My Brother’s Keeper–Film Review

Travis Fox, a soldier, returns to his home town after the death of his best friend, who was killed in an IED attack. Travis also lost his parents several years earlier in a tragic car accident. He suffers from PTSD and has lost his faith in God. Through the help of Tiffany, who runs a veteran’s ministry, and her pastor, his belief is restored, and he finds both love and a reason to continue living.

The film deals with some difficult issues, such as suicide, grief and gang involvement. Unfortunately, they are addressed in a way that is superficial and sugarcoated. Every problem is quickly resolved, and struggles are minimized. The characters are not well developed.

There are some theological issues for Lutherans as well. Travis is rebaptized by immersion, despite having been baptized as a child. During the church services portrayed, the congregation applauds at the end of the sermon! I don’t know if this is normal for some denominations, but I certainly haven’t observed it happening in a Lutheran setting.

VERDICT: 2 STARS. Predictable and unrealistic. It’s a feel-good Christian film, if that’s what you like.

For more Christian movies see:

Fatima — Movie Review

Overcomer–Movie Review

Unplanned — Movie Review

Billy Graham–Film Review

This documentary film is one of the PBS series, American Experience. Billy Graham has been called “the protestant pope” and “America’s pastor.” He died at the age of 99, a national icon.

The film focuses on his rise to prominence and how he came to influence both national politics and the evangelical movement. Many factors including his good lucks, charismatic personality, and gift for evangelism played into his success. Early on, William Randolph Hearst publicized his revival in Los Angeles, boosting attendance and turning him into a religious celebrity. He firmly believed that the United States was meant to be a positive influence in maintaining world peace, and that capitalism and Christianity were allies. To this end, he cultivated the friendship of politicians and encouraged church members to vote and elect moral leaders who shared their Christian goals.

The Watergate scandal left him deeply disappointed in President Nixon, who he had supported vigorously. After that, he became more cautious about endorsing particular candidates, and evolved a more global outlook, taking revivals to England and many other countries.. At one point, he was considered the most well known person in the world.

Many clips of Graham are used, as well as interviews with historians and family members. He is not presented as a hero, but a person who pursued the work he felt God had given him with persistence and confidence.

VERDICT: 4 STARS. It was an interesting perspective, but don’t expect to learn much about his personal life.

For more movie reviews see:

Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood — Movie Review

Harriet–Movie Review

Unplanned — Movie Review

90 Minutes in Heaven — Movie Review

This movie is based on the true story of Pastor Don Piper. While driving home from a conference in the rain, he is involved in a terrible car accident. Responders to the scene find no pulse and wait for the coroner to arrive and pronounce him dead. After 90 minutes, a pastor arrives and asks if he can pray for the dead man. As he prays and sings a hymn, he is startled to hear Don singing softly along with him! Most of the movie is spent detailing Pastor Piper’s long and difficult recovery. Confined for months to bed with a fixator attached to his leg, he battles with depression, and learns to accept help from others. He also struggles with whether to reveal an amazing experience. While he was dead, he visited heaven! Finally he describes this event to his best friend, who encourages him to share ut with others.

If you’re looking for a lot of details about heaven, you won’t find them in this film. Pastor Piper does describe a happy reunion with many who had preceded him in death, beautiful music and a peaceful sense of God’s presence. He no longer had any concern or anxiety about the life he left behind. He did not want to return.

Convinced that he was sent back to reassure and comfort others, he has spent years traveling to churches and telling his story. There is a short clip of the real Don Piper at the end.

VERDICT: 4 STARS. His story is very believable, but the movie drags at times.

P.S. There is also a book written by Pastor Piper with the same title, if you would rather read about his experience. The movie follows the book quite closely.

For more about heaven see these posts:

The Hope of Heaven

Heaven is a World of Love by Jonathan Edwards — Book Review

Martin Luther on Heavenly Blessings

Reclaiming Life: Faith, Hope and Suicide Loss–Film Review

This film discusses the pain, loss and grief that results from suicide. The speakers are Kay Warren, co-founder of Saddleback Church; Marjorie Antus, author of ‘My Daughter, Her Suicide and God; and Ronal Rolheiser, a Roman Catholic priest who is a best-selling author and columnist.

The film is divided into short sections, with each person narrating their own perspectives and experiences with suicide. Some of the topics covered are:

*What kind of person commits suicide?

*The stigma of mental illness and suicide

*The need for forgiveness — both of the person who died and yourself

*The role of the Christian community in recovering from a tragic loss

*Bible verses that comfort

*Regaining hope

*Serving others who have experienced a similar loss

Not everyone will navigate this experience in the same way. Kay Warren said the analogy of a bus trip was helpful to her. Each person is sitting in a different spot on the bus, and notices different things out the window closest to them. How a person grieves will depend upon their personality and their relationship with the person who died. A parent’s grief will differ from the grief of a sibling, for example. It’s important to accept where others are in the process and not expect them all to react the way you do.

Included with the disc are some resources that include suggestions for caring for survivors of suicide loss, and responding to a person who may be at risk for suicide.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. This would be helpful for those going through suicide loss, and those who want to help them. This is a situation that is often ignored because people are so uncomfortable discussing it.

For more about Kay Warren see:

Dangerous Surrender by Kay Warren–Book Review

For more about dealing with grief see:

The Night Lake by Liz Tichenor–Book Review

The Gravity of Joy by Angela Williams Gorrell–Book Review

A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story–Movie Review

After reading a book by Lizzie Velasquez (Dare to be Kind by Lizzie Velasquez–Book Review), I decided to check out this documentary about her life from the local library. Lizzie has a rare syndrome that prevents her from gaining weight, and as a consequence of looking very different, she was shunned and stared at from an early age. When she was 17 she discovered a YouTube video calling her “the world’s ugliest woman.” Worse yet, many viewers of the clip posted hurtful comments like “kill it with fire” and “why didn’t her parents abort her?”

Lizzie’s father, an active Christian, counsels her to forgive and channel her energy into promoting positivity online. She starts her own podcast and becomes a motivational speaker whose TEDx talk is viewed by millions.

The film focuses heavily on her campaign to promote a federal anti-bullying bill, and her collaboration with Tina Meier, whose daughter hanged herself after a cyber-bullying incident, and congresswoman Linda Sanchez, who sponsored the bill.

As I said in my book review, I’m not sure I support all of Lizzie’s opinions. I would have to do more research on the anti-bullying bill — it sounds good, but how is bullying defined and who defines it? My fear is that “anti-bullying” could lead into the ability to punish or silence anyone who expressed negative ideas about your or your beliefs, interfering with free speech. It’s something that should be talked about and approached, but cautiously.

That being said, Lizzie is an inspiring person, and the world needs more people like her. This movie would be great to watch with older children or teens because they need to hear her messages:

  1. Be yourself
  2. Be positive
  3. Be kind
  4. People who are hurt you probably have hurtful things going on in their lives
  5. Set goals and focus on them– don’t be deterred by the negative comments of others

In fact, we all need to hear these things.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. Watch this movie with your family and friends, and support Lizzie by spreading kindness

For more movie reviews see:

Son of God — Movie Review

Selma — Movie Review

Entertaining Angels– Movie Review

Small Group–Movie Review

This film can be best described as a bit of Christian fluff.  Scott, a documentary film maker, arrives in Georgia with his wife and young daughter.  His backer is hoping to expose Christian hypocrisy, but Scott just wants to discover the truth.  He reluctantly agrees to join the small group program of a local church, secretly filming their meeting and discussions.

The theology presented is definitely not Lutheran (of the ‘make a decision for Christ’ ilk), the church services depicted are mere Christian entertainment (in my opinion) and the plot is predictable.  The men bond over a camping trip (where they behave like ten year old boys), while the women start a yoga studio.  Of course, the deception is discovered to the dismay and disappointment of the group members.  However, in the end, a positive documentary is produced, Scott is baptized, the redneck next door neighbor turns out to be a lovable medic, the prodigal bunny belonging to Scott’s daughter Casey returns, and all is forgiven.

There are a few touching moments involving a mission trip to Guatemala, and the premature birth and death of a child, but other than that, everything is neatly wrapped up and resolved exactly as one would expect.

I have belonged to a number of small groups, and am aware of their transformative potential over time.  However, this movie simply didn’t capture the depth of the experience for me.

In keeping with the theme for this month, I would say the life challenge presented here is betrayal, and the difficulty of forgiving in light of the hurt that brings.

VERDICT:  2 STARS.

For other movie reviews see:

Tolkien–Movie Review

Selma — Movie Review

Son of God — Movie Review

Silence — Movie Review

In the 17th century Christianity was illegal in Japan. Two Portuguese Jesuit priests travel there in hopes of locating Father Cristovão Ferreira, their mentor, who is rumored to have committed apostasy.  They also hope to spread the gospel. Upon arriving, they find several groups of secret Christians who are delighted to have priests once again.  However, eventually the authorities get wind of this. One of the priests is killed;  the other, Rodrigues finds Father Ferreira, who has indeed renounced Christianity.  It then documents his spiritual struggle as he tries to decide if Father Ferreira is right — is it wrong to evangelize people who will then be tortured and killed for their beliefs?  Is Christianity a belief system that simply can’t flourish among the Japanese?

This movie is long (almost 3 hours) and can drag at times.  In my opinion, the greatest value was being exposed to the mistreatment inflicted on people in places where Christians are persecuted.  This was hard to see, and something I think we tend to forget in the West.  In the end, because his refusal to apostatize is causing the Japanese Inquisitor to torture and kill Christian villagers, the Father Rodrigues gives in.  His prayers are met with silence.  He doesn’t know what decision is right.  He and Father Ferreira help the Japanese sort through trade goods, making sure Christian items aren’t smuggled into the country.  They marry Japanese women and appear to lead Buddhist lives.

Forty years later Rodrigues dies and is given a traditional Buddhist burial.  However, at the end, his wife slips a cross into his hand.

What are we to think?  Possibly he remained a secret Christian, but did he convert or serve others as a priest?  If he remained an apostate, how was he be received by God? Is the best decision to save lives or save souls?  What if you can’t do both? The ending is unresolved (silent) so you can imagine what you wish.

VERDICT:  2 STARS. A dilemma that should have created empathy somehow left me feeling detached and a bit bored.

Laughter in Heaven by Barbara Jean Meter–Book Review

A friend at church gave me this book for donation to our Little Free Library(for more information about this see The Lutheran Ladies Changing Their Environment) or to our Youth Ministry.  Aimed at elementary age children, it is the story of Josh, whose grandfather dies.  Josh struggles with questions like

  • Why do you have to go and look at dead people?
  • What is it like to be dead?
  • Does it hurt to die?
  • Is my grandfather in heaven?
  • What is heaven like?
  • I prayed — why didn’t God heal my grandfather?
  • Will I die if I go to sleep?

Josh meets a friend of his grandfather’s (Gabe — we are led to believe he may be an angel) and is given answers that are clear, biblical and comforting.  He is also able to confide his confusion about his own sadness, and the failure of others to understand his feelings.  It encourages children to forgive, and to speak with their parents and other adults about the issues that are troubling them.

Laughter in Heaven by Barbara Jean Van Meter (2010-09-10)

There were a few things I didn’t agree with in this book — I don’t think pets go to heaven, or angels walk on the clouds — but for the most part, I found it to be realistic and helpful.  It’s easy enough for a youngster to read on his or her own, but would also be a good vehicle to use in opening a discussion about death.

VERDICT:  4 STARS

For more Christian books for children see these posts:

Gracie’s Garden by Lara Casey — Book Review

The Great Farmapalooza by Jill Roman Lord — Book Review

What’s So Wonderful About Webster? by Stephen and Alex Kendrick–Book Review

 

At Eternity’s Gate –Movie Review

I checked this film out of the library after reading a Christian novel that spoke about the art of Vincent Van Gogh (Shades of Light by Sharon Garlough Brown–Book Review).  It chronicles the last years of van Gogh, especially his time in the south of France. He experienced great productivity there, but also suffered a mental breakdown.  This probably can’t really be considered a Christian movie, although Vincent does say that he believed his painting was a gift and a call from God, and that if others did not appreciate it, his work might be meant for a future generation.  I liked that insight — if we’re called by God to do something, it has worth, whether or not we see any results.

Probably because Van Gogh was an artist, this film tries to be artistic, and is probably successful.  Some of the cinematography is beautiful.  However, in my mind, this also rendered it slow and choppy.  If you don’t know the broad outlines of Vincent’s life, you’ll become confused about what is going on, and who some of the people are.  It also proposes the questionable idea that he did not commit suicide, but was killed by a group of marauding boys.  I don’t know enough to comment of how valid this theory is, but I hadn’t heard it before.

VERDICT:  2 STARS.  My daughter and I watched this together, and neither of us liked it very much.

For another post on Vincent Van Gogh see this post:

At Eternity’s Gate by Kathleen Powers Erickson — Book Review

 

Fatima — Movie Review

This well-done film tells the true story of three young children in Portugal, who during World War I see visions of the Virgin Mary.  Her message is to pray and suffer for the conversion of sinners, in order to bring the war to an end.  The youngsters are persecuted and asked to recant over and over by their parents, as well as religious and political leaders, who believe the visions to be distracting and dangerous.  However, the three remain firm — they saw “the lady of the rosary” and she will perform a miracle so that others believe in her.  The miracle occurred on October 13th, 1917 when a large crowd had gathered.  After heavy rain, the sun came out and various unusual solar activity was described — different colors, the sun dancing or zig-zagging and coming close to the earth.  The drenched earth and people became immediately dry.

The plot progresses through a series of flashbacks, as the oldest child, Lucia, now a nun, describes her experiences to an interviewer writing a book about the events.  All of the characters, both believers and doubters are portrayed sensitively and compassionately. The roles are well-acted.   The goal of the film seems to be to present the facts dispassionately, without influencing the viewer to a particular viewpoint.  As Sister Lucia says:

“I can only give you my testimony.  I can’t explain everything.”

Isn’t this all any of us can do?  What came through most clearly was the determination of three young children (age 7-10) to hold firm to the vision they believed to be authentic. In 1930 the Catholic Church accepted the events at Fatima as a miracle;  the two younger children (Francisco and Jacinto) died a few years after the sightings, and were canonized in 2017.  Sister Lucia lived to be almost 98, and her cause for canonization is still in progress.

VERDICT:  5 Stars.  You will enjoy this movie and learn something about the history of this famous event in Catholic history, even if you chose not to accept its’ veracity.

For other movie reviews see these posts:

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — Movie Review

Unplanned — Movie Review

The War Room – it’s all about prayer