Despicable Me 2: Movie Review


When the world needed a hero, they called a villain (from one of the theatrical posters). Enter the former arch-villain Gru: “I’m back in the game!”

Let’s face it. As adorable as it is to see Gru struggle to be an attentive daddy to three young girls (Margo, Agnes & Edith) and as ironically funny as it is to see him attempt to redeem his professional calling into a respectable jam maker, it just doesn’t make for entertaining theater for very long without the temptation to unleash his inner villainy once again. Besides, the minions and Gru all agree that the jam tastes horrible.

And so he’s back in the game, responding to the AVL’s (Anti-Villain League) request to help them nab a new villain who has pulled off a nefarious scheme designed to usurp Gru’s former claim as the greatest villain of all time.

Balancing his tender care for the girls on one hand, with his devious ability to concoct schemes to expose and foil the new villain on the other, Gru has his hands full. That would be bad enough. But there is a lady (Lucy, the cute AVL agent who lipstick tazored him and then dragged him to her headquarters, later being assigned to him as his partner) now in the mix, and her charms have not gone unnoticed by Gru, or his daughters, especially the youngest who so very much wants a mommy.

The plot thickens and the game is afoot. But this is about Gru, not Sherlock, as even Watson no doubt would point out. As the story unfolds, danger lurks for the minions, the girls, and for Gru. Interestingly, Gru seems to retain aspects of his former villainous character, showing little concern when most of his minions inexplicably disappear, except to express annoyance at the inconvenience to himself. So he lacks empathy on one hand for the minions or innocent bystanders in various scenes, but admirably displays it in spades on behalf of his daughters on the other. Not to mention his growing fondness for Lucy. But you will have to watch the film yourself to see how that works out.


Despicable Me 2 is rated PG for rude humor and mild action. On numerous occasions the humor is more rude than it is funny, resorting to jokes about flatulence and insulting comments about the appearance (baldness, weight, etc) of various characters.

The action shows violence with no real sense that anyone is going to be seriously hurt. These occur as a mixture of pratfalls and comic attacks between adversaries. However, younger children will be hard-pressed to understand the difference between animated violence and reality.

Gru’s oldest daughter, Margo, develops a serious crush on a boy who at first woos her and then dumps her.

Gru shows little regard for his minions, despite his supposedly reformed character, although he does rescue them and the world from their mayhem in the end.

Older kids should be okay. Younger children may become frightened when the minions are transformed into vicious, heartless creatures of destruction.


Despicable Me 2 is an odd mix of cheap laughs which do not quite measure up to that of their predecessor, and subtle complex characterization, showing that you may be able to take the villain out of a life of crime, but it takes far more to uproot his former nature out of him completely. Consequently, I left the theatre feeling encouraged by Gru’s respectful, tender, and even courageous (it takes courage to dress up as a fairy princess for his youngest girl’s birthday party when the hired act refuses to show up!) growth as a father. But I also sensed an underlying potential for him to resort to his nefarious ways once again, given his unresolved anger issues and lack of concern toward his minions and people not close to him.

In a way, I saw a hint of myself in him, capable of self-deprecating tender care, and ruthless disregard for those who anger him. It’s that second part that concerns me…for his sake and mine. How about you?

For an extended review of this film including themes, suggested Bible passages, and discussion questions, go to


Epic: Movie Review


Mary Katherine (she prefers M.K.) is a teenage girl who returns to her father’s home near the forest to live with him. Her mother has passed away, so she decides to give dad another chance to redeem himself, despite his professional and personal idiosyncrasies, both of which contributed to ending his marriage and causing the disenchantment his daughter. Yet when she arrives, it is clear he has not changed at all. He still romps about the house and the forest chasing imaginary little people using surveillance technology and completely ignoring his daughter. Enough. She quickly makes her exit from his world and an inadvertent entrance into the wondrous world of the Leafmen, plus their fellow miniature adversaries, the Boggans.

Now all she wants is to return to her normal size and to get home. Questions are: will she be able to get her father’s attention, especially in light of his grief over her disappearance, and will he even be able to help her?

You will have to watch the film for yourself for the answers to these and so many other questions.

Epic is a grand tale in miniaturized scale. I should clarify. It is grand in terms of a few important themes threaded throughout its narrative. It is less than epic with respect to the scale (no pun regarding the size of the characters intended) of its overall presentation. By that I mean that the story never quite seems to figure out whether it is a comedy, a family drama, or a grand epic quest. Instead it came off as a mishmash of Honey I Shrunk the Kids meets Avatar meets any number of comedic animated features. Yet, looking past its conflicted identity, I managed to enjoy it. The voice talent is superb (meaning they sell the believability of the characters) and the animation and music track is competent. Although most of the characters are one dimensional (either purely good or completely evil), the writers do add greater dimension to Nod, M.K., and in the end, even her father.

Epic is rated PG for frequent war violence which does not show blood and guts other than an evil Boggan splattering the windshield of a car. There is also a brief but romantic kissing scene between M.K. and the young Leafman Nod, plus brief, mildly rude language. Older kids should be okay. Younger children may become frightened at the scenes of peril and bored with the extended dialogue scenes.

The Leafmen stick together. Their queen places the people’s interests above her own safety. They are all valiant and honorable, and their self-sacrifice impacts even a people (humans) and world much larger than their own. No small thing that infinitesimally tiny creatures should have hearts big enough to change the hearts of the mighty. For this reason I commend Epic to you. If we are willing to look past any short-comings in its storytelling execution and look deeper at the themes of reconciliation and belonging in our shared world, Epic just might let fly a Leafman’s arrow which is sufficient to jolt our collective jaded cultural selfishness. It might even prompt us to let go of our hurt and become reconciled to others from whom we have become estranged in our lives. After all, “We may be individuals, but we are never alone” (General Ronin).

An extended review of this film, plus suggested biblical references and questions for discussion, may be found on here.

The Lost Medallion: Movie Review

The best storytelling shows, rather than merely describing. The Lost Medallion navigates what looked to be a tricky balance between telling and showing with admirable deftness. Rather than offer a detailed description of the film here, I wish instead to share my personal reaction. A well-written detailed review by film critic Richard Propes may be found here. My friend Karl Bastian also offers an excellent perspective on his blog here.

The film started slowly, but captured my interest when the foster care mom shared with her son the difficult histories of a couple of the kids. Who among us wouldn’t feel empathy for their loneliness and fearfulness?

He quickly was roped into telling all the kids a story, and thus began The Lost Medallion.

By the end of the film, here is what I discovered: I cared about the characters, especially Allie and Billy. I enjoyed the comedic moments, variously supplied by the cartoonish villains and the resourceful and wise Faleaka. I also appreciated that there was sufficient action to propel the narrative forward.

Although this definitely is a family-friendly film, parents and leaders should note that it is rated PG for adventure violence and action. The violence is not gratuitous, but it also is not merely implied. People die and no attempt is made to sugarcoat this fact. This gives the film credibility, but some parents may wish to screen the film first to determine whether they wish for their younger kids to see it.

The Lost Medallion gives me hope that Christian film-making continues to make positive strides toward gaining credibility to influence culture in wholesome, positive ways. This is a good thing. Go see the film and tell others about it, too. The tender-hearted may need a hanky at times, but more often, be prepared to laugh, and to wonder what will happen next. Imagine that: a Christian film which subverts the decades-long tendency of predictability by fully engaging viewers in the story.

I hope they make another one as a follow-up. I was sad to see it end, but hopeful that this is the beginning of an inspiring, captivating series.

Les Misérables: Movie Review


Let the doubters beware. Les Misérables is here, fully realized on film. It captures the breathtaking scenery of the French Alps and gritty underbelly of early 19th century poverty juxtaposed against opulent wealth. Not surprisingly, it is a visual feast. What is surprising is the new standard which the film maker has set for musicals on film. In short, this is how it is supposed to be done from now on.

Each line sung is true to the Broadway production and is performed simultaneously with the acting performance. That is, the singing performances were not recorded in advance of filming. This added emotional realism. Although the many of the performances are not perfect, they are appropriate for their characters. In particular, Anne Hatheway (Fantine), Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean), and Eddie Redmayne (Marius) are vocally brilliant in addition to stellar acting performances. Russel Crowe (Inspector Javert) and Amanda Seyfreid (Cosette) both turn in marvelous acting performances despite weaker vocals. The entire ensemble cast is strong musically and in their acting.

The story follows a decades long pursuit by a relentless lawman (Javert) and an ex-prisoner (Valjean) who had broken parole. Matters become complicated when Valjean agrees to raise Fantine’s daughter, Cosette.

Les Misérables is not a family film. A heart-breaking foray into human misery via prostitution, suicide, injustice, war, and human suffering, it is rated PG-13 for “suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements.”

If you go, bring a box of Kleenex. Ladies, you might want to to do the same. Don’t look at me that way, men. If you have a heart, it will be broken in short order by this brilliant film adaptation the musical based on Victor Hugo’s famous novel.

The film ought to make us think harder about how we view women enslaved by prostitution and people who struggle to make something out of their lives after years of incarceration. No simple, trite answers or moralism to be found in this story. Just flesh and blood people like you and me. No better, no worse. Each with dreams….

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

20121216-194400.jpg In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit…. But not for long. And definitely not without hints of plot spoilers in this review, so readers be warned.

It seems that something Tookish was awakened in Bilbo Baggins when Gandalf the Grey invited the throng of Dwarves to meet at Bag End in the sleepy village of Hobbiton. As any lover of Middle-Earth lore is well aware, Bilbo was a great admirer of maps and stories. Outwardly he was quite respectable, always entertaining guests (who he invited!), tending his beloved garden, and never having any adventures or doing anything unexpected at all. But inwardly, in that place even he did not at first realize existed, something Tookish, something daring and adventurous lurked, waiting to be unleashed, or rather gently nudged into action by Gandalf the Grey.

And so began Bilbo’s unexpected adventure to help Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thrain, son of Thror, who once were the Kings under the Lonely Mountain, now held in thrall by Smaug the dragon.

I grew up reading the Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. I’ve wandered the vast domains of Middle-Earth, following the characters crafted by the master philologist, J.R.R. Tolkien. They’ve become trusted literary companions every time I enter their wondrous worlds. Peter Jackson honors their stories well.

Like The Lord of the Rings films, the Hobbit follows the general outline of the novel, but also takes narrative liberties. Some are noticeable. A few are annoying. But none truly detract from the overall effort. And a fine effort it is.

The book is a children’s novel; the movie clearly is not. It is appropriately rated PG-13 for intense battle violence and frightening images of creature menacing. There are heads flying about, slashing of swords, wargs that are scarier than their LOTR versions, and a generally dark tone to the film. Again, this is not a children’s film, no small irony given it is based on a children’s book.

As with the novel, several themes are interwoven throughout the narrative. Evil. Good. Love of wealth and the disaster such unmitigated accumulation can bring on a people. The choice to stay safe or risk all for another. The choice to spare a life even if it is mostly given to evil, or strike it down without mercy.

Perhaps most telling is the confusing interplay of good and evil within every person, even if they seem mostly good as with Thorin, or mostly evil as with Gollum. It gives rise to an important question: when does a good character become evil as with Saruman the White? A vexing question that even Galadriel surely suspected was relevant early in this story.

I am pleased with the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I viewed it in 3D. While more expensive, the experience was satisfying, unlike most 3D efforts. Jackson got it right and it made for breathtaking cinema, including the sweeping nature cinematography and the way characters were developed, without becoming garish or stereotypical.

If you are a fan of Tolkien, you likely will enjoy it. If you are squeamish about flying Orc heads and severed limbs, you might want to pass on it. If you do go, be prepared for an unexpected adventure sure to become an instant classic.

Blue Like Jazz: Movie Review

“I need to say…I’m sorry.” For the Crusades. For calling evangelistic events crusades. For people in churches and denominations who do not know how to get along, much less care to try. For being more concerned about being right than loving others. For hiding my own sins while criticizing the sins of others. For not being real in a western world which is dying in the chaos of affluent existential crises. After all, “if you are going to have an existential crisis, Portland in winter is hard to beat.” Not to mention the other seasons, too.

Blue Like Jazz premiered this weekend. I watched it in the city of Roses, itself. A resident of the Portland area since 1995, I have grown to love this city. It’s people. It’s geography and culture. Especially Reed College: the epicenter of Portland’s weirdness. Young brilliant minds from all over the world liberated to be who they wish to be, albeit via oddly uniform expressions of rebellion.

The film offers a fictionalized portrayal based on Donald Miller’s book by the same title. I read the book when it was first published. It was a catalyst in changing my perspective on life and regarding people outside of my faith tradition. The movie pushed me just a little further toward an existential precipice. In a good way.

It is worth noting that this is not a family movie. It is rated PG-13. There is drug, alcohol, and sexual content, as well as swearing. Also, there are serious mature themes dealing with childhood rape, adultery, and both heterosexual and lesbian relationships. It also has some surrealistic fantasy-like interludes highlighting the progression of the plot points. Took me off guard at first, and then I remembered that I live in Portland and weirdness is normal, even desireable.

Blue Like Jazz does not sugar coat reality. It will offend many church-going people, especially those who are not accustomed to the notion that some of their church beliefs and behaviors might be a bit weird, or even hypocritical. Not to mention downright offensive to God. If you are easily offended, I suggest tamer fare elsewhere.

But then, I don’t perceive this as a movie whose first audience is Christians. It seems fitting that it is set in Portland, one of the least churched cities in the USA. If you are an atheist, an agnostic, an adult victim of child abuse, a lesbian or homosexual who has been bashed by the church, or a disillusioned (former/or current) church attendee who is trying to figure out your own existential crisis, this film just might be for you. In advance, I want to say I am sorry. Not for the film. But for people like me who hurt people like you at some point in your lives.

You might be wondering, “Is God real?” The film explores this and other questions. Not in the typical preachy way that Christian films have historically had. In a human way, keeping it real. After all, “We’re human. We’re flawed. We all have our crap.”

If you are a Christian who is able to suspend your personal biases against the abovementioned content warnings for a couple of hours, I encourage you to go. If your heart is tender, bring the hankies. You’re going to need them. I cried all the way home.

October Baby- Movie Review

 Plot Spoilers in this review. Consider yourself warned.

“Humans are beautifully flawed.” This statement uttered by a Roman Catholic priest to 19 year-old Hannah, the protagonist of the film, captures poignantly the essence of human complexity portrayed in the film. With strong instrumental themes and bracing lyrics interwoven throughout the film, October Baby aims directly for the human heart and mostly succeeds, at least for those honest and vulnerable enough to let its message in. Although the narrative starts haltingly, much like the faltering lines of a play delivered on a stage by Hannah before she collapses, the story slowly builds momentum and power thereafter. Her collapse instigates a series of medical and emotional events which turn her life upside down. Everything she has known to be true is called into question. Her parents adopted her. Her birth mother attempted to abort her. She had a twin brother, who died soon after birth. And she has so many questions, painful questions that rock her to her core.

Why wasn’t she wanted? Was something wrong with her? Why didn’t her adoptive parents tell her the truth much sooner? Why did she have to go on a road trip to discover the troubling reality herself?

It is a coming-of-age story with the requisite, even predictable hints of shenanigans which follow a group of college-age kids making a run for Mardi gras during Spring break. But to her credit, Hannah maintains moral integrity as does her dear childhood friend Jason, although she does attempt to bribe an officer to cut them slack when they mistakenly park on a federally protected beachhead. Implausibly, he lets them go, albeit without taking her money. Later she and Jason are arrested for breaking into the hospital where she was born after the abortion attempt. Again implausibly, an officer goes easy on them, even providing her with much needed information to find the whereabouts of the woman who helped deliver her.

For these reasons, the plot stretches the boundaries of credulity. But isn’t that typical of real life? Life is not a nice tidy package with a pretty bow on it. It is messy; painful even. Hannah’s diary discloses the pain she has long felt even before the initial revelation of her past. The story captured on screen reveals layers of pain not only in her heart, but in that of her adoptive parents, the nurse who formerly helped perform abortions and ultimately helped deliver her, and in the end, her mother.

Hannah visits a cathedral near the end of the story. She had accomplished all she set out to do. She knows who her birth mother is. She knows the full story of why she experiences her physical symptoms and the accompanying feelings of all not being what it seems. Yet, she still hurts. She is angry. She feels hatred. When the Roman Catholic priest greets her and she begins to talk about her feelings haltingly she laughs, pointing out she is Baptist. Wisely, he suggests that she simply state how she feels. So, she does. He then reminds her of Scripture and the Gospel it contains, focusing in particular on God’s forgiveness for us, and the liberty which comes when we choose to forgive others.

The first time she visited her birth mother at her place of business, the woman denied knowing anything about her. But she knew. And Hannah perceived this fact. The second time Hannah did not confront her in person. Instead, she left on her birth mother’s office desk the plastic hospital bracelet indicating her birth and the name of the mother. Underneath the bracelet was a crumpled piece of paper with the words, “I forgive you.”

Hannah had begun her journey toward wholeness.

Her birth mother wept on the floor in the privacy of her office.

October Baby is rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements. This is an appropriate rating. Parents should consider going to the film with their kids who are 13 or older. I can assure you it will prompt interesting conversations about limits, control, decision-making, and trust in the home between parents and their teen children.

Although there is a continual ebb and flow of emotional intensity, there is also a blend of humor and honorable romantic love. October Baby is well worth watching. It is well-acted throughout the film and portrays an interesting story with layers of depth for several of its key characters. Thus, it gives me much needed hope for the Christian film industry. Perhaps we are finally learning how to tell interesting stories on the screen without sounding sermonizing or committing the unpardonable sin of bad acting and condescending theologizing.