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Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Is Genesis History?

Documentary 100 min / 2017 RATING: 8/10 We live and breathe and move in an atmosphere that is full of assumptions. We assume that what we see is how things have always been. And our friends and colleagues at work assume that scientists have disproved the Bible. And even if we know better, we hear so often that the earth is the product of millions and billions of years of slow erosion and evolution, those assumptions can impact us too – we can begin to wonder, "Is it crazy to believe that this planet is only 6,000 years old, that God made all of this in just six days?" Is Genesis History? is a film that can help to quell those voices of doubt, the voices that ask, "Did God really say?"  Like thoughtful Christian apologetics, this movie can give us confidence that it is logical and entirely defensible for a modern person to fully believe that God's Word describes historical events and real people. Narrator Del Tackett opens the documentary showing a series of beautiful rock formations and deep canyons, and wonders aloud how many years these magnificent sites took to develop. We might assume thousands or even millions. But no – he reveals that the landscape around him was formed in just a few months, after the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980! This is a powerful illustration of just how our observations are colored by our preconceptions. Throughout the film, Tackett speaks with various PhD-holding scientists about their areas of expertise, and often in the midst of beautiful scenery. These passionate and articulate scholars contrast two major competing views of history: the conventional view that all we see around us developed over billions of years, and the Biblical view that points to a young earth in which God acted directly and with incredible power to create and form the world. Many of these experts point to the great Flood that covered the whole earth as an explanation for the geological formations we can observe in the Grand Canyon for example, and for the way that fossils appear intact and often in groups and herds. The massive power of the waters below, bursting forth, and the windows of heaven opening, caused enormous changes to the earth, killing most life. The flood was universal and catastrophic and awesome in its destructive power, and its effects can be seen all over the world still today – if you have eyes to see it! The format of Is Genesis History? consisting of questions and answers filmed in interesting locations, with helpful illustrations, makes it easy to understand and engaging. It probably won't keep the attention of younger children, but middle school students on up to senior citizens will enjoy and benefit from this film. I can see this movie being beneficial for our young people's societies, and the producers have made available free study and discussion material at their website www.IsGenesisHistory.com. This is a great film that encourages us to view the Bible as accurate history, and is a timely reminder that God's Word is true yesterday, today and tomorrow. And right now you can watch it for free on YouTube below: Further discussion Other reviews Tim Challies Douglas Wilson WORLD magazine Paul Nelson controversy One of the interviewees in the film, Paul Nelson, while a 6-day creationist, is also a major figure in the Intelligent Design movement. He didn't like how he came out in the film, and explains why here. Del Tackett, film narrator and producer, responds here. Todd Wood, another interviewee, also has some thoughts here. Biologos and response Biologos is a group that seeks to promote an evolutionary worldview in Christian circles. They didn't like the film, and posted a critique here. Creation Ministries responded here. This review first appeared in the Sept/Oct 2017 issue....

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

A Return to Grace: Luther's life and legacy

Docudrama 2017 / 106 minutes Rating: 8/10 What makes this a must-see is its unique mix of drama and documentary. Other great Luther documentaries exist, but the most engaging of "talking heads" can't really grab the attention of a broad audience. I have seen even children enjoy one of the many dramatized accounts of his life, but drama can't go into the same depth as a documentary – an actor can show us Luther's despair or his joy, but they can't depict the greatness of God's grace, so, in this genre, it goes largely unexplored. A Return to Grace is a docudrama – half documentary and half drama, making good use of the strengths of each. There are learned theologians to give us the background and explain the Scriptural debates that occurred, and there are also elaborately set and well-acted scenes from Luther's life. I would guess it is a near 50/50 split. Pádraic Delaney's Luther is very believable (and maybe second only to Niall MacGinnis' 1953 portrayal), speaking volumes with not just his tongue, but his grimaces, smiles, and silences. I've probably watched at least a half dozen Luther films, and I've never seen the chronology of Luther's life depicted as clearly. There are also explanations offered here that are left as mysteries elsewhere. Have you ever wondered why the Pope didn't just crush this monk early on when he was still seemingly insignificant? The answer shared here is that the Pope didn't want to make an enemy of Luther's prince, Frederick III, because the prince was one of the seven electors who would choose the next Holy Roman Emperor. The Pope had no direct say in that selection, and if he hoped to have any sort of influence at all, he would need to be on the good side of the electors. God so set the scene that the Pope had to act cautiously and with restraint and couldn't just burn Luther at the stake. While I was familiar with only one of the theologians interviewed (United Reformed professor Carl Trueman), they all had some great Luther gems to share. James Korthals, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary contributed this one about Luther's view on vocation: "The  farmer out in the field pitching dung is doing a greater work for God than the monk in the monastery praying for his own salvation." This was, at the time, a revolutionary idea of vocation. Even today, many seem to think that minister and missionary are the true God-glorifying jobs, and all else is second best. In saying all jobs could be done to God's glory, Luther presented all fruitful work as being worthy of respect. This is one of the ideas highlighted in the film's alternate title: Martin Luther: The Idea That Changed the World. The story here is first and foremost about Luther rediscovering the gracious nature of God, but it is also about Luther's influence as it impacted people far beyond the church door, and about the ripples that continue to be felt even today, and even in the secular world. Cautions I have no real cautions for the film. I was a little concerned when a Roman Catholic Cardinal, Timothy Dolan, made a few brief appearances. But he doesn't say much of anything, and even concedes that Luther's rebellion was understandable against that old corrupted Roman Catholic Church. He might be implying that today's Roman Catholic Church is different, but he isn't given the time to make that case. Conclusion Return to Grace's drama/documentary combination draws viewers in without sacrificing depth. I'll add that this still isn't one for preteens, but for adults, and teens who are on their way, this will be a fascinating presentation of the man, and what he learned about our great God. So don't save it for Reformation Day – it's free to see now (though with some commercials). ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Facing darkness

Documentary 99 minutes / 2017 Rating 8/10 In early 2020, when New York was hit with a surge of serious Covid-19 cases, Samaritan's Purse set up a mobile field hospital to relieve the State's overwhelmed health services. Running towards danger was nothing new for this Christian group – they'd already been busy helping with the Covid outbreak in Italy. And years earlier, when West Africa was faced with an Ebola outbreak, they led the way there too, despite the horrorific nature of that disease. Facing Darkness is a documentary about that 2014 outbreak, and Samaritan's Purse's courageous response to it. This is certainly not a film for everyone, but it might be great viewing for anyone feeling overwhelmed by our current Covid situation. Here are Christians facing risks many times greater, and while they are afraid – terrified even – it isn't a contradiction to say they were not fearful. They kept working. They kept helping, even when one, and then two, of their own staff became infected. As Samaritan's Purse president Franklin Graham detailed, when he got the news, it was devastating: "My phone rang...and Ken Isaac said, 'Franklin, one of our doctors, Kent Bradley has ebola.' I didn't even know how to pray. I just kept saying, 'Lord, why? We were there to save life. We are there in your name. Why?'" And, of course, they weren't the only ones impacted by the outbreak. The film begins with a young man sharing, one after another, the names of his aunts, uncles, his mother, brother, sister, nephews, and other relatives, who were all taken by Ebola. It is heartbreaking! So why should anyone see this film? Why would anyone want to? Because, at a time when the world is overwhelmed with fear, here are Christians who were certain God was with them, and trusted He would provide for them even in the face of sickness and death. These are people who live out the promise God has given, that whatever the here and now, He has treasure stored up for them in heaven. That makes this such a hope-filled film. It is wonderful! Caution With death an ongoing topic, no matter the safe visuals, this is not a film for children. Conclusion Facing Darkness tells an amazing and encouraging story – brothers and sisters in the Lord showing what it means to trust Him with our all – and that's an example that we can all benefit from. Check out the trailer below, and watch the documentary for free (with ads) at Tubi, or rent it at Amazon, Vimeo, and elsewhere. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

The Free Speech Apocalypse

Documentary 89 minutes / 2015 Rating: 8/10 In 2012 Pastor Douglas Wilson gave a public lecture on the contentious topic of sexuality God's way. But it wasn't simply a public lecture: his event took place on the campus of a large university and was advertised well ahead of time, giving campus LGBT groups and their supporters time to arrange protests and arrange to fill the auditorium seats. In addition, this wasn't just any university campus: it was Indiana University, home of the Kinsey Institute, where the infamous sexologist Alfred Kinsey helped launch the Sexual Revolution. For a talk on God's thoughts about sex this was as hostile a setting as could be had. His talk, and all the hysteria and hoopla that surrounded it, is the centerpiece of director Darren Doanne's new documentary The Free Speech Apocalypse. Doanne uses the event to tackle three related subjects: The intolerance of the Left – As the title suggests, free speech and tolerance are the main topics tackled. Douglas Wilson comes to Indiana to dialogue, but that's not what the Left wants. Instead activist students scream and shout: "We believe in free speech, but this is hate speech!” False allegations made about Douglas Wilson – When students chant, "Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay; Douglas Wilson go away!" we get to see how Wilson is able to respond and rebut these accusations. The difference between Left and Right – Wilson notes, "this is the difference between the conservative mindset and the liberal mindset: The conservative thinks always in terms of tradeoffs. The liberal thinks in terms of solutions. The liberal wants solutions. And he doesn't want to think in term of tradeoffs. He doesn't think there is ever a price tag for what he is advocating." Liberals demand more and more, not thinking about how someone will have to pay for this. Conservatives are grown up enough to realize there are no perfect solutions – everything comes with a cost. Related to this last point, the American Civil War is touched on. In the US it is a near universal belief that this was a good and just war because it ended slavery. But it also resulted in 600,000 dead - that was the tradeoff that liberals don't consider. American presidential candidate Ted Cruz appears in the film for less than a minute, but his interview highlights how even conservatives and Christians can forget to consider the tradeoffs. Concerning the Civil War he says it "was absolutely a just war" but concerning abortion, "We have the ability to change this, and to change this without a war fought in the streets." So he understands that war would be an unsatisfactory tradeoff for today, but won't even consider whether that might have been true for the Civil War. Cautions The topic matter – sexuality God's way vs. the world's way, and tolerance God's way vs. the world's way – means this is a film for mature audiences only. The F-bomb is put to regular use by students, and these occurrences are not bleeped out. The one thing I found surprising was the selection, by the director, of some backing music for a ten-second segue that also included multiple f-bombs – an unnecessary, but fortunately very short, addition. There are also a few brief shots of homosexuals and others prancing about, and one line-drawn diagram shown for a few seconds that includes a depiction of a naked male butt. Conclusion This is an enormously ambitious film but because it tries to fit so much in, it might leave viewers exhausted by the time the credits role. But it is worth putting in the effort. Few Christians are both able and willing to beard the liberal lion in his den, and it is fun and encouraging to watch Wilson venture forth. Here we get to see a brave man standing up, outnumbered, but not outmaneuvered because he stands on God's Word. This film is also a must-see because it shows what is coming and what we are up against. As the Left continues to marginalize Christians, it may well be that in some circumstances no matter what we say or do we will not be able to win the debate. And not because of any weakness in our position, but rather because the other side has no interest in discussing. They'll want to meet our words with their shouts, or their claims of victimhood, or even their fists. However even then our light can shine. If our words are shouted down, our demeanor can stand in sharp contrast. In Wilson we see a joyful warrior, secure in the knowledge that God has already won. This is how we need to be. The Free Speech Apocalypse can be bought on DVD or purchased for streaming here. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Logic on Fire

Documentary 2015 / 102 minutes RATING: 7/10 Even if you don’t know Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones (1899-1981) you likely do know some of the people praising him in this documentary. The list includes John MacArthur, Iain Murray, Kevin DeYoung, Sinclair Ferguson, and RC Sproul, who say of him: “I believe that Lloyd Jones was to twentieth century Britain what Charles Spurgeon was to the nineteenth century.” Like Spurgeon, this was a man God used to stir up Britain. The joy in watching this documentary is to see what God did, and how He acted through this servant. Another good quote from one of the interviewees highlighted how very different Lloyd Jones was from the pastors of his time and many of the celebrity pastors of our own. …he wasn’t at all seeker-friendly. In fact he was seeker-unfriendly, because he felt that a non-Christian ought to be deeply uncomfortable in church. Because you actually want him to be uncomfortable because you need to realize your need for the Gospel. The only caution I would offer is that while Lloyd Jones was generally Reformed, he got some notable matters wrong. For example, his views on baptism differed with those of the denomination he served – he seems to have opposed paedo-baptism, though not loudly. But that is an aside because it is his preaching, and his generally Reformed perspective, that are the focus here. Both my wife and I really enjoyed this very polished production, and it might be the most re-watched documentary in our house.  It comes comes with 2 bonus disks and a small hardback book among the extras. Logic on Fire would make a great gift for any pastor and anyone who enjoys Church history, or documentaries. It can be rented and streamed online for $6 US here. Canadians and Americans can order the DVD set via the Banner of Truth US website BannerOfTruth.org/US. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews

The Song

Drama / Musical 2014 / 116 minutes RATING: 9/10 The Song destroys all the expectations we have for Christian films. It has great acting, a great script, an even better soundtrack...and also infidelity, abortion, suicide, drugs, and more infidelity. It's far better than most any Christian film you've seen, but also much grittier. It is based on, but does not pretend to be, the story of King David and Solomon. The setting is Nashville, with Jed King an aspiring country singer who hasn't yet measured up to the status of his superstar father. But he also hasn't fallen into any of his excesses either.  When he meets Rose, the manager of a winery, Jed writes a special song for her that turns into his first major hit. From there we see him rise to spectacular heights. Like Solomon before him, he has it all. And like Solomon (and his superstar father), that's not enough – he falls to temptation, in his case involving the lead singer of his opening act. That doesn't explain how very different this film is from the typical Christian fare, so let's focus on two things that make it remarkable. The first is the outstanding pairing of story with biblical narration. All the "Solomonic texts"– Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and the Song of Solomon – are quoted regularly and impactfully. Jed is learning some hard lessons through the film, and he shares them, warning us of the ways of the adulterous women and the futility of having it all when it is all going to turn to dust in the end. Remarkable, too, is the music. It's another fantastic pairing this time of story and song: the musical performances are worth the price of admission right there! While praising it as highly as I can, I will add that this was a hard film to watch the first time, since, being familiar with both David and Solomon's story, my wife and I knew that at some point Jed's happy story was going to take a devastating, self-sabotaging turn. We actually ended up watching it in two nights, the first with all the fun romantic joking and giddiness of Jed convincing Rose to be his wife. We shut it off right before Jed was set to make his stupid devastating decisions (it wasn't hard to tell when that was going to happen). Then the next evening, we could start with that ugliness, ride it out, and then enjoy the end of the movie, where we got to see his life impacted by undeserved but gratefully received grace. CAUTIONS Even though we don't really see anything objectionable, the mature topic matter means this is not a film for children. Underscoring that point, it begins with a two-minute overview of the lowlights of David King's life. We see Jed's father singing on the Grand ol' Ole Opry and later catching his bandmate's wife swimming naked in a lake (the water obscures her), paralleling David seeing Bathsheba. While King David kills Uriah, in the film the husband, upon learning of his friend's and wife's betrayal, commits suicide. Thankfully this is all covered in a quick montage in the opening minutes. CONCLUSION Some films are gritty for the sake of being gritty. This is gritty for the sake of being true. But it is also funny, romantic, rousing, thought-provoking, and toe-tapping for the same reason: because that's what life is like too. I don't know if I gave The Song the pitch it deserves, so I'm linking to a few other reviews so you can get a second and third opinion. Plugged In – conservative Christian review Variety – a secular take If you want to dig into the film further, here's a list of some of the biblical references throughout the film. You can check out the unique trailer below, and rent the film online at Amazon and other online streaming services. ...

Drama

Alleged

Drama 93 minutes/ 2011 Rating: 7/10 The year is 1925, and Charlie Anderson's goal is to quit his job, leave his hometown of Dayton, Tennessee and work for legendary Baltimore Sun editor H.L. Mencken. When a legal battle in the town's one-room courthouse garners attention from the national media, Charlie thinks he may have just the news story he needs to grab Mencken's attention. Mencken turns out to be willing to teach Charlie how to craft an article. But close-up tutelage lets Charlie see that his mentor won't let a little something like the truth get in the way of a good story. Mencken is more than willing to make up a story if it will sell papers. Is Charlie? Setting This is a charming romance/drama, and though it is a Christian production the acting is great – most roles have been filled with actors you're likely to recognize (Colm Meaney, Star Trek: The Next Generation; Fred Thompson, Law and Order; Ashley Johnson, Growing Pains; Brian Dennehy, Rambo, etc.). But there is another level on which Alleged can be appreciated. It is fun but also medicinal. What do I mean? Well, back in 1960 another film used a court case in 1925 Dayton, Tennessee as the setting for their film. And in the decades since then Inherit the Wind has been shown in public school classrooms across the US as a "based on true events" account of what happened back then. But whereas Alleged is mostly true, Inherit the Wind was mostly propaganda. Here's what really happened. In 1925 Tennessee passed the Butler Act which forbid Tennessee public schools from teaching students that Man descended from a lower form. Dayton's John Scopes was the first to be charged with violating the law and his trial garnered national attention when some big names "star" lawyers were enlisted: for the prosecution, the Scripture-quoting, mostly Bible-believing, 3-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan; and for the defense, Clarence Darrow, infamous for his defense of two indefensible child-killing clients. These big names got the attention of one more: Baltimore Sun editor H. L. Mencken whose columns largely influenced how the trial was perceived by the nation. Scopes was found guilty and was fined $100 but because Mencken portrayed this as being a battle between Science and Christian ignorance, Scopes became a noble martyr, and evolutionists decisively won the publicity battle. Thirty-five years later Inherit the Wind built on Mencken's work, but made Christians look even worse. Townspeople were shown as a lynch mob ready to kill Scopes, their minister a rabid dog, and their defender – William Jennings Bryan ­– an ignorant, boring blowhard. But it is this blatant misrepresentation of the trial that most colors how America remembers the "Scopes Monkey Trial." So it was a joy and delight to see how this same trial portrayed accurately in Alleged. We learn that John Scopes, rather than being hated by the town, was helping it – the trial had been a publicity stunt from the beginning, with Scopes a willing participant. The hordes of reporters and visitors brought in by the trial were a welcome boost to a local economy that had been hit hard by the closure of the town mine. Cautions Some cautions to consider: Charlie is drunk as a skunk in one scene, though his fiancée’s disappointment makes this an object lesson in the folly of drunkenness. Also, one character shouts "Hallelujah!" in a seemingly insincere manner during a church service. And because the film teaches about the implication of Darwinian thought, there is a subplot that deals with eugenics. This may be a disturbing topic for a younger audience that doesn't yet need to know how horrible the world can be. Conclusion Because Inherit the Wind was shown to generations of American public school children it has had a lasting impact on the way the creation/evolution debate is conducted. It can be given much of the credit for why creationist arguments are most often mocked, rather than answered. Alleged is an enjoyable counter to Inherit the Wind. It is educational, informative, and also fun, romantic, generally light, and quite well acted. Highly recommend for older teens and adults. You can check out the trailer below, but I do want to add that the film is much better than the trailer makes it out to be. Americans can watch it for free right now at Tubitv.com. Those that want to delve even deeper into the real events should check out a lecture series by Dr. Gary North called "Monkey in the Middle." It's available on DVD, and hopefully shortly online. "Inherently Wind" is another lecture worth checking out (and it's free!) in which Dr. David Menton contrasts the real events with the "Inherit the Wind" portrayal of them.  ...

Drama, Movie Reviews

Woodlawn

Drama 123 minutes / 2015 Rating 8/10 Directors of movies about sports sometimes get carried away with their art - swelling orchestral music fills the soundtrack as mud spatters over our athletic hero, who despite his talent, is an underdog against evil, cheating opponents. Sprinkle in a few losses and some team disunity that must be overcome and you've got a pretty typical Hollywood sports movie. Woodlawn does contain a few of these clichés, but surprisingly most of them are not fantasies – they're real and historic, and form an uplifting tale that seems almost too amazing to be true. As high schools become racially integrated in Birmingham, Alabama in the early 1970s, tensions run high at predominantly white Woodlawn High School. Parents aren't happy with the coaching staff when black students earn starting positions on the football team. When Christian sports chaplain Hank Erwin asks permission to speak to the football team after a riot at the school, Coach Tandy Gerelds reluctantly agrees. He's stunned when each and every player on the team, black and white, respond to Erwin's altar call and dedicate or re-dedicate their lives to Christ. In time, the team decides that devoting their season to the Lord is more important than winning or losing, and – what do you know! – they find athletic success along the way. Directors Andrew and Jon Erwin (also known for the 2018 film I Can Only Imagine) wrote the movie about the work of their dad Hank, who later became a state senator, and who had a profound influence on the young men of Woodlawn High School and their cross town rivals. Most details in the movie, even the ones that seem too convenient or unlikely to have happened, are based on real events: Woodlawn is a morality tale with great lessons that just happens to be true. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

Lost and Found

Animated / Family 24 minutes / 2013 Rating: 8/10 This short film made my girls cry and that's okay. It is a classic boy meets penguin tale, a tale of loneliness felt, and friendship found, and a beautiful tale throughout. This is what made my girls cry – the beauty of it – and that gave mom and dad an opportunity to explain to these two little misses that crying is not always linked to sadness, and that beauty can indeed by tear-inducing and then it is something, strangely enough, to be enjoyed. This lesson wasn't entirely lost on them and also not entirely understood but it was a good first exposure to this curious truth. The story itself is simple. Lost penguin arrives on boy's doorstep. Boy briefly tries to get others to help penguin, but then decides to do it himself. He builds boat and rows to the Antarctic, where he then drops off the penguin and heads back home, only to realize that the penguin wasn't lost after all, but had shown up at his house because he was lonely. Boy returns to the Antarctic, penguin hops in boat, and the two head together for what looks like the beginning of a wonderful friendship. The only caution would be that a storm scene may be a bit scary for the under 6 set. Our whole family loved it. I would recommend it for anyone 6 to 106. You can stream it – rent or buy – from Amazon (or ask your public library to pick up a DVD copy). ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

FREE: Flight of the Butterflies

Documentary 2012 / 44 minutes RATING: 7/10 Equal parts detective story and nature documentary, Flight of the Butterflies tells the story of "Dana" and her offspring, beautiful monarch butterflies making their way across the United States. It also showcases the investigative work of biologist Fred Urquhart and his wife Norah, who spent their lives trying to discover where the butterflies were going on their yearly migration. The nature half is simply stunning, and deserves a widescreen TV viewing – you'd lose so much watching it on your phone. We get to follow Dana as she flutters from plant to plant, laying her more than 300 eggs, and get to tag along, too, as she flies as much as a mile up into the heavens. Then, when we eventually see one of Dana's grandchildren form her chrysalis, we get a peek inside: "Fed oxygen by hundreds of fine breathing tubes. her brain, heart and digestive track change shape and size. New powerful flight muscles develop, and compound eyes form. Long legs and steady wings complete the transformation." The caterpillar to butterfly transformation is astonishing – one creature becoming something else entirely! But it gets even crazier: while Dana didn't live all that long, and her daughter didn't either, they somehow manage to spawn a granddaughter that will look just like them, but be another sort of creature once again: Dana's granddaughter is a "super butterfly destined to live eight times longer" than either of the two previous generations! The mystery half is fun too. An actor familiar to many Canadians, Gordon Pinsent (Beachcombers, The Red Green Show) plays Fred Urquhart who recruits the help of regular folk – "citizen scientists" – all over the United States to help him tag, and then track the flight paths of monarch butterflies. After gathering this information for decades he can tell they fly south towards Texas, but where do these millions of butterflies go afterward? I won't spoil things: you'll have to watch it to find out. Caution The documentary opens with a quick nod to Darwin, with biologist Fred Urquhart declaring, "It has been said since Darwin's time that evolution has been written on the wings of a butterfly. I know my life has." Another similar sort of "nod" happens elsewhere, but the brilliant design evident in the monarch's lifecycle and remarkable migration far outshine these little mars. There is also a few mentions made of man-caused environmental issues that might impact the monarch, including a passing mention of global warming. But these are very brief, and the film is not any sort of anti-man screed. As with many a secular nature documentary perhaps the most notable caution is simply that in a film about a creature whose beauty and amazing lifecycle screams out the glory of its Creator, the film never gives God His due. But we can make up for this deficiency. Conclusion Fred and Norah Urquhart spent 50 years learning all about the monarch, and in this remarkable film we get to come along for that journey of discovery. This is a quiet film – there are no explosions to be found – so it isn't going to be to everyone's tastes. But maybe it should be – if the brilliance of the monarch butterfly doesn't fill us with awe at God's genius, maybe it's time we stopped watching so many car chases and superhero battles and sharpened up our sense of awe. Regardless, for the nature lover in your family this will be something special. You can watch the trailer below, and watch the film for free here. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Long Shot: The Kevin Laue Story

Documentary 91 minutes / 2012 Rating: 7/10 This is the amazing story of how a one-armed young man beats the odds to make it onto a Division 1 college basketball team. His disability alone would make Kevin Laue a "long shot" but then he also lost his dad at age 10. What the film celebrates is Laue's determination, but what it also captures is the enormous hole left when a father is missing. So much of what Laue does and wants to do is an effort to make his late father proud. Laue does have a father figure in the film, a fantastic high school coach in Patrick McKnight who was willing to just invest in the young man, and "put a foot in his butt" when Laue needed it. He also has a family that loves him, including a grandmother who calls him her "chickadee" and has to be in the running for his #1 fan. Cautions Language concerns would be a couple of f-bombs dropped by players and one "gosh." We see Kevin in the shower, shot from the other side of the somewhat opaque glass door so we don't see any details, but enough flesh-color to know he is naked. While the trailer below makes this look like more of an explicitly Christian film than it is - the Laues' trust in God only comes up in spots. And that's maybe the more notable caution: while the film highlights how important a father can be for a son, God isn't portrayed as nearly as significant. That might be more a matter of the filmmaker's editing decisions than the family's convictions, but either way it is an opportunity for a great discussion question for our kids: who do you think is being portrayed as the "god" – the most important person or thing? – in this film? Is it dads or God? Conclusion This is a fascinating film about young man who is admirable in many ways, and yet not so idealized here that he becomes fake and distant. It's a film that any sports fans and both parents and teens will enjoy. Check out the trailer below, and watch it for free here. ...

Documentary, Family, Movie Reviews

A Lego brickumentary

Documentary 93 minutes / 2015 Rating: 7/10 If you have kids who are too young to watch anything with tension then that limits your viewing options. Yes, there are lots of shows they can watch, but very few that mommy or daddy will want to sit through too (I can feel my brain cells dying whenever Daniel the Tiger is turned on). But here's something different: a documentary the whole family can enjoy. The basic building blocks of the Lego story are simple. The Denmark-based company has been making these little bricks for 65+ years. They got off to a rocky start, with the first three factories getting burned down, and in the late 1990s lost their way as they started producing sets that had more and more specialized pieces and less and less actual building involved. The buying public didn't like this new direction, and sales took a plunge. But this shocked the company straight, and they returned to what made them great: selling a simple toy whose infinite combinations sparked the imagination. The film itself is a hagiography of sorts, looking at the company with the wide-open eyes of a fan. This is sure to get your kids building, but the target audience for the film is as much adults and children. In fact, the majority of the builders we're introduced to are adults, including both the "master builders" who work for the company, and the legions of AFOLs – Adult Fans Of Lego – who craft their own creations and show them off online and at Lego conventions. These creations are astonishing, including a full-size X-wing fighter (from Star Wars) and reproductions of classic artworks like the Mona Lisa and Michelangelo's David. CAUTIONS The only cautions for this G-rated film I can come up with is that there are about 10 to 20 seconds of evolutionary nonsense, accompanied by a depiction of primordial life emerging from the sea and turning into man (primordial Lego life turning into a Lego man). There is also a short 5 second clip Lego mini-figure recreation of the shower murder scene from the Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho. That sounds worse than it is - in both cases my kids didn't even catch what was going on. I'll also add that while there is a role for adults to play Lego with their kids, the obsession shown by the the AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego) was disconcerting. Hobbies can be fun, but God calls Christians to balance, and any hobby that takes over your life is not a healthy one. Instead of encouraging our young men to hold on to their childhood we should be preparing them to put off childish things (1 Cor. 13:11). So Mom or Dad might want to raise the issues of balance and maturity after watching this. CONCLUSION A Lego Brickumentary is a fun film for the whole family. I liked it because I could watch something entertaining and kind of educational without worry about my children being traumatized. Our kids liked it because it was inspiring and the host, a Lego mini-figure, is charming and often funny. So far we've watched it twice, and I could see us watching it again, so if you can get it for a good price, this might be a documentary worth owning. Otherwise, it makes for a great streaming rental, or might well be at your local library. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

The Defense of New Haven

Children's 2016 / 82 minutes RATING: 7/10 This is a wonderfully bizarre adventure: a steampunk Christian allegoric comedy adventure, with every character played by a child actor, even though the characters are adults. Our hero, Alec, is a one-armed man who gets recruited by a fully-bearded six-year-old to carry a secret message to the city's miniature-steamboat-driving defensive forces so that they'll be able to stop gasmask-wearing raiders. That is a sentence I never imagined writing, but this is a movie I would have never imagined seeing. And it is both as cheezy and as fantastic. The kids deliver their lines like you'd expect children to do, and you either have to be okay with that or you won't enjoy a moment of it. But for its preschool target audience, this won't be a hindrance. That audience will be entranced by the set: the city of New Haven is proportioned perfectly for its pint-sized inhabitants, complete with narrow cobblestone streets, treacherous back alleys, medieval-style buildings, and canals for the miniature steamboats. It is amazing! I can't really think of any cautions other than this isn't a movie for older kids, or at least the sort that roll their eyes. If an older brother or sister can enjoy things vicariously, then they'll find it a treat to watch their little siblings hoot and holler all the way through this one. And that'll be the fun for mom and dad too. You can check out the trailer below and watch the film for free at RedeemTV. And if you enjoyed this, you may like the producer's earlier all-children film, The Runner from Ravenshead. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

The Secret World of Arrietty

Animated / Family 2012 / 94 minutes RATING: 8/10 This is a Japanese animated adaptation of the much loved English book series, The Borrowers. Arrietty is one of the Borrowers – the tiny people, just inches high, who live in our houses, in between the walls, under the floorboards, and in the ceilings. Now that she's 14, she's old enough to accompany her father on his "borrowing" expeditions. It's vital that these little people are never discovered, so even as they are creative sorts, turning leaves into umbrellas, sewing needles into swords, and clothespins into hairclips, they can't make their own goods. To create factories or farms would risk being discovered by the big people, the "beans." That possibility so scares the Borrowers that if a human ever sees them, then they will leave that house, never to return. But on Arrietty's first expedition, to get a single sugar cube, a young boy in the house discovers her. Shawn is a nice boy, newly arrived to the house because he is sick and needs care that his parents can't seem to provide. While he would never hurt Arrietty, or share the secret of her existence with others, the same isn't true of the housekeeper when she also discovers the tiny people, and hires an exterminator to help track them down. CAUTION The only caution relates to the "borrowing" that goes on. What do we call it when someone borrows without asking, and with no intention of ever giving it back? Stealing. In defense of these fictional thieves, they can't ask for permission because then they will be discovered, and they can't make these goods on their own for the same reason. Also, what they take is so negligible as to never be noticed. Still, this "borrowing" is a point parents should raise. In the Curious George TV shows it's noted that George is a monkey so he sometimes does things that we shouldn't. That seems a good warning about the Borrowers too. CONCLUSION While The Secret World of Arrietty was originally done in Japanese, Disney was so entranced by the film they took charge of the English release and did a wonderful job with the dubbing. It is a gorgeous film that many a parent will absolutely love too, especially if they read the Borrowers books in their childhood. And the slower pacing is perfect for any children who find other films too frantic or scary. Yes, there are some tense moments, but there is a lot of beauty and calm in-between as we explore the world as it looks through a set of tiny eyes. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

Winnie the Pooh

Animated / Children / Family 63 min, 2011 Rating: 8/10 Our favorite silly little bear starts his newest adventure in bed, waking up only at the insistence of the narrator. Winnie-the-Pooh "has a Very Important Thing to Do" today, so he simply must get up! Just what that important thing is, the narrator does not specify, so Pooh decides his first priority is going to be to take care of his tummy. And that requires some "huny." When he discovers he is all out, this bear of very little brain comes up with a sensible enough plan - he goes in search of "friends out there with honey to spare." Once out of his little house Pooh proceeds to have a series of adventures. The first involves Tigger and a balloon, and the second, a fearsome beast (or as fearsome as a Pooh cartoon can be) named the Backson. The longest adventure of all is a search for Eeyore's tail... or for some substitute that could serve in that role. This is a gentle family-friendly gem. Disney has produced a score of Pooh films but this is the first since 1977's The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh to fully capture the charm of the books. Adventures remains the best of all the Pooh films, with this a very close second. Some reviewers were critical about its length, or rather, lack of length. Winnie the Pooh is listed as being an hour long, which is only about half as long as a regular feature film (and when you subtract the credits, it would be more accurate to say this is just over 50 minutes). It's a legitimate beef. I know I would feel a little put out if I spent ten bucks per head for my family and we were marching out of the theatre before I even finished my popcorn. But on DVD this length is more palatable, especially when its intended audience, and their limited attention spans, are considered. There are only two cautions to note. The first concerns language. After the film ends, and ten minutes of credits run, there is one final, very short scene in which the word "gosh" is used twice. I'm not a fan of this "substitute expletive" but this is not God's name, and thus is not taking his name in vain. The only other caution is about Pooh himself. In this rendition, Pooh is a little more self-absorbed and selfish than usual. As an example, when the group sets out to trap the Backson, Pooh is content to let his little friend Piglet do all the work while he supervises. Pooh's shallowness (including his obsession with honey) is the central "conflict" in the story, and one that parents should point out to their children - the "hero" of this little story is not being a good friend right here. Of course, Pooh does get his priorities figured out by the end of the film. When faced with the choice of finally getting some honey, or bringing Eeyore his missing tail, Pooh chooses friend over food. The story concludes with Christopher Robin congratulating Pooh for the "Very Important Thing" he did today: "Instead of thinking of your tummy you thought of your friend." ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

American Gospel: Christ alone

Documentary 2018 / 139 minutes RATING: 8/10 In one of the documentary's many memorable moments Costi Hinn, the nephew of televangelist and faith healer Benny Hinn, describes how, while working for his uncle, they would stay in $20,000-a-night luxury suites, fly in private jets, and eat in the very best restaurants. His uncle was not ashamed of this lifestyle since he preached that God wanted his people to be wealthy. But the extravagant lifestyle did start to wear on Costi Hinn: "Another hotel that sticks out in my mind is called the Grand Resort... it's in Greece and ironically, it's set on the Aegean Sea. I had my own suite, my own pool and there I stood every day looking out over the Aegean Sea. If you know your Bible at all, Paul sailed the Aegean Sea on many missionary journeys. And so here I am, a Word of Faith/Prosperity kid looking out where Paul was shipwrecked, where he went through literally chaos and hell on earth, just to get the gospel out to people, and now I am staying at 5-star hotels..." He began to recognize the contrast between the "God wants you to be rich" message he was spreading, and the message of Jesus, who prepared his disciples to be hated and persecuted (John 15:18, 2 Tim 3:12) but that they could endure it all knowing they had Christ. American Gospel: Christ Alone is about the many churches that have replaced Christ with what we hope to get Him to do for us. In this alternative gospel, Jesus isn't the gift; instead what is on offer is the American Dream: if we love God enough, and give enough to Him (via gifts to the right preachers), then He'll give us the nice car, the beautiful wife, and the big house with the picket fence all around. Why should you watch? That's a lie that most Reformed folk aren't falling for, or at least, not straight on. So why should we watch this documentary? One reason might be to help others. If you know any Christian friends tuning in to preachers like Kenneth Copeland, Paula White, Joel Osteen, Todd White, and Benny Hinn, then this would be a great film to watch together. It exposes their health-and-wealth, name-it-and-claim-it, prosperity gospel for the sham that it is. Another reason is to better understand how, even in solid, orthodox Reformed churches, we can still buy into a prosperity-lite counterfeit. The version we adopt might be masked by other names, like "the Protestant work ethic." It isn't preached off our pulpits, but it is in amongst the pews. The hardworking sort that we are, our heart may start to feel some sense of entitlement. We'd never say out loud that God owes us anything, but if we did right by our family, helped at the Church and school, and put in the hours at the office then...shouldn't God want to reward us? And with that comes the pressure to keep up appearances. If hard work is supposed to earn you anything, then if you aren't successful, there must be something wrong with you, right? The end result of this train of thought is that works are done, not out of gratitude for what God has already done for us, but out of fear of what others might think. As one of the interviewees noted: "You can grow up in a church, hear a gospel about freedom, and still work your tail off trying to maintain the image that you're are a good person." So yes, we can also benefit from this false gospel take-down. Powerful insight Some of the most impactful interviews are the ordinary Christians. We meet Katherine Berger, who has had one medical issue after another but is happier today than when she was healthy because she now knows the true Jesus. It also doesn't hurt that there are some really insightful Christian leaders interviewed. Some of the recognizable names include: Jackie Hill-Perry Matt Chandler Ray Comfort Nabeel Qureshi Phil Johnson John MacArthur Michael Horton John Piper R. Scott Clark Steven J. Lawson Paul Washer Their responses are stitched together so seamlessly the film doesn't even have a narrator – a minor detail, but it highlights just how well-produced it is. If all I have is Jesus... Ultimately what makes American Gospel worth watching is what it teaches us about Christ. It tells us about a God so good that should we lose everything else – our health, our home, money, and family too – and we have Jesus, then we have more than we could ever imagine. The full film can be rented or bought online at their website here. But if you want to try before you buy, you can watch a 40-minute excerpt for free below. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Spirit & Truth

How does God want to be worshipped? Documentary 2019 / 87 minutes RATING: 8/10 How should we worship God?  It’s one of the most important questions a Christian can ask.  We often think that the Reformation was about important doctrines like justification by faith alone. It certainly was, but it wasn’t just about that. In fact, one of the most central issues of the Reformation was the manner in which God should be worshipped. Some believed that if God did not forbid something, then it was permissible. Others argued that the church had the authority to formulate Christian worship as it saw fit.  The Reformed churches, however, applied sola Scriptura (the Bible alone) to worship – only God, through his Word, can decided how God is to be worshipped.  This fundamental principle came to expression in Lord’s Day 35 of the Heidelberg Catechism and its explanation of the second commandment:  “We are not to make an image of God in any way, nor to worship him in any other manner than he has commanded in his Word.” That idea is known as the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW).  This documentary, by Les Lanphere, is about the Regulative Principle of Worship and Reformed worship.  It’s about how this principle is biblical, how it’s needed for our day, what it looks like in practice, and why it matters supremely. Great content, with packaging to match Documentaries can sometimes be as inspiring as a grammar handbook.  Les Lanphere’s are decidedly not.  If you’ve seen his 2017 Calvinist, you know he has a gift for making films that grab you by the collar and pull you right in.  While it starts off a bit slow, Spirit & Truth rises to that same standard. I loved it, not only for the content, but also for the production qualities. The film features interviews with numerous pastors and theologians.  Some of the more familiar faces would be Tim Challies, W. Robert Godfrey (URCNA), John Bouwers (URCNA), and Kevin DeYoung. These interviews put meat on the bones of what Reformed worship is all about. Three facets There are several facets to Spirit & Truth that I really appreciate. The film is not only about the outward externals of worshipping God properly. It also speaks of the heart – the “spirit” of “worship in spirit and truth.” One can go through the motions of worshipping God to the letter, but without heart-engagement it’s all meaningless. While Spirit and Truth is a faithful explanation of Reformed worship in general, it carefully treads around some of the finer details about which some Reformed and Presbyterian believers may disagree. For example, there are some Presbyterians (and Reformed too) who are convinced that we ought only to sing Psalms.  Spirit and Truth leaves that issue alone. However, it does emphasize the thing we all agree on:  at the very least, Scripture does command us to sing Psalms.  That’s something often neglected in contemporary Christian worship. Finally, there’s sometimes a perception that Reformed worship (as we know it) is merely a white, western, Euro-centric practice.  If that’s true, that has implications for worship in cross-cultural contexts, both in our own country and abroad.  However, Spirit & Truth includes interviews with non-western or non-caucasian Christians in various contexts to illustrate that Reformed worship, following the RPW, transcends cultures.  It does so because it’s biblical and God’s Word transcends cultures. Conclusion I sometimes wonder whether we hold on to our Reformed worship practices just because they’re our practices or because they’re traditional.  Spirit & Truth persuasively argues that we ought to hold on to Reformed worship because it’s biblical.  And because it’s biblical, it honors God, it puts Christ and the gospel in the center, and it will serve for our blessing. There are a lot of pressures to modify worship in our churches to make it more like what we see in the broader ecclesiastical context. But if Spirit & Truth can help convince us that we have to hold on to distinctively Reformed worship for the right reasons, those pressures will be easily resisted.  This one is highly recommended for Bible or catechism classes, Bible study groups, and office bearer retreats. You can watch the trailer below, and find Spirit & Truth available for streaming rental here. Dr. Wes Bredenhof is the author of "Aiming to Please: A Guide to Reformed Worship." ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Beyond the Mask

Christian / Action / Drama / Family 103 minutes / 2015 RATING 8/10 William Reynolds is a 18th century assassin and the righthand man to the head of the East India Trading company. When the young assassin wants to leave his dark life behind, his employer (played by veteran actor John Rhys-Davies) tries to have this loose end tied up, planting a bomb under Reynolds' carriage. Reynolds only manages to survive thanks to the warning of a passing vicar who ends up paying for his kindness by getting blown up himself. On the run from his employer, and in search of a new life, Reynolds adopts the vicar's identity only to meet Charlotte, a young woman who knows a lot more about God then this hastily minted "vicar" does. There is so much to love about this film, and this romance is a big part of it. It has the typical movie-plot instant attraction yes, but none of the usual bodice-ripping. As impressed as Charlotte might be by Reynolds' charm, she wants to know his heart – she finds it strange that this man of God so often speaks of God as "if He were a distant acquaintance." So despite her heart saying yes, she will not pledge herself to him until she seeks advice from an older wiser head. So, one more thing to love: Beyond the Mask has the fun of the two principals exchanging flirtatious banter, yet with none of that falling-into-bed-with-a-near-stranger nonsense. Of course, with their affair of the heart taking place just 20 minutes in, we know that the happy ending can't come yet. Reynolds' old life forces its way into the new and he has to flee to the American Colonies, leaving his lady-love behind. There he decides he will make repayment for his former evils by doing heroic goods – he dons a disguise and a mask to fight the East India Company in its new endeavors in the Americas. Lots of daring-do and explosions follow. Cautions There is no sexual content at all, and while God's name is called upon, it seems to be put to appropriate use (being either directed to Him, or part of a discussion about Him). The notable concern is violence. Parents considering this as a family night film need to understand that while there is no gory violence, there are men murdered, others blown up, and a very large number put down quickly by a punch or two from our reforming yet not fully reformed William Reynolds. Conclusion This is a wonderful film, with solid acting, an intriguing (if on occasion confusing) script, good special effects, authentic period costumes and sets, and a pleasant number of explosions. It is a family film (though because of the violence, for older children only) with a solid Christian moral. I don't want to praise it too highly, because this also isn't a movie that will go down as an all-time classic. But it is one of the best Christian films you'll see, and a cut above most any family film out there. Check out the trailer below. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

The Fool – the true "banana man" story

Documentary 60 min. / 2019 RATING: 7/10 The Fool is the true story of how evangelist Ray Comfort was mocked and ridiculed by atheists the world over for a banana joke he made that fell flat. But even as Ray was brought low, God was using Ray's humiliation: these same atheists started inviting Ray onto their shows, podcasts, and stages and they let him say anything he wanted. So Ray used these forums to share the Gospel with hundreds and even thousands of atheists at a time. Some atheists even took Ray's books and read through them on their YouTube channels, all in an attempt to mock him. But the end result was that they themselves read out a Gospel presentation to their listeners. As Ray asks, "Who but God could take atheists and not only have them listen to the Gospel but have them proclaim it?" This is an often funny, always entertaining look at how God can use even fools like us. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

By what standard? God's World...God's rules

Documentary 2019 / 110 minutes RATING: 8/10 The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, and has a generally Calvinist leaning though that not always so. Four decades ago, it was a question as to whether the denomination might slide into liberalism, denying the truthfulness of the Bible, and following a path many other large denominations had traveled before it, or whether the SBC would turn back. In a pivotal 1979 annual meeting where God corrected their course. But now the home of Albert Mohler and also Beth Moore, has been wrestling with the issues of complementarianism, social justice, sexual abuse, and also something called “Critical Race Theory.” This two-hour documentary certainly isn’t for everyone, but it is eye-opening in showing how troubling worldviews can sneak into the Church via the best of intentions. One example: we are all agreed that sexual abuse is sinful and that we should act to prevent it. But in the SBC some have linked complementarianism with sexual abuse – one pastor said that preventing women from preaching denigrates them and teaches men that women can be abused. There we can see how, under the guise of doing something good – preventing sexual abuse – a biblical truth is attacked. You can watch a 14-minute preview below, or watch the whole film for free at Founders.org/cinedoc. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Tortured for Christ

Historical drama 77 minutes / 2018 RATING: 8/10 Tortured for Christ is a must-see film about Richard Wurmbrand’s courageous and faithful stand against the Soviets when they took over Romania. Shortly after the Soviet Union moved in, the new rulers invited all of Romania’s most prominent religious leaders to attend a “conference of the cults.” At this conference – broadcast over the radio – these leaders were supposed to, one after another, talk about how respectful to religion the new rulers would be. Except it is a lie. And all the religious leaders know it. But the people don’t. And none of the religious leaders have the courage to tell them. In the auditorium audience sits Pastor Richard Wurmbrand and his wife. As they listen Wurmbrand turns to his wife: “If I speak now, you will have no husband" His wife’s reply? "I don't need a coward for a husband." Woah! So up he goes to the podium, he has his say before the mike is taken away, and he makes himself a stench in the nostrils of the authorities. Wurmbrand is eventually arrested, and then imprisoned and tortured for 14 years for his absolute refusal to deny his love for his Lord. For a time the torture happened every day, as Wurmbrand would be beaten for doing his nightly devotions. In one scene the guard asks him what he could possibly be praying to God for: he was in prison, his wife was too, and his children were basically orphans. So why, the guard wanted to know, was Wurmbrand still praying? "I am praying for you," Wurmbrand tells him. He wanted the guard who beat him every night to know the love of his Lord. While the torture scenes are muted, this is not family viewing. But it is a film I wish that everyone 16 and up would go and see. The trust that Wurmbrand has in his God, and the way that the Lord equipped him is so very beautiful and encouraging to see. It can be rented online at this link and you can watch the trailer below. Americans can also find it on Amazon Prime here. And Vision Video has now made the whole film freely viewable on YouTube here. ...

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