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Don't Leave This One To The Imagination
18 March 2018
It's real. The story was and is so real and in my face that even hours later I cannot get it out of my mind. I randomly burst out. The only other time that sort of occurence befell me was in grieving for someone close to me. So bear with me.

Mercy Me is a band that rocketed to popularity after releasing their first real song, "I Can Only Imagine." The song itself you can easily find on YouTube or Amazon and you will see why the song exploded through to number one on the charts and has remained very popular over the years even as the band has produced other hits. That song was a juggernaut!

But how did the song and the quality of the band come to be? "I Can Only Imagine" presents this captivating backstory with a great deal of depth and rawness. I knew nothing about this story when I took my family to see the movie (although I had heard the fabulous song before). If you do not already know the story, please take my advice and do NOT research it before you go. Afterwards, you're off the leash!

A special note about Dennis Quaid: I am proud to be a fan once again. Quaid played years ago in several enjoyable wholesome movies but then perhaps he felt pigeonholed leading him, in a series of misguided judgments, to take on roles that were radically unsuitable and even disgusting. His role in this film provided a badly-needed redemption from that deeply disappointing season. His character here was an interesting creative challenge, and wow, did he deliver! Let's hope for more like this from him.

Others have already noted the underutilization of the rest of the cast, and I do wish we could have seen some more of them. The story was intense enough that fitting it into two hours probably made it impossible to allow too much off-axis character development, but the supporting actors really held up their end to make the story come alive.

As the lights came up when the movie was over, there was only muted applause, as though the audience felt a duty to be courteous. Didn't they like it? Well, yes, they did but a large percentage of the audience in the fully-packed house were so deeply moved that they were tearing uncontrollably and it was the best they could manage.

Please forgive me for totally messing up this review, but the impact of this movie has burrowed into me and I am simply not myself. Please see rgkarim's or any of several other reviews for a better analytical breakdown. You will generally find that on balance the story was compelling, the production values good, the cast executed well, and the pacing was well-managed delivering the sparkle that makes a movie special.

For the anti-Christians or non-entity Christians I normally have snarky comments in my reviews reserved for you but, for this movie, I just hope you see it with an open heart, that the pot is stirred inside you, driving you to see in a way you haven't seen before, think in a way you haven't thought before, and ultimately to receive a deeply satisfying future you hadn't conceived before. I'll be here cheering you on.
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Star Trek: Voyager: Friendship One (2001)
Season 7, Episode 20
Responsible people are guilty for reckless people's terrible choices
30 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I have watched nearly all Star Trek Voyager episodes (indeed, nearly all Star Trek anything episodes and movies), and while I generally find them entertaining whether I agree with the writers' premise or not, this one is hopelessly irredeemable.

300 years before present Star Trek time, Earth had sent out a probe, "Friendship One," with much technical and scientific information (along with some artistic/musical samples). The probe made it to the Delta quadrant and was received/captured by a people who then proceeded to misuse the technology, ending up with the equivalent of a nuclear wasteland.

Voyager, having established a real-time comm link with Star Fleet, is assigned to go looking for the probe, and they find the planet. The survivors are led by a bitter coot who blames humans for intentionally sending a device designed to destroy their civilization. Right, my blame man.

The leader arbitrarily rejects attempts by the away team to help them and further they murder one of the unarmed crewmen right before sending him back to Voyager. And the "big-hearted' Voyager crew convinces Captain Janeway that they are responsible for the problems these virtue-less but self-righteous dummies on the planet are facing.

The creators of this episode were so busy preaching they sank into moronic myopia. One group of people can be recklessly irresponsible but they are totally innocent and another group of people must be responsible for themselves AND the first group? This is how we know that actors and the people that surround them must generally be drop-outs -- they have no capacity for critical thinking. This acidic tone of judgment against decency makes it impossible to just enjoy the story.

Suppose I spend all my time watching these stupid episodes and lose my job? Are the show's writers then bad people responsible for my loss?

Really, Voyager-Land, some amount of kookiness I can deal with but this is way over the top. If you are working your way through all the episodes, this is one you can skip and be better off for it.
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Woodlawn (2015)
HISstory film scores big
17 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
(Please pardon lack of detail to keep spoilers modest.)

Woodlawn tells an amazing, true story of black and white people embracing change and each other as they also embrace God, while working to transform haters of all types, using a football team as the delivery mechanism.

Woodlawn High School of Birmingham, Alabama has been forced to integrate (mix white and black students), leading to anger on all sides (but for different reasons). The football team takes on some black players including Tony Nathan, an impressive runner. The lackluster team's hard-edged coach reluctantly allows a "religious nut" to speak to his team amidst the racial tension. The result? The team chooses to stand with one another in unity and love amidst the racial tension surrounding them. But in the jet-wash of this transformation come intense new attacks from all sides, within and without -- including indirectly from Governor George Wallace, a key inspiration for racism in Alabama at the time, who subsequently tried to cover it up by shamelessly using a black player. Will the team, and new potential star Tony, be able to keep together the commitment to "do something bigger than yourself?"

This movie has some seriously good talent. Jon Voight and Sean Astin deliver like the professionals they are, and -- pleasant surprise -- the rest of the cast deliver as well. Further, there was interesting use of old footage from the time period, and the contemplative well- spokenness of the black community at the time is thought-provoking. Modern Christian films are improving as a lot, but not homogeneously, so you have to watch for one failed aspect (such as cinematography, writing, acting, or direction) dragging down otherwise good elements; however, during the the film and even after post-credits contemplation I was unable to come up with any material flaw.

Personally, I found this story and the way the film tells it engrossing. Brokenness can be beautiful; truth can be touching. This country, so tragically in the midst of lies about racial animus, as well as about our individual identities, needs a fresh injection of healing truth and reality. This film is medicine for the soul, and its surprising viewpoint may inoculate viewers against those trying to divide this country along racial lines.

Touchdown, Woodlawn!
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Persecuted (I) (2014)
Ignore the trolls; moderately good movie; excellent start for new Christian genre
19 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Despite the IMDb terrorists (aka trolls) trying to influence your viewing decisions, "Persecuted" turned out to be an entertaining, moderately well-made movie deserving of your consideration, and an excellent start for a new branch in Christian movie-making: the political thriller.

John Luther is a respected religious figure with a rough beginning in life before finding God despite having a priest for a father (the estimable Fred Thompson). Luther is the front man for a ministry organization that may be performing adequately financially, perhaps faltering a bit. A "friend" of Luther's, Senator Harrison, has proposed a new bill that imposes the equivalent of the old "fairness doctrine" law from radio, consequently forcing a dilution of the gospel because, hey, there are "several paths to God," right?

Luther resists the senator's entreaties for him to woo his organization's members to support the bill. In refusing to support the senator, he becomes a target and the intrigue ensues (making clear the reason Billy Graham had round-the-clock assistants).

The great thing about this type of movie, though, is that it is a story, not a sermon. You may find some continuity errors and some plot annoyances -- my favorite is pressing the "down" elevator button to go from the first floor to the fifth. But at least for me, they did not make the film unenjoyable, although in full honesty I was not deeply moved at the end.

My point with the warnings is to set expectations. If you enjoy intrigue movies, I recommend it and think you will enjoy seeing it. The trolls are desperate and their early voting has as of this writing caused the laughable score, but if you look at the statistical breakdown of the votes you can see the mountains of irrational, baseless "1" voting. Get real, trolls.

Hollywood admittedly has years, hundreds of movies, and millions of dollars' worth more experience. But they also produce objectionable content, as well as holding viewpoints antithetical to my own. This is movie #1 of this Christian sub-type (that I'm aware of, anyway). I look at it this way: I enjoyed the film; AND, it is going to get better as more releases of this type come out.

If the trolls scare you, hold off and let them persecute "Persecuted." But if you have your own mind, don't let them make it up for you; you'll have fun and be glad you went.

(I have no connection in any way to the movie or its cast/crew/finances.)
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Planes (2013)
Grooming for Adult Misery
19 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Summer Disney animation features, such a dream for parents who want to give their antsy kids something different to do while protecting them from bad influences, what could be wrong with them? Plenty, if you don't want them to be messed up for life. Consider the attempted retread (re- wing?) movie Planes.

Some have compared this movie to the Pixar movie from which it is derived. What makes this movie completely different from progenitor Cars is that the former movie demonstrated the fulfillment of a heart turned towards home, community and the fulfillment of one's designed purpose, and Planes is a siren song for pursuing the fake shallow validation of glamorous fame even if in the process one destroys the good and beautiful things designed into him/her.

You probably already know the basics of the movie: small-town guy with goofy best friend dreams of something not in the normal realm of possibility for him, and with help from a broken, dysfunctional mentor and supportive friends (even supportive opponents), goes on to do the impossible.

With everyone harping on the animation and character quality -- not without reason -- it is surprising that the underlying philosophy of Planes has not been more readily identified. Perhaps we should take more care to examine the genetically-modified processed-box-food viewpoints being fed to our kids with these movies. In Planes alone there are several ranging from nuisance to ones guaranteed to groom your children for misery in adulthood.

For instance, the mentor deceives the main character about his past, and his lying is literally justified later in the movie. Basically the teaching is: it is okay to lie, otherwise the outcome might not have been what I or you want. (If I had not said X, would you have done Y? ... I guess not, so all is well.) Is that really the moral outlook you wish to impart to your loved ones? The movie had an opportunity to show how one (or both characters in this case) can misinterpret the past, and it is a lesson they should have learned rather than covering it over by justifying deception.

Another small issue is the presentation that females are either ambitiously unethical players or frivolous romantics without depth. I do not want my son seeing women that way, do you? There's the "war on women" right there.

In the prior generation of Disney movies, parents were portrayed as the bad guys, and needed to be "put right" by the children. As that has gotten old, especially since some watching those movies now have kids of their own and realize how ridiculous that perspective is, Disney has now turned to making the mentors always emotionally messed up and who need healing and teaching from their "youngers". Wellllll, I guess that could be considered an improvement since the young ones learn something too. But better would be that the mentors sometimes are just good mentors!

The most prominent and damaging, though, is the ultimate lesson of the movie: be unhappy with who you are and prefer glamor, fame, and "flights of fancy" to wholesomeness. The even-worse corollary is that you are somehow defective -- something is wrong with the essence of who you were made to be -- and must be "corrected" to be good. (You might not have noticed the support for trans-gender surgery; notice the symbolic castration of the main character when he is "modified" and how that makes him better at being something he was not designed to be.)

All children (even unwanted ones) were originally built for unique and important purposes. What is going to happen to the young kids of today who grow up and learn to eschew their own wonderful essence for some foolish or meaningless quest? Those empty pursuits will end up substituting for deep and important real quests for truth and meaning that should be part of their journey.

Parents, please beware that movie-makers can be more like drop-out moralizers than world-class philosophers, and you cannot trust movies to give your children a world-view they will be successful and fulfilled with. If you let your kids go to this movie, discuss with them the killer flaws hidden within the contrails of the story.
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None of my family play golf, and we all enjoyed our trip to "Utopia"
4 September 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Just-turned-pro golfer Luke Chisolm has a disastrous first tournament. He has spent his entire life preparing to play golf, egged on by his well-meaning but unintentionally-cursing father. (I do not mean swear words; the language and action of the movie -- even the romantic tension -- is clean.) After the catastrophe, Luke goes AWOL, so to speak, and finds himself for a week in Utopia, Texas, population 373, "375 after the birth of the twins."

His life is forever changed in that week and in that town, as Luke encounters a radical challenge to his world-view. He gradually unwinds lies from his life, and although he learns to be a better golfer, he more importantly learns -- sometimes humorously, sometimes dramatically -- to be a better human being.

Unlike some of the other reviewers of this movie, Luke is open and teachable, and willing to engage with another perspective. That alone would make him a winner in my book. (No, this is not a spoiler. In fact, have some fun with your 10 to 13 year old: ask them what they think the outcome of the climactic scene will be before it is over. They, and you, are sure to be surprised!)

My wife and I went to see "Utopia" yesterday, and we returned today to see it with our four kids, aged 7 to 14. We all enjoyed it, but it tried our youngest son's attention span. Our son, you see, is an active, sporting youngster. "But how could he have gotten tired (you ask)? This is a golf movie, with tournament action!"

Saying that this movie is about golf is like saying a painting is about the canvas. This movie is about someone not too unlike us, needing more from life, and getting compassionate help from an unlikely source. I heartily recommend it, whether or not you are a golf aficionado.

The most stunning thing to me was the meta-story. Hollywood-level talent and production values really come to fruition by finally taking a more honest look at the positive side of small-town life and faith. It takes more effort, more genius, and more guts to write an inspiring story about the typical than it does to go to extremes and create the "shocker." What a refreshing change "Utopia" is, because at long last it may be possible to professionally cover a broader array of deeper subject matter on film.

(And to all you whiners taking a break from your angst to write flailing but miscued negative reviews, you can revel in the fact that you star in this movie too: you're the ones who symbolize the call to mediocrity, while confusing it with propriety. Perhaps instead of writing lazy reviews, your time might be better spent trying to figure out why living a life of meaning and excellence has occupied center stage nearly from the dawn of recorded philosophical history. The relevant works through the ages have been judged classics by smarter minds than ours. History notwithstanding, even modern works for kids on the subject can stay fresh too: the movie "Cars" is a smash hit because kids innately understand how fundamental meaning and purpose are to life. They have not had time to build a facade over their wounded hearts.)
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Horsemen (2009)
Infantile Horror flick masquerades as a thriller
2 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I would not have even watched this movie had the genre been depicted accurately (horror, not thriller). Most horror movies have stupid plots to begin with, but at least those movies know they're ridiculous. Horsemen tries to sound a profound call for parents to "understand" and "support" their estranged children. What is it with the writers/producers/directors? Have they never actually grown up? This has all the earmarks of being created by a disturbed "all-knowing" ego-myopic teen who wouldn't know Wisdom if it stabbed him/her with an ice pick (pun intended).

A detective (Quaid) investigates a series of dumb, graphically gruesome torturous killings by psycho kids (probably made so by movies like this), and conveniently tied to an obscure Bible verse no one cares about. Since the story stinks so badly, one of the victims has to come forward to taunt the detective and feed clues to tie the nonsensical scenes together. The result? A bunch of nonsensical scenes stitched together with dumb pseudo-narrative.

If you are in the "plaintiff group" covered by this movie (estranged teens), be assured that this movie works against your plight, such that even compassionate people will lose sympathy for you.

Quality actors are in this movie, and every one of them should be ashamed. It is almost impossible for me to believe that Dennis Quaid was in this movie. He played in The Rookie, a movie far better (and far better for mankind) than any horror film that will ever be created. But I guess we've seen Hollywood destroy other actors' sensibilities so I should not be surprised.

This gets three stars (instead of my preferred negative one) only because the acting and video production are technically good.
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Fireproof (2008)
How is it possible to not be moved by this film?
28 September 2008
Fireproof, while not technically perfect, offers one of the deepest, most intense theater experiences of 2008. But a word of warning: if you are passionate and/or empathetic, it may be too much to handle.

A fireman (Kirk Cameron) with leadership responsibilities and strong commitment to the working relationship among the team finds that his own marriage relationship is suddenly tanking, and spends the rest of the movie finding a way to respond. Will the couple be able to do what it takes for their marriage to survive? Do either of them even want to?

Intensity comes from several sources. The characters brazenly act out in ways that, from our vantage point, make us cringe (déjà vu, perhaps?); there is no quick, easy resolution, and reaching the final disposition wrings more from the characters (and the audience!) than would be expected from, say, the Hollywood quick-fix relationship movies we are accustomed to.

The story paces well, with characters that avoid the stick-figure caricatures we can expect with most H*wood fare, A wonderful balance of humor lightens the movie, and even some of the intense moments are funny as well. (If you have experiences in life that you thought were totally serious at the time, but you look back in laughter, you know what I mean...)

Another couple, my wife, and I watched the movie this afternoon, and after checking the score and reading the comments on IMDb, I must wonder: how can someone see this who has any experience with real life, and not be moved? I personally writhed with tears in my seat most of the time, trying to choke back my reaction so as to not disturb the audience. (My throat is pretty sore right now from stifling it.) Even without top-line actors, the scenes are a testimony to a tragedy in our midst, happening right now in your city and mine, yet unseen.

There are heroes in this movie, and this film will satisfyingly define the difference between their heroism and running with over-weighted spur-of-the-moment feelings from one fire to the next.
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The movie written/produced by "anti-experts"
16 July 2006
The title of this movie and basic outline -- of two brothers dramatically affected in different ways by painful events in their childhood -- dangles the promise of an interesting story idea, but then goes on to destroy that promise offensively.

When the two brothers grow up, one becomes an uptight pastor at Harlem church, and the other becomes a rapper whose most prominent promo item is a drawing of his face with a satanic feel. The rapper gets in trouble (predictably) as a result of his behavior, which leads to the brothers confronting their relationship with each other, amidst a background of cardboard church people.

The synthesis coming from this clash of opposing minds is not redeeming at all. The movie seems to say that good and evil aren't really good and evil, that the pastor is in essence just as bad as the rapper, and the best approach is to average out the good and evil without examination. To what do they average, I wonder?

It is extremely clear that no one of any influence on this production is Christian, or understands in any way what it means to be a Christian. As a result, the movie displays some superficial trappings of religion but no deeper reality. Sadly, there are many real instances of problems in the church where the members and leadership act in ungodly ways (I know - I've been victimized by them), but this movie turns that into a farce. Further, there are no roles demonstrating someone with a true, life-changing belief.

If you are in any way a believing and acting (i.e. "real") Christian, I strongly urge you to avoid "Preaching to the Choir". If you are not, be advised that what you see in this movie represents only the secular world relabeled as Christianity, so the writers/producers don't have to take responsibility for their own attitudes.
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