Category Archives: Movie

Ice Dragon Preview

Upcoming limited movie release: Ice Dragon, Legend of the Blue Daisies. BookGateway will be sending a reviewer to check out this new animated family/ inspirational film next week. It’s only in theaters March 24 and 26. We will let you know what we think.

If you want to get tickets:

#IceDragon #FlyBy

Before I Fall Review

Before I Fall, based on the 2010 book by Lauren Oliver, centers on a young lady that relives the same day over and over – the day of her apparent death.

The day starts normally, with her friends picking her up for school on Valentine’s Day (here: Cupid Day). Normal for Sam means preparing to have sex for the first time later that night, hanging out with her shallow Mean Girl friends, making fun of and bullying other students, and going to a party where she and her friends – all underage – will drink until drunk. After bullying a young lady at the party, and after drinking quite a bit and possibly being drunk, Sam and get friends set off for home but hit something in the road, crash and Sam dies. Then she wakes up again and does it all over.

“What do you think people will say about you when you die?” Asks Sam on her first repeat. Even as an awareness of her shallow lifestyle starts to dawn on her, Sam still considers depth from the perspective of selfishness.

By her second repeat, Sam continues the narration from the opening lines. Now she wants to make positive changes and starts asking questions about her life choices. She smartly rejects her planned sexually encounter with her boyfriend recognizing that she “shouldn’t have to have sex with him to get him to say ‘I love you.'”

After she wakes for her third repeat, though, she says, “I did everything right and nothing changed.” Which sets off uncounted days of despair. So instead of being nice, she decides to be even more selfish and lets her anger out on everyone around her as she self destructs.

At one point Sam asks her mom if she thinks Sam is a good person. The mom says, “Of course I do, but what matters is what you think.” Sam replies, “But why do you think I’m a good person?” And that’s the most important question this movie may ask of us. By what criteria can
we say Sam (or anyone) is “good?” The story seems to suggest the answer is by being true to yourself (literally in a big sign on a boy’s wall) and being nice to people around you. But those are not actually good answers, because so many characters who are being true to themselves are simply not good by any criteria. Since the movie struggles to find a good definition of “good,” the ending isn’t as powerful or permanent as it could have been.

[SPOILERS]The resolution and final conclusion of the story is when Sam somehow realizes that she needs to save someone else from suicide by effectively committing suicide by jumping in front of the truck to push the other girl out of the way. There are so many issues with this resolution it’s hard to cover them all. How is her dieing somehow the best resolution? Why couldn’t she have tackled the girl or got in her way? What about telling an adult? (Isn’t that the best answer for a teenager dealing with this?) And even if this was the best way to end things, it’s done in such a selfish way that it’s unclear exactly what Sam learned, only that she got a bunch of positive memories in her final last days. She tells a boy who loves her that she loves him then runs off to her death. She tells her friends how much they mean to her but doesn’t teach them any lessons about how underage drinking, sex, distracted driving, or being mean and bullying all made their lives and the lives around them bad. She never calls her friend Lindsey on how She bullied everyone (in her final day). She leaves them pretty much how she found them. The girl didn’t commute suicide, but was Sam really save by her? I’m not so sure.[END SPOILERS]

Those are not the only reasons to be concerned about this film. Without giving too many details away (see spoilers above of you must), there are some really troubling things that happen in the film that are often portrayed positively. Things that make this story significantly more appropriate for an adult than a teenager – the intended audience. Underage drinking and sex are portrayed in a mostly glorified way and lessons learned through the film don’t really counter the negative messages throughout.

In the end, this is a film that tries to send the right message but ultimately fails for lack of a standard on what “good” actually means. As a Christian this makes sense to me, because apart from God no one can be good, so a film set with a purely atheistic worldview cannot come to a clear conclusion. We are left with a weak answer: Sam must learn to be nice in high school, but she can still participate in any sins she may want to so long as she doesn’t bully people. While I think it is “good” to be nice and not bully people that can’t be the end of the journey. True love for others warns of dangers, it doesn’t just smile and say the words. Lessons need to last, not be covered up by a single day or act, then everything goes back to normal.

2/5 stars. Tons of bad language of every stripe, with an emphasis on B*****. Strong focus on sexuality. No nudity. One repetitive view of an underage girl’s chest in a bra. Sexuality is discussed along with slurs made towards a self described lesbian. Underage drinking and drunkenness. Bullying. Drunken and distracted driving. Suicide. Immorality doesn’t often have consequences. Agonist no violence other than the car crashes, which doubt show anything.

Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

Unlike the Marvel movies that take place on Earth and in spite of what may be expected based on the otherworldly colors and characters in Guardians 2, this movie is the first in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to almost exclusively focus on familial relationships in a deep, believable way – while still being fun.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Star-Lord, still doesn’t know who his father is at the start of this film until Ego (Kurt Russell) shows up by saving the Guardians from an armada of space ships and says he is Peter’s father. Not quite sure of the connection, but willing to find out, Peter, Drax (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) travel with Ego and his companion Mantis (Pom Klementieff) to his home planet.

[SPOILERS] Ego is Peter’s father and proves it by showing Peter how to harness the power of the planet (Ego’s life force and actual body; Ego is the Living Planet in the comics). All seems great when Peter and Ego play catch with the globe of power Peter formed. But the enjoyment with finding his father is fleeting when Ego’s true plan is unveiled by Mantis after Gamora finds evidence of trouble. [END SPOILERS]

While there is a final battle and there are causalities and loss, what sets this film apart is how the creators challenge Peter (and Rocket,) to see relationships for what they are and finding family even in brokenness. Peter can celebrate those who were in his life rather than mourn those who chose not to be. In an America where divorce and step-parents are so unfortunately prevalent this is an important message.

There are also laughs and explosions, dancing baby Groots and swearing, fun and adventure, but the key message is family and that’s a good thing.

4/5 stars. Lots and lots of cussing, like Sh**, B**** and so on, as well as put downs and sometimes mean spirited sarcasm. No nudity (other than skin tight suits on most of the women). There are sex working robots depicted in a robot brothel that the Reavers frequent, where alcohol and possibly drugs or smoking take place as well. These scenes are fortunately very short.

Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

Ghost in the Shell (2017) Review

As a fan of anime that goes back decades to when I was a child and Macross was on Saturday morning cartoons as Robotech and moving with anime through the decades to so many other great series and films, I was very much looking forward to this film. In anticipation for it, I watched the original 1996 version. After watching the new live action version I have great appreciation for both version and found quite a lot to enjoy, unlike so many other reviewers.

[SPOILERS FOR BOTH FILMS ABOUND] Though the 1996 version has a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (46 total reviews), there was a lot to not like. Like many anime, 1996 Ghost suffered from an issue that wasn’t very clear to Western viewers (why did it matter if the Master uploaded himself into the net and moved on from humanity in the end?) and from a conclusion that didn’t resolve much (so Kusanagi is now merged or something with the Puppet Master? Wait, what?) Even with the lack of clarity, it was a visual feast. The animation was outstanding and holds up well even today. (Most of the positive reviews focus on the animation and difficulty of the film, rather than the story.) Major’s story is compelling – is she human or AI? – and support characters like Bateau and Aramaki are interesting. What the story lacked in final conclusion, it did a good job of setting up several other films in the series with the Major and Bateau working for Section Nine and saving 2029 Tokyo.

The current version, which I will call 2017 Ghost to differentiate, has a lowly 45% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with 218 reviewers. There seems to be somewhat of a switch in review criteria from the 1996 to 2017 versions as most reviewers recognize the amazing complexity of shots, animation or CGI and outstanding visual effects in both, but 2017 reviews no longer count that as positive or view worthy. Also, both films find the Major struggling with who she is and how human she is vs construct (especially when her memories can be deleted at will.) The ultimate questions and the look of both films are the same. (In fact, there were several scenes that were almost shot for shot exactly the same, which for fans like me were awesome to see.)

[SPOILERS] 2017 Ghost takes the story of the Major and expounds on her lack of knowing herself, highlights and focuses on how she got that way – government testing – and explains the Puppet Master as a previous test subject. I don’t like the easy road of making the two test subjects know each other, but the fact that the private company that built the Major’s body was taking children and young people for testing explains more the animosity between Section Nine and Section Six/ Industrial Complex (which isn’t explained well in either movie – is this the government or a company or a hybrid). [END SPOILERS]

If this were a movie without source material like the original anime or manga, then I think this would be more in line with Johansson’s Lucy (67% RT), where Johansson works with CGI and in a science fictionalized world in the future and dealing (lightly) with the complex issue of what it means to be human and the score may have been higher (especially considering Lucy was a significantly worse film than 2017 Ghost, but is currently 22% higher.) But this movie isn’t being judged by how good it really is on it’s own. I think it is being reviewed through the lens of the so-called “white-washing” controversy of casting Johansson in the role of the Major.

I say so-called because that’s exactly what it is. Scarlette Johansson looks exactly like the Major in the anime. So does Bateau (Pilou Asbæk). Exactly like them. Just like the setting, this film is incredibly faithful to the look of the characters and 1996 Ghost. And if anything there is more diversity in 2017 Ghost with several other races and skin colors showing up in supporting characters while everyone speaks English and Japanese interchangeably. I don’t know why expectations exist for films being adapted from stories in one culture should only employ actors of that culture. It isn’t how any culture has done it previously. The Magnificent Seven films (1960 and 2016) are based on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) and none feature Asian characters as in the original film. This works for movies adapted in either direction. Is it because it is set in future Tokyo or that the original body of Kusinagi was Japanese? Those shouldn’t matter either, as cyborg bodies can be whatever race the creators want them to be and Tokyo 2029 is a melting pot of cultures (like Blade Runner) and shouldn’t be expected to have only one culture or race. All this to say that there should be no controversy just as the original director of 1996 Ghost, Mamoru Oshii, said himself.

Ghost in the Shell (2017) was a dazzling trip down memory lane for me as a fan of the original. It was eye candy with a little existential questioning and a lot of action. I found it very enjoyable.

4/5 stars. Some language. Nudity on the cyborg bodies, but not sexualized. Some sensuality but no sex scenes. Drugs and drinking in several scenes. Lots of violence and gun fighting.

Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

Beauty and the Beast (2017) Review

A tale as old as 30 years is retold with almost exactly the same story, visuals and songs. It’s so close to the source material that one is left wondering why we needed a remake of the beloved animated feature.

Belle (Emma Watson) wants more. Gaston (Luke Evans) wants her. The Beast (Dan Stevens) wants to be loved. Le Fou (Josh Gad) doesn’t know what he wants. Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) and Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) want to be human again (sans the song from the stage play of the same name). And we all know how it ends.

So why watch the film at all? It isn’t that clear to me. But there were some things I enjoyed.

Watson and Evans are great in their roles, looking very much like the original characters and acting much the same. [SPOILER] Learning Maurice’s (Kevin Klein) reasons for leaving Paris and where Belle’s mother went was a nice addition. [END SPOILER] I liked that the new material was very close to the source material that I grew up with. Beauty and the Beast was and is one of the most cherished films of my youth and this film didn’t destroy that as happens all too often with other movies from source material from the 80s or 90s (I’m looking at you Transformers, G.I. Joe, Smurfs, A-Team, and so many more).

There were also things I didn’t like, like, [SPOILER] giving the mirror the power to transport was interesting, but left plot holes about why it couldn’t transport Belle and her Father later in the film. [END SPOILER] I dislike that every film that takes place in any other era of time or location has characters with English accents. After all, dear, this is France – so why couldn’t Belle and Gaston have French accents? I dislike that there is a huge castle that can’t be found (because: magic?) until Maurice comes upon a downed tree and then everyone can find it.

I also didn’t like the controversy surrounding Le Fou. It was quite a lot for such a small thing, I thought, all the way until the end, where [SPOILERS] one of the villagers is cross dressed by Garderobe (Audra McDonald) and likes it and then when Le Fou sees the male villager dressed as a woman their eyes light up and a clear zing happens on screen leading to them dancing with each other. [END SPOILERS] What the creators want to add into films is their prerogative, but it is also my prerogative as a parent to determine what my children can watch. I did take my teen daughter to this and asked about her opinion and she said she didn’t pay attention to that part much but did notice it. If that matters to you, as it does to me, it may change how you see the film. The worst part about this addition was that it was a controversy that didn’t need to be there.

Setting aside controversy, what I liked and what I didn’t I was left with my original question: why make this film at all? I get remaking Cinderella (1950) and the Jungle Book (1967) because they were so long ago at the time of their remakes (50+ years each) and society has changed so much over the course of two or three generations that the originals seem quaint and a little vapid. But I don’t get Beauty and the Beast (1991) or the upcoming The Little Mermaid (1989) or The Lion King (1994). Children today have grown up on these films and they came out when their parents were teens. Plus the stage adaptations are even more recent (and having seen the stage version of Beauty, I’d say maybe better.)

If there were no animated film I would have enjoyed this more. But having loved the original film (and animation) as well as the stage adaptation I just don’t need to see another version of the Tale as Old as Time. Seeing new versions every 10 years isn’t making this story more beloved, just making it more old.

2/5 stars. Language was mostly clean. No nudity or sexuality. Drinking was at a pub and no worse than the animated version. Cross dressing and “gay moment” are briefly seen.

Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

La La Land Review

A love story. But not the one you think it is.

[SPOILERS ABOUND] The first scene of the film sets the stage for a fun reintroduction to Hollywood musicals with a single shot dance number on a gridlocked freeway, but the story actually starts when we see Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) meet for the first time. Preoccupied when traffic finally moves a few spots, Mia doesn’t move forward fast enough so Sebastian honks long and hard at her before passing her – and her up raised middle finger. And so we are introduced to the two main characters in this highly lauded film who we will watch develop from strangers to friends to lovers to something else over the course of a year.

Why this movie won seven Golden Globes, among other awards, is clear from the opening song to the surprising ending.

First, this movie is amazingly charming. Overflowing with nostalgia of Hollywood’s golden ages of musical films and a love of creativity and the arts that exudes from (in-movie) film scene to jazz music. Constant references to the great actors, films and musicians accompany the dreams that Mia and Sebastian have – Mia to be an actress and Sebastian to open a jazz bar. Watching Gosling and Stone sing and dance in the twilight in the hills of Hollywood is fantastic!

As the movie progresses, and the seasons change, so too does the love story between Mia and Sebastian evolve. [EXPLICIT SPOILERS] By the end of the film, in the final act, the two lovers are on the edge of achieving their dreams… and the end of their relationship. This is where the film falters and the second reason why I think so many in Hollywood loved it so much.

The lesson we learn in this film is that we can follow some of our dreams, but not all of them. After a tender scene where Mia and Sebastian tell each other that they will always love each other, we find ourselves 5 years later after Mia becomes a successful actress. We see her perfect life where she was able to achieve her dream and just as our happiness for her is almost complete we see her kissing a different man and we meet her daughter with that man. The moment we realize that Mia choose her film dreams over her love for Sebastian is the moment the film loses its luster for me.

Hollywood may love this decision because perhaps many who have been successful have had to make similar decisions. Perhaps they see this sacrifice as worthy because of the achievement. My dream or my love, but not both. Maybe it makes them nostalgic and feel better about their choices. Whatever emotions it prompts in Hollywood, it prompts very different emotions in me: pity and sadness.

This isn’t Rick and Ilsa’s ending in Casablanca, which is also bittersweet and doesn’t end happily ever after. There are no political under tones, no sacrifice for a cause as great as the Allies war effort in WW2, or even the ambiguity accompanying whether or not they truly loved each other out were better off with someone else. La La Land’s ending is the sudden introduction of a new love interest making it clear that the sacrifice of Mia and Sebastian’s relationship by Mia was solely for personal ambition.

If Mia and Sebastian truly loved each other, and would have been overwhelmingly happy, as we see in a sad montage of the film re-imagining each scene working out perfectly for their relationship to have been successful, including a home as a family and even a son, the loss of their relationship is far sadder than not being an actress or owning a jazz bar. To give up possible life-long fulfilment and happiness to chase after fleeting fame and riches is sad to me.

Not just me. As Mia kisses this new man, my teenage daughter watching with me cried out, “what?” My wife left dissatisfied with the ending as well. It wasn’t a happy one from their perspective. Because loving relationships and family are a higher goal than getting a job.

Hollywood clearly doesn’t agree. And we don’t have to. Lovers of film, including of musicals, as I consider myself to be, may not enjoy the whole vision of the director to enjoy the film and appreciate that it was made at all. Stone and Gosling do an outstanding job – Gosling really was playing the piano the whole time! – singing and dancing their ways into our hearts.

While I didn’t like the ending it is clear that director and writer Damien Chazelle was successful on at least two fronts: making the musical popular again and making the audience, including me and my family, fall in love with Mia and Sebastian.

4/5 stars. Language, including the f word, GD, and others. Mia moves in with Sebastian prior to marriage. Drinking alcohol. No nudity or sex scenes.

Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.