Thursday, March 8, 2018

Genesis: Paradise lost (part 1)

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.


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!


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!


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.


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.


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

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.


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.


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.


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


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


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Newtons' Workshop

Children's TV series
1997 / 226 minutes
Rating: 7/10

That stars of this children's "edutainment" show are most certainly Grandma and Grandpa Newton, who have more spare time and are quirkier than any grandparents you know. Over the course of this 8-episode series, this set of seniors is ready to help any time their grandkids have a question or a problem. 

What kind of help?

Well, in Episode 1, when granddaughter Trisha and her friend Megan decide to do a science project on "world building" Grandpa Newton just happens to have a workshop full of mechanical models that show how wondrously God has designed this planet

And in Episode 4, when an astronaut's visit has Trisha curious about space, Grandpa helps puts the solar system in perspective. He creates a scale model in which the Sun is the size of a beachball, and Earth is almost a soccer field away.

It's fast-paced, funny, and has my daughters' attention even after repeated viewings. 

What I like is that they teach science from a conservative Christian perspective, which isn't surprising considering these are produced by the generally Calvinist, Moody Bible Institute. And, while I'm not up for quite as many viewings as my kids, these are entertaining enough that I don't mind seeing the repeats now and again.


That said, I did have a caution to share. In Episode 8, "The Pollution Solution," Grandma and Grandpa tackle the problem of pollution, and while most of this episode is sensible and helpful, there is a dash of confusion and a spoonful of tokenism mixed in. 

It begins with Dad calling a family meeting about the way everyone is wasting water. But he misrepresents the problem: he make it seem like long showers can contribute to drought, but shower water heads down pipes that will eventually return it right back to the lake or river it came from. Waste is happening here, but it isn't contributing to any drought. What's going down the drain, never to be seen again, is mom and dad's money, paying for water that isn't needed. 

The tokenism comes in when Tim and Trisha end up having a trash contest to see who can generate the least amount of trash over a week. What isn't addressed is that recycling costs money - it takes resources too - so some recycling isn't always the responsible choice

We see a similar sort of tokenism when the Newtons briefly address global warming. This episode was made 20 years ago so, compared to anything today, the doom and gloom is a lot less pronounced. But we do get fed today's typical non-solutions: Tim and Trisha suggest global warming can be addressed by "walking on short errands, or riding your bike, or carpooling to work." Sounds good, and you'll hear suggestions like that made today too. But it misrepresents the radical nature of the changes global warming proponents are really after. It isn't a matter of more bikes, but fewer children. Now, if the show's producers had heard that sort of argument 20 years ago I think they might have seen through it. They'd know from the Bible that children are a blessing to be embraced, so when the world says the opposite – that they are a curse to be avoided – that gives Christians reason to be skeptical. 

That said, Grandpa Newton has some good things to say in this episode too, and I think it can be watched to some benefit so long as mom and dad are there to talk their kids through it. But if you aren't buying this as a package set, then DVD #4 might be worth giving a miss.


So who would like this best? While the producers recommend this for 7-12, I'd lower that on both sides by about 2 years. This is best suited for 5-10, although Mom or Dad can enjoy it too.

Overall this is just a fun, clean, biblically-based, science lesson wrapped up as family TV series. It entertained our family and educated them too - not a bad combination!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Revolutionary: Michael Behe and the Mystery of Molecular Machines

60 minutes / 2016
RATING; 7/10

Revolutionary is a fantastic documentary about what a quiet professor did to get Darwinian evolutionists very, very upset with him.

Michael Behe is not a creationist – he seems to believe in an old earth and that some sort of evolution may well have occurred.

So why would Darwinians be so very disturbed by him? Because Behe doesn't believe the world came about by chance. While studying the human cell he realized the microscopic machines within it are so intricate and complex it's inconceivable they could have come about via only random mutation and natural selection.

The cell's outboard motor and "irreducible complexity"

While Behe is the subject of this documentary, the real "star" of the show is one of those "micro-machines" that so fascinated him: the bacterial flagellum motor. As the documentary's narration explains:
"Perhaps the most amazing propulsion system on our entire planet is one that exists in bacteria. It is called the flagellum, a miniature propellor driven by a motor with many distinct mechanical parts, each made of proteins. The flagellum's motor resembles a human-designed rotary engine. It has a universal joint, bushings, a stator, and a rotor. It has a drive shaft and even its own clutch and braking system. In some bacteria the flagellum motor has been clocked at a 100,000 revolutions per minute. The motor is bi-directional and can shift from forward to reverse almost instantaneously. Some scientists suggest it operates at near-100% energy efficiency. All of this is done on a microscopic scale that is hard to imagine. The diameter of the flagellum motor is no more than 5 millionths of a centimeter."
In his book, Darwin's Black Box, Behe argued that Darwinian evolution could not account for micro-machines like this because Darwin required all complex living things to have evolved through a step-by-step process from simpler lifeforms. Behe couldn't see how these micro-machines could have developed in stages. They were, as he put it, "irreducibly complex" – take one piece out, and they don't simply function less efficiently, but instead seize functioning at all.

The flagellum motor is astonishing, and yet it's only one of many "molecular machines" scientists have discovered in the last several decades, all of them operating with a single cell. Some of the others include: "energy-producing turbines, information-copying machines, and even robotic walking motors."

(The title of Behe's book, Darwin's Black Box, is a reference to how, when Darwin presented his theory,  he didn't know how incredibly complex the inner workings of the cell were – they were only a "black box" to him. Would Darwin have ever suggested his theory if he'd had an inkling of how complex even the simplest life really is?)

The documentary shows that since Behe first poised the problem of "irreducible complexity" many have tried to address it, but with no real success.


The ID movement is sometimes caricatured as being creationism in disguise. But it is made up of a very diverse group of scientists. There are Christians, cultists and atheists too, and while it seems most believe in an ancient earth, there are also 6-day creationists. What unites the ID movement is the shared belief that the evidence shows there must have been intelligence – an Intelligent Designer – behind the formation of the universe.

But because they are trying to avoid being labelled as a religious movement they won't name the "Intelligent Designer." This is the ID movement's greatest flaw: in this refusal they are not giving God the glory that is His due!

Since the "good guys" in this film hold to a wide variety of views on the age of the Earth, Who made it, and to what extent He made use of evolution, this is not a film for the undiscerning.


That said, this is an important and well-made documentary. Revolutionary shows how Behe became one of the fathers of the Intelligent Design (ID), and in documenting his history, they also provide a overview of ID movement itself. That's the best reason to see this film – to get a good introduction to a movement that questions unguided, Darwinian evolution, on scientific grounds. In just one hour it traces the impact Behe has had on the Darwinian debate since his pivotal book, Darwin's Black Box, was published two decades ago. There's a lot packed in here, and it is well worth repeated viewings.

While Revolutionary is important and has some wonderful computer animations of the inner workings of the cell, it is not for everyone. Since the central figure is a mild-mannered sort, it just isn't going to grab the attention of children or other casual viewers.

However, for anyone interested in the sciences and the origins debate, it is a must-see!

And – bonus! – it is now available to be viewed online for free (see below) and if you want to explore further, their website – – has a wealth of information.