Wednesday, June 15, 2016


90 minutes / 1981
RATING: 7/10

When comic book creator Woody Wilkins gets the chance to help out the CIA he jumps at it. But he gets a little too into the role, telling his Russian contact – his beautiful Russian contact – that he is a long-time secret agent with the code name "Condorman." When some toughs try to grab the Russian, Woody makes use of his quick wits and astonishing luck to fight them all off. That so impresses the Russian agent that when she later decides to defect she tells the CIA she'll only go if they send their "top agent" Condorman to come pick her up.

Woody is willing to help again...but with a few conditions. He'll go, so long as the CIA agree to give him a few special tools he's dreamed up that come straight out of his superhero comics!

Condorman came out in 1981 and got some horrible reviews. But those were from people who misunderstood what sort of film this really was. As the film's tagline reads, this is "an action adventure romantic comedy spy story" and to that you could add, "Cold War, superhero parody!" If you take it seriously, yes, this is dreadful. But you aren't supposed to take it seriously. As a parody it is hokey, cheesy, goofy, slapstick fun – the sort of film any ten-year-old boy would love, with lots of gadgets, explosions and cardboard cutout villains.


This is a kinder gentler superhero film than most anything you can find being made nowadays. The only cautions are of a minor sort.

The beautiful Russian agent wears a rather clingy dress on the poster above, but that is more risqué than anything in the film. In one scene she changes clothes behind a dressing screen and is shown naked from the shoulders up.

There are a lot of fist fights, car chases, boat chases, and explosions. All of it is of the comic variety, with no blood seen. Ten-year-olds wouldn't be impacted but younger children, particularly those under 6, may find it too much.


One reviewer, John Corry of The New York Times called Condorman "painless and chaste" and for adults that's exactly what it is – painless. But for kids, particularly preteen boys, this is one rousing action adventure.

You can check out the trailer and rent it online at by clicking here or buy the DVD here.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Jurassic Ark Mystery

Family / Children
45 min / 2001

The Creation Adventure Team is out to discover when the dinosaurs died, how they lived, and whether there were any on the Ark. This video features non-stop action, impressive special effects, a number of clever spoofs, and a robot dinosaur sidekick named Proto. Renown 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 put out by the Answers in Genesis group and 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.


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.


This is a video that would be fantastic for a school or church library – 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.

You can buy a copy at by clicking here. But Answers in Genesis has also made it available for free online viewing (though it is broken up into 6 separate chapters) here. The sequel, Six Short Days, One Big Adventure can be watched at this link.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Maccabees: The Story of Hanukkah (Animated Hero Classics)

Animated/ Children
28 minutes / 2005
RATING: 6/10

This is a quick, simple depiction of an Intertestamental tale that most Christians don't know

The way the story is most often told, in the second century BC a Greek king by the name of Antiochus ruled over the Seleucid Empire, and that included Judea and Samaria. Jews were being pressured to adopt Greek culture. Antiochus went so far as to outlaw Judaism, and ban circumcision. Then in 167 BC he ordered that a statue of Zeus be erected in the Jewish Temple and pigs be sacrificed on the Temple's altar.

His desecration of the temple so outraged the Jews that they rebelled. In this animated account the rebellion is depicted as being led by "Judah the Hammer" but that is an abridgment of the traditional tale. The rebellions was led by Judah's father, Mattathias, along with all five of Mattathias' sons, including Judah. Judah would become the leader only later, after his father died.

Two years after the rebellion began victory was won! The statue of Zeus was quickly destroyed and then the Temple was rededicated. The Temple menorah was relit, but, according to the Talmud, only enough oil for one day's worth of burning could be found, and yet the menorah remained lit for eight days until new oil could be brought in.


There is some minimal violence, as you might expect in a story of armed insurrection. But it is basically bloodless. And children of school age would likely be able to handle this.

How much of the story is true and how much is legend we can't quite be sure. The miracle of the eight day oil supply is found only in the Talmud, where it was written down about 600 years after the event. However the Maccabee rebellion itself is described in 1 and 2 Maccabees and in the works of historian Josephus, giving us good reason to think the core of the story is true. A eight day festival of lights, also called Hanukkah, commemorating the rededication of the temple, is still celebrated by Jews today.


This is a good but not great video  – 28 minutes simply doesn't leave enough time to do this story justice. But for children, and parents too, who have never heard about Hanukkah's origins, this will grab their interest.

The depiction of the Greeks' persecution of the Jews is clearly meant to parallel the action of the Nazis – particularly when Greeks soldiers are going house to house, busting down doors, looking for orthodox Jews. So another reason to watch would be as a gentler way to introduce students to the sad reality of Semitism than could be done with anything Holocaust-related.

You can buy your own copy of Maccabees: The Story of Hanukkah at by clicking here.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Buddy Davis' Amazing Adventures: EXTREME CAVING

Family/ Kids
58 minutes / 2013
RATING: 7/10

While Buddy Davis and the Tennessee Caveman Robbie Black are the hosts of this episode, the real stars of the show are the Cumberland Caverns themselves. This is one of the longest cave systems in the world, running at least 30 miles. If you've ever wondered what it's like to hike and climb and descend through caves that are hundreds of feet below the ground, you're going to love this!

Davis, and his professional camera crew, takes us through passages and caverns that vary in height from dozens of meters to tight squeezes that are just a matter of inches. We get to see flowers made of gypsum, popcorn made of calcite, and translucent "cave bacon." We go stoop-walking and belly-crawling, pit-crossing, butt-sliding and even scuba diving into parts of the caverns that people don't normally go. We go so deep down that for a while even our guide loses his bearings!

While Davis is normally an energetic, even hyper, host – all in an effort at keeping kids' attention – the physical demands of this episode mellowed him out some. That might be why I liked this one a little bit more. It's still a show for children, but the more restrained Davis is a little easier for adults to enjoy in an adult way. There is still lots of fun for the kids though, with animated scene transitions, a fun song about a skunk, lots of peppy bouncy music, and a close look at a cute furry fruit bat.

This is one of four videos in the "Buddy Davis' Amazing Adventures series" and is produced by the creationist group Answers in Genesis and their creationist worldview is evident throughout. For example, in one short interlude we learn about how many caves may have been formed by the Flood.


The only caution I can come up with is that at least a couple of the Scriptural references Davis shares are on the random side, not particularly relevant to what he is trying to relate them to. But this is only a minor quibble in this remarkable video.


As far as children's productions go, this is a longer video at just about an hour long – if you have young children you might want to watch this in two parts. What I most appreciated about it is it is something the whole family can enjoy, with lots of fun for the kids, and lots of amazing sights to see for the adults. Shucks, this has me think of checking out the Cumberland Caverns for myself!

You can buy this at (just search for "buddy davis amazing").

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Wright Brothers (Animated Hero Classics)

27 minutes / 1996
RATING: 7/10

As an educational tool, this is amazing. In just the first 15 minutes we get to see the history of aviation develop from disastrous first attempts at gliding to the Wright brothers' first successful powered flight.

But it doesn't stop there. In the second half we see aviation take its first faltering steps - the Wrights continue to refine their design, but others are flying now too. And because the Wrights are content to do their work in private, their achievement is disputed. Even the American press doesn't believe they've flown. And when the Brazilian-born Alberto Santos-Dumont gets his own plane up in the air, he claims the title "first man to fly." It seems as if the Wrights "have lost their place in history." 

It's all here: tension, amazing inventions, and loads of historical detail packed tightly into just a half hour package. 

On top of all that, this is entertaining too. Our whole family loved it, though for different reasons. My wife and I were fascinated by the history, and our children, from 2 to 6, were swept along by the story. This would be an unmatched resource for schools, and it's also good fun for the whole family. 

The Wright Brothers is good enough to send parents and teachers looking for others in this "Animated Hero Classics" series so I wanted to add a warning. Not every film in the series is good: other gems can be found, but stinkers too (we were all quite bored by the one on Leonardo da Vinci). So don't buy others without doing your research (especially since they are quite expensive). 

If you want to get your own copy of The Wright Brothers you can find it at by clicking here.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Giver

Drama / Family
97 minutes / 2014
RATING: 8/10

My brother Jeff wrote a review of the book this film is based on that hits all the high points of the film too. So with his permission I've included it below with slight modification.
The Giver is a brilliant dystopia – a vision of the future where things have gone horribly wrong. What makes it so brilliant is that in the brief space of a couple hours, we're shown, as dystopian story always do, that the desire to make a utopia always leads to disaster. 
The original Utopia (which literally means "no-place"), by Thomas More (an English Catholic writing around the time of the Reformation), is a vision  of an ideal, perfectly regulated society, where people live their lives with leisure and work balanced, and the wealth is fairly shared among all. All these features are appealing, but given human nature, any attempt to build society through regulation will result in the stomping out of individuality and the oppressive power of whatever authority we trust to organize everything. Basically, there is a kind of idolatry of human systems and power. Of course, we know that idols always disappoint, and idols always demand horrible sacrifices. 
That's what's going on in The Giver. The story begins with what looks like an ideal, well-organized society where everyone has his or her specific role set by 18 years old (in the book this all happens by 12). All the angst of adolescence in our society has been taken care of through this selection of each person's career by the community, as well as by the suppression of the disruptive disturbance of teenage hormones. The result is a village in which there is no significant crime; in which each person is given a specific role and, in return, has all his or her needs are met from cradle to grave by the community; and in which both the physical storms and emotional storms have been subdued by technology. 
This "sameness" has been maintained for generations. Even the memory of the relative chaos of our own society has been wiped out, but the elders of the village have ensured that the past is not entirely lost, so that in the event of crisis, the elders can learn from it. This is where the main character, Jonas, comes in. At eighteen years old, he is given the unique role of the Receiver of the community. What does he receive? The memories of the village before the "sameness" - from the Giver. 
Jonas's unique knowledge enables him to see what a terrible place our own world is – with war and other suffering – but also what emotional ties like family and romantic love were lost with the oncoming of the "sameness." His own crisis comes when he sees what sacrifices his seemingly utopian village demands to keep its stability. 
Why would Christians want to watch this? The Giver shows us both the beauty and the cost of human emotion and desire, but also the foolishness of playing God in trying to wipe both out by human power. What we need is not liberation from our own humanness, but liberation from the sin which has corrupted our humanness – by the death of Christ - and the redirection of our emotions and desire – by the work of the Spirit. Neither the book nor the film explicitly put us before God's throne, but both do a fine job of knocking down one of the idols that serve as a stumbling block blocking our view of His glory.
The film does differ from the book in some ways, but author Lois Lowry was quite pleased about how her book was translated to the big screen. According to her, yes, this is a different medium, but very much the same story.


There are no language and sexual concerns, but some for violence. As the Giver shares his memories with Jonas, one of them is an image of "war" - it's a brief look, but includes a man getting shot in the chest and bleeding, and another man getting shot repeatedly.

The most disturbing scene in the film is one of a baby being euthanized by injection - we don't see the actual injection...but we almost do. So no blood, but quite horrifying. I suspect it is this single scene that boosted this from a PG to PG-13 rating, and quite rightly.

One other concern would be the way God is portrayed. For the most part, He simply isn't, but among the memories Jonas receives are ones showing the various religions of the world at worship. These are only brief glimpses, and not much is made of them, but neither is Christianity distinguished from any of the others - all religions are treated as equivalent.


This is a fantastic film, that hasn't been rated all that highly by the critics. I think that's because they are assessing it simply as entertainment. But this is meant to be a thought-provoking film, one to be discussed and not simply watched. And as such, it rates much higher. I'd recommend it as family viewing so long as the youngest viewers are at least in their teens.

You can buy the dvd here or rent it online here at

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Wild Brothers: Paradise Lost

Reality / Documentary
28 min / 2015
Rating: 7/10

Our girls were very excited to when the third installment of the Wild Brothers series arrived at the library. The Wilds are a missionary couple and their four boys who live in the deep jungles of Papua, Indonesia. They are very boyish boys, who play with bugs, and even eat the odd one now and least when they are properly cooked!

This time around the family is on vacation with another missionary couple, the Browns, and their three girls. My own girls love this series, even though it is all about boys, but I think they appreciated how the girl to boy ratio was upped for this adventure. The two families head from the inland missions to on the coast of a beautiful island. From this home base they head out each day to explore reefs and bays and check out sea turtles, manta rays, and sea snakes and so many gorgeous fish!

Some misadventures also occur, some painful, like mom getting stung by a jellyfish, and some hilarious, like the boys contending with a large snake (8-12 feet long) that decided to take up residence in their cabin roof.

As they have in each episode, the boys bring a solid Christian perspective to their exploration: when they come across an old bone deposit – a burial grounds where skulls are haphazardly stacked by each other – they take the opportunity to talk about how despite the beauty of this world, it is still fallen, and waiting for restoration.

No cautions to note, other than that some human skulls are seen at one point, and the snake episode (found in the extra features) was just a tiny bit scary for my little ones. That said, my girls, 2 though 6 enjoyed this immensely – they weren't that scared!

We’ve also watched the first two entries in this series, which we review here. The series can be purchased at or

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Alone Yet Not Alone

Christian / Drama
103 minutes / 2013

Based on a true story, Alone Yet Not Along is set in 1755, in colonial America, where the British and French are battling for supremacy, and the Natives have tired of being pawns of the British. When the French offer money for English scalps one hostile tribe goes on a rampage, killing farmers and homesteaders, and taking the women and children captive.

Among the captives are two newly arrived immigrant girls from the Leninger family. The Natives kill their father and march the girls 300 miles inland, far from anyone who could save them. When they arrive in the Native village their hair is dyed black and they are told to live as Natives. When they get older they will be expected to marry into the tribe.

So who can they look to for help in such fearful circumstances? They know, because they have been taught by their father, that their God in Heaven will never forsake them. They may be alone, but they are not alone.

One big plus: no theological weirdness. In many a Christian film miracles abound, even though that is not how God commonly interacts with us. But here, though God never abandons his people, a lady still ends up getting cruelly killed by the Indians. Because this account is rooted in history, the theological underpinnings of the film are grounded in reality.


There are a few warnings to offer:

1) This is a typical Christian film in that it lacks subtlety. For example, one dirty but still healthy-looking girl complains that she is soooooo hungry because she hasn't eaten for three days. It would have been nice if they could have shown us that, rather than tell us. The acting is generally solid, but it's also evident there are a lot of first-time actors (including Brett Harris, author of Do Hard Things) with some awkward accents. And the foreshadowing is not very "fore"; immediately after the older sister promises to never leave the younger the two are torn apart and sent to different villages.

2) Regarding historical accuracy, I have only a limited familiarity with this time period, but I think some of the events have been oversimplified to the point of caricature. One example: the British General Edward Braddock is portrayed as deliberately antagonizing his Indian allies, listening to no one's advice, and just generally having no tact and no common sense. Could he really have been this stupid?

3) With Natives and British and French fighting each other, as you might expect, there is some blood shown. But overall the violence is of a "1940s cinema" sort, with a good deal of it happening just off screen. Still too much for young children, but probably not a big deal for any teens.


This is a good but not great film, with some flaws that'll warrant it a "6." I don't rate many films that are less than a solid 7, preferring to focus on the better films. So why the exception this time around? Because while there are better films out there, Alone Yet Not Alone is not only decent but safe for almost the whole family (certainly teens and up). The violence is tempered, no one takes God's name in vain, there's some action, and the whole thing has a nice happy ending. It's a movie no one is going to rave about, but also one that most in your family will be able to find something to enjoy.

You can buy a copy at by clicking here.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Hobbit: the film trilogy

An Unexpected Journey (2012)
169 min (also a 182 minute version)
RATING: 8/10

The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
161 min (also a 186 min version)
RATING: 8/10

The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
144 min (also a 164 min version)
RATING: 7/10

Bilbo Baggins was quite content puttering around his garden, sitting in his armchair, and reading his books – he wasn’t looking for adventure. But then a tall wizard and a dozen mid-sized dwarves asked this small hobbit to come help them battle a huge dragon. It was the sort of offer any respectable hobbit would refuse...and Bilbo did.
“An adventure?.... Nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things. Make you late for dinner….We do not want any adventures here, thank you!”
But something was stirring inside this quiet soul…might he be an adventurous sort after all?

The next day Bilbo surprises even himself by taking the dwarves up on their offer. So off he goes, on a long journey to the Lonely Mountain where the fearsome dragon Smaug guards his stolen horde of treasure. On the way the company meets trolls, giants, horse-sized spiders, orcs – lots and lots of orcs! – and a kingdom’s worth of elves.

But why did they want this little hobbit to come with? The dwarves don’t know; they agreed because the wizard, Gandalf, insisted. And Gandalf isn’t entirely sure himself. The is the best explanation he can offer:
“I don't know. Saruman [another wizard] believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I've found it is the small things; everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay... simple acts of kindness, and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid... and he gives me courage.”
Book to film

This is the second time that director Peter Jackson has adapted a J.R.R. Tolkien story to film. The first, the Lord of the Rings trilogy was one of the few movie adaptions to live up to their source material: three exceptional books became three of the best movies ever made, even as they remained quite loyal to the original story.

This time around a great book has been transformed into three films, and while the films are very good, they hardly resemble the book. Oh yes, all the major plot elements are still there, but because Peter Jackson has to stretch the book to fit three films he had to add lots of extra bits. A few of those bits are sweet – a love story between elf and dwarf – but most are violent: two enormous battles have been added and numerous skirmishes.

The Hobbit was a children’s tale, a sort of kinder, gentler version of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings adventure. But there is nothing kinder or gentler about this film version – in fact no child should see it.

So anyone loyal to the book will have good reason not to like the films. But if we look at them simply as adventure movies, then these are rollicking tales!


The biggest caution concerns the violence, because there is lots of it. It is mostly of a bloodless sort, which is why, despite the films’ enormous death toll, they still manage a PG-13 rating. But there is just so much of it!

Very little of it is realistic – it struck me as being video game-ish – but some of it is played for comic effect, and that’s the most disturbing aspect. When the company fights because it must, that is brave, even heroic, and we can cheer. But what are we to think when Gandalf slices through an orc’s neck so cleanly his head remains in place? We get a quick look at the orc’s confused, distressed facial expression before Gandalf gives his head a tap to send it rolling off. This is meant to get a laugh, but it just gave me the creebles. Death as comedy?

I should also note that while I haven’t watched the extended versions, I have heard that the violence in the extended version of the last film, The Battle of the Five Armies, would be enough to get it an R-rating.

I could add some cautions about the occasional bit of juvenile humor (there are a couple snot jokes, etc.) but since no children should be watching this anyway, and teens and adults aren’t going to be impacted, that will suffice.

One of the reasons why this is not a film for small children!
The only other caution concerns the magic that pops up throughout the film. Some of it is of the dark sort. The villain behind the scenes, causing many of the company’s problems, is the Necromancer, who had nine undead soldiers doing his bidding. He is nasty, and even demonic looking. Now God condemns witchcraft (Deuteronomy 18:10-12, Leviticus 19:26, 20:6) and the casting of spells, so it’s not a big deal to show a villain making use of magic – they are supposed to be bad! More problematic is when the heroes do it too, and a lot of them do, with Bilbo Baggins even dabbling in what seems to be dark magic after he finds a magic ring that turns him invisible but which also seems to talk at times. Once the ring even tries to convince Bilbo to murder someone!

So what should we think of heroes who use magic? That would be a discussion worth having with your kids. Bilbo's use of the ring highlights the dangers of dark magic - in The Hobbit we get only a glimpse of the sort of temptation this ring will pose in the later Lord of the Rings trilogy, but it's enough to know this ring is not some cute play toy but more an ever present and enticing temptation. So the overall presentation of magic here doesn’t worry me overmuch, particularly because the magic is so very clearly not the sort of sorcery that occurs in our own world. If its presentation is flawed, at least the magic shown is not of the sort that is liable to tempt any watcher to imitate it. So, on this issue these films don't present a danger to viewers.


There is also a lot to love here: the company is courageous, and Bilbo Baggins grows in bravery through the film. Our heroes are quite heroic! Many of the themes are admirable, and even biblical, like:
  • money can corrupt
  • a man has no greater love than that he is willing to lay down his life for another
  • loyalty doesn’t meaning blindly following
  • love can require us to confront a friend
  • vengeance can blind us
  • bravery doesn’t mean not being afraid
  • A small weak fellow putting bigger stronger sorts to shame (1 Cor. 1:26-29)
It wouldn’t be hard to find many others. So overall I’d rate this as an above average action adventure that isn’t suitable for children, but might be enjoyed and discussed with older teens.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Lost and Found

Animated / Family
24 minutes / 2013
RATING: 8/10

This film made my girls cry and that's alright.

Lost and Found is a classic boy meets penguin tale, a tale of loneliness felt and friendship found...and a beautiful tale throughout. That's what made my girls cry – the beauty of it. Their tears gave mom and dad an opportunity to explain to these two little misses that crying is not always linked to sadness, that beauty can indeed be tear-inducing, and then it is something, strangely enough, to be enjoyed. This lesson wasn't entirely lost on them, and also not entirely understood either, but it was a good first exposure to this curious truth.

The story itself is simple. Lost penguin arrives on boy's doorstep. Boy briefly tries to get others to help penguin, but then decides to do it himself. He builds a boat and rows to the Antarctic, where he drops off the penguin and heads back home only to realize that the penguin wasn't lost after all but had shown up at his house because he was lonely. Boy returns to Antarctic, penguin hops in boat, and the two head off together for what looks like the beginning of a wonderful friendship.

Adding to the charm is the minimal narration and complete lack of dialogue - this is almost a silent film, with only the character's body language and facial expressions to guide us.


While rowing to the Antarctic boy and penguin encounter a huge storm, and the scene lasts for nearly 5 minutes, which put my 6 and under set on the edge of their seats. It was a bit much for them, but because I had previewed the film I could tell them it all worked out. That was just what they needed to make it through a scene that otherwise would have been too scary...especially when the giant scary-looking but friendly octopus arrives.

The only other caution would be about the size - this is sometimes advertised as a 50+ minute film, but that's only so if you include the special features. The film itself is just 24 minutes.


Our whole family loved it. I would recommend it for anyone 4 to 104. You can buy it on DVD as by clicking here.