Thursday, December 20, 2012

I Like Adoption

This is beautiful. Christians know we are all adopted, which is the reason all Christian couples should at the very least consider adoption. Not all of us would be able to manage things as wonderfully as happens in this family – not all of us are called to do it. But if we are serious about being Christ-like we should all think long and hard about whether we can "redeem a child."


i like adoption from GenerousChurch on Vimeo.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Free online film: THE LOST BOOK OF ABRAHAM

Documentary
57 minutes; 2002
Rating: 8/10

The Book of Abraham is one of five parts of the Pearl of Great Price, which is one of the the four books in the Mormon scriptural canon (the other three being the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants).

Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, claims that the Book of Abraham came into his possession as a papyrus scroll which he bought from a traveling antiquities dealer in 1835. He said it was a work by Abraham, the father of the world's three main monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This papyrus was in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic and hieratic text, which at the time no one in the US was able to translate. But with divine help, Smith claimed, he was able to do it.

While no one back then was able to read Ancient Egyptian, many people today can. So how well does Joseph Smith's translation work measure up? The Lost Book of Abraham makes a compelling and thorough case that Smith's translation work was completely wrong. As the film shows in a methodical fashion, egyptologists, both modern and contemporary to Smith, disputed the authenticity of his translation work.

This has some devastating implications for the Latter Day Saints. If this is the type of translation work Joseph Smith did on the Book of Abraham, where we can today check his work, why should we believe he did any better with the Book of Mormon, where we can't? Joseph Smith claims that the original source for the Book of Mormon - golden plates - were taken back by their angelic guardian, leaving us nothing today to examine. We simply have to take Joseph Smith's word that his translation work was correct.

This is a well produced, engaging and thought-provoking documentary. A great one to watch and share if you have any Mormon friends.


For more, check out their website at www.bookofabraham.info

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Three Investigators in The Secret of Skeleton Island

Family/Drama
91 minutes, 2007
Rating 7/10

The Three Investigators started as a book series that ran from 1964-1987 and included more than 40 books. I own many of them, and hope to pass them to my kids, so when I discovered there was a movie, I knew I wanted to see this one. It lived up to my expectations.

Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews are a team of juvenile detectives that "have never lost a case." Jupiter is the "Sherlock Holmes" of the group, always able to put the pieces together. Pete is the athletic, fearless "muscle" (or, at least, as much as a 13-year-old can be) while Bob is the researcher extraordinaire, their very own version of Google, always ready with a pertinent fact. The team has their headquarters secreted away in Jupiter's aunt and uncle's salvage yard, complete with secret entrances and research materials and old case files.

When Pete's dad invites them to come visit him at his new job site building an amusement park on an island in South Africa, the Three Investigators set out on what they think will be a nice vacation. But, like the book series, events quickly take what seems to be a  supernatural/mystical turn - a fearsome mythical beast appears to be haunting Skeleton Island. But, again like the books, there turns out to be a logical explanation, and it is up to Jupiter Jones and his team to figure out what sort of beast it might be, and what secrets it is hiding.


Cautions

In films starring children, parents are mostly absent, and that holds true here too. While the Three Investigators are only 12 or maybe 13 or 14, they are portrayed as smarter and more capable than the adults around them. And because they are smarter this gives them a reason to ignore parental authority - Pete's dad orders them home, but they decide they have to keep investigating instead. So this is a not so subtle challenge to parental authority, and authority figures overall.

There is minimal violence (some folks get scratched by the beast and a man is hit in the head with a flower pot) but there is enough peril and tension to make this a film that would scare children. I would recommend it for young teens, and no younger.

Conclusion

This will be enjoyed by anyone who grew up reading the Three Investigators series and now wants to point their kids to it. The feel and spirit of the books is captured quite effectively, even if the film doesn't have that much to do with the book of the same title.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Jericho Unearthed

Documentary
34 minutes
Rating 8 / 10

The claim has been made that the biblical account of the fall of Jericho's walls cannot be true because, archeological evidence tells us, the city of Jericho didn't yet exist. So how should Bible-believing Christians respond?

This film argues that while the prevailing interpretation of the archeological evidence does differ with the biblical account, there are good reasons to believe the prevailing interpretation is wrong. For example, there is the evidence provided by the remains of the walls, which show that they fell outward, and by doing so provided a ramp of rubble up to the mound on which the city was built, "so everyone charged straight in" (Joshua 6:20). This, and other physical facts match up nicely with the biblical description of the city's destruction.

I really enjoyed this instructive, fast-paced documentary and appreciated the way in which the producers addressed the evidence head-on to show that it does not present us with a contradiction after all. To find out more about this film and others by the film's producers visit their website at sourceflix.com/jericho-unearthed/. You can watch the trailer below.



Saturday, September 1, 2012

Free online film: a pro-life take on the birth control pill

The Birth Control Pill documentary
or
28 days on the Pill

Can the Birth Control Pill cause spontaneous abortions? This is not a slickly-produced film, but it is well-argued and thought-provoking and shows there is good reason to think that it may. It is 46 minutes, but a shorter 7 minutes version is also available at ThePill.notlong.com.

So can the the Pill cause abortions? The answer provided in 28 Days is... maybe.

The pill has two main mechanisms of action, both of which act to prevent conception. The first stops ovulation (the release of an egg) and the second thickens cervical mucous to stop sperm in their tracks. But some of the experts the films producers visit talk about a third mechanism as well, that thins the lining of the uterine wall. Should conception occur, these doctors believe the lining is likely to be less hospitable to the implantation of the newly conceived baby and that may result in an abortion or miscarriage of that child. The evidence is less than conclusive, but worth examining.

While 28 Days has noticeably low production values - it looks like something the average viewer might be able to make - but this is more than made up for with the sheer utility of this documentary. The producers have talked to the experts, done the research, and in a short space of time present a lot of information in an understandable, concise manner. The end result is a film that anyone using the Pill, or considering it, must see.

Buy it at 28daysonthepill.com and view it online at Vimeo.com/12090300. A shorter 7 minutes version can be viewed below.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

3 helpful movie review sites

When I'm trying to get a good read on a film currently in theatres there are three websites I go to:

Kids-In-Mind.com

Kids-in-Mind doesn't do age-specific rating like that G, PG, PG-13 and R rating done by the Motion Picture Association of America. Instead they assign 1-10 ratings for three distinct categories:

1) Sex & Nudity
2) Violence & Gore
3) Profanity

So a film with a 1-8-5 rating will have minimal sexual content, but lots of violence and quite a bit of profanity. A great site for parents looking to get the lowdown on the movies their kids want to see.

Plugged In

This Focus on the Family site’s strength is in the sheer amount of valuable, detailed information it packs into film, DVD and even CD and video game reviews. Its weakness? While reviews are written from a generally conservative Christian perspective some films (Hellboy, Dark Knight, etc.) are treated far too charitably – having a self-sacrificing hero, or “Christ figure” in a film doesn’t mean the film has anything to offer Christians.


Movieology describes itself as "your ticket to engaging the spectacular world of film from a bedrock of biblical truth." These guys are Reformed, amusing and they will make you think. The site is now longer being updated, but the reviews they have there, and more importantly the presentations they include on how to think about films are well worth checking out.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Every movie has a moral

…whether we realize it or not

I recently came across an article in which Hollywood scriptwriter Doug Tennapel spent some time outlining what it takes to write a good movie script. The first step he outlines is a surprising one – the best way to begin, he says, is by picking a moral for your story.

“Why does it have to be moral? Because a story without a moral isn't much of a story... unless you're in France and you're trying to celebrate that there is no such thing as morals…. Stories preach.”

Every film has a moral, he says, and he’s one who knows. But do our kids know that? Do they have the discernment to notice when a secular point of view is being preached at them through the silver screen?

Million Dollar Baby wasn't
subtle about pushing euthanasia
Sometimes a movie’s moral is so obvious anyone can catch it. For example, in The CiderHouse Rules a doctor who won’t perform abortions meets a poor young girl who’s pregnant from incest. What moral does the audience learn by the end of the film? That abortion is good. Hardly subtle, but the presentation was compelling enough to win the film multiple Oscars.

Movie morals are not always that obvious. The kid’s film Brother Bear was praised by many Christian movie reviewers as a gentle family-friendly treat – it was, after all, a Disney film, animated, hardly violent, and clear of objectionable language. But Tennapel summarizes the moral of Brother Bear this way:

The Indian boy chooses to be a [expletive] BEAR at the end instead of a human. You may not know it but the author is preaching to you saying that ‘Indian mysticism or animism is a valid worldview.’”

In other words this film was very family-friendly film… except for its moral. The Christian reviewers focused on the films trappings, and ignored its core.

The moral is always there. Sometimes it’s overt, like in the euthanasia promoting Million Dollar Baby, in which a paralyzed boxer asks her coach to kill her. Sometimes it is a bit more subtle, such as in the sci-fi X-Men III where persecuted mutants defend their minority rights by shouting out slogans borrowed directly from homosexual “rights” movement.

But either way, the moral is always there, and more often than not the moral of a film, even of a nice G-rated Disney film, is not going to be “family-friendly.” May God grant us the discernment to see which films truly do, and do not, honor Him.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Dragons or Dinosaurs? Creation or Evolution?

Documentary
84 minutes, 2010
Rating: 7 / 10

The Chinese lunar calendar cycle includes twelve animals, eleven of which are quite familiar to us: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. The twelfth, however, is a mythical beast that no one has ever seen: dragon. But could we be wrong? Could the ancient Chinese be giving us a clue that dragons were once more than myth? Could they have been just as real as all the other animals in this calendar?

Dragons or Dinosaurs? argues, quite convincingly, that the dragon legends present in cultures around the world are actually describing dinosaurs. The dragons are described as large, scaled, reptilian animals that can sometimes fly, breathe fire, swim or eat people whole. These are descriptions that match up well with various dinosaurs that have been discovered: the flying Pterodactyl, the massive Sauropods, or the ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex.

And we don’t have to rely on legends alone. Pictures of very dinosaur-like creatures can be found on pottery thousands of years old. Primitive paintings on cave walls, and detailed reliefs sculpted onto the walls of ancient temples, have been discovered that seem to indicate the artists were personally acquainted with dinosaurs.

Ancient historians, and some not so ancient ones too, present us with more to consider. We can read historical accounts of dragon-encounters that seem likely to have involved dinosaurs.

DARWIN VS. DRAGONS

That these dragons may have been dinosaurs is not a conclusion evolutionists are willing to entertain. According to their version of events, man and dinosaur could not have lived together at the same time; they were separated by at least 60 million years.

Thus the point of this presentation: these dragon myths, historical accounts, and ancient artwork are a compelling argument against the evolutionary account. As the Bible explains, God created everything over the course of just 6 days, so men and dragons (or, rather, dinosaurs) did live at the same time!

This is a professionally produced, entertaining production. It gives a solid overview of the evidence, providing viewers with an idea of how very much there is.

CAUTIONS

The only caution doesn’t concern the main feature.

The DVD’s special features include a 28-minute mini-documentary called The Faith... behind the Science, which is awkwardly interrupted midway through with a 6-minute ad for Cloud Ten’s other films. These other films are premillennial dramas, including the Left Behind series. Premillennialists believe the Lord will return to "rapture" believers into heaven and unbelievers will be "left behind" for a 7-year period of tribulation in which they can still choose to repent and believe. This idea – of unbelievers having a "second chance" after the Lord's return – is a dangerous error, and clearly contrary to Scripture.

This jarring and quite annoying insertion ruins this mini-documentary, which would have otherwise been an interesting bonus to the main feature.

CONCLUSION

So skip the special features and this will be a fun film for families with older children – those with the required attention span for an 84-minute feature. And it is an absolute must-see for anyone who grew up devouring every book they could find about dragons or dinosaurs.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Alleged

Drama / Romance
93 minutes; 2011
Rating: 8 / 10 

Dayton, Tennessee is a small town in 1925, and too small for local reporter Charles Anderson who wants to make a big name for himself by going to the big city and working for legendary Baltimore Sun editor H.L. Mencken. His fiancee and coworker Rose is rooting for him, and when a legal battle in the town's courtroom garners attention from the national media, it looks like Charlie may have just the news story he needs to grab Mencken's attention.

Only, things don't go quite how he was expecting. He does get Mencken's attention, who is even willing to teach Charlie how to craft a news story. But this close-up tutelage lets Charlie see that his mentor won't let a little something like the truth get in the way of a good story. Mencken is more than willing to make up a story, if it will sell papers. Is Charlie willing to go that far to land the job he's been dreaming of?

Setting

In 1925 an anti-evolution law, which forbade the teaching of evolution in public schools, was challenged in a Dayton, Tennessee courtroom. John Scopes, a high school teacher, was charged with violating the law by teaching his students about Charles Darwin's theory.

The "Scopes Monkey Trial" pitted creationists vs. evolutionists and enlisted big name "stars": the Scripture-quoting, Bible-believing, 3-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution; and for the defense, Clarence Darrow, infamous for his defense of two indefensible child-killing clients. These big names got the attention of one other: Baltimore Sun editor H. L. Mencken. His columns largely influenced how the trial was perceived by the public - while the creationists won the court case, Mencken made sure that the evolutionists won the publicity battle.

Cautions

Only a couple of cautions to consider. Charles is drunk as a skunk in one scene, though his fiancee's disappointment and disapproval makes this an object lesson in the idiocy of drinking to excess, so not too much to object to on that point. Also one character shouts "Hallelujah!" insincerely in a church service. I should add, because the film teaches about the implication of Darwinian thought, there is a subplot that deals with eugenics. This is a topic that our older children need to learn about, but is also too much information for a younger audience that doesn't yet need to know how horrible the world can be.

Conclusion

More than three decades later, the events of the trial were again fictionalized in the play (1955) and film Inherit the Wind (1960). Both presented creationists as ignorant, foolish, bigoted and even bloodthirsty (the film has the townspeople threatening to burn John Scopes!) and because the film was shown to generations of American public school children it has had a lasting impact on the way the creation/evolution debate is conducted. It can be given much of the credit for why creationist arguments are most often mocked, rather than answered.

Alleged is an enjoyable counter to Inherit the Wind, presenting a much more accurate account of the trial. It could be enjoyed as an above average Christian romance, but the setting makes this more than a fun little film. The historical importance of this event means this is a film for just about anyone. It is educational and informative, yes, but also fun, romantic, generally light, and quite well acted. Highly recommend for older teens and adults. See the trailer below.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Courageous

Drama
2011, 129 minutes
Rating: 7/10

Like Fireproof, Facing the Giants and Flywheel before it, Courageous is a sermon wrapped up as a film. But unlike those earlier Kendrick brothers’ efforts – where the message took precedence over the moviemaking – this time the sermon has been wrapped up in a really good film!

The moral of this story is that fathers are vital to their kids, and consequently to the whole country. We follow five fathers, four of them police officers, only one of which seems to be doing a great job as a dad. Another, Adam Mitchell, will seem quite familiar to most of us – he isn’t a bad father; he just isn’t as good as he could be. Or to put it in his own words, “I’m doing about half of what I should be.”

Courageous begins and ends with a pair of chase scenes which give the Kendricks a chance to show just how good they have become at staging action sequences. These are basically police chase scenes, and they are intense! In the middle of the film we have some comedic scenes that are laugh out loud funny, and of course plenty of edifying conversations about the challenges of fatherhood.

Cautions

Two cautions: the comedy and action make this a film that most of the family would enjoy, however there is one tragic event that makes this too emotional for children, and might make it quite unpleasant for some parents too. Without giving too much away, one of the five families is struck by tragedy, which is what gets that father to reassess just what he’s doing as a dad. It is a necessary plot element, but it turns this from a start-to-finish feel-good movie to one that will take viewers through the full range of emotions.

The second caution would only be not to expect too much from the film. If you're looking for depth and nuance and Academy Award winning acting. then this isn't for you. The acting's not remarkable but it is solid. And while the biblical model of godly fatherhood is given a compelling presentation here, it certainly isn't a comprehensive one - there isn't time for more in a 2-hour film.

Conclusion

What you will find here is an encouraging, inspiring plea for fathers to get on with the task and privilege of raising their children. If you don’t mind being challenged as you are being amused, you’ll enjoy it. Edifying and entertaining – it’s a rare combination, but the Kendricks have pulled it off!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Like Dandelion Dust

Drama
104 minutes, 2009
Rating 8/10

Like Dandelion Dust pits two families against each other for the custody of Joey, a six-year-old boy they both claim as their own. The Porters are a troubled couple – in the film’s opening scenes we see a drunk Rip Porter being taken to jail for beating his wife Wendy. The Campbells couldn’t be more different – Jack and Molly have the big house, the sailing yacht and the happy family life. And they have Joey.

But the Porters are Joey’s biological parents. Wendy discovered she was pregnant soon after Rip’s arrest and imprisonment, and she decided to give Joey up for adoption. She also decided not to let Rip know about the pregnancy or adoption, so he only learns about Joey seven years later, after his release from prison. Since Rip didn’t know about Joey, he never gave his consent to the adoption. When Rip decides he wants Joey back from the Campbells, it turns out he has the law in his favor.


So the big question in this film is, what would you give up for your children? The Campbells don’t seem to have any legal means to keep Joey; should they explore illegal options? The Porters are in the right legally, but are they morally right to take Joey back?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Captivated

Documentary
107 minutes; 2011
Rating: 7/10

A highlight in Captivated is an epic rant by Professor Mark Bauerlein, author of The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans. When asked what he would say to his students caught up in the digital age,  his answer is worth the price of the DVD:

Do something different with yourselves. That means reading books. Know a little bit about history…. You’ll encounter people [there] who actually faced real stakes in their lives. [They] didn’t sit around and say, “Oh, my girlfriend dumped me. I feel so terrible; let me go talk to my friends. I’ll go change my facebook page.” The trivia of youth are amplified by these digital tools! What is the motto of YouTube? Broadcast yourself. Well, guess what? Yourself may not be that important. That may not be such a great subject to focus so much time on. One of the most dismaying things about you guys is you get together and all you talk about is yourselves and what you do. You don’t talk about anything else. Do you know how boring you are?



The self-absorption of youth is not the film’s only target. Parents are liable to feel pretty uncomfortable when their own enslavement to digital media is highlighted. Captivated asks, how can we use media, and use these tools without becoming enslaved to them? It promotes moderation, but in what is surely the most controversial segment, suggests a one-month media fast can help families connect, and better regain balance in their lives.  One father, Erik Engstrom, notes that it can’t be “just about taking away – if all you do is take away something from your kids, and leave them with nothing, they’re in no better spot.” So the fast also has to involve feasting – feasting on family board games, on biking together, shooting hoops, conversations with mom and dad about the books that kids are reading, and much more.

There’s much more to this DVD, and all of it challenging and thought-provoking. For those who are familiar with, and fans of Colin Gunn's work, I should note that he was one of the directors for this film - it's another home run by Mr. Gunn.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Act Like Men

Documentary
45 minutes; 2012
Rating 8/10

This documentary uses the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic as the means of teaching us about manliness.

On the night of April 15, 1912, this “virtually unsinkable” luxury ocean liner struck an iceberg and quickly started taking on water. There were lifeboats for only half the people aboard, so the captain gave the order that, with the exception of able-bodied men to row, the boats would first be filled with women and children. The end result was that 75 per cent of the women and children were saved, but just 20 per cent of the men.



Several Christian pastors – most of whom seem to be Reformed – are interviewed and they establish a firm connection between the example of the men on the Titanic and God’s call for all men to be sacrificial leaders (Ephesians 5). As the filmmakers tells us more about these men who willingly gave up their lives, they also start contrasting them with men of today, many of whom aren’t even willing to give up their X-box for their loved ones. As one pastor, Scott Brown, explains:

Fathers today have too many diversionary activities. They have too many sports, too many interests, too many hobbies. They have things that just get in the way of the discipleship of their children.  If a man is going to obey the biblical commands he has to lay aside lots of lawful, interesting, fantastic, fun, engaging kinds of things or he will never be able to be a shepherd of his children. 

This is another well-made, thought-provoking production by Reformed filmmaker Colin Gunn. My only critique would be that it goes a tad overboard, tracing most every evil in the world to the lack of godly manliness. That said, lack of male leadership is a pressing problem, and this is a challenging presentation that the men in our circles would benefit from seeing and discussing. You can purchase it at Christianbooks.com.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Free online film: The Bible vs. The Book of Mormon

Documentary
66 minutes
Rating: 8 /10

This is an engaging, well-produced and well-argued comparison of these two texts - the Bible, and the Book of Mormon - done by a Christian ministry based in Brigham City, Utah. This is a hotbed of Mormonism so their documentary takes care to speak with tact about Mormons, since many of the people involved in making this film are ex-Mormons, with friends and extended family members who are still Mormons.

The film contrasts how much archeological evidence there is for the Bible, with how little - none! - there is for the Book of Mormon. A Mormon friend has noted that absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence, or, in other words, just because they haven't found evidence yet, doesn't prove that there isn't any to be found. True enough, but the sheer weight of evidence on the biblical side is a stark contrast when compared to the absence of archeological evidence for the Book of Mormon - we've found tons (literally) of evidence that support the Bible, and nothing that supports the Book of Mormon. This is so good, you’ll want a copy for your church, even though it is free online - you can watch the entire thing below, and find other films by its producers at Sourceflix.com

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Indoctrination

Documentary
102 minutes; 2011
Rating 8/10

Two interviews with public school teacher Sarah Laverdiere serve as stunning book ends for Colin Gunn's remarkable investigation into the anti-Christian roots of public education.

LaVerdiere is a Christian who has a hard time reconciling her job with her faith - she doesn't know if she should be making parents feel good about sending their children to a public school. At about the 26 minute mark LaVerdiere is asked, "How long would your career last, if were to start teaching Scripture from the front of the classroom?" Laughing, she answers, "I'd probably be out of here that day!

Those were prophetic words.

An hour further into Indoctrination we meet her again. Since her first interview LaVerdiere had decided the she could not remain silent about God in the classroom, so she had offered her resignation. She was initially supposed to teach another two weeks, but after she wrote a letter, at her principal's request, explaining her decision, she was asked to resign immediately. What was in her letter? LaVerdiere noted that she could not continue to teach where Christianity was not welcome, and where homosexuals, radical environmentalists and atheists were encouraged to pervert the minds of the students. Though she was initially supposed to teach another two weeks, when the principal saw her letter LaVerdiere was asked to resign that day. And she was escorted out of the school like a criminal:

"I did return to the elementary school that day. And the principal supervised me as I cleaned out my classroom. They has the students go on a back playground and they had me go around a different way than I normally do so that the students could not see me while they were on the playground... when all I had done was tell my students I was leaving because I was a Christian."



That, in a nutshell, summarizes the state of public education in America: it is at war with Christianity.

There is much more in this documentary. The narrative for the film is the Gunn family's trip, in a big yellow school bus, across America. They travel from place to place visiting educational experts, and Reformed theologians and uncover the radically anti-Christian roots of public education. It is no accident that God is now unwelcome in the classroom. As Gunn shows, for many of the most pivotal figures in educational history, that was the plan from the beginning.

In addition to the specifically Reformed influence in this film, another attractive feature is the filmmaker and narrator, Colin Gunn. Scottish-born, his accent is charming and, if a grown man can say this about another grown man, adorable. I can't imagine a more pleasant voice to listen to as the dire and dour state of public education is explained. Clever animated illustrations and engaging interviewees make this a highly enjoyable as well as highly educational experience.

Though this is about the US public system, it is highly relevant to Canadians as well, as this is primarily an exploration of public education philosophy, and this same philosophy pervades our schools north of the border too.

A great production... and an important one! To buy a copy at Amazon.com click here.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Waiting for Superman

Documentary
111 minutes; 2010
Rating: 8/10

“One of the saddest days of my life was when my mother told me ‘Superman’ did not exist. Cause even in the depths of the ghetto you just thought he was coming… She thought I was crying because it’s like Santa Claus is not real. I was crying because no one was coming with enough power to save us.” 
- educational reformer Geoffrey Canada

The public school system in the US is so bad mere mortals don’t seem capable of fixing it. And sadly Superman isn’t available. So how can it be fixed? And more importantly, why should the primarily Canadian, private-school-supporting readership of this magazine care to find out?

Let’s start with this last question first. There are two reasons our community should watch Waiting for Superman. The first: to better appreciate the blessing that our schools are. The second: to ensure our schools never make the mistakes that have destroyed the US public schools.



Doing the opposite

There is, of course, Someone powerful enough to fix all that’s wrong in these schools, but He isn’t welcome there. In fact, watching Superman is like being given a close-up look at a system based on the very opposite of what God instructs us concerning the education of our children.
  • God says education is a parental (Prov. 4) responsibility? Not so in the public system; there the parents have little to no say. 
  • God warns that teachers will “be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1)? The teachers’ unions won’t stand for that. They’ve negotiated contracts based on the idea that “we shouldn’t make any distinctions among teachers. A teacher is a teacher is a teacher.” In some districts unions have managed to make it next to impossible to fire teachers (disciplinary hearing can last as long as three years!) no matter how bad they might be.
So what happens when you do the opposite? Very bad things. The American system has thousands of schools so pathetic they’ve been labelled “failure factories.” If your child is unfortunate enough to have to attend one of these schools, it may not matter how gifted or determined they are - their educational future could be determined by the teachers they are saddled with.

Everyone seems ready to admit the system is broken, but the opposing sides have very different ideas of what and who is to blame. The teachers’ unions put the blame on class size, and a lack of funding. But director Davis Guggenheim argues money can’t be the pivotal factor:

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Free online film: Inherently Windy

A Hollywood History of the Scopes Trial
Lecture
74 minutes / 2004
RATING: 7/10

In 1925 teacher John Scopes was found guilty, and fined $100, for violating a law which prohibited the teaching “that man descended from a lower order of animals.” But while the court found him guilty, the US media championed him in their papers, and fed the public a distorted account of events that made the anti-evolutionist prosecuting attorney, William Jennings Bryan, look like a fool.

A play about events, called Inherit the Wind, often produced by high schools and colleges, spread the distorted account to subsequent generations, and a 1960 film of the same title (starring Spencer Tracy) took the distortion to a whole new audience. There was no attempt at fairness - in one bombastic scene the town’s fundamentalist Christians are portrayed as an angry mob, marching on the jail to lynch the evolution-teaching teacher!

This, then, is another caricature of creationists, but bigger than most in that it’s portrayal of creationists as violent, dim-witted and bigoted has impacted public perception for generations.

One of the best responses to the film is a lecture done by Dr. David Menton. In his presentation Inherently Wind: A Hollywood History of the Scopes Trial he deconstructs one outrageous lie after another by showing a scene from the film, and then explaining the actual facts of the matter. Even if you’ve never seen or heard of Inherit the Wind before, it’s still worth watching this lecture just to learn about the contempt and hatred Hollywood has historically had for Bible-believing Christians. And if you have seen the film Dr. Menton’s presentation will blow your mind. You may have realized the film was propaganda, but you never realized just how little regard the filmmakers had for truth, fairness and honesty.

This great presentation can be viewed free online here.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Merrill's Marauders

Drama / War
98 minutes; 1962
Rating: 6 / 10

Merrill's Marauders - the 5307th Composite Unit (provisional) - was a US combat unit that fought in South-East Asia during World War II.

In the course of five months in 1944 they trekked 750 miles through some of the worst jungle terrain in Burma, and fought in five major battle and countless other skirmishes. In addition to combat losses, their forces were diminished by typhus, malaria and dysentery, and further weakened by low supplies - the 2,800-calorie, daily ration packs they were provided would have been sufficient for most other forces, but not men asked to hike, climb and hack their way through the hot, humid, Burmese jungle.

The force, named after their commander, General Frank Merrill, made their name by taking on larger, more heavily armed Japanese forces and beating them, again, and again. They continued on, without reinforcements or rest until, by the time of their last battle, at Myitkyina, only 200 of the original force of 2,750 were present. The Wikipedia entry notes that at the end of this final battle only two "had never been hospitalized with wounds or major illness."

Merrill's Marauders is a mostly accurate account of this fighting force, and how they were asked to battle on, beyond endurance. This is a good story and great film for anyone interested in World War II. The reason I gave it only a 6 out of 10 is because the many battle scenes in the film are, by today's standards, quite unrealistic: we see almost no gore, with enemy soldiers simply falling down when shot. So anyone who has seen Saving Private Ryan or some other modern, ultra-realistic war film, will find it hard to take these battles seriously. But this lack of gore is also a selling feature. It means this film is appropriate for a much younger audience - fathers could watch this with their sons, to show them a piece of history. That said, the battles do still involve explosions, lots of shooting, and of course, soldiers dying, so they will still be too intense for the very young.

One other caution - while the language in here is pretty clean - no one takes God's name in vain - there is one or two uses of "damn" and "hell."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

unPLANNED

Documentary
62 minutes; 2011
Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Abby Johnson was raised pro-life but became the head of one of the United States’ biggest Planned Parenthood abortion clinics. In 2009 she left her job and walked down the street into the offices of Coalition for Life, a pro-life group that regularly picketed outside her clinic. She wanted their help; she wanted out; she wanted forgiveness.

This is an eye-opening documentary in two entirely different ways.

First, unPLANNED shows us how a young woman can be pulled into the abortion movement. When Abby Johnson went off to college she got involved with a man several years older than her. When she became pregnant and didn’t know what to do, this boyfriend had a ready “solution.” Soon after, when she came across a Planned Parenthood display on campus, she still told them she was pro-life, but it didn’t take much for them to sway her. She wanted them to be right; she didn’t want to think of herself as a killer. Soon she was volunteering at the abortion clinic, along with many others sincerely thought they were helping women.

But outside the clinic fence there were pro-life Christians praying. They were praying for the unborn babies, praying for their mothers, and praying for Abby too.

The second eye-opening aspect of this documentary is the way it shows us how the pro-life movement, by God’s grace, won this woman over. Gracious volunteers who spoke the truth and were clearly motivated by love spent years talking with Abby, through the fence. One even brought her flowers! Then, in late 2009, she, for the first time, helped with an ultrasound-guided abortion of a 13-week-old unborn baby. Though she had been told that fetuses at this stage could not feel pain, she saw the fetus jerking and squirming to get away from the vacuum tube. Watching the child get ripped apart on the ultrasound screen brought her to a moment of horrifying clarity.

I was just watching, in shock, and just horror, almost, because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing…. I couldn’t believe it. I could believe that - I couldn’t believe that I had believed a lie for that long. That I had lived a lie for that long. That I had spoken so many lies, to so many women, for so long.

She didn’t know quite what to do, but only a few days later she was at the doors of Coalition for Life asking for their help.

Her story hit the national airwaves when the Planned Parenthood clinic, in what seems an attempt at intimidating her, sued her. Their case was thrown out of court, but it helped publicize Abby’s departure, and the story of a former abortion clinic director becoming pro-life was too good for any news organization to ignore. We don’t always understand the means by which God further his plans, but in this instance what Planned Parenthood intended for evil, God very quickly and very clearly turned to good: the news coverage allowed Abby Johnson to speak up for the unborn to a national audience.

While I would recommend this film to anyone over 12, I do want to add a couple cautions.
First, this is a fantastic pro-life resource, but shouldn’t be used as a theological one – many of the interviewees talk about God from a distinctly Arminian perspective, which isn’t surprising since many are undoubtedly Catholic (including Abby Johnson).

Second, as my father-in-law noted about the book this film is based on, it lacks an appropriate sense of gravitas. Though she acknowledges she sinned horribly, the true horror of what Abby Johnson was involved in isn’t really conveyed in the film. The reaction of her pro-life family, and pro-life husband to her abortion clinic work contributes to this lack of gravitas – they make it clear they disapprove, but their daughter’s/wife’s ongoing involvement in the murder of countless children doesn’t prompt them to anything more than muted expressions of disapproval. It hardly seems like she could be doing anything too wrong if this all the reaction she gets from her friends and family.

I’ll conclude by noting I’m being a bit overly cautious with these cautions and I hope this doesn’t leave you wondering if the film is any good. It is wonderful! What a story – praise God for the wonders He can perform! It is also a great resource for anyone involved in the pro-life movement, and to those who are not, but are starting to recognize that they really should be! I highly recommend it (and have already seen it 5 times!).

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry

Family / Drama
96 minutes; 2010
RATING: 5/10

In the summer of 1970 three boys develop a friendship with an elderly man, Jonathan Sperry, who teaches them about the necessity of living out, and spreading God’s Word.

The first time I watched The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry I stopped about ten minutes in – the three principal child actors weren’t very good. Not horrible, but awkward enough to get in the way of the story.

But when I shared my thoughts with a friend, he encouraged me to watch the whole thing, and instead of focusing on the acting, look at what else the film had to offer. And it does have a lot to offer - this is a “message film” that uses storytelling to teach Christian morals. The lessons the three boys learn from Mr. Sperry include how:
  • important it is to share the Bible with everyone we know 
  • we should look to older godly people to mentor us 
  • we should respond to bullies by using Matt. 5:38-42: “If your enemy takes a piece of your pizza, offer him two.” 
In a particularly illuminating conversation, Mr. Sperry teaches the boys that God’s love is evidenced in the Bible’s laws and restrictions.

Mark: “The Lord is interested in the girls we like?
Mr. Sperry: “Absolutely The Lord is interested in everything in our lives!”
Albert: “Yeah, I know the Bible is always saying, don’t do this, don’t do that”
Mr. Sperry: “I never look at it that way. Now the bible says not to steal. Would you like anyone stealing from you Mark?
Mark: “No”
Mr. Sperry: “Well, I guess that’s a pretty good thing, isn’t it?”


There is a value to these sorts of "message" films, especially when we take them as such. This isn't a great film, acting-wise, but is pretty impressive as a means of teaching a moral lesson - a pleasant way of getting a conversation started with our kids about the importance of sharing God's Word. 

But let’s dwell on the acting for a moment. Christian films often have problems when it comes to “believability” – the storyline and acting often don’t ring true. But as Jonathan Sperry concluded I became quite a bit less critical, because the closing credits told us what happened to the boys after they grew up – one became a pastor, another a radio station owner and another a police officer. This must have been based on real events and I have a lot more leeway then. If a film story seems a bit too easy, or too good to be true – say, the baseball team that is made up of losers that wins it all – but I know it is based on a real story, then I just go with it, and turn off my inner critic. After all, it really happened! So sure, Mr. Sperry seems too nice to be authentic, and the bully in this story has a change of heart that happens a bit too quickly, but if this was based on real events, who am I to say this is unrealistic?

However, the film's closing, by giving the impression that these were real people, is misleading. The opening of the film actually states that these are entirely fictional events. And as a fictional piece, my criticisms pop up again. Like the fictional baseball team of losers that just wins, wins and wins, the fictional wonderful Christian man that does everything right is more than a bit unrealistic. This is a flaw common to many Christian films – Christians who are too perfect. We make ourselves look too good, and we need to work on that.

So, a pleasant family film, though some of Mr. Sperry's lessons do have the strong Arminian overtones that parents should point out. I give it a 5 out of 10 for entertainment, noting that there are better "message" films out there, including one by this same director called Time Changer. But this will make for a nice evening with the kids.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Free online film: Programming of Life

Documentary
44 minutes, 2011?

This is a critique of the insufficiency of random chance as any sort of explanation for the complexity of life. This is basically an Intelligent Design presentation, so it argues against evolution, rather than arguing for creation. Still, it makes a pretty compelling case that information has to come from somewhere, and that we have a lot of information - our programming for life - packaged inside us. So where did it come from? This is clearly a presentation intended to be palatable in public schools, so they don't answer that question with the obvious answer - God - but this answer is inescapable nonetheless.

There is a lot to chew on here, so you may want to watch it a few times to properly digest it all. Fantastic computer animation aid in making this a painless educational journey. I would recommend Programming of Life to anyone interested in the origins debate, including those that are already quite familiar - even they will find something new and of interest here. You can find out more at their website, ProgrammingOfLife.com, including previewing the book the documentary is based on, and you can watch the complete film below.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

To Save A Life

Drama
120 minutes; 2010
Rating: 8 / 10

To Save A Life is about teen suicide... and also premarital sex, abortion, underage drinking, cutting, bullying, divorce, divorce's impact on children, adultery, drug use, gossip, and Christian hypocrisy. It's a realistic look into the teen party culture, and consequently we see some students smoking pot, a couple about to engage in sex, lots of drinking, and a lot of immodest dress.

This description might make the film seem too much like today's typical teen fare - partying kids, and the fun they have. But there is a twist; To Save A Life is also about being willing to stick out instead of fit in, being willing to reach out, to walk our talk, to take responsibility for our sins, to be willing to forgive, and to take God and what He says in his Word seriously.

High school senior Jake Taylor is the star guard on the basketball team. He has what everyone wants: the looks, the friends, the prettiest girl in school. Roger Dawson is on the other end of the social spectrum. He wonders if anyone would even notice if he just disappeared. In despair he walks into school and pulls out a gun in a crowded hallway. As he swings the gun barrel towards his own head, only one student speaks up - Jake - but it's too late. Roger kills himself.
That's how the film begins, but what the film is about is how Jake reacts to Roger's suicide. It haunts him because the two of them used to be friends. But Jake ditched Roger soon after they both started high school, when Jake got in with the popular kids. Roger needed a friend. Jake was too busy pursuing the "high school dream" to care.

Guilt-ridden, Jake first turns to alcohol, and then to sex to try to forget. But those are only short-term diversions. Eventually he ends up in a nearby church, attending the youth service. But here, too, he isn't finding what he hoped - the group is full of youth who aren't walking their talk. He knows many of these same church kids are smoking pot during school, or are part of the same party scene he's running from. In disgust he shouts out a challenges to the group: "What is the use of all this if you aren't going to let it change you?"

Sure, some of the kids aren't genuine, but some are, and Jake's angry challenge stirs things up. They start meeting for lunch at school, and start reaching out to others on the outside to come join them. They befriend the friendless.

Cautions

When this was first released it was quite a controversial film in Christian circles. Not many Christian films earn a PG-13 rating. But while the film's realistic portrayal of teen depravity means this is not a film for children, this "grit" has been used with care. Restraint is evident.

Still, there are reasons parents might want to preview this film before watching with their teens. In addition to the intense topic matter, here are some more specific cautions to consider:
  • Immodest dress. Some of the girls are wearing outfits that would look much nicer, and much warmer, with a coat on over top.
  • One students says "dammit" and another says "hell" There may be another instance or two of such curse words, but no one takes God's name in vain.
  • A couple, with the boy shirtless, are shown on a bed kissing, clearly about to have sex (which is not shown).
  • One boy is shown cutting his arm (not much gore, but we do see a little blood).
  • A boy kills himself by shooting himself in the head. We see no blood or gore, but it is an emotionally intense scene.
This is a complex movie because of the sheer number of issues it takes on and because it takes on so much, it does breeze over some issues, and deals with some others in an overly simplistic way. This includes God's gospel message. Viewers might leave with the impression that God's gospel message is meant as good news for this life - that if we follow what He says, things will start going better for us here and now. This is the "Gospel as a self-help guide" error common to many Christian films and novels. It isn't explicitly stated in To Save A Life so I don't want to dwell on it. The truth is, things do often start going better for us when we follow God's will. His law can act as a fence around us; when we stay within its bounds we are safe from many things that might otherwise harm us. At the same time, serving God can come at a cost - think of the many martyrs around the world. And in the high school setting, especially in a public school but even in Christian ones, serving God can cost you friends and popularity. That's a point that To Save A Life touches on, but also glosses over.

Conclusion

How do Christians do high school differently?  As To Save A Life shows, often times we don't do it differently at all - we're involved in the same drunkenness, the same rebellion, the same quest to fit in. Our peers matter to us more than our parents, and more than God.

But what if we lived as lights? What if God, and what He thought, mattered more to us than what our friends thought of us? What if we did unto others as we would like them to do unto us? Then we might do high school quite differently. To Save A Life explores what that difference might look like, and while the film is gritty at times, it is a great resource for parents and their teenage children. It is an enjoyable film, but more importantly a challenging one. Parents: use it to challenge your kids.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Freedom of What?cott

Documentary
67 minutes, 2011
Rating: 8 out of 10

Let’s start with the downright amazing.

Bill Whatcott once successfully led a gay pride parade in Regina while carrying a ten-foot tall sign that said, “Bare bottomed pitifuls are celebrating buggery in Regina! God help us!” To pull it off, he hid behind pillars that were alongside the parade route and jumped out in front while holding his sign high. Parade participants rushed towards him and tried to use their signs to cover up his but they couldn’t, because Whatcott’s massive sign towered above theirs. A homosexual on rollerblades tried to run over him but only managed a glancing blow, which sent the rollerblader, not Bill, tumbling. Police then intervened. They warned the crowd that attacks would not be tolerated, and then, inexplicably, allowed Bill to continue to lead the parade!

Now to the downright crazy. Bill once handed out a flyer that depicted a close-up picture of a man’s bare rear end that was riddled with anal warts. Mine was one of the thousands of Edmonton households to get this vulgar 1-page photocopy and I was grateful that, in our case at least, no children had been exposed to this. Bill was trying to educate Edmontonians to a common consequence of homosexual sex. Good info to pass on, but is this the only way it can be presented?

In the documentary Freedom of What?cott it becomes apparent that even Bill’s closest friends think he regularly steps over the line. But even many of his enemies think he should be free to do that.

This fantastic documentary will have you admiring the man’s courage, questioning his sanity, and praying for the preservation of his freedom of speech. Topic matter, and some brief troubling visuals, make this unsuitable for children, but the importance of this issue makes it a must-see for all other Canadians. Watch the trailer below.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Reckoning: Remembering the Dutch Resistance

Documentary
96 min / 2006
Rating: 7 out of 10 (for those with a Dutch background)

My grandfather never talked about the war but I knew he had been involved in the Dutch Resistance. I was proud of him then, but I didn’t properly appreciate his courage. As a child I thought his involvement in the Resistance was a brave, but almost unremarkable thing. After all, most of my friends’ grandparents had also done their part. To me it seemed as if everyone back then had joined. I was sure that, had I been there, I would have joined as well.

But now I understand things better. Though many from our small Reformed community got involved, what they did was rare and exceptional. As the narrator of The Reckoning notes, “Hundreds acted. Millions did not.”

The Reckoning is a tribute to the courage of these special few, and delves deeply into the ordinary details around their courageous activities. Director John Evans uses a host of 1940s photography, interviews with surviving Resistance members and archival footage to bring viewers right into the dilemma these men and women faced. We should never make the mistake of thinking them fearless – one gentleman recounts how he had to change his shorts after one run-in with the Nazis. And yet deciding to act seemed a simple decision for many. God gave them an understanding of right and wrong, and the conviction to act on it. A principal figure in the film, John Muller, described how quickly and suddenly he got involved:
“My brother-in-law called me and said, ‘I want to talk to you… I decided you were material for the underground.’ I said ‘No!’ And then I thought it over and said, ‘Okay I will do it. I will do it. I will do something for my country.’ I said, ‘What do you want me to do?’”
It was a simple decision for him, but millions more declined. Viewers can’t help but wonder, “Would I have been among the few?”

I would highly recommend this film – this is a tribute to our grandparents, and we should know their story, so we can seek to be like them. They loved the Lord, and acted as He directed, even when they were left confused and wondering why God would allow such evil. Their faith was tested, but God kept them close.

While this is an important film that I hope many will see, it does contain some graphic war footage, and film of some of the concentration camps including footage of skeletal bodies piled one on another. So this is not appropriate for small children.

You can rent it online here.

Reckoning from Vision Video on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Winnie the Pooh

Animated / Children / Family
63 min / 2011
Rating: 8/10

Our favorite silly little bear starts his newest adventure in bed, waking up only at the insistence of the narrator. Winnie-the-Pooh "has a Very Important Thing to Do" today, so he simply must get up!

Just what that important thing is, the narrator does not specify, so Pooh decides his first priority is going to be to take care of his tummy. And that requires some "huny." When he discovers he is all out, this bear of very little brain come up with a sensible enough plan - he goes in search of "friends out there with honey to spare."

Once out of his little house Pooh proceeds to have a series of adventures. The first involves Tigger and a balloon, and the second, a fearsome beast (or as fearsome as a Pooh cartoon can be) named the Backson. The longest adventure of all is a search for Eeyore's tail... or for some substitute that could serve in that role.

This is a gentle family-friendly gem. Disney has produced a score of Pooh films but this is the first since 1977's The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh to fully capture the charm of the books.  Adventures remains the best of all the Pooh films, with this a very close second.

Some reviewers were critical about its length, or rather, lack of length. Winnie the Pooh is listed as being an hour long, which is only about half as long as a regular feature film (and when you subtract the credits, it would be more accurate to say this is just over 50 minutes). It's a legitimate beef. I know I would feel a little put out if I spent ten bucks per head for my family and we were marching out of the theatre before I even finished my popcorn. But on DVD this length is more palatable, especially when its intended audience, and their limited attention spans, are considered.

There are only two cautions to note. The first concerns language. After the film ends, and ten minutes of credits run, there is one final, very short scene in which the word "gosh" is used twice. I'm not a fan of this "substitute expletive" but this is not God's name, and thus is not taking his name in vain.

The only other caution is about Pooh himself. In this rendition, Pooh is a little more self-absorbed and selfish than usual. As an example, when the group sets out to trap the Backson, Pooh is content to let his little friend Piglet do all the work while he supervises. Pooh's shallowness (including his obsession with honey) is the central "conflict" in the story, and one that parents should point out to their children - the "hero" of this little story is not being a good friend right here. Of course, Pooh does gets his priorities figured out by the end of the film. When faced with the choice of finally getting some honey, or bringing Eeyore his missing tale, Pooh chooses friend over food. The story concludes with Christopher Robin congratulating Pooh for the "Very Important Thing" he did today: "Instead of thinking of your tummy you thought of your friend."