Monday, December 1, 2014

Wait Till It’s Free

Documentary
2014 / 82 minutes
Rating: 9/10

Why would Canadians be interested in watching a Scotsman take a look at the American healthcare system? Because this examination, of how capitalism and socialism impact healthcare costs, is very relevant for us too.

The film’s director and producer, Colin Gunn, is Presbyterian and consequently a capitalist. We Reformed folks know that the heart of man is wicked, so we are well aware that if an economic system needs men to be angels – as socialism does, requiring us to labor for no personal benefit – then that is a unworkable economic system. We know better than to be socialists.

But for some reason we don’t seem to think that holds true for healthcare. This comes out most strongly when Canadians, even the Reformed ones, start talking about healthcare with their American cousins. Then we seem to be quite proud of the socialistic nature of our healthcare system, which “costs us nothing, and is free for everyone.” But, of course, that isn’t really so. It certainly isn’t free – the costs are simply not seen, paid out in taxes, so that Canadians have very little idea of how much their healthcare really does cost. And that everyone is covered doesn’t distinguish it all that much from American healthcare, where everyone can get emergency care, and where more and more of the population is covered by the government-run Medicare. As Gunn points out, the American system is almost as socialistic as the Canadian.

Gunn’s main argument is that a good dose of capitalism would be good for what ails the American system. His most telling observation was that in the American system no one knows what the costs will be beforehand. There is no public pricing chart, and so no way of comparing what one hospital might charge versus another. And without an awareness of how much things might costs, there is no genuine competition. You can’t have capitalism without competition. So if we want to reform healthcare, this might be the first place we need to start: public pricing!

I'd highly recommend this documentary – it is a brilliant argument by a Christian filmmaker who has perfected his craft. The content is superb: Gunn has assembled an impressive cast of experts from around the world to make his case. And the presentation is even better: there are fun little animated bits, and great narration, and a wonderful story arc – this is packaged up nicely, and tied up at the end with a bow.

Who should see this? Anyone who thinks socialism is the answer to our healthcare needs. You can buy a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here. 



Wait Till It's Free (Trailer) from Wait Till It's Free on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels

Documentary
Rating: 10/10


I’ve watched this at least 5 times now, and many sections many more times than that. This is the best, most succinct, most content-dense, anti-evolution presentation I’ve ever seen.

That said, my first go-through didn’t leave me all that impressed. I was watching it while doing some paperwork, not giving it my full attention, and what I saw just seemed to be a bunch of interviews, lots of talking heads. It didn’t seem all that interesting.

But when I gave it another go and actually paid attention…. Whoah!

What the folks at Creation Ministries International have done here is, in one hour and a half presentation, boiled down all their very best arguments into the shortest possible form. That’s why I’ve watched it so many times already – I had to keep stopping, rewinding, and then listening to sections again, because so much of what these interviewees say in just a sentence or two is something that others have written articles and even whole books on.

For example, here’s a line from Dr. Donald Batten: “The survival of the fittest does not explain the arrival of the fittest.”

At first listen, this struck me as a great turn of a phrase, and it certainly is. But let’s hit the pause button and just think about all that’s being said here in just this one line. Survival of the fittest (AKA natural selection) is supposed to explain how species adapt and change: those with advantageous mutations will prosper, while those without will eventually die off. But survival of the fittest is a selective process – it picks the best out of the group. How then, does it work before there is a group to pick the best and brightest from? Natural selection is a key mechanism for evolution, but it doesn’t offer any explanation for how animals come to be in the first place! This one, short, ever so quotable line, points out a gigantic problem with evolutionary theory!

In addition to Dr. Batten,  the documentary features 14 other PhD scientists, and together they highlight, as the title puts it, Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels. They cover a wide range of problems, grouped under categories like the Fossil Record, Genetics, Natural Selection, Cosmology and Radiometric Dating. I really can’t say enough nice things about it: from beginning to end this is brilliant, and as good an introduction to the problems with Evolutionary theory as you will ever find. The Dove foundation said, “If we could award Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels more than five Doves, our best rating, we would!” and I echo the sentiment. You can buy it Amazon.com by clicking here.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ace Wonder

Family
92 min, 2014
Rating: 6/10

Gator Moore is an imaginative ten-year-old and an aspiring graphic novelist. Ace Wonder is his creation, a boy detective who can solve any mystery... but first his creator has to come up with a good one. That's why the always enthusiastic Gator becomes even more excited when he meets Derek Morton, an older teen boy whose recently deceased grandfather has left him a mysterious note. Boy seeking mystery meets boy with mystery!

With a little help from Gator's two brothers the boys discover that Derek's grandfather was a much more complex man than his grandson realized. His mysterious note leads them to a whole trail of clues, and a very strange librarian, and evidence of international espionage!

Ace Wonder was created by a community of Christian homeschooling families, and this is actually their second go at this story. In the seven years since their first effort, 2007's Heartstrings, the cast and crew has improved their acting and improved the film's pacing - though the new version is 50% longer, it actually seems shorter. The acting in some Christian films is quite bad, but because this is largely a comedy, rather than a drama, not too much is demanded of the cast – their adequate if unimpressive acting gets the job done, and Gator is really quite charming. One of the big upgrades from the 2007 version are inventive, short transitional scenes done in the style of a graphic novel. In these bits we see Gator in his Ace Wonder persona, sharing thoughts about the case: funny dialogue is combined with some pretty slick graphics.

Cautions

There are no sex, language, or worldview concerns, but there is one notable bit of violence. When a large man steals Gator's voice recorder, Derek intervenes, but the teen takes the ill-advised approach of attacking the large thief. Derek largely escapes injury (just a bloody lip) but only because Gator's dad arrives on the scene. In a half dozen blows dad knocks the man out. This fight, intended to be somewhat comical, is too realistic for what is otherwise a family-friendly film and is likely why Ace Wonder garnered a PG rating.

Conclusion

While the mystery is sometimes a bit hard to follow, the star of the film, Gator Moore, is charming enough and funny enough, to make that a small concern. The message at the heart of Ace Wonder is one that parents will appreciate – that we must give our hearts to our children, and also grab hold of their hearts. The short, violent fight at the beginning means this isn't an all-ages film, but it would likely be appropriate for 12 and up, and maybe 10 and up. I give this a 6 out of 10, for a family film that is quite good, quite safe, and quite funny, but which isn't "very" in any of those categories.

You can click here to buy it on DVD or, to rent it and watch it online now, click here.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Ultimate LIfe

Drama
2013 / 110 minutes
Rating: 6/10

In this sequel to 2006's The Ultimate Gift, Jason Stevens is now in charge of his late grandfather's $2 billion charitable trust, but  But as noble as his line of work might be - distributing charitable dollars - it seems Jason is letting his work get in the way of love. He wants to ask Alexia to marry him, but he's too ready to let work intrude on even his elaborate proposal plans.

So off goes Alexia, to do medical relief work in Haiti. Jason, almost as confused and bewildered as he was in the first film, turns to his grandfather's journal for direction. From then on the film is about the hard lessons learned by his grandfather, Red Stevens, over the space of 3 decades, as he gives up nearly everything - including his family - in his obsession to become a billionaire.

Cautions

Though this is sold in Christian bookstores, there is next to no Christian content. The god of this film is family; that's what is trumpeted at the "ultimate life" as Jason and Red both learn that their family is more important than money. So, on the one hand, that's a lot better than films that propose sex, or money, or power, or fame as the ultimate – the god to be pursued – but it still falls far short of what a Christian movie should offer.

Conclusion

The film will have appeal for anyone who has seen the first and wants to meet up with Red and Jason again. However, it doesn't have quite the same charm, and though the cast is talented (including a brief appearance by Peter Fonda!) the storyline isn't all that compelling. My wife and I both enjoyed it well enough but this isn't one we will ever re-watch.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Mount St. Helens: Modern Day Evidence for the World Wide Flood

Documentary
2012 / 36 minutes
Rating: 7/10

Thirty-four years ago Washington State’s Mount St. Helens blew its top. The eruption on the morning of May 18, 1980, knocked 1,300 feet off the top of the mountain, sending a massive landslide down its slope, clearing out a forest of trees, and washing out the lake at its base. For nine straight hours it put out the energy equivalent of about one Hiroshima-type atomic bomb every second.

The sheer power of this eruption makes it interesting, but this event is of particular interest to creation scientists like Dr. Steve Austin. The eruption scoured the area clean, but also lay down layers and layers of rock strata from the volcanic ash. The eruption also caused the creation of deep, new, instantaneous canyons, that – if we didn’t know better – looked to be many thousands of years old.
In other words, the Mount St. Helens eruptions showed that catastrophic events can rapidly create huge geological features. Dr. Austin shows how this has implications for the Flood, showing how it too could have rapidly laid down many layers of rock strata, and carved out even huge features, like the Grand Canyon. Just because its massive does not mean it took long to form!

I gave this a 7/10 rating, because it is well done, but I do want to note that if you aren't already interested in this subject matter, this isn't the sort of documentary that will just grab you. There is clearly a professional behind the camera, but overall the visuals are pretty tame (no computer graphics and no visualization of the actual eruption). So this is one you get for the fascinating information.

The DVD can be ordered at AnswersInGenesis.org and Creation.com or at FloodGeologySeries.com.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Foreign Correspondent

Drama
120 min / 1940
Rating: 7/10

In 1939 rumors of war were constant but real news, the real facts, were hard to uncover. When American journalist Johnny Jones is sent to report on Europe’s increasingly desperate peace efforts he discovers instead a spy ring using peace conferences as a cover for their activities. This is Alfred Hitchcock’s take on the months before World War II, with much of the action taking place in the Netherlands, including in and around windmills.

There are no real cautions to offer: The film has no nudity, one kiss, and while an assassination is shown, it is over in less than a second. It does have some "love at first sight" nonsense, but even this is pulls off with charm:
Johnny Jones: I'm in love with you, and I want to marry you.
Carol Fisher: I'm in love with you, and I want to marry you.
Johnny Jones: Hmm... that cuts down our love scene quite a bit, doesn't it?
Nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, this is a good yarn that I would recommend it to any classic film lover. But you've not seen a black and white film before, the pacing on this one might be too slow for you.

You can buy it on Blu-ray here and DVD here.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Song of Survival

Documentary
1985 (2004) / 58 min
Rating: 7/10

By early 1942 the Dutch East Indies were under Japanese control and all Westerners were being interned in camps. It would be three-and-a-half years before they were freed.

Song of Survival chronicles how after being held captive for 18 months a group of women in one camp – Dutch, Australian and British – came up with the morale-boosting idea of performing the works of Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin. The problem was, they had no instruments...so all parts were performed vocally! The choir's principle organizer, Margaret Dryburgh, had an extraordinary memory for music and, as we hear in the documentary,
she had no sheet music, no instruments, but she was able to recall the melodies and harmonies of over two dozen orchestral and piano themes and arrange them for 4-part women's voice.
The founding of this vocal orchestra serves as the framework for the much larger story of what it was like in these Indonesian internment camps. Of the almost 100,000 non-Asians who were interned many died of malnourishment, and untreated diseases. The Japanese captors were often brutal, and generally uncaring.

So who would want to see this? Anyone with an interest in history, World War II (and particularly the Dutch perspective), music, or simply stories of courage, will appreciate this story. You can purchase it online at Amazon.com .

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Corrie Ten Boom Story

Animated / Biography / Drama
2013 / 34 minutes
Rating: 7/10

What's an appropriate age to expose our children to the truth about Nazis, concentration camps and dead numbered in the millions? Those are horrible truths, but ones that can't be avoided if we are to have the next generation remember the self-sacrificial love, the bravery, and faithfulness of the many millions who rose up to fight this evil.

The Corrie Ten Boom Story might be a good way to begin. The film's producers suggest that it is appropriate for children as young as 8, but I read one review from a mother who watched it with her three and half year old (she pointed out to her little boy that the Ten Booms were Christ-imitators, offering up their lives to save the Jews). I don't know if I would go quite that young – I haven't shown this to my four-year-old yet – but the filmmakers have done a remarkable job of presenting a muted, yet still accurate account of the horrors of World War II.

The Ten Boom family ran a watchmaking business in the Netherlands, and when the Germans invaded and started rounding up Jews, the Ten Booms began hiding Jews. It was a courageous yet simple decision for them – they knew this was what God wanted them to do. They helped many, but were eventually betrayed and sent to concentration camps. Here the same love for God that had them hiding Jews helped Corrie endure the loss of her father and sister – she trusted that God knew what was best. 

After the war she travelled extensively telling the story of God's faithfulness in all her trials. At one speech she met a former captor, a man who had viciously beat her. He was asking Corrie to forgive him. What would have been too much to ask of anyone, Corrie was able to do with God's enabling strength – she gave the man the forgiveness he was seeking.

Cautions

The only caution I can add (other than to be cautious about age-appropriateness) is that other episodes of this series often feature animations of Jesus, which may violate the Second Commandment, and one of these depictions is shown in a promotional clip that automatically plays just after the film ends 

Conclusion

Corrie Ten Boom will be a familiar name to many. Her biography, The Hiding Place, is quite famous, as is a 1975 film by the same name, and I believe there is also a play that many Christian schools have performed.

What sets this animated account apart is that it makes her story understandable and accessible to a much younger age group. I would highly recommend it for any school-age children, but it must be watched with adult supervision, so mom or dad can talk with any child who gets confused or worried.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Silver Fleet

Drama
1943 / 88 minutes
Black and White
RATING: 7/10

This is well-done, almost unknown World War II film told from the Dutch perspective.

As the occupation begins the Nazis ask Dutchman Jaap van Leyden whether he would like to continue on in his job as shipyard manager. They want him to complete work on two half-built submarines that were originally intended for the Dutch navy. When he decides to accept the position both his workers and his wife question his patriotism – why was he willing to be a collaborator? But while van Leyden may not have the courage to stand up to the Nazis, someone else does. The workmen have started receiving anonymous messages outlining a daring sabotage plan. The notes are all signed "Piet Hein," a historical Dutch hero from the 17th century, and stirred by the memory of Hein's great deeds done long ago, and their own strong love of country, the workmen are happy to help this mysterious figure.

Cautions

Silver Fleet doesn't fully explore why these men were willing to risk their lives. Their love of country is the expressed motivation, but for Christian viewers, who know that our country can do nothing for us after death, patriotism should strike us as a wholly insufficient reason to risk one's life.

But while God is not mentioned in the film, we know that it was their love of God that prompted our Dutch grandparents and great grandparents to take the risks that they did. So, with that in mind, Silver Fleet can be enjoyed as a secular tribute to the bravery of Dutch men who, whether the directors cared to acknowledge it or not, were willing to risk their lives for love of God and country... in that order.

Conclusion

The Nazis are at times more buffoonish than threatening, but overall the acting is quite good. The Silver Fleet is a solid World War film that I would recommend to any 1940s film enthusiast, as well as anyone who wants to learn more about the War from the Dutch perspective.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Free Film: The War on Humans

Documentary
31 minutes, 2014
Rating: 7/10

War highlights how the increasing denial of "human exceptionalism" - the understanding that mankind is special - is leading us down a weird and wacky path where we treat animals and plants better than people.

The one weakness of this documentary is that it never really explains why we should think humans are "exceptional" - it merely repeats that assertion using a number of synonyms such as us being "unique," and having "inherent human dignity." This is put out by the Discovery Institute, which is an Intelligent Design (ID) think tank. ID folks agree that we are designed, but they have agreed to disagree about just who that Designer might have been. That's why, in this documentary, they can't ground our unique worth in the fact that we are made in God's image, since they aren't willing to actually acknowledge God by name, giving Him the credit He is due.

So the documentary effectively points out the flaws and foibles that result when you deny human "exceptionalism" but can't firmly explain why we are indeed special.