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Rating History

Amish Grace
Amish Grace (2010)
5 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

WHAT IS AMISH GRACE ABOUT?

Tells the story of the 2006 massacre of Amish schoolchildren by a mentally unstable gunman, that religious community's subsequent forgiveness of the murderer, and their outreach to his widow.

IS IT ANY GOOD? (GRADE: B)

Despite its status as a Lifetime movie and criticisms that it takes artistic liberties with actual events, Amish Grace emerges as a poignant and inspiring little movie. Due largely to acting and screenwriting that are far better than expected, the film transcends its made-for-TV cinematography, editing, and musical score.

It's true, some of the peripheral characters aren't well-developed and come across as caricatures, but the lead performances by Kimberly Williams-Paisley (Father of the Bride), Matt Letscher (The Mask of Zorro), Tammy Blanchard (Bella), and Amy Sloan (The Day After Tomorrow) are all captivating, each giving wholly credible explorations of pain, loss, redemption, and healing. The screenplay intelligently makes a case for forgiveness, love, and faith without any trace of condescension or criticism. The paradox of the Amish shunning those who've left their faith while forgiving the greater sin of murder is brought up, but sadly left unexplored; still, this is a minor issue for a film this well-performed and moving.

Historical fiction has always created characters who are composites of actual people in order to streamline the narrative. Films like Titanic and Glory have done this to memorable effect, but rarely has this been attempted with events that are so recent. One may question the choice to focus on a fictional couple rather than actual people whose stories are certainly inspiring. However, by having protagonists who struggle and doubt more than the almost superhuman real-life Amish seemed to, the filmmakers have given the audience someone to relate to. Amish Grace, therefore, should be taken as very good historical fiction, not as history itself, though it will hopefully motivate viewers to learn more about the actual events.

IS IT OKAY FOR YOUR KIDS?
Amish Grace was rated TV-PG. It tastefully addresses the true story of the massacre of Amish schoolchildren by a mentally unstable gunman. The shootings occur off-screen and though the characters see the bodies, the audience does not. Though it contains nothing offensive and is appropriate for families, the film is thematically intense as it deals with the emotional and spiritual aftermath of murder, so parents be aware and ready to discuss the story with mature children.


ANY WORTHWHILE MESSAGES?
Forgiveness doesn't mean condoning wrong actions or letting someone escape consequences, it means letting go of bitterness and hate. You can find peace in loving those who've wronged you.

Hereafter
Hereafter (2010)
5 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

REVIEW (GRADE: D+) A rare double-misfire by director Clint Eastwood and star Matt Damon, Hereafter opens with one of the most gripping scenes I've ever witnessed: a tsunami sweeps through a resort town, with buildings, cars, and people swept up in a massive tidal wave. Initially similar to scenes in various disaster films, Eastwood shows his talent as a director when he scales down from massive special-effects-driven destruction and follows one person as she struggles for life against the current and debris. It's a harrowing, realistic scene, effectively opening with a bang a film that sadly whimpers along for the rest of its running time. Essentially a feature-length promo for psychic mediums with a few blatantly anti-Christian overtones, Hereafter is flatly-written, sluggishly-paced, and dramatically unsatisfying. To their credit, the actors do the best they can with the meandering script, and a few scenes are emotionally effective, but the end result is underwhelming and unfocused.

CONTENT OVERVIEW: Hereafter is rated PG-13. It contains intense, but not graphic, depictions of a natural disaster and a terrorist attack. There is a moderate amount of foul language, including one f-word. It is implied that a man and a woman are having a sexual relationship, and both are briefly scene in their underwear in a hotel room (it is morning and they are waking up/getting dressed).

MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: Do family relationships continue beyond the grave?

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
5 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

WHAT'S ROGUE ONE ABOUT?
Disney's first Star Wars spin-off film (read: not a Skywalker "Episode") is part heist movie, part war film as Rebel forces steal the plans to the Death Star.

IS IT ANY GOOD? (GRADE: A)
At this point one can look at the Star Wars franchise as a series of individual films or as one giant story; I prefer the latter, as the connective tissue between prequels, excellent animated series, original trilogy, and new trilogy is part of what makes the saga so satisfying. Rogue One ties in to most of these in incredibly rewarding ways, but also serves up a unique story and characters, dazzling action and effects, and a moving arc about fighting to give others hope.

Gareth Edwards proves a wise choice for director, composer Michael Giacchino is a fine stand-in (but could never replace) John Williams, and the cast is terrific. Disney's emphasis on strong writing and acting is much appreciated, though I would have enjoyed a longer film if it had meant getting to know these characters better. Still the performers do strong work, with Felicity Jones providing an inspiring lead, Diego Luna nicely-layered, Alan Tudyk delivering wry comic relief as a reprogrammed Imperial robot, and martial arts superstar Donnie Yen giving us impressive moves and the film's best line. Forest Whitaker (as Clone Wars character Saw Gerrera), Mads Mikkelsen, and Ben Mendelsohn all shine.

Rogue One strengthens the story of A New Hope, patching up a few holes, and improves the prequels by association (much like the fantastic Clone Wars animated series does). You may know how the basic story ends, but the fates of the individual characters gives the film its heft. Casual moviegoers will have a great time; fans will be ecstatic. Don't miss it.

IS IT OKAY FOR YOUR KIDS?
Rogue One is rated PG-13. There is no language, drug use, or sexuality. There is plentiful action violence with persons and aliens killed by lazer blast, explosion, and debris. There are many intense moments and some heartbreaking deaths. Several of the protagonists are self-described shady characters who've done "awful things" but want to fight for a good cause. One scene near the end may be terrifying for small children (or they may love it; to say more would be to spoil it).

ANY WORTHWHILE MESSAGES?
No matter what you've done in the past you can do the right thing now. Liberty and standing against oppression may require you to risk your life. There is no greater love than to die for a friend. Evil can only be overcome through unity.

Passengers
Passengers (2016)
5 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

WHAT'S PASSENGERS ABOUT?
A man and woman wake up from cryo-sleep on a futuristic space flight decades before the other passengers.

IS IT ANY GOOD? (GRADE: C+)
On paper, talented and attractive Hollywood stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt should make for an ideal onscreen romance. Indeed, one reason Passengers works as well as it does it their ability to elevate the material. Their chemistry suffers, however, from a under-cooked screenplay that hinges on deus ex-machina plot conveniences, laughable dialogue, and questionable ethics that give the romance a bit of a creepy vibe. Still, the visuals are phenomenal, the impressive sets alone are worth the price of a matinee, the stars are solid (Michael Sheen nearly steals the show as an android bartender), and the ending is emotionally-satisfying. Passengers is worth seeing if you're a fan of sci-fi, romance, or the actors, but it fails to meet its potential.

IS IT OKAY FOR YOUR KIDS?
Passengers is rated PG-13. It features one f-word and several moderate profanities. We see a man's naked rear end as he walks around a spaceship. A woman wears a revealing swimsuit. There's two sex scenes (one right after the other), one of which features obscured nudity. There are intense moments of peril.

ANY WORTHWHILE MESSAGES?
Lies and dishonesty always come to light and damage trust in relationships. Accountability and vulnerability draw people close. You may not control your circumstances, but you can control your response and attitude.

La La Land
La La Land (2016)
5 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

WHAT'S LA LA LAND ABOUT?

An aspiring actress and a struggling jazz musician fall in love and inspire each other artistically.

IS IT ANY GOOD? (GRADE: A)

Featuring truly dazzling film-making and strong performances by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, La La Land is an enchanting blend of modern and retro. Taking place in present-day Los Angeles, but made in the style of classic Hollywood musicals, it's a delight. The leads are merely passable as vocalists, but strong as actors and dancers. Their undeniable chemistry, combined with the sensibilities of writer-director Damien Chazelle (who places one foot in bittersweet reality and the other in whimsical fantasy) make for an unforgettable cinematic experience.

The songs, choreography, wardrobe, production design, editing, and cinematography are top-shelf. It could use a bit tighter pacing and the ending may divide some audiences (I thought it was beautiful), but this unconventional love story is a must-see.

IS IT OKAY FOR YOUR KIDS?

La La Land is rated PG-13. It has one f-word and a few moderate profanities, along with two vulgar hand gestures. Swimsuits and dresses reveal legs, abdomens, and mild cleavage (frankly it's no more revealing than what's shown in old Gene Kelly movies if you go back and re-watch them). There's some drinking at Hollywood parties. Some couples dance sensually in the background, but it's not raunchy or explicit. A man and woman kiss and live together; we see them cuddling fully clothed in bed. There is no sexuality.

ANY WORTHWHILE MESSAGES?

Be grateful for the people who inspire you. Pursue your dreams with tenacity and integrity. The direction your life takes hinges on the decisions you make; choose wisely. Surround yourself with people who believe in you but also hold you accountable.