Welcome to Meridian at the Movies! For Mothers’ Day weekend, I’ve rounded up the latest offerings of home entertainment to relax to or gift to Mom. Curious readers may also want to check out my recommendations of movies for Mothers’ Day. Also, I’ll try to catch the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp vampire romp Dark Shadows this weekend, so check my website. For now, though, I share my two cents on the pro-marriage romance The Vow, the Steven Spielberg epic War Horse, a new VeggieTales musical DVD, Tom Cruise’s latest stunt-filled Mission-Impossible, the female-hero action film Colombiana, the Utah-made teen comedy Unitards, and the uplifting Matt Damon-Scarlett Johansson family drama We Bought a Zoo. As always I break down each film by artistic merit, potentially objectionable content, and Gospel parallels to discuss so that you can make the best decision for your family.
THE VOW REVIEW (Grade: A-)
Your enjoyment of The Vow will depend entirely upon your taste when it comes to bittersweet, tear-jerker love stories. If you don't like them, nothing here will convert you. Being something of a romantic myself, I must concede that this film does very well what it sets out to do. Rachel McAdams, who is becoming the modern queen of this genre, brings a fine balance of charm, confusion, and heartache to her portrayal of a wife who loses several years of memory in a car accident, forgetting her entire courtship and married life. As her husband, Channing Tatum (who I'd previously written off as mere eye-candy for women) has apparently been taking acting lessons and/or learning from his costars on previous films, because he gives a nice performance here. He's actually quite good, conveying both the fear of losing his wife if he can't win her heart again and the good humor necessary to endure such a trial.
The fascinating premise is taken from a true story, though the specific details and characters here are purely romantic fiction. Supporting characters (her family, her ex-fiance) and relationships are surprisingly well-rounded and complex for this type of film. The Vow is pleasantly thorough in portraying the emotional journeys of its characters, wisely opting for the less-is-more approach in its inevitable happy ending. This gives the film a satisfying realism instead of overwrought Hollywood-style melodrama. There is plenty of sorrow here, just like in real life, but there's also hope and happiness. As someone who enjoys romantic films but thinks most modern ones ring too hollow or crass, I found The Vow to be a nice surprise.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: The Vow is rated PG-13. It has some moderate profanity and a few vulgar expressions. A married couple kisses passionately on the floor and wake up cuddling naked in bed (we see her bare back and his bare leg/chest, but a blanket covers the rest). We see a man's bare rear for a few seconds in a humorous scene. A married couple goes swimming in their underwear (seen from a medium distance) and kiss wearing the same. A man gets punched. Two men share a drink. A car accident sends a woman through the windshield. While dating a man buys a woman lingerie and asks her to move in with him, though the very next scene is of them getting married.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: “Choose a companion carefully and prayerfully, and when you are married be fiercely loyal to each other…Commitment in marriage is absolutely essential” (President Thomas S. Monson). Sometimes our tragedies and trials are blessings in disguise (2 Corinthians 4:17, D&C 122: 5-8). Forgiveness brings healing (Ephesians 4:31). “Desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine our actions. The desires we act on determine our changing, our achieving, and our becoming” (Elder Dallin H. Oaks). A husband and wife are to leave their former lives with their parents and make a life for one another together (Ephesians 5:31). “Human [sexual] intimacy…is--or certainly was ordained to be--a symbol of total union: union of their hearts, their hopes, their lives, their love, their family, their future, their everything…But such a total, virtually unbreakable union, such an unyielding commitment between a man and a woman, can only come with the proximity and permanence afforded in a marriage covenant, with the union of all that they possess--their very hearts and minds, all their days and all their dreams” (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland).
WAR HORSE REVIEW (Grade: A-)
In films such as E.T. and Hook, Steven Spielberg proved himself a master of sentimental film-making (in the best sense of that term). With Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan, he proved himself capable of gritty realism. His latest effort, War Horse, utilizes both sides of his talent. Based on a stage play by the same name, it captures both the sorrows of war and the sympathies of humanity. It has both intimate storytelling and an epic scale reminiscent of old Hollywood classics such as Gone With the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia. Those who read my Secretariat review know that no film will win me over simply for telling the tale of an amazing horse; they're majestic animals, but rarely interesting enough to carry a movie, thus I had my doubts about War Horse. But this is Spielberg and, recent stumbles notwithstanding, if anyone could spin the first good equestrian yarn since Seabiscuit it'd be him.
Wisely, though the horse is treated as a central character, it's also a narrative device to explore the human condition in response to war. Following the animal from owner to owner throughout World War I, we're given a host of memorable characters to connect with and care about as the film examines the courage, terror, brutality and compassion of people who know that their lives may end at any time. Lush cinematography, fine attention to historical detail in wardrobe and sets, a stirring score by longtime Spielberg composer John Williams, and solid performances highlight this tale. Terrifying scenes of combat are mixed with moments of surprising gentility. It runs a little too long and some elements of the plot are a little too coincidental, but these detract very little from a film of this quality. I even came to care, to my surprise, about a boy and his horse. Given that this skillful director once made me care about a boy and his alien, however, I suppose it shouldn't be too surprising
CONTENT OVERVIEW: War Horse is rated PG-13. It has very few mild profanities. There are several scenes of intense battlefield violence (shootings and stabbings, though none are graphic or particularly bloody). We see the corpses of soldiers and horses. A scene, difficult to watch, portrays a panicked horse getting caught in barbed wire. There is no sexuality, nudity, or crude humor.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: "Animals...occupy an assigned sphere and play an eternal role in the great plan of creation, redemption, and salvation" (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine- Animals). "Men must become harmless before the brute creation...lose their vicious dispositions, and cease to destroy the animal race. ..unless it [becomes] necessary in order to preserve [themselves] from hunger" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.