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Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Noah’s Ark: Thinking outside the box

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

Drama, Movie Reviews, Recent Articles

To save a life

Drama 120 minutes; 2010 Rating: 7/10 To Save A Life is about teen suicide... and also premarital sex, abortion, underage drinking, cutting, bullying, divorce, divorce's impact on children, adultery, drug use, gossip, and Christian hypocrisy. It's a realistic look into the teen party culture, and consequently, we see some students smoking pot, a couple about to engage in sex, lots of drinking, and a lot of immodest dress. This description might make the film seem too much like today's typical teen fare - partying kids, and the fun they have. But here's the twist: To Save A Life is about being willing to stick out instead of fit in, being willing to reach out, to walk our talk, to take responsibility for our sins, to be willing to forgive, and to take God and what He says in his Word seriously. High school senior Jake Taylor is the star guard on the school's basketball team. He has what everyone wants: the looks, the friends, the prettiest girl in school. Roger Dawson is on the other end of the social spectrum. He wonders if anyone would even notice if he just disappeared. In despair, he walks into school and pulls out a gun in a crowded hallway. As he swings the gun barrel towards his own head, only one student speaks up - Jake - but it's too late. Roger kills himself. That's how the film begins, and the rest is about how Jake reacts to Roger's suicide. It haunts him because the two of them used to be friends. But Jake ditched Roger soon after they both started high school, when Jake got in with the popular kids. Roger needed a friend. Jake was too busy pursuing the "high school dream" to care. Guilt-ridden, Jake first turns to alcohol, and then to sex to try to forget. But those are only short-term diversions. Eventually, he ends up in a nearby church, attending the youth service. But here, too, he isn't finding what he hoped - the group is full of youth who aren't walking their talk. He knows many of these same church kids are smoking pot during school, or are part of the same party scene he's running from. In disgust, he shouts out a challenge to the group: "What is the use of all this if you aren't going to let it change you?" Sure, some of the kids aren't genuine, but some are, and Jake's angry challenge stirs things up. They start meeting for lunch at school and start reaching out to others on the outside to come join them. They befriend the friendless. Cautions When this was first released it was quite a controversial film in Christian circles. Not many Christian films earn a PG-13 rating. But while the film's realistic portrayal of teen depravity means this is not a film for children, this "grit" has been used with care and restraint is evident. Still, there are reasons parents might want to preview this film before watching with their teens. In addition to the intense topic matter, here are some more specific cautions to consider: Immodest dress. Some of the girls are wearing outfits that would look much nicer, and much warmer, with a coat on. One student says "dammit" and another says "hell" There may be another instance or two of such curse words, but no one takes God's name in vain. A couple, with the boy shirtless, are shown on a bed kissing, clearly about to have sex (which is not shown). One boy is shown cutting his arm (not much gore, but we do see a little blood). A boy kills himself by shooting himself in the head. We see no blood or gore, but it is an emotionally intense scene. This is a complex movie because of the sheer number of issues it takes on and because it takes on so much, it does breeze over some issues, and deals with some others in an overly simplistic way. This includes God's gospel message. Viewers might leave with the impression that God's gospel message is meant as good news for this life - that if we follow what He says, things will start going better for us here and now. This is the "Gospel as a self-help guide" error common to many Christian films and novels. It isn't explicitly stated in To Save A Life so I don't want to dwell on it. The truth is, things do often start going better for us when we follow God's will. His law can act as a fence around us; when we stay within its bounds we are safe from many things that might otherwise harm us. At the same time, serving God can come at a cost - think of the many martyrs around the world. And in the high school setting, especially in a public school but even in Christian ones, serving God can cost you friends and popularity. That's a point that To Save A Life touches on, but also glosses over. Conclusion This would have rated higher if the acting had been better – sometimes it is quite good, but the star himself is decidedly average. (It may interest some that commentator Steven Crowder, in a minor role here as best friend, does a pretty solid job.) What this is, first and foremost, is a message film, and on that front, it is powerful. How do Christians do high school differently?  As To Save A Life shows, oftentimes we don't do it differently at all - we're involved in the same drunkenness, the same rebellion, the same quest to fit in. Our peers matter to us more than our parents, and more than God. But what if we lived as lights? What if God, and what He thought, mattered more to us than what our friends thought of us? What if we did unto others as we would like them to do unto us? Then we might do high school quite differently. To Save A Life explores what that difference might look like, and while the film is gritty at times, it is a great resource for parents and their teenage children. It is an enjoyable film, but more importantly a challenging one. Parents: use it to challenge your kids. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, RP App, Theology, Watch for free

Free film: The God Who Speaks

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

Articles, Entertainment, Humor, Satire

The pitch meeting for "Redeeming Love"

PRODUCER: Do you have a new movie for me? SCREENWRITER: Yes, sir. This is gonna be gold, trust me. It’s an adaptation of a steamy romance novel set on the western frontier. PR: What? You do know our company is called Pure Flix, right? Not Impure Flix. SW: No, it’s a Christian novel. PR: A “steamy” Christian novel? SW: Yeah. PR: . . . SW: What is it? PR: I’m trying to find a multiverse where “steamy” and “Christian” belong together. Those terms aren’t exactly bedfellows. SW: But our main characters are, if you know what I mean. PR: What? SW: Well, the female protagonist is a prostitute. PR: Okay, this is not your best movie pitch, I gotta tell you. SW: It’s a redemptive story, though. PR: How so? SW: Well, it’s called Redeeming Love. So... PR: Oh, I see. It’s right there in the title: “Redeeming.” SW: Yeah, and it’s sold over three million copies since its publication in 1991. It’s really popular with the Christian ladies. It could make us a ton of money! PR: In that case, I guess I can take a look at the script. SW: Yeah, it’s a love story inspired by the book of Hosea. PR: You mean, from the Bible? About the prophet named Hosea who was commanded by God to marry a sexually promiscuous woman named Gomer? SW: That’s the one—only in the movie, her name is Angel, and she is forced into prostitution at a young age. PR: Oh no! SW: Yeah, life’s basically thrown everything but a feral prairie dog at her, so the audience will feel super empathetic—what with her poor, miserable, wretched life. PR: But that’s fairly incongruous with the story of Hosea, where Gomer is kinda playing the part of the antagonist. SW: Sure, but this isn’t the literal book of Hosea. I mean, it’s a fictional story. PR: I’m confused. SW: That’s because you haven’t heard the story yet. PR: Okay, fine. Tell me the story. SW: Like I said, Angel’s been mistreated her whole life, and she ends up as a prostitute. Then this man named Hosea— PR: Hey, that’s the name of the prophet! SW: Exactly, sir. Remember, this is an allegory. PR: But you just said… SW: Anyway, this guy named Hosea—he goes into town one day, sees Angel, and immediately wants to marry her. PR: Oh, love at first sight? SW: I mean, kinda. God basically tells him he’s gonna marry Angel. PR: Oh, really? SW: Yeah. So he pays double price to spend time with Angel. PR: Whoa, whoa, whoa. We can’t have that in a Christian movie. SW: No, he just wants to talk with Angel. To, you know, get to know her as a person. PR: Oh, okay. SW: So he goes to see Angel, and she’s just standing there fully naked— PR: Whoa, whoa, whoa! Why is she stark naked? We can’t have that in a Christian movie. SW: What can I say? I mean, it’s a brothel. It’s basically like a nudist colony, right? PR: I’m pretty sure prostitutes aren’t naked all the time. SW: Well, we’ll just…frame the shot so certain parts of her body are blocked from view. How’s that? PR: Fair enough. SW: So Hosea tells Angel she’s going to be his wife because God says so. PR: Really? He just out and says it? SW: Sure. I mean, haven’t high school kids been doing that to their crushes for, like, forever? PR: Oh, good point. SW: Exactly. So Hosea spends a ton of money to spend time talking with Angel. He woos her with his prophecies about their upcoming marriage, and after he badgers her for a long time— PR: He badgers her? So she’s not interested at all? SW: Not a lick. PR: I’m sorry, this doesn’t really sound like the book of Hosea. SW: No, this is a work of fiction. PR: But you said— SW: Anyway, after a lot of convincing, Angel finally agrees to be his wife and he takes her to his farm. PR: Well, shucks. That sounds like a fairly short movie to me. SW: No, it’s not over yet. The best part’s coming. PR: Oh, really? SW: Yeah, yeah, yeah. After Hosea finally gains Angel’s confidence, the two start getting…intimate. PR: Intimate? How so? SW: PR: You mean…like they finally have an open and honest discussion by a warm fire or something? SW: No, I mean…intimate. PR: You mean…like snuggling next to a warm fire? SW: No. PR: Oh, you mean like a romantic… SW: Yes! PR: …candle-lit dinner? SW: No! There is no fire and no candle! PR: So, they…eat a romantic dinner in the dark? SW: No, I’m not talking about “dinner table” intimacy, I’m talking about “bedroom” intimacy. PR: But why would they take their dinner to bed? SW: There’s no dinner! Forget dinner. There’s no food whatsoever! PR: You’re going to have them go to bed without any dinner? How is that intimate? SW: As a husband and wife, they enjoy what husbands and wives enjoy…you know, when they’re…husband and wife. Alone. With no one else around to watch (except for the audience, in this case). PR:  . . . SW:  . . . PR: Oh! Now I understand. SW: Yes… PR: They start kissing, and then we cut to them covered and snuggling afterward. That’s sweet. And props to you for giving a positive portrayal of marriage and all. SW: No, they start kissing, but that’s only the beginning. PR: The beginning of what? SW: We’ll spend, like, a couple whole minutes watching them kiss and take each other’s clothes off and fondle and copulate and— PR: What the cuss?! SW: Uh, did you just say “what the cuss”? PR: This is poo on a stick! SW: What is? PR: This whole load of hooey you’re trying to sell me! There’s no way in Sheol we’re going to actually show two characters getting intimate onscreen. SW: But they’re married. It’s totally legit. PR: Who would even agree to do that?! It’s not like Christian actors are standing in line waiting to shoot nude or sex scenes. You won’t get Kirk Cameron or Neil McDonough— SW: Okay, so we’ll…get an intimacy coordinator. That’s all the rage these days, right? PR: That doesn’t change the fact that you’re pitching a Christian film with onscreen sex. What’s gotten into that hip, edgy brain of yours? SW: Look, consider this: all the film’s sex scenes— PR: All of them? You’re planning on multiple sex scenes?! SW: No, no, no. Only, like, two. And they’ll both involve just the main characters—who, I might point out, are married. And unless someone edited the Bible lately… PR: Sorry, I’ve not read that copy lately. SW: . . . Where is Proverbs? Aren’t the books in alphabetical order? PR: No, Proverbs is in the Wisdom Literature section. SW: Where is that? Is it reverse alphabetical order? A few minutes later...  SW: Here it is! Hiding right there in the middle. Strange. Okay, Proverbs 5:19. “As a loving hind and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; be exhilarated always with her love.” I’m basically using that as a script for one of the scenes. This movie is, after all, based on the Bible. PR: Wait, you just said— SW: This isn’t illicit sex we’re talking about. It’s married sex. The best kind. The kind that any woman would want to drag her husband and children to the theater to watch together. PR: Married sex isn’t supposed to be a spectator sport! SW: Look, we’re not gonna be filming real sex. It’s just simulated. Nothing really happens. PR: Oh. So, even the kissing will be a special effect? SW: No, they’ll be kissing for real. PR: So them taking off their clothes will be a special effect? SW: No. They’ll take their clothes off. PR: So the fondling will be a special effect? SW: No, he’ll really be touching her. PR: So the thrusting will be fake? SW: Why would that need to be fake? It’ll be real thrusting. PR: So when you say, “Nothing happens,” you really mean…everything happens. SW: No, nothing does happen. I mean, they don’t actually…“do the do.” PR: But they do do everything else leading up to “the do,” which they simulate with thrusting? SW: Right. Non-sexual thrusting. PR: When is thrusting not sexual? When are fondling and thrusting not sexual? SW: When it’s acting? I mean, the actors we’ll hire probably won’t be in an actual relationship. PR: So, if two people aren’t in an actual relationship, any intimate activities they engage in are magically unsexual? SW: Not when you put it like that. But in this case, yes. None of the sex will be actually real. It’s simply actors doing everything married couples do (except the “final act,” of course) in front of a camera, with footage that will be considered by audiences to be hot and steamy. Only a prude would consider that sexual. It’s not real. PR: Is your brain even real? SW: Okay, let’s take a step back. I think we’re losing perspective. The whole point of this movie—the whole point—is to be redemptive, right? PR: I suppose. I mean, it’s in the title. SW: Right. Exactly. So, in order to redeem this movie, we need to show audiences just how hot and steamy married sex can be. PR: We need to do that? SW: Yes! If Hollywood wants to take us down the road of porn-inspired content, we’ll turn the tables with our Christian sex scenes—but with the actors’ critical body parts strategically blocked. PR: Wait. So the actors won’t be naked? SW: That’s not what I mean. The actors will be in various stages of undress, but we won’t see it. That’s all that matters, right? Who cares if the actors have to actually get naked on set and touch each other in…“Proverbs 5:19” places? We won’t see any full nudity ourselves. By placing his hands on her, the actor will be protecting the sexual well-being of the audience. PR: But not his sexual wellbeing—or hers, for that matter. SW: That’s just the thing. Instead of getting professing Christians to play the roles of Angel and Hosea, we’ll get people who won’t put up a fuss. It’ll be perfect. I’m sure we can find actors who lack a scriptural sexual ethic. That’s the ideal recipe for shooting godly sex scenes that will whack people over the head with the good news of steamy love. PR: You mean “redeeming” love? SW: Right. What did I say? PR: What about the other sex scene? SW: What about it? PR: Can they keep their clothes on for that one? SW: Ah, a compromise. I can dig it. Sure, we’ll choreograph it so the actors can remain basically fully clothed. It’ll be so pure, it’ll rock the audience’s socks off! PR: Keep those socks on – we have enough clothes coming off in this project already. SW: Will do, sir. You’re the boss. PR: And I don’t want the male protagonist’s first name to be Hosea. This story just isn’t a very accurate allegory. SW: Okay, we can call him…Mike. Or Michael. PR: Fine. SW: Yeah, Michael Hosea. PR: I guess that will work. SW: Good! Oh, and I just had another great thought. PR: What? SW: You know that fully clothed sex scene? PR: . . .Yeah? SW: We can use a screenshot of that scene for the official movie poster. PR: What?! This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared at Cap Stewart's blog Unpop Culture, and is reprinted here with permission. Cap is also the author of the online curriculum Personal Purity Isn’t Enough: The Long-Forgotten Secret to Making Scriptural Entertainment Choices, and has contributed to numerous print and online publications, including Zondervan Academic, The Christian Post, and The Gospel Coalition....

Drama, Movie Reviews

C.S. Lewis: the most reluctant convert

Biographical drama 93 minutes / 2021 RATING: 9/10 If you already know Lewis you're going to love this film; if you don't, this film will soon have you loving Lewis for the way he could put into words the wonder God works in his and our own hearts. This is the story of Lewis's conversion from ardent atheist to "the most reluctant convert," bowing his knee to God not because he wanted to, but because he couldn't do otherwise. It's also a story superbly told. There are three different actors playing Lewis, one as a boy, another as Lewis in his twenties, and the third, portrayed by Max McLean, as Lewis in his fifties. McLean's Lewis, the Christian Lewis, is actually the film's narrator, "breaking the fourth wall" by talking directly to the audience and explaining the thoughts being thunk by the other younger still-kicking-against-the-goads Lewises. It's all shot on location, so we're able to walk along with the older Lewis through the halls of Oxford as he takes us, for example, to a pivotal discussion his younger self is about to have with J.R.R. Tolkien. What an absolute delight! The showing I went to with my brother-in-law started with a 12-minute documentary, The Making of the Most Reluctant Convert. It was an odd way to begin, and a friend mentioned that this featurette was likely supposed to come afterward. But because the film itself has a non-stop intensity – not from car chases or explosions, but from the young Lewis's constant wrestlings with God – it was a help to have this slower introduction. Like the blurb on the back cover of a book, the featurette summed up what was to come, prepping us before we were launched right into it. Whether intentional or not, front-loading the featurette was brilliant, and if it doesn't come that way on the DVD, I'd recommend heading to the special features to begin with the documentary first. Lewis fans will quickly notice that the dialogue is taken almost entirely from his books, all stitched together seamlessly by McLean himself. The dialogue is similar to the script he wrote for his one-man play C.S. Lewis Onstage which was the seed for this film version. But while the play is very good, the fully fleshed-out film is downright fantastic. What makes this an amazing film is that the excellent acting, writing, and craftmanship are put in service to the more excellent work God did in Lewis's heart. God took a man angry at God and determined to run from Him, and transformed this rebel into the foremost Christian apologist of the twentieth century. And then He used that man as a spark for many thousands (millions?) more such transformations. Cautions The closest thing to a caution I can offer is that Lewis doesn't offer complete answers to the theological difficulties his atheist self raises. That might be disconcerting to some, even as it is also one of the film's strengths. The fact is, there is no completely satisfactory answer to, for example, the problem of pain, and the film doesn't pretend otherwise. God has given us reason to trust Him, but He hasn't told us all, so sometimes we do indeed need to trust Him. I'll note also that Lewis was no 5-point Calvinist. However, his conversion story makes him sound almost like one: the account he shares is of God grabbing hold of him. Lewis takes no credit for it himself. Conclusion From the twist right at the start to a conclusion that left us wanting more, this was a story superbly told. Add in a subject worthy of this craft and creativity, and I can't imagine how this could have been better; it is certainly one of the best films I've ever seen. And, lest you think I'm getting all gushy, I'll add that my brother-in-law liked it even more. Watch the trailer below, and check out the movie website here to see how you can rent it online, from now until January 2. It's $20 which might seem a bit steep, but not so bad if you make it a group movie night. ...

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

Hidden Places

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

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 9/10 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. ...

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