Thursday, December 1, 2011

Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl

Documentary
51 minutes, 2011
Rating: 11/10

You are going to like this. I haven't met anyone yet who has seen this and hasn't been impacted by it.

Now at first look this might seem a pretty random collection of thoughts put to film with moments of poetry, philosophy, biography, musical artistry, and nature documentary.

But there is method to the seeming madness, and one clear overarching thought that unites all the chapters in this film - God is great!

That God is great is hardly a new thought, but getting excited about his greatness is a somewhat recent development. Martin Luther, for example, always knew God was great, but that was a fearsome thought for him in his early years. It was something that filled him with dread as he considered how great God was and what a wretched man he was. God’s greatness left Luther despairing of what he could do to ever earn a place before his Creator.

After the Reformation, when we relearned that faith was a gift, that our great, holy, awesome God, was also loving, merciful, and willing to humble Himself to become like us, to save us, well, his greatness is still fearsome, but now it is also something for us to explore – we can come near. He has invited us to enjoy Him forever.

In this film Nate Wilson teaches us to see again this greatness of God. Today we so often overlook the wonder around us - we think it unremarkable that we are sitting here, on a lump of spinning dirt, hurtling through space at an unimaginable rate of speed. Wilson, more in tune with the wonderous nature of our frentic journey round the Sun, will, on a semi-regular basis, fall to the ground and get a solid grip on the grass just to ensure he doesn't go hurtling off into space.

This film is about making us see the wonder that is really there, but which we have grown too cynical to see. Occasionally an "ordinary" miracles still impact us - parents, watching their child be born, will be awe-struck, even though this is an event much like has happened literally billions of times before in the history of Man. Our awe is rekindled. In Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl Wilson helps us understand - helps us feel again - the wonder of God's creative genius. God is great! And while trembling remains an appropriate response, wonder is certainly another.

What are others saying?

One reviewer compared this to Rob Bell’s Nooma videos as its "closest cousin in terms of genre" but noted that "there are more original insights in any given 90 seconds of Tilt-a-Whirl than in the entire Nooma series."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Darwin's deadly legacy

Documentary
60 minutes, 2006
Rating: 7 out of 10

Darwinism is the idea that conflict and death improve a species via natural selection – via survival of the fittest. Darwinism spawned Social Darwinism, the idea that we can advance the human species by using evolutionary principles. For example, instead of caring for the poor, sick, weak and disabled, Social Darwinists argued that we should let them fend for themselves so that only the strong – the “fittest” – survive.

In this excellent and engaging documentary the late Dr. James Kennedy explores Social Darwinism, and how Darwin’s theory laid the foundation for horrors such as Hitler’s Holocaust and the 1999 Columbine High School shooting.

Hitler, Kennedy notes, explained his genocidal aims in evolutionary terms: he thought the Aryan Germans were superior – were the fittest – so they should triumph over the inferior Jews. The Columbine killers also respected Darwin’s theory. One praised natural selection on his website for “getting rid of all the stupid and weak organisms.” The same boy chose to wear a “natural selection” t-shirt on the day of their shooting rampage. This is the moral legacy of evolutionary theory. If we are not made in the image of God, but are instead made in the image of animals, we shouldn’t be surprised when students of this theory treat people like animals.

One caution: there are few seconds of Holocaust footage, so viewer discretion is advised. It might also be worth noting that while James Kennedy believed in a literal six-day creation, the majority of those interviewed are actually Intelligent Design proponents. However, that has only a minimal impact on this presentation, as this is more about dismantling evolution - something both groups are highly critical of - than about the Christian understanding of our origins.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

FIREPROOF - Lousy start, strong finish

Drama
122 min; 2008
Rating: 6 out of 10

This is powerful, funny (did I mention powerful?) movie that gets off to a lousy start WORLDMAG.com film critic Warren Cole Smith was so overwrought by the first twenty minutes – the “bad acting…bad dialogue… and bad directing” – that he left.

Don’t read too much into that though; Smith knows a bit about drama, and isn’t above indulging in some. It’s true Fireproof won’t win any Oscars, but if Smith had stuck around just a bit longer he would have seen the acting, dialogue, and even the directing take a dramatic turn for the better.

Love dare

Fireproof is produced and directed by brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick, and, like their earlier film Facing the Giants, it has an overtly Christian message. The focus this time is on marriage, and specifically the disintegrating marriage of Caleb Holt (played by Kirk Cameron) and his wife Catherine (Erin Bethea). Holt is a well-respected firefighter who doesn’t understand the lack of respect he gets at home. Catherine is a publicist at the local hospital who sees little reason to respect a husband who spends time on the unsavory side of the Internet. So she turns to her friends and coworkers for sympathy, and starts spending extra time with a young doctor who is always available to talk. When the topic of divorce comes up it’s the first time in a long time that Catherine and Caleb can agree about something – they both want out.

Fortunately Caleb’s father isn’t as ready to give up – he challenges his son to try saving his marriage and gives Caleb a book called The Love Dare. The book is filled with forty tasks, one to be done each day for the next forty days.

The first few tasks seem simple, but present challenges to a husband who isn’t used to showing affection, and to a wife who isn’t used to receiving it. So when, on Day 2, Caleb has to do an “unexpected act of kindness” for his wife, the best he can think of is making her a cup of coffee… which she leaves behind on the counter.

Two weeks later the tasks become more difficult: Love Dare #16 asks Caleb to pray for his wife. Up until this moment Caleb has had no time for God, but as his father tells him, Caleb cannot truly love unless he know the God who is love, the God who expressed His love to us by dying for our sins.

Strengths and superficialities

It’s here that the movie’s theology comes to the fore, highlighting both strengths and superficialities. Like most Christian movies, Fireproof has a “conversion moment,” but the Kendricks take it much further. In other films the principal character’s conversion concludes the movie (and viewers are left with the impressions that life will proceed on in a happily-ever-after fashion) but in Fireproof Caleb’s conversion takes place about halfway through the film and drives the rest of the action. Here, as in real life, conversion is just the beginning of something – a life with God that while wonderful isn’t necessarily easy. However, it’s in this same scene that Fireproof reveals a rather man-centered theology: Caleb’s motivation for turning to God seems to be based more on seeking help for his marriage than seeking reconciliation with his Holy Creator. Caleb’s marriage occupies the top spot in his priorities, the spot that should belong to God.

Conclusion

The final word? This is a film any couple would enjoy and benefit from. Fireproof may start slow, but it ends strong and earns a solid three stars out of five for enjoyment. It should probably get the same rating for its theology – weak on the Christian basics, but its message on marriage is right on the mark: “never leave your partner behind.”

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Jihad According to the Quran and the Hadith

Documentary
35 min, 20??
Rating: 6 out of 10

This short documentary addresses the Muslim doctrine of abrogation, in which older peaceful Koranmic texts are viewed as cancelled out by the later, more militant and violent texts. It features Dr. Robert Morey (author of Islamic Invasion) and argues that we are not fighting a war against terrorism but rather are facing an inevitable conflict between a Jihad-driven Islam and the rest of the world.

It is an eye-opening presentation - the sort of film we all need to see - but it has one notable flaw. Viewers can watch it and leave with the mistaken impression that all Muslims believe in the doctrine of abrogation. While abrogation is an important element of militant Islam, it is not a universal doctrine.

Monday, August 1, 2011

God’s technology

Documentary/lecture
47 minutes, 2010
Rating: 7 out of 10

This DVD was recently shown to our Sunday night Bible-study group, and it received a very positive response. The speaker, Dr. David Murray is a former Free Church of Scotland pastor, and presently the professor of Old Testament at the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. That means he has a great lilting Scottish accent which is quite fun to hear.

His presentation tackles how Christians in general (but there is a lot of help for parents in particular) should respond to the “Digital Revolution.” With how fast advancements are being made, it’s hard to keep up. As Dr. Murray notes,

“The personal computer and Internet has changed the way we and our children study, play, socialize, shop, learn and even apply for jobs And this is not just about computer and laptops; this is about cell phones iPods, iPads… games consoles too.”

So how should Christians respond to the Digital Revolution? Dr. Murray presents 4 relevant biblical principles and follows up with a 7-step training program that is useful for all Christians, but will be of particular interest to parents – this is just the sort of instruction many of us have been asking for! The training program shows how Christians can evaluate and respond to almost any new technology, but Dr. Murray takes it one step further and gives a demonstration of this training in action – he concludes by applying these 7 steps to Facebook.

This is highly recommended for church libraries, and study groups, and might also be a resource schools would want to order, to circulate among their parents. It is in some ways simply a speech, but with a whole bunch of bells and whistles – Dr. Murray is onscreen about half the time, usually against a brilliant white background that has a space-age-ish feel to it, and the other half of the screen time is devoted to relevant pictures, or to illustrations of his talking points. So a speech, yes, but a highly polished, professionally produced speech. To take a look at the trailer, or download a free study guide go to www.headhearthand.org/films/gods-technology/.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Not One Less

Chinese Drama
106 min, 2000
Rating: 7 out of 10

13-year-old Wei Minzhi is left in charge of a one-classroom elementary school in rural China and is told she will be paid 50 yuan for one month of work. She will also get a 10 yuan bonus if there is “not one less” student – if she maintains the enrollment – when the month is done and the regular teacher returns.

So when one little boy heads off to the city to find work Wei is determined to bring the boy back so she can get her bonus. First though, she has to find enough money to buy a bus ticket to the city…and her students aren’t willing to contribute. Once there she will have another problem – how do you find one little boy in a city of millions?

This is a strangely compelling movie, showing some of the extremes of China, particularly the wealth of the major city contrasted with the poverty of the rural school. While the actors in this film are all amateurs – the mayor of the town is played by the mayor of a town, the students are played by students, the TV announcer played by a TV announcer, and so on – the acting is good, though in an understated sort of way. This is a gentle excellent little film, but it might be too slow for those not use to foreign fare.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Noah’s Ark: Thinking outside the box

Documentary
35 minutes, 2008
Rating: 9 out of 10

This is a fun and fast look at what Noah’s ark might really have looked like.

The picture most of us have in our heads comes from classic paintings, which show an ungainly, rotund, oversized rowboat that simply doesn’t look seaworthy. Or we see in our mind’s eye those cute cartoon depictions we remember from our children’s story bible that had an ark so small the giraffes had to stick their necks out the top. No wonder then, that so many people – Christians included – are skeptical about the Bible’s account of Noah, his ark and the Flood.

But as Tim Lovett shows in this documentary (and in his book of the same name) close examination of what the Bible actually says, gives us dimensions that have more in common with a modern ocean-going oil supertanker than the bathtub toy ark we played with as a kid. Lovett has studied ancient shipping building practices, and finds in them a hint as to how the bow and stern might have looked. He argues that ancient (post-Flood) boats probably copied these distinctive and stabilizing design features from the ark.

Crisp computer animation, large-scale models and a liberal dose of good-natured humor make this a DVD that parents and teens will enjoy. You can see the trailer at OutsideTheBox.notlong.com or below.

 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

DEMOGRAPHIC WINTER

The decline of the human family
Documentary
56 min, 2008
Rating: 7 out of 10

This is not a Christian film; it’s just a film that argues everything Christians have been saying about the importance of the family, about the damage done by divorce, about what a blessing children are, about the threat of “gay marriage,” and about the harm caused by premarital sex, is exactly right. Christians had it right on every count.

Demographic Winter warns about a coming collapse in world population caused by a birth rate that is well below replacement levels in most developed countries. Unless things change dramatically, in 40 years the population of Russia will be halved. In Europe things are little better. Couples need to have at least two children to keep the population level steady, but are instead having an average of just 1.3.

Who’s to blame? Expert after secular expert lays the blame at the feet of those attacking the family and encouraging divorce, abortion, “gay marriage,” contraception and cohabitation. We’re heading towards a crisis, they say, and the proper response is to strengthen the family, not plot its demise.

The findings of all the leading social scientists are so closely in accord with what the Bible says that one, a Phillip Longman, felt he had to make his motivations clear. In the film’s final scene Longman explains,

“I’m not churched – I work for a progressive secular think tank… I have one child, adopted. So this is not a faith-based analysis. This is an analysis that, um… may eventually bring me to faith, but it’s not driven by faith. It just turns out this is where the facts take you when you look at population.”

This is not a Christian film; it is a film that will fascinate Christians.

They've since done a follow up, called Demographic Bomb, which is also well worth watching. To order either, or to check out their trailers, go to demographicbomb.com.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Turning the Tide

Dignity, Compassion And Euthanasia
Documentary
29 min, 2007
Rating: 7/10

In the 2008 Canadian federal election both the NDP and Liberals favored physician-assisted suicide. And in 2008 Washington State followed the lead of Oregon, to become the second state to allow physician-assisted suicide. We’re fighting a culture of death, and euthanasia is the newest battleground.

Turning the Tide is intended to be a tool in this fight, and it is a good one. The strength of this documentary is the expertise assembled on camera: pro-life advocate Wesley Smith; Bobby Schindler, the brother of Terri Schiavo; Senator Sharon Carstairs, who headed a Senate committee on euthanasia; Alex Schadenberg, the head of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition; and from our own Canadian Reformed circles, Adrian Dieleman. They make it clear what a slippery slope we are on, and outline a series of solid, compelling arguments against assisted suicide.

But the film has a glaring weakness. Turning the Tide hardly even mentions the spiritual dimension, shuffling it off to a small five minute segment in the bonus features section of the DVD. This is clearly meant to be a secular presentation, but because they hardly dare mention God’s name, the film ultimately isn’t able to explain why the life of every person – disabled, elderly, depressed, or otherwise – is precious. We are, all of us, made in God’s image.

Still, it is an eye-opening documentary, and for its short length, an extensive look at this deadly quest – it covers a lot of ground. I’d suggest it should be mandatory viewing in our Christian schools. The DVD comes with a discussion guide and you can view the trailer below.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Darwin: The Voyage that Shook the World

Documentary
55 minutes, 2009
Rating: 8/10

This must be the most expensive documentary ever made by creationists and it is certainly the best looking. Creation Ministries International (www.Creation.com) spent more than $1 million staging and filming key events in Darwin’s life, including his time on the HMS Beagle and his visit to the Galapagos Islands. The production values are simply astonishing: solid acting, slick computer graphics, gorgeous close-up shots of the Galapagos wildlife - and a narrator with the perfect classical British accent.

The producers wanted to make this as good as anything you might see on the Discovery Channel, or on a PBS or CBC documentary because they aimed to get it shown on public TV around the world. However, that aim also impacted how they presented the content. If they wanted to get it shown on a channel like CBC they certainly couldn’t make it explicitly Christian(!) so rather than being a defense of Biblical Creation, the documentary limits itself to critiquing Darwinian Evolution.

The end result, then, is a persuasive, gorgeous, tactful, hour-long takedown of Darwin – the lie is exposed. The downside is that there isn’t much here pointing people to the Truth. Some have criticized this as a job only half done. That might be, but the half that it does do, it does brilliantly. You can see a trailer for the film at www.creation.com