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Animated, Movie Reviews

Life at the Pond

Life at the Pond is a series of five videos that have a lot in common with VeggieTales. Both combine simple animation with sophisticated humor – these are children's videos that parents can appreciate too. Both teach moral lessons that line up with what God teaches. But while many of the VeggieTales videos "sanitize" familiar biblical stories (ex. David's descent into murder and adultery is turned into a story about wanting someone else's rubber ducky) The Pond steers clear of any disrespectful treatment of Scripture by setting their stories in the present day. (I'll note , though, that the original audio programs do sometimes have 5-minute news-type reports from biblical times, with, for example, an on-the-scene report of Jonah's time in the belly of the whale. Our family has enjoyed these otherwise fantastic audio programs, but we hit "next track" whenever it gets to these bits.) The stories all take place at, of course, a pond, and the four stars are all aquatic: • Bill the Duck is a regular joe; we are Bill the Duck • Tony the Frog fills the role of wisecracking comic relief • Floyd the Turtle is the most child-like, and often the straight man setting up Tony's zingers • Methuselah the Alligator is older, and a voice of biblical wisdom This is aimed at the pre-school set, but there's enough humor for parents and elementary-aged kids to enjoy too. I'd break these into two age groups, with There's Something Funny in the Water and The Little Things good for even the youngest children, and the others, with more tension, would be 5 or 6 and up. There's Something Funny in the Water 27 minutes / 2004 Rating: 8/10 In the first video we get two 15 minutes stories. Bill the Duck hides the fact that he is afraid of heights, because he doesn't want to be made fun of, and then Bill, Tony and Floyd all learn that it is important to keep our promises, even when doing so cuts into our fun time. These are stories kids can relate to, and parents can appreciate too, right from the get-go. The video begins with the familiar FBI warning against copying the film and Bill and Tony walk in from the sides to take a look. Bill: Has the video started? Tony: No it's just the FBI warning. Bill: And after this, what? CIA warning? FDA? NRA? Tony: The NRA puts up a warning, I pay attention! Big Mouth Bass 32 minutes / 2005 Rating 7/10 This time around Sarah, a big-mouth bass, is swimming off with whatever toys land in the water. She's taking them because "toys lead to noise!" and she wants quiet! This bass is a grouch, and scary too. So when she goes missing – a bear has taken her away as a pet fish – the Pond friends don't know whether to "save her ...or celebrate!" It's a lesson about loving your less than lovable neighbors, and reaching out beyond your friends group (Luke 14:12-14). Our three-year-old found the fish here too scary. Even though the bass turned nice by the end it didn't matter – she started off mean, so this video was deemed too scary (the accompanying Jaws music probably didn't help). However, what's scary for a three-year-old wasn't for our five and seven-year-old. Tony the Frog is my favorite character, and as he goes looking for Sarah he mutters some good lines to himself: "After I find Sarah I can go look for the bully who pushed me around last year. And then, if there's still time, a quick trip to the dentist to have some teeth removed. Anesthesia? Not today Doc, not today." The Little Things 29 minutes / 2007 Rating 8/10 When the carnival comes to town all the Pond friends get jobs. Three of them get great jobs (running rides or the food stands) but Floyd the turtle has to do the clean up. He wonders why he got the worst job, and eventually realizes it's because the circus owner saw the careless way he treated his toys. And because Floyd wasn't good with caring for "the little things" the circus owner didn't want to trust him with anything bigger. So, as the Dove review put it, for younger children the lesson is simply, don't break your toys, while older children can apply that more broadly to: “If you can’t be trusted with the little things then you can’t be trusted with the big things either.” The only caution would be that in the song at the end it mentions how you will "reap what you sow" and while that is a thoroughly biblical thought (Gal. 6:7-8, 2 Cor. 9:6,  Prov. 22:8) our kids also need to know that by God's grace His children will not get our just desserts in the end. The Alligator Hunter 29 minutes / 2007 Rating: 7/10 There are two stories again. In a parody of The Crocodile Hunter, Methuselah the Alligator is nabbed by a reality-show crew of kangaroo, so they can release him later somewhere far away. While Methuselah gets away, the kangaroos then capture his friends! Methuselah saves the day by returning and shaming the kangaroos into letting everyone go. This was way too tense for our youngest, and wasn't that popular with our older kids either (kidnapping doesn't seem the best subject for a children's show). The second episode is much calmer and funnier. Floyd the Turtle turns out to have selective hearing: whenever someone tells him to do something he can't hear them. He doesn't even hear it when his friends tell him to get out of the way of a falling tree branch.! Selective hearing is, of course, a malady common to many a child, so this can make for a fun illustration when the malady next strikes. The Rise and Fall of Tony the Tiger 29 minutes / 2009 Rating: 8/10 When Tony the Frog starts a paper route, it isn't long before his ambitions turn it into a business empire. He ups his speed by first adding a bike, then using a machine gun mounted on a HumVee to fire them at subscribers, then dropping them from an F-18 fighter jet. It's all going to his head and his friends realize he's made his business an idol...but how can they get Tony to realize? The F-18 sequence is quiet frantic and might be a bit much for younger kids, but Tony's friends, eager to help, and happy to forgive him, makes this a sweet one. ...

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. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

God of Wonders

Documentary 85 min / 2008 Rating: 7/10 This is a nature documentary that starts at the stars and touches on just about everything else: lightning, squids, hummingbirds, snow crystals, DNA and butterflies are just a few of the highlights. That’s both the strength and the weakness of the film. The footage is often as remarkable as anything seen on the Discovery Channel, or a National Geographic special, but each time a creature is investigated, we learn only enough to know we would really like to learn more… and then we’re on to the next bit of nature. But there is a method to this madness. The theme of God of Wonders is straight out of Romans 1:19-20: God has revealed Himself in the wonder of his creation. If we reject God, we can’t claim we did so out of ignorance – God, through his creation has left us “without excuse.” And we get to learn a lot of intriguing facts as we're swept along. Did you know there are 16 million thunderstorms per year? And that the average such storm pours down several hundred million gallons of water? And that a lightning bolt can be hotter than the surface of the Sun? Speaking of the Sun, did you know that the Sun could fit a million Earths inside? There are lots of fun facts here! Cautions Wonders gets off to a slow start with 3 minutes of quick cuts of nature footage without anyone telling us why we're seeing what we're seeing. However, once we're 6 or 7 minutes in, it gets rolling. That does mean that even as this would be a great film to watch with a questioning friend – it could be a wonderful conversational springboard – it won't work if that friend isn't at least a little patient. Conclusion For families used to watching documentaries, this will be another fun one to check out. The breadth of this presentation means there's sure to be something new to learn for everyone watching, from the youngest to the oldest. However, for families that haven't watched documentaries together, this likely has too much talking to keep the younger members' attention. You can watch it for free in two different ways. It is available in "chapters" on the film's own website GodofWondersvideo.org/chapters.htm. The advantage to watching it in chunks is that it'll create the breaks needed for good discussions. But if you want to watch it for free in one go, you can do so below (though probably for only a limited time). ...

Drama, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Extraordinary

Comedy / Drama 2017 / 88 minutes Rating: 6/10 If you're looking for a quiet Hallmark-ish film to watch with your spouse, the two of you all snuggled up on the couch, this might fill the bill. Extraordinary is based on the real-life story of Liberty University professor and ultra-marathon runner David Horton. This is a fellow who runs not simply for hours, but for months, taking on challenges like a Mexico-to-Canada race (which puts a whole new meaning to "cross-country running"). While his athletic exploits have made him a legend to his students, these runs have come with a cost for Horton and his family: bleeding feet and knees, and swollen joints for him, and for the children, a dad who has been missing-in-action for their recitals and baseball games. Meanwhile, his wife Nancy has had to run their household on her own for months at a time and, when her runner returns, then she's had to nurse her utterly spent husband back to health. When Horton's doctor says he needs knee replacement surgery and it'll put an end to his competitive running career, Horton still wants to do one last race. But unbeknownst to him, his wife Nancy has been busy planning a surprise vacation for the whole family, sure that her husband's knee pain (and recent heart surgery) will keep him home with them this summer. It's not to be: in a comedic twist what Horton is still thinking about – running the TransAmerican race from California to New York in 64 days – is announced as fact to a stadium of students, and then Horton feels like has to go, to live up to their expectations. Horton is played by Leland Klassen, a gifted physical comedian, who brings a quirky charm to the role. That charm is much needed to make us care about Horton, who, if he wasn't so likable, would otherwise come off as a doofus, leaving his wife at alone for the summer. My wife and I both enjoyed it, but concluded that a problem with Extraordinary is that it attempts more than it actually delivers. This is the story of a man whose identity has been completely tied up in his running – he's done it his whole life, achieved things others can't even dream of doing, and he's even managed to make running a huge part of his daily work because as a professor he teaches running in his physical education classes. Now he's been told that a needed knee replacement surgery is going to sideline him for good. So this is a middle-aged man struggling with his sense of identity, and his own mortality – that's fodder for a great film. But because Horton is blissfully unaware of what his wife is going through, we feel more for his wife than for Horton and don't really feel for him in his struggles. What makes this still worth watching is that it is a doofus who (finally) learns his lesson. He told his wife that he thought God wanted him to use his running ability to inspire others one last time, and by movie's end he realizes that he may well have attributed to God only what he himself wanted. Horton learns that God has more than the role of runner in mind for him; father and husband should actually be taking precedence. This gets a 6 out of 10 for its somewhat contrived plot – much of the conflict comes from husband and wife just not talking to each other. While I don't normally review films that score just 6, I made an exception this time because even as this is not great art, it is nice....and you can watch it for free. I also appreciated that there's nothing objectionable here, and that includes even the theology, which isn't deep, but also isn't dabbling in the heretical as frequently happens in other Christian flicks. Overall, Extraordinary is a lightweight comedic drama about a doofus husband who takes a while to get his priorities right but who figures it out in time for a happy ending for all. That's all it is, and on some evenings that's really all we're looking for. Watch the trailer here and watch the film for free below. There's also a 4-minute bio here if you want to know a little something about the real David Horton. ...

Family, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

The Gospel Blimp

Satire / Drama 38 min / 1967 Rating: 8/10 It may be 40 years old now, but this understated satire still ranks among the better Christian films ever made. It begins with a group of enthusiastic Christians having a barbeque in their backyard, and discussing how they can evangelize the unconverted next-door neighbor. They all know the conventional ways of doing it, but they’re looking for something… special. As they’re relaxing, sitting back in their lawn chairs, a blimp flies overhead, and that’s when it hits them – that’s what they need to do! Buy a blimp so they can fly it over the neighbor’s house, and over the entire town, and throw down gospel tracks. That’ll get people’s attention. What a brilliant plan! That they miss the obvious alternative is only part of the film's point, but it's this satiric take that makes this both cutting and memorable. Their plans just keep getting bigger and bigger! The Gospel Blimp is based on a book of the same title by Joseph Bayly that cuts even deeper (and there was also a comic book adaptation that did so a little less so). What allows this version to be just as engaging four decades later is its still relevant point – that we make evangelism harder than it needs to be – and the clever way it was first filmed. This is home movie-esque, and as a home movie we don't expect car chases or explosions, and we aren't put off by the grainy film. Like The Blair Witch Project famously did, the producers took what would otherwise have been a weakness – less than high definition camera work – and have turned it into a strength by making it a sign of authenticity: the home movie feel lets us know we're getting an intimate, up-close, look and this group's evangelistic efforts. This would be a great short film to share with any group of Christian friends and then talk about afterward – it offers lots of fodder for discussion. You can watch it for free below. ...

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. ...

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 imagines 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. ...

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....

Family, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

The Sparky Chronicles: The Map

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

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Science - Creation/Evolution

Dismantled: a scientific deconstruction of the theory of evolution

Documentary 2020 / 93 minutes Rating: 8/10 The Creation vs. Evolution debate is sometimes portrayed as being the Bible vs. Science, but Dismantled wants us to know that while creationists certainly stand on the Bible, they aren't conceding on Science. Flipping the script, the documentary begins by asking if evolution should be considered scientific. "Is it proper to equate evolution with science? Does science have the ability to address questions regarding past events that we were not there to directly observe or verify – events like the spontaneous origins of the universe, the origin of life from non-life, and the evolution of the earliest life forms into mammals? Or might we be giving science a power that it does not have? To answer this, it is important that we accurately define science, as well as its limitations." Evolution has street cred because it's supposed to be scientific – it claims to come from the very same source of knowledge that gave us rockets, microwaves pizza, smartphones, and self-driving cars. But as Dismantled notes, evolution has little in common with that sort of science. A quote from the film, taken from a biology textbook, explains that: "Scientific inquiry is a powerful way to know nature, but there are limitations to the kind of questions it can answer. These limits are set by science's requirements that hypotheses be testable and falsifiable and that observations and experimental results be repeatable." It is precisely the testable, repeatable, falsifiable nature of operational science that got us a man on the moon, and it is precisely those points that evolution's historical science doesn't share. Our origins involve events that happened long ago and aren't repeatable, making these events hard to test, and these theories hard to falsify. So the origins debate isn't about the Bible vs. Science, but more about one historical account vs. another... with the notable difference that one of those historical accounts is thousands of years old and unchanging, and the other is a recent creation and constantly being revised. That's the film's lead-off point, and it takes the first 20 minutes to make it. From there, they go on to assess which of these two historical accounts seem a better fit with the world we observe around us. That's the bulk of the film, and this 70-minute tour takes us through topics including: the micro = macro fallacy which assumes, without evidence, that small changes can add up to bigger ones genetics including the limits of supposed "beneficial mutations," and the problem of genetic entropy – that we as a species are breaking down faster than natural selection could ever build us up – and the supposed genetic similarity between man and apes the fossil record including Man's supposed ape-like ancestors, and the humanity of Neanderthals radiometric dating and its problems Dismantled is a slick production – the visuals are fantastic! – but its strength is in the scientists consulted. Whether it is Jason Lisle, John Sandford, Georgia Purdom, Rob Carter, Andrew Snelling, Nathaniel Jeanson (PhDs one and all), they all know how to explain big ideas to the rest of us who may not have been in a science class for decades. That doesn't mean this is all easy to understand, and I think most of us will have to (and be happy to) watch this twice, just because there is so much here to chew on. Cautions The one caution I'll note regards a mistake the film could, indirectly, encourage: believing the Bible only when the evidence says it is reasonable to do so. It is important to remember the evidence discussed in Dismantled wasn't available 100 years ago, and yet God's Word was just as true then. We need to know the Bible isn't true because it syncs up with the evidence; rather, the reason the evidence syncs up with the Bible is that the Bible is true. If that doesn't seem like much of a difference, its significance becomes apparent when the evidence doesn't seem to fit with the Bible. In those circumstances, if our trust is grounded in the evidence rather than the Bible, then we will side with it, against God's Word. But if we trust God, then we'll always stick with the Bible, trusting that any apparent conflicts will be resolved in time. Conclusion Dismantled is superb, summarizing important foundational concepts even as it presents the most current findings. I'd recommend it as a purchase, rather than a rental, because you'll want to watch it again to be able to properly digest all that is on offer. The target audience is high school and up, and for those who want to dig in even deeper, a great place to start is the recommended resources list available on the film's website. You can check out the trailer below, and then rent it on Amazon.com or buy the DVD or Blu-ray at Creation.com. And now a half-hour clip of the film can be viewed for free. ...

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. ...

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.  ...

Movie Reviews, Sexuality, Watch for free

In His Image: Delighting in God's Plan for Gender and Sexuality

Documentary 2020 / 104 minutes Rating: 8/10 One of the most serious challenges that the Christian church is currently facing is in the area of gender and sexuality. When the church holds fast to the Biblical teaching that God created us male and female, that God is the one who defines our gender, and that marriage is a sacred, lifelong bond between one man and one woman, then we are placing ourselves distinctly outside of the mainstream of our society. What's more, the challenge to the Bible's teaching on gender and sexuality comes not only from outside of the church, but also from within. Because of the importance of this issue, it is essential that Christians be prepared. First of all, we must understand what God's Word teaches about sexuality and human relationships, in order to personally stand firm on that solid foundation and not be led astray by the latest cultural trends. Secondly, we must be prepared to lovingly stand up for that teaching, in the face of often virulent opposition. Finally, we must be ready to serve, help, and love those who are struggling in this area. In a world in which abuse and disorder have affected the lives of so many, the church needs to be ready and willing to serve as a beacon of hope, a place where the healing truth of the gospel can be found. The church is where that life-giving and hope-giving message must not only be proclaimed, but also lived out! A resource that can help In His Image: Delighting in God's Plan for Gender and Sexuality is a valuable resource for Christians who need to be equipped to understand and apply the truth of Scripture in their personal lives, in their relationships, and in their interaction with our culture. This documentary was released in 2020 by the American Family Association, and is available online as well as in a DVD set, for use as a group study resource. As a full length film, this is not a shallow treatment of the issues, and it would be a worthwhile resource for several weeks' worth of small group study and discussion. The documentary features a number of personal stories, including that of Walt Heyer, who lived for eight years as a woman before having his "sex change" reversed. A number of pastors and theologians also contributed to the film, including Kevin deYoung, Sean McDowell, and James R. White. It starts with the Bible In His Image begins with a discussion of that foundational Biblical teaching, that every human being is created in the image of God. Beginning with the creation of Adam and Eve in God's image, the documentary bases everything that follows on the teaching of Scripture, emphasizing the sufficiency and the authority of God's Word. From those very important starting points, the film goes on to address other means of addressing the issues. As Robert Gagnon, Professor of New Testament Theology at Houston Baptist University, emphasizes, we begin with Scripture, we make use of philosophical reasoning and scientific evidence, and finally, we turn to personal experience. Sadly, the tendency in our culture is for personal experience to take precedence over everything else. In His Image, while using a number of personal stories that really make an impact, gets things right by focusing first and foremost on the Word of God as the ultimate source of wisdom. I highly recommend In His Image as a very powerful and useful resource that will help to strengthen Christians in their commitment to God's Word in the face of ever-increasing pressure to conform our thinking with that of the world. The message of Scripture is proclaimed boldly and without compromise. But importantly, this is done in a way that emphasizes the Good News of Jesus Christ, and how we can show genuine love for our neighbour by proclaiming, and living, that truth. You can watch the trailer for In His Image below, and see the film for free at InHisImage.movie. Rev. Jim Witteveen blogs at CreationWithoutCompromise.com....

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. ...

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. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Overcomer

Drama /Family 2019 / 119 minutes RATING: 7/10 This was going to be John Harrison's year. The high school basketball coach had all his best players returning, ready to make a legitimate run at the championship. But then the local steel manufacturing plant closed and took their 6,000 employees, and most of his players, out of town. So what's a basketball coach to do when he has no team? How about switching to a new sport? But when the school principal convinces John Harrison to give coaching cross country a try, his new team turns out to be just one student, Hannah,...and she has asthma. That setup allows for a generous dollop of humor in this drama, but the best part of this film is more serious. Producers, the Kendrick Brothers, are known for packing messages into their movies, and they do so once again, making this film/sermon about finding our identity, not in our job, spouse, political party allegiance, or what ethnic group we're part of, but in Who we belong to. That's a message the Church needs to hear. Because this is a message movie, it is easy to criticize – one secular reviewer rated it as just one star because it was too "churchy." However, for Overcomer's intended audience, being edified even as we're entertained is no reason to knock a film. What makes bad Christian films bad is not that they have a sermon inserted in there somewhere. The truth is, every film, Christian or secular, has a message, and the quality of the message is often what sets the great ones apart from the good ones (think Chariots of Fire, Lord of the Rings, Casablanca). What makes bad Christian films bad is that they deliver their message poorly, with bad acting, bad writing, bad production values, or some combination thereof. In contrast, the Kendrick Brothers been upping their game from film to film. And Overcomer is them at their very best. CAUTIONS Though there are no concerns about sex, language, or violence, there are still a couple cautions to share. The first is that there are some Arminian flavorings to the film, coming out most overtly when school principal Olivia Brooks tells Hannah that Jesus offers salvation, but "He doesn't force it on you." That, surely, is news to Paul, whom Jesus turned right around on that road to Damascus, and without his permission. I heard an Arminian friend once liken Jesus to "a gentleman" in that he would never force Himself on us. But God, in His Word, reveals Himself, not as a gentleman, but as a parent, and as every parent knows, when our children head off in the wrong direction, we do force our will on theirs. That's what loving parents do. However, this flavoring is a minor matter. More substantial is when Coach Harrison discovers that Hannah's dead father is actually someone he knows...and isn't dead at all. Hannah's grandmother, who is raising her, told Hannah her father was dead because he was into drugs, and because he had indirectly caused Hannah's mother's death by getting her involved in drugs too. So grandma, to keep Hannah away from a father who had caused them such pain, told her this lie. Coach Harrison ends up going behind the grandmother's back to introduce Hannah to her now Christian father. It all works out for the good, but that a teacher would work actively against a guardian's wishes should have been treated as a bigger issue than the film made it. It is a complicated situation, with an absent father's interests conflicting with the desires of the established guardian grandmother. But it seems, at the least, Coach Harrison needed to go to the grandmother and tried to convince her, rather than going behind her back. While that's a big issue, it's an easy enough one for parents to correct by hitting the pause button and discussing. CONCLUSION What makes the film worth watching is the overall identity message. Even here there are nits to pick, as the Arminian flavoring to the film manages to even make having Jesus as first in our life somehow about us, as much as it is about Him. That said, this is still an effective reminder of how often we can put other things – our career, our family, our hobbies, our interests – ahead of our God. If your family liked Facing the Giants, or Courageous, or any of their previous films, you'll certainly enjoy the Kendrick Brothers' latest effort too. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

The Riot and the Dance: Water

Documentary 2020 / 84 minutes RATING: 8/10 Biologist Gordon Wilson has produced another beautiful ode to God's creation. The Riot and the Dance: Water explores how gloriously the Lord has made life in the lakes, rivers, oceans and ponds of the world. Wilson's narration is at times playful, at times serious, but always joyfully awestruck at what God has made. "Water is full of death. Water is full of life. It forms another world inside our own..." "…we will enter the liquid world and we will reemerge a little bit changed, with eyes that see this creation differently, with a little more knowledge of the artist who made it all." Wilson swims with sharks, snorkels with manatees, scubas with alligators, and wades in a slimy swamp, all in the quest to chronicle life underwater. Off the coast of Oahu, he finds green sea turtles, Galapagos and sandbar sharks, moray eels, and spinner dolphins. Why do spinner dolphins spin as they playfully leap from the water? "Because it's fun. Because it's fantastic. Because it pleases God." Another leaper found off the California coast is the humpback whale, expending tremendous energy to push its massive, 60,000-pound body out of the water in a display of power and joy. While exalting the beauty of created life, Wilson also explores the horrors of death, which is such a part of our fallen world. Chum salmon by the thousands die as they flail and flop on their journey up freshwater creeks and rivers. A giant water bug captures a much larger frog, pierces its victim's skin with a sharp beak, and literally sucks the life out of its prey (yes, this scene is pretty chilling, and perhaps a bit too graphic for youngsters). The biologist also muses on what nature will be like in the next life: "We see that all of creation is going to be redeemed, and some of the greatest threats that we see in the animal kingdom... they are going to be redeemed, and they can be redeemed without becoming tame. I'm not even going to guess what it's going to be like, but it's going to be glorious!" The camera work is wonderful, the vistas and scenery are inspiring, and Wilson's thoughtful narration brings a sense of wonder and adventure. It is very refreshing to watch a nature documentary without having to ignore secular commentary on evolution and billions of years. We can heartily recommend this film to Christians of all ages… although some might wish to skip the giant water bug scene! You can check out the trailer below, or rent it for just $1 here. And be sure to check out Marty VanDriel's review of "The Riot and the Dance: Earth." ...

Family, Movie Reviews

The Wild Brothers: 8-episode DVD series (+ free vlog series)

Reality / Documentary Each episode is 28-30 min / 2015-2016 Rating: 7/10 Everyone in our family enjoyed this DVD series, from our 2-year-old all the way up to mom and dad. At series start, the Wild family lives in the deep jungles of Papua, Indonesia, where dad is a missionary to the Wanu tribe. The four Wild brothers are the sort of boys who collect pets in their pockets, and who love to explore the jungle with a butterfly net in one hand and a slingshot in the other. In their first adventure, titled Welcome to our World, we get introduced to the family, and the boys introduce us to God’s creation. We go hunting with them, we’re introduced to their best friend, a native Indonesian child named Pu, and we get to watch their facial expressions as Pu introduces them to a local delicacy, raw echidna brain. A fun extra is the boys skinning a ten-foot python that even after it has been dead for an hour is still moving! The second in the series, called Jewels of the Jungle, follows the family as they go butterfly and moth-hunting. Our girls wanted to buy butterfly nets of their own after that one. Then in the third, Paradise Lost, the family is on vacation with another missionary couple, the Browns, and their three girls. My own girls love this series even though it is all about boys, but I think they appreciated how the girl-to-boy ratio was upped for this adventure. The two families head from the inland missions to on the coast of a beautiful island. From this home base they head out each day to explore reefs and bays and check out sea turtles, manta rays, and sea snakes and so many gorgeous fish. Some misadventures also occur, some painful, like mom getting stung by a jellyfish, and some hilarious, like the boys contending with a large snake (8-12 feet long) that decided to take up residence in their cabin roof. As they do in each episode, the boys bring a solid Christian perspective to their exploration: when they come across an old bone deposit – a burial grounds where skulls are haphazardly stacked by each other – they take the opportunity to talk about how despite the beauty of this world, it is still fallen, and waiting for restoration. There are five other episodes, and each is just as interesting as the next. The only disappointment is maybe in the way the series concludes. In the last two episodes they are make preparations to sail across the ocean in a giant canoe. It is fascinating, as they carve the boat out with local help, and point out parallels to what Noah had to do. But because this is real life, and because in real life sometimes plans get upended, the finale doesn't end on the triumphant note we might have wished for. Cautions There are no cautions to note. While it isn’t clear what denominational background the family is from, the Christian reflections the boys and their parents share with viewers are thoughtful and solid. In one episode a brief shot of some human skulls is seen, and an encounter with a snake in the extra features of one episode was just a tiny bit scary for my little ones. That said, my girls, at the time 2 though 6, enjoyed this immensely – that little bit of tension didn't scare them away! Conclusion The Wild Brothers are very adventurous boys, the sort who play with bugs, and even eat the odd one now and again...at least when they are properly cooked! And they are very godly boys too, very aware of how God makes Himself evident in the creation all around us. And while they are boys, this was exciting for me girls too – I don't know that they fully appreciate bugs yet, but this did move them in that direction. I'd recommend this as great viewing for families with young kids from 10 and under. Mom and dad will enjoy it too, but there might not be enough action for the teenagers. You can buy the series on DVD or via download at AnswersInGenesis.org and as DVDs at Amazon. The trailer below is for the first episode, Welcome to our World. Addendum: free vlog series The Wild Brothers also now have a free vlog series, called "Highlands to Island" that you can find here. While you should watch the first episode, my daughters and I found the later episodes, from maybe 8 onward (there are 30 so far) more interesting than the first few. The vlog isn't quite the DVD series, but until new DVDs come out, this sure is a nice way to reconnect with this wonderful missionary family. https://assets.answersingenesis.org/vid/prod/etc/trailer/30-9-507_wild-brothers-1-trailer.mp4...

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