Wednesday, April 18, 2018

150 movies King David might watch


Great mind think alike, and this month those two great minds were a missionary in Brazil and an evangelist in California.

The evangelist, Ray Comfort, passed along a story, first told by Jeremy Archer, about a man who invited all sort of folks into his house to meet his family. Often the visitors would talk crudely and angrily with each other, teaching his children words he'd rather they not know. But they could also get his whole family laughing so the man decided to focus on the good they did, rather than the bad.

Over time the man could see the visitors were having an impact on his family, and it wasn't a good one. He found that his own children were now using crude language and making coarse jokes. What was worse, the visitors were behaving outrageously, even taking their clothes off right there in front of his family!

That's hard to believe, isn't it? Why didn't the man just kick them out? Why didn't he protect his family from their influence? Well, it turns out this man had some sense, and as the visitors started getting naked the man acted. Together, with his family, the man finally "turned off the television."

That same month, and it might have been the same week, the missionary, Rev. Ken Wieske expressed the same concern another way, titling a Facebook post "David vows to get rid of his TV." Underneath he included the text of Psalm 101 which reads (in part):
I will ponder the way that is blameless.
Oh when will you come to me?
I will walk with integrity of heart
within my house;
I will not set before my eyes
anything that is worthless.
The pastor's point was clear: most of what's on TV is worthless and if King David were here on earth today, he might well pitch his TV right out of the palace. Of course, it isn't quite as easy as that. Today we also have computers, and smartphones, so getting rid of the TV isn't going to restrict out access to fluff and filth that's so readily available.

So let's take this a step further. Yes, much of what's on TV (and on YouTube, Facebook, etc.) is pretty much worthless. But some of it isn't. Some of it is quite good. Excellent even! So if we were to make the same promise King David makes in Psalm 101, to put away all that is worthless, what sorts of film and videos might he still watch?

I've got some suggestions, and I've listed them under 10 categories, with 15 movie recommendations in each category. My hope is that this list can help families find something worthwhile to watch. With over 150 suggestions I'm also hoping there will be something for everyone.

Title, year, and length, are included, and, if there's a review available on ReformedPerspective.ca, or my movie review blog, ReelConservative.com, then I've indicated that by making the title all caps and clickable.

I've also included an entertainment rating. This is out of 10, and in my books a 7 is a solid mark, while 8 is something special, and 6 is still watchable, but that indicates there is some notable flaw (maybe corny writing, or a bad bit of acting, that sort of thing). The only reason I've included a few films that rate as low as 6 is because they have educational value.

One other note: none of these take God's name in vain. That's important. While a degree of violence and even sexual content of some sort (kissing, hugging) can be appropriate on screen, the way God's name is abused on film never is.

ANIMATED VIDEOS
This mix of shorter videos (the longer ones are made up of several parts) can be ideal when mom wants to take a nap, but doesn't want the kids sitting in front of the TV forever

Anne of Green Gables, Vol. 1-3 – 2003, 150 minutes – 7/10
Adventures in Odyssey: The Knight Travelers – 1991, 27 minutes – 7/10
THE GRUFFALO  – 2009, 27 minutes – 8/10
Horton Hears a Who – 1970, 30 minutes – 7/10
JUNGLE BEAT – 65 minutes – 10/10
Larry-Boy and the Fib from Outer Space – 1999, 30 minutes – 7/10
Lord of the Beans – 2005, 52 minutes – 7/10
Peppa Pig: The Balloon Ride – 2014, 60 minutes – 7/10
The Pond
   – THERE'S SOMETHING FUNNY IN THE WATER – 2005, 27 minutes – 8/10
   – The Little Things – 30 minutes – 7/10
   – The Rise and Fall of Tony the Frog – 30 minutes – 7/10
   – Alligator Hunter – 30 minutes – 7/10
   – Big Mouth Bass – 32 minutes – 7/10
Wallace and Gromit in Three Amazing Adventures – 1989-1995, 85 minutes –  7/10
THE WAY THINGS WORK – 2001, 300+ minutes – 8/10

ANIMATED FILMS
Looking for something good for a family "dinner and a movie" night?

THE BOXCAR CHILDREN – 2013, 81 minutes – 7/10
Chicken Run – 2000, 84 minutes – 8/10
Curious George – 2006, 88 minutes – 8/10
Curious George 3: Back to the Jungle – 2015, 81 minutes – 7/10
Finding Nemo – 2003, 100 minutes – 8/10
Fox and the Hound – 1981, 83 minutes – 8/10
LOST AND FOUND – 2013, 24 minutes – 8/10
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – 1977, 74 minutes – 8/10
Meet the Robinsons – 2007, 95 minutes – 7/10
Monsters Inc. – 2001, 93 minutes – 9/10
THE PEANUTS MOVIE – 2015, 88 minutes – 8/10
Tangled – 2010, 100 minutes – 9/10
Up – 2009, 96 minutes – 9/10
Wall-E – 2008, 98 minutes – 9/10
WINNIE THE POOH – 2011, 63 miinutes – 8/10

BASED ON A BOOK
It's always hard to live up to the book, but some of these get awfully close!

The Adventures of Robin Hood - 1938, 101 minutes – 8/10
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – 1939, 82 minutes – 7/10
Animal Farm – 1954, 72 minutes – 7/10
THE GIVER – 2014, 97 minutes – 8/10
Ivanhoe – 1952, 107 minutes – 7/10
THE HOBBIT – 1977, 77 minutes – 7/10
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – 1979, 95 minutes – 7/10
Little Women – 1949, 121 minutes – 8/10
Little Women – 1994, 118 minutes – 9/10
THE LORD OF THE RINGS – 1978, 133 minutes – 7/10
POLLYANNA – 2003, 99 minutes – 8/10
The Prince and the Pauper – 1937, 118 minutes – 8/10
Pride and Prejudice – 2004, 104 minutes – 8/10
Sarah Plain and Tall – 1990, 98 minutes – 8/10
SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON – 1960, 126 minutes – 8/10

BLACK AND WHITE CLASSICS
These have all stood the test of time and are still being watched again and again.

12 Angry Men – 1957, 96 minutes – 8/10
The Absent-Minded Professor – 1961, 96 minutes – 7/10
Adam's Rib – 1949, 101 minutes –  8/10
CASABLANCA – 1943, 103 minutes – 10/10 
Citizen Kane – 1941, 119 minutes – 7/10
High Noon – 1952, 85 minutes – 9/10
I Remember Mama – 1948, 134 minutes – 7/10
It Should Happen to You – 1954, 87 minutes – 7/10
The Man in the White Suit – 1951, 85 minutes – 7/10
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – 1962, 123 minutes – 8/10
Meet John Doe – 1941, 122 minutes – 7/10
Mr. Deed goes to Town – 1936, 115 minutes – 7/10
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – 1939, 129 minutes – 8/10
Sea Hawk – 1940, 127 minutes – 8/10
The Shop Around the Corner – 1949, 99 minutes – 9/10

BIOGRAPHICAL
Some of these are great, others only okay, but all are education.

Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace – 1999, 90 minutes – 7/10
The Case for Christ – 2017, 113 minutes – 7/10
End of the Spear – 2006, 108 minutes – 7/10
Final Solution – 2001, 102 minutes – 7/10
God's Outlaw: The Story of William Tyndale – 1988, 93 minutes – 6/10
Hellen Keller – 2005, 30 minutes – 6/10
John Hus – 1985, 55 minutes – 5/10
Martin Luther – 1953, 105 minutes – 7/10
The Miracle Worker – 1962, 106 minutes – 9/10
Torchlighters:
   – THE CORRIE TEN BOOM STORY – 2013, 34 minutes – 7/10
   – THE JIM ELLIOT STORY – 2005, 30 minutes – 6/10
   – THE MARTIN LUTHER STORY – 2106, 34 minutes – 7/10
   – THE RICHARD WUMBRAND STORY – 2008, 30 minutes – 6/10
   – THE WILLIAM TYNDALE STORY – 2005, 32 minutes – 6/10
THE WRIGHT BROTHERS – 1996, 27 minutes – 7/10

CHILDREN
This is fare for younger children – not a lot of tension here. And that means, while the kids will probably like it, mom and dad might not.

The Adventures of Milo and Otis – 1989, 76 minutes – 7/10
Buddy Davis' Amazing Adventures:
   – ALASKA – 2015, 25 minutes – 6/10
   – EXTREME CAVING – 2013, 58 minutes – 7/10
   – I DIG DINOSAURS – 2011 – 26 minutes – 7/10
   – SWAMP MAN – 2012, 45 minutes – 7/10
Tintin: Destination Moon – 1992, 83 minutes – 7/10
INCREDIBLE CREATURES THAT DEFY EVOLUTION I – 2006, 47 minutes – 8/10
A JURASSIC ARK MYSTERY – 2001, 45 minutes – 7/10
Lassie Come Home – 1943, 90 minutes – 8/10
A LEGO BRICKUMENTARY – 2015, 93 minutes – 7/10
MISTY – 1961, 91 minutes – 7/10
THE NEWTONS' WORKSHOP – 1997, 226 minutes – 7/10
The Runner from Ravenshead - 2010, 81 minutes – 7/10
The Wild Brothers
   – WELCOME TO OUR WORLD – 2015, 28 minutes – 7/10
   – PARADISE LOST – 2015, 28 minutes – 7/10

ON CREATION, EVOLUTION AND DESIGN

ALIEN INTRUSION – 2018, 109 minutes – 8/10
DARWIN: THE VOYAGE THAT SHOOK THE WORLD – 2009, 55 minutes – 8/10
EVOLUTION'S ACHILLES' HEELS – 2014, 96 minutes – 9/10
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed – 2008, 95 minutes – 8/10
FLIGHT: THE GENIUS OF BIRDS – 2013, 63 minutes – 9/10
GENESIS: PARADISE LOST – 2018, 109 minutes – 8/10
Icons of Evolution – 2002, 52 minutes - 7/10
INCREDIBLE CREATURES THAT DEFINE DESIGN – 2011, 62 minutes – 7/10
IS GENESIS HISTORY? – 2017, 100 minutes – 8/10
LIVING WATERS – 2015, 69 minutes – 8/10
Metamorphosis: The Beauty and Design of Butterflies – 2011, 64 minutes – 8/10
MOUNT ST. HELENS: MODERN EVIDENCE FOR A WORLD WIDE FLOOD – 2012, 36 minutes – 7/10
NOAH'S ARK: THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX – 2008, 35 minutes – 8/10
THE PRIVILEGED PLANET – 2005, 60 minutes – 8/10
REVOLUTIONARY – 2016, 60 minutes – 7/10

DOCUMENTARIES
The very best documentaries pack books worth of knowledge into a short hour or two. And these are just that sort.

Collision: Christopher Hitchens vs. Douglas Wilson – 2009, 93 minutes – 9/10
Cool It: Are We Saving the World or Just Burning Money? – 2010, 88 minutes – 8/10
DEMOGRAPHIC WINTER – 2008, 56 minutes – 7/10
THE FREE SPEECH APOCALYPSE – 2015, 89 minutes – 8/10
HOW TO ANSWER A FOOL – 2013, 85 minutes – 8/10
EXPEDITION BIBLE: JERICHO UNEARTHED – 2010, 34 minutes – 8/10
INDOCTRINATION – 2011, 102 minutes – 8/10
LOGIC ON FIRE – 2015, 102 minutes – 7/10
THE NARNIA CODE – 2009, 59 minutes – 8/10
NOTES FROM THE TILT-A-WHIRL – 2011, 51 minutes – 10/10
THE RECKONING – 2006, 96 minutes – 7/10
RESCUED: THE HEART OF ADOPTION – 2012, 62 minutes – 7/10
UNPLANNED – 2011, 62 minutes – 7/10
WAITING FOR SUPERMAN – 2010, 111 minutes – 8/10
WAIT TILL IT'S FREE – 2014, 82 minutes – 9/10

FAMILY FUN
These are films that mom and dad can enjoy too, but that does mean that some of them have action or drama that may be too intense for younger children. So be sure to research age-appropriateness.

BEYOND THE MASK – 2015, 103 minutes – 8/10
CITY OF EMBER – 2008, 95 minutes – 7/10                                                                             
CONDORMAN – 1981, 90 minutes – 7/10
The Court Jester – 1956, 101 minutes – 8/10
Greyfriars Bobby – 1961, 87 minutes – 9/10
Hangman's Curse – 2003, 106 minutes – 8/10
Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates – 1962, 90  minutes – 7/10
Love's Long Journey – 2005, 88 minutes – 7/10
The Last Chance Detectives – 1994, 47 minutes – 7/10
Old Yeller – 1957, 84 minutes – 9/10
Seasons of the Heart – 2003, 99 minutes – 8/10
Shark Boy and Lava Girl 3D – 2005, 93 minutes – 7/10
STORM: LUTHER'S FORBIDDEN LETTER – 2017, 105 minutes – 7/10
THE THREE INVESTIGATORS IN THE SECRET OF SKELETON ISLAND – 2007, 91 minutes – 7/10
Time Changer – 2002, 99 minutes – 7/10

FOR MOM AND DAD
Films to kick back with your better half...and sometimes the older kids too.

ALLEGED – 2011, 93 minutes – 8/10
Anastasia – 1956, 105 minutes – 7/10
The Caine Mutiny - 1954, 124 minutes – 7/10
COURAGEOUS – 2011, 129 minutes – 7/10
THE HOBBIT TRILOGY
   – An Unexpected Journey – 2012, 169 minutes – 8/10
   – The Desolation of Smaug – 2013, 161 minutes – 8/10
   – The Battle of the Five Armies – 144 minutes – 7/10
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – 2001-2003 – 10/10
LIKE DANDELION DUST – 2009, 104 minutes – 8/10
Rear Window – 1954, 112 minutes – 8/10
Roman Holiday – 1953, 118 minutes – 8/10
The Second Chance – 2006, 102 – 7/10
The Song – 2014, 116 minutes – 9/10
TO SAVE A LIFE – 2010, 120 minutes – 8/10
The Ultimate Gift – 2006, 114 minutes – 7/10
A Vow to Cherish – 1999, 84 minutes - 7/10

BONUS #1 - 4 SUPER SILENT FILMS
If you've never gotten into silent films, be sure to start with the comedies – there the overwrought acting just adds to the funny. And Buster Keaton is the best!

The General – 1927, 80 minutes – 8/10
The Gold Rush – 1925, 96 minutes – 7/10
Seven Chances – 1925, 56 minutes – 8/10
SHERLOCK JR. – 1924, 44 minutes – 8/10

BONUS #2 - 10 ON WORLD WAR II

The very best World War II films were made during the war...or shortly after.

Bataan – 1943, 114 minutes – 7/10
Decision Before Dawn – 1951, 119 minutes – 7/10
Destination Tokyo – 1944, 135 minutes – 8/10
THE FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT – 1940, 120 minutes – 7/10
Objective Burma! – 1945, 142 minutes – 7/10
Sahara – 1943, 98 minutes – 7/10
THE SILVER FLEET – 1943, 88 minutes – 7/10
They Were Expendable – 1945, 135 minutes – 7/10
To Be Or Not To Be – 1942, 99 minutes – 8/10
Twelve O'clock High – 1949 – 8/10

Monday, April 16, 2018

Alien Intrusion: Unmasking a Deception

Documentary
2018 / 109 minutes
RATING: 8/10

Can we dismiss UFO sightings as just a bunch of hysteria, or perhaps as misidentification? Is it a matter of weather balloons being mistaken for visitors from another planet?

Before you answer consider this: millions have reported UFO sightings, including American former president, Jimmy Carter. And while some of those might be weather balloons, tricks of the sun, or other optical illusions, what are we to think of the many who claim that have had a "close encounter of the fourth kind" - who claim that they've actually seen aliens themselves?

This fascinating documentary, produced by Creation Ministries International, doesn't offer the answers you might expect from a Christian creationist organization. Early on it seems as if they are making the case that at least some of these sightings and encounters are, in fact, real. They share reports from former air force officials, the findings of researchers, still unexplained film footage, and other evidence.

But are these encounters with actual aliens...or is there something else at work here? Even as a case is made that some of these encounters must be real, we're also told why they can't be aliens. The distances in space are simply too vast, the speeds required too high, to the point that physics seems to rule out the possibility that we are encountering visitors from far distant galaxies.

So what are they?

SPOILER ALERT: author Gary Bates and others argue that these are, in fact, spiritual beings - demons - masquerading as aliens.  It's quite the intriguing premise!

The film offers lots of evidence for this position, with one particularly interesting bit being how the shape of UFOs seems to "evolve" to match up with people's expectations. As Gary Bates notes:
"...UFOs seem to appear within the understanding of the culture of the time. UFOs in the late 1800s appeared like airships. The ancient Romans and Greeks have stories of flying shields with occupants on board. American Indians have legends of flying canoes with people on board. And as we approached our rocket age...[they] started to take on the silver, shiny type of shapes."
Similarly, "aliens" used to claim to be from Mars, Venus, and Saturn. However, now that we know those planets are not hosts to "massive civilizations of extra terrestrials" the aliens no longer claim to be from Mars or Venus. Instead they say they are from other systems or galaxies.

There's also the correlation between UFO belief and occult experimentation – many "abductees" have dabbled in the “dark arts.” In asking for contact with demons, did they unknowingly invite these encounters? It is worth noting, too, that the messages “aliens” pass on are often direct attacks on the Bible, portraying Jesus not as the Son of God, but merely as some advanced alien. Even more interesting, several people who have been plagued by alien encounters, report that these encounters were very different after they became Christians. When they rebuked these "aliens" in the name of Jesus, they would leave!

Cautions

The only caution I can think of would be concern age-appropriateness. The nature of "talking head" documentaries is that children aren't usually interested. But just in case they are, parents should be aware there is a brief discussion lasting a few minutes concerning claims some abductees make regarding sexual violations by aliens. It is far from lurid, with Dove Foundation describing it as "clinical, clean talk."

Conclusion

This is will be an intriguing documentary for any and all who are fascinated by UFOs, by science fiction, and by aliens. While the primary audience is meant to be Christians it would also be a great conversation-starter with unbelieving friends about how the Bible offers explanations for all of life...even including alien encounters!

One important note: there is another DVD, also featuring Gary Bates, called Alien Intrusion that is simply a powerpoint video lecture. It has a different subtitle (one it shares with the Gary Bates' book that inspired them both) Alien Intrusion: UFOs and The Evolution Connection. The documentary is called Alien Intrusion: Unmasking a Deception. While the powerpoint lecture is interesting too, what you really want is the documentary, so be sure to check the subtitle and get the right one!

It is available at Creation.com under the "Store" tab at the top of the page.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Genesis: Paradise lost (part 1)

Documentary
109 minutes / 2018
RATING: 8/10

There have been some very good Genesis-related resources coming out in the last few years and this is another. The intent with this one is to provide a visually stunning introduction to creation science. It's going over the basics, but along with the expected talking heads laying out Creationism 101, there are impressive computer animations of the goings on for every day in the Creation Week. There's even a 3D version of the film that, on a big-screen TV, makes this quite the immersive experience!

So who should see this? The target audience is Christians and interested unbelievers who want to learn what creationists believe about the opening chapters of Scripture. There is a lot packed in here – perhaps too much because the sheer volume of material only allows the producers to cover topics in big and broad ways. They simply don't have the time to offer any sort of nuanced evolutionary counters to their own points.

A CAUTION

Now, that's fine; it just means this isn't a film to give to the hardened critic. It also means there is one danger Christians have to watch for: anyone new to creationism, after seeing the film, might be left with the impression that there are no compelling arguments, and no evidence of any kind, for evolution. That would be a dangerous sort of naïveté.

While that's an important caution, this is a fantastic film. There is so much to love here, starting with the narrator Voddie Baucham – if you've ever heard this Reformed pastor and professor speak you'll know he's just perfect for this role. Fun guests include Ken Ham and Ray Comfort. The professors include some familiar names like Dr. Georgia Purdom, Dr. David Menton, and Dr. John Baumgardner.

The topics covered include:

  • an answer to the distant starlight problem
  • fossils on the top of mountains
  • carbon-dating
  • intricate complexity
  • reasons to believe the universe is young
  • the Law of Biogenesis
  • finding soft tissue in dinosaur bones (said to be millions of years old)
  • the pepper moth fallacy
  • the many human "missing links"
  • how if natural selection can explain the survival of the fittest, it doesn't explain the arrival of the fittest
  • and much, much more!

CONCLUSION

One of the film's strengths is the sheer width and breadth that it covers. That is also its most notable weakness: there is just so much information! I was already familiar with most of what was presented and I still found it on the overwhelming side. But, as faults go, that's a wonderful one to have – it just means this is an excellent candidate for repeated viewings, and well worth buying!

The other strength is all the computer animations. If they are just a shade from being perfectly life-like, they are perfectly gorgeous. The Creation Week had been rendered with respect: God is never depicted, and naked Adam and Eve are only shown at extreme distance, or only in parts (their feet, or hands, or faces). Of course depicting the Creation Week visually is going to involve a lot of imaginative interpretation to fill in all the missing details; these folks have done so with the tact and care.

So, again, who should see this? I think the many talking heads means that Genesis: Paradise Lost isn't for children – it would probably have to be older teens and up. But for anyone who's interested in learning about our origins, and about how we should understand the opening chapters of the Bible, this is going to be a treat!

Misty

Family / Drama
1961 / 91 minutes
RATING: 7/10

If you have girls in your home there's a good chance you've already heard of Marguerite Henry and her most famous book Misty of Chincoteague. It's the story of two orphans who, after coming to live with their grandparents, fix their minds on buying a pony named Phantom.

But it's not going to be easy. First, Phantom is a wild pony, running loose on the neighboring island of Assateague, and to this point no one has been able to catch her. If she is caught, it'll cost the two children $100 to buy her and they don't have any money. And last but not least, Phantom is three years old already, and their grandfather says that no one can gentle a pony that's been wild that long.

But while these two have their work cut out for them, they're up to the task!

This is a faithful adaptation of the book, and quite the sweet film. The grandparents are loving and kind, but no pushovers. The kids are energetic, a little mischievous, but respectful. It's just good old-fashioned family entertainment.

CAUTIONS

Language concerns are limited to a few instances of "gee."

At one point bets are placed on a horse race between the nearby islands' fastest ponies. The grandfather gets caught up in this and seems to even travel to another island to find more people to bet with. Overall this is a minor element in the film, amounting mostly to an opportunity for jokes. But children need to be told that we should never seek to become wealthy at another's expense – that's what's wrong with gambling.

CONCLUSION

The moral of this story is an old-fashioned one, and while powerful, it is gently presented: "love is not possessive; love seeks the best for the other." I'm not going to spoil things by telling you how that moral is learned, but if you have a sensitive daughter or two, there might be a little crying at the end of this one...though it certainly ends on a happy note.

Sweetest quote: When the town mistakenly concludes the grandfather has fallen on hard times, he hugs his grandchildren and exclaims: "They think I'm poor? I'm the richest man on this whole island!"

 

Incredible creatures that define design

Documentary
62 min / 2011
Rating: 7/10

The folks who brought us the 3-film series Incredible Creatures That Defy Evolution are back, and with a fun new twist on the incredible design we can find in God's creation.

This time they are looking into the field of biomimicry – this involves engineers applying the innovations and creativity they find in the natural world to help them solve challenges they face in the civilized world.

So, for example, a fan manufacturer looking to make a more powerful, but quieter, model decided to look into the way that an owl can travel quickly but silently through the air. The closer they looked at the design of its wings, the more they found there was to learn and imitate!

Other examples of brilliant design in creation that the documentary explores include:
  • sticky burrs
  • spirals found everywhere in nature
  • the glue used by mussels
  • the aerodynamics of the box fish
  • and the strange way that butterflies can give off such beautiful colors even though some have no pigment in their wings.
In one instance after another, even as engineers use Nature as their inspiration, they're forced to admit that their best efforts can't match the genius they find there.

CAUTIONS

Unlike the Incredible Creations The Defy Evolution series, in this film God is never given the credit that is His due. Instead, this is more like an Intelligent Design presentation, in which the genius found in creation is celebrated, without any specific mention made of Who that Genius is.

The only other caution concerns a scene in the section on mussel glue. Here we see a brief enactment of a man having a heart attack at a restaurant. He then presumably receives care using glue, rather than stitches. It's not all that shocking, but more so than anything else in the film, and might alarm some small children.

CONCLUSION

This is one for that will most intrigue the science geeks among us. I think families with older kids – maybe 12 and up – could enjoy this together, particularly if they have watched documentaries together before. But it does require some knowledge to fully appreciate what's being explained – younger children simply won't know enough about aerodynamics, or about how loud fans can be, or what pigmentation is, to really appreciate how "Nature" – God! – has done it all so much better than even our best and brightest can do (even after being given an example to imitate).

You can watch the trailer below, and view it for free here or on Amazon Prime.


Incredible Creatures That DEFINE Design - Trailer from Exploration Films on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Storm: Luther's forbidden letter

Family / Drama
105 minutes / 2017
RATING: 7/10

Storm Voeten is the 12-year-old son of a printer, living in 1500s Antwerp. Martin Luther has written his 95 Theses and his ideas are a source of debate and division across Europe. That's also true in the Voeten household, where Storm's mother, a staunch Catholic, doesn't even want to hear Luther's name. But his father is interesting in learning more...and he's even willing to print Luther's ideas.

The opening scene has Luther making his brief, appearance in the film. He's writing a letter, even as a squadron of soldiers is heading his way. The letter is entrusted to the care of an assistant to take to Antwerp.

Though the events in this film are more of the "inspired by" variety, rather than purporting to be historically accurate, there is some real history here. Luther did send a letter to Antwerp. In the film the letter is a rallying cry against the Catholic Church, and a call to rely on Jesus alone. In real life, while we don't have the letter itself, other accounts make it sound as if it had an additional target, the Anabaptists. But that doesn't come up in the film.

When Luther's assistant arrives in Antwerp he seeks out Storm's father. Voeten Sr. accepts the printing job, even though the town's Inquisitor has already arrested another printer for producing forbidden Protestant materials.

And that's when the film turns into a chase movie. The authorities catch Storm's father in the act of printing and arrest him, but not before Storm runs off with the letter's printing plate. He gets chased through the alleys and only escapes when 12-year-old street orphan Maria, and her handy sling, intervene.

Now it's up to Storm to figure out how to get the letter printed, and how to save his dad.

CAUTIONS

There are no language concerns, and any "sexual content" is limited to one short kiss between the two 12-year-olds at the film's end.

But there is a fair amount of violence. All of it is muted and some of it takes place off screen. But here's a partial list:
  • a printer's burned hand is shown briefly (one second)
  • the printer is tortured by the Inquisitor – via some form of water boarding – and while we don't see it happen, we do briefly hear the man pleading
  • a couple of soldiers get hit in the head by rocks hurled by Maria and her sling
  • Maria hits a soldier in the head with a pole
  • Storm hits a soldier in the head with a pole
  • a man is murdered off screen before Storm arrives, but we do see the body with just a little blood for a second or two
In addition, there is quite a lot of tension. Some of it involves chases, and some of it involves not knowing what will happen next – when Storm's father is set to be burned at the stake, the young audience doesn't know that Storm will manage to save the day, and that makes this quite scary.

That's why I'd say the target audience for this is probably 12 and up.

One theological concern: Maria thinks that the Virgin Mary helps her. Storm tells her Luther's thoughts on idols, and that Mary is just an ordinary woman, but the issue is left unsettled - by film's end, Maria hasn't clearly changed her mind.  So that might be a good topic to discuss with younger viewers

CONCLUSION

The big caution with this film concerns the tension. This is more a "chase film" than a theological exploration of Luther's views, but that might just make it perfect for the younger audience it's aimed at. While the plot is a bit simple for mom and dad, the authentic 1500s setting will keep their attention. This is good, clean, even educational, fun.

The film was carefully shot so that it could be dubbed into a number of different languages. If you pay attention you'll notice that the principal characters often speak with their mouths obscured in some way. Sometimes we see their mouth when they start speaking but, as they continue, the camera cuts away. That's because this was shot in Dutch, and this clever camera work means the dubbing is hardly noticeable in the English version.

I can't actually find a trailer of the English version, so here below is the Dutch trailer.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Pollyanna

Family
2003 / 99 minutes
Rating: 8/10

Aside from a change of setting, this is a faithful adaption of the source book. Yes, moving it from Vermont to England will leave viewers a little surprised, especially if they've grown up watching the 1960s Disney version. But accents aside, this is the more authentic version and if you loved the book, you'll love this film.

For those who don't already know, Pollyanna is a poor but cheerful girl who, after becoming orphaned, is sent to live with her very rich, and very strait-laced aunt Polly. The two have very different ways of viewing the world, with the joyful Pollyanna seeing nothing but wonder, despite the losses she's faced, and aunt Polly seeing nothing but the problems, despite the riches that surround her. So whose worldview is going to win out? Is Pollyanna going to stop giving out hugs, or is her aunt Polly going to get over her reluctance to be touched? Something has to give!

One reason parents will appreciate this story is because of Pollyanna's "glad game." This is something her father taught her – he explained that even when things aren't going our way, there is always something to be glad about. He first taught her the game one Christmas when Pollyanna was hoping for a doll, but the only gift sent to her poor family was a pair of tiny crutches. So what is there to be happy about crutches? It took some thinking, but eventually father and daughter came up with something: they could be glad because at least “we didn’t need to use them!”

As Pollyanna gets to know the people in her new community, both young and old, she teaches her game to them, and in doing so, transforms her community - they too, start to see the silver lining to each dark cloud. But what about aunt Polly? What is she going to think about the game?

CAUTIONS

It's worth noting that the "glad game" can be taken to extremes. For an example, in the book, when an older man breaks a leg, Pollyanna notes he could be glad that he broke just the one leg. Well, okay. But, as the Preacher said, there is a time for everything, and that includes mourning. So maybe it is fine for the man to just simply be sad for a time at the pain and suffering that's happened to him.

That said, I don't think many of us are in danger of overdoing our gladness, so couldn't we all do with a good dose of this Pollyanna-ish thinking?

The only other caution concerns one shocking/sad moment that will cause young viewers distress – near the end of the film Pollyanna gets seriously injured. It all happens in a flash, so nothing gory is shown, but our girls needed to be reassured that Pollyanna would recover.

CONCLUSION

Young ladies are going to love this one, and I think young lads may even be up for it, with a little encouraging. And if mom and dad can get past the British accents, they, too, are sure to love this well-acted, authentic adaption of a timeless classic.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Boxcar Children

Animated / Children's
2013 / 81 minutes
Rating: 7/10

The Boxcar Children is the first title in a popular and still expanding children's series of books. And just like the book, the film is about four children - three brothers and one sister - who have lost their parents, and have been told they will have to live with their grandfather. But Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny don't know their grandfather at all, and imagine that, because he never came to visit, he must be a cruel man. So they run away.

The first part of the story is about how they get by, day to day, all on their own. It's when they find an old, long abandoned, railway boxcar that things start looking up for them. Then the older brother can go into town to do odd jobs, and the other three can start setting up the boxcar as a real home for them.

This is a children's story so of course it has a happy ending. And I don't think I give away too much to say it involves their cruel grandfather not being cruel at all.

CAUTIONS

The only cautions would concern language: in one instance a character says "holy mollie" and in another someone utters "oh my gosh" but that is the extent of it.

CONCLUSION

While there are a few moments of tension – especially early on when they are being chased by a couple who wants to put the children to work in their bakery – this is a pretty gentle movie. The plot is also simple, and I say that not as a criticism, but only to note this is more of a children's film than something the whole family will enjoy. Mom and dad won't mind too much, but I don't expect teens will enjoy sitting through it.

But if you children who have been reading the Boxcar Children series, then this will be a treat. The first book in the series, The Boxcar Children, was published in 1924, but the series really started gaining in popularity in 1942, when it was reissued. The author, Gertrude Chandler Warner, went on to write a total of 19 stories about the four siblings (and I've been told that these 19 are much better than the more than 100+ that have followed). There's no Christian content in the book or the film but as you might expect from a story written almost 100 years ago, there's nothing all that objectionable either.

So it is a good safe film that kids will love, and parents won't mind.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Sherlock Jr.

Comedy / Family
1924 / 44 minutes
RATING: 8/10

For anyone who wants to get their kids interested in the golden oldies, Sherlock Jr. may be the perfect introduction. This is a black and white classic with the frenetic pace of a Saturday morning cartoon – the action never stops!

Buster Keaton plays the part of a movie theater janitor/projectionist who has ambitions about becoming a great detective and winning the hand of a certain beautiful girl.

But he's not the only fellow interested in the lass. Standing in his way is a tall, dark, and handsome rival who, we quickly find out, has no scruples – when no one's looking this scoundrel steals a watch from the girl's dad. But wait, there's a theft? Isn't this an opportunity for a detective wannabe to show his stuff? Buster offers to do an investigation, but he is humiliated twice over when the clever scoundrel frames him for the theft, and then the girl's father asks Buster to leave and never come back.

Things are looking bad for Buster, but the story just keeps getting better and better. Dejected, Buster returns to the theater in time for the afternoon showing and gets the movie started. But as it's playing he falls asleep, and in his dream he joins in on the action.

It just so happens to be a detective story. And it just so happens that Buster dreams himself in as the suave and savvy star detective. In this film within the film it goes a lot better for Buster, as he brilliantly tricks and evades and a whole horde of villains.

The best action scene in the movie is when Buster, in hot pursuit of the villains, hops on the front handlebars of a motorbike being driven by his trusted sidekick. But, unbeknownst to Buster, just as the motorbike started off, his sidekick fell off – Buster is on it alone, up front on the handlebars of the speeding bike, urging the absent driver to be a little more careful about the way he's driving!

But what's going to happen when Buster wakes up? Well, even as he solving mysteries in his dream world, his beautiful girl is figuring out things in the real one.

CAUTIONS

There are moments of peril, and a brief occasion or two of fisticuffs that might be a bit scary for the very young.

CONCLUSION

At just 44 minutes, and jammed pack with action, this might be the best silent film to share with modern audiences. And - added bonus! - this film is so old it is in the public domain, and can be watched for free in the video below.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Torchlighters: the Martin Luther Story

Animated / Family
2016 / 34 minutes
Rating: 7/10

The strength of this film is its short length. At just 34 minutes, it can be shown in the space of a single school period. For the pre-teens this is intended for that might be just the right length, with the quick pace, and colorful animation sure to grab most students’ attention.

But the biggest weakness of this short film is….its length. It is far too short to tell this story with the gravitas it needs – Luther’s spiritual wrestling is dealt with in just 7 minutes! It also ends abruptly, with Luther busy translating the Bible into German in Wartburg Castle. The narrator then spends just a single minute summing up the whole of the second half of Luther's life. And then the credits role.

CAUTIONS

There are a just a couple cautions to consider, with the most striking involving a prophetic dream by Frederick the Elector, Martin Luther's long-time protector. After getting kidnapped (by friends, for his own safety's sake) Luther is told that the very night he nailed up his 95 Theses, Frederick had a dream about a monk writing on a church door with a quill that was so long it extended all the way to Rome "where it toppled the crown off of a lion." This is said to be the reason the Frederick was willing to defend his rebellious trouble-making monk: God had told him ahead of time that his monk was going to topple the pope. But, according to The problem? According to Thomas A. Fudge's biography Jan Hus, this story is found in many forms from 1591 on, but that is near 75 years after the events in question. So is this dream fact or fiction? The movie portrays it as unquestioned fact, but I think we have reason to wonder if this might just be a popular myth.

And, at the film's conclusion there is  a passing, two or three second shot of a title page illustration from one of Luther's books depicting Christ on the cross, with Luther and John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony kneeling below. I make mention of it, for any who consider this a violation of the Second Commandment.

CONCLUSION

This is a great film for children who don't yet have the attention span for a longer Luther film. It is well done, and will keep most children engaged. But for children with the attention span for it, and teenagers and up, the better film to watch is the Oscar-nominated, 105-minute, 1953, Martin Luther, which I review here.

Americans can rent or buy the digital version of The Martin Luther Story here, and Canadians can buy it on DVD here. You can check out the trailer below.