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Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Demographic Winter: the decline of the human family

Documentary 56 min / 2008 Rating: 7/10 This is not a Christian film; it’s just a film that argues everything Christians have been saying about the importance of the family, about the damage done by divorce, about what a blessing children are, about the threat of “gay marriage,” and about the harm caused by premarital sex, is exactly right. Christians had it right on every count. Demographic Winter warns about a coming collapse in world population caused by a birth rate that is well below replacement levels in most developed countries. Unless things change dramatically, in 40 years the population of Russia will be halved. In Europe, things are little better. Couples need to have at least two children to keep the population level steady, but are instead having an average of just 1.3. Who’s to blame? Expert after secular expert lays the blame at the feet of those attacking the family and encouraging divorce, abortion, “gay marriage,” contraception and cohabitation. We’re heading towards a crisis, they say, and the proper response is to strengthen the family, not plot its demise. The findings of all the leading social scientists are so closely in accord with what the Bible says that one interviewee, a Phillip Longman, felt he had to make his motivations clear. In the film’s final scene, Longman explains: “I’m not churched – I work for a progressive secular think tank… I have one child, adopted. So this is not a faith-based analysis. This is an analysis that, um… may eventually bring me to faith, but it’s not driven by faith. It just turns out this is where the facts take you when you look at population.” This is not a Christian film; it is a film that will fascinate Christians. While Demographic Winter is now 15 years old, the overpopulation lie it combats is still getting spouted today. So it's wonderful then, that they've made it available for free viewing. Check it out below (and you can also check a more recent take on the overpopulation myth with the 2021 documentary BirthGap). ...

Drama, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Final Solution

Drama 2001 / 102 minutes Rating: 8/10 This is the true story of Gerrit Wolfaardt, a church-going, Mein Kampf-reading young man who was taught from the pulpit that white South Africans were God's new chosen people. And the nation's blacks? Gerrit saw their existence as a problem that could be solved with some inspiration from Hitler. He offers up his own diabolical "final solution": if black townships could just be stirred to violence, that could be used as the excuse for the white government to come in force and wipe them all out. Gerrit's wickedness is amplified by his charisma, strength and confidence. Girls notice him, and other young men are willing to listen to him. Older, equally wicked men see potential in him, and ask Gerrit to share his final solution plans. This all has him very sure of his purpose. And that's when God uses a girl, and a black pastor, to break him down completely. This is first and foremost the story of Gerrit's transformation, but it's also the story of how a black pastor can befriend the man who wanted to kill him. One man repented, but reconciliation wouldn't have been possible without forgiveness. While viewers are taken back and forth through about three decades of time, most of the film takes place in a church. The story begins with three carloads of men, all of them very much like the young Gerrit, raiding a black township and shooting whoever they can. But their intended victims aren't as helpless as they hoped: the townsfolk start shooting back, the cars crash, and now the raiders are running for their lives. One young man manages to escape his pursuers and makes for a church. There the black pastor holds off the mob that's crying for this raider's head. An American television reporter happens to be at the church, there to report on the apartheid in South Africa, and being on camera also encourages the mob to take a more reasonable turn. They are invited into the church, so long as they promise to do so peacefully. There a negotiation takes place, the pastor calling for the raider to be turned in to the police, and the mob spokesman still arguing for his blood. It's into this exchange that the older, changed Gerrit Wolfaardt inserts himself. He too is visiting the church, the pastor now an old and much loved friend. To argue for peace, Gerrit starts to share his own story, how he was transformed from little more than a Nazi to a truly God-loving man. The bulk of the movie is then told as a flashback to show us how that change took place. Cautions The big concern here is violence. Numerous people are shot when three car loads of apartheidists go on a shooting rampage through a black township. Then when the blacks start shooting back, we see one of the attackers caught and "necklaced" – a car tire is thrown over his body, pinning his arms, and gasoline is poured over him and lit. This scene lasts a good 20 seconds, and the whole township raid lasts about 5 minutes. That means this is not one for the kids. But for adults, knowing as we do that movies are not real, that might make these scenes less shocking than they otherwise might be. I think it also helps that none of this is presented in a "slo-mo" violence-glorifying fashion. Conclusion If you can endure the 5-10 minutes of violence, this is quite the film. It's not only the story of how God can change a man, but how God is the only hope for any genuine reconciliation. Even as it is a powerful statement, I think the idea of what reconciliation involves would have been the one aspect I wish they'd explored more. God's church is front and center here, but what Jesus has done for us isn't as evident. So the forgiveness Gerrit seeks, and is offered, doesn't entirely seem to make sense. I mean, from a secular perspective, forgiving great wrongs hardly makes sense: why forgive, if it seems only to benefit the very person who wronged you in the first place? What do you get out of it? But it's because we are all debtors that we can understand how we are imitating our Savior when we forgive others. That doesn't come out as clearly as I would have liked, but it's not hard for Christian viewers to fill that in. So this remains a true story powerfully told – one of the better Christian films you'll see. And bonus: you can watch it for free below. (And should that become unavailable you can also view the full movie for free on RedeemTV though you will need to sign up for a free account.) In addition, you can also watch a free 45-minute documentary on Gerrit Wolfaadt's life called From One Blood. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

The Way Things Work

Animated / TV series / Family 2001 / 300+ minutes (26 episodes) RATING: 8/10 This educational series takes place on a small island in which everything appears quite modern...except for the woolly mammoths everywhere. On Mammoth Island everything is mammoth powered. Your house is cold? A mammoth in the living room will keep things toasty warm. Need hot water for your shower? Tickle the trunk of a sleeping mammoth in just the right spot and he'll provide a warm spray. Need to deliver the mail, or coconuts, or pizzas? Mammoths are there to help! Except, as the residents keep discovering, mammoth power has a definite downside. Mammoth pizza delivery? Too slow. Mammoth-powered house heating? Too risky - if it wakes up you may end up with a mammoth-sized hole in your living room wall. The way each 15-minute episode works is that after a particular deficiency in mammoth power is shown, then a new resident to the Island, known as the Inventor, works with a 14-year-old island resident, Olive, to see if they can come up with something better. And that something better involves the use of machines, both simple and more complex. For example, in the first episode they explore how inclined planes can make it easier to lift heavy loads – it's easer for the mammoths to roll boulders up a gradual slope rather than just heave them straight up. A few of the other machines and devices that get invented (or rather, re-invented) include: Levers Wheels and axles Belts and gears Pulleys Springs Screws Engines Pumps Steam power The series is aimed for Grades 3-6, but my girls, who are all Grade 1 and under, really enjoyed it. I did too. There are so many kids' shows that are absolutely brainless, and I can't sit through them. But this one was a pleasure to watch - there was lots for me to learn too. I'd guess that even my oldest girl only understood about half of the explanations - it really is intended for at least Grade 3 – but it did spark her imagination. Every show includes an invention, and she was inspired to try to make her own creative creations. Cautions There is only one mild caution to note: one character, Brenda, is a negative nag. She is the nay-sayer who always says the invention isn't going to work. In small doses, that's no big thing. But if you watch this series over the course of a couple weeks, like we did, it does get a bit tiresome. And, particularly with younger audiences, it might then be good to note that Brenda is not being a team player or a good example. I was wondering, because of all the mammoths, whether the series would bring up evolution. However, that topic is never raised. There are mammoths on this island, but no reason is ever offered as to why. Conclusion This is a great series for the whole family to enjoy - younger kids will love the humor, and older children and even teens and adults can learn a little something from it. Also, the short 15-minute episodes make it a nice way to watch a moderate amount of TV - the family can watch an episode or two without running through the whole afternoon. The series takes its inspiration from author/illustrator David Macaulay's The Way Things Work children's book, and while I've only skimmed through it, it looks interesting too (and mammoths also have a starring role). I should note that while The Way Things Work is a fantastic television series it is definitely not one to buy. Here in North America this 26-episode series goes for more than $500 and is marketed only to schools and libraries. That's where we got it - from our local library, where all the episodes were available, with no waiting. I've checked a few other libraries across Canada, and it's in many of them too. So check it out - our family highly recommends it....

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Dolphins: Tribes of the Sea

Documentary 2006 / 41 minutes RATING: 7/10 Did you know dolphins can use their echolocation – their own version of sonar – to tell what's inside a sealed wooden box? They use this echolocation to not just find fish, but they might even use it to stun them! The footage here is wonderful, diving down deep with these speedy swimmers. We also get close to them in the research pool where we get to learn how researchers are able to communicate back and forth using sign language. It comes out clearly, these are brilliant animals! One oddity is that while the film's producers are Christians, this is not a Christian presentation. God is never named and the closest thing to a religious reference comes at the end when we are invited to join them again next time as they "journey into the kingdom of creation, a place where nature tells its own story and reveals to us wildlife's incredible design." But if the documentary is sadly shy about naming the Creator and Designer, it is also thankfully free of any inserted evolutionary assumptions. Even as one amazing ability after another is shared, there's no nod to millions of years or random chance as an explanation for how dolphins got so clever. It's got none of that. So, what we do have here is loads of wonder, no evolutionary foolishness, but also no glory given to the Creator. As to the last missing element, viewers can bring that. This is a wonderful introduction to these astonishing swimmers, and you and your family won't be able to not praise their Creator! If you like it, you'll be interested to know there are other episodes in this Explore the Wild Kingdom series that can also be watched for free. I haven't had a chance to watch them yet myself, but share them here: Cougar: Ghost of the Rockies (50 min) Wildebeest: The great African migration (50 min) Lions: Kings of Africa (49 min) Golden River: Secrets of the Amazon (49 min) The hidden world of Africa (49 min) And you can watch Dolphins: Tribes of the Sea for free below. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Going to the Mat

Family / Drama 2004 / 92 minutes Rating: 8/10 Jace Newfield is the "new kid" and he's blind, but what's causing him the most difficulties is his snark. He used to live in New York City but his dad's new job means now they have to live in the podunks of Utah. So, on his first day the first thing this big city kid does is alienate all his classmates by joking that they're backcountry hicks. He digs himself under even deeper with an attention-seeking drum solo that doesn't impress his music teacher, Mr. Wyatt. Fortunately there are a couple of kids willing to overlook his rough start. Vincent "Fly" Shue tells him the only way to fit in is to be a jock, so Jace decides to try out for the wrestling team... corralling the lightweight Fly to join up too. Jace discovers that in wrestling blind athletes can wrestle against the sighted. The only concession given is that the two athletes start with a hand on each other. Jace isn't the biggest guy, and a total newcomer to the sport, but this is the chance for him to be just an athlete, rather than "that blind guy." Sports movies are predictable so no one will be surprised to see Jace losing in the early going, and (I don't think this is giving too much away) triumphing, at least in part, in the epic slow-motion finale. But this does have a few fresh twists to keep it interesting. Cautions The only caution concerns how children might misunderstand the moral to this story. Jace proves he can excel on the wrestling mats, so kids might think that's how he's proven he's just as valuable as anyone else. However, that's a worldly idea – that it's what we do that makes us valuable – and it is a dangerous idea. This is the idea behind the devaluation of the unborn: the world says they are worth less than you or me because they can't do what we can: they don't have a heartbeat yet, and can't survive on their own. This "able-ism" is the basis for euthanasia too, which is kept from the able-bodied, but offered up to the disabled and elderly who are valued less because they can do less. Christians need to share that our worth comes not from our abilities, but from our Maker. We are all valuable, because we are all made in the very Image of God (Gen. 1:27, 9:6). So our kids need to hear that Jace would be valuable whether he could wrestle or not. Conclusion This is a 1990s Disney channel TV movie, so I was only hoping for a family-friendly sports story. I was pleasantly surprised to get a lot more. The acting is solid, and the sighted Andrew Lawrence does a convincing job playing Jace. Wayne Brady, as Mr. Wyatt, is a sympathetic but hard-nosed mentor, who gives Jace the kick in the butt he needs. It's sweet, surprising in spots, and solid throughout: this is a fun film. I couldn't find a trailer, but these clips give a pretty accurate feel for it. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Life's Story 2: the reason for the journey

Documentary 2006 / 107 minutes Rating: 6/10 This is the sequel to Life Story: the one that hasn't be told, and once again there's loads of gorgeous nature footage, and lots of fascinating information shared. There's ongoing commentary about how each animal's abilities show the impossibility of evolution. And the whole film is a Gospel presentation using the animals as illustrations of God's amazing handiwork, and their predatory abilities as evidence of a broken world. The documentary is divided into two roughly equal parts, with the first exploring life under the oceans. A strength of the film is how many different animals are covered, but a weakness might be that it goes so quickly from one to the next. We get to see the octopus's astonishing ability to camouflage right before we jump to the goatfish to learn about their special whiskers that serve as a tasting tongue and probing fingers. Then we're on to turtles and how they can navigate the vast distances of the ocean to lay their eggs back where they were first hatched themselves. And on it goes, for at least a dozen sea creatures. The second part starts off with monkeys, and touches on springboks, zebras, millipedes, elephants, rhinos and more. The anti-evolution commentary here focuses especially on the supposed link between monkey and Man. Caution The way the narrator describes evolution you'd have to conclude only small children and complete morons could ever fall for it. Evolution is foolish, but what this film doesn't acknowledge is that some very smart people hold to it, and the Devil is also quite clever, which means there's been some serious brainpower at work for a good long while now to come up with some creative just-so stories. And they can sound really good. The objections to evolution that the film raises are valid, but they aren't slam-dunks, mike-drops. As an evolutionary takedown, this is only good for the already convinced. One other caution would be if you're watching this with young children, there are a few brief shots of animals eating animals, and a second-or-two long clip of elephants mating, though shown from a distance (I don't think kids would even know what's going on, except that the narrator is talking about "reproduction" at the same time). Conclusion Life's Story 2 is at its best when it's highlighting cool bits of information about the various animals, and thankfully there is a lot of that. The reason this rates only a 6 out of 10 is because, as a nature film there's too much anti-evolutionary commentary, and as an evolutionary takedown there's too little. And what's said is too simplistic. However, for a younger audience, especially if this is their first exposure to evolutionary thought, Life's Story 2 might be the simplified introduction they need. So this could be a good one for a family movie night. And one big mark in its favor is you can watch it for free below. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

The Jim Elliot Story

Animated / Family 30 min / 2005 Rating: 6/10 This is a half-hour animated version of a true story your grandparents might still remember hearing on the news back in 1956. That was the year that Jim Elliot and his four friends sought out a group of Ecuadorian natives who had never heard the gospel. After making contact, the young missionaries were murdered for their efforts, the natives spearing them to death, and the shock was such that the whole world heard about it. Years later, when one of the men’s wife, and a sister, also sought out the natives, this time to forgive them, their example served as a powerful testimony to the truth and power of the Good News. Many of these same natives then converted in a powerful example of how God can completely make over a man, from murderer to humble follower. If this animated account grabs your kids' attention, you might want to follow up with the feature film version or, better yet, the documentary that really gets into the natives' spiritual transformation. Cautions Though this is a cartoon it should definitely be previewed by adults as some scenes – specifically when the missionaries get speared – will be too intense for young children. So I'd suggest this is for kids 10 and up. Conclusion "The Torchlighters" is a series of animated films created by Voice of the Martyrs to teach children from 8-12 about the many people who have been persecuted for their love of God. The animation is consistently solid, and while the topic matter – persecution – is somber, the depictions of torture are quite muted, and age-appropriate. That said, I'll note again that parents should preview this one, because it is one of the more visually shocking. The Jim Elliot Story is reasonably entertaining, but more to the point, it is highly educational. To put it another way, children should see it, and won't mind seeing it, but likely won't want to watch it again and again. So it's a good one for Christian schools, but not ideal for the family video library. And right now you can watch it for free below. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Noah’s Ark: Thinking outside the box

Documentary 35 minutes, 2008 Rating: 8/10 This is a fun and fast look at what Noah’s ark might really have looked like. The picture most of us have in our heads comes from classic paintings, which show an ungainly, rotund, oversized rowboat that simply doesn’t look seaworthy. Or we see in our mind’s eye those cute cartoon depictions we remember from our children’s story Bible that had an ark so small the giraffes had to stick their necks out the top. No wonder, then, that so many people – Christians included – are skeptical about the Bible’s account of Noah, his ark and the Flood. But that's not at all what the Bible described. As Tim Lovett shows (in both this documentary and the fantastic book that shares the same name), close examination of what the text says gives us dimensions that have more in common with a modern ocean-going oil supertanker than with the bathtub toy ark we played with as a kid. Lovett has also studied ancient ship-building practices and finds in them a hint as to how the bow and stern might have looked. He argues that ancient (post-Flood) boats probably copied these distinctive and stabilizing design features from the ark. While a lot of this is guesswork, these are educated, and more importantly, respectful guesses, and highlight what God has actually shared in His Word. Crisp computer animation, large-scale models and a liberal dose of good-natured humor make this a documentary that parents and teens will enjoy. You can see the trailer below, and find the film on various streaming platforms, and also watch it for free on Answers in Genesis's website here. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

Curious George

Animated / Family 86 min / 2006 Rating: 8/10 George is a monkey whose curiosity always gets the best of him. And in this, the first film and lead-in for the (fantastic!) TV series of the same name, that curiosity gets him his first meeting with the Man in the Yellow Hat, and then gets him transported from the jungle right across the ocean to the United States. And that’s only the start of the adventure! While many a children's animated film has humor that only an older audience will understand, there is no deeper level in this one. But mom and dad can appreciate the beauty. I first watched this with 5 other adults, and we all enjoyed it in large part because of the bright gorgeous visuals. In the TV show, we’re told repeatedly that “George is a monkey and he can do things that you can’t.” George can swing in trees and climb buildings, which we can’t, and he can also get into certain sorts of trouble and not actually be naughty, which we can’t do. For example, in one scene George paints the walls of an apartment with a jungle scene. He didn’t have permission. But as a monkey, he didn’t know he needed it, so it isn’t nearly the bad thing it would be if a person had done it. Parents can make the point the film misses: don’t imitate monkeys, even cute ones. Another caution: the Man in the Yellow Hat briefly talks a little evolution in his role as a museum guide. More notable: our “hero” agrees to go along with a lie that’ll trick the public into believing a 2-inch statue is actually 40 feet tall. Parents will need to hit the pause button to explain that the hero is failing the test here…and so much so that the villain of the film is the one protesting that lying is wrong! I’ll add one more caution even though it isn’t directly related to the film. If this gets your kids interested in Curious George books, parents should know the original stories, by H.A. Rey, often portray George as not simply curious but flat-out disobedient. That changes the nature of his hijinks from being simply a misunderstanding, to being rebellion. There are newer books based on the TV show that are good, but the originals have this nastier version of George that isn’t nearly as fun. While there are some cautions to consider, this is, overall, a gorgeous, gentle, sweet film that children will want to watch multiple times. Teens? Maybe not. But mom and dad won’t mind coming along for the ride, if only to appreciate the visual feast. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Life's Story: the one that hasn't been told

Documentary 2004 / 58 minutes Rating: 7/10 This is a gorgeous investigation of how Creation evidences its Creator. Life's Story was filmed in more than ten countries and it takes us under the ocean waters too. We're introduced to lions, parrotfish, dolphins, giraffes and so many more critters, exploring the genius apparent not only in their bodies, but in their instincts, and even in their relationship with other animals. So, for example, we learn how the parrotfish feeds on the algae that grow on coral formations – this fish needs the coral to serve as its shelter and food source. But the coral also needs the parrotfish to clear away the algae, which otherwise might grow unchecked, and choke off the coral. This symbiosis – two creatures needing each other in order to survive – is a testament to God's intertwined design. It's also a problem for evolutionists to explain, because if each needs the other, then which evolved first, the coral or the parrotfish? God's genius is showcased with one illustration after another, even delving into the creative ways different animal babies are born. Did you know a giraffe baby is born with its mother still standing up, and the afterbirth functioning as a kind of elastic cord to slow the baby's 6-foot descent to the ground? How cool is that? And there's loads of knowledge bombs like that spread throughout. Caution At one point early on the narrator declares the "debate over the origins of life has raged for 150 years, but now, finally, the debate is over." Though he states it quietly, and his British accent adds some gravitas to it, this is hyperbolic. Evolutionists still exist, so the debate continues, even if it really shouldn't (Rom. 1:20). Other overstatements like this mean that as fun as this could be to watch with your family (while pointing out the hyperbole to the kids), it is not the film you'd show your college classmate who's skeptical about the case against evolution. They'd be better off watching Evolution's Achilles' Heels and Dismantled instead. Conclusion A handful of overstatements are what demote this down to being a good, not great, documentary. In its favor it has impressive footage – we're getting close enough to count the lion's teeth, and diving down deep into an underwater world we'd otherwise never see. Viewers will also love all the insights into the intricacies of these critters which are sprinkled liberally throughout. The narrator's calm voice is at times almost sleep-inducing, but the stunning visuals will wake you back up. And if you enjoy this one, be sure to check out the sequel: Life Story 2: the reason for the journey. Another mark in its favor? You can watch it for free below. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Sue Thomas F.B.Eye

Drama / TV series 41 minutes / 2002 Rating: 8/10 Twenty years back when it first hit the airwaves, this sure was a crowd-pleaser in Christian households. Based on the real life of deaf F.B.I. agent Sue Thomas, it combined the intrigue of police investigations with the unique comic pairing of the courageous but somewhat naive Sue and her lovable but not-always-so-well-behaving hearing dog Levi. The shows were generally tame, but not lame; a Christian series where the acting might not have been Oscar-worthy, but was never cringe-worthy either. In the pilot episode Sue starts her new job in the FBI and concludes that she was just a diversity hire, and isn't happy about it. But her lip-reading abilities soon catch the attention of agent Jack Hudson who realizes that Sue has just the skill-set their surveillance team needs. Cautions When Jack Hudson first learns Sue can read lips, he challenges her to tell him what one of his colleagues 50-feet away is saying. It turns out he is making weekend plans with the woman he is sitting with. But, as Jack shares with Sue, that woman is not his girlfriend. This two-timing is a minor plot element, but makes what might otherwise be an all-ages show something better suited to older teens and adults. Conclusion I've only rewatched the first episode to this point, it was as charming as I remembered, and I look forward to watching the other 56 episodes. Canadians and Americans will be able to watch the pilot episode below (unfortunately, the video won't work outside of North America) and find more on Encourage TV on YouTube here (you'll have to use their search function to find the others). You can also watch it for free on RedeemTV here, though you'll need to sign up for a free account. The advantage to doing so is that it is much easier to sort through the episodes there. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Theology, Watch for free

Free film: The God Who Speaks

Documentary 2018 / 92 minutes Rating: 9/10 All of us at times have wondered what it would be like if God spoke to us directly, as He did to Abraham, Moses, and the prophets. In The God Who Speaks, dozens of theologians and pastors make the compelling case that God has indeed spoken to us through the Scriptures, and that the Word of God has ample compelling evidence to its validity and historicity. The contributors to the 90-minute documentary include well known apologists and ministers such as Alistair Begg, R.C. Sproul, Albert Mohler, Frank Turek, Kevin DeYoung, and Norman Geisler. These learned theologians make the point that God has revealed Himself through His creative power in the wonder of the natural world, but has given a more clear narrative of who He is and His plan for us through the inspired Scriptures. Frank Turek states: “You need God specifically in propositional language telling us certain facts about Himself. You can get some of those facts from nature, but you can’t get all of them: you can’t get that God is triune, you can’t get the plan of salvation from the stars. You can only get it from special revelation. So if we’re going to be saved and sanctified, we need the Bible.” The movie starts with an overview of what the Bible is – a collection of 66 books written by more than 40 authors, all inspired by God to be a cohesive message pointing to the central turning point of history – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians will enjoy this movie: it gives a powerful testimony about God’s Word, and equips us with talking points that make us ready to defend the validity of the Bible with compelling evidence. The target audience seems to be people with at least some understanding of theological terms and familiarity with the Bible as a whole. This makes it less of an ideal tool for evangelism, as viewers without this familiarity may not follow the line of argument as comfortably. The God Who Speaks was produced by American Family Studios, and you can watch it for free, below. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Free film: The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry

Family / Drama 96 minutes; 2008 RATING: 6/10 In the summer of 1970 three boys develop a friendship with an elderly man, Jonathan Sperry, who teaches them about the necessity of living out, and spreading, God’s Word. The first time I watched The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry I stopped about ten minutes in. The three principal child actors weren’t great – not horrible, but awkward enough to get in the way of the story. But when I shared my thoughts with a friend, he encouraged me to give it a longer watch, and appreciate it for what it had to offer. I'll say it did pick up a bit at the 15- or 16-minute mark. And it does have something else to offer – this is a “message film” that uses storytelling to teach Christian morals. The lessons the three boys learn from Mr. Sperry include: how important it is to share the Bible with everyone we know how we should look to older godly people to mentor us how a gentle word can turn away wrath (Prov. 15:1). how we should respond to bullies by using Matt. 5:38-42: “If your enemy takes a piece of your pizza, offer him two.” In a particularly illuminating conversation, Mr. Sperry teaches the boys that God’s love is evidenced in the Bible’s laws and restrictions. Mark: “The Lord is interested in the girls we like?" Mr. Sperry: “Absolutely. The Lord is interested in everything in our lives!” Albert: “Yeah, I know the Bible is always saying, don’t do this, don’t do that.” Mr. Sperry: “I never look at it that way. Now the Bible says not to steal. Would you like anyone stealing from you, Mark?" Mark: “No.” Mr. Sperry: “Well, I guess that’s a pretty good thing, isn’t it?” This lacks some in “believability” – Mr. Sperry is a bit too nice, and the bully in the story has a change of heart that happens a bit too quickly – but there is a value to these sorts of "message" films when we take them for the parables they are intended to be. Now, some of Mr. Sperry's lessons are forced but that'll make them easier for kids to catch. Others have Arminian overtones that parents should point out. But there's good fodder here for discussion. Viewers might be confused by the film's closing, which gives the impression that these were real people by noting what the boys grew up to be. But, as the opening of the film states, these are entirely fictional events. I'll also offer a spoiler because I think parents will appreciate the heads up that Mr. Sperry dies suddenly and unexpectedly near the film's end. That also teaches the boys an important lesson about God, but a harder lesson than the others. Overall, I'd give it a 5 out of 10 if it was just for the entertainment value, but I'm bumping it up one for the use parents can put it to. If you like this, the same director has a better "message" film called Time Changer. But this could make for a nice evening with younger kids to watch, hit the pause button, and discuss. Watch it for free below (with some commercial interruptions). ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Incredible Creatures That Defy Evolution I, II, and III

Dr. Jobe Martin was once an ardent 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. They encouraged him to investigate creation science, which Martin had never even heard of... but he was willing to take a look. The closer he looked, the more he realized that much of evolutionary theory was based, not on facts, but on assumptions. His three Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution documentaries are based off of his investigations. In each episode, he shares some of the most incredible features of a variety of creatures, since it was the intricate design evident that forced him to acknowledge that there was a Master Designer behind all this. In the first episode we learn: 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's 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 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. Equally amazing, it has a skull that is designed to do the work of a jackhammer without giving the poor fellow a headache. Dr. Martin showcased a host of other creatures, and when I first watched this with my preschool daughters, they were all amazed. Though the videos are primarily intended for children, my wife and I were also engaged, so this would make for good family viewing. It has 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. That this is a children's video means it is also not the first film you'd insist your hard-nosed evolutionist friend watch. 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 (also free to see!) and its more mature, thorough anti-evolutionary argument. While all three films in this "Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution" series are good, the first is the very best of the bunch. You can buy high-resolution versions on DVD, or find them on some streaming services. But the producers have also made lower resolution versions available for free, with commercial interruptions. You can watch them below. INCREDIBLE CREATURES THAT DEFY EVOLUTION I Documentary 47 min / 2000 Rating: 7/10 Featured creatures include the bombardier beetle, giraffe, woodpecker, chicken egg, beaver, platypus, spider, gecko, and more. INCREDIBLE CREATURES THAT DEFY EVOLUTION II Documentary 46 min / 2002 Rating: 7/10 Featured creatures include humpback whales, Pacific golden plovers, dragonflies, hippos, lightning bugs, bears, earthworms, elephants, and more. INCREDIBLE CREATURES THAT DEFY EVOLUTION III Documentary 79 min / 2006 Rating: 7/10 Featured creatures include mussels, horses, ostriches, hummingbirds, dogs, sea cows, butterflies, cuttlefish, penguins, and more. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

The John Bunyan Story

Animated 2006 / 29 minutes RATING: 8/10 What is likely the most influential novel of all time was written by a man of little education, though with a lot of free time on his hands. John Bunyan may have written his most famous work, The Pilgrim's Progress, during his 12-year stay in prison for preaching in an illegal church. For those who aren't familiar with it, the book is a metaphor for the Christian life, with a pilgrim traveling from the "City of Destruction" to the "Celestial City" and along the way having to contend with all sorts of trials and temptations personified (like a giant named Despair, or a judge named Hate-Good). Bunyan, by his own account, was not a nice young man, so he understood temptation. And once he became a Christian, he paid a price for it, so he knew trials. And this animated account gives a great, engaging overview of it all. However, the film does indulge in creative license, taking as literal the opening lines of The Pilgrim's Progress, where Bunyan wrote "...as I slept, I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold, I saw a man clothed with rags..." They portray the book as being inspired by Bunyan's dreams during his time in jail, and while that might even be true, it's disputed when exactly Bunyan first started writing his bestseller, so the facts are harder to come by than it might seem here. Cautions So one caution might be that younger viewers should be told not to make much of the little details, which may or may not be true. The other caution concerns age-appropriateness. This is animated, so parents might think it is for little children. But a battle scene when the young Bunyan is a soldier shows a man next to him getting killed by a musket ball. The scene is made all the more dramatic when the distraught Bunyan cries out in grief, reaches for his now dead friend, and discovers that his own hands are now covered in blood. This wouldn't bother a ten-year-old, but some younger children will be disturbed. There's also a dream sequence with a dragon attacking Bunyan. Again, not overly scary by teen standards, but it could be a bit much for preschoolers. Conclusion I've rated this an 8, but that's only for an audience that's read Pilgrim's Progress – those that don't already know the book, won't be too interested in learning about the man behind it. But if you do know it, this will be an engaging half-hour's viewing. Our family, from eight all the way up, quite enjoyed it. Watch it below for free (with some commercial interruptions). ...

Drama, Family, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Time Changer

Drama / Sci-fi / Family 99 min / 2002 Rating: 7/10 In the year 1890, seminary professor Russell Carlisle proposes teaching morality to the masses but without making mention of God. He reasons to his fellow professors that even if people don’t become Christians it would be a good thing if they were at least taught that stealing was wrong. If that sounds familiar, that's the point. Director Rich Christiano, in his boldest and best film, is taking on the Christian trend of publicly defending God's Truth – about the unborn, or marriage, sexuality, gender and more – but without mentioning God Himself. While we'll have to wait a decade or two to see how that approach plays out for us, Professor Carlisle gets his feedback in a much more immediate fashion – a colleague uses a time machine to send the professor one hundred years into the future. Upon arriving in present-day America, Carlisle sees that morals founded on anything but God have no foundation at all, and are just dismissed as opinion. While the film has a serious point, the time travel duck-out-of-water angle allows for some comedy too. However, Carlisle isn't as shocked by modern-day technology as he is by modern-day spiritual malaise. He's surprised to meet someone who works on Sunday and doesn't attend church regularly. And when he's taken to a movie theater, he finds the film shocking, and not because of the violence or sex. As the time traveler runs from the theatre he shouts: “Stop the movie! You must stop this movie! The man on the screen just blasphemed the name of the Lord! There must be some mistake – you must stop this movie, this is an abomination!” Cautions Only caution I could think of is one use of the word "gosh." Conclusion This is a solid movie with an important and powerfully presented Christian message. From simply an entertainment perspective, it gets a 7, but its deeper point means this is a cut above most other Christian fare. Because there isn't much action, and maybe a few too many philosophical discussions, this won't keep the attention of younger kids. But for mid to older teens, it could be a fantastic one to watch and discuss with parents. You can watch the trailer by clicking here, and for a limited time you can watch the whole film for free (with commercials) below. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews

Hidden Places

Romance / Drama 2005 / 86 minutes Rating: 6/10 In the Depression of the 1930s, the young widow Eliza Wyatt is trying to help her father-in-law keep their orange farm going. But when he dies suddenly of a heart attack, Eliza doesn't know what to do. She has two children to support, and her only other help is her Aunt Batty. But between the four of them, there's just too much work, too little time, and too pressing a deadline, with a mortgage payment coming due. Then along comes Gabe, a First World War veteran, wandering the rails and backroads of the country, heading away from his home, but towards nothing in particular. They can't afford to pay him. But he ain't looking for much more than a roof above his head. Based on a Lynn Austin novel of the same name, this is a pretty typical Hallmark film, different from the others primarily in that it does have some Christian overtones. I liked this more than my wife, and I think that might have been the orange grove setting, and learning a little bit about how they brought the harvest in way back then. Caution Like many a Christian film, the source of hope and security in this film doesn't seem to be God, but faith. Am I splitting hairs? I don't think so. Even as God is referenced repeatedly – the family reads the Bible together, and Gabe leads them in a prayer – when anyone speak of the importance of "having faith," it seems to be more about keeping up the positive self-talk than an encouragement to put their trust in the almighty Creator of the universe. Conclusion If you're looking for a "safe" film, this fills that bill, but it isn't a keeper. I picked this up on DVD for a couple bucks at the local Christian thrift store, I got my money's worth, and now I'll be donating it back. The trailer below hits the plot points, but I will note that the fast cuts, and the peppy music, might have you thinking Hidden Places is something other than a leisurely-paced film. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Expelled: No intelligence allowed

Documentary 95 min /  2008 Rating: 8/10 Comedian Ben Stein (who once also wrote speeches for Richard Nixon) is our guide in this film that dares to question Darwin. Stein travels the world doing interviews with scientists who have lost their position merely because in their writings they have allowed for the possibility of there being an “Intelligent Designer” involved in the creation of the universe. That does not mean that these scientists necessarily believe what the Bible says about creation – far from it. Many believe in evolution, but see problems with it. And for bringing up those doubts they are being denied tenure and even fired. So what can we expect from looking at this documentary? Let us first say that Reformed people believe the Bible to be God’s Word. So we don’t need to hear Stein’s defense of “Intelligent Design.” We already know what’s true – we have the first six chapters of Genesis to let us know that God created the world in six days. And it is important that as parents and teachers we keep this knowledge before our children. But as our children get older and start studying at higher institutions they are confronted with Darwinian theory. I am sure that sometimes it must be difficult to hold on to faith when confronted by a world that keeps reminding us that our point of view is “just a belief" and that the rest of the world – those who do not believe in the Bible – believes in what Darwin taught. There is a danger that some of our children might even compartmentalize their faith, thinking the Bible is good for Sunday, but is not to be believed when it comes time to do science on Monday and the rest of the week. Nothing is further from the truth. So this film can be an encouragement to struggling Christians by showing them that not all people believe the Darwinian theory and that even in the secular world there is room for other ideas. How best can we use it? I have thought long and hard about this. I think it is important that parents see this one with their children – children shouldn’t see it alone. Parents can rent or buy the documentary (the DVD has an accompanying leader’s guide) and go through it with their older children to show what is being taught and how. If used together with the guide we can arm our children to see how the Bible and the created world reveal God’s glory. So I recommend this documentary provided it is used in the right way. "Expelled" can be bought and streamed most anywhere. Watch the trailer below and watch narrator Ben Stein's engaging 3-part interview with R.C. Sproul about the film here, here, and here. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews

End of the Spear

Drama 2005 / 108 minutes Rating: 7/10 This review first appeared in the January 2006 issue How does a Christian group succeed in presenting a major motion picture in secular theaters? How do they present a true story about the Truth setting an entire native tribe free…and do it without the director and producer of the film taking too much dramatic license? I must admit to being a bit disappointed when I viewed The End of the Spear during its opening weekend - it wasn’t quite the Christian story I had been hoping for. But then I spoke with a friend of mine from Wycliffe Bible Translators who had met Steve Saint, the author of the book from which the film was made, and I became much more sympathetic to the challenge he faced. This movie is based on the true story of five missionaries who went to Ecuador back in the 1950’s to the Waodani tribe (known to most as the Aucas), a fierce homicidal “Stone Age” tribe. Many people are acquainted with this account via the famous book Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot, the wife of the missionary Jim Elliot. Jim Elliot is also well known as the author of the quote: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” The missionaries reached out to the tribe but all five men were speared to death. Later on some of their wives and a sister went back and lived with the tribe, teaching them about Christ, and many were converted, giving up their violent ways. A church still exists there today, with Steve Saint, the son of the slain missionary Nate Saint, living among them. One movie becomes two The original goal was to make just one movie – The End of the Spear. But Steve Saint wasn’t willing to give in to the moviemakers’ desire to take dramatic license and change the actual events of the real story. In the end a compromise was made – first they made a true-to-life documentary. Afterwards, Steve consented to their taking some dramatic license in another film as long as it was still close enough to reality. The documentary, entitled Beyond the Gates of Splendor, was released to DVD in October 2005. It gives the entire story of the missionaries, from their days in Wheaton College until current times. The family members of the five missionaries are interviewed, along with several members of the Waodani tribe. Their faith in Christ and eagerness for their mission will no doubt be an inspiration to all who view this film. As for The End of the Spear, the story is told from the point of view of the natives, with less emphasis on the missionaries themselves. It focuses on what they thought and learned. It isn’t intended to be a “tract,” but rather, as one local commentator put it, it’s supposed to tell a true religious story “without beating people over the head with it.” An obscured message The major disappointment is that the name of Jesus Christ is never mentioned. We learn that the missionaries wanted to teach the people to give up spearing one another, and they would not kill the Waodani because those people were not ready for Heaven. God is referred to by His Waodani name, and the fact that He had a Son who “was speared but did not spear back” is mentioned. A converted Waodani woman shares with her tribe the fact that God left “carvings” for them to follow – in other words, information directly from Him on how He wanted them to live. But when the tribesman asks to see the carvings, no Bible is quoted from or shown. There is also a scene when the missionaries are afraid, yet they do not even pray! We learn that those who listened to the missionaries became peaceful, and near the end we do see that the “Gospel” has been translated into Waodani. But is all of this enough to accurately explain the transforming power of Christ that took place? There are enough pieces to the message/puzzle there for someone to take it and elaborate on it later. I couldn’t help but think of urban gang violence and revenge when the Waodani were spearing each other repeatedly at the beginning of the film. The clue is there: the same message that helped this tribe could help others. In fact, according to the movie's promotional materials, it was this hope for spreading the Gospel message that convinced the Waodani to put aside their embarrassment regarding their history and give permission for it to be told. But what could we really learn about the change of heart that took place in these people? Basically, we discovered that when the tribe learned about God’s Son not retaliating their lives were changed. I was left thinking that based only on what was in the film it would be possible for secular viewers to think of (the un-named) Christ as a Gandhi or any other non-divine “good teacher,” and remain happy and un-offended. At the end of the credits the filmmakers could have added, “no non-Christian positions were harmed in the making of this film.” To those of us who believe in the Truth, it is sad that the entire story of God’s redeeming love could not have been spelled out more clearly. We can hope that there is enough interest from the film to lead people to watch the documentary afterwards. Some final considerations A few other factors regarding the film should be mentioned. The scenery in both films is absolutely breathtaking, and especially so on the big screen where I saw it. Another factor to consider is the native dress. Missionaries have to deal with that, and while the Beyond the Gates of Splendor documentary showed the more authentic dress (read: almost naked), The End of the Spear film actually covered the people more than was authentic. If there is any time when one might say that nudity is acceptable, this would be it. Still, I found it rather disturbing, watching the thonged naked behinds of men running through the jungle for two hours. It’s something to consider before taking the whole family to see the film. There is no greater arrogance in our society today than for someone to state that he has the Truth. So, even in a movie telling the story of the Truth transforming the lives of many, Christ’s name and most tenets of the missionaries’ faith were carefully avoided. It reminded me of some brands of diet ice cream – where the basic substance is there but I find myself searching for the missing flavor. It was better than nothing, but it left me disappointed. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone that believes….” Romans 1:16a ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Beyond the Gates of Splendor

Documentary 96 min; 2005 Rating: 7/10 In 1956 a team of five missionaries were killed by the Waodani tribesmen they were trying to befriend. The murders caught the attention of the world, but what happened next wasn't widely reported. Beyond the Gates of Splendor tells the story of what happened when one of the missionaries' widows and a sister came to live with the very people who had killed their loved ones. They did so at the risk of their own lives. At the time of the missionaries' contact with them, the Waodani were a murderous people, not only to newcomers but with each other too. The documentary drives home that point with one native recounting his family tree by pointing out where each member of his family had been speared to death – his uncle over there, his dad a few years later by that bigger tree, another uncle further away in the bushes. “Waodani children grew up understanding they would spear and live, or be speared and die.” No one died of old age. But as brutal and vengeful as the Waodani were, the bloodshed stopped when the women's example was used by the Holy Spirit – some of the tribe turned to God. Caution Readers should bear in mind that, due to the native style of dress, there are frequent, though very brief moments of National Geographic type nudity, including topless Waodani women, and a lot of naked backsides. There are also some descriptive conversations about violent deaths, and some images shared of the missionaries' dead bodies. Conclusion While an animated video, The Jim Elliot Story, and a dramatized feature film, End of the Spear, have also been made about the missionaries, this documentary was needed to fill in the rest of the story – how the tribe lives today – and to bring more to the fore the spiritual transformation God worked, changing these rebellious murderers into repentant children. While some Christian films can be preachy, Beyond the Gates trusts that the facts of the matter will speak for themselves. That makes this a very good presentation of an astonishing story. Be sure to check out the trailer below. ...

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