Films Reviewed from a Spiritual Perspective

Moonrise Kingdom follows the adventures of two young adolescents who find comfort in their love for each other as they try to escape from a world that cannot allow them to be themselves.

Director Wes Anderson creates an idealized world of Americana that captivates the viewer like a Norman Rockwell painting. The film is set in 1965, right before the cultural chaos of the late 1960s and 70s. Anderson displays flawless consistency of artistic vision in every detail of color and composition throughout the film, and the viewer is completely absorbed into the bygone culture of the United States’ Atlantic coast region.

However, there is much more to this film than simple nostalgia and a well-coordinated palate of colors. On the surface there are neatly pressed scout uniforms and bobby socks worn with saddle shoes. Yet Anderson brilliantly hints at the passions and desperations boiling under the surface of this controlled environment. Just as Camelot had crumbled with JFK’s death in the months before, the adults in the film—the overwhelmed social worker, the dissatisfied housewife, the lonely sheriff—are disintegrating, struggling to hold themselves together and to keep up appearances. Like the storm brewing in the distance, the winds of change will hit the shore sooner or later. Only the children are wise enough to run away and find a way to be themselves.

 The film also features wonderfully subtle performances from the cast. The kids are especially natural, and Edward Norton plays the befuddled scoutmaster with true heart, towing the line between being both relatable and pathetic. Bill Murry, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, and Tilda Swinton also make impressive appearances.

 Spiritual Bottom Line: This movie offers an artistic, nostalgic look at the contrast between internal and external realities.

Quality Grade: A+

Ted is a movie about a man’s relationship with his talking teddy bear. It seems impossible that a movie with this subject matter could be any good, yet this movie proves that ridiculous premises can work when combined with good writing. This is a profane, yet witty and wonderful movie.

But there’s a catch.

While this film is full of hilarious situations and clever dialog, it is also incredibly irreverent and downright crude. More sensitive viewers will likely be overwhelmed by the constant profanity and upset by the casual drug use. Christianity is mocked as being irrational and petty, so more rigid believers will not be pleased. All of this is made all the more shocking as it is primarily played out by a fluffy, roly-poly stuffed animal.

Ultimately, it’s up to the viewer to decide if this film is palatable. Comedy has always stretched boundaries and questioned society’s conventions. It was true in the bawdy tales of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and it is still true today. I guess you have to be willing to get a few feathers wrinkled if you want to enjoy the big belly laughs that this film has to offer.

Spiritual Bottom Line: On the one hand, this movie is full of profanity and crude innuendo. On the other, it is hilariously funny. You decide if it’s right for you.

Quality Grade: A

Katy Perry: Part of Me is a biographical documentary following singer/ songwriter Katy Perry as she embarks upon her first concert tour. At its best it offers an interesting behind-the-scenes look at a rock-n-roll world; at its worst it avoids the nitty-gritty of the lifestyle it observes.

Unlike some packaged and primped rock stars, Katy Perry is a true talent deserving the fame she has garnered. Her singing is filled with grit and emotion, and many of the songs she writes are genuinely ingenious. She first caught the world’s attention with her simultaneously innocent and naughty “I Kissed a Girl,” and she has continued to produce pop songs that are catchy and original. She is the only person to have matched Michael Jackson’s record of five number one hits from a single album, and of course the only woman to have reached that milestone.

This film is as interesting for its contradictions as it is for the facts it presents. She is a songwriter of serious genius and depth, yet all that is strangely at odds with the candy-land persona she creates for her live shows. The movie hints that there may be a deeper, perhaps even a troubled side to Perry, but it is all glossed over like a candy-coated apple. For example, the contradictions between her upbringing as a preacher’s kid and her rock-n-roll lifestyle are only barely considered. Also, it is clear that the breakup with husband Russell Brand devastated her, but nothing concrete is revealed. The most gripping moment of the film comes when she struggles to put a proper smile on her face before a live show in Brazil.

This film is named after the song “Part of Me,” which refers to a part of her spirit that can never die. It may be an apt name as well in the sense that this film only reveals a small part of who Katy Parry really is. Hopefully, she will make another film sometime after she turns forty and has stripped away the silly persona. Right now, the talented Ms. Perry is too young and too new to fame to give this film the perspective and depth it deserves.

Spiritual Bottom Line: Provides some insight into the life of a celebrity, but fails to dig deep.

Quality Grade: B-

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Magic Mike is the story of a 19-year-old young man discovering his hidden talent for stripping. As shallow as that may sound, the movie does offer more subtlety and insight than one might expect.

Overall, this film is surprisingly good in terms of script, cast, and storyline. The characters are well-rounded and well-acted, and the plot is well paced. The film does indulge in quite a bit of skin-for-skin’s-sake, but we also see the characters, especially older of the two men, struggling with their life choices. Ultimately, the film is ambivalent about the morality of stripping, implying that while it may not be satisfying as a long-term career choice, it is just fine for a nineteen-year-old kid looking for fun and a little cash.

From the cultural perspective, the film brings up an interesting question: Should young men be sexually objectified as women have been? Is it somehow more acceptable simply because they are men? We are used to thinking of women as victims of sexual objectification, but this film turns that assumption on its head. (And, it might be noted, society in general seems to be growing more obsessed with standards of masculine physical perfection.) My theater was populated by middle-aged women hooting at the site of these young men’s bodies. (Oh, you naughty, naughty Sedona cougars!) The hoots were followed by chuckles from the few men in the theater, who were clearly reacting to the women in the theater, not to the movie.

I had only experienced this in one other cinematic context–in a theater full of teenage girls who screamed every time a bare-chested Taylor Lautner of the Twilight films came on screen. Even among feminists, there is debate between those who find such displays empowering and those who object. Personally, I don’t think it is the healthiest sexual expression for either men or women, relying on voyeurism rather than true relationship. But then again, movies by their nature are all voyeuristic to some extent.

Spiritual Bottom Line: The movie brings up issues about sexual objectification, but fails to deal with this topic in a meaningful way.

Quality Grade: B

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