Wreck-it Ralph

Wreck-It poster

The premise of Wreck-It Ralph is a digital-age version of Toy Story (1995). It all takes place in a happy little arcade, strangely free of graffiti, litter and juvenile delinquents. Every night, when the arcade closes down, the characters in the games are free to wander between consoles, socialize and goof around. Only one catch: if you die outside your own game you don’t regenerate. But I’m sure that won’t become an issue.

We are introduced to this world by Wreck-It Ralph himself (John C. Reilly), the miscast, wheel grinding, time-card punching “bad guy” of the game Fix-It Felix, Jr. He explains how, all day, he has to demolish a building with his comically big hands, so the hero, Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer), can save the day. After which, Felix is rewarded with a pie on the roof of the building, and the tenants throw Ralph off the roof, into a mud puddle. Ralph shares his frustration at seeing his contribution to the game go unrecognized while Felix is given pies and medals. Ralph is talking to a villain support group, whose members extol the value of being a villain. As Zangief, from Street Fighter II, says “If Zangeif was good, who would crush man’s head like sparrow’s egg between thighs?” They tell him that it’s a villain’s lot in life to get beat over and over, and watch the hero get the glory, and that his life will be happier if he excepts it.

And I just have to make a comment here. Don’t villains usually win in video games? Especially in arcade games, which are designed to keep you pumping quarters in. Realistically, it would be Felix getting thrown into the mud 99% of the time. Oh, well.

Ralph has his inevitable confrontation with the rest of the game’s cast (Nicelanders, they are called), in which Mayor Gene (Raymond Perci) tells Ralph that bad guys don’t get medals, and if Ralph ever won a medal (since he clearly never will) the Nicelanders would let him live at the top of the building in the penthouse. Ralph calls his bluff, and storms off to do just that. Something that’s amusing to watch here, and in certain other scenes, is the choppy, blocky way in which the characters move. It is, of course, intentional, and it does bring out the feel of a 1980s platform game, which is what this is supposed to be, but I’m sure it also saved Disney several tens of thousands of dollars.

Ralph’s quest for a medal leads him to steal the uniform of a space marine from the game Hero’s Duty, a fictitious game that is exactly like 10,000 real shoot’em up, blow’em up, throw-away first-person shooters that you find in arcades all over the world. Ralph’s misadventure in Hero’s Duty is certainly one of the best, possibly the best scene in the movie, and gives rise to a line every parent in the audience will love: “When did video games become so violent and scary??” It also introduces us to Sgt. Tamora Calhoun (Jane Lynch), the model-proportioned, yet tough-as-nails cliché who leads the marine troop. Calhoun’s spittle-throwing PG version of a potty mouth might just be the most entertaining part of the movie, but “It’s not her fault,” because “she’s programmed with the most tragic back story ever.” I won’t tell you what this back story is. Suffice to say, I laughed enough to shed tears when I saw it, because it’s so over the top, and yet just like what you see in video games today. Calhoun is awesome.


Eventually, Ralph also lands in Sugar Rush, a candy-themed cart racing game. The landscapes in Sugar Rush are beautifully rendered, although, if you’re a salty snacker like me, you might get a little nauseous after a while. Here, Ralph meets Vanellopy Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a game character who wants to join the races, but is ostracized from the racing community because she is a glitch, the oppressed subculture of the video game world. Ralph is blackmailed by Vanellopy into joining her quest to buy or pry her way into a race so she can become part of the game, and the two start to become friends. Their relationship is similar to that of Sully and Boo in Monsters, Inc., except that Vanellopy talks. And boy does she ever. She could have gotten really annoying in the hands of a lesser director, but Rich Moore (who has directed voice acting for The Simpsons and Futurama) toned her down just enough that she’s lovable, if slightly eccentric. Ralph, Vanellopy, Calhoun and Felix eventually find themselves in a battle to save the arcade from a cataclysmic threat, and from one of the most subtle, surprising and effective villains I have seen in a long time. This leads to a lot of great chemistry between the characters, and a weird, yet strangely plausible romance between the pint-sized Felix and the arm-twisting, nose-breaking Calhoun (classic pick-up line: “Look at the high definition in your face! It’s beautiful.) I will say, I thought the ending was just a little too happy. There’s a point where it looks like victory is going to require a terrible sacrifice, and the movie would have been more powerful if it had. But, in typical Disney fashion, they had to have everything work out a little too perfect. Oh, well.

To help the reader fully appreciate the quality of Wreck-it Ralph, I thought it would be worth putting my encounter with it in context. My wife and I had previously driven 250 miles. We did this because, for the first time ever, we were going to leave our 2 1/2 year old daughter in the care of her grandparents overnight so we could spend a romantic evening together. On said evening, we dressed to the hilt and had a romantic dinner at one of the finer restaurants in town, then spent some time strolling around downtown under the lights. Finally, we checked into a hotel and got ready for bed. We had a bottle of champaign in a bucket of ice when we slid into bed. We were snuggling a little bit, when we decided  a movie wouldn’t hurt, so we charged some extra to our room to see Wreck-it Ralph. At the credits, we realized we could back the movie up in 30-second increments, so I spent about 10 minutes repeatedly pushing the button, and the ice in the bucket melted while we passed the champaign back and forth and watched Wreck-it Ralph a second time.

Yeah. It’s that  good.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Have you seen this movie? Rate it!
Rating: 4.0/5 (3 votes cast)


The Kendrick Brothers of Sherwood Bible Church are at it again. No doubt hoping to match their home run of Fireproof of 2008, they’ve shifted their focus from taking on divorce to attacking fatherlessness in America. We’re still in Albany, Georgia, but this time, instead of following the heroics of the Albany Fire Dept.,  we’re on patrol with the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Dept. (Interesting that, Albany being a city of 77,000, it doesn’t seem to have its own police force, but I guess they had to trim the cast somewhere.)

The Kendricks have ramped the action up a notch with this one. Right at the beginning, we see Fireproof’s Ken Bevel, now playing Nathan Hayes, stop for gas, only to have his truck stolen by a dew-rag clad gang-banger (T.C. Stallings, a devoted husband and father in real life). He throws himself half-way through the driver’s window, and we are treated to a fist-fight with Nathan hanging out the window at 30 miles an hour. The movie eventually leads up to a climactic scene with guns blazing. In between is more action, more than a few laugh-out-loud moments, and a heart-felt message about how crucial a father is to a child’s development, and how those without fathers often become dew-rag clad truck thieves.

The story follows Deput. Hayes, a recent transfer to the department, three other Deputies, Adam Mitchell (Alex Kendrick), Shane Fuller (Kevin Downes), and David Thompson (Ben Davies), and Javier Martinez (Robert Amaya), a rarely employed construction worker, and their families. Javier breaks his back to provide for his family and eventually finds employment working on Adam’s house. He then becomes part of the group. David is the rookie of the squad who’s holding in a shameful secret. He has a daughter around three years of age, whom he has never met, and whose support he had not contributed a dime to. (Apparently, the Georgia Division of Child Support Services was vaporized along with the Albany P.D.) Shane struggles to be a dad to his son when he only sees him every other weekend.  Adam dotes on his daughter but refuses to join his son for the father-son 5K. And Nathan and his wife, Kayla (Elenor Brown), struggle to fend off the “saggy-pants boys” interested in their teenage daughter.

A tragedy eventually forces these men to reevaluate what they are doing as fathers. The story dives into Christian kitsch for awhile. Adam comes up with a written resolution and the five families actually hold a ceremony with their pastor in which they dramatically recite it. In a similar vein, we later see Nathan take his daughter to a very expensive restaurant (below), where he, again with great ceremony, presents her with a “promise ring.” Yeah, I know. I chortled at this scene, too, but then I found out my wife had very specific plans for me to do exactly that with our daughter one day.

But for all the kitsch, the film really is trying, and trying to do far more than just entertain. The problems with Courageous mainly serve to highlight the fact that most movies just fill themselves up with explosions and car wrecks and expect you to buy a ticket. Courageous sets the bar much higher, and does come close to clearing it.

There was a time when I would have been unable to enjoy this movie. I can enjoy it now largely because I have a wonderful wife, who makes my life very sweet. That said, there are still some key points of this film I can’t help but take issue with. A lot of the film’s attitude is summed up when Nathan delivers the curmudgeonly line “If fathers just did what they were supposed to, half the junk we see on the street wouldn’t exist.” This seems to be the mantra of conservatives and liberals alike: it’s all men’s fault. But if you look at the history of America over the last 40 years or so, men have not been the only – or even the primary – culprit of the breakdown of the family. History does not tell of a movement of men throwing off their responsibilities to society. We don’t see crowds of men burning their undergarments and demanding the right to kill their children. We do, however, see women doing all these things.

In the U.S. today, more than two thirds of all divorces are initiated by the woman. And why not? The feminist political machine has tilted the legal game board of divorce ridiculously toward the woman’s pockets. (Please note: Every man in Iowa should carefully read chapters 236 and 598 of the Iowa Code before he even thinks about getting emotionally attached to a woman. As for the other states, talk to a lawyer there.) Millions of children in the U.S. grow up without fathers because their mothers want it that way.

My first year out of law school, I worked in a family law firm. I never had a man in my office who didn’t care about his children. Most of my clients were there because they were having to fight just to see their children. The slant in family court is based on more than gender stereotypes.  The judicial community includes many territorial lionesses. A child is power, and they are not about to share it. Conversely, male judges are of the old way of thinking, in which men are expected to take the lumps and bear the weight of the world on our shoulders without complaint. This combination of liberal women and conservative men, not only in court, but also in society, is a frustrating dynamic. While women are exhorted about their rights, men are flagellated with our supposed responsibilities. Lawyers aren’t supposed to get emotionally involved, but I couldn’t help feeling the pain my clients felt. Commanded to be fathers by the right, yet torn from their children by the left; commanded to “be a man,” yet emasculated.

Courageous never addresses any of this, failing to live up to its name. The Kendrick brothers buckle under the pressure of political correctness. Too afraid to take women to task for their desertion, like so many before them, they turn on men.

It’s hard to stay angry at a movie that has this much heart, and is actually trying to make a difference in the world. But while it’s a valiant effort, another Fireproof it is not.  Fireproof met

Actor-director Alex Kendrick takes aim at bad fathers.

people squarely where they were at. There’s no reason 3 billion men couldn’t have connected with Caleb Holt, the fire chief who shows valor in the work place, but doesn’t know how to love his wife. The story eventually shows that, only by first receiving the unconditional love of God can Caleb show unconditional love to the flawed and sinful woman he lives with. It would actually  have been fairly simple for Courageous to do the same thing. Shane Fuller is a character that millions of men would easily connect with, including unbelievers. He is divorced. He wants to be a father to his son, but, as he explains it, he only gets him every other weekend, after his mother has filled his head with her toxic opinions of him. He wants to provide for his son, but almost a third of his paycheck is swallowed by alimony. Shane should have been the lead role of this movie! He could have been the Caleb Holt of Courageous. How can Shane, and other men, be the kind of fathers God wants them to be, despite the obstacles? How can God help them to raise their kids right despite what they have  to deal with? This was a golden opportunity for the Kendricks to win the hearts of their intended audiece. Beating up on men will do nothing to fix the family. Ministering to broken men where they are at will do a lot more.

Sadly, Shane is confined to a small role as the bad cop we’re not supposed to like, and Courageous preaches to the choir. Most of the focus is on Adam, Nathan and Javier, who all have perfect wives, straight out of a Christian fantasy.

Overall, I recommend seeing Courageous. There’s a lot of great moments I didn’t want to spoil here. The fact that I can even disagree with it shows it had more of a brain than most movies. It’s not easy to make a movie that ministers. I still laughed and I was still swept along by the story. It was good to see Christian cinema taking another (mostly) positive step.

Number four at the box office in October of 2011. High-five!

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Have you seen this movie? Rate it!
Rating: 4.3/5 (3 votes cast)

Nanny Diaries

TND posterIt’s hard to put my finger on why I like The Nanny Diaries. There isn’t a single shootout, car wreck, or fist fight in the entire thing; not even one punch thrown to accent a dramatic moment. Not only that, but (male audience members be warned) this is very much a chick flick – be prepared for a lot of whining by several characters about how hard it is to be a woman.

I guess it boils down to two reasons: first, for all its fashion tips and feminism, Diaries is ultimately a movie about kids and family life, two areas that are just as important in the end to men as they are to women, whether we like it or not. And second, it is one of those few movies that succeeds in telling a very engaging story with nothing more than everyday life.

The lead, Annie Braddock (Scarlet Johansson) graduates from college with honors in business. Her mother, a nurse, has spent the last 22 years pulling extra shifts, in between raising Annie alone. (Just for the record, in the book, the protagonist, Nanny, or “Nan,” had a very involved father, who, being a teacher, was a key part of her life and a mentor in her career as a nanny.) She has done this to give Annie something better than what she had, and wants her to go on to an illustrious career in finance.

Annie’s first love is anthropology. Her mother’s reaction, of course, is “how are you going to make a living at that?” Grudgingly, Annie accepts an interview at the prestigious Goldman, Sachs firm, but gags when the interviewer asks her “who is Annie Braddock?” She suddenly realizes she doesn’t know. She rushes out of the interview and into Central Park, where she saves a child from being run over. The mother, Mrs. X (Laura Linny), breathlessly runs up and showers her with thanks. Annie introduces herself as “Annie” and Mrs. X blurts out “Did you say you were a nanny??” Annie immediately finds herself buried in the calling cards of moms from the Upper-East-Side of Manhattan, including Mrs. X.

Repulsed by the finance profession, Annie decides to adopt the persona of

The "ideal specimen of an Upper-East-Side female" pushing her son out of the way.

The "ideal specimen of an Upper-East-Side female" pushing her son out of the way.

an Upper-East-Side nanny for a summer and treat the experience as an anthropological case study. She narrates the rest of the movie as though dictating a field diary. She finds herself being wined and dined by moms all over Manhattan until she accepts the job with Mrs. X. She tells her mother she’s gotten a finance job and moves to the city.

Much like with a human trafficking syndicate however, once a Manhattan family has a nanny hooked, the sweet talk is over. As Annie arrives at the Xs’ Fifth Avenue apartment, expecting a fun, easy job, she suddenly finds herself stuffed into a bedroom that is more like a closet, and expected to learn to cook and work 24 hours, single handedly raising the X’s five-year-old son, Grayer (Nicholas Art). The first thing Grayer does on seeing her is kick her in the shin and scream “I hate you I want Bertie! (The last nanny).” Annie battles through the next several scenes, trying to find a way to Grayer’s heart, reminding herself that anthropologist “Margarette Mead didn’t run home every time she contracted malaria.”

Grayer soon becomes the least of Annie’s worries, however, as an Upper-East-Side Nanny must also serve as the punching bag for an Upper-East-Side mother’s anxiety, anguish and insecurity. Mrs. X loads Annie down with non-child-related errands to give herself time for shopping, and vents her pain over Mr. X’s infidelity on her. In one scene, she barges into Annie’s room holding a negligee, and demands “This is not mine so it must be yours, right? Right??”

Annie observes “Male monogamy remains an elusive … practice throughout the world. In many Bedouin tribes, powerful men are encouraged to take multiple wives. In contemporary France, mistresses are de rigour and quietly tolerated. But for the women of the Upper-East-Side, adultery is pathologically ignored.”

It takes a while for the audience to meet Mr. X (Paul Giamatti), who the authors of the book describe as a common example of an Upper-East-Side Male, who is “bashing his brains out on Wall Street, so that his wife can have thousand dollar curtains … but he’s missing out on what he has … a wife who craves his attention, and a son who thinks he hung the moon.”

"Nanny" is singing to Grayer in French when he drops the "L" bomb.

"Nanny" is singing to Grayer in French when he drops the "L" bomb.

With the strife between his parents, Grayer transfers his affection to his Nanny. In a pivotal scene (above), Annie narrates that “three little words made it a thousand times harder to leave” the job she has learned to hate.

One darkly comic scene was eerily reminiscent of my experience at a “Bar Bench Conference,” where lawyers and judges are “allowed” to voice their grievances against each other. Of course, with things going back to normal the next day, you can probably guess how much the lawyers had to say. Likewise, Mrs. X takes Annie to a Mother-Nanny Conflict Resolution meeting, where Annie joins a collection of third-world women standing against the wall who know better than to say anything.

"Nanny" assists the tyrant queen in her chamber.

"Nanny" assists the tyrant queen in her chamber.

Laura Linny has a glare that can truly freeze the blood. After awhile, Annie starts jumping in fear every time Mrs. X comes around a corner. One of the most memorable scenes in the movie is when Grayer gets upset and runs straight past his open-armed mother, throwing his arms around Annie. Mrs. X is starring daggers at Annie while Annie frantically begs Grayer “Go to your mom! Go to your mom!”

Having also read the book, I know that it just begged to be put on the screen. Believe it or not, director Robert Pulcini asked the authors of the book if he could make a movie out of it a year before the book was even published. I’d have to say the changes that he made to it are for the better. He starts it off with a fantasy sequence of Annie wandering through the museum of natural history looking at dioramas that depict child-rearing customs from all over the world – coming eventually to dioramas of Manhattan life, where they have “the most prosperous, but idiosyncratic social structure in the world.” In the book, Nan was a veteran nanny, explaining the field to the reader. As she is, Annie is more of the audience’s character, discovering the world of the Upper-East-Side the same time we are. Pulcini also flavors the soundtrack a bit with a few throwbacks to Mary Poppins, and plays jungle sounds and tribal drums over several scenes to emphasize the bizarreness of the rituals Annie encounters.

Johansson plays the role well, involving the audience in her reactions to this bizarre world, and entertaining us with her native New Yorker acting. Giamatti is creepy and devilish as Mr. X, and for a child actor, Art is very impressive. The rest of the cast also does a great job. Pulcini definitely paints a bleak picture of our world, but illustrates a number of excellent points, including that being rich doesn’t guarantee any happiness. Unfortunately, after doing such a great job with the darkness, he feels the need to force in a text-book happy ending in the last five minutes of the movie.

Overall, The Nanny Diaries is an excellent film about an unusual and very thought-provoking subject. And despite the fact that it’s a chick flick, I have to admit it is genuinely touching.


VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Have you seen this movie? Rate it!
Rating: 2.5/5 (2 votes cast)