Monday, February 19, 2024

A Week Away

Musical / Christian
2021 / 97 minutes
Rating: 9/10

When Will Hawkins steals a cop car he’s faced with a choice: heading to juvenile detention, or accepting foster mother Kristin Alway’s invitation to join her and her son George at summer camp. While Will doesn’t think he’s really “camp material” it’s better than option #1.

And it’s at this point that viewers find out we are in a musical, with foster mom, George, and Will all breaking out into quite the rendition of Steven Curtis Chapman’s The Great Adventure.

It’s only after he arrives that Will realizes he signed up for church camp… and now it’s too late to change his mind. Still, while Will is reluctant, he’s not a sourpuss, and with George as his wingman, he quickly starts to see the positive side of things. One big plus is the first girl he bumps into, Avery Farrell. She’s a camp veteran, the daughter of the camp director, and an extremely competitive participant in every event of the camp’s week-long “warrior games.”

One early hiccup happens when Will doesn’t want Avery to know about his criminal background and introduces himself as George’s cousin. George objects: “I don’t mean to be a prude , but lying is kind of up on the top top 10 ‘thou shalt nots…'” but gets distracted when Will promises to help him with his own camp crush, Presley Elizabeth Borsky.

On the first night campers are divided into one of three groups with Will joining George among the Verdes Maximus, and Avery and Presley together on the Crimson Angels. The “villain” of the piece, Sean Withers, heads the Azure Apostles, and the reason he’s the bad guy is mostly just his cockiness – his Apostles have won the warrior games every year for “just about forever.”

While the budding romance will get the tweens and teens, what makes A Week Away brilliant for everyone is the musical numbers. In a genius move, writer and producer Alan Powell features all sorts of 90s CCM songs to hook mom and dad, and then absolutely nails the choreography: these dance numbers are as good as anything you’ve seen. Cameos add to the fun, with Steven Curtis Chapman appearing as a frantic lifeguard during a beach number featuring his song “Dive.” Then Amy Grant shows up as a cafeteria lady while everyone is singing her “Baby, baby.” Their screen time amounts to no more than 10 seconds, but it’s a fun wink for parents who spot them.

This is basically High School Musical, though this time the Christians have one-upped their competition.


The cautions here amount to the sort you might offer for the Contemporary Christian Music featured throughout: it’s Christianity-lite, with quite a bit about God’s grace, and not much about sin. Will is a juvenile delinquent, but his crime spree is played off as just short of inconsequential (who can help but laugh when we’re told he tried selling his old school on Craigslist?) and as a result the story is about Will’s need for friends and family, and not his need for a Saviour.

A more specific caution relates to one lyric, where Avery raps that her team is going to win because “God loves us more.” Her camp director father quickly offers a corrective, but it’s not on the mark either: “God loves us all equally.” I asked my daughters if that was true, and they thought it was until we started remembering how John was distinguished as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 20:2) and David was called “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). And, of course, there’s verse after verse about those God hates (ex. Ps. 5:5-6).


Most kids haven’t seen many musicals, so I wasn’t surprised when a neighbor complained about how unrealistic this was. But her problem wasn’t that everyone was randomly breaking into song; it was that no one had phones! I thought that an observation worth sharing: who knows what dance numbers might just spontaneously come to be, if only we put away our devices! I’m only sort of joking. Shut down all the phones and screens, show your kids A Week Away, and then pop in your old Steven Curtis Chapman CD into your even older boombox and sit back and watch your littles bounce and leap around your hallways. This will get them dancing!

That’s the fun here: the joy. The music is popping, the cast are all lovable even when they’re moping, and shucks, even the bad guy gets redeemed in the end. It isn’t deep, but it is delightful, and you won’t be able to help but play it loud. A Week Away is the best of bets for a family movie night.

And, I’ll add, it’s also better than this trailer makes it look…

Producer Alan Powell starred in another fantastic (though not family-friendly) Christian musical, "The Song."

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Good Sam

Drama / Family / Romance
2019 / 89 minutes
RATING: 8/10

Kate Bradley is a TV news reporter following the “bummer beat” in New York City, covering fires and other tragedies. That’s left her a little cynical, and her boss is worried that it’s also left her more than a little jaded about the dangers she risks to get her stories. So when a story breaks about an anonymous good samaritan leaving a bag of $100,000 outside a financial-strapped older lady’s door, Kate’s boss decides to give her this safer assignment.

Kate isn’t happy about her new beat, and presumes there has to be some sort of angle behind the good deed. As she tells her cameraman, “It’s hard to believe that there’s somebody out there doing good deeds and expecting nothing in return.” But when the money keeps coming the mystery only deepens; “Good Sam” leaves a second bag of cash with a doctor who isn’t in any sort of need. The third recipient, a carpenter who’d been laid up with an injury, has no connection to the first two. And the news just keeps getting better when folks who’ve heard about Good Sam start acting like him, and starting their own Good Samaritan clubs, to do anonymous good deeds in their neighborhoods.

Good Sam would have been too sugary-sweet if it’d keep on this track, but we find out that Kate’s cynicism isn’t baseless: a tech programmer claims to be Good Sam, but Kate quickly exposes him as a fake. Some folks will even try to hone on other people’s good deeds!

I also appreciated a romance angle that was less predictable than most. Kate gets two love interests, both pretty stalwart sorts… or so it seems. Kate’s father is a US senator, and when she meets charming hedge fund manager Jack Hansen she initially turns him down, as she has a rule against dating anyone in her father’s political circles. Eric Hayes is a firefighter Kate keeps bumping into in her day job. He is as brave as he is private… or might the right word be secretive? Which of these two will she end up with? That’s another mystery, and viewers are left in suspense for most of the movie.


No language, violence, or sexuality concerns to share.

The only caution is for what the movie doesn’t have – this is a part of Netflix’s “Faith and Spirituality” category, but it isn’t either. While the original Good Samaritan story (Luke 10:25-37) teaches us what it means to live out the Second Greatest Commandment, this one avoids any mention of God.


The moral of the story trends in a humanist direction – people aren’t as bad as we think as they will sometimes do things for completely unselfish reasons. However, the Calvinist in me can recast this in a more orthodox direction, seeing it as an illustrated of how the world is broken but not utterly depraved, and the cyclical Kate has no right to be so in the face of the many undeserved blessings she (and we) receive daily.

While this is just a Hallmark-ish kind of romance, I’d give it two thumbs up for being way better than the average sort. The acting is solid throughout, the mystery and romance will keep most viewers guessing for the first three quarters of the film, and the lack of problematic content make this one you can watch with almost the whole family (though I don’t know if it’ll grab the under 8s).

That makes Good Sam a pretty rare treat.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Is Genesis history? Mountains after the Flood

2023 / 102 minutes
Rating: 7/10

The folks who brought us Is Genesis History? have crafted a sequel of sorts. Host Del Tackett is back, and just as inquisitive as ever. Mountains after the Flood looks at areas of the Grand Canyon, and exposed layers around the world, including in our mountains, to show how quickly they were formed.

The conventional evolutionary thinking is that all these layers took eons to form. However, there are folds in these rock layers... and how could that be? If these layers took so long to form then they would have been hardened and unable to fold – any bending would have resulted in cracks and fracturing instead. So these smooth folds serve as evidence against the prevailing "long age" dating of the Grand Canyon.

But what if, instead of forming over hundreds of thousands of years, the folds were formed quickly in the cataclysmic aftermath of the Flood? Then the layers wouldn't be the result of millions of years, but would have been rapidly formed as the sediment settled during the Flood. And the bending could have happened while the layers were still soft. Under these circumstances we would understand how these still soft layers could have been bent over on themselves without cracking.

Mountains after the Flood is more technical than the previous film, and that's part of the point. In addition to exploring the evidence for the Flood, Tackett and his crew are also trying to show what doing good creation science really involves. They want to show its rigor, and highlight its credibility – what they are doing here is following well establish scientific protocols to produce findings that can't be dismissed and need to be contended with.

While there's loads of information for anyone already interested in the subject, this is not a film I’d show anyone, kids or adults, to try and get them interested. For that I'd point to the original Is Genesis History?

Find out more about Mountains after the Flood at, including how to rent and stream it, or buy the DVD.

Finally, you can watch the trailer below.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Never give up

Family / Sports
2023 / 79 minutes
RATING: 6/10

This is great family viewing for the peek it offers into the very different world of the deaf. Never Give Up is the true story of Brad Minns, left deaf by a high fever at the age of three, back in 1968. His parents made the unusual decision at that time, to teach Minns to lip-read and have him try to take on the challenge of a regular school, instead of going to a deaf institution.

While his classmates and even his teacher aren't all that welcoming, the game of tennis becomes an outlet and a refuge. Here his hearing loss doesn't make him all that different. It's still not an even playing field – deaf players can't hear how the ball sounds coming off their opponent's racket – but as Minn's first instructor tells him, he can use his eyes and his heart to make up the difference. When Minns beats his big brother, he starts realizing he could become great at this.

One of the more unlikely tennis comebacks serves as the backbone to this film – it opens with Minns down two sets, and down five games to none in the third. In repeated flashback throughout the match we learn about how he got here and how those early life challenges and triumphs gave him the perseverance to keep fighting even when he's that far down.


The only caution to note would be.a hazing scene. When Minns tries out for the US national deaf tennis team, someone hides his rackets right before his first match. Then, after he wins and heads to the showers, they hide his clothes. With no other option, Minns heads to the team meeting "wearing" nothing but a 2 foot by three foot sign which reads "Used tennis balls here." That probably sounds worse than it actually is - the signage has him covered more modestly than even the biggest pair of shorts.


I wanted to give this a 7, because our whole family enjoyed it. Who doesn't like a family-friendly, sports underdog story, that teaches you a bit about a different world, and even acknowledges God with a few quiet and respectful nods?

But I give 6s for good films that have something notably subpar, and that's the acting here. It's just not very good. It's not so bad that it's annoying, but it is in the range of what you'd find in a low-end Hallmark movie.

I'll add that there are some nice production touches too, including the soundtrack featuring Huey Lewis' The Power of Love (playing when Minns was down 40 to love), and some unique "sketched" opening titles. The tennis match itself is solidly shot – believable if not all that suspenseful.

So, a 6, but significantly, a 6 that everyone in our family enjoyed. Never Give Up is in theaters across the US starting on Sept. 1, and will be available to stream in Canada some time after.

Friday, August 11, 2023

The Essential Church

2023 / 126 minutes
Rating: 8/10

The Essential Church is a documentary put out by a Californian church, Grace Community Church, that refused to stay closed during the COVID lockdowns. It is their defense, aimed at fellow Christians more than at the world, and when I heard about it, I was interested to hear them out. Then I learned the closest screening was at a theater 2 hours away, and I wasn't quite that interested.

That changed when I discovered that John MacArthur, the pastor of Grace Community, believes the American Revolution was a violation God's call in Romans 13 to be submissive to the governing authorities. How is that for an interesting twist? In a country where everyone defends the rejection of British authority 200 years ago, the one pastor who thinks it was sinful is also one of the only pastors to lead his congregation in a revolt against his own government. What is going on here?

I had to know, so I had to go.

Thankfully, it was worth the trip. Here's some of what was on offer.


The film begins with a picture of a three legged stool. It belonged to a Scottish woman by the name of Jenny Geddes, long admired for her strident stance against an English King's impositions on the Scottish church. The year was 1637, the English King was Charles 1, and his imposition was the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, which he required the Scottish churches to use. When an Anglican cleric climbed into the pulpit of the Scottish Cathedral of St.Giles and began to read out of the Book of Common Prayer, Geddes was having none of it, and threw her stool at him. She took her stand against a king who thought he could rule the Church.

Geddes seemed to be holding to, and the film arguing for, a form of sphere sovereignty: God has given authority not just to the civil government, but also the Church "government" and the family "government," to exercise each in their own "spheres."

Two other terms are introduced early on: the "Erastian" and "Papist" positions. Eurasians hold that God has given all earthly authority to the civil government who rules over the Church and Family.


  1. King
  2. Church
  3. Family

This is what Charles I held to. Though are own governments today don't recognize God, they act as Erastians when they presume that their authority extends to every corner of life. Since this is how our modern government's act, it is the model Christians are most familiar with. It is easy then, to just assume that because today's civil government is domineering and inserting itself everywhere, then that is the natural order of things.

ut it hasn't always been this way. The Papist position was commonplace until a few centuries ago, with the Church holding the top position, and kings and princes deferring to the Church.


  1. Church
  2. King
  3. Family

So when God says we should submit to the authorities, Grace Community thinks the question we should be asking is, who are the authorities in this situation? And, why would we just assume it must be the civic government and not the Church or Family government?


After the introduction to Geddes, we're taken on a trip down memory lane to 2020. News clips flash by, telling us about the many who were getting sick, but there are also stories about children who struggling with lockdown isolation, depression, and other mental health matters. We hear about a woman whose father was diagnosed with cancer and how she wanted to take him to church. We learn about seniors who died with no one to comfort them.

Grace Community's argument doesn't depend on sphere sovereignty or rejection of the Erastian position, but does need Christians to consider what it means that God rules over all. Then it isn't simply His command in Romans 13 to submit to the government that we have to consider, but all His commands. That includes His call to worship (Heb. 10:24-25), His command to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31), to honor our elders (Ex. 20:12), to love and protect our children (Ps. 103:13), and to proclaim His gospel (Acts 5:28-29). Yes, we are called to obey the governing authorities, but, as Peter proclaims, there is a limit to that authority. When there is a conflict between God and government, then we must obey God, rather than Man.


I think most Christians will agree that there is a degree to which our obedience to any government church closure orders is going to hinge on our assessment of whether there is a real emergency or not.

If, for example, they tried to shut churches to slow the spread of the common cold, we might all agree that was an order we couldn't obey. Yes, worship might exacerbate the spread of colds, and some people might even die from catching the cold, particularly among the elderly. But in our risk assessment, we would say, that is not reason enough to disobey God's call to worship. In contrast, if something like ebola, with its 50% fatality rate, broke out, I think even Grace Community would obey whatever closure orders the government might issue.

Among the news clips we see reports of the Black Lives Matter protests that were allowed to go on, even as churches were closed. Politicians joined the protests, even as they continued to say we had to remain isolated. I don't think the argument here is that we can disobey our rulers because they are hypocrites. I think, rather, it is that their actions exposed the lie in their words. If the politicians, on the one hand, said going to church might kill your grandmother so it wasn't worth the risk, but on the other hand said that the protests were so important that allowing them and encouraging them and joining them was worth the risk to grandma and everyone else, then God's people, with our very different, but God-given understanding of what really is important in this world, might come to a different risk assessment.


John MacArthur's church wasn't the only to open, so about halfway in, we're introduced to some Canadian pastors who also defied government lockdown restrictions. The one I'd heard the most about was James Coates, pastor of GraceLife church in Edmonton, Alberta, in part because when a Mormon friend wanted to check out a church, this was the only one open for me to send him to.

I think there were two separate compliance issues to wrestle with – church closure orders, and mask mandates – but in both MacArthur's Grace Community and Coates' GraceLife churches, their defiance extended to both. However, The Essential Church doesn't really offer much of a case against mask wearing. I would have been very interested to hear more on that point, or to hear from any churches that defied the closure order, but obeyed the mask mandates.

Pastor Coates got a lot of criticism from fellow Christians, and one accusation I saw repeatedly was that he was putting on a performance, making it all about him, and simply grandstanding. If you know anyone who thought or wrote something like that, this is a must-see for them. After listening to Coates and his wife share what they were facing, you might still disagree with him, but I don't know that you could still be left questioning his intent.


Though this well-produced, well-argued, and important, at just over 2 hours, it tested my attention span. But as of Aug 31, it will be available for streaming, and it'd work out fantastic at home, where it can be scheduled with an intermission, so as to fit in some great discussion, and allow time for snack bowl refilling.

The only caution I'll offer is that there is just the one side on offer here. I think they are pretty fair, but they have their stand, and they are arguing for it. And they are aggressive about it, because they want the Church to be ready when the next crisis happens.

I'd recommend this for adults, generally, but kids as young as 11 or 12 might enjoy it too, if they have a political or theological bent.

You can find out more at including information on how to stream it. The trailer is below.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Sound of Freedom

2023 / 131 minutes
Rating: 8/10

Roberto Aguilar has two beautiful children. The charming woman at his door, Giselle, knows it too. In fact, she believes that his 11-year-old daughter Rocio, and his cute-as-a-button 4-year-old son Miguel, might have what it takes to be in the entertainment business. So when she invites Roberto to bring them both by for a photo shoot, the Honduran welder is willing to take the long bus ride into the city, to give his children this special opportunity. When they knock at the apartment door, the children are invited in, and Roberto is told that parents aren't allowed to stay. He can come back at 7 pm to pick them up.

Except, when he returns, they are gone. The charming woman is no talent scout. Giselle has just kidnapped another dozen children for her sex trafficking business.

And that might be the last time Roberto ever saw his children, but for one Homeland Security agent.

Tim Ballard has the disturbing job of hunting down pedophiles, and in the course of his career he's busted almost 300 hundred of them. But when his partner challenges him, "And how many kids have you saved?" he can't answer. He's had to look through the filth these 300 guys have collected, seen child after child abused, even had to catalogue it for the trials, and he's not be able to save even a single child. But for his own sanity, he needs to start now. "This job tears you to pieces," he tells his boss, "And this is my one chance to put those pieces back together.”

What follows is an undercover operation that has no sanction from the US government. Ballard is a highly capable Homeland Security agent, but the children he wants to save are mostly out of country, where his department has no jurisdiction. His boss helps him as much as he can, but in the end Ballard has to cut ties with his government and he goes in with just a couple of new friends who have their own reasons to risk their lives for these children.

Sound of Freedom isn't an explicitly Christian film – Roman Catholic Jim Caviezel plays the part of Ballard, who in real life is a Mormon – but there's a reason it appeals to us. What drives Ballard, even still today, is that these children are made in the Image of God, and "God's children [should] not be for sale."

Christians will also recognize the Scripture verse Ballard cites when he is about to arrest a pedophile he's had to pretend to befriend in his undercover work. Ballard tells the man: “Better a millstone be hung around your neck and you be cast into the sea than you should ever hurt one of these little ones” (Luke 17:2).


Filmmaker don't tell their audience what's happening; they show it – that's the power of a visual medium. However, some topics are just too grim to show: Ballard has been left scarred by what he's had to see, and we, as the audience, don't need to share in that misery. Thankfully, the filmmakers were very intentional about educating their audience about child sex-trafficking without exposing us to the full depravity of it. For example, film's creepiest scene might be the initial photo shoot with Miguel, Rocio, and the other dozen children who have been left with Giselle. The pre-school Miguel has the top two of his polo shirt buttons undone, and the preteen Rocio is seen having red lipstick applied. The children are told how to stand, how to purse their lips, tilt their head, and smile just so. That's already creepy, but what makes it much more so isn't what we see, but rather what we know about how these pictures are going to be used to market the children to "buyers."

There's violence, the most graphic of which is a fight scene a minute or two long with two men equally intent on killing each other. Here, too, some "muting" is going on, as we watch the fight through the eyes of a child who has been told not to look. So we hear it, but don't always see what's going on.

While there is restraint in what is shown, this is still a film about the sexual trafficking of children. That means lots of people should steer clear. That this is a true story means if you have a soft-heart, this could break you. I also wouldn't suggest it for anyone under 16. It is gripping, it is well-acted, it is important, but it isn't really entertainment – this is a film you watch to have your eyes opened.


As the credits rolled, I was left wondering, Now that I know, what can I do? In a short, post-film plea, actor Jim Cavezial tells us we can help end sexual trafficking by raising awareness. How can we do that? By getting more people to watch the film.

That might be a really good idea, but it still has me wondering, what next? After everyone knows, what do we do then? The film doesn't offer an answer, so I'll pitch a few thoughts:

  1. Put the danger in a context - It's good to teach our children to be aware of their surroundings, and good also for parents to be aware themselves. But while some of the real life footage shown in Sound of Freedom involve drive-by abductions, those are a rarity in the US, and likely Canada too. More often the children are steered into this life by people they trust, or who have some sort of relationship with them. Parents should be more concerned with Giselle-types trying to create bonds, perhaps over social media, than random kidnappings.
  2. Stop the sexualization of children – We've got crazy people saying little girls should be able to handle seeing male genitalia in the lockerroom, and that kids should go to Pride parades even if they have "public nudity and kink." We might be able to shelter our own kids by sending them to Christian schools, but let's not forget about the children who are getting subjected to public school sex-ed, or who are borrowing the books our governments are putting in the teen section of the public library. Lots of fronts in this battle, but closest to home I suspect it might begin with delaying when our own kids get phones and the access that phones bring to the dark side of sexuality. Wait til Grade 8, is a good idea, but I sure wouldn't mind 9 or 10, though any later and parents risk sending their kid out the door at 18 with no guidance on how to use a phone responsibly.
  3. Support Christian organizations like SA foundation (Servants Anonymous) that seek to "provide a way out for young women (and their children) that are able to escape the sex trade." Find out more at

You can view the trailer below...

Friday, May 19, 2023

The 3 Worlds of Gulliver

Family / Children's
1960s / 99 minutes
Rating: 7/10 

The film manages one upgrade on the book. In the original Gulliver's Travels, Dr. Lemuel Gulliver is all on his lonesome, but in this 1960s film version, he now has a love interest. And she's got spunk; when Gulliver decides to sail away to find his fortune, his fiancee Elizabeth stows away to go too! By the time she's discovered, the ship is already underway, and a storm ensures they can't just turn around. Still, Gulliver wants to send Elizabeth back to England, so the two go topside to argue it out. That's when a wave sweeps Gulliver right off the ship, and into his first adventure.

When next we see Gulliver, he's clawing his way up a beach, calling for help from the people he sees further up the shore. He collapses, only to wake up with his arms and legs all tied down. It turns out those people down the beach weren't so far away – they were quite close, but also quite tiny, and very scared of him. Gulliver has arrived in Liiliput, a land where the people are only 6 inches tall!

Gulliver quickly charms the Lilliputian emperor into letting him loose and shows his value to the ruler when he promises to help him win his war. But when Gulliver won't kill the enemy, the emperor conspires against him, and Gullliver has to flee. He's back on the water again. If you know the story, you know what happens next. And if you don't, I won't spoil it for you, but I will assure you that the second chapter is every bit as good as the first.

A big part of the fun here is trying to figure out how they managed to have an enormous Gulliver interact with the tiny people around him. There was nothing computer generated back then, so this had to be done with rear screen projection, claymation, gigantic props, and I can't even imagine what else.


There's just a smidge of adult sexuality here. When Gulliver finds his fiancee, he kisses her quite passionately. She interrupts, noting that "We aren't married yet," and runs off to her room and locks the door. To answer her objection, Gulliver arranges with the ruler for a lightening quick marriage ceremony! That's it – nothing untoward shown – but Gulliver's ardour did strike me as a bit PG-ish.

The action scenes are generally tame, but children under 8 might be frightened when Gulliver is unexpectantly grabbed by a giant squirrel. The squirrel's weird screech also adds to the tension.


Parents familiar with Jonathan Swift's book may notice just a bit of his satire still evident in some of the dialogue. But for the most part this is a children's film, enjoyable for the spectacle of seeing a giant man interact with a pixie-sized nation.

There have been more recent movie versions of Swift's classic, but this is the very best one for young children. Even if the special effects aren't as slick as the new CGI stuff, there's something very appealing about the 1960s movie magic too. Overall The 3 Worlds of Gulliver rates as a fun, fairly tame film for kids ten and under, but it's also one that mom or dad might enjoy for the old-school effects.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

A Royal Christmas

Drama / Romance
87 minutes / 2014
RATING: 7/10

How would you react if you found out that the wonderful, thoughtful, fun, quiet someone you were dating was secretly royalty? That's the premise, in this fun-for-the-whole-family Hallmark outing. Emily Taylor is a young talented clothes designer, who comes by her skills from growing up in the family's tailor shop. Leo James is her long-time boyfriend – it's been almost a year now! – who suddenly reveals that he is actually the crown prince of the tiny kingdom of Cordinia. And he's inviting Emily to come visit the kingdom for Christmas.

The one hitch? Queen Isadora (played by Jane Seymour of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) is dead set against her son marrying a commoner. So will Emily win over the frosty queen? Will she find a way to fit in with dukes and countesses? Can she learn the ways of royalty without losing the spark that makes her special? And will the lonely queen find someone to love?

If you've seen any of these kinds of films before, you can already answer all of these questions. But that doesn't make it any less fun to watch.


One caution would be a passing mention that years ago the prince once went skinny dipping with a duchess. It was a weird inclusion, and totally not in keeping with the tone of the rest of the film (maybe it was something innocent when they were just little kids?). The only other concern is that this is yet another movie with "Christmas" in the title that makes no mention of the reason for the season, Christ. Not surprising; still disappointing.


When I came up with my own film rating scale, what I had in mind for a 7 was  a typical Hallmark film, one that was entertaining, but where the acting wasn't all that noteworthy in either a bad or good direction. That's exactly what we have here. A Royal Christmas was enjoyed by all in our household, from 9 all the way up to mom and dad. Shucks, if grandma and grandpa has stopped by, I'm sure they would have liked it too. It's very nice, and also nothing more.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

An American Tail

Animated / Family
1986 / 80 minutes
RATING: 9/10

This is the immigrant experience, set to music, and seen through the eyes of a 19th century Jewish animated mouse family who decide to come to America after they’d been driven out of their Russian village by rampaging Cossack cats.

I should end the review right there; what more do you need? But I can’t help myself, because this is as brilliant as it is utterly unique! After escaping the Cossack cats, the Mousekewitz family takes a slow boat to their new land, surrounded by fellow immigrants from other countries. All of them have sad stories to share, usually involving how a cat ate their papa, or mama, or in the case of one Irish lad, his one true love (and all that was left of her was her tail!).

After each story is shared the mice join together to sing of how much better they expect it to be in their new country:

But there are no cats in America,
And the streets are paved with cheese
Oh, there are no cats in America,
So set your mind at ease!

They’re all so very hopeful, and that’s when the storm hits. Little Fievel, the Mousekewitz’s boy, is washed overboard and presumed lost, and his family is forced to continue on without him. Thankfully (I don’t think I could have taken it otherwise) Fievel has survived. He’s battered, but unbroken, and travels the rest of the way in a bottle, arriving only a short time after his family. Will he be able to find them? There are so many mice in New York! And it doesn’t help that they aren’t even looking for him.

Fievel soon discover that there are cats in America. Fortunately there are also mice here willing to fight for their freedoms. So it is, that Fievel, and unbeknownst to him, his family too, help with an audacious plan to force the cats onto a boat heading for Hong Kong. But even as they work on the same plan, Fievel and his family never quite cross paths. Fievel is making friends though, whether it’s a French pigeon helping with the construction of the Statue of Liberty, or a streetwise teen mouse who has Fievel’s back, or even a cat who loves broccoli a lot better than mouse burgers.


There’s a lot of cats chasing mice throughout the whole story, and these cats are mean and scary. That, along with a brief counter Fievel has with some creepy cockroaches, make this fare for children ten and up.

Also, theres’s a minor character, the politician Honest John, who always seems drunk. Fortunately, he’s onscreen only briefly, and only a few times.


I was struck by how this had, for me, the feel of a 1940s wartime flick. Just like in those films, this celebrates America as a beacon of hope. The darkness it opposes isn’t Nazis this time, but something not too different; An American Tail was made during the Cold War, when the USSR was at its most intimidating, and it’s no coincidence that the main characters are coming from an oppressive Russia to find opportunity in America. While the Mousekewitzs discover that the streets aren’t paved with cheese – that’s too good to be true – there were opportunities in this new land that didn’t exist in the old one. An American Tail is a surprisingly nuanced celebration of the immigrant, showing that it wasn’t easy for those early settlers, whether man or mouse.

So who’d enjoy this? I suspect it’s so unique, so unusual, that excellent though it is, it might not appeal to the whole family. A Jewish Russian American mouse musical? Yup, that is odd, and maybe even weird.

But it really couldn’t be more wonderful!

Friday, October 7, 2022

Going to the Mat

Family / Drama
2004 / 92 minutes
Rating: 8/10

Jace Newfield is the "new kid" and he's blind, but what's causing him the most difficulties is his snark. He used to live in New York City but his dad's new job means now they have to live in the podunks of Utah. So, on his first day the first thing this big city kid does is alienate all his classmates by joking that they're backcountry hicks. He digs himself under even deeper with an attention-seeking drum solo that doesn't impress his music teacher, Mr. Wyatt.

Fortunately there are a couple of kids willing to overlook his rough start. Vincent "Fly" Shue tells him the only way to fit in is to be a jock, so Jace decides to try out for the wrestling team... corralling the lightweight Fly to join up too.

Jace discovers that in wrestling blind athletes can wrestle against the sighted. The only concession given is that the two athletes start with a hand on each other. Jace isn't the biggest guy, and a total newcomer to the sport, but this is the chance for him to be just an athlete, rather than "that blind guy." Sports movies are predictable so no one will be surprised to see Jace losing in the early going, and (I don't think this is giving too much away) triumphing, at least in part, in the epic slow-motion finale. But this does have a few fresh twists to keep it interesting.


The only caution concerns how children might misunderstand the moral to this story. Jace proves he can excel on the wrestling mats, so kids might think that's how he's proven he's just as valuable as anyone else. However, that's a worldly idea – that it's what we do that makes us valuable – and it is a dangerous idea. This is the idea behind the devaluation of the unborn: the world says they are worth less than you or me because they can't do what we can: they don't have a heartbeat yet, and can't survive on their own. This "able-isn" is the basis for euthanasia too, which is kept from the able-bodied, but offered up to the disabled and elderly who are valued less because they can do less.

Christians need to share that our worth comes not from our abilities, but from our Maker. We are all valuable, because we are all made in the very Image of God (Gen. 1:27, 9:6). So our kids need to hear that Jace would be valuable whether he could wrestle or not.


This is a 1990s Disney channel TV movie, so I was only hoping for a family-friendly sports story. I was pleasantly surprised to get a lot more. The acting is solid, and the sighted Andrew Lawrence does a convincing job playing Jace. Wayne Brady, as Mr. Wyatt, is a sympathetic but hard-nosed mentor, who gives Jace the kick in the butt he needs. It's sweet, surprising in spots, and solid throughout: this is a fun film.