Thursday, October 14, 2021

Odd Squad: The Movie

Children's / Family
65 minutes / 2016
Rating: 7/10

Odd Squad is an organization founded to correct the strange, the weird, and most especially the odd, wherever they might occur around the world. The organization itself is odd in that it is run entirely by children and even babies.

There's an educational aspect, with basic math and logic used to solve most problems. There's also a James Bond vibe, with agents, cartoonish villains, gadgets galore, the science types who invent them, and there's a leader known only by her letter, "Miss O." But, of course, this being a children's show there isn't any of Bond's violence and sex.

Odd Squad, the TV show, has been in production for 8 years, which has resulted in child actors aging out of their roles. So since 2014, there have been three "seasons," each with its own set of agents. Odd Squad: The Movie involves the first and second sets teaming up for the first time (which was very exciting for our girls).

So who do they have to battle? Well, it turns out, nobody. A new rival adult-based agency, the Weird Team, is dealing with all things weird and odd so quickly that Odd Squad doesn't have any cases to solve. So the film begins with Odd Squad disbanding. How's that for an unexpected twist!

However, Weird Team may not be quite as effective as they first seemed. Their fixes are coming unfixed... or maybe they were never really fixed in the first place! Whatever the case may be, it's clear the world still needs Odd Squad.

Cautions

There aren't any notable cautions for the film, so the only quibbles would be about the TV show that spawned it. In the 20 or so episodes we've watched so far (out of more than 100) one dealt with the number 13 and bad luck. The story was actually about addition – they were finding all sorts of ways that basketball players' uniforms could add up to 13 –and the bad luck was of a goofy sort, but we still hit the pause button so we could discuss the idea of luck with our kids. In a couple of other episodes, there was mention made about the organization being around for millions of years, which presumes the evolutionary time scale. But, so far, that's really it.

Conclusion

The film is goofy and creative, and especially fun because it had the two teams working together. While the target audience is in the 6-10 age range, it'll be a great one for a family movie night.

To get a feel for Odd Squad, here's an excerpt from the movie, with two agents dancing their way through a field of deadly lasers to some good old ragtime music (or you can watch this full episode from the show).

Thursday, October 7, 2021

On Earth as it is in Heaven

Documentary
2020 / 112 minutes
Rating: 8/10

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

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

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

In brief what the three camps believe is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. It's a historic understanding

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

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

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

2. It's an optimistic outlook

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caution

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 1, 2021

Pride and Prejudice (2003)

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

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

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

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

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

Caution

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Thursday, September 16, 2021

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

Documentary 
2021 / 52 minutes
Rating: 7/10

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

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

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

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

Cautions

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Freedom

Drama
2014 / 94 minutes
Rating: 7/10

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

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

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

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

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

Cautions

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

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

Conclusion

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

Thursday, September 2, 2021

The Jackie Robinson Story

Drama,
1950 / 77 minutes
Rating 7/10

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

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

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

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

Cautions

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Meet John Doe

Drama
1941 / 122 min
Rating: 7/10

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

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

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

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

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

Caution

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Friday, August 6, 2021

God of Wonders

Documentary 
85 min / 2008
Rating: 7/10

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

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

Cautions

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

Conclusions

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

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

Check out the trailer below.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Time Changer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cautions

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

Conclusion

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

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

Monday, August 2, 2021

And then there were none

Drama
1945 / 97 minutes 
Rating: 7/10

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

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

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

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

Cautions

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

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

Conclusion

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

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