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Drama, Movie Reviews

Freedom

Drama 2014 / 94 minutes Rating: 7/10 Like many a film "inspired by true events," this isn't good history but it is pretty decent cinema. Freedom is really two stories in one, the first loosely based on the life of John Newton. He's the author of the hymn "Amazing Grace" and while the film gets the broad details of his life right – he was the captain of a slave trade ship, he did have an encounter with God on his ship, and he did turn his back on the slave trade – the timeline of those events has been greatly compacted. In real life, his rejection of the slave trade was a gradual shift over years and even decades, while in the film it seems more a matter of weeks. The second story takes place 100 years later, and is a fictional account of a family of slaves fleeing Virginia via the Underground Railroad. Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as the father, Samuel. He has his wife, son, and mother with him, and while his mother trusts in God's faithfulness for everything, Samuel has no interest in God. How, he asks, can any slave think God cares about them? It's unusual for a Christian film to ask difficult questions. While Samuel does come to God before film's end, both he, and we, are left with the realization that God might not give us all the answers we are after, or at least, not on this side of Heaven. What connects these two stories is a Bible that John Newton is supposed to have given Samuel's great grandfather when he was just a boy years ago. Samuel's mother still has it, and we take the leap back in time when she tells the story of how Newton came to give a Bible to a slave. Newton's "Amazing Grace" is the musical centerpiece to the story, but there are lots of other songs too. It isn't a musical, though – in musicals people just randomly start to sing instead of talk. Here most of the songs have a natural fit: characters sing because they are comforting someone, or as part of a performance, or they sing to pass the time. But whatever the reason they are singing, the music is very good! Cautions Freedom received an R rating for the violence that's done to the slaves. While many of the blows happen just offscreen, communicated more by sound than by visuals, it can be brutal. That makes this best suited for older teens and parents. While God's name is used throughout the film it is used appropriately, to either talk about Him, or to Him. There is one use of "damn." Conclusion One secular critic called this "an overly sentimental cinematic history lesson best suited for church and school groups" and while he meant it as a criticism, I'd just say he's nailed the target audience. The slave trade was brutal, and while this is too, it is only so in parts because the filmmakers didn't want to present an unvarnished look – they weren't trying to make a Schindler's List that'd leave everyone mute and depressed afterward. By presenting only some of the horror, they allow families to view and discuss it together with their older teens. Freedom could serve as an instructive introduction to this chapter of history... at least for teens and adults. ...

Adult biographies, Book Reviews

The Wright Brothers

by David McCullough 320 pages / 2015 Match an astonishing story with a superb storyteller and what more could we ask for? David McCullough clearly had fun delivering a story that, if it weren’t true, would never be believed – the Wright brothers seem simply too good to be true. These two former journalists, now bike builders, simply decide one day to get into the plane building business. They begin by firing off a letter to the Smithsonian Institution to ask for all the information that can be had about flight because they are determined to succeed where all others have failed. McCullough gives us the measure of these two men, by highlighting just how audacious their goal really was. At the time many thought human flight was an impossibility, and based this conclusion on the decades of failed experiments that preceded the Wrights’ interest. And while the two brothers are not poor, they don’t have the resources some other experimenters have been able to muster. So how could the Wrights manage what they did? McCullough credits it to determination, brilliance, patience, curiosity, and, did we mention determination? At 320 pages this might seems a bit on the big/intimidating side. But with 50+ pages devoted to the footnotes and index, it isn’t nearly as large as it seems. Who should read it? Anyone with an interest in aviation, or underdog stories, would love it. But I would most like to see this in the hands of young men and older teens. This would be a wonderful book to inspire them to investigate, experiment, study, dream, and work hard. That’s what the Wrights had going for themselves, and look at how far it took them! To be clear, this isn't a specifically Christian book. Their father was a church bishop, and a man of principle and dedication, but he didn't seem all that worried about his boys' irregular church attendance. While the two brothers were always very strict about taking the Sabbath rest, there isn't all that much in here about their relationship with God. So a fascinating biography but not a spiritual one....

Animated, Movie Reviews

The Wright Brothers (Animated Hero Classics)

Animated 27 minutes / 1996 Rating: 7/10 As an educational tool, this is amazing, and it's a pretty solid family movie too. In just the first 15 minutes we get to see the history of aviation develop from disastrous first attempts at gliding to the Wright brothers' first successful powered flight. But it doesn't stop there. In the second half we see aviation take its first faltering steps - the Wrights continue to refine their design, but others are flying now too. And because the Wrights are content to do their work in private, their achievement is disputed. Even the American press doesn't believe they've flown. And when the Brazilian-born Alberto Santos-Dumont gets his own plane up in the air, he claims the title "first man to fly." It seems as if the Wrights "have lost their place in history." It's all here: tension, amazing inventions, and loads of historical detail packed tightly into just a half-hour package. On top of all that, this is entertaining too. Our whole family loved it, though for different reasons. My wife and I were fascinated by the history, and our children, from 2 to 6, were swept along by the story. This would be an unmatched resource for schools, and it's also good fun for the whole family. The Wright Brothers is good enough to send parents and teachers looking for others in this "Animated Hero Classics" series so I wanted to add a warning. Not every film in the series is good: other gems can be found, but stinkers too (we were all quite bored by the one on Leonardo da Vinci). So don't buy others without doing your research (especially since they are quite expensive). ...