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Drama, Movie Reviews

A Bear Named Winnie

Drama 90 min / 2004 Rating: 7/10 This is the (mostly) true story of Winnie, the bear that inspired A.A. Milne's much loved Winnie the Pooh books. While she lived most of her life in the London Zoo, many don't realize that Winnie was a Canadian bear. So it was very fun to learn how he got from the wilds of Canada to inside the pages of everyone's favorite children's story. I think copyright concerns probably kept producers from using the words "Winnie-the-Pooh" but as the film begins, the connection is made, with an adult Winnie being watched by a man and boy who are unnamed, but unmistakable as Milne and his son Christopher Robin. "Father," Christopher Robin asks, "why do they call her Winnie? It's a funny hame for a bear. I wonder how she got it" "Yes, I wonder," his father replies. "I bet it's quite a story." It is indeed! From there we are taken away, back in time, and across the ocean, to meet a group of veterinarians enlisted in the Canadian army and riding the rails across the country on their way to the front lines of the First World War. Aside from the bear, the star of this piece is Harry Colebourn, and we're introduced to him just as he wins a sizeable pot of money from his fellow soldiers. But he's not rich for long, as at the next stop, in White River, Ontario, he sees a cub chained up. Colebourn uses his money to buy the bear and rescue it. But now that he has it, what is he going to do with it? When he takes the bear back to the train, his regiment adopts it as their mascot and it's named Winnipeg – Winnie for short – after Colebourn's hometown. From then on we get to see both Winnie's story and the story of this veterinarian regiment. Caution The only caution concerns what one reviewer called the film's confusion about its target audience. It's about the most beloved bear of all time, so wouldn't this be a perfect one for the kidlets? The pacing is gentle, with the tension being mostly of a kiddish sort involving Winnie getting into things she shouldn't, and owner Colebourn, and his friends, trying to chase her down before they all get into more trouble. But if this is for children, then why the repeated scenes with the mentally unbalanced, and at one point drunk, general in command? And if it is for kids, then what were producers thinking when they had the young vet Macray, distraught by the battlefield deaths of his friends and animals, grabbing a gun and running off to his death? The violence is muted - we don't see any blood and gore, even in the midst of fallen men and animals and we never see or hear Macray get shot. The violence is of the sort you might find in a Hallmark film (in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this is on the Hallmark Channel). But you don't kill off charming characters in a children's film. So parents need to understand that, despite some appearances to the contrary, this is not one for kids. Or at least not kids who are of the age that they are being read Winnie-the-Pooh stories. Conclusion Who would enjoy this? This would be a nice one for mom and dad on a night when they want something quite calm. It is a unique chapter in Canadian history, presenting not just a bear's story, but also showing some of the First World War from a Canadian perspective. There's humor, hijinks, and also a little educational content along the way so all in all, it ranks as quite a good TV movie. ...

Animated, Lists, Movie Reviews

Batman as a cucumber? The best of Veggietales...

The VeggieTales phenomenon began back in 1993 with the release of their first video, Where’s God When I’m Scared? which, like all that would follow, starred Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber. While it was childish fare, there was a nod to parents in how this duo was patterned after the classic comedic pairings of Laurel & Hardy and Abbot & Costello. Bob was the easily exasperated straight man to Larry’s energetic innocent goof. Together they'd introduce each video by reading questions from children. The questions range from asking how to handle peer pressure, to wondering if it’s important to share toys with little brothers. They'd be answered with stories acted out by a host of other Veggies, including Junior Asparagus, Jean-Claude the French Pea, Pa Grape and Laura Carrot. Afterward Bob and Larry return to discuss what kids have learned, and then look up a relevant Bible verse on the computer Qwerty. That first video was followed by 47 more, and two television series, two feature films, innumerable books, a handful of CDs, and, of course, plush toys. And today, nearly 30 years later, the series is still going strong. But while VeggieTales at their very best, are downright brilliant, there is a danger in being silly while teaching Scriptural lessons – sometimes the goofiness extends to how they handle Scripture. So the quality of the videos runs the gamut from brilliant to bad, with the best being spoofs of cultural icons (Batman, Lord of the Rings, Sherlock Holmes...) and the worst being their careless Bible story retellings. With the near 50 videos out there, I haven't watched them all, so here's just a selection of the best, followed by a few examples of how their biblical stories fall short. The best Larry-Boy and the Fib from Outer Space 30 minutes / 1997 Rating: 8/10 This is our first glimpse of Larry the Cucumber’s alter ego, Larry-Boy, a super-hero with suction cup ears. This Batman spoof is complete with his own Larry-mobile, Larry-cave, and butler named Alfred. In this first adventure, a tiny alien named Fibrilious Minimus (“You can call me Fib for short”) encourages Junior Asparagus to lie to get out of trouble. But one lie quickly leads to another and before he knows it Junior finds that his little friend Fib is now 20 stories tall. Can Larry-Boy stop the Fib from outer space? Actually, no. Bumblyburg’s resident superhero is completely confounded by the giant Fib. In the end only Junior can stop the Fib, by finally confessing to all his lies. In his further adventures, Larry-Boy and the Rumor Weed (1999), Larry-Boy and the Bad Apple (2006), and VeggieTales: The League of Incredible Vegatables (2012) our spandex-clad cucumber consistently shows himself to be a rather ineffective super-hero. It's only with the help of his friends, that good does eventually prevail. In addition to the previous four videos, Larry-Boy also has his own 4-episode, 2-d animation series called Larryboy: the Cartoon Adventures. It's an old-school "flat" animation look, as opposed to VeggieTales' typical computer-animated, 3-d look, but it's every bit as fun. Because this is a Batman spoof, there are villains to fight, and consequently more action, and more tension than normal. So in our house, these weren't really appreciated by the pre-school crew, but that changed as they got a bit older. Madame Blueberry 37 minutes / 1998 Rating: 8/10 Madame Blueberry is a story about a very blue berry who thinks she needs more stuff to be happy. She already has quite a lot, but some of her friends have more than she does and that makes her very blue. Fortunately for Madame Blueberry a new Stuff-Mart has just been built next door and the store’s salesmen are quite eager to help her shop. Their sales pitch is far from subtle, “Happiness waits at the Stuff-Mart – all you need is more…stuff!” but it convinces Madame Blueberry. On the way to the store though, she notices a poor family celebrating their little girl’s birthday. They have hardly anything and yet they’re happy and thankful to God. But how could that be? When Madame Blueberry encounters a little boy happy to own a single red ball she finally realizes being greedy never makes you happy, but that “a thankful heart is a happy heart!" I can't find a trailer for this one, but here's a clip... Lord of the Beans 51 minutes / 2005 Rating: 8/10 This is for parents who've seen Lord of the Rings, and for kids who are too young to see it. On his 122nd birthday, Billboy Baggypants decides to leave everything behind, including his magic bean, which can give its owner anything they want. Billboy is leaving because, despite the bean's power, he is still unsatisfied. So off he goes, bequeathing the bean to his nephew Toto, who goes on a quest to find out how he should use it. Toto is accompanied by Ear-a-corn the ranger, Randalph the Wizard, Leg-o-lamb the elf, and Grumpy the dwarf who will protect him from the fearful "sporks." If you haven't seen the Lord of the Rings, or you have, and nothing in preceding paragraph strikes you as amusing, then this isn't for you. But it is a spot-on spoof, with the lesson this time being that we should find out how to use the gifts God gives us. Sheerluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler 52 minutes / 2006 Rating: 7/10 There are two stories in thi sone, the first a spoof on Don Quixote and the second, longer one a fun take on Sherlock Holmes. Holmes (Larry) relies heavily on the insights of his friend, Dr. Watson (Bob), but doesn't share any of the credit for the crimes they solve. So when one of the United Kingdom's greatest treasures is stolen – the Golden Ruler – Dr. Watson decides to let Holmes solve this one on his own...and that doesn't go so well for him. The Golden Ruler is a play off the Golden Rule, with Dr. Watson simply wanting Holmes to treat him as Holmes would want to be treated himself. It's another brilliant spoof that mom and dad will enjoy too. MacLarry & The Stinky Cheese Battle 45 minutes / 2013 Rating: 8/10 What if Rome was right next to Scotland? And what if the leaders of these two nations were former friends caught up in an epic pranking battle with one another? That's the premise, with Larry playing the son of the Barber-barian leader Chug Norious (think Chuck Norris) who just doesn't fit in. While everyone else likes pranking, he likes inventing. The lesson here is to appreciate other's gifts, even when they are so very different from your own. Veggies in Space: The Fennel Frontier 48 minutes / 2014 Rating: 8/10 This whole episode is a series of Star Trek and Star Wars reference (along with some quick 2001, Doctor Who, Planet of the Apes, and even Back to the Future references) that the kids won't really notice, but mom and dad may enjoy spotting. There are the silly/clever jokes for the parents that they'll only get, like an actual wooden bridge acting as the captain's bridge, and a crew member using a floating piece of wood to record his diary...aka his log. Such dad humor abounds! Larry and Bob are basically Kirk and Spock, and the lesson they need to learn is sharing. That's a lesson that many a kid can benefit from, so parents can appreciate the leap off this episode offers to have some good discussions on the topic. There's more action than normal, with giant robot fights, but nothing too scary. One language concern: a character's use of the phrase "holy guacamole." Tomato Sawyer & Huckleberry Larry's Big River Rescue 49 minutes / 2008 Rating: 7/10 This time Bob and Larry offer their own take on Mark Twain's Huckleberry Fin. It's another good spoof, though the moral of the story – to help others – is more than a bit heavy-handed this time. How so? Bob and Larry play America settlers who need to stay on their plot of land for 5 years to be able to claim it and as our story begins they have just a few days to go. Then an escapee prisoner, Big Jim, arrives – he's been framed for a crime he never committed and he needs their help to find his mama. And that would mean leave their land claim. Thus Bob and Larry (or rather Tom and Huck) face the dilemma of helping Big Jim or keeping the land they've been working 5 years for. But Christians don't have to casually abandon everything they are doing and working towards to help someone in need; they can work through their options and possibilities. So why, for example, couldn't they bring Jim back to their land claim and help him find his mama after they secure their land? It's not unChristian to try for a win/win situation. That said, it is just a cartoon. The "biblical" bunch Some years back Reformed commentator Gary Demar wrote a booklet called Meaty Tales: Should Talking Vegetables Be Used to Teach the Bible? His answer was an emphatic no, with his criticism focused specifically on the VeggieTale biblical adaptations. He argued these accounts were "trivializing and truncating the Bible’s message." “Talking vegetables teaching a lesson about lying by using a giant fib from outer space? That’s cute. And a dancing cucumber serenading little tikes with songs about his hairbrush and his water buffalo? How charming. But making the story of King David and Bathsheba into King George and the Ducky . . . is everyone else ok with that?” The Bible stories began with an adaptation of Daniel in the Lions' Den in their very first video, Where’s God When I’m Scared? And as Demar puts it, we could see from the start that "The VeggieTellers are way too liberal in the use of their literary license." Sometimes that "liberality" is hard to understand: the Veggie version has Daniel (played by Larry Cucumber) interpreting Darius' dream when the Bible tells us it was Nebuchadnezzar. Why this change? Other times the alteration might be understandable, though no less problematic. The Veggie version has jealous wisemen (played by green onions)  plot Daniel's doom via a song and dance number – they trick Darius into signing a decree that forbids bowing to anyone other than the king. Daniel breaks this new law by praying to God, and is thrown into the lions’ den. Afterwards, when he emerges unscathed, the wise men run away. In reality, these wise men were thrown into the den, and “before they reached the floor of the den the lions overpowered them and crushed their bones” (Dan 6:24). Not only are the wise men punished in this horrible fashion, even their wives and children were consumed by the lions. In a cartoon intended for kids it might seem sensible to make this G-rated substitution for what would otherwise be an R-rated event. But that the real events would be unsuitable for a children's cartoon isn't a reason to recast reality in a "nicer" light – it's a reason not to make a cartoon about that reality. This isn't the only time VeggieTales has felt free to insert a “nicer” endings to a biblical tale. In Esther, the Girl Who Became Queen Haman plots against the Jews but instead of trying to kill them he attempts to banish them to the "Island of Perpetual Tickling." Are nicer endings really such a problem? Well, just consider how many Christians would be shocked to read an Old Testament passage in which God demands the slaughter of women and children. In a quest to embrace the God of love many Christians prefer to forget that He also demands justice and in fact can be wrathful as well. By inserting these “nicer” ending VeggieTales actually hide the true character of God from children. And since children are likely to view these videos repeatedly, and read the corresponding Bible passages infrequently, that is real damage being done. Even when the Veggie version is fairly faithful – as happens in Dave and the Giant Pickle – it's still going to be comical – here we have a cute David, played by Junior Asparagus. How often is cute and comical going to be a good match for the tone of the biblical text? King George and the Ducky is, as Demar noted, based on King David’s sordid fling with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11&12). To pull off the G-rated version, the object of the King's covetous lust, Bathsheba, is replaced with a rubber ducky. Yup, you read that right, a rubber ducky. The king already has several hundred rubber duckies, but he wants Thomas’s rubber ducky so he sends Thomas off to the “Great Pie War.” Demar comments: "Putting aside the issue of whether it’s appropriate to turn Bible characters into vegetables, the VeggieTales rendition of the inspired Bible stories are inaccurate and hopelessly trivial. If my Bible memory serves me, Uzziah was killed when David sent him to the front lines of the war, and Bathsheba lost her baby that was conceived through her adulterous affair with David. To tell the stories in any other way is unbiblical. Children can understand the basics of unfaithfulness and murder without resorting to the use of bathtub toys." Perhaps the worst of the Veggie versions is Josh and the Big Wall, a "lesson in obedience." If you read Joshua 4-6 you’ll see this is one of the few stretches where Israel obeyed God without question. However, the Veggie version pretends the Israelites are questioning God at every opportunity. The VeggieTellers could have chosen almost any other point in Israel’s history to highlight Israel's rebellion, but instead the exception, when Israel is on its best behavior. And since there is no rebellion at this point, the writers simply make it up. They also contradict Scripture when Bob the Tomato comments that, “God never said it was going to be easy – no, the people of Jericho hit them with everything they had.” Actually, God did say it was going to be easy. All they had to do was walk around the city for seven successive days and God would knock the walls down for them – there was no need for a siege; God had given the city into their hands. In this whole story the scriptwriters don't just play fast and loose with Scripture; they shamelessly turn it on its head. Based on the producers' mishandling of other biblical tales, and the impossibility of cracking wise while still giving God's Word its reverent due, I'd suggest giving their other bible stories a miss too. They include: Noah's Ark Jonah: A VeggieTale Movie Abe and the Amazing Promise – about Abraham and Sarah The Ballad of Little Joe – about Joseph and his multi-colored coat Babysitter in Denile – about baby Moses left in the Nile Moe and the Big Exit – about Moses and the Exodus Gideon – Tuba Warrior Overall cautions I'll mention one overall caution for the series: no one takes God's name in vain, but the Veggies do, with some regularity, say "Gee." This is not Jesus' name, but it is close enough that, like "Geez" we don't want our children saying it. And because it is close, I just wonder why Christian writers can't steer clear. Conclusion While the writers too often jump straight from reverence to irreverence, they've also crafted a collection of videos that are wonderfully and unabashedly brilliant. It's when they steer clear of Bible stories, and make use of material that doesn't demand the same reverence, that their comic genius is genius indeed....

Animated, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Torchlighters: the Eric Liddell Story

Animated / Family 2007 / 31 minutes Rating: 6/10 Eric Liddell is best known for the stand he took to not compete in the 1924 Olympic 100-meter race. He was among the United Kingdom's best chances at a medal, but he didn't want to run because doing so would require him to run in a heat on Sunday. Despite enormous pressure to compromise for the sake of his country, he still refused, pointing to the 4th Commandment's call to "remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy." His country was important to him, but it came a distant second to his God. Eventually, a different sort of compromise was struck, which had Liddell run in the 200 and 400-meter races instead, winning a bronze and a gold. His firm convictions, and his outstanding athletic performances, were the subject of the 1981 film (and Oscar winner for Best Picture) Chariots of Fire. However, Hollywood indulged in a bit of artistic license. They made it seem as if Liddell only found out about the Sunday heat on the boat ride to the Paris Olympics, but the truth, as shown much more accurately in this animated video, is that Liddell knew months before. While both film and video cover Eric-the-athlete, this video covers his later years too, as Eric-the-missionary. Liddell was born in China, to Scottish missionary parents, and while educated in Scotland, actually spent most of his life in China. He returned there after the Olympics, serving as a missionary from 1925, until 1943, which is when the Japanese invaded. He could have fled, and he did send his family away, but Liddell stayed to continue telling the Chinese about God. That cost him, as he ended up in a Japanese internment camp, but even there he remained a faithful witness until his death in 1945, likely due to a brain tumor. Cautions This would have gotten at least a 7/10 if not for the choice the creators made to have Chinese characters speak broken and stilted English – their inarticulate language skills make them look a little dumb. Liddell was raised in China, which means his Mandarin was likely excellent, and for important conversations, they likely would have all used the language they all knew well, and his Chinese friends could have been shown speaking clearly and articulately in their native language. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they were all trying to learn English, and so that's the language they all spoke all the time, some better, and many worse. But I doubt it, and that's why I knocked a star off what is otherwise a solid account of a faithful and fascinating man. Also, as noted earlier, Liddell does die in a Japanese camp, and while that is not depicted, if you have some sensitive younger souls, you might want to give them a heads up early on, so that ending doesn't come as a shock. Conclusion This is more educational than entertaining, but I think families could enjoy watching this together – that it is a true story does make it compelling. To say it another way, this might not be the sort of video your kids will ask mom and dad to put on, but if you start it going, and the whole family is watching together, I don't think there will be many complaints. So sit back and be inspired by a man who knew that God was worthy of all honor, and most certainly came before fame and before his own safety. You can watch The Eric Liddell Story for free below, though with quite a lot of commercial interruptions. For an ad-free presentation, you can sign up, also for free, at RedeemTV.com. ...

Family, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

The Sparky Chronicles: The Map

Family / Children's 28 min / 2003 Rating: 7/10 When their beloved Sparky is dognapped by the infamous international criminal known only as "The Clip," three college-age friends – Ethan, Jeffrey, and Christina – vow to find their pooch, no matter how long it takes. We join up with the search three years in – that's 21 doggy years! – and despite a Volkswagon van full of advanced tracking technology they still seem no closer to finding their four-legged buddy. Sparky Chronicles is a Christian spy spoof, with sting operations, tranquilizer darts, explosions, and one chase scene after another. These aren't high-speed chases, mind you – and at one point the villain gets away by walking at a brisk trot – but that's the point. The pounding music, the quick cuts between the determined pursuers and their frantic prey, and then the shots of the speedometer needle slowly edging past 35: as spoofs go, they're pretty much nailing it. So what makes this tweenish tale a Christian one? Well, during their long fruitless search the three friends come to realize it would be really helpful if they had some sort of guide to help them know which way to go. And when they happen upon a map that The Clip has left behind, Christina makes mention of how the Bible is the same sort of thing for life: a guide that tells us what's right and true. That's the lesson being taught, but unlike what happens in many a Christian production, this is an almost subtle presentation. Sure, they explicitly spell it out, but they don't beat kids over the head with it. I'd recommend this for tweens, but younger kids might enjoy it too. And while this isn't going to be mom and dad's favorite, it'll be more interesting for them than some other children's fare. The only real downside is that while things are set up for a sequel, there isn't one. You can watch it for free below, with some commercial interruptions. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Theology, Watch for free

The Marks of a Cult: a biblical analysis

Documentary 2005 / 115 minutes Rating: 8/10 How would you define a cult? Some think of them as being deadly, like the 900 followers of Jim Jones who, in 1978, committed suicide en masse by drinking cyanide-laced kool-aid (this is the origin of the phrase "drinking the kool-aid"). What this documentary focuses on are religious groups that have some connections to biblical Christianity, but which have departed so far from it, that they are worshipping another God. Overview One of the film's objectives is to give Christians an easily understandable way of spotting those departures. And to make it memorable, host Eric Holmberg uses the four common math symbols: +– x ÷. As he explains it, "A group can be classified as a cult when they: Add to the 66 books of the bible... Subtract from the triunity of God by either denying the personhood or the deity of one or more members of the Godhead Multiply works necessary for salvation Divide the loyalties of their followers from God..." These math symbols are then used as the documentary's four "chapters" and serve as logical breaks for any who might prefer to digest this 2-hour documentary in chunks. 1. Additions (starting at 24:50) Holmberg explains that the first sign of a cult is that it will add to God's Word, "relying on some new, so-called revelation. either new scriptures, or by the discovery of some new interpretive key to the Bible that has somehow been hidden from the historic church." But why would such additions be needed? As Dr. Curtis Crenshaw notes: "If anything is contrary to Scripture, it is wrong. If anything is the same as Scripture, it is not needed. If anything goes beyond Scripture, it has no authority." 2. Subtraction (starting at 47:30) Cults will also subtract from the "triunity of God." Sometimes this involves denying the Holy Spirit's deity, but more often, it involves a denial of Jesus as being fully God. 3. Multiplication (starting at 1:11:35) Another sign of a cult is that they multiply the works needed to be saved. This springs directly from the subtraction or undermining of Christ's deity because, as Jerry Johnson highlights, when Christ is no longer God (or at least fully God), then his sacrifice will no longer suffice. And then Man will have to step in and do his own "share." "To downplay the divinity of Christ is to ultimately to surrender the doctrine of justification. Now, why is that? We must remember that God is holy, holy, holy. He is a thrice-holy God. Our mildest sin offends Him greatly....God doesn't wink at our sin. God is offended by it. He doesn't even want to look on us because we are not reflecting the character of being made in His Image. And when we think about that, and think about the fact that Christ came as deity to die in our place, that's because our sins are an infinite offense to the infinite nature of God, and therefore an infinite payment had to be made, and we couldn't make it. So to take away the deity of Christ does what? It opens up the door. You have got a satisfaction that isn't a full satisfaction. It's a partial satisfaction. And therefore, something else has to be added to it. And that's what the cults always do. None of them believe in justification by grace alone through faith alone. They always add some works to salvation. Christ's work is not complete, because Christ is not diety. 4. Division (starting at 1:35:40) A fourth sign of a cult is that they will divide their followers from God so that their first loyalty belongs to the group or to the group leader, rather than to God. Conclusion Marks of a Cult is a lot of things: a history of how some of the biggest cults began; a rebuttal to some of their aberrant theology; an explanation of how they have different definitions for key theological terms like grace and justification; and a primer on the beliefs that Christiandom hold in common. It is also entertaining – this is education made, if not easy, then at least engaging. But it's also important to mention what this is not: this is not a film you'd show your Mormon or Jehovah's Witness friend to convince them they are worshipping a false god. This is a film for Christians, intended to clarify the conflict more than argue for the historic Christian side. That makes it a great introduction to the topic of cults. Those who want to go deeper can turn to the resources suggested throughout the film, including the likes of Dr. James White's The Forgotten Trinity and Dr. E. Calvin Beisner's God in Three Persons. Overall, Marks of a Cult is an outstanding documentary, and what's even better, you can watch it for free below! ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

March of the Penguins

Documentary 80 min / 2005 RATING: 7/10 Penguins are cute but tough as nails too, and March of the Penguins gives us the insider's look at both the grit and the comedy. These waddling, wacky creatures mate and reproduce in a clearing that, while miles and miles from most predators, is also miles and miles away from any source of food. So God has equipped the parents to be able to go for months without food as they wait for their egg to hatch. To give us the inside scoop the filmmakers spent a while year in the harshest of environments, with temperatures as low as -60°C (-76°F), to bring us right into the penguin huddle. Cautions Somewhere in this film there is a line about "millions of years" but it seems almost beyond belief that a person could watch this film about the trials and triumphs of penguin life and not see it as a testament to the wonder of God's creative hand. More important for parents considering whether to watch this with the family, not all the penguins survive the journey, including a couple of instances where we see a dead chick. So I wouldn't recommend this for younger, more sensitive viewers. Conclusion While I loved this film, the pace was sometimes a slow waddle (my dad owned a DVD player that sped films up to 1.25 times while keeping the sound at its normal timbre – this would be a prime candidate for such a device). That said, there is a reason it won an Oscar for best documentary. The filmmakers spent a whole year in the harshest of environments, with temperatures as low as -60°C (-76°F), to bring us right into the penguin huddle.  And that is a remarkable place to be! If you like March of the Penguins, there are a couple of other documentaries you may like too. Winged Migration tells the story of dozens of different bird species as they travel thousands of miles from North to South and back again. And if you found the ice and isolation of the Antarctic captivating you'll likely enjoy Imax: Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

The Reckoning: remembering the Dutch Resistance

Documentary 96 min / 2006 Rating: 7/10 My grandfather never talked about the war but I knew he had been involved in the Dutch Resistance. I was proud of him then, but I didn’t properly appreciate his courage. As a child I thought his involvement in the Resistance was a brave, but almost unremarkable thing. After all, most of my friends’ grandparents had also done their part. To me it seemed as if everyone back then had joined. I was sure that, had I been there, I would have joined as well. But now I understand things better. Though many from our small Reformed community got involved, what they did was rare and exceptional. As the narrator of The Reckoning notes, “Hundreds acted. Millions did not.” The Reckoning is a tribute to the courage of these special few, and delves deeply into the ordinary details around their courageous activities. Director John Evans uses a host of 1940s photography, interviews with surviving Resistance members and archival footage to bring viewers right into the dilemma these men and women faced. We should never make the mistake of thinking them fearless – one gentleman recounts how he had to change his shorts after one run in with the Nazis. And yet deciding to act seemed a simple decision for many. God gave them an understanding of right and wrong, and the conviction to act on it. A principal figure in the film, John Muller, described how quickly and suddenly he got involved: “My brother-in-law called me and said, ‘I want to talk to you… I decided you were material for the underground.’ I said ‘No!’ And then I thought it over and said, ‘Okay I will do it. I will do it. I will do something for my country.’ I said, ‘What do you want me to do?’” It was a simple decision for him, but millions more declined. Viewers can’t help but wonder, “Would I have been among the few?” CAUTION While this is an important film that I hope many will see, it does contain some graphic war footage, and film of some of the concentration camps including footage of skeletal bodies piled one on another. So this is not appropriate for small children. CONCLUSION I would highly recommend this film to any who come from a Dutch background. This is a tribute to our grandparents, and we should know their story, so we can seek to be like them. They loved the Lord, and acted as He directed, even when they were left confused and wondering why God would allow such evil. Their faith was tested, but God kept them close. You can watch the trailer below, and rent and stream it from Vision Video here or here at Amazon.com. ...

Animated

The Gruffalo

Animated / Family 27 min / 2009 Rating: 8/10 How can a mouse meet up with a hungry fox, snake, and owl, and live to tell the tale? It helps that he has a monstrously big friend who is just about to meet him. And a fox, or a snake, or an owl, wouldn't dare eat a small mouse who has such a big friend! But...what if they found out what the mouse knows: "There's no such things as a Gruffalo"? Or is there? This short film, based on the book of the same name, is a clever tale about a mouse who thinks his way out of trouble. It is beautifully rendered, visually and musically, with the only concern being that everyone wants to turn this little mouse into a little morsel. So in our household the pause button had to be used a few times to calm some anxious viewers. For those under eight, especially if they don't watch much TV, there is a little bit of tension here. In fact, kids under three might find it just too scary. But it does all work out in the end, and reassuring any little ones of that might help them make it through. So, two thumbs up for this short, fun, and clever story. Who could ask for more? There is a sequel, The Gruffalo's Child, about the title character heading off to search for the "big bad mouse" that so terrified his father. But it loses the charm of the original because now it is a father who lies to his child, rather than, as in the original, a mouse lying to predators. While we can justify lying to predators it is quite another thing for a parent to lie to their child. Also, the moody music, and the uncertainty about who we should be cheering for (the Gruffalo child, all on his lonesome searching through the woods, or the mouse that he is, basically, hunting?) make this one a good bit scarier than the original. That's why our family is going to give it a miss. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Pollyanna

Family 2003 / 99 minutes Rating: 8/10 Aside from a change of setting, this is a faithful adaption of the source book. Yes, moving it from Vermont to England will leave viewers a little surprised, especially if they've grown up watching the 1960s Disney version. But accents aside, this is the more authentic version and if you loved the book, you'll love this film. For those who don't already know, Pollyanna is a poor but cheerful girl who, after becoming orphaned, is sent to live with her very rich, and very strait-laced aunt Polly. The two have very different ways of viewing the world, with the joyful Pollyanna seeing nothing but wonder, despite the losses she's faced, and aunt Polly seeing nothing but the problems, despite the riches that surround her. So whose worldview is going to win out? Is Pollyanna going to stop giving out hugs, or is her aunt Polly going to get over her reluctance to be touched? Something has to give! One reason parents will appreciate this story is because of Pollyanna's "glad game." This is something her father taught her – he explained that even when things aren't going our way, there is always something to be glad about. He first taught her the game one Christmas when Pollyanna was hoping for a doll, but the only gift sent to her poor family was a pair of tiny crutches. So what is there to be happy about crutches? It took some thinking, but eventually father and daughter came up with something: they could be glad because at least “we didn’t need to use them!” As Pollyanna gets to know the people in her new community, both young and old, she teaches her game to them, and in doing so, transforms her community - they too, start to see the silver lining to each dark cloud. And in doing so, they are actually better seeing the world as it actually is. Yes, troubles exist, however blessings still abound! But what about aunt Polly? What is she going to think about the game? CAUTIONS It's worth noting that the "glad game" can be taken to extremes. For example, in the book, when an older man breaks a leg, Pollyanna notes he could be glad that he broke just the one leg. Well, okay. But, as the Preacher said, there is a time for everything, and that includes mourning. So maybe it is fine for the man to just simply be sad for a time at the pain and suffering that's happened to him. That said, I don't think many of us are in danger of overdoing our gladness. How often, really, do we count our blessings one by one? So couldn't we all do with a good dose of this Pollyanna-ish thinking? The only other caution concerns one shocking/sad moment that will cause young viewers distress – near the end of the film Pollyanna gets seriously injured. It all happens in a flash, so nothing gory is shown, but our girls needed to be reassured that Pollyanna would recover. CONCLUSION Young ladies are going to love this one, and I think young lads may even be up for it, with a little encouraging. And if mom and dad can get past the British accents, they, too, are sure to love this well-acted, authentic adaption of a timeless classic. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Pro-life - Abortion, Watch for free

Harder Truth

Documentary 9 min / 2003 This film changed me. It is a video, taken in the womb, of an abortion. It is evil uncovered and brought into the light. Just as it took pictures of dead Jews, stacked like cordwood, to drive home the horror of the Holocaust, and it took the newspapers carrying pictures of the lynched teen Emmett Till to reveal the wickedness of what was happening in the American South, so too, visuals are important in the abortion debate. Ours is a visual culture and graphic pictures of bloody, broken, tiny bodies communicate what abortion really is (Eph 5:11). These images cut through words like “choice,” “rights” and “freedom” and make plain the fact that abortion is murder. While this short video, Harder Truth, is one I believe should be widely shared and seen, it contains pictures that are deeply disturbing so it should be shown with care. When you share this, the audience should be warned about what they are about to see. And what are they going to see? While there is no verbal narration, the film begins with two minutes of text detailing what is going to be shown and why it is being shown. Then there is two minutes of a baby in the womb, developing from zygote to fetus. Then, just after the 4-minute mark, we see what an abortion actually is and what it does to the baby. The final four minutes of the film show remains of aborted babies: bloody broken bodies, tiny detached arms and legs, and crushed skulls. I've shown this at dozens of presentations and, as the video itself suggests, when I show it I tell the audience that anyone who wants to look away should feel very free to do so. I also find that, while the film is very short, its nine minutes of content can be overwhelming and I often show only a middle selection of two or three minutes. The toughest consideration in showing this film is, how young is too young? As pro-life apologist Scott Klusendorf notes, girls as young as 12 can, in many jurisdictions, get an abortion without their parents’ knowledge or permission. Twelve is very young. But if they are old enough to get an abortion isn’t it important they know the real truth of it? I've been asked why I bother showing this to pro-life audiences. After all, we don't need to be convinced abortion is wicked, do we? Well, yes, we do. Abortion happens in even 100% pro-life churches too, and the reason it does is because sometimes those pro-life convictions are only an inch deep. That shouldn't surprise us. Abortions are all done behind closed doors. The victims are invisible. We might hear that 100,000 babies are murdered each year in Canada, and ten times that amount in the US, but those are just numbers, and too big for us to really fathom. So when a young teen finds herself pregnant and, mistakenly or correctly, thinks her parents will disown her if they ever find out, will inch-deep convictions stop her from taking the "solution" the world is readily offering? So there is a need then, to show even our Christian, pro-life, young people, the grim reality of what abortion is. Every bit as important, we need to tell our daughters that we will love them and will help them if they ever have an unplanned pregnancy. WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES OF AN ABORTION. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Incredible Creatures That Defy Evolution I

Documentary 47 min / 2006 Rating: 7/10 As narrator Dr. Jobe Martin explains, he was once an evolutionist and only became a creationist after getting challenged by one of his students. While he was a professor at a dental college, he gave a lecture on the evolution of the tooth – he taught his class that fish scales eventually migrated into the mouth and became teeth – but two students didn't agree, and they encouraged him to investigate creation science. He'd never heard of creation science but was willing to take a look. And the closer he looked, the more he realized that much of the evolution he believed in was based on not on fact but assumptions. His study led him to investigate animals and other creatures, and in this short documentary he shares some of the most incredible features of some pretty incredible creatures that forced him to acknowledge that there was a Master Designer behind all this. For example, did you know: ...the bombardier beetle repels attackers by shooting a fiery liquid out of its rear end? ...the giraffe's heart pumps blood powerfully enough to blow out its own brain? The giraffe heart has to be strong to get blood all the way up to its head but what happens to all that power when, instead of pumping against gravity, the giraffe dips its head to take a drink? Then the same strong stream of oxygenated blood will now be traveling with enough pressure to create some serious brain trauma....except for the amazing shut-off valves in a giraffe's neck that kick in when it lowers its head! ...the woodpecker has a barbed gluey tongue that sticks to bugs but doesn't stick to its own beak? And, just as amazing, it has a skull that is designed to do the work of a jackhammer without giving the poor fellow a headache. Dr. Martin shows us why we should be amazed by many other creatures including: the beaver, the Australian incubator bird, the platypus, the chicken egg, the chuckwalla lizard, the gecko, and us humans. My preschool daughters were amazed, and while this is a video primarily intended for children, my wife and I were also engaged. We were floored by just how creative God is. It is good family viewing, with enough pictures and film footage to keep the attention of the very young, and for parents, there's a narrative that highlights God's sense of fun and His genius. It's important to note this is just a children's video, and not intended as something you'd hand your harden-nosed evolutionist friend. Incredible Creatures isn't meant to offer an overly detailed or complete argument against evolution, and adult critics would likely seize on that lack of depth to dismiss it entirely. So get it for your own family or your Christian school. And if you know someone dead-set on evolution, then consider Evolution's Achilles' Heels and its more mature, thorough anti-evolutionary argument. There other two films in this films in this Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution series are all good, but this first one is the very best of the bunch. You can buy it many places online, and for a four-minute peek, check out the trailer below. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

The Narnia Code

Documentary 59 minutes/ 2009 RATING: 8/10 The Da Vinci Code and The Bible Code had me close to swearing off anything with the word “code” in the title, but this documentary made me glad I held off. It is based on a book of the same name that argues C.S. Lewis modeled the seven books of his Narnia series on the seven planets of the medieval cosmology. It is an argument that has intrigued and convinced many Lewis scholars. There seems good reason to believe the Lewis did add this extra layer of meaning and artistry to the books, and that, in a bit of patient playfulness, he was content to never make mention of it, leaving it for someone – as it turned out, a certain Michael Ward – to discover 50 years later. For a detailed look at the theory itself, viewers will need to go to the Bonus section of the DVD. The main feature focuses more on the discovery of the planetary connection, the excitement it caused, and why so many people today still get excited by what this man wrote. This is, admittedly, a documentary that will excite only a very particular audience: Narnia lovers who are equally fascinated by the tales' author. But for them, well, this brilliantly executed BBC production will have these folk scurrying off excitedly to their bookshelves and paging, once again, through these old favorites! You can see the trailer below and learn more about the book and documentary at PlanetNarnia.com. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

City of Ember

Adventure/Family 95 min/2008 RATING: 7/10 For humanity’s remnant to survive they have to hide deep underground for 200 years in a specially prepared city – the City of Ember. But when 200 years pass no one alive remembers there is another world out there. The only light they know is provided by light bulbs powered by their mighty generator. The bigger problem? The generator is starting to break down. The biggest problem? No one will admit what’s happening. To the rescue comes Doon, and his friend Lina who uncover some long-lost and only partially intact instructions from the city’s original Builders that they need to piece together to save their family before all of Ember’s lights go dark. The film has no language or sexuality concerns at all, but does have a mole the size of Volkswagen whose tentacles are a bit too squirmy for my tastes. The more notable caution would be that God is never mentioned, and His absence in a movie about a coming end to the world is glaring. A post-apocalyptic tale is not your typical family fare, and a story in which the kids are smarter than the adults is all too common fare. So Ember is a film that shouldn’t be treated as simply mindless entertainment – it is entertaining, but it should be discussed. Jon Dykstra blogs on movies at www.ReelConservative.com where longer versions of some of these reviews can be found. ...