Posted on May 29, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy/fairy tale peril and violence with characters injured and killed, death of parents, scary creatures
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 30, 2014
Date Released to DVD: November 3, 2014 ASIN: B00M4ADWTK


What makes bad guys bad?  We’ve always been told that Sleeping Beauty was cursed at birth by a wicked fairy caught up in a jealous fury because she was not invited to the christening.  In the classic 1959 Disney animated version of the story, she has a name that contains the root syllables for evil and for grand-scale power, a combination of malevolent and magnificent: Maleficent.  And in the climax of the film she transforms herself into a fire-breathing dragon to prevent Prince Philip from getting inside the castle to wake Sleeping Beauty with true love’s kiss.

Now we get to see her story, meeting her first as a friendly young fairy who sweetly says good morning to all of the magical creatures in the fairyland that abuts the human world.  No one is supposed to cross that boundary, but Maleficent meets the young human boy Stefan when he crosses the boundary to try to steal a jewel.  They become friends and, as they grow older, they care for each other.  But Stefan (Sharlto Copley) is ambitious.  He steals her wings, and is thus able to marry the king’s daughter and ascend to the throne.  When their baby, Princess Aurora, is born, Maleficent arrives at the christening for the curse we all remember — on her 16th birthday she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel’s spindle and then fall into a deep, permanent sleep, to be awakened only by true love’s kiss.

Director Robert Stomberg, who worked with Tim Burton as a visual effects and production designer, keeps a more consistent tone in the settings than in the storyline.  The fairy settings are imaginative, with some enchanting details.  Maleficent herself is brilliantly designed with wings that seem part-bat, part-eagle and cheekbones sharp enough to cut glass.  The script feels pieced together and uncertain.  The reason to see the movie is Jolie, clearly having a blast and giving a performance filled with heart, wit, and spirit.  As in the Disney version, Princess Aurora is bundled off to a remote cottage under the care of three bickering pixies (poorly used Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Leslie Manville), to keep her from ever seeing a spinning wheel.  Maleficent cannot keep away and watches the Princess constantly, as a baby, a toddler (played by Jolie’s daughter because she was the only little girl who was not afraid of the scary Maleficent costume), and then as a young woman (Elle Fanning, whose role consists primarily of smiling, but does that very well).  The sunny, loving qualities of the young Princess (enhanced, perhaps, by the wishes of the three fairies at her christening), begin to melt Maleficent’s heart.  But the curse cannot be undone.

The classic tale can be undone, or at least rearranged.  A handsome prince, a fire-breathing dragon, and, yes, a sleeping beauty all come together, with some clumsy switches.  The real enchantment here is not the story but the star.

Parents should know that this film includes fairy-tale peril and violence with fire, swords, scary-looking creatures, and a fire-breathing dragon, characters injured and killed, death of parents, betrayal, and some disturbing images.

Family discussion: What other stories would you like to see from the villain’s point of view?  Why did Stephan and Maleficent have different responses to fear and disappointment?

If you like this, try: “Stardust” and Disney’s animated classic Sleeping Beauty

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A Million Ways to Die in the West

Posted on May 29, 2014 at 5:58 pm

A_Million_Ways_to_Die_in_the_West_posterWhen Seth MacFarlane tops his unprecedented success on television with three animated series (“Family Guy,” “The Cleveland Show,” “American Dad”) and his first feature film was a blockbuster — the talking teddy bear movie Ted is the highest grossing R comedy of all time, in both senses of the word, with a sequel in the works.  He also found time to put out an album of American songbook standards that received widespread if somewhat grudging critical acclaim (Music Is Better Than Words) and produce a popular reboot of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” series.  His only real flop to day was his disappointing hosting job at the Oscars (the song “We Saw Your Boobs” and sexist jokes did not go over well).  So, he can write his own ticket in Hollywood.  And that is what he has done with “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” a silly comedy that reflects the excessive deference given to someone with that track record.  You want to do a western?  Fine!  You want to not just write and direct but also cast yourself as the lead opposite top-ranked actors?  With lots of fart jokes?  Where do we sign?

And that is how “A Million Ways to Die in the West” got made.  It is too long, too dumb, and too gross.  But sometimes funny.

The saucer-eyed MacFarlane plays Albert, a sheep farmer who hates living in the west where “everything that is not you is trying to kill you.”  A motif of the film is the many ways minor characters are killed off, intentionally or by accident.  We meet Albert talking his way out of a shootout on the main street, to the disappointment of the assembled townsfolk and his fiance, Louise (Amanda Seyfried, the local schoolmarm).  Louise dumps him, and Albert is devastated.  His friends Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and his fiancee Ruth (Sarah Silverman) try to comfort him, but he is inconsolable until he meets Anna (Charlize Theron), new in town.  She offers to help him make Louise jealous, but they find themselves attracted to one another.  Unfortunately (as we know early on but Albert does not), Anna is married to the West’s most notorious gunslinger, with the macho name of Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson).

The movie looks and sounds like a classic western, with sun-burnished views of Monument Valley from Director of Photography Michael Barrett and an evocative score by Joel McNeely, both MacFarlane regulars.  Neeson is outstanding, as always, never winking at the camera.  Neil Patrick Harris is a pleasure as Albert’s romantic rival, a mustachioed slicker who can dance up a storm.   Theron manages the more challenging trick of making Anna feel real, even though she is delivering contemporary dialog in buckskin and a bustle.  It is a wonderfully natural, appealing performance that does wonders to give MacFarlane more humanity and make him seem a little less whiny and juvenile.

Unfortunately, the move keeps things pretty whiny and juvenile anyway, with MacFarlane taking full advantage of the MPAA’s notoriously lax standards for a studio comedy to include material that is more tiresome than outrageous.  More unfortunately, it goes on at least 40 minutes too long, with an extended drug trip hallucination sequence that feels as endless as your college roommate’s moment by moment rendition of his dream.  Lame humor includes an extended conversation about people in olden days not smiling in photographs and Ruth’s activities as a prostitute who as a good Christian won’t sleep with her boyfriend until they are married.  There are no set-pieces as funny as Mark Wahlberg’s recitation of trashy girl names in “Ted” and the guest stars feel stunt-ish, not a part of the storyline as Sam Jones and Norah Jones were in that film.  By the time the sheep is peeing on Albert’s face, the audience may feel that in the old west as ever, dying is easy but comedy is hard.

Translation: Constant extremely crude and gross-out humor with very explicit and raunchy sexual references and situations and extensive bodily function humor, nudity, jokes about prostitution and child molestation, racial and sexual orientation humor, western-style violence with shoot-outs and many characters injured and killed, disturbing images, drinking, smoking, drug use, very strong and explicit language including the r-word

Family discussion: What do the “straight” western elements of this film like the cinematography, landscapes, and score contribute to its overall effect? Do you think any of these jokes went too far?

If you like this, try: “Ted” and “Blazing Saddles”

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Interview: Bishop T.D. Jakes on His Best-Seller “Instinct”

Posted on May 29, 2014 at 8:00 am

Bishop T.D. Jakes’ new book, Instinct: The Power to Unleash Your Inborn Drive is an instant best-seller.

Combining historical, cultural, and personal examples with biblical insights, in INSTINCT Bishop Jakes outlines how to re-discover your natural aptitudes and re-claim the wisdom of your past experiences. When attuned to divinely inspired instincts, you will become in sync with the opportunities life presents and discover a fresh abundance of resources. Knowing when to close a deal, when to take a risk, and when to listen to your heart will become possible when you’re in touch with the instincts that God gave you.

Bishop Jakes talked to me about how an elephant helped him learn about the power of instinct and why it is not the same as impulse.

How did the original idea for the book came to you?

I was on a safari in South Africa after concluding speaking for a group of black billionaires.  I was invited to speak to them and one of the perks they gave me was to go on a safari and to stay out in the jungle.  I had an amazing experience when I was on the safari with a zoologist who was extremely knowledgeable about the animals on the tour.  The animal I most wanted to see was the elephant. He explained to me all about the elephants; their habitats, their mating and what have you.  But he did not know where to look for the elephant.  The Zulu who had said nothing at all finally spoke up and said, “The elephant is over there.” And when he said it, it blew me away because I realized that I was sitting between intellect and instinct. And that intellect can explain it but instincts can find it.instinct book cover

And from that time I started researching instinct and reflecting back on my own life and the life of other people.  I find that the most creative, exceptional people who have done amazing things with their lives were people who followed their instincts. While they respected the data and the information that was in their particular industry, they were not tarnished by it, and they were able to do exceptional things because went with their gut and followed their instincts and found the thing in life that they thought they were created to do.

What steps do people need to take to be open to that genuine instinct?  How do they get past the fear?

Well, you hit the nail dead on the head when you start talking about fear. I think people misunderstand fear and give it too much power and they see it as a stop sign when it should just be a yield sign in their lives.  I never found anybody who did anything, who built a corporation or raised a child who didn’t have some or an interest in doing so and I’ve been teaching people to feel the fear and do it anyway. And as it relates to finding your instinct and we have so much noise around us; television, media, the cultural media, loss of jobs, jobs, all kinds of stuff invading our space, we don’t get time to meditate, to think, to really soul search to see, “Are you living your life to the fullest? Are you doing the things that fuel you when you do them, that fire you when you do them, that motivates you when you do them?” And sometimes we’re in the middle of my lives before we get to take a breath and reflect and that’s why so many people changing careers and making decisions in the second half of their lives because they recognize that they have responded to what everybody needed them to be without really researching who they were created to be

Did you do a lot of interviews in researching the book?

I did quite a few interviews and that I was privy to, as a pastor and having done 36 years of counseling not only the 30,000 members of my church but throughout my traveling and interaction with people from politics to entertainment. And almost consistently I found that people who enjoy their jobs and enjoy their life and were the most productive, were people found careers that were in alignment with their core competencies and their core inclinations, their core instincts. And so I wrote the book with that pretty much.

And then I interviewed doctors who added to the information like how they were telling me how heart cells developed from stem cell start beating before they connect and they connect with other cells that have the same beats.  So we’re instinctive right down the cellular level of who we are. And I found all of that quite fascinating.  They work their way over to the cells that have the same rhythm.  That’s one of the same metaphors that I use to talk about our lives.  For instance I talk about the nine foot neck of the giraffe that enables him to eat from the tops of the trees.  He eats from the level of his vision.  When you have a certain worldview and a certain vision you have to eat from the level of your vision.  Turtles share the same space and also eat on the level of their views.  People will comment on your decisions from their perspective. And you can’t let their perspective stop what you’re doing.

Are there some good examples in Scripture of people acting on instinct?

Yes, I think there are couple of real good examples. One of them is when Jesus talked about the talents. One he gave five, to one he gave two and to one he gave one. And then the Bible says that he took his journey and went to a far country. And then he came back and asked them to give stewardship of what he had given them and what’s amazing is the first of all didn’t ask them to multiply what he gave, he just gave it to them.  But some of them instinctively took what he gave them and turn it into so much more and others did not.  Jesus spoke very harshly to the one who took what was given him and did not make more. And I use that to talk about how all of us have an obligation to stewardship not only to maintain what was given to us but also to multiply what was given to us.  Another good example would be the ten lepers.  Jesus told them to show them set to the priest all 10 of them obeyed what you said and they were healed as they went but one of them returned having not gotten to the priest yet and came back to say thank you and Jesus said, “Where are the nine?”  Well he told them to come back to say thank you.  This one brother reacted to his instincts and went back and told Jesus thank you and was complimented for doing so.

Let’s go back to this question of fear.  What is it that people fear, do they fear making mistake, do they fear being embarrassed? What are the fears that prevent people from tapping into their instincts?

I think a it’s a lot of things based on who we are.  For some people it’s a fear of failure, sometimes it’s a fear of rejection, sometimes it’s a fear of something new, unfamiliar.  Our intellect is formed by the things we’ve read, the things we’ve seen the things we’ve heard and how we react to them.  And all of that is based on empirical data.  But the reality is when you follow your instinct you’re often challenged to go into an area that you don’t have the support of previous experience and that’s quite a vulnerable feeling because you don’t have anything in your background that supports it. You just have an instinct and then interest in that area that is outside of your past experience and I think that’s alone is quite frightening.

How is instinct important in personal relationships?

I think is very important, I give you an illustration of three turtles who were born in the land, they actually had some land and they migrate to the ocean. I think when it comes to your personal relationships, you have to find people who migrate to the same things that you do, that have the same worldview that you do. To give a Biblical example, how can two walk together except they agree? And out of 7 billion people on the planet you’re not gonna agree with everybody but find the people who basically have your same worldview. It’s an instinctive thing.  Those who are comfortable in their own skin, not intimidated by your uniqueness — that is very important personal relationships.

Many employers have started to take the book and offer it to their staff because the stats really prove that people do the best work when they’re doing what are instinctive to them, that’s innate to them, that’s comfortable with their personality types.  Sometimes we made the mistake of having a need and forcing somebody to supply a need and they can do it but the fact that you can do something doesn’t mean that you ought to do it and it might not be the best thing for you to do that makes you the a most productive and that’s true in personal relationships as well as professional ones.

Isn’t there a difference between instinct and impulse?

Yes.  When I say instinct, I’m talking about your inclination to be in a particular environment. I’m not talking about decisions, snap judgments, quick decisions made impulsively.  The only thing they have in common with instinct is that impulses may not be well researched, they may be urges or inclination.  But when I talk about instinct am talking about your proclivity towards art or drama or science or music or that sort of thing; is not so much about buying a dress or moving to Chicago, that’s impulsive. Quick decisions to those things may be impulse and have nothing to do with instinct that all.

If you’re in a relationship with someone and  trying to explain to them what direction your instincts are taking you, what’s a good way to frame that?

If it creates conflict, I think that’s a red flag. I think that the reason that we date people in the first place is try to get a sense of their worldview and what kind of person they are. They may not necessarily be the same kind of person you are but if they’re uncomfortable with the kind of person you are, it’s is a bad thing the bend yourself out of shape just so you have a company because ultimately that’s going to get tiresome and is going to be frustrating and I think also be a failure.

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