Thursday, April 2, 2020

20,000 leagues under the sea

Family / Classic
127 minutes / 1954
RATING 7/10

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is a childhood favorite I've been looking forward to sharing with my own kids. However, it's been so long since I'd watched it, I wasn't sure it would live up to expectations. I am happy to say it did!

The year is 1868, and it is a time of both sail and steam on the high seas. When rumors of a gigantic sea creature stop ships from venturing out onto the Pacific, the US government asks if oceans expert, Professor Pierre M. Aronnax, and his assistant Conseil, will join a Navy expedition. The goal is to either disprove the creature's existence or, if they find it is real, kill it. To that end, harpooner Ned Land (Kirk Douglas) is also invited along for the expedition.

But Ned's harpoons are no use against the creature's hide because this is not something made of flesh and bone but of iron and steel! What's been destroying the ships turns out to be a submarine. When the sub destroys the Navy's ship, only these three - the professor, Conseil, and Ned – survive. They end up being taken on board.

So who created this sub, and why is it being used to destroy ships all over the Pacific Ocean? I won't give it away but as you might imagine, the Captain turns out to be more than a little disturbed.

Cautions

While there are some fantastic action scenes in the film – including a prolonged fight with a giant squid – even my timid 6-year-old managed to make it through them. So the only caution I'll share is in regard's to the good guys' morality – the three shipwreck survivors don't agree on much, and for any kid used to films where the good guys wear white, and where right and wrong are very easy to distinguish, this will be something quite different. Mom and dad should hit the pause button now and again to discuss how everyone is acting, and how that lines up with how God might want them to act.

Conclusion

Our whole family enjoyed this. It has action, but also some calm and wonderful scenes underwater where we get a peek at what it would be like to live always under the seas. I'd recommend it for ages 5 to 95, but I'll add that this being an older film, the pacing is a little more patient than modern fare. And that might take some getting used to

Still, it a classic for a reason – this definitely stands the test of time!

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

FREE FILM: The Amazing Adventure


Drama / Black and White
62 minutes / 1936
RATING: 7/10

Ernest Bliss (Cary Grant) is a young man who has inherited a lot of money from his father. That's allowed him to have a very nice house, to buy whatever he wants, and to never worry about working.

Yet he's nervous, can't eat, and can't sleep. When he goes to the specialist and the doctor diagnoses him with "self-indulgence" Bliss is both offended and intrigued. What's the prescription then? The doctor tells Bliss to earn his own living for a year and dismisses him with a wave, knowing that this pampered socialite would never follow this advice. But Bliss ends up making him a bet: if Bliss does do it, then one year from now he'll expect a handshake and an apology from the doctor, and if Bliss loses, then he'll give £50,000 for the doctor's downtown charity clinic.

That's the setup, and the general plotline is as you might expect. Bliss learns some lessons about just how it can be for a regular Joe, and it isn’t too long before he’s secretly using his connections and money to help the struggling people who have befriended him.

CAUTIONS

The only caution I would add is a mild one. At one point a conniving employer tries to so arrange things that he'll be alone with his newly hired secretary. But before he gets anywhere at all, Bliss intervenes. Nothing at all happens, and I mention it only to give a heads up to parents, in case their kids question why it was that Bliss thought the lady needed rescuing.

CONCLUSION

This is part The Prince and the Pauper and part Cinderella, and while it might be predictable (there are a couple of twists!) it's also delightful – this makes for very fun family fare. If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch a version with closed captions here. But because the film's copyright wasn't renewed it is also freely available below (and it can even be chromecast to your TV).

Monday, March 2, 2020

C.S. Lewis onstage: the most reluctant convert

Biographical drama
76 minutes / 2018
RATING: 8/10

Imagine having the opportunity to go back in time and visit with C.S. Lewis, and not just at the local Eagle and Child Pub, but in his home, the Kilns, sitting across from him amongst his books and papers as he pulled on his pipe and shared thoughts from his latest literary efforts.

If that idea excites you, then you are in for such a treat! Max McLean’s one-man theatre production, C.S. Lewis Onstage is still touring across North America, but a filmed version is available on DVD and can be streamed on Amazon.com (Americans with Prime can watch it for free here). Mclean is Lewis, and we are his guests as Lewis recounts the story of his conversion. He shares how he rejected God as a schoolboy and grew more adamant as a young man. He voices the atheistic arguments he relied on – arguments that are still in use today. But, as Lewis explains to us, if one wishes to remain an atheist, you can never be too careful about your reading. God used the talents of a diverse cast of writers to bring this prodigal back, from George MacDonald to G.K. Chesterton, and Tolkien too. Lewis explains how he was drawn back in stages, and only bent his knee because he couldn’t do anything else. His was a grudging bow; he was “the most reluctant convert.”

I absolutely love this film, but I can also see how this would be dreadfully dull for anyone who isn’t already a fan of Lewis’ non-fiction. It is, after all, just a man talking and talking and talking. I should also admit that as much as I enjoyed this, I also fell asleep several times as I made my way through it. That was due in part to the complete lack of action (no explosions here to wake me back up again), to the charming but decidedly calm manner of the man himself, and due also to the demand the film put on my brain – it requires complete attentiveness or else you just won’t follow the train of thought Lewis is laying out.

However, even if it did get me nodding, each time I started watching again I rewound to long before I winked out. I wanted to make sure I hadn’t missed a bit of it. This really is something to savor…even if that savoring should be done in chunks, spread out over a few nights.

As to cautions, I can’t think of any. Lewis was no 5-point Calvinist, but his conversion story makes him sound almost like one: the account he shares is of God grabbing hold of him. Lewis takes no credit for it himself.

So, who'd love this? Well, if you don’t already know Lewis, this is not a good way to first get introduced – it'd be overwhelming, which might well make it seem boring.

But for anyone who wishes they'd had the chance to meet Lewis, well, this is the next best thing!

Monday, February 3, 2020

FREE FILM: 2081: Everyone will finally be equal

Drama
2009 / 25 minutes
RATING: 8/10

“The year is 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law you see; they were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else…"

In 2081 a “golden age of equality” has been ushered in by the “Handicapper General” whose job is to assess everyone’s abilities and, if they have any advantages, to then assigns them “handicaps” to take them away. In the film’s opening scene we meet George who, being a little stronger than most, is sunk down in his easy chair by the heavy weights he’s been assigned to sap his strength. He’s also outfitted with earphones that hit him with piercing sounds to make it impossible for him to use his higher than average IQ. Meanwhile, his wife Hazel sits comfortably on the couch, knitting. She hasn't been outfitted with any handicaps because she's been deemed to have no advantages.

So they are equal. But is it an equality we want to have? Hazel and George are now just as fast, just as strong, and just as able to do math as one another. But this is an equality of the lowest common denominator. To bring this equality George's gifts had to be diminished until he was at Hazel's level. And for the government to bring about this type of equality, it had to treat them quite differently: Hazel is free, while George is in chains.

Surely this isn't what we mean by equality, is it? There must be some other, better sort?

While the film doesn't really direct us to the equality that is worth pursuing, the Bible does. In passages like Leviticus 19:15, Ex. 23:3, 1 Timothy 5:21, and James 2:8-9 we're pointed to a type of equality that involve treating all alike, not favoring the less advantaged over the rich, or the rich over the poor. Instead of endorsing 2081's equality of outcomes, God tells us to extend an equality of treatment.

2081 is so short I don't want to give any more of the plot away. But if you're looking for a great conversation starter, this is a fantastic film to watch and discuss, though be sure to do so with a Bible in hand. You can watch the trailer below, and to watch 2081 for free, follow this link (you do need to sign up to their email list, but they won't spam you, and you can always unsubscribe).

[SPOILER ALERT: the questions below do give away some more of the story.]

Questions to consider
  1. In 2081 equality is said to have been achieved. But has it really? Are Hazel and George and Harrison equal to the Handicapper General? Can you think of any historical examples where governments brought a form of equality to the masses, that they didn't want to share in themselves?
  2. Does the Bible support an equality of outcomes or an equality of treatment (aka. an equality of opportunity)? See Leviticus 19:15, Ex. 23:3, 1 Timothy 5:21, and James 2:8-9.
  3. How is Hazel’s situation improved by George being handicapped? Why would she hate it if he removed his handicaps? How does Ex. 20:17 apply here?
  4. Is income inequality (2 Chronicles 1:12; Ex. 20:17) something that God calls on Christians to fight? Is poverty (Prov. 19:17)?
  5. What was Harrison Bergeron hoping to accomplish? If no one remembers his speech then did he die for anything? If we take an unsuccessful stand for what is right why could that still be worth doing? In what way is our measure of success different than that of the world's?
  6. In 2081 the government controls every aspect of people's lives. Why do governments grow? Who is it, that's asking them to do more? What are the dangers of governments that get too big? (1 Samuel 8:10-22)

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Flying Tigers

Drama / War / Black and White
104 minutes / 1942
RATING: 7/10

On January 3, 1942, just one month after Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, a group of three American fliers staged a daring attack on a Japanese base in Thailand. The three were not members of the US military, but were, instead, part of the American Volunteer Group (AVG) – they were civilians hired by the US government. The AVG was going to be an unofficial group that could help the Chinese fight the Japanese, even as the US remained officially neutral. But delays in the group's initial organization meant they only saw action after war had been declared.

Flying Tigers is about the 1st AVG, the group that led America's first daring response to the Japanese attack. But as movies do, there are some liberties taken with the facts. In the film version Capt. Jim Gordon (John Wayne) and the 1st AVG have been conducting attacks on the Japanese long before his country's official entry into the war. What isn't a liberty is how successful the Flying Tigers are shown to be. On film and in real life the 1st AVG was constantly and often massively outnumbered, and yet never lost an air battle (they are credited with at least 296 kills, while only 14 of their own pilots were killed). Still, as the fighting continues, the casualties do come, and Capt. Gordon has to take whatever pilots he can find, even if some of them are troublemakers.

And the biggest troublemaker of them all is Capt. Gordon's independent and down-right self-absorbed buddy Woody Jason.

This film has a message and it's the same one that Woody Jason has to learn: to win this war that independent streak that's so much a part of the American make-up will need to be restrained. Yes, individual ambition helped make America prosperous, but ambition unrestrained is simply selfishness. What Woody learns can be summed up in biblical terms: we need to govern our ambition with the Second Greatest Commandment. Selfish ambition makes Woody despised; ambition and a love for his neighbor makes him remarkable.

CAUTIONS

There is very little blood shown – a Japanese pilot will get hit, throw his hands up to his face, and then, for a moment, we will see blood seeping between his fingers before the scene cuts away. That happens a half dozen or so times.

The only other warning would concern the portrayal of the Chinese and Japanese.  They only make brief appearances, but when they do they come off as a little bit silly or simple. That can be credited in part to the language barrier - anyone speaking a language they only partially know is going to sound a little simple. But there's also likely an element of racism here, which parents might want to point out to their kids.

CONCLUSION

A modern audience might find the pacing in the first 30 minutes slow, up until Woody Jason shows up. So some patience is required, but this is a fascinating look at the earliest of America's action against Japan. It would be a good one for John Wayne fans, and for a family with kids who are 10 and up who have an interest in World War II...and who haven't had their attention span ruined by constant video and TV watching.