the stuff mentioned is very serious (compared to what we see in other movies).
  • For those wondering about the romance genre label, yes, there was a bit of tamed down romance. No kisses, just loyalty, three hugs, and a great friendship salvaged from an originally rough relationship.
  • The PG-13 rating would come from the car crash.
My Thoughts
It's preachy, cheesy, and clearly made by amateurs in the film business.
But I still watched the entire thing, and I still enjoyed it. For all its faults, it's refreshing and kind of sweet. Colton does his best to change his life around after he dies but he admits that it's not easy (something often neglected in these "life changed" stories). His friends are angry and reject him and he tries to ignore that but clearly has a hard time doing so. And even Sarah has problems (forgiving Colton, trusting him, and facing her own fears).
So yes, it was preachy, cheesy, and done by amateurs (or someone with a very low film budget). But it was also simple, refreshing, and sweet.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Movie Review: Frozen

Title: Frozen
Author: Disney
Genre: fantasy, princess movies, adventure, family, romance, animals, comedy, animation
My Rating: *****
Brother's Rating: *****
Official Rating: PG
Age Group: 6+

For a royal family in a Disney movie, Elsa and her sister Anna have it pretty good. They're best friends, have two loving (and living) parents, and reside in the beautiful fantasy land of Arendelle.
Of course it falls apart. Elsa suddenly disappears from Anna's life and the younger girl finally has to learn to live without her sister, who has actually shut the door in her face. The death of their parents finds Anna at Elsa's door, begging for company and comfort. No response.
Then the coronation. Anna is outgoing and thrilled to see people again because, just like her sister's bedroom door, the castle doors have been shut for as long as she can remember. She has such a great time at the party she even gets engaged to a prince.
That's when Elsa freezes everything. No, she actually freezes the world of Arendelle.
Terrified at the risk of hurting someone, Elsa flees. Anna sets after her, determined to save her sister.

Word of Warning
  • There are some magical like trolls who seem to have powers from somewhere above. Not a huge problem, but does seem to baffling combined with the clearly Catholic orientation of the spirituality of the rest of the film.
  • Along the lines of magic, Elsa has power over wintery elements (cold, wind, snow, ice, etc). She has trouble controlling them (this is the focus of the entire movie) and often puts people in danger because of this.
  • Anna and Hans accidently fall on top of each other a few times when they first meet. Anna comes right out and says it's awkward, something they both agree on.
  • Anna gets engaged to a prince she met that day. She's clearly silly with infatuation and the style of the duet they sing skillfully shows this.
  • A few animated kisses (nothing passionate).
  • A little girl is hit in the head with ice and seems to be dying. She is rescued by the magical trolls.
  • Anna's heart is frozen and she slowly weakens. She becomes cold and starts to turn frosty in color, eventually freezing solid in an act which sacrifices her life for another's.
  • Elsa is determined to feel no emotions, thinking this is the best way to protect those around her. This results in her seeming cold to others (pun intended).
  • Elsa has a sort of rebellious streak in which she declares that she is free, has no rules to follow, and feels great for the first time in a long time. In a subtle reinforcement of this transformation, her dress changes from traditional and relatively modest to skin tightly with a slit up the skirt that appears to go to her thigh.
  • Olaf, a snowman, is constantly breaking into three or more pieces and being put back together. This serves as comedy, but can be slightly disturbing as he is a character who talks and is basically a person except made of snow.
  • Two men attempt to kill Elsa. She counters their attack, almost killing them with her icy powers.
  • Anna punches a man. A few others are also punched (some accidental, some purposely).
  • Anna and Kristoff are chased by a pack of dangerous wolves. One drags Kristoff from the wagon and we are left with a few moments of "did that really just happen? is he ok?" before the issue is resolved. He is uninjured.
  • People drink at the coronation (no one is drunk).
  • There is a plot to kill the princesses and steal the throne. Several people are involved in this way of thinking.
  • When the castle doors are finally opened, Anna sings about her excitement and also feeling slightly gassy.
  • The trolls reveal that Kristoff doesn't smell good and likes to urinate in the woods.
  • Anna is hit in the face with saliva. Kristoff claims all men pick their noses and then eat it. Characters lie and trick each other (sometimes with good intentions, usually not).
  • In a dramatic betrayal scene, Anna is pretty much doomed to death by the hand of an icy cold which has started to freeze her heart. The betrayal comes from the worst source: someone she trusted deeply.
  • Olaf starts to melt. This is basically death for a snowman.
The Good
  • The love story here is different from the usual Disney movie. Yes, the princess does get the guy, but she also gets her bond with her sister back. This bond is the focus of that tried and true "true love" story.
  • Elsa truly wants to protect those around herself. By shutting herself away, she becomes cold and loses control. When she is faced with tragedy, she discovers that by feeling emotions and connecting with those she loves she is able to thaw not only herself but Arendelle.
  • Elsa's rebellious moment is rebellious, yes, but we also see how unhappy she is with her new life. She's not content and is missing her sister and those she loves. Ultimately, she is able to use her powers responsibly and have those she loves. In this sense, she leaves behind both extremes and finds the more agreeable middle.
  • Kristoff risks everything to help Anna and when things look dire, he does all he can to get her back to her fiancé so she can be unfrozen. He's clearly fallen in love with her but his solution is to hand her over to the one he believes she loves in an attempt to save her life.
  • The entire movie is about sacrificial love. Anna goes after Elsa. She ultimately sacrifices her life for her sister (death doesn't follow). Kristoff risks all he has for Anna. Olaf runs the risk of melting in order to save Anna. It just keeps going.
  • This sacrificial love is the movie's definition of true love. Finally, someone got it right.
  • Love at first sight? Completely debunked here, multiple times.
  • Extremes aren't favored (unlike in our world, where people seem to be addicted to them). Elsa locking up all her emotions is a bad idea, but letting them all flow out is a bad one too. The solution, in the end, is a middle ground, a mature and happy middle ground that Elsa demonstrates well.

My Thoughts
Honestly, don't the good points say it all?
This is possibly one of the best Disney princess movies I've ever seen (though, in Disney's defense, I haven't seen very many). It's got plenty of comedy, action, and finally a good definition for true love.
There really isn't much to say, aside from commenting on the beauty of the Catholicism sprinkled throughout the movie, or on the big metaphor handed to us. Elsa shuts herself away and becomes cold. This cold ultimately consumes her kingdom in a very physical way, much in the same way it would consume a person's life and relationships in a less magical world. When she learns to love, she is able to thaw but still use her powers, this time for good. One might go so far as to imagine this is a nod toward self-control to some degree.
It was a wonderful movie. I plan to see it again. I know my sisters (and brothers) greatly enjoyed it. I think it's something our world desperately needed. Hopefully they take it to heart--before the world freezes over.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Book Review: Fantastic Voyage

Title: Fantastic Voyage: An amazing journey through the human blood stream
Author: Isaac Asimov
Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure, Biology
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: Fiction
Age Group: 16+

Summary: Having finally rescued Benes from Them, We have run into a bit of trouble, mainly the problem that he may die before he's able to reveal very important information. Information so important that if We don't have it, They might start a war and We might lose.
This requires a last minute and utterly fantastic voyage into Benes' blood stream in order to clear a blood clot in his brain which cannot be reached from the outside. A grumpy old surgeon and his beautiful assistant, a pilot for the submarine, a doctor who knows the map of Benes' circulatory system, and the secret agent who saved Benes and seems to be along for security are miniaturized and injected into the blood stream.
A lot of things can go wrong in a blood stream, especially when there may be a traitor along. With only and exactly sixty minutes to complete the mission, things could go very wrong.
Of course, they do.

Word of Warning
  • Agent Grant makes numerous suggestive remarks to Cora (the surgeon's assistant). Since this book was written in 1966, these remarks really are only suggestive and leave much to the imagination. Still, these remarks contributed to the book's age suggestion.
  • Cora, for the most part, completely ignores Grant. When she starts to pay attention to him, he slows down on the comments.
  • The whole thing is full of drama involving the blood stream, which might be considered gross by some readers.
  • People almost die, are tossed around and injured, and one man is hit over the head. Another man is killed by bacteria (though we don't see this happen).
  • Grant hints that he planned to spend a few days (or nights) with a woman (who, we're unaware) before he's selected for this mission, and he's a bit annoyed by his change in plans.
  • A car crash ends in one man being killed, a shootout (another death), and a man who is injured and has a blood clot in his brain. None of this is graphic.
My Thoughts
I rarely enjoy science fiction, and when I do, that's usually on the screen in a well-done movie. Clearly I've been reading the wrong science fiction. Though this book is anything but recently written, it's recent enough that as I read I recognized things I am studying in science classes right now, and explained how they worked as well. The characters were interesting, even Grant. At first I found him annoying, but his persistence on the mission (refusing to give up and making due with whatever he's got) and his bravery (sacrificing himself for other members of the crew often) grew on me and eventually I looked forward to his lines.
The pace was nicely done. Just fast enough to feel as frantic as the story line suggests, but slow enough that sixty minutes really does fit into about 150 pages without feeling overdone.
The adventure itself was incredibly interesting. It was fun to travel through a human blood stream in a submarine, even if it only happened in the pages of a novel.
Simply put, a great adventure that will continue to be so for a long long time.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Review: Goddess Tithe

Title: Goddess Tithe (novella)
Series: Tales of the Goldstone Wood
Author: Anne Elisabeth Stengl
Genre: Fantasy, Christian, Teen
My Rating: *****
Age Group: 13+

Note - I received and am reviewing a preview copy of this book. Goddess Tithe is available for purchase from major book vendors beginning November 12, 2013.

Summary -
Sailing is dangerous, for the goddess demands a sacrifice from every ship that dares sail her sea. Munny, a young boy and a runaway, fears the vengeance of the goddess, and his fears are only strengthened when a foreign stowaway is discovered on board. The Captain demands that the stowaway, Leonard, be kept safe, but all of the other sailors wish to sacrifice him to the goddess.
And Munny is caught in between, wanting to both protect the young man and to return safe to his mother.
The goddess demands a sacrifice, and who will pay?

The Bad -
- Leonard is known to the sailors as "the Foreign Devil", and he retains that name throughout the book. The sailors mistreat him and Munny because they are both seen as bad luck
- Munny, the underdog on board, is bullied by the other sailors, particularly Chuo-tuk. They often force him to eavesdrop for them, and also press him into doing their work.
- The sailors insult each other with various phrases that aren't insulting to a reader, but are obviously negative.
- The fey (fairy) Risafeth is referred to and considered a goddess by the sailors. This is never clarified in this particular book, but in the rest of the Goldstone Wood series, fairies are not gods/goddesses.
- Munny is considered an illegitimate child by his uncle because his mother's marriage was not approved by her father. However, Munny's mother makes it very clear that she was honorably married to a very good man.
- Munny is almost forced into killing Leonard by the other sailors.

The Good -
- Leonard displays great courage by protecting Munny and standing up to the bullies. He also risks his own life by diving overboard to rescue him from drowning.
- Munny refuses to kill Leonard, and proceeds, against his better judgment, to protect him from being sacrificed to the goddess.
- Munny's motivation for surviving the sea voyage is to return to his sick mother. This motivation strengthens him through many dangers that would otherwise be overwhelming.
- The Captain not only refuses to sacrifice Leonard, but he also vows to protect every man on the ship from the wrath of Risafeth.
- Tu-Pich, Munny's mentor, sacrifices his own life willingly in order to protect the boy. By doing so, he drives away Risafeth, who cannot stand true self-giving, but only hate and fear.

Conclusion -
Anne Elisabeth Stengl is somehow able to write a story that, while not necessarily compelling, is utterly transcendent. I honestly loved this book, despite the fact that the plot did not interest me at all, nor the setting, nor the characters. I would be completely willing to reread this book - it's hauntingly lovely, and there's a hidden beauty that I'm not quite able to understand, but I know that it is there to be found.
At the center of all her stories (which are at least implicitly Christian, and often explicitly so) is one main thought - Goddess Tithe is driven by the truth that hate and destruction can only be stopped with self-sacrifice. As the Captain states, "Vengeance cannot abide the agony of grace." It's something that is so very forgettable in everyday life, but also so incredibly essential.

Note: Goddess Tithe is a companion novella to the Goldstone Wood series, but while someone who has read the other books in the series would definitely understand many of the hidden references and themes in the book better than a new reader, this shouldn't prevent anyone from picking up this book without having read the others. It's a standalone story, and it does quite a remarkable job at it.

Author's Blog
Goddess Tithe Website

Monday, November 11, 2013

Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven

Title: The Magnificent Seven
Author: N/A
Genre: Western, Adventure
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: None (made in 1960), probably PG
Age Group: 14+ (due to the mention of rape)
Summary: A little village south of the boarder is under attack and the farmers are helpless. They hire seven gunmen to save them from the enemy, who is thirty strong. How will these seven manage to protect the town, especially when they have their own personal struggles?

Word of Warning:
  • D*** and h*** are used a few times.
  • The village farmers suspect the seven will rape their women and so hide the women. The seven obviously don't do that, though the youngest does agree with one girl's father, saying that he's right about the seven being dangerous.
  • Characters are shot and die. A few die of knife wounds. Horses fall, people fall, fight scenes, etc. It's a western, after all.
  • Two passionate kisses.
  • A man is drunk.
  • Drinking (most people don't get drunk doing this).
  • A boy is spanked.

My Thoughts
It's the western of westerns. The characters develop, all gaining traits of manhood or perfecting the ones they had which were slightly twisted. It's filled with self-sacrifice, excitement, heroism, and fatherly figures. And when they ride off into the sunset, it's clear they're only leaving because they're not developed enough to settle down.
There really isn't much to say beyond that, because it doesn't really need anything beyond that. It's just good.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Movie Review: Fantastic 4

Title: Fantastic 4
Genre: Action, adventure
Author: Marvel
My Rating: **
Official Rating: PG-13
Age Group: 16+

Summary -
Reed is a brilliant scientist with awesome ideas and no money. Which basically means that unless he can obtain funding from someone rich, he won't be able to do anything with his ideas.
He's able to get Dr. Victor Von Doom to agree to fund an expedition into space to analyze a cloud of cosmic energy that may be able to trigger evolution, and so with his trusty friend Ben, the overconfident Jonny, his ex-girlfriend Sue, and Victor, Reed heads out to space to do brilliant science-y stuff.
But something goes terribly wrong: the cosmic energy is stronger than Reed calculated, and the expedition is caught in a solar storm that morphs their DNA into something... inhuman.
They all develop super-powers and are able to do amazing things, but the effects aren't all good. And Victor, whose carrier is ruined by the accident, decides to take revenge.

The Bad -
- Victor cheats Reed out of a fair share of the profits for his "cosmic cloud" idea.
- There is obvious bad blood between Reed and Sue, and we get the impression early on that their romance ended sourly.
- Jonny (who is incredibly reckless throughout the whole movie) kisses a woman (an underwear model) in a sports-car while driving down a highway on a motorcycle.
- Sue shows cleavage in her space outfit, and obviously tries to gain Reed's attention with it. We see him staring, but it turns out he's interested in something else.
- Jonny plays a very mean trick on Ben by making him think he's deformed after an accident.
- Jonny flirts shamelessly and inappropriately with his nurse.
- Jonny's clothes burn up and he accidently creates a "hot tub" in the snow with his body heat. He then proceeds to invite his date to join him, and she does very willingly. We see Jonny later with only a coat around his waist.
- After the space accident, Ben turns into a "rock monster", and his wife (whom he loves very much) rejects him.
- Sue can turn invisible, but has to strip her clothes off in order to be effective. The first time she does this, she accidently reappears wearing only underclothes.
- Sue mentions wanting to share an apartment with Reed.
- Victor kills a doctor and many others in cold blood.
- Reed walks in on Sue while she's in the shower. He's obviously embarrassed.
- Jonny cheats during a drag-race by burning his opponent's wheels off.
- Jonny takes advantage of the popularity he and the other heroes have gained to cruelly tease the other team members. His worst joke is blatant innuendo about Reed (who has the ability to stretch) expanding any part of himself.
- A character comments about Reed playing "Twister" with Sue.

The Good -
- While the Fantastic 4 are really dysfunctional in the beginning of their relationship, they eventually learn to work together and actually begin to care for each other.

My Thoughts -
Honestly, there's not much to say about this movie. It's so cheesy that it's comparable to filling the space between your ears with CheezWhiz. The only intelligent thoughts that crossed my mind while watching it were:
1. I like Jonny.
2. There's no plot.
3. There's no good dialogue.
Adding all the inappropriate (but slightly funny) innuendo to the cheese just makes the movie all the more painful.
The weird thing is, while I honestly didn't enjoy Fantastic 4, I didn't hate it either. In fact, I'd be willing to watch it again. I don't know if that's a commentary on the movie, or a commentary on my taste in movies - either way, it's probably not good.
My verdict? Only watch this movie if you honestly have no brain left to care about.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Movie Review: I Confess

Title: I Confess
Author: Alfred Hitchcock (Warner Brothers)
Genre: Mystery
My Rating: *****
Brother's Rating: *****
Official Rating: PG
Age Group: 14+
Summary: A man is murdered, and someone has to pay. But what about the soul of the man who committed the murder? Fleeing to the confessional, the murderer confesses his deed to a young priest, Fr. Michael Logan. But when things get hot, and the murderer feels he may be found out, he gets nervous. Can Fr. Logan reveal what he heard in the confessional? What if he himself is suspected, and all those he cares for are hurt?

Word of Warning:
  • Note this is all in black and white.
  • A dead man is seen, stretched across the floor with a bit of blood on his head.
  • A man confesses to a murder. He claims the murder was an accident, that he was only intending to steal, and he is told to return the money. It is unclear as to what he does with the money. During the robbery he wears a cassock as a disguise/safety.
  • A man briefly mentions that he might be hanged for murder.
  • A woman (who is married) is in love with a priest, who is well aware of this. Her husband also knows, and she never lead him to believe she loved him.
  • There are at least three kisses, most rather passionate. One is between a married woman and a man who is not her husband (the man returns her kiss and is unaware that she is married), the rest are between a couple who are courting.
  • A man makes what is referred to as a "remark" (we are unaware as to the content of it), later referred to as "an insinuation" about a wife and Michael spending the night in a gazebo together (they were escaping a storm; nothing happened). Michael shoves the man for insulting the lady's honor.
  • A man blackmails a young wife and, in doing so, a priest as well.
  • A wife is so angered by how her words have been taken that she suggests she should have lied to the crime investigators when they questioned her.
  • A wife is accused of "a continuous illicit--" but the sentence is never finished. Later, it is clarified simply using the term "affair" in relation to a married woman and a priest.
  • A woman is shot by her husband and killed (no blood or gore). A man is shot but we do not see him (we hear he's been shot and see chefs bending down to help him).
  • The man who attempted theft (and committed murder) was driven by his sadness at watching his wife work hard for their living.
Good Points
Because this movie depends entirely on these. And rightly so. Because they're amazing.
  • Fr. Logan refuses to reveal anything that relates to the confession he heard. This leads to him being suspected as a murderer, his trial, and the public turning against him (shouting "take off that collar!"). Still, he remains strong and does not speak.
  • Fr. Logan is kind to Ruth (the woman in love with him) but gently discourages her feelings toward him, wanting her to move on and see reality. He does his very best to protect her honor, reputation, and keep her from emotional heartbreak.
  • Ruth, for her part, is in love with Fr. Logan but knows there is nothing she can do about it and does not try. She stays away from him for years to protect both of them. She never leads her husband to believe she loves him and has apparently told him of her love for Fr. Logan. She does her best to protect him as he is indicated in the murder, revealing information that may hurt her marriage in order to protect Fr. Logan.
  • Ruth's husband is utterly amazing. He knows his wife is in love with Fr. Logan, and he hears the entire story of their courtship and the night in the gazebo. Still, he refuses to leave her even after she suggests this is what a husband would do if his wife were in love with another man. He supports her through difficult times, even after her revelation detailing her relationship with Fr. Logan.
  • The actor for Fr. Logan is spectacular. At this point, words utterly fail.
  • The portrayal of the priests is nearly flawless. As my brother pointed out, often in movies the priest will genuflect the wrong way, or make some other small mistake that would annoy Catholic viewers. No such mistakes were noticed in this movie.

My Thoughts
Honestly, if I could give this movie more than five stars, I would, but unfortunately our system only goes up to five.
I've seen this movie many times now, and it never fails to move me. Fr. Logan's bravery and determination to hold to his vows, the husband's support of his wife, and Ruth's attempt to save Fr. Logan by revealing all, they're so touching one is almost moved to trembling. Even the murderer's motivation is moving.
The story itself has an interesting premise. A priest knows of a murder because he's heard the confession of the murderer. He's framed for the murder and can't talk his way out because everything he knows concerning the murder was learned in confession. There are martyrs who died protecting that sacred seal of confession. Here, we see a slightly less tragic, but still incredibly gripping retelling of that same idea.
It's thrilling. Full of mystery, containing a passionate romance, and having all that edge-of-your-seat excitement one desires. To top it off, the hero is a priest.
What more could you possibly want?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Review: QB 1

Title: QB 1
Author: Mike Lupica
Genre: Sports
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: Children's Fiction
Age Group: 10+

Summary: Jake is a Cullen. His dad was the starting quarterback in high school and college, and his older brother is following in that path. Jake's a freshman now, and he's expected to do what Cullens do. Only, Jake is starting to feel like he's trapped in a shadow. If his dad wants his brother to be like his dad, and then wants Jake to be like his brother, he's already stuck under two shadows. Then, on top of all that, Jake isn't the starting quarterback. Casey is, and has definitely waited his turn for the position. That's just one more shadow to live under--another shadow adding to the disappointment those around Jake seem to feel about him.
But what about Jake's shadow? Does he have a say in how he's going to live?

Word of Warning
  • Jake's father plays favorites and it takes him a long time to admit it. He does everything but demand that Jake be just like his older brother, and, when the older brother has a game, Jake's father misses Jake's game. Jake and his mom even suggest they remind his father that he has two sons.
  • There is some arguing, often between Jake and the other quarterback. At one point, it is suggested this will come to blows, but never does.
  • Teasing between friends.
  • A brief kiss.
  • A boy destroys his ACL during a game and is helped off the field, never to return (he lives, obviously, but doesn't play the rest of the season). There isn't a whole lot of detail, only that he falls, and starts screaming. That's pretty much the last we hear of him.
  • Jake gets a concussion but he thinks he's fine so we don't get a whole lot of drama out of it.
  • Lupica usually has a great balance of choppy (but semi-realistic) dialogue and more complete dialogue. In this book, it's all choppy.
  • Lupica is known by my sister and I as having parent characters who are only parents biologically. As in, they talk just like the kids, and they're interested in being the kids' friends, not their parents, and in having fun, like the kids. The problem isn't as big in this book as it usually is, but it's still there.
  • Sarah seems to be in love with Jake's brother, then with Casey, then with Jake. Does she only fall for the starting quarterback? It's hard to tell how she feels, and when she does finally settle, it's hard to trust (or even like) her. She's basically a flat character. Sort of like a name on a popsicle stick, if that makes any sense.
  • Jake's father is immature and never truly admits that. It's suggested that he may know it, and he does take a step toward fixing the problem of favoring a son, but he doesn't actually admit to his mistake.

My Thoughts
Alright, you caught me. I like reading football stories, complete with well described games and everything in-between. This story was no different. It was exciting, had a pinch of character development (even though the entire thing was supposed to be about that, it really had a lot to do with just the game), and was Lupica all over again. By that I mean choppy dialogue, great guy character friendships, good laughs, and great sports action.
That's what I expect from a book like this--and that's what I got.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Movie Review: Heart of the Country

Title: Heart of the Country
Author: N/A
Genre: Romance, marriage, drama, Christian
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements)
Age Group: 10+
Faith's husband Luke is thrown in jail for something he claims he didn't do. Hurt by his dishonesty, Faith runs back home to her father and her hometown. There, she grapples with family, love, and her marriage. Luke, bailed out of jail by his father, is stuck in New York dealing with the same things. A tragic discovery brings them back together sooner than they are ready for. Can Luke convince Faith of his innocence? And can Faith take him back?

Word of Warning:
This movie was so amazingly clean I feel strange even having this list. It's going to be filled with rather trivial things, compared to my most recent reviews. It's a nice change.
  • A brief passionate kiss between a married couple.
  • A man is wrongfully arrested (or so he claims).
  • Faith's mother passed away some time ago in an unnamed accident. We see brief flashbacks to her time in the hospital and the ambulance (all focused on her face). Faith visits her grave. The whole family misses the mother (understandably).
  • It is mentioned that a sister put hair remover in Faith's shampoo bottle when the girls were younger.
  • A wife complains that her husband doesn't change their baby's diaper, but it's more gentle teasing than angry complaining.
  • Liposuction is mentioned briefly, glossed over, and left unexplained.
  • A Luke leaves his family company, resulting in his father and brother yelling at him.
  • People drink, but do not get drunk.
  • Faith is blamed by Luke's family for splitting the family in two.
  • Faith recalls when Lee, as a little boy, burned ants in the parking lot after vacation bible school.
  • The phrase "livin' it up in New York" is mentioned but not explained.
  • A little girl declares that when she grows up, she wants to marry her father. He responds that her mother already did, but the girl can get married, and they can share a father-daughter dance, and she's satisfied.
  • Luke is in jail and it's hinted that he'll be there a while.
  • Faith wonders aloud if her marriage was a mistake. She says she married because she loved Luke but that they're good at the fairy-tale, not real life.
  • Faith claims her marriage wasn't working. She says she tried and she doesn't seem willing to keep trying.
  • Luke is threatened in jail by another prisoner. There is no concrete threat, just the hint of the prisoner possibly blackmailing Luke.
  • Luke's father is clearly angry with him.
  • Lee flirts lightly with Faith even though he knows she's married. At one point, when things appear to be picking up speed, he steps back and mentions Luke not as Luke, but as her husband (using the word "husband"). He buys her a gift but backs off when Luke comes after Faith.
  • In a flashback before their proposal and marriage, Luke and Faith are lying on a picnic blanket laughing. There is clearly space between them.
  • There are about four gentle kisses before the proposal, some right after each other, some not.
  • Heather remarks of her pregnancy, "Comin' whether we like it or not" but in a joking fashion and a happy smile.
  • Sisters "battle" over their father.
  • Divorce is mentioned but Faith firmly declares she is not going to get one.
  • When Lee (a doctor) gets to church just in time, Faith teases, "Must've been quite a night, hope you got her name" as he straightens his tie. His response is simple. The girl was six, died of a heart attack, came from a car accident. Faith is silenced.
  • Faith doesn't believe her husband when he insists he's innocent.
  • Faith's father was not at her wedding, nor has he met Luke before.
  • In a slightly dramatic scene, Faith's father is loaded into an ambulance.
  • A man has brain cancer but refuses treatment, saying his time is up and he's ready to leave.
  • Faith's sister complains that her husband never tells her he loves her, even though she knows he does.
  • Sisters bicker but clearly love each other. One remarks, "What's the fun in getting along too well?"
  • Maria (an old friend of Luke's) flirts with him even though he's married. She leaves her purse in his car so she can come to his house later and pick it up. She puts her hands on his chest and tries to kiss him.
  • Faith walks in on an awkward scene and is lead to believe Luke is cheating on her with Maria.
  • Faith says she doesn't want a divorce, but she's living hours away from her husband, won't talk to him, and has given up on her marriage.
  • Luke knew the people he was working for were doing criminal things but didn't speak up.
Good Points
This movie was carried by its good points, not the plot, which is why many of them deserve mentioning.
  • Faith's father. Is amazing. He sees his position as father of two daughters as protective and guiding. He warns Lee to back off when Faith is on thin ice in terms of her marriage. He goes to Luke to help patch up the marriage. He is determined to make sure Faith's marriage does not fall apart--but he makes sure she and Luke are the ones to put it back together.
  • Church on Sunday is shown at least twice.
  • Families. They are shown not as perfect, but as realistic and good. There is arguing and bickering, anger, frustration, and everything else. But there is always loyalty and forgiveness and open arms when anyone looks for them.
  • Luke tells Faith he loves her and would do anything for her. At first, this doesn't seem to be the case. But when he sees that Faith isn't going to come back to him, he goes to her, leaving his life and family in New York to join her in a small country town where they will raise a family.
  • Faith and her sister do love each other, even though they bicker. The same is true for Luke and his brother, though this one is not as obvious.
  • Luke tries hard to ignore Maria's flirting. When it's not possible to tactfully ignore it anymore, he yells at her and kicks her out of his house.
  • Luke, in an attempt to keep the family name clean for his father and for his own future children, resists filing a court plea. Eventually, he does admit to the truth, and his father supports him in this.
  • Luke tells Faith's father, "I never touched another woman. I was always faithful to your daughter" and that he did not commit fraud, as his accusers claim he did.
  • At the end of the movie, a pregnant woman and her husband are shown. She is speaking to her father, then the child, and her husband stands behind her, arms around his wife, hands gently caressing the baby bump until she takes them in hers.

My Thoughts:
If I were to judge this movie based on plot, it would get a terrible rating. Judged on plot points and how many leads were never followed, it would fall on its face. Seen from the perspective of filming (dramatic effects, flashbacks, angle, etc), it wouldn't do much better.
But I'm not judging it on that, because that's not what this movie is about. This movie is about reality. It's about families and how, even though they don't always get along, they're still there. It's about fathers who are there for their children even if they do not always agree. It's about marriage and its beauty. The entire movie is based on reality and its goodness, even in its broken state. And on that scale, it scores pretty highly.
The only disappointment was even though Christianity was present (attending church on Sunday), it didn't have much to do with how the struggle (particularly the marriage struggle) played out. Had Christianity been a main part of the struggle's solution, the movie would have been ten times better.
Which is hard to imagine, it being so good to begin with.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Movie Review: Gran Torino

Title: Gran Torino
Author: Clint Eastwood
Genre: Historical fiction, gangs, drama
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: R (for language throughout, some violence)
Age Group: 18+

Summary: Walt has nothing left in the world, and some pathetic neighbors to top it all off. He's got enough on his mind, what with all the terrible things he found himself doing in the war, and he really doesn't want to deal with people who don't even speak English. But Walt's a good man, deep down, and that's what eventually brings about his end. He just can't stand around and watch the neighbor boy be harassed by a gang. He can't watch a kid who will cross the street to help an old woman pick up her groceries get dragged into a big mess which will eventually land him in jail. And he can't resist the good food the neighbors have, nor the quick tongue of the boy's older sister.
Then suddenly it narrows down to a simple problem: life, or death. Whatever he chooses, those around him will also be dealt a card.

Word of Warning
  • The entire movie revolves around a man who is haunted by what he did in the war. We don't know much, but we know he killed 13 men (or boys), many of whom did not want to be fighting. He shot one particularly young one in the face. None of his war stories are shown in flashbacks. They are all him speaking aloud to others.
  • Walt is sick and coughs up blood from time to time.
  • Walt has little relationship with his children. They all seem bitter toward each other. Later we find out he regrets this but didn't know how to grow close to his boys.
  • A girl has various piercings and her shirt shows some skin around her waist. Her and her siblings are incredibly disrespectful.
  • Walt is an angry man. That much is quite clear in everything he does, though it's also clear that he's lost and struggling.
  • The story revolves around the neighbors who are Hmong. Differences in culture become awkward for Walt and his neighbors. All sorts of stereotypes are pushed forward (but clearly stereotypes, some even debunked).
  • The next door girl claims her family eats cats, not dogs.
  • Blood is everywhere. Blood that Walt coughs up, that comes from people's faces after fights, when Walt angrily punches his fist through a glass door, and many other times. The two biggest moments are when the neighbor boy is injured when his house is shot at and has blood on his neck (he was not, apparently, shot) and when his sister comes home, her face bloodied and blood running down her legs (she is taken to the hospital but is home the next day--more on this later). Also, when Walt punches the glass door, he sits down and thinks, and blood drips from his finger tips.
  • Shooting. People are shot at, guns are pulled. No one is actually hit until the very end, when a man is riddled by bullets from many different men. We see very little blood (a bit on his arm, a small drip from his mouth) but we do see the marks from the bullets on his jacket. He dies and is carted away on a stretcher in a black bag.
  • Walt often has a gun with him and isn't afraid to pull it. From his attitude, we suspect he's not afraid to use it, though as we get to know him better, it's easy to assume using it could be the greatest fear he has.
  • Walt makes a finger gun and "shoots" several people throughout the movie.
  • A boy tries to steal a car.
  • A girl is almost raped. The guys make suggestive comments and push her around a bit, and she responds with angry words. Nothing happens and she's rescued.
  • Later, the same girl actually is raped, though off screen. This results in the scene mentioned above where she comes home with a bloodied face and blood on her legs.
  • Language abounds--and not the good kind. I honestly lost track of how many times particular words were used, or even which ones were used, but the most common ones are as follows: f***, b****, Jesus Christ (muttered twice by a priest, among other people), and many many others. One thing I noticed was that it was hard to make it three lines without hearing f***.
  • Racial insults everywhere.
  • Walt accuses a young priest of knowing nothing, then throws a bunch of insults at him, among them that the priest is a 27 year old virgin. The priest later admits that Walt was right, but that he learned a lot from the man.
  • Walt's barber is holding a pornographic magazine in one of his scenes. The viewers get a brief glance at it.
  • Walt is continually rude to the priest, but eventually does go to confession.
  • Walt confesses to kissing another woman while he was married, saying "it just happened." He follows up with a few more sins.
  • Walt's final sacrifice is self-giving, but also partially suicidal. It's hard to give it an accurate label.

The Good
When a movie has a list of problems like the one above, and is rated R, one really starts to wonder why in the world it would ever be watched by anyone looking for decent entertainment. And so I follow with a list of only a few of the good points.
  • Walt truly does try to change, and he does. In the process, he assumes protection over the Hmong family next door, even taking the young son (who tried to steal his car) under his wing and teaching him how to be a man.
  • The boy next door tries to stay out of trouble as best he can.
  • The priest is calm, persistent, kind, and strong. He does his best with what he's been given.
  • Walt's last words are the beginning of a Hail Mary.
  • Walt goes through a serious conversion, but not the kind we're used to hearing about from people who want to tell their stories.
  • Walt puts his all into helping the boy next door stay out of trouble and also setting him up for a better future than he was currently in line for.
  • When it all comes down to that choice between life and death, the neighbor boy is enraged and wants to avenge his sister. Walt knows what must be done, but he doesn't want the boy to kill anyone. He manages to lock the boy in his basement, protecting him from a terrible fate.
My Thoughts
This isn't the type of movie I pick up when I want to watch something. When a friend suggested I review Gran Torino, I jumped at the challenge. I'm glad I did, or else I would have missed out on a beautiful story.
But it was beautiful in a very of gritty way. I think we often see beautiful as soft, pretty, and fragile, sort of like a rose. Sure, that's beauty, but that's not the only way it can be manifest. It's also gritty, dangerous, and wild. And that's the side shown in this movie. Walt honestly annoyed me at first, but by the end, I was heartbroken. He taught so much to the neighbors, saved their lives, and made a huge step in his personal life. He learned to sacrifice.
But it was a different kind of sacrifice. Because Walt encountered all sorts of nasty sacrifice when he was in the war. This time, he had to fully and willingly commit himself, knowing he might very well gain nothing at all.
And that, right there, is beautiful.
Sadly, that beauty is muddied by all the objectionable content in the movie. It's arguable that the beauty wouldn't have been so strong without the objectionable content, but where does that leave us?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Movie Review: Planes

Title: Planes
Author: Disney
Genre: Adventure, Underdog, Children's, Racing, Animation
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: PG
Age Group: 8+

"I just want to be more than what I was made for," Dusty Crophopper claims. Indeed. Stuck dusting crops for life, he dreams of racing other planes across the world. When he gets the chance to do just that, he takes it. In a race against time, against other planes, through dangerous courses and threatening elements, and his own fear of heights, Dusty has his work cut out for him. Can he win? Scratch that. Can he survive?

Word of Warning:
  • The catchphrase above, but more on that later.
  • Dusty's mentor lies to him and he is hurt by this.
  • Various planes crash, though we don't really see anything graphic (except when planes are being shot out of the sky during a war). One plane is blinded and nearly crashes, but Dusty saves him. Others spin out of control and disappear.
  • Dusty ends up in a terrible storm over the ocean and essentially drowns. He's pulled out and we see he's battered (wings in bad shape, "nose," tailfin, etc).
  • Dusty's Mexican friend is head over heels in love with a plane who doesn't pay any attention to him whatsoever--until Dusty gives him a pointer (he's got to be smooth and gentle). Then the guy can't get rid of her! So much so that we see lipstick marks all over his body (he's a plane, remember, so it's not nearly as nasty as it sounds).
  • Dusty falls for a different girl who betrays him, repents, and eventually ends up with him, so to speak (all we know is that they're happy and on good terms again).
  • Typical current champ has henchmen who sabotage Dusty (the rookie) in an attempt to make him fail.
  • There's a rumor that the henchmen (twins) were one plane and separated at birth. Though how planes are born is anybody's guess.
  • Some name calling (moron and others). Nothing major and no swear words.
  • Dusty's Mexican friend mutters Spanish to his love, and she responds in French (she's Canadian). They clearly don't understand each other, and unfortunately my Spanish isn't fast enough to translate, nor do I know any French, so I have no idea what they actually said.
  • Female planes are ogled, particularly their rudders (is that the right term?) on the wings as they are moved up and down.
  • One plane is disqualified after illegal fuel is found in his tank. It's quite clear that the illegal fuel is a lot like a drug of sorts (and we've heard far too much about those and sports).
  • Outhouses (with cars in them) are overturned, spraying oil everywhere. We see one car look a bit shocked when the outhouse above him disappears, then go back to his newspaper.
  • Dusty flies  through a train tunnel and almost collides with an oncoming train. We find out later that the incident was set up by the "bad guy".
My Thoughts:
It's a fun story, an underdog story. Dusty comes from the very lowest place he could (or so we're convinced) and takes on the world with a charming lack of experience. He's naïve, pure and simple, and it's fun. Until he starts to get things down, and then he stoops to poking fun at the current champion. Just because the guy's a jerk doesn't mean the hero needs to go that low.

This is a repeat of Cars, it really is. I took my younger sister, and she commented that the "bad guy" in this movie was green, just like the "bad guy" in the other one. Right on, sis. And the similarities just don't stop there. So what, right? It's a nice story. Everybody likes a good tale about a guy who rises from the ashes, takes the title, and gets the girl. Retelling that story in the world of Cars, with planes as the main characters, well, that just adds to the fun. Don't get me wrong. I really enjoyed the movie. It was fun and there weren't nearly as many inappropriate comments as usual in Disney's children's movies.

But what about that catchphrase. At first, I loved the sound of it. The idea of becoming more is appealing to everyone, isn't it? But then I stepped back and thought about it. Looking at this from a Catholic perspective, the idea of being more than one is made for is just crazy. God created each of us for a purpose, someone specific to each person. Why would we need to be "more"? Is that even possible?
I leave you with a quote:
Each of us is the result of a thought of God.
Each of us is willed,
Each of us is loved,
Each of us is necessary.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

With that backing us up, what more could we possibly want?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Movie Review: Picture This

Title: Picture This
Genre: Romance, High School, Chick Flick
My Rating: -*
Official Rating: PG-13
Age Group: 18+ (or nobody)

Summary: Mandy has been in love with Drew for a full four years or so. Unfortunately, Drew is completely unaware of that. In addition, Mandy lives in a regular town, and Drew lives in a gated community. Not to mention Mandy's father is completely controlling. When she finally does get Drew's attention, her father triple grounds her. How in the world is she going to go to Drew's party?

Word of Warning:
First off, a disclaimer. This was a chick flick and lacking in almost every aspect that makes a good movie. Because of that, I am only going to list the more major problems.
  • Mandy is completely infatuated with Drew and has been for some time. We get a slow-mo of him getting out of the pool wearing small tight swim "trunks" (he's on the swim team).
  • Mandy hits her head, almost drowns, and Drew gives her CPR. She wakes up to his mouth on hers, his hands on her chest. It takes him a minute to realize he doesn't need to keep his hands there.
  • Mandy's father is controlling. Mandy is completely disrespectful toward him.
  • Mandy spends a good portion of the movie tricking her dad into thinking she's studying when she's actually going to a party.
  • The dress Mandy wears to the party is short, has a low neck, and has slits that go high up the side.
  • There's a legend/rumor that the Patterson boys take a girl up to the tower (in their house) at the yearly party. There, they "deflower her in the show." The rhyme of it all only makes this concept even more sick.
  • Due to the rumor, when Drew does take Mandy up to the tower, and he leaves the room for a moment, she freaks out when she hears water and leaves. In the other room we see he's just washing his hands and trying hard to relax (apparently he's pretty nervous and his hands were sweaty).
  • Mandy never finds out that Drew didn't have a "shower plan" for her, but she does get back together with him at the end of the movie.
  • Mandy's father learns a lesson, Mandy is happy, and she never tells him the truth about the party night, though he does have a small inkling of it.
  • Mandy and her two friends go to a bar to win some money in a competition.
  • One girl throws up. This is recorded and shown to other party-goers, who think it's funny and make fun of her. Mandy's face puffs up in an allergic reaction and she chugs some sort of medication for allergies to get rid of it.
  • The typical mean girls group is present and, as expected, ruthless.
  • Drew kisses Mandy on the cheek, then later on the lips. The last one is long, but that's because the frame was frozen, music played, and then the credits rolled.
My Thoughts
This is the typical teenage daughter is misunderstood, parent learns a lesson, teenager gets a date, the end type of movie. These movies always try to trick the reader into thinking the teenager had a change of heart as well, especially toward the parent, but it just doesn't happen.
Aside from that, the whole rumor about the show thing was just plain disgusting. Mandy knew the rumor and went up into the tower anyway, trusting Drew was different. Sure, he was, but even if there wasn't a rumor she shouldn't have gone up to his bedroom alone with him.
Sometimes I find a movie like this that had something good to it. This one? Nothing. At all. That's why though it may be appropriate for someone 18+ (very few people at that age are going to enjoy something like this anyway), the movie is empty, kind of like a black hole: nothing to give, everything to take.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Movie Review: Quiz Show

Title: Quiz Show
Author: N/A
Genre: Historical, TV
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: PG-13 (for some strong language)
Age Group: 18+

"It's the getting away with it part he couldn't live with," Dick Goodwin reveals while talking about his uncle's revelation of an affair that had happened eight years ago.
Indeed. Now, with thousands of dollars on the line, big TV men angry, and contestants claiming they were forced to "take a dive," Goodwin (an investigator from Washington) decides he's going to take TV to court, so to speak. He's sure he can prove TV is all a big scam, using evidence gained from the quiz show "21." Just when things line up, when Goodwin finally gets proof that it is indeed a big scam, he befriends one of the contestants: Charles Van Doran. And Van Doran isn't too happy about being caught in the middle of such a scam. Can he get out, and can Goodwin bring TV to court without involving his friend? Moreover, can Goodwin actually win this case?
This is TV, for goodness sake! It's entertainment!

Word of Warning:
  • I apologize if this is incomplete. The movie was well done, but the actors tended to mutter and mumble some of their lines (convincingly and exactly when necessary), mixing in a thick New York accent, as well as some others, and it ended up being challenging to hear everything. I did re-watch questionable lines until I could hear what they were saying, but I may have missed something.
  • Most of the problems rest in the language of the men the movie focuses on. Unfortunately, the "good guys" and "bad guys" both have problems in this area. A brief list of words used: d*** it, s*** (2x), f***ing, bulls*** (2x), Godd*** (4x). Someone also chuckles "God" while making a joke/laughing at someone, in upsettingly good humor.
  • A brief shot of a televised passionate kiss (we're quite aware it's meant to be passionate, but we barely see more than a few seconds of it).
  • A wife briefly mentions the word "sex" to her husband before kissing him, though it doesn't seem like she's suggesting that particular course of action at the moment. Hard to tell with their accents and her whispering.
  • An angry Jewish character mutters, "Put me in an isolation booth and pump cyanide into it."
  • The film rests on a big moral dilemma which puts money up against honesty (not cheating in the quiz show), or value for education against honesty. Characters struggle with this along the way. The one character who remains true to his values is Goodwin, though he does toe the line when he decides to keep Charles out of the spotlight.
  • An angry Jewish character mutters, "A big uncircumcised putz is on the cover of Time magazine."
  • In an attempt to explain preparation, someone says, "You don't go hunting in your underwear."
  • A brief shot of a man's wife with her shirt unbuttoned, showing her bra. They are apparently alone (son upstairs practicing his drums) and when a visitor stops by she shrieks, hastily buttons up, and offers to serve them. We do not get any indication that there was any sort of sexual interaction between the wife and the husband before the visitor stops by, and as we enter the scene with the visitor, the time the woman spends in her bra on camera is very brief. (Had it not been for this scene, I might have given the movie with a 16+ age group)
  • Men wear boxers in their homes.
  • Goodwin is well aware that Charles was fed answers for the quiz show, just like the other contestants, but decides to keep this a secret and out of his court case.
The Good
I'm turning into Stacy, only not nearly as philosophically deep :) Honestly, this movie had some good points that just can't go unmentioned.

First, fatherly support. Charles' father is a very famous man, and Charles seems to find this almost suffocating, wanting to make a name for himself that is not his father's ("Are you related to Mark Van Doran?"). When Mark finds out what his son did (cheating on the quiz show), he is visibly shocked and horrified. Still, he supports his son's decision to come clean, accompanying him to court to give him support when Charles requests it.

Charles spends the entire movie struggling with his moral dilemma. Finally, he does manage to do the right thing. Consequently, he tears his entire life apart, but, he says, he feels "relieved." His testimony to the court is one focused on the soul searching he has been forced to do as a consequence of his actions, and it is very touching.

Goodwin sticks the whole thing through, refusing to give up even when everyone is pretty sure they've thrown him off the trail. He doesn't take "no" for an answer, fighting on to find out the truth. He says he doesn't want to point fingers or bring any one person down, he just wants the truth. At one point, he waivers in his dedication, struggling with his friendship to Charles. Goodwin's wife yells at him for this during an argument, saying that he's twice the man anyone (including Charles) is, and he should stay that way.

And last, but far from least (is that not the most cliché phrase possible?) is Goodwin's little story about his uncle. He tells the story to Charles when Charles is struggling with his moral dilemma. It turns out Goodwin's uncle revealed to his wife he'd had an affair with another woman--eight years ago. Yes, while they were still married, but eight years ago. Charles is confused, wondering why on earth the confession if the uncle got away with it. Goodwin explains, "It's the getting away with it part he couldn't live with."

My Thoughts
I admit I usually find movies like this boring. I like action, a bit of romance thrown in, and if it's fictional, I don't care. Factual stuff does catch my attention from time to time, and I admit I do like the occasional documentary.

This, however, was different. This was the true story of an investigator taking on TV because of how it scams the viewers. The contestants of "21" would be given the answers ahead of time (that is, only the contestants that the producers knew would bring up ratings and product sales), then coached in how to deliver them for the best possible show. The innocent Americans watching "21" had no idea this was happening and Dick Goodwin decided to take on "21," as well as TV as a whole, for the great big scam it was running.
He failed. "21" was beaten, sort of, but the rest of TV got away. That's easy to see in the shows that we view now.

But the journey Goodwin took to prove "21" was a scam and his own personal struggle, along with Charles' personal journey, was incredibly interesting to follow. I found myself completely hooked by the movie and unable to look away.

It also made me wonder: what would happen if we took TV to court today? Would anybody even care that it was all a big scam?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Book Review: Lark

Title: Lark
Author: Sally Watson
Genre: historical fiction, romance
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: Children's fiction
Age Group: 10+

Summary: Unfortunately for her, Lark's uncle is so sure it's God's will she marry his son that her uncle has kidnapped her to make sure she is raised properly. Lark is very sure she is not going to marry her cousin. Living under her uncle's care, Lark becomes a talented actress (though of course no one knows that). When the time is right, Lark runs away to Scotland.
Which apparently is not nearly as easy as she thinks. On her way, Lark runs into James. She's happy; he's got a problem. What's he supposed to do with a girl while on the king's business? How can he possibly remain chivalrous and leave her behind?

Word of Warning
  • Lark's uncle kidnaps her, essentially to enact a forced marriage.
  • Lark runs away.
  • Lark pretends to be mentally ill, and her cousin wonders if it's because of God or the devil.
  • Lark's uncle is a very strict Puritan. Because of her hate of him, she has a narrow view of God, at first deciding she doesn't like Him because He seems to be on her uncle's side. Eventually she comes around, but she still struggles now and then.
  • Lark is locked up and kept prisoner.
  • James is injured badly and gets very ill. Lark is left with tending to his bleeding wounds and trying to save his life.
  • Willow, a Gypsy girl, flirts with James even though she's well aware she's supposed to marry Neco.
  • Lark flirts with Neco to make James jealous.
  • It takes Lark a good part of the book to discover she should not manipulate people with her acting abilities. She also never really gets over her tendency to manipulate James (though she does try).
  • James is almost hanged, and it's clear that he's constantly in danger of being captured and killed by the enemy.
  • A child (who happens to be a brat) is not punished, though eventually this changes.
  • A different child is beaten (not severely, more like in punishment).
My Thoughts
This was by far my favorite of Watson's books so far (though, I have to admit, I've only read two). The narrative voice for these books is simple, showing us a sort of naïve view of the world but in a sweet way. At times, the characters can be annoying (naïve gets frustrating after a while), but overall it was a good story.
Not to mention James, who is awesome, and all the fun little adventures he and Lark encounter. Indeed, this book is a great little story told in an innocent way, following two characters on their travels, both spiritual and physical.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Unfortunate Disappointments Book Review: Playing with the Boys

Please note we have a new category: the Unfortunate Disappointments. These are books we had high hopes for, read, and were sorely disappointed, nearly saddened, by their quality and content. Those books that could be so so good, if only _____ (fill in the blank with the item of your choosing) wasn't included.
Yes, those books. Those poor books. For them we have created a category, an entire week, belonging just to them. Because we really did have such high hopes for them. And then they let us down.


Title: Playing with the Boys
Author: Liz Tigelaar
Genre: sports, romance
My Rating: *
Official Rating: Teen Fiction
Age Group: 18+ (preferably girls only)

Summary: Lucy is one letter short of "lucky" and when she doesn't make the varsity soccer team at her new school, that just proves that she's always been right about her name. So she does the next best thing. She tries out for the football team. Which is, of course, a guys football team. Somehow, she manages to get onto a team where the players are not happy to have her. The coach feels the same way, but she can kick so well that he would look like a fool to refuse her a place on the team. Not to mention he wants to have a winning team.
But Lucy is a girl. On a guys football team. That alone should set up enough conflict for a whole series of books.

My Hopes
What can I say? I like my soccer, and I like my football. Putting the two into the same novel? Could it get any better? Yes, actually, it could. Introducing Benji Mason, the funny and sweet and kind punter who falls for Lucy. Plus, the idea of a girl on a guys' team is actually kind of interesting, at least assuming it is treated in an appropriate manner.
Well. That makes a good set up for any book, doesn't it?

Word of Warning/The Disappointment
Goodness, this will be a long list. Please be warned that this list does contain some very inappropriate references simply because they were in the book and I want the reader to know what he/she is getting into. Where do I start? At the beginning of the book, I guess. Here it goes!
  • Please note that Lucy is a fifteen year old girl.
  • This is the story of a teen girl who decides that enough is enough. She is going to do what she wants, even if her father says she can't. And in the end? Well, the stuff he does find out about (football), he is ok with. And proud of her for. And that right there is a huge problem.
  • Partying against a parent's direct order not to party.
  • Lucy claims to have made out two and a half times. Making out is mentioned one other time.
  • Words: h***, sexy (on the bottom of someone's pants), crap, a**, a**-hole, b*tch (used as an insult, also as a term of endearment for "friends"), and God's name used in vain at least twice.
  • Alcohol. It is mentioned, then later in the book teens drink it. They talk about stealing it from unsuspecting parents and do not seem to regret their choice. One girl has a bit too much and ends up throwing up in the bathroom.
  • Cigarettes are mentioned (but not used). The first time curfew is mentioned it is pointed out that it has not been broken, but it is broken several times in the book. Crystal meth is mentioned as an addiction but no one has it, illegitimate children are also mentioned as something that is nonexistent for a particular person.
  • Disrespect for grandparents (they are referred to as crazy) and a father. In a confusing twist, Lucy genuinely seems to love her father at the same time as she is rude to him, lying to him, and breaking all the rules he sets for her (reasonable rules, one might add. they are completely reasonable and not uncommon).
  • A dead mother is mentioned. The cause of her death is assumed to be sickness. This death throws a bit of confusion into the relationship between Lucy and her father as they struggle to live without the mother, love each other, and deal with frustrations.
  • Girl is allowed to decorate her bedroom. Which is fine, except this decorating is referred to as graffiti.
  • Girls in tank-tops with built-in bras (yes, that's actually mentioned). A-cups are mentioned, along with D-cups, the latter in relation to another girl, the gossipers joking that "guys throw quarters at her cleavage." Lucy is disappointed with the size of her own breasts but eventually is not disturbed. Lucy's jersey is sabotaged, two giant holes cut in the front for her breasts as a joke. Determined to show the football team that she is not a wimp, Lucy goes out onto the field wearing it, her sports bra showing. She is given a new jersey and changes right there in the open since, she reasons, they've already seen her sports bra.
  • Other sexual references: a teacher tells students to hold their (hockey) sticks tightly. The girls laugh and the narrator comments on high schoolers always interpreting things as sexual. Girls at soccer are sent to grab the balls, one says the other loves to do just that, they all giggle. Further giggles result in the "touches" on the ball they are to do next. While warming up for football practice, Lucy is told that the kickers will have to hold their own balls for the time being because the other player is also the center. Lucy twists the meaning here and giggles. Lucy confesses to getting a "B" in sex ed, something that Benji finds rather funny.
  • A girl uses what she calls the "period excuse" to explain her ten minute absence from a football game. She's not ashamed of doing so, makes the coach squirm a bit, and goes on with life. When referencing it she says she had a feminine difficulty or something along those lines.
  • Cute boys are everywhere.
  • A girl is referred to as "emo" (a term not explained) and she seems to hate Lucy, growling at her at one point.
  • A girl decides a certain cute boy should be cloned if he has not been already.
  • Two guys in a TV show are predicted to be making out by the end of the season.
  • Some girls are forbidden by their parents from watching MTV. Their friends are horrified and deem this "globally unfair."
  • Jocks, geeks, etc are present and referred to as such (at times).
  • Football players are taped to a goal post. They also confess to all sorts of joking around and hazing in the locker room, including urinating in shampoo bottles when others are not looking. It's deemed innocent and just a bit of guy fun by the football players, except Lucy, who is horrified.
  • Ryan is the typical popular quarterback who is blind to one girl who has a crush on him, notices another (and leads her on), but actually is dating a third during the entire thing.
  • Roughness on the football field and off, including injuries like broken ankles.
  • Rudeness all around and toward friends all the time.
  • Lies, cheating, and cruelty are all over the book.
  • Two kisses (one apparently passionate, one not so much but portrayed as better).
  • Teens win. Adults look stupid and realize that they were wrong all along in everything.
My Thoughts:
Could this have been more disappointing? I doubt it. However, as the book continued, the problems became fewer and farther between. Still, I was a bit sad. Does this author really think sex and sports are the only things that get high schoolers reading? That these two topics are the only ones people of that age range talk about?
Poor author. Such a sad, devastating, hopeless outlook on the world.

Well, was the story at least original? If it was, that's at least one star for the rating, right? Well it wasn't, unfortunately. Not at all. Let's see...we've got the new girl, the cute quarterback who turns out to be a jerk, and the other guy who clearly has fallen for the new girl but is sweet and just waits around for her to realize it, then eventually gets the girl. Now don't forget the mean girls, the nice ones, and the completely oblivious parents who confess that they were wrong after all.
Is anything missing? Oh, right. A girl on a guys' team who succeeds and ends up being respected by all the guys. Well, there it is. I think that covers every cliché in the writer's toolbox when it comes to stories like this.
It's funny, really. When authors write these clichés, they usually give the impression that it is not cliché, and that's why we should be excited. Er, right. After reading so many books, I'm afraid I'm not going to fall for that.

Why the one star? It had such great potential! And it was a fun story idea. I mean, it had soccer action, football action, football terminology, and a brave girl who decided to play on a guys' team.
Unfortunately, that girl was self-centered and had a father she could manipulate with just a bit of effort.

What more is there to say? It was sad. I had hoped for something better. It had such potential.
Potential which was trampled underfoot by the destructive cleats of teenagers who had room in their minds for only two things. I'm sorry, potential. It appears that once again you have been defeated.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Music Review: Good Bad Songs

This post is slightly different. Ever hear that song on the radio that makes you change the channel because younger kids are in the car? You know, the one song that you'd actually listen to if you were alone, just because it got something (beyond voice and music) right.
These are the songs that are often misunderstood without a close listen. Some of them still aren't fit for listening to, but a better understanding of them might help the next time it comes on.

Trouble With Girls (Scotty McCreery)
Red Flag: "Nobody loves trouble as much as me." Scotty admits to having a problem with girls. He's captivated and settles on the idea that "that's the way it's supposed to be." He then goes on to list a few of the things girls do that makes it hard for him to keep away, so to speak.
The Good: Scotty is not, as it may seem, admitting to any physical intimacy challenges or even an obsession. Listening closely to the lyrics, one can see that he's reflecting on the beauty of girls and how it affects guys (and he seems content with the conclusion). It's a sweet reflection, not an insult or an obsession.

Should've Said No (Taylor Swift)
Red Flag: The very story is bad. Taylor's boyfriend cheated on her (it's implied that this involved something physical, though how far we're not told) and she's hurt.
The Good: The very tone of the song is almost heartbreaking. You can hear in Taylor's voice her anger, her hurt, and her frustration. It sounds like she's angry but also wanting to forgive. She's hurt and wishing her boyfriend hadn't done what he did, and she's frustrated with his failure. She absolutely refuses to take him back, saying, "You need one chance, it was a moment of weakness when you said yes. You should've said no, you should've gone home. You should've thought twice before you let it all go. You should've know that word about what you did with her would get back to me....You should've said no, baby and you might still have me."
I like to consider what would have happened if he'd said no like she wanted him to. Look what happens when you say yes, is what Taylor's saying. And she concludes that it wasn't worth it for either of them.

If You're Goin' Through Hell (Rodney Atkins)
Red Flag: Hmm. Let's see. He's singing about going through hell. Most of the time, the very word "hell" in music is a turn off (mainly because it's completely misused). So it all rests on two little words: hell, and devil.
The Good: ...only here "hell" isn't really misused in this case. The whole song is about when things get so bad that it looks like there's no way anything will ever get better, you have to keep going. The chorus says it all: "If you're goin' through hell, keep on goin'. Don't slow down, if you're scared don't show it. You might get out before the devil even knows you're there."

Cowboy Casanova (Carrie Underwood)
Red Flag: The entire song revolves around a man who is very appealing but not a good person. In her warnings about the person's "badness" Carrie takes things a little too far, going to physical appeal and briefly suggestion an addiction to the man's love.
The Good: In addition to the red flag, we've got Carrie warning the girl who finds herself attracted to this dangerous guy about his "badness" so to speak. Half way through the song, she repeats the warning because it's easy not to hear it when under the man's spell.

Good Girl (Carrie Underwood)
Red Flag: The whole song is about Carrie warning a girl that she deserves better and a certain boy isn't any good for her.
The Good: is the same as the red flag. Because that's the point, isn't it? Carrie says that the girl in the song wants a good boy who'll "give you the world" and "fairy tale ending" but the boy she's looking at isn't "a good man." It's basically a warning, and in it Carrie admits that there is nothing wrong with a good girl wanting a good boy, but the trouble is finding a good boy. And isn't that life?

Skin (Rascal Flatts)
Red Flag: Uh, the title. Because when I see a country song titled "Skin," my instincts yell "RUN!"
The Good: This song is actually about a girl who gets cancer and loses her hair. She has great dreams and doesn't think she'll ever achieve them. One dream in particular is to go to her high school prom with a boy and be kissed, but now that she hasn't got any hair, she hasn't got a chance. Until a boy shows up to take her to prom, takes off his hat, and reveals that he hasn't got any hair either. It's a beautiful story.

There Goes My Life (Kenny Chesney)
Red Flag: Aside from the title, we've got a rather awkward starting point. It's assumed that the couple with the unwanted pregnancy is in high school (this becomes clear if you watch the music video).
The Good: The song starts out mourning and scared. The father isn't ready for fatherhood, but by the end it's taken over his life and he's happy with that. He comes to see that it's the best thing that ever happened to him.

My Thoughts:
I'm going to try very hard not to make judgments about these songs. It's hard, just sticking to what's wrong and what's good. I know with at least a few of them I did make judgments and I'm sorry, but it's very tempting.
I know the ones I reviewed are only country. The reason is very simple: I tend to listen to country, or music with no words (pointless to review the way we do here), or music in Latin (and that's usually Catholic). I'll try to branch out more in the future.
There are lots of these songs out there, but these were just the ones to came to mind right now. You know, that song that would be so good "if ____ wasn't in it." And then you do a double take and go, "but wait, there is ____" and you're stuck trying to figure out whether it really is good or bad.
Balance of good and bad is not the key. The key is get rid of the bad, bring in the good. So then the question is simple: does the good do away with the bad?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Book Review: Linnet

Title: Linnet
Author: Sally Watson
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: Children's Fiction
Age Group: 10+
Linnet is not very happy with her life, especially since she has to spend the summer with her godparents and their son Giles. Indeed, Giles is by far the most annoying boy she's ever met. It's a good thing he seems to think the same of her.
When Linnet decides to walk all the way to London to visit her cousins, she is kidnapped by a man who is mixed up in all sorts of crazy plots involving the Queen and "Papists." Not entirely aware that she's been kidnapped at all, Linnet agrees to go along with Colley's plans. She even befriends the gang of thieves he's trained.
But when Colley turns out to be a bit of a con man, Linnet finds herself in serious trouble.
It's a good thing Giles doesn't think too badly of her after all.

Word of Warning
  • Possibly some British swearing. It's hard to tell, as I don't have much background in British literature or culture, but there are at least moments where exclamations are made which are completely unfamiliar to me.
  • Colley trains thieves and they see nothing wrong with their way of life.
  • Many of the thieves are treated as dumb and unable to learn anything.
  • Linnet is disrespectful, doesn't know how to keep her mouth shut, and is incredibly naïve. She's also rather cruel to Giles.
  • Catholics are all seen as evil and assumed to be plotting to kill Queen Elizabeth.
  • Queen Elizabeth is seen as a sort of goddess by those in London and portrayed as such in the book (in a slightly mocking way, strangely enough).
  • Linnet struggles with moral problems such as lying and breaking promises. She concludes that she will not do such things even to papists, while Colley has no problems with doing so and is frustrated (and amused) that she won't.
  • Linnet is almost killed by Colley, though that possibility isn't entirely clear and never truly shown.
  • People are punched, kicked, and tossed about. Some of them are children, but they're never injured.
  • The thieves are portrayed as animals in a way, but do eventually improve in status (thanks to Linnet).
  • The bad guy gets away.
The Good (because I can't resist)
  • It's a fun relatively innocent historical fiction story. It's been a while since I've read historical fiction, and I'm starting to wonder why in the world I ever stopped.
  • Linnet treats the thieves as real people. She teaches them to bathe, to talk properly, and to read.
  • Giles is actually a pretty cool character. He spends the entire book searching for Linnet in London because he knows she ran away and doesn't want her to get hurt. In the end, he actually marches into the den of the kidnapper to find her (though it's clear he completely underestimates Colley). His devotion is mocked by those around him and he refuses to give up until he finds Linnet.
My Thoughts
Let's see. It was pretty innocent, it was historical fiction, it was very convincing, Giles was awesome, and even Colley was charming (in a bad guy sort of way). What's not to like?
Honestly, the problems are rather small, all things considered. It's hard to find good historical fiction and I've found plenty of bad stuff.
There really isn't much to say about a book like this. Many of its problems rest in the time period it portrays. Beyond that, it's just a short and fun adventure.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Irregular Posts Warning

Dear readers,

On behalf of the team here at Realms of Gold (currently Stacy and myself), I want to apologize for the rate of new posts, which has slowed down considerably. Stacy and I are both in college and while we fully intend to continue to post on this blog, I'm afraid we will not be able to return to the rate we started with (two posts a week).
This does not mean no posts. Quite the contrary! We will continue to read books, listen to music, watch movies, and review them as often as we can. One way you can keep up with the blog is to follow us with a Google account, or follow us by email (both options can be found on the sidebar). When we post a new review, you will get a message saying we have done so.

Also, we welcome feedback. Are there particular posts you like better than others? Music, books, movies? Any requests for specific materials? Things you think should change? Please let us know.

And last, but far from least, if you have found this blog helpful, or know someone who might, please spread the word.

God bless!
~ The Team at Realms of Gold

Friday, September 6, 2013

Trojan Horse Movie Review: Dennis the Menace

A Trojan Horse Review is a review of one of those books/movies/albums/other that comes highly recommended or disguised as something good, and is a nearly deadly attack.

Title: Dennis the Menace
Genre: Family, comedy
My Rating: **
Official Rating: PG
Age Group: 14+

Summary -
Dennis is the neighborhood pest. Mr. Wilson in particular doesn't like him. At all. The boy is a threat to the man's peace and tranquility.
So he is less than pleased when his wife agrees to take care of Dennis while both of his parents are gone on business trips. Sharing his house with the monstrous child is a living nightmare, and everything takes a turn for the worse when Mr. Wilson is robbed and Dennis inadvertently ruins the work of half of Mr. Wilson's life.
Dennis is a menace.

The Bad - Note: About a third of the way into the movie, I stopped cataloging specific problems that I saw, mainly because I found it really distracting to keep pausing the movie in the middle of a gag to write down everything I objected to. I'll try to remember specific problems, but I can't promise to catch everything.

- Dennis gets himself (usually in complete innocence), into a lot of trouble. His hijinks include (but aren't limited to): giving Mr. Wilson a medical inspection while he's "sleeping" and accidently making him choke on an asprin, playing ding-dong-ditch on his own house (more on that later), accidently spilling paint, then accidently shooting paint at Mr. Wilson's barbeque, breaking Mr. Wilson's dentures and replacing the teeth with pieces of gum, accidently almost dropping a canoe on top of Mr. Wilson, mixing up Mr. Wilson's medicines, letting a dog into Mr. Wilson's house, flipping over a whole table of deserts, seriously injuring a bad guy (also more on that later), and shooting a burning marshmallow onto Mr. Wilson's forehead.
- Mr. Wilson spends his life avoiding Dennis, sometimes in bad ways. He "lies" about being sick to Dennis, prevents him from cheating in a game by lying to his accomplice, and speaking very unkindly to him.
- Dennis cheats in hide-and-go seek by using a little boy to watch where everyone is hiding.
- Dennis lies to his parents and disobeys them on occasion.
- Mr. Wilson suggests that Dennis' dad use a belt on him.
- Dennis' babysitter invites her boyfriend over to the house, makes some inappropriate comments (through the mouth of Dennis), and once Dennis is "asleep", starts a very heavy make-out session with him. Dennis comes down the stares and starts laughing at them (which is probably the most disconcerting part of the scene), then sneaks out and plays ding-dong-ditch. In an effort to catch the perpetrator, the couple sets an elaborate trap, and end up plastering Mr. Wilson with flour.
- A little girl about Dennis' age makes extremely inappropriate comments to him about love-nests and the like. She threatens another boy into kissing her, but when he proffers his lips, she makes him kiss her doll's bottom instead. She then proceeds to tease him about this for a very long time.
- Kids threaten each other with physical harm.
- Dennis begins describing his parent's love life very clearly to Mrs. Wilson. It is obvious that he doesn't know what he's saying, but Mrs. Wilson looks distinctly uncomfortable.
- There are several "close call" gags with men's unmentionables.
- A very bad man comes into town and tries to steal people's stuff. He kidnaps Dennis and threatens him with death (it's a very scary scene). Dennis, being Dennis, doesn't really notice, and proceeds to maim the man accidently. The whole sequence is supposed to be funny, but it just ends up being rather disturbing.
- God's name is taken in vain several times, and name calling such as "stupid", "babyrump kisser", and "hot lips" is bantered about by young children.

The Good -
Because the whole story is basically a spoof on childhood and neighborhood politics, there isn't a whole lot that can be used as a teaching moment in this movie.
Despite his utter annoyingness, Dennis really does love Mr. Wilson in a five-year-old sort of way, and he is completely oblivious to the man's dislike. Even when Mr. Wilson crushes his heart, he still runs to the old man with joy and completely forgives (or forgets) the man's faults.
Mr. Wilson finally realizes just how horrible he's been to Dennis by the end of the movie, and heartbrokenly searches for him after Dennis runs away. He honestly rejoices when the boy returns.
Dennis' mother is forced to go back to work because of a bad financial situation, but she tries desperately not to let that interfere with her motherhood. She defends her motherhood to snide coworkers who persecute her for her loyalty to family.

Conclusion -
This movie could have been so good.
I hate saying those words, because they mean that something beautiful was destroyed.
I guess most people wouldn't see a muddy, mischievous, precocious five-year-old boy as beautiful. Most people would run as fast as they can in the opposite direction, like Mr. Wilson. But the wonderful innocence of childhood makes all of the annoyances of that little boy completely worth suffering through.
The problem with this movie is its almost bipolar flip-flopping between innocence and innuendo. It is really disconcerting to hear young children discuss "birds and bees" one moment and then see them write "I'm sorry I accidently shot paint onto your chicken" notes the next. Or see them laughing at a young couple making out, then turning around and accidently ruining a garden party by pressing the garage door button.  It's more than disconcerting; it's disgusting. It is quite hard to enjoy a movie when you have to transition from laughing yourself into stitches to cringing in pain every two minutes.
That being said, I think Dennis the Menace has some merit. The softening of Mr. Wilson toward Dennis is rather wonderful to watch, and, outside of the humor of the story, was probably my favorite part of the movie.
This is a hard movie to put into a category, because while it has a lot of adult content, the story line and script was meant to make an 8-year-old laugh. And I think that's an incredibly dangerous combination.