Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Movie Review: Sister Act

Title: Sister Act
Release Date: 1992
Genre: comedy, music, religious (kind of)
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: PG for mild violence and language (though why this is not PG-13 is beyond me)
Age Group: 16+

Delores Van Carter is a singer at a lounge who wants to take her carrier farther. She is also the lover of the lounge's married owner--and a big time crime boss (which she doesn't know). Frustrated with Vince and his treatment of her, Delores finally breaks and decides to leave. When she marches up to his quarters to tell him this, she witnesses a murder ordered by Vince and committed by two of his men.
Terrified, Delores goes to the police. Turns out they've had their suspicions for a long time but needed evidence--or a witness. Since they can't get a court date right away, Delores must go into hiding.
They put her the last place anyone would look for her: in a convent. That leads to mixed results.

Word of Warning
  •  A nun warns a young girl that the path she is on will lead straight to the devil.
  • Revealing dresses (low necks and short skirts)
  • A man is shown without a shirt as he is dressing. This is used to imply he had his lover have just spent the night together.
  • A man kisses a woman's neck/shoulder. Later there are at least two (possibly three) kisses.
  • Vince is a married man having an affair. We barely see his wife and he seems to have no concern for her, giving away her coat to his lover.
  • Words: d*** (at least twice), a** (at least twice), black a**, h*** (a few times)
  • A man is shot in the head off screen.
  •  Vince is a leader of some major criminals. Drugs are mentioned. People are killed to keep his secret (probably not the first time this has happened).
  • Someone says of the nuns, "these people don't even have sex."
  • Someone says, "I just saw a guy get his face blown off!"
  • A bra is thrown over a curtain.
  • Mention of holster hips.
  • Delores almost leaves when she is told she must live by the nuns' vow of chastity while she stays with them.
  • The Mass becomes focused on the performance of the nuns singing songs.
  • Someone says that "singing is better than sex."
  • Punches are thrown, people are shoved about. Gunshots. One man is shot in the arm (no detail shown).
  • A girl is thrust from a moving car.
  • Nuns say a prayer out loud near someone to guilt trip him into giving them what they want.
  • Vince remarks, "I know this woman in the Biblical sense."
  • A woman punches two men between the legs. They double over, reaching for that area in pain.
  • A nun lies to protect another woman.
  • The priest character is more concerned with getting more people into the church and raising more money for his church and less concerned with what is being taught to his congregation and why they are there.
  • Delores has a hard time living with the nuns after her old life. Eventually she learns a lesson, but she is still rather worldly.
  • There is a misunderstanding about nuns in general. The convent is Carmelite but the nuns there all seem to have different ideas as to what they were signing up for. This is an easy mistake to make when making a movie, but the confusion of not knowing that there are different convents/orders that do different things just added a rather strange element of tension.

My Thoughts
I wouldn't rewatch it. But I don't regret the time I spent watching it. Goodness, that seems to be the theme of the movies I have been watching lately.

Still, the movie was funny. One element I really liked was that even though the Mother Superior seemed to be more old-fashioned, and even though Delores (pretending to be a sister) brought in a slightly more secular/worldly approach, the old-fashioned ways were never pointed at as being bad and old-fashioned and needing to be replaced. They were simply seen as something that was good but which could be improved upon.

As for the secular/worldly approach, this was blown out of proportion. By this I mean it was sold as being secular/worldly, but it really wasn't a big deal. It was a big change from what the nuns were used to, but it was more about working with the people and having fun. Which is what many nuns do.

So my biggest complaint? The confusion as to how convents work. Yes, reform sometimes happens in orders and convents. But it doesn't really work like this, as far as I know. The reform shown in this movie felt like the convent was changing its entire focus/ministry and become a different convent/order. It was confusing, and frustrating, for a Catholic.

But overall, it was a funny movie, handled well, and all things considered they didn't do a horrible representation of the Catholic Church. It may have had its flaws, but I have seen much, much worse.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Movie Review: Call of the Wild: A Race for Buck

Title: Call of the Wild: A Race for Buck
Genre: family, adventure, animals
My Rating: **
Official Rating: PG for some violence, language, thematic material, and brief smoking
Age Group: 8+

Summary: Nine-year-old Ryann is visiting her grandfather in Montana since her parents are off enjoying Europe. Ryann does not want to be in Montana. At all. How is she supposed to keep up her appearance and act like the popular girls at school if she's in Montana where there is no TV and no mall?
When an injured dog-wolf wanders into her grandfather's barn, Ryann is introduced to a whole new world: dog sledding. In a desperate attempt to keep the dog (named Buck by Ryann) from a cruel dog sledder, Ryann and the teenage neighbor boy train Buck to be a lead dog. If they can win a dog sled race, they can keep Buck. If they can't, well, Buck goes to the man who is cruel to his son and his dogs.
Can they win the race? Can Buck overcome his wolf side?

Word of Warning
  •  Ryann is rude to her grandfather.
  • A man yells at his son for losing a race and says that the son embarrassed him in front of the whole town. Later, he tells his son he is stupid and tells him to cheat in a dog race. The father makes the son ride in the back of his pickup. He says to the boy, "If you don't win, you don't bother coming home."
  • Someone makes one of my favorite innocent movie insults: shouldn't you be at home having a heart attack?
  • Mention of ghosts.
  • A man beats a dog with a club in a veiled scene that implies it happens but we never see the stick hit the dog.
  • The word "cuss."
  • A myth is told of a man who is apparently an escaped convict, catches rabbits with his hands and eats them raw, and eats rocks. These are just rumors and the grandfather assures Ryann that he has never hurt anyone.
  • Someone threatens to have a dog put down.
  • Jack sprains his ankle (minor) in a minor sled crash. This sled crash causes the kids to be stranded for about five minutes.
  • A man apparently dies from a beating. This does not happen in the movie, but in a book the grandfather is reading to Ryann. There is a scene shown of a man sprawled in the snow but nothing else.
  • A quick kiss on the cheek.
  • A dog attacks a man (the man is uninjured).

My Thoughts
All things considered, that list is pretty short. So why the low rating? For a few reasons, one of which is that I simply did not find the story line very interesting (isn't this the same story line we get for every animal movie involving a semi-wild pet?). The other is the quality. I don't mind a low budget movie--as long as the acting is decent. I don't even mean good. I just mean decent, and preferably with an original story line (only the films that have lots of funding can get away with a stupid story line that's been done a million times).
Ok. So I don't mean to make it sound awful. My younger siblings enjoy it, and quite honestly, it is aimed at their age group and not mine. Usually I enjoy their movies. This one was tolerable. But aside from the fact that I didn't enjoy it very much, the content itself was pretty clean.
So in short: it was fine. Not something I would rewatch, and not something I would have watched if I were not on break. But not painful and something I regret either.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Trojan Horse Book Review: Story of a Girl

Before I do the review, I think I should briefly re-explain what a Trojan Horse Review is since it has been so long since our last one (thank goodness for that!). The Greeks left the Trojans a gift, a great wooden horse. Inside, Greek soldiers waited to spring a deadly trap upon the Trojans and completely destroy their city. A Trojan Horse Review is a review of one of those books/movies/albums/other that comes highly recommended, disguised as something good, and is nearly deadly. Due to the deadly nature of these materials, the author of the post may, on moral grounds, not be as detailed in the review as usual. While the main and major problems will be listed, smaller ones may not be mentioned or noticed by the post author due to a skimming of the material.


Title: Story of a Girl
Author: Sara Zarr
Genre: Romance,
My Rating: -**** (yes, that is a negative rating)
Official Rating: Teen Fiction
Age Group: 18+ (or, more appropriately, not at all)
The Horse: National Book Award Finalist, insinuation that a problem will be addressed/resolved when it is not dealt with
Deanna's father caught her with Tommy when she was thirteen. Tommy was a senior in highschool. In such a small town, everyone knows the story, and Deanna just wants to escape it. On top of that, her own family has rejected her. Her father has not spoken to her since the day he found the two and her mother isn't all that motherly. Her brother and his girlfriend seem to be the only ones who still love Deanna, but they've got a baby to deal with. As if that's not enough, Deanna has fallen for her best friend--who is dating someone else.
What's a girl to do?

Word of Warning
Where to start? There's far too much in this book to all be mentioned in a post like this, particularly because with such a big moral problem as the center of the book (which is not dealt with by the end), I did not read for the little details.
  • Deanna and Tommy did drugs and smoked who-knows-what. We're well aware that their relationship was sexual and only that, even getting a few descriptions (nothing very graphic, but still way too much). As for what happened, suffice it to say that they went "too far" and after a doctor checked Deanna, her mother rushed her to the store and bought her a box of condoms.
  • Deanna's brother and his girlfriend have a baby.
  • All sorts of sexual jokes are made. People mention "boobs" and one guy grabs Deanna's bottom while she is out in public.
  • Deanna doesn't seem to really regret her relationship with Tommy for any good reasons. Her reputation in her town is completely destroyed and people do not respect her anymore. She doesn't regret losing her virginity or the drugs or the smoking or anything else. She knows Tommy used her and is angry with him, but also willing to forgive him. She even lets him drive her home from work.
  • Tommy doesn't regret it either. In fact, he's happy to try again. He almost succeeds, but Deanna stops him and yells at him.
  • Deanna and her childhood friend hang out at his house in his bedroom with no supervision. Nothing happens, but the situation is not a safe one. He even offers to let her spend the night, but she doesn't because her dad would be angry.
  • Deanna's boss is gay.
  • Deanna's dad suggests that she's in a sexual relationship with her boss. Angry at him for always expecting the worst of her, she yells at him and says he's right. Then she assures him that he's wrong.
  • Deanna and her childhood friend discuss kissing and he tells her that guys wonder what it would be like to kiss all girls, even teachers (but only the hot ones).
  • On a day designated as having to do with sexual abstinence, a girl and her boyfriend are caught taking it too far. They're proud of being caught on that particular day and boast about it. The whole school seems to think of it as a funny joke.
  • Deanna kisses her childhood friend even though she is well aware that he is dating another girl (Deanna's friend).
  • The writing style is awful.
  • Deanna may have depression.
  • Many many other problems.
If the main problem (Deanna's loss of virginity at age thirteen and the consequences of that) had been dealt with, the book might be appropriate for older ages. Maybe. But it's left hanging. Are we really supposed to be satisfied with the fact that Deanna hasn't had sex again simply because she's afraid it'll ruin her reputation? The book is haunted by the unresolved problem, making the reader feel disappointed, lost, confused, and with a negative outlook on life.
For all the bad, there simply was not enough goodness to conquer. In fact, there was almost no goodness at all.

My Thoughts
I picked up the book thinking I'd try something a little on the dangerous side to review for an older audience. I also figured it would be interesting to see this problem resolved. I knew it wouldn't be done satisfactorily, but I expected more than I got.
Because I got nothing. The book dug the hole deeper and deeper, and I was barely into it before I found myself skimming along--and caught by a deadly hook. I have found very few books that I can put down once I start reading, and this book came close to being one of them.
As I reached to pick it up and skim some more, I noticed something. The seal of the National Book Award Finalist on the front cover, next to the face of a girl who looks haunted, sly, and blank all at the same time.
And honestly, I was disgusted. Who judges these things? Even if it came down to the writing style, the book was bad. I wondered, was it a finalist because of the issue it addressed?
Well the issue was never resolved. And that's one of the most dangerous things a book can do.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Movie Review: October Sky

Title: October Sky
Author: N/A
Genre: historical, true story, science, biography, family, drama
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: PG for language, brief teen sensuality and alcohol use, and for some thematic elements
Age Group: 12+

Homer saw Sputnik fly through the night sky in the small town of Coalwood. He knew then that he wanted to do something big like that. That it wasn't about accomplishing such a feat before another country could. That it was something so much bigger.
So the boy who refuses to work for his father's coal mining business and is a failure at football sets off on a rather strange quest: to build a rocket. He and his friends have the encouragement of their kind teacher. Slowly, as their determination becomes clear, they gain the support of the entire town.
When success seems to be right around the corner, things fall apart. There is a mining accident. There is a terrible sickness. When one thing after another adds up against the boys, they start to lose hope.
Still, Homer ends up working for NASA. This is the story of how he first got started.

Word of Warning
Honestly, I think this movie walked the line between PG and PG-13.
  • Joking mention of sucide
  • Kid is brutally tackled a few times during football tryouts
  • Words: a** d*** it, son of a b****, h***
  • Cave in at the mine. one man has a bandage on his head but he is fine. Later, another cave in and fire results in the death of one man and the near-death of the father figure in the movie
  • Kid demonstrates how to put your arm around a girl's shoulder to his friend (also a boy)
  • Rockets explode more than once. One explosion knocks viewers off their feet. A few more almost skewer those watching. No one is actually ever hurt.
  • The father yells at his son in front of a bunch of men. The father in the story is, in general, rather mean to his son. He does not support anything the boy does except mining. Even in the end, it's not entirely clear he is siding with his son.
  • Kids shoot at an old car for fun. One kid grabs the gun and throws it aside. It's not the gun that's the problem here, it's the reckless use of it with no consequences.
  • One of the boys has a stepfather who is a drunk. In fact, this allows them to buy pure alcohol (to power their rockets).
  • Boys fight (punching, kicking, etc)
  • Boys steal wood and tools from local businesses. They steal steel from the railroad for money. They also do things one boy's parents have implied they do not want done.
  • An accidental explosion of flames in a science lab (no one is injured)
  • The boys run directly at a train.
  • There is a scene where teens are seen in a bar of sorts with music and apparently drinking (that part is unclear).
  • The joking mention of losing one's virginity
  • Stepfather beating a boy. The boy has a cut on his lip and bruises on his face.
  • "Screw you and your d*** union!"
  • Older brother steals/dates his younger brother's crush
  • Teacher is sick and dying.
  • A man shoots at the father figure (no one is injured)
  • A woman threatens to leave her husband.

My Thoughts
It was a good movie. There wasn't much wrong with it aside from the language and the father figure. Honestly, the father figure aspect was painful to watch. It was truly heartbreaking to watch the son seek his father's approval over and over, finally giving up everything he wants to save the family and only then gaining approval--for doing something he had always wanted to avoid. Then, even when he succeeds in his dream, even on his birthday, even when the rest of the two is proud, the son is scoffed at by the father.
Other than that it was a good movie. It was fun to watch the boys try to figure out how to build a rocket. There wasn't a whole lot of excitement or romance, but it was a good adventure-type story that followed the friendship of four teen boys who built a rocket.
And really, what beats that?