Life's busy, read it when you're ready!

Create a free account to save articles for later, keep track of past articles you’ve read, and receive exclusive access to all RP resources.

Browse thousands of RP articles

Articles, news, and reviews with a Biblical perspective to inform, equip, and encourage Christians.

Get Articles Delivered!

Articles, news,and reviews with a Biblical perspective to inform, equip, and encourage Christians delivered direct to your inbox!


Most Recent



The Rest


Animated, Movie Reviews

The Phantom Tollbooth

Animated 1970 / 89 minutes Rating: 7/10 This is a peculiar movie based on a peculiar book, and as such, will have only peculiar appeal – this is not for everyone. Things begin in "live-action" with Milo, a boy bored by everything, returning home from school to discover a mysterious package in his bedroom. It's a tollbooth – a talking tollbooth! – that invites him on an adventure if he has the gumption to go. So Milo hops in a miniature car, and the moment he drives through the tollbooth, the whole film switches over into animation, taking him to a weird and wacky world that couldn't be depicted any other way. Both the book and the film are a morality tale, but of a secular sentiment. The bored boy is going to learn that all those things he's being taught in school – numbers, and letters, addition and spelling, subtraction and writing – are far more interesting than he's ever realized. He'll make this discovery by visiting the kingdom of Digitopolis, where numbers rank at the top, and the kingdom of Dictionopolis where words are said to be supreme. But this is a topsy turvy world, where a watchdog actually has a watch inside him, and a spelling bee, is a bee that can spell! Some of that craziness is the way this world has always been, but things got worse after the kings of Digitoplosis and Dictionoplois banished their sisters, Rhyme and Reason. As the kings should have known, without Rhyme and Reason, things can get too silly, too quickly! That's why they task Milo with rescuing the princesses, equipping him to contend with the demons of ignorance that he'll meet along the way. These demons include the Terrible Triviam, who tempts people to do unimportant tasks now, instead of the thing they really should get to. Then there's the Demon of Insincerity, the Hideos Two-Faced Hypocrite, the Over-bearing-Know-It-All, and the Threadbare Excuse, all able to derail industry and the search for Truth. But Milo is ready to fight! Caution One caution would concern the demons, which might be scary for children. But these aren't Satan's minions – these are personifications of temptations (like in Pilgrim's Progress) that are trying to ensnare and delay Milo. The other caution concerns the princesses Rhyme and Reason. Logic is an outworking of God's character, but in this secular story, logic – Rhyme and Reason – are the "gods" of the film (though they aren't described as such) able to completely transform the kingdom and save the day. It will be worth pointing out to kids how logic is not itself foundational, but lies on the foundation of God Himself. Conclusion This will be of interest to any who've read the book. For those not already familiar with the story, the closest thing I can liken it to is Alice in Wonderland, not in plot, but – I'll say it again – peculiarity. If your family is the sort that would be up for the surreal Alice, then they may love this adventure too! That said, this takes a bit to get into - you might need to watch half an hour before you get a feel for what sort of movie this is. And also note, this is a film to be paused and discussed to be properly appreciated, whether to explain the wordplay to kids, or to point out to them the lesson Milo is learning. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

Balto

Family /Animated 1995 / 78 minutes Rating: 7/10 In 1925, the city of Nome, Alaska was hit by an outbreak of diphtheria, a coughing sickness that is deadly to children. While that might not seem the best topic for a kid's animated movie, they went and did it anyway, and made something special! You see, the diphtheria was treatable, but the doctor was out of serum to treat it and the closest train could only bring a new batch to within 700 miles. No problem, that's what bush planes are for. But then a severe storm front grounded the bush planes. That left only dogsled teams to bridge the gap. They had to make a more than 1,000-mile round trip, through the most severe of weather, which made getting lost an easy and deadly thing to do. Many sled teams, and more than 100 dogs, were involved, but the very last team, the one that brought the medicine right to the hospital door, was led by a dog named Balto. And this is his story. Or, rather, this is sort of his story. The facts were exciting enough but Hollywood still felt they had to make tweaks. So in the animated version, Balto is now half-wolf, which makes him an outsider among the town's other dogs. He also has a goose and two polar bears as friends. And he and his villainous rival Steele are both interested in the same girl, a sable-colored dog named Jenna. In reality, Balta was a Siberian husky that didn't hang around with geese or polar bears. And no details are available about his love interests. Oh, and he couldn't actually talk. But aside from historical quibbles – no one should learn their history from Disney films anyway – this is a great film. Parents will appreciate how Balto shows himself to be brave and giving, willing to risk his life for a town that has never shown him love. In a peril-filled film, we get comic relief from  Balto's friends: two polar bears afraid of water, and a goose with a Russian accent. They're also incredibly loyal, willing to stand alongside Balto no matter what he's facing, whether bullies or an enraged black bear! Cautions The big caution for this film is its level of tension. There's really no letting up  – Balto goes from having to face a bully twice his size to having to face a bear ten times his size. Then nature throws its worst at him, including giant icicles dropping down at him from a cave ceiling. One online reviewer said it was a bit much for their three-year-old daughter, but she could just close her eyes at the scary parts. I'm wondering: What kind of three-year-old could manage to not be freaked out by this? If her eyes were closed for the scary parts, did she miss three-quarters of the film? This is pretty much non-stop peril! For example, Balto and his friends fight that enormous black bear. While all the other animals in the story can talk, this is simply a beast, raging at them. When Balto fights him on a frozen lake, it looks like Balto is going to drown to death, as he disappears below the ice and it closes up over him. Adults know it will turn out all right, but little kids don't, so this is going to be super tense for them. There's also the very different sort of tension brought about by the diphtheria outbreak. In one scene, Balto and his friend Jenna peer through the hospital windows at all the sick coughing little ones. Sensitive children could certainly get worried about what will happen to all these kids. So no, this isn't for three-year-olds, and I think some ten-year-olds would have a hard time of it. But it does all have a happy ending, so kids who understand that's the direction it's heading will find this exciting, rather than scary. The only other caution would concern an odd moment where Balto, after falling off a cliff, sees a white wolf come out of the mist. I think the point of this is that Balto has to embrace the very part of himself that others are mocking - his wolf half – as it's only that toughness that will get him through. But is it a vision, or a real wolf? No words are spoken, and the scene is very short. So...odd. Conclusion For kids who can handle the tension, this will be a super-exciting movie with lots of actions but also lots of laughs. But this is not an all-ages film, as it is certain to be too tense for many kids. ...

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. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

The Jackie Robinson Story

Drama 1950 / 77 minutes Rating 7/10 This is the true story of the first black man to play Major League Baseball, made all the more interesting by the fact that Jackie Robinson plays himself and does a solid job of it. The story starts with Robinson as a boy getting his first glove. Time passes quickly and we soon seem him showing his athletics skills in multiple sports at the college level. But athletic skills, and even a college degree, didn't get his brother a good job, so Jackie isn't feeling optimistic about his future. He eventually lands a job with a traveling African-American team, but for low pay and with long days of travel keeping him away from his girlfriend. However, it's on that traveling team that he catches the eye of a Brooklyn Dodgers scout, who invites him to try out. Team president and part-owner Branch Rickey has both practical and principled reasons to want to integrate blacks onto his team: he had seen discrimination impact someone close to him and so wants to fight it, and he also knows that whatever team is first to integrate will have their pick of the best black players. Rickey wants Robinson to understand what sort of abuse he'd be signing up for. And most importantly, the two of them need to be in agreement that no matter what insults are directed at Robinson, or cheap shots delivered on the field, he can't hit back. Robinson's play, and not his fists, need to do that talking. When Robinson agrees, he's sent first to the Dodgers' min0r-league affiliate, the Montreal Royals. After leading the league in hitting, he eventually gets the call to the Dodgers, and on April 15, 1947, he made his debut for them, blowing open the doors for many others to follow. Cautions A modern-day reviewer criticized the film for presenting a muted version of the real events: we aren't shown the worst of the insults and threats that Robinson had to deal with, and consequently, we don't get a full appreciation of the courage he had to have to endure that gauntlet. That's a valid observation, but it misunderstands this film's target audience. While it isn't suitable for the very young, this is meant to be family viewing. Robinson is humble enough here but he is also trying to set an example that will impact the next generation. To reach that generation, he couldn't make a gritty R-rated film. The end result is an account of a courageous man, and his backers, fighting both deep-seated bigotry and the more surface-level ignorant sort of racism, and his story has been made suitable for ages 10 and up. Conclusion Robinson made this film in the off-season, just three years after breaking into the major leagues. While he continued to get death threats throughout his career, this still marks an encouraging shift in the populace's thinking. Just three years after many folks were jeering at him to get out, many more were now flocking to theaters to learn how he made it in. So, even as this is "muted" there's lots to love about it, including Robinson's mother directing him to God, as he wrestles with decisions he has to make. Because The Jackie Robinson Story is in the public domain, you can watch it in black and white for free below. But you can find it in higher resolution, and also in a colorized version, available on many streaming platforms that would make for much better viewing for a family movie night. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Pride and Prejudice (2003)

Romance/Comedy 104 min / 2003 Rating: 8/10 When a book is adapted for the screen, readers want it to be as close to the book as possible. So let's begin this review with a heads up: that did not happen here. The central plot remains the same – these are women "in need of a husband" – but the setting has been updated to the modern-day USA, with five girlfriends all sharing a house just off-campus. Other departures include how the first love interest, Charles Bingley, came by his wealth: selling classical music CDs for dogs, and marketing them via late-night TV infomercials. And he drives a motor scooter. Oh, and Mr. Collins' proposal now has him make the compelling argument: "Elizabeth, we've been commanded to multiply and replenish the earth." So if you aren't up for a light, silly treatment of your favorite book, this is not for you. That said, I do think it is for most everyone else. And if you've ever wished that someone today could make something like Pride and Prejudice, well, this is something like it indeed. This version also adds an element glaringly absent from the book and every film version: car chases! Caution There aren't many cautions to offer because, as it turns out, this was made by Mormons. There's no sex happening onscreen or off (though the villain of the piece, Wickham, jokes at one point about being “relatively disease-free”). The only problematic element is a self-help dating guide called the “Pink Bible.” We had to explain to our kids that it was a “bible” only in the sense that it was purporting to be the final word on that subject – dating – as the Mechanics Bible would say it is for car repair. We also had to explain to our girls that this boy-crazy guide and the "religious" way that the youngest two girls, Kitty and Lydia, followed it, was meant to be a comic warning and not an example. Conclusion This is not a faithful retelling of Pride and Prejudice. and yet it is a very good one, keeping remarkably close to the spirit of the book. That makes it the perfect date night movie for mom and dad, and a pretty good one for the whole family. The pacing is quick, the romance is sweet, and the humor is sprinkled liberally throughout. Of the 50 or so people I’ve watched it with, or loaned it to, somewhere near 90% have given it a thumbs up. There are so many Pride and Prejudice films that if you want to find this one you should search for the title along with the year, or the title along with the word “Mormon." That’ll help you track it down. I share the trailer below with some misgivings – the film is a lot better than this makes it seem. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Meet John Doe

Drama 1941 / 122 min Rating: 7/10 Director Frank Capra is probably best known for It’s a Wonderful Life, but that only became his best-known film later on. He actually had 13 films nominated for Oscars, including Meet John Doe in 1941. As in It's a Wonderful Life, Capra’s Roman Catholic upbringing is evident in the general Judeo-Christian ethic running through Meet John Doe. That doesn’t mean Capra's films are always theologically orthodox – we know angels don’t get their wings when a bell rings – but there is a moral depth to many of them, including this one here, that is almost unknown today. Set in the depression, the story revolves around a reporter, her editor, and a derelict, and the politician who is trying to take advantage of them all. When a round of layoffs at The New Bulletin leaves columnist Ann Mitchell out of a job, she decides to go out with a bang. For her last column, she submits a letter from an unemployed “John Doe” who is threatening to jump off the roof of City Hall on Christmas Eve to protest society’s degeneration. The letter is actually a fake, concocted by Mitchell to express her own disgust, but it causes a sensation. Readers flood the newspaper with letters, some of them marriage proposals from concerned women, some job offers, but all wanting to know, “Who is John Doe?” When Mitchell’s editor finds out the letter is a fraud, he hires her back to prevent the public from learning about the deception. Then he takes things one step further, hiring a derelict former baseball player (played by Gary Cooper) to take on the role of Doe. What starts as a deception soon takes a positive turn. When the paper’s new “John Doe” begins making public appearances his simple speeches encourage a helping spirit among his listeners. John Doe Societies spring up spontaneously to enable neighbors to help one another. Doe becomes the leader of a huge, helpful movement… that’s built on the lie of his false identity. Things come to a climax when a conniving politician threatens to expose this lie, unless Doe endorses him. Caution Some have called this a Christian film, even though it came out of Hollywood. That claim is made because God's second greatest commandment, "To love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:31) undergirds the whole movie. It's worth noting then, and sharing with any others in the family watching it with you, that the film largely divorces the Second Greatest Commandment from the First. We hardly hear about God, and the need to "love the Lord our God with all your heart, soul, and mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). That makes this more humanist than Christian – Man-focused, rather than God-focused – but there is one scene which shifts it in a Godward direction, at least in part. To avoid spoilers I'll share the words, but not tell you the speaker or context: "You don’t have to die to keep the John Doe idea alive. Somebody already died for that once, the first John Doe, and He’s kept that idea alive for nearly 2000 years. It’s He who kept it alive in them. And, He’ll go on keeping it alive forever and always.” A powerful profession, but isn't it curious how Jesus is not actually mentioned by name? And this reference also doesn't talk about the real reason Jesus came, and what He accomplished. It presents Him more as an example to follow than as the One who suffered and died to take away the punishment for our sins. So... this is a near miss, but not really a Christian film. That said, it is a film Christians can really enjoy, understanding the truth of what is said here, and being able to fill in for ourselves what was not. Conclusion At just over 2 hours long, the pacing is slower than us modern folk are used to. But just be sure to make a little extra popcorn: this is a classic for a reason. That said, this is not the first movie I'd show anyone not already used to black and white films. Also, with suicide an ongoing topic throughout, this is not a film for younger viewers...but it wouldn't catch their attention anyways. So who should see it? This is a film for anyone who wants to peek into another culture and another time, to learn what they thought was important, and admirable, and worth fighting for. Meet John Doe is in the public domain, so you can watch it, for free, below. ...

Drama, Family, Movie Reviews

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 defend 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 discussion with parents. You can watch the trailer below, and rent the film online at various places. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

The General

Comedy 80 min / 1927 RATING: 8/10 The General is equal parts comedy and action, with just a dash of romance thrown in as well. Johnnie Gray has two loves in his life: his steam engine “The General,” and his girl Annabelle. When the American Civil War begins Johnnie, like every loyal Southerner, lines up to enlist in the Confederate Army. But unbeknownst to poor Johnnie, train engineers aren’t allowed to sign up, as they are more valuable as engineers, not soldiers. Try as he might, he just can’t join the Army, and when he finally returns to Annabelle without successfully enlisting, she thinks it’s because he’s become a coward. She sends him away, telling Johnnie she will only see him again when he’s in uniform. Johnnie leaves, heartbroken, and returns to his other great love, his steam engine. But poor Johnnie is in for even greater heartache – Northern spies steal his General and take off with it down the rails toward the North. In an instant, Johnnie goes from being sad and lonely to determined and resourceful. He steals another train and chases after the spies and the stolen General in one of the most brilliant, madcap, action-packed sequences ever caught on film. I watched this film with teenagers and people in their twenties, thirties and forties and they all loved it. If you watch only one silent film in your life, make sure it’s The General. The film's copyright expired long ago, which means all sorts of companies have been free to publish it and sell their own copies. However, not all have done a good job. In the worst versions, the soundtrack doesn't match the action onscreen – it's just random classical music. You can get a glimpse of how a good soundtrack adds a whole other dimension by watching the Kino version's trailer below. Watch it once with the sound, then watch it again with the sound off. It's odd, but a good soundtrack really matters, even for (and actually, especially for) a silent film. So be sure to track down one of the good versions! ...

Drama, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

And then there were none

Drama 1945 / 97 minutes Rating: 7/10 The film is based on the Agatha Christie mystery of the same name, one of just three English novels to sell oner 100 million copies (the other two are the first Harry Potter title, and The Hobbit). However, as popular as the book was, the film improves on it, with a new conclusion the author added because she thought the film's original wartime audience would appreciate a happier ending. The story begins with 8 guests invited to a mansion on an isolated island. They are all strangers to each other, and none knows their host, Mr. Owens, who has yet to arrive. The only other people on the island are the two servants, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers. After dinner Mr. Rogers puts a record on, as he has been instructed by the absent Owens to do, and on it is a voice accusing everyone present, including the servants, of being murderers who have escaped any punishment for their crimes. That's quite the shock to them all, and all the more so when one of them admits he is indeed a murderer, and then, after taking a drink, promptly keels over and dies. He's been poisoned, and it seems their "host," Mr. Owens, has invited them here to exact his own form of justice on them all. But how has he done it? After all, it's clear there is no one else on the island. That's when the remaining 9 realize that one of them must actually be Mr. Owens. From then on it is a murder mystery and not so much a whodunit as a whoisdoingit, as others are also killed, though almost always off screen. Cautions There are a lot of mysteries on TV today that revel in the darkness, and the gore, and the violence of murder. Another sort is about the investigator methodically, and sometimes brilliantly, putting the pieces together so as to bring the bad guy to justice. We should stay clear of the former because it presents evil as good, while the latter can be enjoyed. While And Then There Were None is gore-free, and has the violence taking place off-screen, it isn't clear for almost the whole film long whether there even are any good guys. So one caution would be that while this isn't dark like some of today's murder shows, it also isn't a heroic tale like Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes. It is somewhere in the middle, and that might be too much in the wrong direction for some...though I would not agree. The other caution would be that the only character to quote Scripture is a hypocrite. But she isn't the only one. Conclusion Director René Claire demonstrates that is possible to "tell and not show" violence and still keep things suspenseful. Though this it is tame by modern standards, the suspense means it is still only for only adults, and only those who appreciate a good mystery. The copyright for And Then There Were None was allowed to expire, so it is now in the public domain. That's why you can watch it, for free, in black and white below. A colorized version is also available for free, here. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

The Fighting Prince of Donegal

Drama / Family 1966 / 110 minutes Rating: 7/10 Halfway through The Fighting Prince, I figured out why I was enjoying this so much, and why it was also so familiar: this is Robin Hood, but with Irish accents! Irish prince Hugh O'Donnell takes the Robin role as leader of a rebellious and yet righteous band, alpha males every one of them, but willing to unite under this one man. Like Robin, Hugh's dispute isn't so much with the English crown, as with those who have usurped the crown's power. As the newly installed Prince of Donegal, Hugh offers a treaty to the English Queen, but the local English representative, Captain Leeds – in a Prince John/Sheriff of Nottingham role – won't even pass it along. Instead, he imprisons Hugh. And when Hugh escapes (he's a clever one... just like a certain famous bowman) Leeds occupies the O'Donnell castle and holds Hugh's mother hostage. Holding a man's mom hostage? How low can you go? Of course, that only sets the scene for the hero to make his triumphant return. Cautions If historical accuracy matters to you, then this is not a film for you. As near as I can figure the only resemblance this has to actual events is that they got some key names right. But this is as accurate an account of Irish history as Robin Hood is of England history. This is very tame, despite the many sword fights, with more people punched out than stabbed. Still, stabbings do occur at least a couple of times, and we also see a dozen or so soldiers get hit by arrows, though all of this is entirely bloodless. However, for small children, it might be too much. Conclusion I had never heard of this film before watching it and didn't know what to expect. I was very pleasantly surprised. I'd have probably given it an 8, except that it starts a little slow. But so long as you give it 10 minutes this is a film that everyone in the family, ten and up, will really enjoy. You can check out a scene from The Fighting Prince below. ...

Family, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

The Runner from Ravenshead

Children's film 81 minutes / 2010 Rating: 7/10 Both the charm and the kitsch of this film come from the producers' decision to fill all the roles with children. They aren't playing children, mind you. Nope, these pipsqueaks are playing full-size adventurers and the result is both bizarre and delightful! We jump right into the action, with our hero Henry taking on a whole tribe of savages. He engineers a one-man rescue of a tot tied to a pole but, just as he's about to give the savages another licking, we discover it's all Henry's daydream. In real life Henry is no adventurer; he's just a janitor cleaning the floors at the City of Refuge Guide Service. Here's where the film takes a leap from daydream to allegory. The Guide Service sends out guides to help escapees from the terrible Ravenshead Prison find their way to the City of Refuge. The guides also help escapees get away from the wardens who are trying to track them down and return them to prison. As near as I can figure, the Guide Service represents Christians who point people to Jesus (our refuge). Ravenshead Prison is sin, and the wardens represent temptation that wants to pull us back to sin. Parents may have to pause the movie on occasion to explain things to the young target audience, but if they don't really understand the allegory, it doesn't matter. This is also just a chase film, complete with derring-do, rocket cars, explosions, hijinks, and fight scenes. And all of it done on a pint-sized scale. Now, our hero Henry desperately wants to be a guide but his boss isn't sure about him. It's only because guides are in short supply that Henry finally gets his chance to head out and help an escaped prisoner by the name of Sam. Sam is as headstrong as Henry is inexperienced, and this odd couple pairing ensures there's lots of drama and loads of action as they try desperately to stay one step ahead of the wardens. Caution The only caution concerns escapee Sam. When she's first brought to Ravenshead her tears are flowing, and I suspect this little actress might be too believable for some young viewers. Parents will have to remind their soft-hearted kidlets that this is just a movie and not real. Conclusion I had low expectations; I mean, with an all-kid cast, how could I not? But the cute factor is enormous, and enough to keep parents smiling throughout. For its pre-school and elementary-aged target audience, to see kids their age fighting bad guys, doing stunts, and escaping on a zip-line in a rocket-powered crate is going to be fantastic fun. What's more, you can watch it for free! It's free with commercials on YouTube, while North American readers can view it without commercials on RedeemTV, though you will need to sign up for an account. If you like this one, you'll also enjoy a sequel of sorts, done with kids actors too and by the same production company, called The Defense of New Haven. To get a sneak peak, check out the trailer below. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews

A Bear Named Winnie

Drama 90 min / 2004 Rating: 7/10 This is the (mostly) true story of Winnie, the bear that inspired A.A. Milne's much loved Winnie the Pooh books. While she lived most of her life in the London Zoo, many don't realize that Winnie was a Canadian bear. So it was very fun to learn how he got from the wilds of Canada to inside the pages of everyone's favorite children's story. I think copyright concerns probably kept producers from using the words "Winnie-the-Pooh" but as the film begins, the connection is made, with an adult Winnie being watched by a man and boy who are unnamed, but unmistakable as Milne and his son Christopher Robin. "Father," Christopher Robin asks, "why do they call her Winnie? It's a funny hame for a bear. I wonder how she got it" "Yes, I wonder," his father replies. "I bet it's quite a story." It is indeed! From there we are taken away, back in time, and across the ocean, to meet a group of veterinarians enlisted in the Canadian army and riding the rails across the country on their way to the front lines of the First World War. Aside from the bear, the star of this piece is Harry Colebourn, and we're introduced to him just as he wins a sizeable pot of money from his fellow soldiers. But he's not rich for long, as at the next stop, in White River, Ontario, he sees a cub chained up. Colebourn uses his money to buy the bear and rescue it. But now that he has it, what is he going to do with it? When he takes the bear back to the train, his regiment adopts it as their mascot and it's named Winnipeg – Winnie for short – after Colebourn's hometown. From then on we get to see both Winnie's story and the story of this veterinarian regiment. Caution The only caution concerns what one reviewer called the film's confusion about its target audience. It's about the most beloved bear of all time, so wouldn't this be a perfect one for the kidlets? The pacing is gentle, with the tension being mostly of a kiddish sort involving Winnie getting into things she shouldn't, and owner Colebourn, and his friends, trying to chase her down before they all get into more trouble. But if this is for children, then why the repeated scenes with the mentally unbalanced, and at one point drunk, general in command? And if it is for kids, then what were producers thinking when they had the young vet Macray, distraught by the battlefield deaths of his friends and animals, grabbing a gun and running off to his death? The violence is muted - we don't see any blood and gore, even in the midst of fallen men and animals and we never see or hear Macray get shot. The violence is of the sort you might find in a Hallmark film (in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this is on the Hallmark Channel). But you don't kill off charming characters in a children's film. So parents need to understand that, despite some appearances to the contrary, this is not one for kids. Or at least not kids who are of the age that they are being read Winnie-the-Pooh stories. Conclusion Who would enjoy this? This would be a nice one for mom and dad on a night when they want something quite calm. It is a unique chapter in Canadian history, presenting not just a bear's story, but also showing some of the First World War from a Canadian perspective. There's humor, hijinks, and also a little educational content along the way so all in all, it ranks as quite a good TV movie. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

Adventures in Odyssey: The Knight Travellers

Animated / Children's 27 min / 1991 Rating: 7/10 Back in 1987, Focus on the Family started a radio drama series for Christian families called "Adventures in Odyssey," and it is still running today, more than 900 episodes later. It also spawned 17 animated episodes, the first of which is The Knight Travellers. It's clear from the start of the episode that viewers are expected to have some familiarity with the radio original, as main characters John Avery Whittaker ("Whit" for short) and his assistant, Eugene Meltsner, aren't really introduced. For those that don't know, Whit is a lovable grandfatherly figure and an inventor. In this episode, some bad guys have stolen his "Imagination Station" invention which Whit designed to allow people to travel back in time, at least in their imaginations, to find out what life was like back then. However, the bad guys have turned it into a "Manipulation Station" so they can use it to control people's minds and get rich. As regularly happens, Whit gets some pint-sized help, this time from 10-year-old Dylan Taylor and his dog Sherman (who aren't from the radio dramas). Cautions If you are familiar with the radio show, then it won't surprise you that these videos can have some tension to them. In this episode, Dylan has to contend with a crocodile, a giant boa constrictor, and a smooth-talking, and iron-mace-swinging, evil knight. In the next episode, Dylan and the new neighbor girl have an ongoing argument that continues on through the episode and ends in a hospital trip. In Episode 3, Dylan's disobedience leads to a runaway mower destroying some prize flower gardens. Everything turns out alright in the end, and, of course, lessons are learned. But the sibling arguments, the menacing villains, and the narrow escapes, will be too much for some sensitive viewers. This series is meant to teach lessons, and there are a couple morals to the initial story. The first – that true treasures are not found in toy catalogs or toy stores but come from God – is true enough. But the second moral is problematic. Whit tells the main bad guy that: "Our hope lies in something you can never control or conquer. Our _______" If you would have filled in that blank with "Our God" then you understand why Whit's answer – "Our faith" – is misdirected. Without God to preserve us, our faith would be conquerable. It is Jesus who is unconquerable. That's a point worth raising with your kids. Also problematic, is the third episode, where Dylan is initially irresponsible, so the lesson here is responsibility. What goes unaddressed is how Dylan, in an attempt to make up for past mistakes, risks and almost loses his life to save some bird eggs. This is presented as brave, but in treating his life as of no more importance than that of a bird's, Dylan is actually being irresponsible. These instances underscore how, even though this is a Christian show, there is a real need for parental guidance and discussion – they can't be treated as "hit play, and walk away." Conclusion I've watched the first half dozen episodes, and the animation and writing is comparable to Hanna-Barbera productions like The Flintstones or The Jetsons. While this is too childish for teens, parents who remember Adventures in Odyssey from their youth will enjoy this for the nostalgia, and their younger kids - those who can handle some tension - will too. There were two "seasons" to the animation series, and while it doesn't seem too important to watch them in order, The Knight Travellers does introduce us to Dylan so it is probably the best place to start. In total there's about seven hours worth of viewing. Original Series (1991-1998) 1 – The Knight Travellers 2 – A Flight to the Finish 3 – A Fine Feathered Frenzy 4 – Shadow of a Doubt 5 – Star Quest 6 – Once Upon an Avalanche 7 – Electric Christmas 8 – Go West, Young Man 9 – Someone to Watch Over Me 10 – In Harm's Way 11 – A Twist in Time 12 – A Stranger Among Us 13 – Baby Daze Series 2 (2000-2003) 1 – The Last Days of Eugene Meltsner 2 – Escape from the Forbidden Matrix 3 – The Caves of Qumran 4 – Race to Freedom You can see The Knight Travellers trailer below. You can find the show on DVD or as a download at Apple TV and Christianbooks.com. And it is also streaming on Amazon.com. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

A Return to Grace: Luther's life and legacy

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

Drama, Movie Reviews

The Adventures of Robin Hood

Drama/Action 101 min / 1938 Rating: 8/10 Aside from a little medieval Roman Catholicism in the character of Friar Tuck (for instance, asking a woman to swear by "Our Lady" that what she is saying is true), you'll never find a better version of the Robin Hood legend. Why? Four reasons. The first is respect for authority. The movie makes it clear that the villain, Prince John, is conspiring against the regent placed in charge by the absent King Richard, his brother, so that Robin Hood's apparent rebellion actually upholds the true authority of the rightful king. The second reason is Robin Hood's courage in standing against tyranny. Robin Hood and his band demonstrate bravado in taking on Prince John's minions with a quip and a quiver, and with grim determination, thwarting those who would assassinate King Richard. Then there is what particularly impresses Maid Marian about Robin Hood: the manly compassion and protection he offers to those oppressed by Prince John, which is the third appealing feature of this film. Finally, in his treatment of Maid Marian and other female characters, Robin Hood exemplifies respect for women. All in all, an engaging portrait, for boys and boys at heart, of hearty, healthy masculinity. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Babes in Toyland

Family /Musical 1961 / 105 minutes Rating: 7/10 Babes in Toyland stars all your children's nursery rhyme favorites. There's Little Jack Horner, Simple Simon and the pieman, Jack and Jill, Little Bo Peep and her sheep, and of course, Mother Goose herself. That might make this the perfect way to introduce your little ones to the musical genre. Our story begins with preparations for a wedding. Tom (as in, "Tom, Tom, the Piper's son") and Mary (quite contrary) are going to get married and the whole village is so excited they just have to dance and sing! There has to be a villain, of course, and the black-hatted, black-caped, black-elevator-shoe-clad Barnaby Barnacle is such an over-the-top meanie that only the youngest of children might be scared by him. He knows something Mary doesn't – that when Mary is married, she's going to inherit a large sum, so Barnaby wants to marry Mary, instead of Tom! To that end, he hires two henchmen – the very large Gonzorgo, and the entirely silent Roderigo – to, first, kidnap Tom and throw him into the sea, and then steal Mary's sheep so that, impoverished and alone, she'll be forced to marry Barnaby. Crooks that they are, the two henchmen instead sell Tom to the gypsies so as to get paid twice. And that sets the scene for Tom's eventual return. But there are still sheep to recover, and that leads to an almost "second chapter" for the film where Tom and Mary head into the ominous "Forest of no Return" to search for the sheep. There they find "the Toyman" who is a Santa-like figure, making toys for girls and boys. Further hijinks ensue, with Barnaby still trying to marry Mary, but this time using all sorts of toys and gadgets from the Toyman's workshop to try to put an end to Tom. When he gets his hands on a shrinking ray he thinks he can finally cut Tom down to size. It turns out, though, that even pipsqueak Tom, with the help of a toy army, is more than a match for Barnaby! Cautions Not much to note here: the talking trees in the Forest of No-Return were the only truly scary characters for my sensitive 7-year-old, and it helped to assure her that they turn out to be not so bad after all. Also, Tom briefly plays the part of a gypsy fortune-teller, and that might have been problematic if it wasn't all just a prank on Barnaby. Conclusion The acting is over-the-top and the characters are all from nursery rhymes so the target audience is clearly children. But there's so much color and energy and action that older kids and parents will enjoy it too. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

The Sign of Zorro

Family / Drama 1958 / 90 minutes Rating: 8/10 Is Zorro a Spanish version of Robin Hood? The Spanish California of the 1800s stands in for medieval Sherwood Forest, but both men are outlaws who rescue the oppressed, and both frustrate the local tyrannical authorities even as they remain loyal subjects to their king. There's also a dose of Scarlett Pimpernel, with the young Don Diego disguising himself as a fool, an academic with his nose buried so deeps in his books, that no one would ever suspect him of being the brave and brilliant Zorro. As the story begins, Diego has been away in Spain for three years, studying at university. Now he's on his way home, summoned by his father because a new Commandant is making life miserable for poor and wealthy alike. It's on the long sea-voyage back that Diego decides to play the part of absent-minded egghead. He commits to the charade, staying in character even when meeting his own father, who is disappointed to find that the son he'd summoned is no man of action, but a foppish fool! Only Diego's loyal manservant Bernardo knows different. There is a lot going on in this film and it's all great fun. We have a mute pretending to be deaf, a hero pretending to be a fool, a villain impersonating the hero, and a tyrannical commandant who might be despicable, but he isn't stupid. And Diego, while playing his eggheaded academic part, has to figure out how to survive a swordfight without giving away that he does actually know which is the pointy end! Cautions I'll note that while there is violence – a whole lot of sword fighting! – no blood is shown and no one dies. The other caution concerns a couple of Spanish dancing scenes, where one dancer swishes around her dress such that we can see a few flashes of her underwear. However, any immodesty here is comparable to what would be shown by a grandmotherly bathing suit. More off-putting is the dance itself. It is not graceful or beautiful, but almost violent, with the dancer whipping her long dress back and forth so aggressively she could put out an eye! The men at the local pub are clearly meant to find this alluring, but I am mystified as to why. Conclusion This is one the whole family could enjoy. It is black and white, which might make some younger viewers skeptical, but if you can get them to commit to watching for 15 minutes, it's sure to grab and keep their attention. I can't imagine too many kids – at least those who have watched TV at all – finding this too scary. Zorro could be fodder for some good family discussions about what it means to live in submission to the proper authorities. When Diego defies the local corrupt Commandant, is he doing so in defiance of authority, or in submission to a greater authority? However, it isn't simply the educational possibilities that make this a great film; The Sign of Zorro is a classic worthy of the label, with enough action, twists, and turns, for two films!  ...

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, Movie Reviews

Woodlawn

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

Animated, Movie Reviews

Lost and Found

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

1 2 3