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Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Incredible Creatures That Defy Evolution I, II, and III

Dr. Jobe Martin was once an ardent evolutionist and only became a creationist after getting challenged by one of his students. While he was a professor at a dental college, he gave a lecture on the evolution of the tooth – he taught his class that fish scales eventually migrated into the mouth and became teeth – but two students didn't agree. They encouraged him to investigate creation science but Martin had never even heard of it... but he was willing to take a look. The closer he looked, the more he realized that much of the evolution was based, not on facts, but on assumptions. His three Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution documentaries are based off of his investigations. In each episode, he shares some of the most incredible features of a variety of creatures, and it was the intricate design evident that forced him to acknowledge that there was a Master Designer behind all this. In the first episode we learn: the bombardier beetle repels attackers by shooting a fiery liquid out of its rear end. the giraffe's heart pumps blood powerfully enough to blow out its own brain. The giraffe's heart has to be strong to get blood all the way up to its head but what happens to all that power when, instead of pumping against gravity, the giraffe dips its head to take a drink? Then the same strong stream of oxygenated blood will now be traveling with enough pressure to create some serious brain trauma....except for the amazing shut-off valves in a giraffe's neck that kick in when it lowers its head! the woodpecker has a barbed gluey tongue that sticks to bugs but doesn't stick to its own beak. Equally amazing, it has a skull that is designed to do the work of a jackhammer without giving the poor fellow a headache. Dr. Martin showcased a host of other creatures, and when I first watched this with my preschool daughters, they were all amazed. Though the videos are primarily intended for children, my wife and I were also engaged so this would make for good family viewing. It has enough pictures and film footage to keep the attention of the very young, and for parents, there's a narrative that highlights God's sense of fun and His genius. That this is a children's video means it is also not the first film you'd insist your hard-nosed evolutionist friend watch. Incredible Creatures isn't meant to offer an overly detailed or complete argument against evolution, and adult critics would likely seize on that lack of depth to dismiss it entirely. So get it for your own family or your Christian school. And if you know someone dead-set on evolution, then consider Evolution's Achilles' Heels (also free to see!) and its more mature, thorough anti-evolutionary argument. While all three films in this "Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution" series are good, the first is the very best of the bunch. You can buy high-resolution versions on DVD, or find them on some streaming services. But the producers have also made lower resolution versions available for free, with commercial interruptions. You can watch them below. INCREDIBLE CREATURES THAT DEFY EVOLUTION I Documentary 47 min / 2000 Rating: 7/10 Featured creatures include the: bombadier beetle, giraffe, woodpecker, chicken egg, beaver, platypus, spider, gecko, and more. INCREDIBLE CREATURES THAT DEFY EVOLUTION II Documentary 46 min / 2002 Rating: 7/10 Featured creatures include: humpback whales, pacific golden plover, dragonflies, hippos, lightning bugs, bears, earthworms, elephants, and more. INCREDIBLE CREATURES THAT DEFY EVOLUTION III Documentary 79 min / 2006 Rating: 7/10 Featured creatures include: mussels, horses, ostriches, hummingbirds, dogs, sea cows, butterflies, cuttlefish, penguins, and more. ...

Articles, Movie Reviews

200 movies King David might watch

Great minds think alike, and this month two of those great minds belonged to a missionary in Brazil and an evangelist in California. The evangelist, Ray Comfort, passed along a story, first told by Jeremy Archer, about a man who invited all sorts of folks into his house to meet his family. Often the visitors would talk crudely and angrily with each other, teaching his children words he'd rather they not know. But these visitors could also get his whole family laughing so the man decided to focus on the good they did, rather than the bad. Over time the man could see the visitors were having an impact on his family, and it wasn't a good one. He found that his own children were now using crude language and making coarse jokes. What was worse, the visitors were behaving outrageously, even taking their clothes off right there in front of his family! That's hard to believe, isn't it? Why didn't the man just kick them out? Why didn't he protect his family from their influence? Well, it turns out this man had some sense, and as the visitors started getting naked the man acted. Together, with his family, the man finally "turned off the television." That same month the missionary, Rev. Ken Wieske, expressed the same concern, titling a Facebook post "David vows to get rid of his TV." Underneath he included the text of Psalm 101 which reads (in part): I will ponder the way that is blameless. Oh when will you come to me? I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. The pastor's point was clear: most of what's on TV is worthless and if King David were here on earth today, he might well pitch his TV right out of the palace. Of course, it isn't quite as easy as that. Today we also have computers, and smartphones, so getting rid of the TV isn't going to restrict our access to fluff and filth that's so readily available. So let's take this a step further. Yes, much of what's on TV (and on YouTube, Facebook, etc.) is worthless. But some of it isn't. Some of it is quite good. Excellent even! So if we were to make the same promise King David makes in Psalm 101 – to put away all that is worthless – what sorts of films and videos might we still watch? I've got some suggestions, and I've listed them under 10 categories, with 20 or more movie recommendations in most categories. My hope is that this list can help families find something worth watching. With over 200 suggestions I'm also hoping there will be something for everyone. There's just one documentary included here, but you can find a whole bunch more in our list of "100+ documentaries that make learning a joy." Title, year, and length are included, and, if there's a review available on ReformedPerspective.ca, or my movie review blog, ReelConservative.com, then I've indicated that by making the title all caps and clickable. I've also included an entertainment rating. This is out of 10, and in my books, a 7 is a solid mark, while 8 is something special, and 6 is still watchable but there is some notable flaw (maybe some corny writing, or a bad bit of acting, that sort of thing). The only reason I've included a few films that rate as low as 6 is because they have something about them that makes them valuable viewing – oftentimes their educational value. I'll note also, that a 7 for a children's film means that this target audience will think it a 7, and not adults. The same is true of a black and white classic. If you hate anything B&W, then you probably won't like one with a solid 7 rating (though maybe you'd be swayed by one with an 8, 9, or 10). One other note: none of these films and videos take God's name in vain. That's important. While a degree of violence and even sexual content of some sort can be appropriate on screen, the way God's name is abused on film just isn't. More than 30 of the films below have the tag "FREE ONLINE" and can be viewed for free by clicking on the link provided. ANIMATED VIDEOS (21) This mix of shorter videos (whether standalone or TV series) can be ideal when mom wants to take a nap but doesn't want the kids sitting in front of the TV forever. Anne of Green Gables, Vol. 1-3 – 2003, 150 minutes – 7/10 ADVENTURES IN ODYSSEY – 1991-2003, 27 min x 17 episodes – 7/10 Curious George – 2006-2021, 30 min x 170 episodes – 8/10 THE GRUFFALO  – 2009, 27 minutes – 8/10 Horton Hears a Who – 1970, 30 minutes – 7/10 JUNGLE BEAT – 537 minutes – 10/10 – FREE ONLINE LIFE AT THE POND – 2004-2009, 30 min x 5 episodes – 8/10 LOST AND FOUND – 2013, 24 minutes – 8/10 PEPPA PIG: THE BALLOON RIDE – 2014, 52 minutes – 7/10 VEGGIETALES – only some are recommended – Larry-boy and the Fib from Outer Space – 1997, 30 minutes – 7/10 – Madame Blueberry – 1998, 37 minutes – 8/10 – Larry-boy and the Rumor Weed – 1999, 30 minutes – 7/10 – Lord of the Beans – 2005, 52 minutes – 8/10 – Larry-boy and the Bad Apple – 2006, 30 minutes – 7/10 – Sheerluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler – 2006, 51 minutes – 7/10 – Tomato Sawyer & Huckleberry Larry's Big River Rescue – 2008, 49 minutes – 7/10 – The League of Incredible Vegetables – 2012, 49 minutes – 8/10 – McLarry & the Stinky Cheese Battle – 2013, 45 minutes – 8/10 – Veggies in Space: The Fennel Frontier – 2014, 45 minutes – 8/10 Wallace and Gromit in Three Amazing Adventures – 1989-1995, 85 minutes –  7/10 THE WAY THINGS WORK – 2001, 300+ minutes – 8/10 ANIMATED FILMS (21) It seems like cartoons used to be safe for kids, though boring for adults. Today, with the appearance of obscene animated fare like “South Park” and “Family Guy,” many cartoons are unsuitable for children, and for that matter, adults. But there has been a change for the better too – movies like “Curious George” and “Meet the Robinsons” show that some animated fare can keep the kids happy, and entertain their parents as well. BALTO – 1995, 78 minutes – 7/10 Chicken Run – 2000, 84 minutes – 8/10 CURIOUS GEORGE – 2006, 88 minutes – 8/10 CURIOUS GEORGE 3: BACK TO THE JUNGLE – 2015, 81 minutes – 7/10 CURIOUS GEORGE: ROYAL MONKEY – 2019, 86 minutes – 7/10 Finding Dory – 2016, 97 minutes – 7/10 Finding Nemo – 2003, 100 minutes – 8/10 Fox and the Hound – 1981, 83 minutes – 8/10 The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – 1977, 74 minutes – 8/10 Meet the Robinsons – 2007, 95 minutes – 7/10 MINISCULE - 2014, 89 minutes – 7/10 Monsters Inc. – 2001, 93 minutes – 9/10 Monsters University – 2013, 104 minutes – 8/10 PAW PATROL: THE MOVIE – 2021, 86 minutes  8/10 THE PEANUTS MOVIE – 2015, 88 minutes – 8/10 SGT. STUBBY: AN UNLIKELY HERO - 2018, 84 minutes – 8/10 Tangled – 2010, 100 minutes – 9/10 TOY STORY 1, 2, 3, and 4 – 1995-2019, 81-103 minutes – 8/10 Up – 2009, 96 minutes – 9/10 Wall-E – 2008, 98 minutes – 9/10 WINNIE THE POOH – 2011, 63 minutes – 8/10 BASED ON A BOOK (25) It's always hard to live up to the book, but some of these get awfully close! 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA – 1954, 127 minutes – 7/10 THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD – 1938, 101 minutes – 8/10 The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – 1939, 82 minutes – 7/10 Animal Farm – 1954, 72 minutes – 7/10 THE BOXCAR CHILDREN – 2013, 81 minutes – 7/10 THE BOXCAR CHILDREN: SURPRISE ISLAND - 2018, 82 minutes – 6/10 THE GIVER – 2014, 97 minutes – 8/10 THE GOSPEL BLIMP - 1967, 38 minutes – 8/10 – FREE ONLINE Ivanhoe – 1952, 107 minutes – 7/10 THE HOBBIT – 1977, 77 minutes – 7/10 The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – 1979, 95 minutes – 7/10 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – 2005, 125 minutes – 8/10 Little Women – 1949, 121 minutes – 8/10 Little Women – 1994, 118 minutes – 9/10 THE LORD OF THE RINGS – 1978, 133 minutes – 7/10 THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK – 1939, 113 minutes – 6/10 – FREE ONLINE THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH – 1970, 89 minutes – 7/10 POLLYANNA – 2003, 99 minutes – 8/10 PRIDE AND PREJUDICE – 2003, 104 minutes – 8/10 The Prince and the Pauper – 1937, 118 minutes – 8/10 Prince Caspian – 2008, 154 minutes – 8/10 Sarah Plain and Tall – 1990, 98 minutes – 8/10 The Silver Chair – 1990, 155 minutes – 6/10 SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS – 2016, 96 minutes – 7/10 SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON – 1960, 126 minutes – 8/10 BLACK AND WHITE CLASSICS (24) These have all stood the test of time and are still being watched again and again. 12 Angry Men – 1957, 96 minutes – 9/10 THE AMAZING ADVENTURE – 1936, 62 minutes – 7/10 – FREE ONLINE THE ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR – 1961, 96 minutes – 8/10 Adam's Rib – 1949, 101 minutes –  8/10 CASABLANCA – 1943, 103 minutes – 10/10 Citizen Kane – 1941, 119 minutes – 7/10 High Noon – 1952, 85 minutes – 9/10 I Remember Mama – 1948, 134 minutes – 7/10 It Should Happen to You – 1954, 87 minutes – 7/10 The Man in the White Suit – 1951, 85 minutes – 7/10 THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE – 1962, 123 minutes – 8/10 MEET JOHN DOE – 1941, 122 minutes – 7/10 – FREE ONLINE Mr. Deed goes to Town – 1936, 115 minutes – 7/10 Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – 1939, 129 minutes – 8/10 SEA HAWK – 1940, 127 minutes – 8/10 THE SIGN OF ZORRO – 1958, 90 minutes – 8/10 The Shop Around the Corner – 1949, 99 minutes – 9/10 The Tin Star – 1957, 92 minutes – 7/10 As a subcategory here are a half dozen silent film selections. If you've never gotten into silent films, be sure to start with the comedies – there the overwrought acting just adds to the funny. And Buster Keaton is the best! THE GENERAL – 1927, 80 minutes – 8/10 The Gold Rush – 1925, 96 minutes – 7/10 GRANDMA'S BOY – 1922, 56 minutes – 7/10 – FREE ONLINE Seven Chances – 1925, 56 minutes – 8/10 SHERLOCK JR. – 1924, 44 minutes – 8/10 – FREE ONLINE Steamboat Bill, Jr. – 1928, 70 min – 7/10 BIOGRAPHICAL (26) Most of these are Christian biographies, and being true gives them a leg up on fictional Christian fare that too often concludes with “happily ever after” endings, more fairytales than our one truth faith. It’s simply a fact that here on earth bad things often happen to good, faithful Christians. I will also note that while many of these are great, others are merely okay (ranking only a 6), but are still included here because of their educational value. THE CASE FOR CHRIST – 2017, 113 minutes – 7/10 C.S. LEWIS ONSTAGE – 2018, 76 minutes – 7/10 – FREE ONLINE C.S. LEWIS: THE MOST RELUCTANT CONVERT – 2021, 93 minutes – 9/10 END OF THE SPEAR – 2006, 108 minutes – 7/10 Final Solution – 2001, 102 minutes – 7/10 GOD'S OUTLAW: THE STORY OF WILLIAM TYNDALE – 1988, 93 minutes – 6/10 – FREE ONLINE GOSNELL: THE TRIAL OF AMERICA'S BIGGEST SERIAL KILLER – 2018, 93 minutes – 8/10 Hellen Keller – 2005, 30 minutes – 6/10 THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY – 1950, 77 minutes – 7/10 – FREE ONLINE JOHN HUS: A JOURNEY OF NO RETURN – 2015, 55 minutes – 7/10 – FREE ONLINE MARTIN LUTHER – 1953, 105 minutes – 7/10 – FREE ONLINE The Miracle Worker – 1962, 106 minutes – 9/10 Sabina: Tortured for Christ, the Nazi years – 2022, 115 minutes – 7/10 THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS – 1957, 135 – 7/10 TORCHLIGHTERS: There are about 20 videos in the Torchlighter series, and our family has been impressed with the 10 we've watched, with the exception of St. Patrick. While legends abound, little firsthand material on Patrick's life exists, making it hard to separate fact from fiction. That difficulty should have been acknowledged. – THE CORRIE TEN BOOM STORY – 2013, 34 minutes – 7/10 – FREE ONLINE – THE ERIC LIDDELL STORY – 2007, 31 minute – 6/10 – FREE ONLINE – THE HARRIET TUBMAN STORY – 2018, 30 minutes – 7/10 – FREE ONLINE – THE JIM ELLIOT STORY – 2005, 30 minutes – 6/10 – FREE ONLINE – THE JOHN BUNYAN STORY – 20o6, 30 minutes – 8/10 –FREE ONLINE – THE JOHN NEWTON STORY – 2021, 30 minutes – 7/10 – FREE ONLINE – THE MARTIN LUTHER STORY – 2106, 34 minutes – 7/10 – FREE ONLINE – THE RICHARD WUMBRAND STORY – 2008, 30 minutes – 6/10 – FREE ONLINE – THE WILLIAM TYNDALE STORY – 2005, 32 minutes – 6/10 – FREE ONLINE TORTURED FOR CHRIST - 2018, 77 minutes - 8/10 – FREE ONLINE UNBROKEN: PATH TO REDEMPTION – 2018, 98 minutes – 8/10 THE WRIGHT BROTHERS – 1996, 27 minutes – 7/10 CHILDREN (22) This is fare for younger children – not a lot of tension here. And that means, while the kids will probably like it, mom and dad might not. Because children often watch their favorite videos repeatedly, even dozens of times, it’s all the more important to make sure what they do watch is the good stuff. The Adventures of Milo and Otis – 1989, 76 minutes – 7/10 BUDDY DAVIS' AMAZING ADVENTURES: – I Dig Dinosaurs – 2011 – 26 minutes – 7/10 – FREE ONLINE – Swamp Man – 2012, 45 minutes – 7/10 – Extreme Caving – 2013, 58 minutes – 7/10 – Alaska – 2015, 25 minutes – 6/10 – Ice Age – 2017, 25 minutes – 7/10 – Safari – 2021, 30 minutes – 7/10 THE CREATION ADVENTURE TEAM – 2001-2002, 40 min x 2 episodes – 7/10 – FREE ONLINE THE DEFENSE OF NEW HAVEN – 2016, 82 minutes – 7/10 – FREE ONLINE HANS BRINKER OR THE SILVER SKATES – 1962, 90  minutes – 8/10 INCREDIBLE CREATURES THAT DEFY EVOLUTION I – 2006, 47 minutes – 7/10 Lassie Come Home – 1943, 90 minutes – 8/10 A LEGO BRICKUMENTARY – 2015, 93 minutes – 7/10 MISTY – 1961, 91 minutes – 7/10 THE NEWTONS' WORKSHOP – 1997, 226 minutes – 7/10 ODD SQUAD: THE MOVIE – 2016, 67 minutes – 7/10 PATTERNS OF EVIDENCE: YOUNG EXPLORERS – 2020, 190 minutes – 7/10 – FREE ONLINE THE RUNNER FROM RAVENSHEAD – 2010, 81 minutes – 7/10 – FREE ONLINE THE SPARKY CHRONICLES – 2003, 28 minutes – 7/10 – FREE ONLINE SPACE BUDDIES – 2009, 84 minutes – 7/10 Tintin: Destination Moon – 1992, 83 minutes – 7/10 THE WILD BROTHERS (8 episodes) – 2015-2020, 28-30 minutes each – 7/10 FAMILY FUN (26) These are films that mom and dad can also look forward to watching. But that does mean that some of them have action or drama that may be too intense for your youngest children. So be sure to research age-appropriateness. BABES IN TOYLAND – 1961, 105 minutes – 7/10 A BEAR CALLED WINNIE – 2004, 90 minutes – 7/10 BEYOND THE MASK – 2015, 103 minutes – 8/10 BORN FREE - 1966, 95 minutes – 8/10 CITY OF EMBER – 2008, 95 minutes – 7/10 CONDORMAN – 1981, 90 minutes – 7/10 The Court Jester – 1956, 101 minutes – 8/10 DUDE PERFECT: BACKSTAGE PASS – 2020, 84 minutes – 8/10 – FREE ONLINE Emil and the Detectives – 1964, 98 minutes – 7/10 THE FIGHTING PRINCE OF DONEGAL – 1966, 110 minutes – 7/10 Greyfriars Bobby – 1961, 92 minutes – 8/10 Hangman's Curse – 2003, 106 minutes – 8/10 THE HORSE IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT – 1968, 113 minutes – 7/10 THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY – 1963, 89 minutes – 8/10 JACK AND THE BEANSTALK – 1952, 83 minutes – 7/10 The Last Chance Detectives – 1994, 50 min x 3 episodes – 7/10 Old Yeller – 1957, 84 minutes – 9/10 OVERCOMER – 2019, 119 minutes – 7/10 THE SECRETS OF JONATHAN SPERRY – 2008, 96 minutes – 6/10 – FREE ONLINE Shark Boy and Lava Girl 3D – 2005, 93 minutes – 7/10 STORM: LUTHER'S FORBIDDEN LETTER – 2017, 105 minutes – 7/10 – FREE ONLINE THE SWORD AND THE ROSE – 1953, 92 minutes – 7/10 THE THREE INVESTIGATORS IN THE SECRET OF SKELETON ISLAND – 2007, 91 minutes – 7/10 TIME CHANGER – 2002, 99 minutes – 7/10 UNITARDS – 2010, 107 minutes – 8/10 Who is Simon Miller? – 2011, 85 minutes – 7/10 FOR MOM AND DAD (21) There are films intended for an adult audience, movies and videos to enjoy with your better half...and sometimes with the older kids too. 2081 – 2009, 25 minutes – 8/10 – FREE ONLINE ALLEGED – 2011, 93 minutes – 8/10 Anastasia – 1956, 105 minutes – 7/10 AUDACITY: LOVE CAN'T STAY SILENT – 2015, 50 minutes – 7/10 – FREE ONLINE The Caine Mutiny - 1954, 124 minutes – 7/10 COURAGEOUS – 2011, 129 minutes – 7/10 EXTRAORDINARY – 2017, 86 minutes – 6/10 – FREE ONLINE FREEDOM – 2014, 94 minutes – 7/10 THE HOBBIT TRILOGY – 2012-2014 – 7/10-8/10 I CAN ONLY IMAGINE - 2018, 110 minutes - 8/10 Love's Long Journey – 2005, 88 minutes – 7/10 The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – 2001-2003 – 10/10 LIKE DANDELION DUST – 2009, 104 minutes – 8/10 Roman Holiday – 1953, 118 minutes – 8/10 Seasons of the Heart – 2003, 99 minutes – 8/10 The Second Chance – 2006, 102 – 7/10 THE SONG – 2014, 116 minutes – 9/10 TO SAVE A LIFE – 2010, 120 minutes – 8/10 The Ultimate Gift – 2006, 114 minutes – 7/10 A Vow to Cherish – 1999, 84 minutes - 7/10 WOODLAWN - 2015, 123 minutes - 8/10 WAR FILMS (18) The Second World War might have been the first major conflict in which film could play a role, presenting stories intended to encourage those on the frontlines and at home. The most inspiring World War Two films show ordinary, average people doing extraordinary, heroic things (many of whom were our parents, grandparents or great grandparents, hiding Jews or otherwise put themselves at risk simply because they knew it had to be done). Many of the best World War II films were made during the war – they have a completely different feel, because no one at the time knew what the war’s outcome would be! BATAAN – 1943, 114 minutes – 8/10 Decision Before Dawn – 1951, 119 minutes – 7/10 DESPERATE JOURNEY – 1942, 107 minutes – 7/10 Destination Tokyo – 1944, 135 minutes – 8/10 Edge of Darkness – 1943, 119 minutes – 7/10 The Fighting Seabeas - 1944, 99 minutes – 7/10 FLYING TIGERS – 1942, 104 minutes - 7/10 THE FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT – 1940, 120 minutes – 7/10 Hail the Conquering Hero – 1944, 101 minutes – 7/10 Objective Burma! – 1945, 142 minutes – 7/10 Run Silent, Run Deep – 1958. 93 minutes – 7/10 Sahara – 1943, 98 minutes – 7/10 Sands of Iwo Jima – 1949, 100 minutes – 7/10 THE SILVER FLEET – 1943, 88 minutes – 7/10 They Were Expendable – 1945, 135 minutes – 7/10 To Be Or Not To Be – 1942, 99 minutes – 8/10 Twelve O'clock High – 1949, 132 minutes – 8/10 Why We Fight – 1942-45, 417 minutes – 7/10 See also Sgt. Stubby (Animated Films), Belle and Sebastian (Foreign Films), and Sea Hawk (Black and White Classics). BONUS #1 - FOREIGN FILMS (6) Part of the pleasure of watching films set in foreign locales is that they provide a peek into unfamiliar cultures. Most of us will never be able to visit Mongolia or Iran but we can get an insight into the cultural life of those communities by watching their films. ANTBOY - DENMARK – 2013, 77 minutes – 7/10 – FREE ONLINE Belle and Sebastian – FRANCE – 2013, 99 minutes – 7/10 Children of Heaven – IRAN – 1997, 87 minutes – 7/10 NOT ONE LESS – CHINA – 2000, 106 minutes – 7/10 THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY – JAPAN – 2010, 95 minutes – 8/10 The Story of the Weeping Camel – MONGOLIA – 2003, 87 minutes – 7/10 This post first appeared on www.ReelConservative.com. RP has also done an issue of the magazine on movies you can find here....

Animated, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Free film: The John Newton Story

Animated / Drama 2021 / 30 minutes Rating: 7/10 We know John Newton (1725-1807) as the former slave ship captain who repented and then wrote the amazing hymn Amazing Grace. In this Torchlighters episode, we get to hear the rest of his life story from the man himself. When an anti-slavery bill is brought to the British Parliament, one of the members goes to Newton to ask him to speak out on the issue. In response, an old Newton starts to share his dark history. It is a story of constant rebellion – this was a sailor so salty that the other sailors complained about the filth coming from Newton's mouth. It is also a story of a transformation wrought over many years: when Newton first became a Christian he stayed in the slave trade, going on to captain two slave ships for three voyages, transporting thousands of slaves in shameful conditions. This, it turns out, is why the Member of Parliament (MP) has come to Newton: since Newton captained slave ships as a Christian, the MP thinks he can convince Newton to speak out in favor of slavery. The MP has another reason to think Newton might help his cause: after attending the church that the older Newton now served as a pastor, the MP had never heard Newton preach against slavery. Newton realizes that not only can he never speak for slavery, he must now, finally, begin to speak against it... no matter what it might cost him and his church. His congregation was made up of many who had ties to the slave industry. Cautions While the brightly-colored animation style might have parents thinking this is all-ages viewing, the topic matter means it is not so. The toughest scene is right at the start, where we're shown a happy African village, and then the slavers come to kill and steal. It's brief, lasting only a couple of minutes, serving as the visual background to a parliamentary speech given by Christian politician William Wilberforce on the evils of slavery. Man-stealing – a crime God punishes with death (Ex. 21:16) – is so brutal there's no way to entirely mute the wickedness of it, so parents will need to watch the first few minutes to best judge whether their children will be able to handle it. I wouldn't show this to my under tens. There is one picture of Jesus briefly shown, in a book the Member of Parliament is reading. I'll also note the video leaves viewers with the impression that a young Wilberforce and the older Newton both saw the end of slavery in Britain. They did, together, help end British involvement in the slave trade – that happened in 1807 – but it wasn't until 1833, many years after Newton's death, that the slaves in Britain were finally freed. Conclusion My favorite part was the William Wilberforce speech, which bookends the presentation, beginning and ending it. Would that we could one day hear a Christian politician give such an impassioned speech in Parliament in defense of the unborn! This is one to watch with the family, or with a class, and discuss how we can and must rise to the defense of the unborn, never being afraid to raise their plight in the public square. You can watch The John Newton Story for free at RedeemTV.com though you will have to sign up for an account. Check out the trailer below. ...

Articles, Entertainment, Movie Reviews

Beyond judging a movie by its poster

Most “family friendly” films are precarious **** Recent research indicates that our brains are more synaptically active while we sleep than they are while we watch television or movies. This is not just a physical reality, but a spiritual one. Most people, including an alarming number of Christians, watch movies strictly for enjoyment, with a passive and receptive mental stance. But Christians should not view movies this way, and if they can’t watch movies any other way, they shouldn’t watch movies at all. The Proverbs tell us: “Doing wickedness is like sport to a fool, and so is wisdom to a man of understanding” (Prov. 10:23). In other words, vanity, futility, and immorality are fun to a fool. These alone please him. A wise man, on the other hand, finds pleasure and satisfaction in the exercise of wisdom and discernment. If a movie is little more than eye-candy – an exercise in superficiality and sensual experience – it won’t do very much to please a wise man. He wants something to chew on, some way to exercise and practice his discernment, some avenue to make a distinction between excellence and mediocrity, right and wrong. Mature Christians “because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Heb. 5:14). A thoughtful, well-produced movie can be and should be another playground for the pleasurable practice of biblical discernment. Between right and almost right As is apparent to most human beings, some family pets, and even some household appliances, one can either watch a given movie, or not watch it. Not watching a movie is the easiest way to avoid being affected by it. When a movie sells itself with sex, violence, and coarse language, it is almost always a good choice to skip it. Judging a movie by its poster, preview, and rating is the easiest form of discernment, and for me at least, it shaves off about 90% of all contemporary movies right off the bat without any further inquiry. But, as Charles Spurgeon has said, “Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather, it is telling the difference between right and almost right.” It seems that most Christians, if they use discernment at the box office at all, discern only according to appearances. If a movie contains little coarse language, no nudity, and no exorbitant violence, they consider the movie harmless family entertainment. Well-dressed, sweet-smelling lies are harder to detect than stinky, ugly ones. For this reason, Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, and we should not be surprised when his servants come to us in equally deceptive garb (2 Cor. 11:14-15). We must learn to exercise a discernment which looks at the heart of a matter. God exercises this kind of discernment perfectly, and we also can “spiritually appraise” all things because we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:15-16). It is clear we must avoid supporting movies that display a penchant for sin and all that the flesh lusts after, but what about those “family-friendly” films that seem so harmless? How do we avoid the pitfalls of worldview deception when something seems “almost right”? “Imitation value extracts” I think the most dangerous feature of mainstream family-friendly films is the ubiquitous inclusion of what I call “imitation value extracts.” These are virtues or convictions that have been extracted from their context. They are ready-made virtues. It is easy to account (or should I say bank account) for their existence. Hollywood producers want to make as much money as possible from their films, naturally. In order to do this, they have to attract as many viewers as possible. This means it is important for them to neutralize any elements in their movies that might unduly offend any potential market. Thus, “value extracts” allow any number of viewers with vastly different substantive beliefs to pour their own definitions, sources, and foundations into the generalized, non-exclusive frameworks of any given film. Allow me a detour for a moment to talk about an interesting Biblical backdrop for this discussion. The word translated “medium” in the Old Testament (meaning necromancer or sorcerer) is the Hebrew word “ob” which means “empty wine skin.” This means that the mediums emptied themselves out so that they could be filled with any passing spirit. In the same way, Hollywood has embraced a stance of tolerant pluralism, emptying itself of any divisive or exclusive convictions so as to be open to the opinions (and especially, the money) of any passing viewer. Let’s look at a few examples of objectless, foundationless “value extracts” in some “classic” family films. Prince of Egypt Consider the movie Prince of Egypt, Dreamworks Animation’s first film, which is loosely based on the Biblical account of Moses. The theme song for the film is entitled “When You Believe.” The chorus to this song is: There can be miracles, when you believe Though hope is frail, it’s hard to kill Who knows what miracles you can achieve When you believe, somehow you will You will when you believe… This is a great example of extracted values. Here, the faith and hope have no object. Their value is intrinsic. The focus is on the individual’s act of belief, not on the object of his belief. You can achieve miracles if you believe, even if what you believe in doesn’t exist, there is power in the act of belief. Belief is its own reward. It doesn’t matter what or who you believe in, just that you believe. The belief itself is what is valuable about religion because it gives you the strength to carry on through difficult times. I wish this were the only example of “imitation faith extract.” But it isn’t. Here are a few more examples. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader The first song for the ending credits of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader contains these lines: We can be the kings and queens of anything if we believe. It’s written in the stars that shine above, A world where you and I belong, where faith and love will keep us strong, Exactly who we are is just enough. In these lines, we see both faith and love operating as value extracts – totally separated from any object. This would be bad enough, but consider this testimony from Liam Neeson, who has played Aslan in all the Narnia movies so far: "Aslan symbolizes a Christ-like figure but he also symbolizes for me Mohammed, Buddha, and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries. That’s who Aslan stands for as well as a mentor figure for kids – that’s what he means for me." Hmmm. So the movie has been designed so that any religious belief can fit into its framework. It has been stripped of political incorrectness by removing or primarily neutralizing Christian truths that would exclude other beliefs. Notice again the emphasis on self. In fact, if mainstream “family” movies give any object for faith, it is always the self. How many times have you heard the platitude: “You’ve just gotta believe in yourself.” Something in me thinks that C.S. Lewis would not be terribly happy about the marketizing neutralization of his specifically and obviously Christian stories, but I guess there is no way to know until we get to “somewhere in the stars where you and I belong” and then, we can ask him. The Polar Express Another example is The Polar Express. In it, the train conductor says, “The thing about trains… it doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on.” Later, the protagonist chants, “I believe. I believe. I believe.” According to the conductor, the direction, destination, source, or foundation of belief – I mean trains – is not important. So the boy just has to “believe.” Whatever he believes in is unimportant. As long as he decides to believe, that is what is important. Or how about Cinderella: “If you keep believing, the dreams you wish will come true.” Or even Kung Fu Panda: “Promise me, XiFu! Promise me you will believe!” Once you start to notice this sort of thing, the examples are really endless. “Value Extracts” are the moral backbone of almost all family films. Love very commonly operates as a value extract – without boundaries, without object, without foundation. The “power of love.” Courage, loyalty, and honesty also appear regularly, and without a foundation. Whatever the value, it must be presented in a nebulous enough way to receive any viewer’s particular definitions. Hollywood provides the empty wineskin, you provide the passing spirit. Barely even half-truths Value extracts are dangerous deceptions – barely even half-truths. Virtue does not exist without Christ. Nothing has intrinsic value apart from Him. Faith without an object is useless. Love without definition is as good as hate. Courage, loyalty, honesty, etc. are arbitrary without biblical boundaries. Good and evil do not exist without an absolute standard to distinguish them. To ascribe intrinsic or independent value to anything is to say, in effect, that things can have existence and goodness independent of God. Non-Christians wish this were the case because they want the fruit of Christianity without having to bow the knee to Christ. But Ecclesiastes makes it very clear: under the sun (i.e., excluding the heavens where God is), everything is intrinsically meaningless and vain. So, these seemingly safe family movies may appear to be harmless family fun, but they are actually denying the root of all meaningful existence – God and His Word. As such, most “family friendly” films are precarious, and should not be viewed passively. It is profitable to watch these movies, even with your children, only if you couch the movie-watching experience as an active sparring session… a module of worldview conflict training. Without this self-conscious predisposition to “guarding our hearts,” we will leave ourselves vulnerable to the onslaughts of vain speculation and worldly philosophy. Watching movies and engaging with the philosophy of our culture must never be a passive experience, for to allow it to be such would be to sit under the tutelage and in the friendly company of scoffers. We cannot be deceived, such an approach has corrupted and will continue to corrupt Christian morals. The enjoyment we receive from movies must be the sport of exercising our Biblical discernment, not the passive and passing pleasure of folly (thinking again like Prov. 10:23). So, next time you go to the movies, don’t leave your mind at the box office or your heart unguarded. Prepare yourself for the invigorating exercise of your discernment. Then, take the strength and understanding you gain from that exercise and use it to engage your culture for the kingdom of Christ! This article is reprinted with permission from the author, and was first posted to Movieology.tv a now defunct website that offered challenging and highly enlightening movie reviews, from a biblical, Reformed worldview. Michael Minkoff Jr. is the cofounder of The Nehemiah Foundation for Cultural Renewal and Renew the Arts (RenewTheArts.org)....

Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Grandma’s Boy

Silent / Comedy 56 min; 1922 Rating: 7/10 While Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton are still famous today, there were actually three comedic stars of the silent film era. The largely forgotten Harold Lloyd was every bit as popular at the time, and with many of his films now entering the public domain and free to view online, he may have a chance of being so again. In Grandma's Boy, Lloyd plays a mama's boy twice over, too timid to stand up to the town bully even when that bully is trying to steal his girl, and so cowardly he'll rely on his little old grandmother to come to his rescue when a big burly tramp threatens him. That protective grandmother has surely contributed to his cowardice, but she's also determined to help fix it. When the tramp she chased off starts robbing stores and shooting at the townsfolk, the sheriff deputizes a posse to go after him. Grandma's boy is deputized too, but he ends up running home in terror. That's when grandma intervenes. She concocts a story about a magical charm that will protect anyone who holds it, then passes  off what's actually her umbrella handle as that charm. The now fearless young man grabs a firm hold of it and takes charge, braving car chases, gun battles, and fist fights to get his man. Cautions The magical charm is the supposed creation of a witch, but as is made clear at the film's end, there was no witch, and thus no magic, and the boy's superstitious belief was nonsense. Children might need to be told that despite the good result, grandma's "little white fib" was still wrong. The only other warning would be not to mistake this for the crass 2006 film of the same name. Conclusion Acting in the silent film era was intentionally overdone, because the actors had only their body language and facial expression to communicate with. For a modern audience, that means all the acting comes off as over-acting, and that's quite the flaw in a drama. However, it isn't the same problem in a comedy like this, where the overacting can just add to the hilarity. Another problem with older films is that the pacing is far slower than we're used to today. That's a flaw that YouTube can help fix. Just click on the settings (the little gear icon at the bottom of the frame) and change the playback speed from "normal" to 1.5 times. That's something you couldn't do in a talking picture, but for silent films it is a great option, sure to improve the experience for most audiences. What's a little long at 56 minutes becomes a unique experience of cinema history when it is just 39 minutes. My kids came in at about the halfway mark, stayed to the end, and gave what they say two thumbs up. But even with that positive feedback I knew this one wouldn't cut it as a family movie night selection when none of them asked to see it again from the start. This is best appreciated as the educational experience it is, a time travel trip to see films as they used to be. Watch Grandma's Boy for free below and if you want more Lloyd, Safety Last, his most famous film, is also free to see online. ...

Articles, Movie Reviews

Second-hand Scriptures: a case against biblical dramas

The “telephone game” goes by many different names but it’s always played the same way. A number of children sit in a circle and the “operator” starts things off by whispering some phrase or sentence to his neighbor. The neighbor then whispers the message to the next child, trying to pass it on as accurately as she can. By the time the message makes its way around the circle to the very last child it will bear little resemblance to the original: “I’ve got a pair of red pants” somehow turns into “Ivy’s got a pail of dead ants!” It’s good silly fun but the game also shows how easily information can become corrupted by being relayed Biblically-based movies face this same problem. It’s simply inevitable that the message we see on the screen won’t be the same as the one we find in the Bible – each step along the way, as it passes from Scripture to screenwriter this is an opportunity for corruptions to intrude, whether accidentally, or by deliberate choices. While writing about biblical stage productions, Rev. John van Popta, highlighted the problem they share with biblical movies: The data in the Bible is usually not enough to fill out the dialogue. .…a drama based on the Bible, will have a script which includes all kinds of extra material, actions and characters, as well as inaccuracies and misrepresentations. Consider also that a great deal of what we say is communicated by our body language. God chose not to use this medium, relying instead on the written word. So all the choices made by the director and actors in how they sit, stand, and interact – will they have Jesus stand boldly, with hands on his hips, or meekly seated, staring down at the ground? – are going to be extra-biblical additions that depart from the text. The Passion of the Christ The changes can be subtle and yet significant. Consider The Passion of the Christ, likely the biggest Christian film of all time. At the time it came out Christine Farenhorst noted how the film obscured that    “…the greatest torment that Christ experienced on the cross was not caused by the nails driven into His flesh, but in His being made ‘sin for us’ and vicariously suffering the righteous punishment of the Father in our place. Even the worst physical torments inflicted by the Sanhedrin and the Romans upon Jesus were nothing by comparison to the anguish of having the sins of all the elect imputed to Him and making full satisfaction for them. Satisfying the justice of the Romans on a cross was comparatively easy. Thousands of condemned men and women, including Spartacus and several of the Apostles did that. But only Christ could satisfy the justice of God.” The Chosen In the recent The Chosen TV series, women end up in more prominent roles than they have in the Scriptures, with the most notable being the healing of the paralyzed man of Luke 5:17-25. It was men that arranged for their friend to be lowered through the ceiling to be healed by Jesus. In this series the writers have inserted two women, Tamar and Mary Magdalene, and credited the idea to them. Why this rewrite? The spirit of our age says that women derive their value, not from being made in the Image of God, but by doing and being able to do whatever men can do. This seems in keeping with that spirit. It's also worth noting that in focusing more on the disciples and followers, The Chosen has made Jesus less central, and more of a supportive character. VeggieTales The changes can also be glaring. When the folks at Big Idea Productions decided to do a version of the Fall of Jericho using animated talking vegetables – a "VeggieTale" – the Israelites in their story grumbled that they felt too silly to march around the walls of the city. But in Joshua 6:1-21 we read that this is one of the only times Israel didn’t complain or question God. Big Idea’s Josh and the Big Wall is a video made by sincere Christians, for other Christians, that Christian children are likely to watch again and again, and yet this video departs sharply from the Scripture it claims to portray. In other VeggieTale biblical epics, the alterations are more understandable, though no less problematic. Their account of Daniel in the lions’ den had this prophet emerges unscathed, and the men who plotted against him run away. In reality, these men were thrown into the den, and, “before they reached the floor of the den the lions overpowered them and crushed their bones” (Dan 6:24). Not only were these plotters punished in this startling fashion, even their wives and children were consumed by the lions. In a cartoon intended for kids it might seem sensible to make this G-rated substitution for what would otherwise be an R-rated event. But that the real events would be unsuitable for a children’s cartoon isn’t a reason to recast reality in a “nicer” light – it’s a reason not to make a cartoon about that reality. And this isn’t the only time VeggieTales has felt free to insert a “nicer” endings to a biblical tale. In Esther, the Girl Who Became Queen, Haman plots against the Jews but instead of trying to kill them he attempts to banish them to the “Island of Perpetual Tickling.” Are nicer endings really such a problem? Well, just consider how many Christians would be shocked to read an Old Testament passage in which God demands the slaughter of women and children. In a quest to embrace the God of love many Christians prefer to forget that He also demands justice and can be wrathful as well. By inserting these “nicer” endings, VeggieTales actually hide the true character of God from children. And since children are likely to view these videos repeatedly, and read the corresponding Bible passages infrequently, that is real damage being done. Even when the Veggie version is fairly faithful – as happens in Dave and the Giant Pickle – it’s still going to be comical – here we have a cute David, played by Junior Asparagus. How often is cute and comical going to be a good match for the tone of the biblical text? Conclusion What I’ve raised here are practical objections to biblical epics – that they so often garble the message. But what if someone did a much better, more careful job? Then would it be a problem? Let me answer by offering two texts to consider. First, Revelation 22:18-19 concludes with a warning against making additions or subtractions to “the words of the prophecy of this book…” Is this referring only to Revelation, or the whole of the Bible? However you understand it, wouldn’t the principle – to have great respect for the words God has delivered – have application to the whole of the Bible? And the consequences listed – that those who make additions will have the plagues added to them, and those that take away will have their part in the Tree of Life taken away – would also seem to encourage Christians to err on the side of caution. Second, biblical dramas have a long history of being used to teach an illiterate laity. But the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 35 applies the Second Commandment (Ex. 20:4-5, Deut. 5:8-9) as forbidding the use of images to teach God’s people: … we should not be wiser than God. He wants his people to be taught not by means of dumb images but by the living preaching of his Word. The Reformation brought with it a push for literacy to allow people to learn straight from God. Instead of the “telephone game” with the message filtered through actors and scriptwriters, God’s children could receive His Word directly. Why go back? Now, biblically-based movies probably won’t do much damage to biblically literate Christians; they’ll certainly see through the glaring errors, and may well catch most of the subtle miscommunications as well. But these films aren’t really made for biblically literate Christians. Isn't the reason that these films are so popular because they make Christians feel as if we are learning as we’re watching? How many will view the movie and then go straight to Scripture and read the passage? Don't we watch the movie instead of reading the passage? Or maybe we watch it to receive what isn’t in the passage – the kind look on Jesus’ face, or the heartwarming interactions between the other characters. Then instead of the real deal, instead of direct communication with God through his Word, we end up settling for the garbled communication we get via the screen’s second-hand Scripture. Charlton Heston as Moses, from the film "The Ten Commandments" is copyright © 1956 Paramount Pictures Corporation. Used with permission....

Animated, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

The John Bunyan Story

Animated 2006 / 29 minutes RATING: 8/10 What is likely the most influential novel of all time was written by a man of little education, though with a lot of free time on his hands. John Bunyan may have written his most famous work, The Pilgrim's Progress, during his 12-year stay in prison for preaching in an illegal church. For those that aren't familiar with it, the book is a metaphor for the Christian life, with a pilgrim traveling from the "City of Destruction" to the "Celestatial City" and along the way having to contend with all sorts of trials and temptations personified (like a giant named Despair, or a judge named Hate-Good). Bunyan, by his own account, was not a nice young man, so he understood temptation. And once he became a Christian, he paid a price for it, so he knew trials. And this animated account gives a great, engaging overview of it all. However, the film does indulge in creative license, taking as literal the opening lines of The Pilgrim's Progress, where Bunyan wrote "...as I slept, I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold, I saw a man clothed with rags..." They portray the book as being inspired by Bunyan's dreams during his time in jail, and while that might even be true, it's disputed when exactly Bunyan first started writing his bestseller, so the facts are harder to come by than it might seem here. Cautions So one caution might be that younger viewers should be told not to make much of the little details, which may or may not be true. The other caution concerns age-appropriateness. This is animated, so parents might think it is for little children. But a battle scene when the young Bunyan is a soldier shows a man next to him getting killed by a musket ball. The scene is made all the more dramatic when the distraught Bunyan cries out in grief, reaches for his now dead friend, and discovers that his own hands are now covered in blood. This wouldn't bother a ten-year-old, but some younger children will be disturbed. There's also a dream sequence with a dragon attacking Bunyan. Again, not overly scary by teen standards, but it could be a bit much for preschoolers. Contents I've rated this an 8, but that's only for an audience that's read Pilgrim's Progress – those that don't already know the book, won't be too interested in learning about the man behind it. But if you do know it, this will be an engaging half-hour's viewing. Our family, from eight all the way up, quite enjoyed it. Watch it below for free (with some commercial interruptions). ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Unitards

Family / Comedy 2010 / 107 minutes Rating: 8/10 The producers bill this as "High School Musical meets Napoleon Dynamite" but I'll have to take their word for it, not having seen either. I do know it is laugh-out-loud, tears-in-your-eyes funny in parts. When the vice principal charges Lewis Grady with building up school spirit, he decides to start a guys-only dance...thing (he isn't quite sure what it is, but he knows it isn't a dance team because that's what girls do). His two quirky friends are happy to help, even if they've got some misgivings about dancing in front of the whole student body. The three buddies bribe, beg, and bargain their way through the recruitment process, ending up with a group of a dozen or more. But it's one thing to get a group together, and another to get that group dancing together, especially when the guys have more than their share of left feet. But with a little help from mom and some friends on the school's award-winning girls' dance team, they start figuring things out. Right before their first public performance, Lewis rallies the troops with an inspirational speech that is comic gold. He reminds them of the dream most every student has had, of showing up to school in nothing but your underwear. "This is that day," he tells them: "The majority of the kids out there feel like they're showing up to school half-naked every day. Today is for the nobodies, for the average, I-don't-even-matter kids." Lewis wants his group to be an inspiration to the ordinary guys and girls out there in the audience, showing them you don't have to be awesome at something to do it, you just have to be willing to ignore the peer pressure and embrace the joy. The villain of the piece is the teacher who runs the girls' dance team. She thinks the boys are making a mockery of dance, and she wants them shut down, and she's used to getting her way. While that adds some drama to the story, this is mostly just goofy dance numbers, and quirky friends, showing how fun can be had when you ignore the mockers and set out to be encouragers. Cautions The biggest caution would just be the film's name. Unitards are a one-piece garment that dancers (especially ballet) often wear, but there is also an implicit, never made explicit, reference here to "tard," short for retard, with the joke being that any boys in a dance group are sure to have that word directed their way. It's in bad taste, but that it isn't made explicit makes it easier to overlook. While the dancing is modest by worldly standards, there is a lot of it, and it isn't the formal sort you might see in a "Pride and Prejudice" film. This is more the jump and bounce and shake and wiggle type of dancing toddlers through teens do. That includes some butt-wiggling moves that are a brief part of one or two of the dance productions. It's slightly sexually suggestive, but incidentally, rather than provocatively so. And when paired with the students' generally modest dress, it is quite tame. Conclusion Director Scott Featherstone combined elements of his own school experience with what his son Sam (who plays Lewis Grady) and friends were experiencing to come up with the script. Then he held auditions at his son's school to get all the actors. That's why the acting is solid enough, even though these are not professional actors. What they are is high school students playing high school students so it's not a stretch. And because the director and scriptwriter was a parent who knew the actors, some of these kids are almost certainly playing versions of themselves. What makes this worth watching is just how sweet it is. High school can be a tough time for many, and what we have here is a prescription for how your kids can make it better for others, and maybe themselves. Lewis Grady's friends poke fun, but they don't tear down. The guys do look goofy dancing, but they're also being brave, and some of the school's girls are smart enough to appreciate and encourage that bravery. This is high school as we wish it could have been, and would still like it to be for our kids: full of challenges, yes, but not full of naysayers, mockers, and killjoys. ...

Animated, Drama, Movie Reviews

The Toy Story franchise is for adults

Animated / Drama 1995, 1999, 2010, and 2019 / 81, 92, 103, and 100 minutes Rating: 8/10 Animation is usually for kids. And a story that's all about toys would seem best suited to children too. That’s why, when I saw the original Toy Story in the theater with a group of my college-age friends, we all thought it was kids’ fare...though the sort that adults could enjoy too. When I tried watching it with my own kids 25 years later, I came to a different conclusion: that this movie franchise has always been directed first and foremost at adults. All the evidence is there: a children’s film has children in the main roles, and a film for adults stars adults. What about Toy Story? In the original, there’s Andy, the little boy who owns the toys. He’s a child, but the film isn’t really about him. It turns out Toy Story is populated almost exclusively by adults…or, rather, toys, as voiced by adults. Woody is front and center, a Western sheriff with a pull string on his back that makes him say “Reach for the sky, pardner!” He and his fellow toys are limp and lifeless when people are around, but spring to life – as every child has always suspected – the moment we leave. Some of the brilliance of Toy Story is in the toy casts’ very different personalities: we’ve got a timid Tyrannosaurus Rex, a wise-cracking Mr. Potato Head, a loyal Slinky-Dink Dog, and a flirtatious Little Bo Peep lamp. Shucks, even the Etch-a-Sketch is quite the character, trying regularly to “outdraw” Sheriff Woody. The biggest personality of them all is the newest arrival. For his birthday, Andy has gotten a Buzz Lightyear – a spaceman action figure – that replaces Woody as his favorite. Woody is jealous, but what really drives him nuts is that Buzz doesn’t even understand that he’s a toy. Buzz thinks he’s landed on an alien planet, and that the other toys are the friendly locals. Woody is normally a pretty stand-up toy, but in a bout of exasperated jealousy, he gives Buzz a shove. He meant to bump Buzz off the bureau, where he’d get stuck (and maybe forgotten for a while) in the gap between the bureau and the wall. But instead, he sends Buzz right out the second-story window into the bushes below. Woody, more concerned with what the other toys will think of him than actual concern for Buzz, tries to rescue the spaceman. But things just go from bad to worse and they end up in the next-door neighbor’s house, in the clutches of Sid, a boy whose parents don’t supervise him like they should. Why is it dangerous to be around Sid? Because he blows up his toys… and now Woody and Buzz may be next! That’d be quite the problem for a bunch of children to solve. Fortunately, all these toys are, in as far as toys can be, adults. Woody, Buzz, Little Boy Peep, and Mr. Potato Head are voiced by adult actors and have adult personas (as most toys do). Their problems are also adult problems, as becomes increasingly evident in successive films. In the first, Woody has to teach Buzz his purpose in life: to be there for their owner. In the follow-up, Woody wrestles with what it means to grow old and start to break down. In the third, the gang is wondering what they’re meant to do, now that Andy has grown up. This is ultimate-meaning-of-life, material, which is pretty heavy, even if it’s only on a toy scale. The films also feature events that, if viewed through the eyes of a child, would be downright traumatic. Adults don’t flinch when Sid blows up one of his army men. But for kids, who have watched these toys come to life, this is too close to seeing somebody getting blown up. The second film actually begins with Buzz dying – the evil emperor Zurg has gotten the best of the space ranger, hitting him with an energy beam that disintegrates Buzz’s top half, leaving only his legs still standing, but now smoking. It turns out that this is only Buzz Lightyear, the video game character, getting blown up, and the toy version is still fine. But kids don’t know that when it happens. Even more adult, in film #3 the whole gang, facing their certain incineration, are forced to come to an acceptance of death (though they are rescued at the last possible moment). Finally, in the franchise’s most recent chapter, a pretty but psychotic doll wants to rip Woody’s voice box right out of his stuffing. Finally, add in some minor innuendo throughout – when Mr. Potato Head travels down the Barbie aisle in a toy store he has to remind himself “I’m a married spud, I’m a married spud.” It’s tame, and infrequent, but not kid stuff either. Toy Story is meant for adults. Cautions If I was recommending this for children, there would be all sorts of little nits that could be picked. For example, when one toy talks about how much he trusts Woody, Mr. Potato Head takes off his lips and presses them to his butt – adults understand, though my kids missed it. A bunch of alien toys in one of those coin-operated toy dispensers view the claw that comes down as “our master” and speak of it in a worshipful manner. They’re basically a cult, and make for a weird, if fortunately brief, addition. And for kids, it'd be important to note the overall tension throughout. If you're watching any of them with children, there could be parts where you'll need to hit the fast-forward button because it'll be simply too much for the under ten crowd. (The scariest moment of all might be in the first film, when we discover that Sid, in addition to blowing up his toys, has spliced a number of different toys together. After Woody and Buzz get trapped in Sid's bedroom, they get surrounded by his freaky creations, including the creepiest toy you’ll ever see: a mute Mechano spider topped with a shaved doll’s head. We soon learn that these monstrosities are all friendly, but for a while there it's downright disturbing. I think even adults could get the kreebles in this scene.) But as far adults are concerned, the only caution would regard the company behind the franchise. Pixar films spent a couple of decades making films that were artistic, entertaining, and still generally safe – language and sexuality concerns were minimal, and violence was of the cartoonish sort. But the Pixar of the 199os and early 2000s has now transitioned into a woke company that encourages homosexuality and transsexuality. So the warning is, don't presume that what Pixar creates next will be generally safe. Conclusion Twenty-five years ago Toy Story was groundbreaking: it was the first feature film to be animated entirely by computer. Successive films continued to push animation advancements, however, Toy Story's success was never about the spectacle. What made Pixar special (before it became woke) was the attention to detail in every aspect of their storytelling. They knew their cinematic history and borrowed from the best that had gone before. So, for example, Buzz and Woody are a classic odd couple, and it doesn't matter that we all know right from the start that they're destined to become the best of friends by film's end – the joy is in the craftsmanship of the journey. Throw in some loyalty and love, daring-do, and more than a little nostalgia and wistfulness, and what's delivered are films to savor, at least in the moments when the action slows down. And while these are best appreciated by adults, I'd recommend them for as young as 12. Look below for the trailers for all four films. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

The Creation Adventure Team

A Jurassic Ark Mystery Family / Children 45 min / 2001 Rating: 7/10 Six Short Days, One Big Adventure Family / Children 38 min / 2002 Rating: 7/10 The folks at the creationist organization Answers In Genesis have created two frenetic kids' videos that feature a robot dinosaur sidekick and comic hijinks. What more could you want? In the first episode, Jurassic Ark Mystery, the Creation Adventure Team is out to discover when the dinosaurs died, how they lived, and whether there were any on Noah's Ark. We are treated to non-stop action, decent special effects, a number of clever spoofs, and a talking robot dinosaur named Proto. Renowned dinosaur sculptor Buddy Davis, his teenage friend Ivan, and of course Proto, explore a dinosaur museum and show how these “terrible lizards” did indeed fit on the ark. A Jurassic Ark Mystery is one of the most entertaining creationism videos available for children. The only video that might be better is the sequel: Six Short Days, One Big Adventurer where the crew helps a student give a presentation to her public school classmates about how God created everything. The videos come with a pile of extras. Our family spent at least half an hour afterward looking through them all, with our favorite being the features on how they brought the robot Proto to "life." Caution The only one I can think of is that, as is pretty typical for a Buddy Davis production, the action here is a little on the frantic side of things. Davis is clearly focused on keeping the kids engaged, but I've heard a parent or two complain about just how hyper this all seems. Conclusion This is a video that would be fantastic for parents to watch with their kids – it is informative and entertaining! But for parents who can't deal with too much hyperactivity on the big screen, you'll want to steer clear. They say this is for ages 7-12, but our 5-year-old really liked it too, and even our 3-year-old was content enough to stick around for the whole show. While these are available on some Christian streaming services (and on DVD), Answers in Genesis has made both available for free online viewing, though they've broken them up into several chapters. That isn't the best way to watch them but it is a great way for parents to get a preview – watch them for free at the links below: A Jurassic Ark Mystery Six Short Days, One Big Adventure ...

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. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

The Incredible Journey

Family 1963 / 80 minutes Rating: 8/10 What do Elsa and Anna, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, Pollyanna, and even Huey, Duey and Louie all have in common? If you said, they'd all been featured in Disney films, you'd be right, but that's not the answer I was looking for. They all lack, and what many a children's story protagonist lacks is, parental supervision. Dead or otherwise departed parents are pretty common in children's fiction and films, and it isn't as nefarious as it might seem. Parents need to be out of the picture because otherwise the story would end before it even got going. How could Peter, Lucy, Edmund, and Susan have explored the wardrobe if they'd been back in London with mom and pop? Parents still home when the Cat in the Hat stops by? He'd never make it past the front door. And Jack and Jill would never have tumbled if their mom had been there to tell them: "You're not old enough to climb the cliff face– it's dangerous! How many times do I have to tell you to use the path on the other side of the hill?" In The Incredible Journey the parents are once again missing, but this time there is a twist: the Hunters aren't so much parents, as owners, and their "children" are two dogs and a cat. While the Hunters are heading to Oxford, where dad is going to teach for a semester, family friend John Longridge has volunteered to take care of their pets back at his own cabin, some 200 miles away. But then he leaves too, heading out on a long hunting trip, and entrusting the animals' care to his housekeeper Mrs. Oakes. Then, when the note he leaves her falls into the fireplace and gets burned up, she thinks he has the animals. The result: when the trio head out on their own, no one is missing them. Luath, a Yellow Labrador, is the leader of the group. He wants to go back to their family, and convinces the other two, Siamese Cat Tao, and Bodger, an English Bull Terrier, to start off with him. While Luath knows the right direction, he doesn't realize that home is more than 200 miles, and a mountain range, away. That's the set up for their incredible journey. On the way, they have to contend with hunger, whitewater, bears, a lynx, and, unfortunately for Luath, a porcupine! Cautions The big caution here would concern the tension. At one point it seems like that cat has been swept away by the river to her death, and the two dogs are left mourning. The only way my kids could get past that was with the reassurance that the dogs were wrong and the cat would actually be okay. Conclusion There's a 1993 remake, where the animals are voiced by big-name celebrities. I like this version better, where a narrator explains what's going on in the different animals' minds. It's a more realistic approach, almost akin to a nature documentary, where we're observing something that could really have happened. Despite what you might read elsewhere, this didn't happen – it is not based on a true story. There's been some confusion on that point because the author of the book that inspired the film said the pets were based on her own – they are based on true pets – but her pets never went on any such journey. What makes this such a wonderful film is the loyalty the animals have for one another. Bodger is old, and a drag on the group, but that only means that he gets to set the pace – Tao and Luath would never think of leaving him behind. Our whole family, from 8 on up really enjoyed it. The appeal for the kids is the pets – our girls love pretty much any story with dogs or cats in it – while the appeal for the adults was the uniqueness of it. This is an old-school Disney film, so it was easy to predict that everything would turn out fine in the end, but these animals took us on quite the journey with twists and turns that weren't so easy to predict. And that sure was fun! ...

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

Hidden Heroes

Documentary / WWII 50 min /  1999 Rating: 8/10 Among the “hidden heroes” of World War II were the thousands of Dutchmen who opened their homes to Jews and others who were hiding from the Nazis. They did this at great personal risk, and yet they did this in huge numbers. They were ordinary Dutchmen, but they displayed extraordinary courage. Where did this courage come from? As this film chronicles, in many, many cases it came from their Christian convictions. This is truly an extraordinary documentary and it should be shown in all of our schools on Remembrance Day – it tells in short, compelling interviews and quick docudrama clips what our parents and grandparents lived through and what they did to oppose the evil of the Nazis. This is an inspiring movie for anyone, but for those of Dutch descent, it is a must-see. And you can watch it for free below. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Microcosmos

Documentary / Nature 80 min / 1996 Rating: 9/10 Have you ever wondered what it’s like for bugs when it rains, getting hit by water droplets bigger than their bodies? If so, then this is the film for you. Winner of the 1996 Cannes Film Festival technical grand prize for its cinematic brilliance, this documentary delves into the world hidden beneath our feet. The bugs are the stars, so there is practically no narration – perhaps a hundred words over the whole film. We see trains of caterpillars strung out, nose to butt by the dozens, a spider capturing air bubbles to drag down to his underwater lair, the emergence of winged ants as they jostle down the tunnel towards the opening en masse, and a millipede in exquisite detail as it walks over undulating tiny, tiny hills. Parents who watch this with their children may have to do a bit of explaining about the birds and the bees (well, just the bees in this case) as a few scenes touch on sex. But as there is no narration parents who want to evade the topic for a bit can tell their kids that, “those two snails are just kissing.” ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

Curious George

Animated / Family 86 min / 2006 Rating: 8/10 George is a monkey whose curiosity always gets the best of him. And in this, the first film and lead-in for the (fantastic!) TV series of the same name, that curiosity gets him his first meeting with the Man in the Yellow Hat, and then gets him transported from the jungle right across the ocean to the United States. And that’s only the start of the adventure! While many a children’s’ animated film has humor that only an older audience will understand, there is no deeper level in this one. But mom and dad can appreciate the beauty. I first watched this with 5 other adults, and we all enjoyed it in large part because of the bright gorgeous visuals. In the TV show, we’re told repeatedly that “George is a monkey and he can do things that you can’t.” George can swing in trees and climb buildings, which we can’t, and he can also get into certain sorts of trouble and not actually be naughty, which we can’t do. For example, in one scene George paints the walls of an apartment with a jungle scene. He didn’t have permission. But as a monkey, he didn’t know he needed it, so it isn’t nearly the bad thing it would be if a person had done it. Parents can make the point the film misses: don’t imitate monkeys, even cute ones. Another caution: the Man in the Yellow Hat briefly talks a little evolution in his role as museum guide. More notable: our “hero” agrees to go along with a lie that’ll trick the public into believing a 2-inch statue is actually 40 feet tall. Parents will need to hit the pause button to explain that the hero is failing the test here…and so much so that the villain of the film is the one protesting that lying is wrong! I’ll add one more caution even though it isn’t directly related to the film. If this gets your kids interested in Curious George books, parents should know the original stories, by H.A. Rey, often portray George as not simply curious but flat out disobedient. That changes the nature of his hijinks from being simply a misunderstanding, to being rebellion. There are newer books based on the TV show that are good, but the originals have this nastier version of George that isn’t nearly as fun. While there are some cautions to consider, this is, overall, a gorgeous, gentle, sweet film that children will want to watch multiple times. Teens? Maybe not. But mom and dad won’t mind coming along for the ride, if only to appreciate the visual feast. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

PAW Patrol: The movie

Animated / Children / Family 2021 / 86 min Rating: 8/10 While our kids had never seen the TV series this is based on, we'd all seen enough of the PAW Patrol lunchboxes, toys, and commercials to understand the premise: talking puppies, each with their own expertise, team up to help whenever there's an emergency. Puppies meant our daughters were sure to like it, so the only question was whether this was going to be good enough to keep the parentals awake. It turned out, yes – there was more than enough action and intrigue to keep me bright-eyed the whole way through. It even opened with a bang (and a screeeeeeeech, and an "oh no!"): a semi-truck driver narrowly misses a baby turtle crossing the road, but his emergency maneuvers cause him to veer all over the road and crash right over the edge of a bridge, leaving driver and truck dangling precariously over the bay hundreds of meters below. It's as tense as a G-rated film can be, and had our daughters on the edge of their seats waiting for the rescue pups to spring into action. What I most appreciated was when the story headed to Adventure City where a new cat-loving, dog-hating politician had just won the mayor's race... but only because the other contestant had to drop out. There's some political satire here, as the power-mad Mayor Humdinger tries to transform the city into his own vision of utopia, which, of course, goes disastrously. I don't know if the writers were purposely trying to mock big government but, regardless, they did a good job, as everything the arrogant mayor touches goes comically amuck. A major subplot has PAW Patrol's top dog, Chase, struggling with a crisis of confidence after he makes a mistake during a rescue – that's the story's drama. Comic relief comes from all directions, maybe most notably in the form of a sassy new Patrol member, named Skye. Caution A heads up if you have an adopted child: Chase's struggles are due in large part to a traumatic experience in the city right before he was rescued and then adopted by Ryder, the team's only human member. So if your son or daughter had traumatic experiences before their adoption, this might hit them too close to home. I'll also note, this is an action-packed movie, which makes it exciting, but maybe also a bit much for some younger kids. Other than that, the only caution would concern a "wedgie drone" as seen in the trailer below. It's just 15 seconds of questionable silliness, the end result leaving the mayor pantless, though wearing long boxers. There's nothing indecent in this scene, but the film could have been improved by its absence. Conclusion I was pleasantly surprised by just how much good old-fashioned fun this film was from beginning to end. I've read a review where this was said to come out of a "lightly Christian" worldview/morality, and I get why they would think so. I don't know if the producers were Christian, but they sure could have been. While this is just fluff – there's nothing all that deep here – there's also no poison pill mixed in with the cotton candy. It's just fun fluff all the way down. I'd recommend this for the 8-11 crowd – it is a children's film. But for a first viewing, this could be one for the whole family. Older teen children won't like it nearly as much as their younger siblings, but even if the film doesn't grab them, they should get a kick out of all the little ones' giggles and gasps. ...

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

Odd Squad: The movie

Children's / Family 65 minutes / 2016 Rating: 7/10 Odd Squad is an organization founded to correct the "strange, the weird, and most especially the odd" wherever they might occur around the world. The organization itself is odd in that it is run entirely by children. While there's an educational vibe, with basic math and logic used to solve most problems, this is all about the fun, and not just for the kids. In a nod to James Bond, there are agents, cartoonish villains, gadgets galore, the science types who invent them, and a leader known only by her letter, "Miss O." But, thankfully, there isn't any of Bond's violence and sex. Odd Squad, the TV show, has been in production for 8 years, which has resulted in child actors aging out of their roles. So since 2014, there have been three "seasons," each with its own set of agents. Odd Squad: The Movie involves the first and second sets teaming up for the first time (which was very exciting for our girls). So who do they have to battle? Well, it turns out, nobody. A new rival adult-based agency, the Weird Team, is also dealing with all things weird and odd, and fixing things so quickly that Odd Squad doesn't have any cases to solve. So the film begins with Odd Squad disbanding. How's that for an unexpected twist! However, Weird Team may not be quite as effective as they first seemed. Their fixes are coming unfixed... or maybe they were never really fixed in the first place! Whatever the case may be, it's clear the world still needs Odd Squad. Cautions There aren't any notable cautions for the film, so the only quibbles would be about the TV show that spawned it. In the 20 or so episodes we've watched so far (out of more than 100) one dealt with the number 13 and bad luck. The story was actually about addition – they were finding all sorts of ways that basketball players' uniforms could add up to 13 – and the bad luck was of a goofy sort. Still, we hit the pause button so we could discuss the idea of luck with our kids. In a couple of other episodes, there was passing mention made about the organization being around for millions of years, which presumes the evolutionary time scale. But, so far, that's really it. Conclusion The film is goofy and creative, and especially fun because it had the two teams working together. While the target audience is in the 6-10 age range, it'll be a great one for a family movie night. You can watch the movie trailer below, and to get a feel for Odd Squad you can watch a full episode from the show by clicking here). ...

Family, Movie Reviews

The Sword and the Rose

Family / Drama 1953 / 92 minutes Rating 7/10 When I first found this film and read in the description that the hero was Mary Tudor, that was too much for me. Mary Tudor was a Roman Catholic queen of England in the year 1553 to 1558 who gained her nickname, Bloody Mary, for her vicious persecution of the Protestant Church. This was the Hollywoodization of history gone too far, and I had no interest in watching a film about her romantic life. But then I realized that this Mary Tudor wasn't that Mary Tudor. This film was about the sister of Henry VIII, rather his devilish daughter. And so I took a look. As the sister to the king, Mary has some gumption, and is much admired by all the young men of the court. But as the sister to the king, her marriage prospects are tied up with her brother's political machinations, and there's no advantage to him, to marry her off to an Englishman. He wants her to marry the aged King of France. She, however, is a very stubborn lady, so it's an open question as to whether she'll do as he says. It's only when she falls in love with the Captain of the Guard, and tries to sail off to the New World with him, that the king gains the upper hand. The couple is caught, and her knight in shining armor is going to be hung for treason... unless she submits to her brother's wishes and marries the French king. There are some exciting twists and turns in the plot that I won't give away, but I will note there is, ultimately, a happy ending for all. Cautions The broad outlines of the story are based on history, and if that is how the film is enjoyed – as very loosely based on a true story – then it is quite a tale. But for those who are more concerned with accuracy, they may object to Henry VIII being portrayed as a rascal more than a rogue, or to the unsympathetic portrayal of his first queen, Catherine of Aragon, who was later treated shamefully by him. There are some sword fights, but this is an old-fashioned Disney film so there is no blood or gore. Conclusion Our whole family quite enjoyed it, though our youngest, at 7, needed the film to be paused at times, so we could explain the historical context of what was going on. (She didn't get how a brother could decide for a woman who she would marry.) This is a "Disneyfied" version of history, and that is both its strength and weakness, suitable for all ages, but kinder and gentler than the events really were. ...

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