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

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.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Meet John Doe

Drama
1941 / 122 min
Rating: 7/10

Director Frank Capra is probably best known for It’s a Wonderful Life, but that only became his best-known film later on. He actually had 13 films nominated for Oscars, as Meet John Doe was in 1941.

As in Wonderful Life, Capra’s Roman Catholic upbringing is evident in the general Judeo-Christian ethic running through Meet John Doe. That doesn’t mean Capra's films are always theologically orthodox – we know angels don’t get their wings when a bell rings – but there is a moral depth to many of them, including this one here, that is almost unknown today.

Set in the depression, the story revolves around a reporter, her editor, and a derelict, and the politician who is trying to take advantage of them all. When a round of layoffs at The New Bulletin leaves columnist Ann Mitchell out of a job, she decides to go out with a bang. For her last column, she submits a letter from an unemployed “John Doe” who is threatening to jump off the roof of City Hall on Christmas Eve to protest society’s degeneration.

The letter is actually a fake, concocted by Mitchell to express her own disgust, but it causes a sensation. Readers flood the newspaper with letters, some of them marriage proposals from concerned women, some job offers, but all wanting to know, “Who is John Doe?” When Mitchell’s editor finds out the letter is a fraud, he hires her back to prevent the public from learning about the deception. Then he takes things one step further, hiring a derelict former baseball player (played by Gary Cooper) to take on the role of Doe.

What starts as a deception soon takes a positive turn. When the paper’s new “John Doe” begins making public appearances his simple speeches encourage a helping spirit among his listeners. John Doe Societies spring up spontaneously to enable neighbors to help one another. Doe becomes the leader of a huge, helpful movement… that’s built on the lie of his false identity. Things come to a climax when a conniving politician threatens to expose this lie, unless Doe endorses him.

Caution

Some have called this a Christian film, even though it came out of Hollywood. That claim is made because God's second greatest commandment, "To love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:31) undergirds the whole movie. It's worth noting then, and sharing with any others in the family watching it with you, that the film largely divorces the Second Greatest Commandment from the First. We hardly hear about God, and the need to "love the Lord our God with all your heart, soul, and mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). That makes this more humanist than Christian – Man-focused, rather than God-focused – but there is one scene which shifts it in a Godward direction, and least in part. To avoid spoilers I'll share the words, but not tell you the speaker or context:

"You don’t have to die to keep the John Doe idea alive. Somebody already died for that once, the first John Doe, and He’s kept that idea alive for nearly 2000 years. It’s He who kept it alive in them [the people of Earth]. And, He’ll go on keeping it alive forever and always.”

A powerful profession, but isn't it curious how Jesus is not actually mentioned by name? And this reference also doesn't talk about the real reason Jesus came, and what He accomplished. It presents Him more as an example to follow than as the One who suffered and died to take away the punishment for our sins. So... this is a near miss, but not really a Christian film. 

That said, it is a film Christians can really enjoy, understanding the truth of what is said here, and being able to fill in for ourselves what was not. 

Conclusion

At just over 2 hours long, the pacing is slower than us modern folk are used to. But just be sure to make a little extra popcorn: this is a classic for a reason.

That said, this is not the first movie I'd show anyone not already used to black and white films. Also, with suicide an ongoing topic throughout, this is not a film for younger viewers...but it wouldn't catch their attention anyways. So who should see it? This is a film for anyone who wants to peek into another culture and another time, to learn what they thought was important, and admirable, and worth fighting for.

Meet John Doe is in the public domain, so you can watch it, for free, below.

Friday, August 6, 2021

God of Wonders

Documentary 
85 min / 2008
Rating: 7/10

This is a nature documentary that starts at the stars, and touches on just about everything else: lightning, squids, hummingbirds, seeds, snow crystals, DNA and butterflies are just a few of the highlights.

That’s both the strength and the weakness of the film. Some of this footage is as remarkable as anything seen on the Discovery Channel, or a National Geographic special, but each time a creature is investigated, we learn only enough to know we would really like to learn more… and then we’re on to the next bit of nature. But there is a method to this madness. The theme of God of Wonders is straight out of Romans 1:19-20: God has revealed Himself in the wonder of his creation. If we reject God, we can’t claim we did so out of ignorance – God, through his creation has left us “without excuse.”

Cautions

The pacing is a little slow, with maybe a few too many talking heads, compared to the nature footage, but once we're about ten minutes in, it gets rolling. That does mean, though, that even as this would be a great film to watch with a questioning friend – it could be a wonderful evangelistic tool – it won't work if that friend isn't at least a little patient.

Conclusions

For families used to watching documentaries, this will be another fun one to check out. The breadth of this presentation means there's sure to be something new to learn for everyone watching, from the youngest to the oldest.

You can watch it for free in two different ways. It is available in "chapters" on the film's own website GodofWondersvideo.org/chapters.htm. The advantage to watching it in chunks is that it'll create the breaks needed for good discussions. But if you want to watch it for free in one go, you can find it (probably for only a limited time) here at the YouTube channel Christian Movies.

Check out the trailer below.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Time Changer

Drama / Sci-fi / Family 
99 min / 2002 
Rating: 7/10

In the year 1890, seminary professor Russell Carlisle proposes teaching morality to the masses but without making mention of God. He reasons to his fellow professors that even if people don’t become Christians it would be a good thing if they were at least taught that stealing was wrong.

If that sounds familiar, that's the point. Director Rich Christiano, in his boldest and best film, is taking on the Christian trend of publicly defend God's Truth – about the unborn, or marriage, sexuality, gender and more – but without mentioning God Himself.

While we'll have to wait a decade or two to see how that approach plays out for us, Professor Carlisle gets his feedback in a much more immediate fashion – a colleague uses a time machine to send the professor one hundred years into the future. Upon arriving in present-day America, Carlisle sees that morals founded on anything but God have no foundation at all, and are just dismissed as opinion.

While the film has a serious point, the time travel duck-out-of-water angle allows for some comedy too. However, Carlisle isn't as shocked by modern-day technology as he is by modern-day spiritual malaise. He's surprised to meet someone who works on Sunday and doesn't attend church regularly. And when he's taken to a movie theater, he finds the film shocking, and not because of the violence or sex. As the time traveler runs from the theatre he shouts:

“Stop the movie! You must stop this movie! The man on the screen just blasphemed the name of the Lord! There must be some mistake – you must stop this movie, this is an abomination!”

Cautions

Only caution I could think of is one use of the word "gosh."

Conclusion

This is a solid movie with an important and powerfully presented Christian message. From simply an entertainment perspective, it gets a 7, but its deeper point means this is a cut above most other Christian fare.

Because there isn't much action, and maybe a few too many philosophical discussions, this won't keep the attention of younger kids. But for mid to older teens, it could be a fantastic one to watch and discuss with parents. You can watch the trailer below, and rent the film online at various places.

Monday, August 2, 2021

And then there were none

Drama
1945 / 97 minutes 
Rating: 7/10

The film is based on the Agatha Christie mystery of the same name, one of just three English novels to sell oner 100 million copies (the other two are the first Harry Potter title, and The Hobbit). However, as popular as the book was, the film improves on it, with a new conclusion the author added because she thought the film's original wartime audience would appreciate a happier ending.

The story begins with 8 guests invited to a mansion on an isolated island. They are all strangers to each other, and none knows their host, Mr. Owens, who has yet to arrive. The only other people on the island are the two servants, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers. After dinner Mr. Rogers puts a record on, as he has been instructed by the absent Owens to do, and on it is a voice accusing everyone present, including the servants, of being murderers who have escaped any punishment for their crimes.

That's quite the shock to them all, and all the more so when one of them admits he is indeed a murderer, and then, after taking a drink, promptly keels over and dies. He's been poisoned, and it seems their "host," Mr. Owens, has invited them here to exact his own form of justice on them all.

But how has he done it? After all, it's clear there is no one else on the island. That's when the remaining 9 realize that one of them must actually be Mr. Owens. From then on it is a murder mystery and not so much a whodunit as a whoisdoingit, as others are also killed, though almost always off screen.

Cautions

There are a lot of mysteries on TV today that revel in the darkness, and the gore, and the violence of murder. Another sort is about the investigator methodically, and sometimes brilliantly, putting the pieces together so as to bring the bad guy to justice. We should stay clear of the former because it presents evil as good, while the latter can be enjoyed. While And Then There Were None is gore-free, and has the violence taking place off-screen, it isn't clear for almost the whole film long whether there even are any good guys. So one caution would be that while this isn't dark like some of today's murder shows, it also isn't a heroic tale like Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes. It is somewhere in the middle, and that might be too much in the wrong direction for some...though I would not agree.

The other caution would be that the only character to quote Scripture is a hypocrite. But she isn't the only one.

Conclusion

Director René Claire demonstrates that is possible to "tell and not show" violence and still keep things suspenseful. Though this it is tame by modern standards, the suspense means it is still only for only adults, and only those who appreciate a good mystery.

The copyright for And Then There Were None was allowed to expire, so it is now in the public domain. That's why you can watch it, for free, in black and white below. A colorized version is also available for free, here.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

The Fighting Prince of Donegal

Drama / Family
1966 / 110 minutes
Rating: 7/10

Halfway through The Fighting Prince, I figured out why I was enjoying this so much, and why it was also so familiar: this is Robin Hood, but with Irish accents!

Irish prince Hugh O'Donnell takes the Robin role as leader of a rebellious and yet righteous band, alpha males every one of them, but willing to unite under this one man. Like Robin, Hugh's dispute isn't so much with the English crown, as with those who have usurped the crown's power. As the newly installed Prince of Donegal, Hugh offers a treaty to the English Queen, but the local English representative, Captain Leeds – in a Prince John/Sheriff of Nottingham role – won't even pass it along. Instead, he imprisons Hugh. And when Hugh escapes (he's a clever one... just like a certain famous bowman) Leeds occupies the O'Donnell castle and holds Hugh's mother hostage. Holding a man's mom hostage? How low can you go? Of course, that only sets the scene for the hero to make his triumphant return.

Cautions

If historical accuracy matters to you, then this is not a film for you. As near as I can figure the only resemblance this has to actual events is that they got some key names right. But this is as accurate an account of Irish history as Robin Hood is of England history.

This is very tame, despite the many sword fights, with more people punched out than stabbed. Still, stabbings do occur at least a couple of times, and we also see a dozen or so soldiers get hit by arrows, though all of this is entirely bloodless. However, for small children, it might be too much.

Conclusion

I had never heard of this film before watching it and didn't know what to expect. I was very pleasantly surprised. I'd have probably given it an 8, except that it starts a little slow. But so long as you give it 10 minutes this is a film that everyone in the family, ten and up, will really enjoy.

You can check out a scene from The Fighting Prince below.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Runner from Ravenshead

Children’s film
81 minutes / 2010
Rating: 7/10

Both the charm and the kitsch of this film come from the producers’ decision to fill all the roles with children. They aren’t playing children, mind you. Nope, these pipsqueaks are playing full-size adventurers and the result is both bizarre and delightful!

We jump right into the action, with our hero Henry taking on a whole tribe of savages. He engineers a one-man rescue of a tot tied to a pole but, just as he’s about to give the savages another licking, we discover it’s all Henry’s daydream. In real life Henry is no adventurer; he’s just a janitor cleaning the floors at the City of Refuge Guide Service.

Here’s where the film takes a leap from daydream to allegory. The Guide Service sends out guides to help escapees from the terrible Ravenshead Prison find their way to the City of Refuge. The guides also help escapees get away from the wardens who are trying to track them down and return them to prison. As near as I can figure, the Guide Service represents Christians who point people to Jesus (our refuge). Ravenshead Prison is sin, and the wardens represent temptation that wants to pull us back to sin. Parents may have to pause the movie on occasion to explain things to the young target audience, but if they don’t really understand the allegory, it doesn’t matter. This is also just a chase film, complete with derring-do, rocket cars, explosions, hijinks, and fight scenes. And all of it done on a pint-sized scale.

Now, our hero Henry desperately wants to be a guide but his boss isn’t sure about him. It’s only because guides are in short supply that Henry finally gets his chance to head out and help an escaped prisoner by the name of Sam. Sam is as headstrong as Henry is inexperienced, and this odd couple pairing ensures there’s lots of drama and loads of action as they try desperately to stay one step ahead of the wardens.

Caution

The only caution concerns escapee Sam. When she’s first brought to Ravenshead her tears are flowing, and I suspect this little actress might be too believable for some young viewers. Parents will have to remind their soft-hearted kidlets that this is just a movie and not real.

Conclusion

I had low expectations; I mean, with an all-kid cast, how could I not? But the cute factor is enormous, and enough to keep parents smiling throughout. For its pre-school and elementary-aged target audience, to see kids their age fighting bad guys, doing stunts, and escaping on a zip-line in a rocket-powered crate is going to be fantastic fun.

What’s more, you can watch it for free! It’s free with commercials on YouTube, while North American readers can view it without commercials on RedeemTV, though you will need to sign up for an account. If you like this one, you’ll also enjoy a sequel of sorts, done with kids actors too and by the same production company, called The Defense of New Haven.

To get a sneak peak, check out the trailer below.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

A Bear Called Winnie

Drama 
90 min / 2004
Rating: 7/10

This is the (mostly) true story of Winnie, the bear that inspired A.A. Milne's much loved Winnie the Pooh books. While she lived most of his life in the London Zoon, many don't realize that Winnie was a Canadian bear. So it was very fun to learn how he got from the wilds of Canada to inside the pages of everyone's favorite children's story. 

I think copyright concerns probably kept producers from using the words "Winnie-the-Pooh" but as the film begins, the connection is made, with an adult Winnie being watched by a man and boy who are unnamed, but unmistakable as Milne and his son Christopher Robin.  

"Father," Christopher Robin asks, "why do they call her Winnie? It's a funny hame for a bear. I wonder how she got it"

"Yes, I wonder," his father replies. "I bet it's quite a story."

From there we are taken back in time, and across the ocean to meet a group of veterinarians, enlisted in the Canadian army, riding the rails across the country on their way to the front lines of the First World War. Aside from the bear, the star of this piece is Harry Colebourn, and we're introduced to him just as he wins a sizeable pot of money from his fellow soldiers. But he's not rich for long, as at the next stop, in White River, Ontario, he sees a bear cub chained up. Colebourn uses his money to buy the bear and rescue it. But now that he has it, what is he going to do with it? When he takes the bear back to the train, his regiment adopts it as their mascot and it's named Winnipeg – Winnie for short – after Colebourn's hometown. 

From then on we get to see both Winnie's story and the story of this veterinarian regiment. 

Caution

The only caution concerns what one reviewer called the film's confusion about its target audience. 

It's about the most beloved bear of all time, so wouldn't this be a perfect one for the kidlets? The pacing is gentle, with the tension being mostly of a kiddish sort involving Winnie getting into things she shouldn't, and owner Colebourn, and his friends, trying to chase her down before they all get into more trouble. 

But if this is for children, then why the repeated scenes with the mentally unbalanced, and at one point drunk, general in command? And if it is for kids, then what were producers thinking when they had the young vet Macray, distraught by the battlefield deaths of his friends and animals, grabbing a gun and running off to his death? The violence is muted - we don't see any blood and gore, even in the midst of fallen men and animals and we never see or hear Macray get shot. The violence is of the sort you might find in a Hallmark film (in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this is on the Hallmark Channel). But you don't kill off charming characters in a children's film. 

So parents need to understand that, despite some appearances to the contrary, this is not one for kids. Or at least not kids who are of the age that they are being read Winnie-the-Pooh stories.

Conclusion

Who would enjoy this? This would be a nice one for mom and dad on a night when they want something quite calm. It is a unique chapter in Canadian history, presenting not just a bear's story, but also showing some of the First World War from a Canadian perspective. There's humor, hijinks, and also a little educational content along the way so all in all, it ranks as quite a good TV movie.