Wednesday, November 17, 2021

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 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 craftsmanship 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 sometiemes we do indeed need to trust Him.

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 if and when it might be playing near you. Hopefully, it will be available to rent online very soon.

Monday, November 15, 2021

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.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The Gospel Blimp

Satire / Drama 
38 min / 1967 
Rating: 8/10

It may be 40 years old now, but this understated satire still ranks among the better Christian films ever made.

It begins with a group of enthusiastic Christians having a barbeque in their backyard, and discussing how they can evangelize the unconverted next-door neighbor. They all know the conventional ways of doing it, but they’re looking for something… special. As they’re relaxing, sitting back in their lawn chairs, a blimp flies overhead, and that’s when it hits them – that’s what they need to do! Buy a blimp so they can fly it over the neighbor’s house, and over the entire town, and throw down gospel tracks. That’ll get people’s attention. What a brilliant plan!

That they miss the obvious alternative is only part of the film's point, but it's this satiric take that makes this both cutting and memorable. Their plans just keep getting bigger and bigger!

The Gospel Blimp is based on a book of the same title by Joseph Bayly that cuts even deeper (and there was also a comic book adaptation that did so a little less so). What allows this version to be just as engaging four decades later is its still relevant point – that we make evangelism harder than it needs to be – and the clever way it was first filmed. This is home movie-esque, and as a home movie we don't expect car chases or explosions, and we aren't put off by the grainy film.

Like The Blair Witch Project famously did, the producers took what would otherwise have been a weakness – less than high definition camera work – and have turned it into a strength by making it a sign of authenticity: the home movie feel lets us know we're getting an intimate, up-close, look and this group's evangelistic efforts.

This would be a great short film to share with any group of Christian friends and then talk about afterward – it offers lots of fodder for discussion. You can watch it for free below.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Balto

Family /Animated
1995 / 78 minutes
Rating: 7/10

In 1925, the city of Nome, Alaska was hit by an outbreak of diphtheria, a coughing sickness that is deadly to children. While that might not seem the best topic for a kid's animated movie, they went and did it anyway, and made something special!

You see, the diphtheria was treatable, but the doctor was out of serum to treat it and the closest train could only bring a new batch to within 700 miles. No problem, that's what bush planes are for. But then a severe storm front grounded the bush planes. That left only dogsled teams to bridge the gap. They had to make a more than 1,000-mile round trip, through the most severe of weather, which made getting lost an easy and deadly thing to do. Many sled teams, and more than 100 dogs, were involved, but the very last team, the one that brought the medicine right to the hospital door, was led by a dog named Balto. And this is his story.

Or, rather, this is sort of his story. The facts were exciting enough but Hollywood still felt they had to make tweaks. So in the animated version, Balto is now half-wolf, which makes him an outsider among the town's other dogs. He also has a goose and two polar bears as friends. And he and his villainous rival Steele are both interested in the same girl, a sable-colored dog named Jenna.

In reality, Balta was a Siberian husky that didn't hang around with geese or polar bears. And no details are available about his love interests. Oh, and he couldn't actually talk.

But aside from historical quibbles – no one should learn their history from Disney films anyway – this is a great film. Parents will appreciate how Balto shows himself to be brave and giving, willing to risk his life for a town that has never shown him love. In a peril-filled film, we get comic-relief from  Balto's friends: two polar bears afraid of water, and a goose with a Russian accent. They're also incredibly loyal, willing to stand alongside Balto no matter what he's facing, whether bullies, or an enraged black bear!

Cautions

The big caution for this film is its level of tension. There's really no letting up  – Balto goes from having to face a bully twice his size to having to face a bear ten times his size. Then nature throws its worst at him, including giant icicles dropping down at him from a cave ceiling. One online reviewer said it was a bit much for their three-year-old daughter, but she could just close her eyes at the scary parts. I'm wondering: 

  1. What kind of three-year-old could manage to not be freaked out by this? 
  2. If her eyes were closed for the scary parts, did she miss three-quarters of the film? This is pretty much non-stop peril!

For example, Balto and his friends fight that enormous black bear. While all the other animals in the story can talk, this is simply a beast, raging at them. When Balto fights him on a frozen lake, it looks like Balto is going to drown to death, as he disappears below the ice and it closes up over him. Adults know it will turn out all right, but little kids don't, so this is going to be super tense for them.

There's also the very different sort of tension brought about by the diphtheria outbreak. In one scene, Balto and his friend Jenna peer through the hospital windows at all the sick coughing little ones. Sensitive children could certainly get worried about what will happen to all these kids.

So no, this isn't for three-year-olds, and I think some ten-year-olds would have a hard time of it. But it does all have a happy ending, so kids who understand that's the direction it's heading will find this exciting, rather than scary.

The only other caution would concern an odd moment where Balto, after falling off a cliff, sees a white wolf come out of the mist. I think the point of this is that Balto has to embrace the very part of himself that others are mocking - his wolf half - as it's only that toughness that will get him through. But is it a vision, or a real wolf? No words are spoken, and the scene is very short. So...odd.

Conclusion

For kids who can handle the tension, this will be a super-exciting movie with lots of actions but also lots of laughs. But this is not an all-ages film, as it is certain to be too tense for many kids. 

Thursday, October 14, 2021

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 and even babies.

There's an educational aspect, with basic math and logic used to solve most problems. There's also a James Bond vibe, with agents, cartoonish villains, gadgets galore, the science types who invent them, and there's a leader known only by her letter, "Miss O." But, of course, this being a children's show 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 dealing with all things weird and odd 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, but we still hit the pause button so we could discuss the idea of luck with our kids. In a couple of other episodes, there was 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).

Thursday, October 7, 2021

On Earth as it is in Heaven

Documentary
2020 / 112 minutes
Rating: 8/10

This is a great, free, introduction to Postmillennialism, a particular view about how God will bring about the end of the world.

In talking about "Postmil," the documentary also compares and contrasts it with other popular "eschatological" or "end times" views, including Amillennialism and Premillennialism. There are big differences between these three, but they all get their names from the Millennium, a thousand-year period mentioned repeatedly in Revelation 20, starting with the chapter's opening verses:

"Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while."

In brief what the three camps believe is:

Premillennialists: Christ will return before (or "pre") this thousand year period. There are two main divisions in this group, between Historic premillennialists (which would include John Piper) and Dispensationalists which include Tim LaHaye, author of the Left Behind series.

Amillennialists: The Millennium is symbolic, not literal (the "a" in Amillennial means "not") so it isn't a specifically one thousand year period. It is understood to be happening right now, with Satan bound after Christ's First Coming, and it will end with Christ's Second Coming.

Postmillennialists: Christ will return after the thousand years have passed, when the whole world has been Christianized.

Of these three, the most popular is Premillennialism, though not in our Reformed circles which is split between the other two, with the larger group being the Amills.

I don't have a poll to back this, but I think it'd be safe to say the largest group of Christians don't really hold to any end times view, with most of us skipping over the Book of Revelation altogether. That's what makes this documentary essential viewing. God has a lot to say about his plans for this Earth and how He will bring about His triumphant return, so even if some confusion exists, we should be eager to listen.

On Earth as it is in Heaven has at least three major themes.

1. It's a historic understanding

In making the argument for Postmil, the documentary spends most of its against time addressing Dispensationalism, a subset of Premillennialism. 

In one clip from Larry King's CNN show, we see Dispensationalist Tim LaHaye argue that his view is the literal view. Many readers are likely young earth creationists who would also describe themselves as holding to a literal view of the Bible. Does that mean we should be Dispensationalists too? Well, what LaHaye means by literal isn't what we mean by literal. Kenneth Gentry explains that reading the Bible literally shouldn't mean interpreting the Bible's 66 books all the same way – it would be a mistake to read poetry, parables, allegory, hyperbole, and other genres the Bible uses, all in a literalistic fashion. We'll treat the opening chapters of Genesis as literal history, but when Wisdom is referred to as a woman in Proverbs 8, we understand her to be a symbol. One problem with Dispensationalism is that it frequently treats what is meant to be symbolic as being literal.

Another problem is that while there is a historic type of Premillennialism, the more popular Dispensationalism has a very recent origin, going back just a couple hundred years. In contrast, we're told of Postmil's historic roots, and how it was popular among the Puritans. Other notable Reformed theologians like Jonathan Edwards, and more recently, James White, were also postmillennial.

2. It's an optimistic outlook

The film delves into a lot of texts, including the one its title comes from in the Lord's Prayer. Matt. 6:10 reads:

Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On Earth as it is in Heaven.

One way to summarize the film is as an exploration of how this petition is to be understood. Jesus instructed us to pray this, but why then are we often pessimistic about God's kingdom, and His will, being accomplished here on Earth? Yes, we know His kingdom will reign eventually – at Christ's final coming Heaven and Earth will both follow God's will perfectly. But is that all that this petition is about? Or is it a request that we're making to God about now too, and the future, and at Christ's return?

To put it another way, do we believe we are living in a post-Christian age or a pre-Christian age? Most believers seem to think things are getting worse and worse. However, as texts are explored, the film provides a biblical basis for an optimistic understanding of how God's Gospel will triumph here on Earth. Rather than living among the last vestiges of a formerly Christian culture, God's good news will be preached and will spread, disciples will be made, and the world will turn to God in repentance.

3. It's God as King, not the Church

On Earth also offers an important clarification about the Postmil expectations for this coming Kingdom of God. It is not going to be the Church ruling the State. It will instead be the Church teaching and discipling Christians, and those Christians then seeking to serve God and obey His will in every aspect of their lives... including the civic realm. So after a country turns to God they would forbid abortion because God says "You shall not murder" (Ex. 20:13). But this wouldn't be the Church ruling the State, but rather God's rule over the State finally being recognized.

Caution

While the film tries to be fair, it is making a case for one particular view. So if this is your first exposure to end-times discussions, you should note the advice Prov. 18:17 presents, and seek out further information.

One great resource, as mentioned in the film, is Steve Gregg's Revelation: Four Views, A Parallel Commentary, in which commentary for four different end-times views are listed for each verse of Revelation. Another helpful introductory book is Darrell L. Bock's Three Views of the Millennium and Beyond, where he's enlisted defenders of Pre, Post, and Amillennialism to debate and discuss their differing views.

If you'd prefer audio/video to a book, then you'll like "An Evening of Eschatology" that John Piper hosted about a decade back. His two-hour round-table talk featured three different end-times views: Jim Hamilton for Historic Premillennialism (the view that Piper also shares), Sam Storms for Amillennialism, and Douglas Wilson for Postmillennialism.

Conclusion

Will you be convinced? Well, in my own case this is the start of an exploration and not the end, so I certainly appreciate the many texts cited. This is a documentary to watch with your Bible in hand, and your remote's pause button at the ready.

My own interest in eschatology is related to the fruit I've seen that follows the different views. As the film shows, the pessimistic Dispensational view lends itself to only short-term thinking. If the world could end at any moment, then why spend time building Christian institutions and infrastructure for the future? Or as was said, who polishes the brass on a sinking ship? I remember a story about a Bible college president explaining why they had built their campus with wood, rather than stone – they didn't want to give the pagans stone buildings. His presumption was that his institution would eventually be lost to the world.

The Amill view most prevalent in my own Reformed churches is generally pessimistic but hasn't abandoned Kingdom-building projects. That might be most evident in the Christian schools we've built everywhere we have a congregation. They might not be stone, but there's a lot of sturdy cinder block being used! However, if we think the world is going to get worse, then why are we "polishing the brass"? Maybe the answer is our assurance of Christ's ultimate victory. It might also be in keeping with a thought, attributed to Martin Luther (probably incorrectly), that if the Lord was returning tomorrow, it would still be worth planting an apple tree today because it could still be done to God's glory.

If we're keeping God's glory first in our minds then there is a sense in which our end-time views don't matter nearly as much. Whether pessimistic Amill or optimistic Postmill, if either are focussed on glorifying God they may well engage with culture, build businesses, and start up schools in ways that are nearly indistinguishable from each other.

And yet, the fruit of Postmil's optimistic outlook can be seen in the lives of a David Livingstone, who explored Africa with the thought of preparing the way for the missionaries that would follow him years later. His work was for a future he expected to happen – God's Word spread and gratefully received throughout Africa – but which he knew he wouldn't live to see. His goal was to be a small part of a long-term strategy for successful Kingdom building.

Where our end-time views might also be relevant is in our weakness. Humanly speaking, if a fight comes to us, and we're convinced we're bound to lose, doesn't it make sense to delay the fight for as long as we can, to put off defeat for as long as possible? That's where pessimism can take us, to a shameful "peace in our time" approach that hands off our battles to our children. That's the temptation we'll need to watch out for any time government or other cultural forces come after our churches, our schools, or our families. Instead of defeatism, we'll need to fix our eyes on God and realize that we can glorify Him by fighting for what is right, whether we win or lose. Of course, the Postmil believer has his own sinful tendency to watch out for. Believing that Christians can actually win some or most of these battles, he might be liable to start unnecessary fights.

The most important point then is to never lose sight of God's glory: that is the reason we were created, and it is our privilege to proclaim His Gospel. Whatever we think of the end times, all Christians should be ultimately optimistic, knowing that Christ has already paid for our sins, already conquered death, and presently sits triumphant at the right hand of God the Father.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Pride and Prejudice (2003)

Romance/Comedy
104 min / 2003
Rating: 8/10

When a book is adapted for the screen, readers want it to be as close to the book as possible. So let's begin this review with a heads up: that did not happen here.

The central plot remains the same – these are women "in need of a husband" – but the setting has been updated to the modern-day USA, with five girlfriends all sharing a house just off-campus. Other departures include how the first love interest, Charles Bingley, came by his wealth: selling classical music CDs for dogs, and marketing them via late-night TV infomercials. And he drives a motor scooter. Oh, and Mr. Collins' proposal now has him make the compelling argument: "Elizabeth, we've been commanded to multiply and replenish the earth."

So if you aren't up for a light, silly treatment of your favorite book, this is not for you. That said, I do think it is for most everyone else. And if you've ever wished that someone today could write something like it, well, this is "something like it" indeed.

This version also adds an element glaringly absent from the book and every film version: a car chase! 

Caution

There aren't many cautions to offer because, as it turns out, this was made by Mormons. Consequently, the violence amounts to a single fistfight played for comic effect. There's no sex, though it is alluded to twice, both times by the villain of the piece, Wickham. He first jokes that "there's only one reason people commit matrimony before they are 30” and follows that with a joke about being “relatively disease-free.” But his implied lack of chastity stands him in contrast with most everyone else.

The only other problematic element is a self-help dating guide called the “Pink Bible.” We had to explain to our kids that it was a “bible” only in the sense that it was purporting to be the final word on that subject – dating – as the Mechanics Bible would say it is for car repair.

Conclusion

This is not a faithful retelling of Pride and Prejudice. and yet it is a very good one, keeping remarkably close to the spirit of the book. That makes it the perfect date night movie for mom and dad, and a pretty good one for the whole family. The pacing is quick, the romance is sweet, and the humor is sprinkled liberally throughout. Of the 50 or so people I’ve watched it with, or loaned it to, somewhere near 90% have given it a thumbs up.

There are so many Pride and Prejudice films that if you want to find this one you should search for the title along with the year, or the title along with the word “Mormon." That’ll help you track it down.

I share the trailer below with some misgivings – the film is a lot better than this makes it seem.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Trans Mission: what's the rush to reassign gender?

Documentary 
2021 / 52 minutes
Rating: 7/10

Trans mission is a new, free documentary making the case against the "transitioning" of children – the chemical and surgical alterations of children done in an attempt to make them seem more like the sex they are not. It makes that case with two key points:

  1. it highlights the irreversible damage that is done to children (and adults) when they are put on puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones
  2. it challenges the supposed mental health benefits of "gender transitioning"

The strength of the film is that even as it argues against "gender affirmation therapies" for children, it presents the arguments on the other side, allowing them to make their case in their own words. So, for example, we are assured that puberty blockers are reversible; they are just a pause button to use while a family figures out what they want to do. This is the assurance being given to many confused parents, who are also told frightening statistics about elevated risks of suicide for the "gender non-conforming." Or, as it has been put to some parents, "Do you want a live son, or a dead daughter?"

After the case for is made, we get to hear what many of these parents never did: that there is no pause button to hit, and that puberty blockers come with risks, have not been well studied for these uses, and "there is no long term evidence showing 'gender affirmation therapy' reduces suicide."

Cautions

The many different examples given of problems with "transitioning" are evidences Christians can readily use, stacking them on the biblical foundation that God, and not Man, decides sex. The weakness with this documentary is that it has no such biblical foundation. They don't object to "transitioning" itself, but to children doing so, because they are not mature enough to know all the implications of starting on puberty blockers.

That is a good point. Before children are old enough to drive, they are deciding to forgo having children, and to permanently alter their voice and body frame. As the documentary shares, there are many who regret what was done to them, and who are "detransitioning" now because the feelings they had changed over time... but now the damage they've done to their bodies can't be undone.

But what's the counter to some people regretting the choice they made as a child? Wouldn't it be others who have the equal and opposite regret? There are those who regret not having "transitioned" earlier. Once a man goes through puberty, his voice gets lower, and his frame gets bulkier, and for men who wish they were women, they may well have regrets that they didn't start on puberty blockers earlier, so as to maintain their prepubescent body, and better maintain the delusion that they are women.

If this were simply one sort of regret vs. another, how would we decided whose regrets should prevail?

How do you answer that question if you're unwilling to take a stand on this issue as a Christian?

Conclusion

This is a must-see for Christians. The evidence the filmmakers present, shaky on its own, is useful, and usable once it is stacked atop the Rock-solid biblical foundation. We can show how departing from God's direction on sex can leading to devastating and lifelong difficulties. We can highlight how, once they are medicalized, these people will need to keep getting these hormones for life, as their own bodies will never produce the other sex's hormones.  We can explain that "These female people are never going to have a penis that works like a male penis, and these male people are never going to have a vagina that works like a female vagina."

The film offers a ray of hope at the end, one doctor speaking of a chat he had with the chair emeritus of the Hopkins Psychiatric Division:

"...he and I have had a chance to sit together and talk at length several times. And he said, I will tell you what is going to happen to change the tide. There's going to be major lawsuits by families or individuals who have been through this, gone down that pathway and come back at the other side. And they are going to take down not only the physicians, but the drug companies and the hospitals, healthcare systems, and the insurance companies that allowed this to happen, and that's when this will all end."

This is an attempt, again, to seek a solution apart from God, and it's worth reiterating, again, that this is a false hope. It's the sort of hope that might even discourage mutilation of the young while validating it for adults.

Christians can use the evidences presented in this film, but we must not adopt its secular approach to argumentation. The world needs to know that God made us male and female, and that rejecting that Truth will never lead to peace.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Freedom

Drama
2014 / 94 minutes
Rating: 7/10

Like many a film "inspired by true events," this isn't good history but it is pretty decent cinema.

Freedom is really two stories in one, the first loosely based on the life of John Newston. He's the author of the hymn "Amazing Grace" and while the film gets the broad details of his life right – he was the captain of a slave trade ship, he did have an encounter with God on his ship, and he did turn his back on the slave trade – the timeline of those events has been greatly compacted. In real life his rejection of the slave trade was a gradual shift over years and even decades, while in the film it seems more a matter of weeks.

The second story takes place 100 years later, and is a fictional account of a family of slaves fleeing Virginia via the Underground Railroad. Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as the father, Samuel. He has his wife, son, and mother with him, and while his mother trusts in God's faithfulness for everything, Samuel has no interest in God. How, he asks, can any slave think God cares about them? It's unusual for a Christian film to ask difficult questions. While Samuel does come to God before film's end, both he, and we, are left with the realization that God might not give us all the answers we are after, or at least, not on this side of Heaven.

What connects these two stories is a Bible that John Newton is supposed to have given Samuel's great grandfather when he was just a boy years ago. Samuel's mother still has it, and we take the leap back in time when she tells the story of how Newton came to give a Bible to a slave.

Newton's "Amazing Grace" is the musical centerpieces to the story, but there are lots of other songs too. It isn't a musical, though – in musicals people just randomly start to sing instead of talk. Here most of the songs have a natural fit: characters sing because they are comforting someone, or as part of a performance, or they sing to pass the time. But whatever the reason they are singing, the music is very good!

Cautions

Freedom received an R rating for the violence that's done to the slaves. While many of the blows happen just offscreen, communicated more by sound than by visuals, it can be brutal. That makes this best suited for older teens and parents.

While God's name is used throughout the film it is used appropriately, to either talk about Him, or to Him. There is one use of "damn."

Conclusion

One secular critic called this "an overly sentimental cinematic history lesson best suited for church and school groups" and while he meant it as a criticism, I'd just say he's nailed the target audience. The slave trade was brutal, and while this is in parts, the filmmakers didn't want to present an unvarnished look – they weren't trying to make a Schindler's List that'd leave everyone mute and depressed afterwards. By presenting only some of the horror, they allow families to view and discuss it together with their older teens. Freedom could serve as an instrutive introduction to this chapter of history... at least for teens and adults. 

Thursday, September 2, 2021

The Jackie Robinson Story

Drama,
1950 / 77 minutes
Rating 7/10

This is the true story of the first black man to play Major League Baseball, made all the more interesting by the fact that Jackie Robinson plays himself and does a solid job of it.

The story starts with Robinson as a boy getting his first glove. Time passes quickly and we soon seem him showing his athletics skills in multiple sports at the college level. But athletic skills, and even a college degree, didn't get his brother a good job, so Jackie isn't feeling optimistic about his future. He eventually lands a job with a traveling African-American team, but for low pay and with long days of travel keeping him away from his girlfriend.

However, it's on that traveling team that he catches the eye of a Brooklyn Dodgers scout, who invites him to try out. Team president and part-owner Branch Rickey has both practical and principled reasons to want to integrate blacks onto his team: he had seen discrimination impact someone close to him and so wants to fight it, and he also knows that whatever team is first to integrate will have their pick of the best black players. Rickey wants Robinson to understand what sort of abuse he'd be signing up for. And most importantly, the two of them need to be in agreement that no matter what insults are directed at Robinson, or cheap shots delivered on the field, he can't hit back. Robinson's play, and not his fists, need to do that talking.

When Robinson agrees, he's sent first to the Dodgers' min0r-league affiliate, the Montreal Royals. After leading the league in hitting, he eventually gets the call to the Dodgers, and on April 15, 1947, he made his debut for them, blowing open the doors for many others to follow.

Cautions

A modern-day reviewer criticized the film for presenting a muted version of the real events: we aren't shown the worst of the insults and threats that Robinson had to deal with, and consequently, we don't get a full appreciation of the courage he had to have to endure that gauntlet.

That's a valid observation, but it misunderstands this film's target audience. While it isn't suitable for the very young, this is meant to be family viewing. Robinson is humble enough here but he is also trying to set an example that will impact the next generation. To reach that generation, he couldn't make a gritty R-rated film. The end result is an account of a courageous man, and his backers, fighting both deep-seated bigotry and the more surface-level ignorant sort of racism, and his story has been made suitable for ages 10 and up.

Conclusion

Robinson made this film in the off-season, just three years after breaking into the major leagues. While he continued to get death threats throughout his career, this still marks an encouraging shift in the populace's thinking. Just three years after many folks were jeering at him to get out, many more were now flocking to theaters to learn how he made it in.

So, even as this is "muted" there's lots to love about it, including Robinson's mother directing him to God, as he wrestles with decisions he has to make.

Because The Jackie Robinson Story is in the public domain, you can watch it in black and white for free below. But you can find it in higher resolution, and also in a colorized version, available on many streaming platforms that would make for much better viewing for a family movie night.