Friday, December 15, 2017

The Boxcar Children

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

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

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

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

CAUTIONS

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Sherlock Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CAUTIONS

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

CONCLUSION

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

Monday, October 9, 2017

Torchlighters: the Martin Luther Story

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

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

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

CAUTIONS

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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.

CAUTIONS

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.

CONCLUSION

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

Documentary
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.

Cautions

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.

Conclusion

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 – http://revolutionarybehe.com – has a wealth of information.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Gruffalo

Animated / Family
27 min / 2009
RATING: 8/10

How can a mouse meet up with a hungry fox, snake, and owl, and live to tell the tale? It helps that he has a monstrously big friend who is just about to meet him. And a fox, or a snake, or an owl, wouldn't dare eat a small mouse who has such a big friend!

But...what if they found out what the mouse knows: "There's no such things as a Gruffalo"?

Or is there?

This short film, based on the book of the same name, is a clever tale about a mouse who thinks his way out of trouble. It is beautifully rendered, visually and musically, with the only concern being that everyone wants to turn this little mouse into a little morsel. So in our household the pause button had to be used a few times to calm some anxious viewers. For those under eight, especially if they don't watch much TV, there is a little bit of tension here. In fact, kids under three might find it just too scary.

But it does all work out in the end, and reassuring any little ones of that might help them make it through.

So, two thumbs up for this short, fun, and clever story. Who could ask for more?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Keep and Bear: the movie

Documentary
2017 / 77 minutes
RATING: 7/10

Gun documentaries are typically of the "get the guns off the street!" variety or, the "let law-abiding citizens defend themselves!" sort.

This one is a little different.

The intent of this film isn't to sway folks on one side or the other. Instead the director, Darren Doane, is reaching out to people like him, who already believe law-abiding citizens should have the right to bear arms...but who don't own a gun themselves.

"I want to own a gun, I'm pro-gun, but I'm scared of guns....With this film was I wasn't going to be tracking down FBI statistics, I wasn't going to be looking at charts. I'm already for guns – I'm just scared to death of guns. I wasn't trying to convince myself guns were good or guns were bad. I just wanted to figure out what would it take for me to actually bring a gun into my house."

That, right there, is the moral of this movie - if you think gun ownership is important, if you think guns in the hands of private citizens is a good thing, if you believe guns are an important protection tool....then you should go get one too.

Doane takes us along as he and his wife try out different guns and discuss the merits of this one over that. We hear from different gun owners explain why they decided to carry a gun. We visit a gun manufacturer and see how one of the more controversial guns in America is made. And we get to peek in on a gun safety course, where the instructor goes over the legalities and ethics of gun usage.

It's here in this classroom setting that a few conversions might be made. If you're watching this with a friend who is a little, but not a lot, anti-gun, then this instructor has a story that might nudge them over just a bit. He shows a picture of the front and back torso of a 6'4", 240 pound, 8th degree black belt police officer, who got cut up by a 5'2" 58-year-old, 120 pound man. The assailant had a box cutter and a 3-inch lock blade knife, and in just 15 seconds slit up the officer all over, through his bullet proof vest. This isn't as gory as it sounds - the pictures the instructor showed aren't shown very clearly in the film - but the story itself is impacting. It doesn't take much imagination to figure out how much worse it would have been if the sizes had been reversed - what is a small guy, or woman, going to do if a big guy attacks with a knife?

Guns still scare me, but this film did a lot to convince me that (when time allows) I should really learn how to use them responsibly. Yes, they can be lethal, but most every day I use a tool that can cause just as much damage - my car - but because I've been trained, and because I use it with caution, I'm not worried about having that in my house. A gun is a tool too, and one I do want my girls to know how to use. So if I'm going to teach them, I better learn some time soon myself.

Darren Doane is a documentarian best known for his films Collision, about a series of debates between Reformed pastor Douglas Wilson and atheist provocateur Christopher Hitches, and The Free Speech Apocalypse, about Pastor Wilson's visit to Indiana University to do a talk about God's view on sexuality. These are both awesome documentaries, and if you are familiar with those, and expecting this to be like them, you might be a bit disappointed. This is a more modest effort, and, strange to say since we're talking about guns, not nearly as controversial. So take this for what it is – a solid film about guns.

The only criticism I'd have for it is that it would have benefited from being 5 minutes or more shorter - he repeated some of his points a time or two too many. That aside, this would be a very fun one to watch with a large group of friends. It'll get some interesting conversations going!

You can watch the trailer below, rent the film for $15 here, and buy the DVD for $19 here



Keep and Bear EXCLUSIVE TRAILER from Darren Doane on Vimeo.