For the long weekend I've got reviews of a couple of romantic films and a new animated family film for you to choose from. Safe Haven is the latest tear-jerker from Notebook creator Nicholas Sparks. Escape From Planet Earth is a tale of aliens abducted by humans, fighting to make their way home. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (on DVD) came out last year, but I'm just now getting around to it. With two popular and charming actors, Ewan McGregor (The Impossible) and Emily Blunt (The Adjustment Bureau), it may be of interest to you. Are any of them right for you (or your kids)? Keep reading as I review all three for content, artistry, and Gospel parallels!
SAFE HAVEN REVIEW (GRADE: B)
One of the criteria I use in critiquing cinema is whether or not a film does what it sets out to do. For example, Three Amigos! is only trying to be a dumb comedy, but it does it very well (hence its place among my favorite movies). Safe Haven, the latest film adaptation from the works of hanky-selling author Nicholas Sparks, sets out to be a simple romantic fantasy, and despite (because of?) my low expectations, I found that it was charming and easily digestible despite its flaws.
The premise is fairly straightforward: On the run and accused of murder, a young woman (Julianne Hough, Footloose) changes her identity and starts over in a small beachside town. Everything seems perfect when she falls in love with a handsome widower (Josh Duhamel, Transformers 3) and connects with his children, but her past finally catches up with her. The film is a little too heavy on melodrama for its own good, but its actors are as charming as they are attractive. Some plot points seem better suited for a Lifetime TV movie than a big-screen film, but the relaxed chemistry between Duhamel and Hough, some nice humor, lovely cinematography, and a surprisingly poignant ending make up for its flaws. Fans of romance will not be disappointed by this sweet little film, but those who can't stomach this sort of thing won't have their minds changed by this.
CONTENT OVERVIEW:Safe Haven is rated PG-13. There is an intense scene where (minor spoiler) a woman stabs a man once in the side with a kitchen knife (in self-defense) after he hits her in the face, throws her into furniture, screams at her, and tries to choke her. The scene is shown once in full and several times in bits and pieces through flashbacks. It’s intense but not bloody. A man later attacks a woman, chokes her, and tries to shoot her. A man backs a woman against a tree and they kiss passionately. There is one brief love scene between an unmarried man and woman with implied nudity, but it's filmed to show only their backs and faces. The man appears in swimming trunks and the woman in a bikini while playing in the ocean, but the film focuses even less on this than the trailer does. There are a few scattered mild and moderate obscenities, but not many.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS:Truly loving someone requires standing by them in their hardest hours (Mosiah 18:8-10). We shouldn’t reject kindness and help, but rather we ought to accept them with gratitude (John 13:5-8). We honor those who’ve died by living our lives to the fullest. We are still connected to those who have passed on (D&C 84:88). Sometimes good people who do not have the Gospel break the law of chastity. They are under no condemnation, because they don't have the law, but God expects those blessed with the law to obey or repent if necessary (2 Nephi 9:25-27, Mosiah 3:11-12, Alma 39:9).
ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH REVIEW (GRADE: D+)
Not a terrible film so much as an aggressively mediocre one, Escape From Planet Earth will likely entertain small children (it did mine) with its colorful animation and emphasis on slapstick, but adults will be checking their watches. An endless parade of bad puns, tired pop culture references, and other painful attempts at humor make the film, about a group of aliens (abducted by humans) making a break for it, feel much longer than it actually is.
The story carries little by way of surprises and the characters have very little substance to them (they seem to be pale imitations of characters from better movies, though their design is fun). There are a couple of amusing moments (given away in the trailer), but by and large the film was quickly forgettable. Still, there's nothing terribly offensive here, so if you'd like to entertain the wee ones for an hour and a half, this could be a good rental.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: Escape From Planet Earth is rated PG. There's some slapstick violence, one use of minor profanity, and a few very mild crude jokes.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: We all have different and unique talents; we should appreciate each other's gifts and work together (1 Corinthians 12:14-18).
SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN REVIEW (GRADE: A-)
This delightful little romantic dramedy came and went last year without much fanfare, but it's well worth discovering now that you can watch it at home. The story finds a fishing expert (Ewan McGregor) and a consultant (Emily Blunt) teaming up to realize a sheik’s vision of bringing salmon fishing to the harsh desert climate of the Middle East, hoping that it will fortify his nation's relationship with the West as well as provide water to jump-start agriculture in his area. Despite political and relational obstacles, the two develop feelings for each other while learning valuable lessons about faith and intercultural friendship.
Light and breezy, uplifting and charming, the film boasts marvelously understated performances by McGregor and Blunt, as well as Kristin Scott Thomas as a political spin doctor and Amr Waked as the sheik. The humor hits its mark, as do timeless messages about appreciating those who are different from us, working hard to accomplish our goals, and allowing love to blossom slowly over time. It's well-made, but in a way that doesn't draw attention to itself (the emphasis is on story and characters). Audiences should be mindful, however: there is some adult content that, while not arousing or gratuitous, makes the film only for adults and older teens (to whom the story is most likely to appeal anyway).
CONTENT OVERVIEW:Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is rated PG-13. A Muslim extremist attempts to assassinate a sheik who is friendly to Westerners and Christians. A man and woman kiss passionately against a wall and talk about going to bed together. They fall to the floor (out of frame) and the scene ends. A husband is shown on top of his wife at the very end of lovemaking; both are clothed and she is disinterested (the scene is meant to portray the dying state of their marriage, but his humorous moans may disturb some). A man and woman lie in bed together; she asks if it’s alright if they don’t make love and the man agrees to just hold her. There’s a quick photo of female singers in sports bras and “hot pants” (played for laughs).There is one f-word and a handful of moderate profanities.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS:Love based solely on convenience or passionate feelings is not as likely to last as love based on friendship, trust, service, compassion, and being able to work together (1 Corinthians 13:3-8). One must believe that something is possible if one is to achieve it (Ether 12:6). It is the simple things in life that can make the largest impact (Alma 37:6).
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Licensed marriage and family therapist. Husband. Father. Film critic.