Posted in movie review, theology

Movie Review: Troop Zero

By Elizabeth Prata

I like movies about kids, kids who are marginalized or are underdogs and persevere with grace and charitableness. This is one of those movies.

The blurb goes: “In rural Georgia in 1977, a group of elementary-school misfits led by spunky outcast Christmas Flint join forces to infiltrate the high-and-mighty Birdie Scouts youth group in order to win a talent show. The winning Birdies will earn the right to have their voices included on the Voyager Golden Record, which Christmas believes will be heard by her deceased mother – if they can just win the show.”

Starring in this 2019 film are Viola Davis, Jim Gaffigan, Mike Epps, Charlie Shotwell, and Allison Janney, and as the main character Christmas Flint, McKenna Grace. You might remember McKenna as Paige from Young Sheldon. It’s the second collaboration between Davis and Janney since The Help in 2011. The foil is on Amazon Prime.

It seems that of late I’ve gravitated to several movies set in the south, this one in the back woods of Georgia in the fictional town of Wiggly. Christmas’ father is a lawyer on the edge of bankruptcy but a hail fellow well met, if a bit scruffy. Viola Davis is his world-weary aide/secretary.

Christmas is fascinated with the stars, one link she had with her mom who’d passed away the previous year. When Christmas hears of an opportunity to be a voice on the recording of The Golden Record to be placed on Voyager and launched into space, Christmas grabs the opportunity with all the spunk she’s got and all the determination she can muster. The chance involves having to become a Birdie, like a Brownie in the Girl Scouts.

Southern demographics are subtly but plainly demonstrated here, if sometimes a bit brutally. The misfit Birdie troop Christmas manages to gather are the town’s marginalized and disliked, aka rednecks and trailer trash. The town’s upper class girl clique definitely does not approve of a rival, especially one called Troop Zero. The troop must earn badges in order to compete in the Jamobree, where the winner will be the troop allowed to speak onto the Golden Record, Christmas’ ultimate goal. As the misfit girls work together to earn their badges, they learn to like each other and begin to see a way of life that isn’t fueled by anger or bitterness (as some of the other Troop Zero girls are). They learn they have skills they didn’t know they possessed, and see a possible way of life they hadn’t seen before.

Some of the school bullying from the town’s princesses is hard to watch (not because it’s especially violent, just hard to take). The biting, “bless your heart, I’m jes playin” bullying from the rival Troop Mother (Janney) is also cruel. But I believe it to be real, if slightly exaggerated, as a line between a small town’s haves and have nots.

It’s a movie that seems simple but grows emotionally complex as it goes on. It is a pretty movie, too, the cinematography is good and the scenes of the stars and pastures are beautiful to watch. The pacing is good, nothing lags. There are lessons here, for many different ages.

Lots of swearing with the word ‘hell’, one “shit.” Some adult beer drinking, and adult smoking. No other issues.

I have also watched Alabama Moon recently (Amazon Prime). I also enjoyed Wish Man, the story of Make-A-Wish founder Frank Shankwitz. (Amazon Prime).

Did you know that InstantWatcher is a website that makes finding the kind of movies you want to see on Amazon Prime or Netflix easy? And you can search by RATING! (G, PG, Pg-13, etc). If you find a movie you like you can also launch Prime or Netflix right from Instantwatcher. Her are some reviews of the Instantwatcher:

InstantWatcher is a Faster Interface to Netflix Streaming

Instantwatcher is a better search option for Netflix database

I hope you enjoy it! If you don’t, it’s OK your mileage may vary, but please don’t @me! 🙂


Posted in movie review, theology

Movie Review: East Side Sushi

By Elizabeth Prata

I found the needle in the haystack.

East Side Sushi

Doesn’t it seem that way, looking for a family friendly movie? You want good production values, well-written script, well-acted scenes, and interesting? For every ten hours I spend looking researching, and trying to find a movie, I might find one movie that fits those requirements.

As I grow in sanctification, there’s a lot that bothers me. Foul language, cleavage, tight jeans on men or women, sex scenes, drinking, adultery…all that and more. But most movies and television shows not only contain those things, they glory in them (Romans 1:32). Sometimes it takes all the time I have to find something suitable to watch but by then my limited leisure time is used up!

I was glad to have found East Side Sushi.

Single mom Juana can slice and dice anything with great speed and precision. After working at a fruit-vending cart for years, she decides to take a job at a local Japanese restaurant. Intrigued by the food, she learns to make a multitude of sushi on her own. Eventually she attempts to become a sushi chef, but is unable to because she is the ‘wrong’ race and gender. Against all odds, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery, determined to not let anyone stop her from achieving her dream.

When Juana is robbed at gunpoint and the entire day’s earnings is stolen, she realizes that her job has become too dangerous, too dead end, and too unwieldy. She must get her daughter out of bed in at 4 am, and her aging father is struggling to keep up the pace as her co-vendor/helper. She applies at various Mexican restaurants, but the only opening (with medical benefits) is at the Osaka sushi restaurant. So her journey begins.

Juana is entranced by the precision of Japanese cooking, the appearance of the restaurant, and the complexity of sushi. Initially content to put her copious knife skills to work behind the scenes in the kitchen prepping the sushi vegetables and other ingredients, she soon tries her hand at home with actual sushi, practicing and presenting Japanese dinners – much to her father’s Latino chagrin. Juana has found her calling and wants more from her work at Osaka.

I enjoyed the relationship Juana has with her father. Juana is ambitious but respectful of her dad. She is also respectful in the restaurant with the head sushi chef (who trains her and admires her skills), and with the owner, who visits his restaurant several times per week.

In the movie there is no inappropriate dress, no foul language that I heard or saw (part of the movie is in subtitles), no sex or any inappropriate touching, or anything I personally consider objectionable. Your mileage may vary. Use your own discernment.

Free on IMdB Freedive.

You might also like:

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (in Japanese with subtitles)

Posted in movie review, theology

Movie Review: Netflix’s Dumplin’

By Elizabeth Prata

Dumplin’ is a Netflix Original (PG-13) based on the 2015 young-adult novel by Julie Murphy, starring Danielle MacDonald, Jennifer Aniston, Odeya Rush, Kathy Najimy, and produced by Jennifer Aniston.


The official blurb goes:

Willowdean (‘Dumplin’), the plus-size teenage daughter of a former beauty queen, signs up for her mom’s Miss Teen Bluebonnet pageant as a protest that escalates when other contestants follow her footsteps, revolutionizing the pageant and their small Texas town.

The reviews are uniformly good. The movie is called sweet, heartwarming, engaging, feel-good, a treasure, and wonderful.

I was initially hesitant to watch but the reviews being good and I wanted to watch something uplifting, so I decided to take a chance. The movie was more three-dimensional that I thought it would be, and the relationships among the characters to each other and to their own selves was more nuanced than I’d expected.

Jennifer Aniston as the skinny, driven pageant queen director was not mean through and through and had more love and compassion for her daughter than one would suspect, given the trailers. Millie the giggling overweight girl was not clueless but had a streak of steel magnolia in her, and the main character, Willowdean, was shown as more complex in exploring her motives for competing in the pageant than many similarly-themed movies (I’m talking to you, Hallmark).

The Dolly Parton soundtrack provided the backdrop and unifying theme, and reportedly Parton was so smitten with the YA book and movie that she wrote some new songs specifically for the film. I like Dolly Parton so this was a good thing to me.

It’s a true chick flick, in that very few men are featured in the movie with the exception of Bo, in a few scenes as Willowdean’s love interest. A few fat-shaming male bullies drift in and out.

If I was a secular person I’d give two thumbs up. But as a Christian I’ll offer a warning.

Willowdean’s journey through this movie was essentially a search for authenticity and self-acceptance. Given her mother’s past success as a pageant winner and now in her career as an adult directing pageants, Will wonders- Is authenticity to be sought on the basis of external beauty and appearances only? Is there a place for a heavy girl in the skinny world of her mother? Will a person be appreciated for their character qualities? Given her size, is there anyone who will take the time to find out before dismissing Will on the basis of her weight? Can one be accepted for who they are, just as they are?

These are all good questions. However, the answers come from a place of total inauthenticity: drag queens.

As Willowdean sorts through her recently deceased aunt and life-mentor’s things, she stumbles across a poster for Dolly Parton Night at a local establishment. What Willowdean does not know is that it’s a road house/biker bar and the Dollys are drag queens.


Will is given admittance when it’s learned that she is the niece of the deceased aunt, who was beloved and well-known for her accepting and encouraging ways among the ‘ladies’. Apparently Aunt Lucy hung out there a lot.

There, Will and her two friends who had also signed up to compete in the pageant, learned to accept themselves, learned stage moves including flounce and strut, and learned to be accepting of others, including men who dress as garish parodies of women. We in the audience are meant to learn and accept this, too.

With the transsexual movement, the homosexual agenda, and the insistence from the secular world that we accept “gender fluidity,” we are seeing increasing emphasis in mainstream movies on issues like this. There will be more and more drag queens in movies, I am sure. Move over RuPaul and Lady Gaga.

Ultimately, it wasn’t the mother who helped her daughter gain confidence and understanding about societal expectations and her own true self, it was a bunch of men who play-act at being women who performed this service. They were the ones in the movie being worldy warm and wise, taking these three girls under their wing and helping them along in life, not the mother, not the school teacher, not another family member, not any other authority figure in the girls’ lives. It was the drag queens offering haven, acceptance, and help.

It was men dressing as women, proving a woman’s authenticity. They, not Willowdean, ended up as the main vehicle pushing the boundaries of what society expects and will tolerate.

Of course, this is twisted.

What does the Bible have to say about drag queens? It does speak to the issue.

A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 22:5).

“This command was not as much about clothing as it was about guarding the sanctity of what it means to be a man or a woman.” (GotQuestions)

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, (1 Corinthians 6:9).

Is it wrong for men to be effeminate or for women to be masculine?

When God designed male and female (Genesis 5:2), He created more than mere physical differences. Men and women were created to fulfill differing roles in creation and in our relationship with the Lord. Rejecting those God-assigned roles is a symptom of rebellion against our Creator. … Perversion escalates when women and men abandon their God-ordained identities and try to adopt the characteristics of the opposite gender. Men become like women, and women become like men. The sin lies in our choices, not our natural differences.

The acting was superb and the message an important one. I was just sad that it had to be learned through a twisted version of womanliness.

The PG-13 was earned due to one f-word and two sh-words. There were two scenes of teenagers kissing.

On Netflix.

Posted in movie review, theology

Movie Review- American Gospel: Christ Alone

By Elizabeth Prata

American Gospel: Christ Alone explores the core question of Christianity, ‘What is the gospel?’ through the distorting lens of American culture. It is written and directed by Brandon Kimber and features interviews from many well-known American preachers and some not so well known. What IS the Gospel, is explored in detail and biblically. Even those familiar with the Gospel of Jesus Christ will come to a deeper understanding and appreciation for the miraculous method for salvation Jesus enacted by his life, death, and resurrection.

It also features testimonies and anecdotes by lay people who have undergone a radical conversion either from atheism, or a false version of Christianity. Their stories of finding joy in experiencing the true Gospel revealed to them by the grace of the Holy Spirit is deeply moving.

The film also examines how this wondrous Gospel has been twisted in America into a prosperity recipe for the accumulation of wealth, a piling up of fleshly desires, with Jesus simply as a Genie dispensing to us the lusts of our heart. Wrath, death, sin, sacrifice, and cross are words that have been removed in our alteration of this Gospel, and exported to the world as the normal face of Christianity.

It is this fact that wounds most deeply, and is done simply by contrasting the biblical version of true Gospel with the gross and putrid exports from well-known prosperity preachers. The comparison is done fairly and humanely, with pointed but loving testimony from many people, including Costi Hinn, nephew of the famous faith healer prosperity preacher Benny Hinn. Truly, one wants to fall on one’s face begging the Lord for forgiveness and repentance for them and for ourselves if we have ever had any part in it. The sterling brightness of the Gospel shines brightly in this film, and anything that approaches it in lies or twists are immediately seen for what they are: gross deceptions and hateful rebellion.

Coming in at 2 hours and 18 minutes, it’s long, but it doesn’t feel long. For me, it took even more time to watch, however. I paused the film numerous times to pray, cry, pace, or open my Bible and read. The truths presented in the film take time to absorb. For me, it was a trial to my heart, but a good one.

This film is edited to perfection. The cinematography is stupendous. The men interviewed the film are articulate, obviously grace filled, and loving. The documentary can be rented for $4.99 with a 48-hour watch window, or purchased for permanent download or on DVD.

Highly Recommended.

For a weekend pairing I’d suggest watching American Gospel and Spotlight, the secular film chronicling the investigation into the first Catholic priest pedophile scandal in Boston during the early 2000s. Both films show (though Spotlight inadvertently) the power of the Gospel and the devastation of a false one.

american gospel

Posted in movie review, theology

Movie Review- Spotlight; a must see

By Elizabeth Prata

Growing up, I didn’t know that the Catholic Church wasn’t a church. I thought it was THE Church. I thought all churches were the same, except that the Catholic Church was the biggest. Then as a middle-aged woman I was saved and I learned the difference between orthodoxy and heresy.

The Catholic Church is a heretical “church”, therefore it is a non-church entity. It is the longest-lived organization on the planet. The Roman Catholic Church is also an absolute monarchy. Its head is a king, with exclusive powers given for life that cannot be taken away and do not end until or unless he dies (or in recent years, resigns). It is the richest organization on the planet. It is also the most secretive.

Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Source- Lord Acton, a British historian of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Acton’s observation was that a person’s sense of morality lessens as his or her power increases. However, we know that prior to salvation, all flesh was already corrupted by the curse of sin. Not all people are as bad as they could be, but all flesh is corrupt. We have seen varying levels of corruption in dictators, tyrants, CEO’s, divas, and more. Hitler, Idi Amin, Gaddafi, Ashurbanipal of Assyria, Caligula, Ivan the Terrible, etc are all examples of this quote played out in history.

Without the internal guidance of the Holy Spirit who brings truth and light to a depraved mind, the more a person is separated from the moral reigns of accountability, the more he is insulated from even superficial accountability, the more his flesh will run rampant with seeking to fulfill its desires, whatever those desires may be. And the flesh has a lot of desires.

The Papacy is an absolute monarchy, as I mentioned, and the Vatican, which is a nation with borders and recognized by the UN as well as a global organization with tentacles in most every nation, is a place where unspeakable desires have been allowed to run wild over many centuries.

I was a journalist in New England from 2000-2006. The Boston Globe story about the pedophile priests broke in January 2002. It was huge. Words cannot explain the impact that story had on Catholic New England. It was like a bomb went off.

I was grieved to read of the new scandal of pedophile priests in Pittsburgh.

Catholic Priests Ran Child Porn Ring Out Of Pittsburgh Diocese
August 15, 2018 By Michael Stone

New grand jury report shows Catholic priests in Pittsburgh ran an extensive child porn ring where children were sexually exploited and groomed for abuse. In a growing and horrific story out of Pennsylvania, a breathtaking grand jury report released by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court documents rampant and pervasive child sex abuse in the Catholic Church, listing more than 300 accused clergy and over a 1,000 confirmed child victims.


Is there anything worse? Is there anything more evil that sexually abusing children, while using Jesus’ name as a cover? No.


The Pittsburgh news made me think of the Boston pedophile priests all over again. I looked into the old newspaper series and found that in 2015 a movie was made about the reporters who broke the story. It chronicled the lead-in to the Globe’s publication of what would eventually be a 600-article series covering the issue for most of that year. It’s called Spotlight, named after the team of investigative journalists who spend time digging and researching and exposing Boston corruption in whatever form. The newspaper won a Pulitzer for the series.

The movie showed how the reporters got onto the track of the story, their disbelief when the disparate leads turned into a pattern, then their horror, shock, and speechlessness when it was evident that the issue wasn’t just a few priests around Boston but was indeed a global, systemic problem.

In the movie Spotlight, it was shown that former priest, psychotherapist, and author named Richard Sipe clinically studied the RCC rule of priestly celibacy & the molestation issue for 30 years and found it to be a clinical “phenomenon”. He found that the celibacy rule was part of the problem. Over half of priests weren’t celibate but most who were active had sexual relations with adults. However his metric found that in any given location, 6% of priests would be molesters. In Boston in 2002, that meant of the 1500 priests active in parishes, about 90 would be molesting children.

This figure was confirmed in Boston, where given the number of active priests, Sipe had predicted 90 would be pedophiles. The Globe found 87 pedo-priests. Imagine the metric of how many victims that expands to! One priest in Boston had molested 80 boys. Compound that over the entire world. Indeed, at the movie’s end credits, they flashed all the cities where scandals of this sort had erupted. The priest-molestation issue is not insulated, sparse, or an anomaly. It’s widespread. Worse, it is systematically covered up by Cardinals Church Attorneys, policemen…

The movie stars Michael Keaton as the Spotlight editor, and the cast includes Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, and Stanley Tucci, among others. I appreciated that the film captured what devastation molestation does to a person’s psyche, and retained a grave and honorable dignity while interviewing the victims. I also appreciated that though the movie did by necessity spell out a few details, it didn’t overdo and kept that aspect of the scene to an understated minimum.

As the movie revealed the problem layer by layer, the director had done a good job of showing the world through the reporter’s increasingly jaded perspective. A silent look at a church, with a playground across the street no longer held charm for the reporters, but instead was a scene of potential horror. As the list of victims expanded, some on the team discovered people they knew had been molested, or had been unknowingly in contact with priests who had been active. One reporter discovered that a house down his own street held defrocked priests. As he leapt up from his computer and ran out into the street in his socks to look for himself, he ran past boys on bikes and playing ball, another scene of subversive horror rather than neighborly comfort.

Worst of all, as victims described the grooming process, it became apparent that priests traded on their authority to gain access to the boys most of whom were from broken homes, marginalized, and poor. The authority the priests traded on was God.

As I watched, I became incensed and grief-stricken. I mourned the many children who were raped or molested, and prayed and wailed for the Lord to return. I also became incensed, because of the grossness and horror of the use of God as a cover for normalizing this perversion.

I have avoided the issue since I came in contact with it in 2002, but given the news of the priests in Pittsburgh, I decided to look it full in the face. It’s an unsavory topic, and an unwelcome one. But its importance to me at least, was to illustrate the utter depravity of the Catholic Church, which is not a church. It is a den of perversion and evil, from moral to spiritual. Partnering with the RCC in any way taints a Christian utterly. Yet I had to force myself to remember the horror of sin in all of us is worthy of hell, and my own sin would have launched me there unless the Lord had elected me to salvation.

Spotlight is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. Its relevance increases day by day as more information comes out about Pittsburgh. As a Christian, I think Spotlight is a must-see.

On Netflix.

Posted in movie review, Uncategorized

Movie Review: Hallmark’s Garage Sale Mystery with Lori Loughlin

Hallmark Movies & Mystery Channel features a series of movies in the “Cozy Mysteries” genre.

Cozy mysteries, also referred to as “cozies”, are a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community. Cozies thus stand in contrast to hardboiled fiction, which feature violence and sexuality more explicitly and centrally to the plot. The term “cozy” was first coined in the late 20th century when various writers produced work in an attempt to re-create the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. Wikipedia

Hallmark has adapted several cozy book mysteries into movies.

There are the Aurora Teagarden movies starring Candace Cameron Bure. These movies are based on a fictional character created by author Charlaine Harris, in a series of ten crime novels written from 1990 to 2017. “In the first book of the series, twenty-eight-year-old Aurora (Roe) Teagarden is a professional librarian and belongs to the Real Murders club, a group of 12 enthusiasts who gather monthly to study famous baffling or unsolved crimes.”

There’s the Flower Shop Mysteries based on Kate Collins’ books of the same series title. The series stars Brooke Shields as a “professional librarian and belongs to the Real Murders club, a group of 12 enthusiasts who gather monthly to study famous baffling or unsolved crimes.”

Garage Sale Mystery Image2

In the Garage Sale Mystery, Lori Loughlin stars as a vintage store owner who scours garage sales and estate sales for items for her store, and stumbles across mysteries and murders along the way. This series is based on the books by Suzi Weinert. The executive producers of Garage Sale Mystery are also executive producers on the Hallmark television series When Calls the Heart, so the Garage Sale Mystery series features many of the same actors.

You might remember Lori Loughlin from the 1980s television family friendly series Full House. She also stars in When Calls the Heart, and other Hallmark productions.

I like a good caper movie, mysteries, and crime books and movies,  but I do not like the gore, psychological tension, or horrible/evil murders especially involving children. I also don’t like dark movies, either in psychology or in cinematography.

The Garage Sale Mystery (GSM) features none of that. The main character, Jennifer Shannon, lives in an affluent town in Virginia. The homes she visits throughout the movie and including her own, are beautiful mansions. If you remember the iconic series Columbo, his ‘clients’ were always in Beverly Hills, lived in gorgeous homes, and were from the upper class. If I’m going to watch a mystery, at least I’m not watching gutter dirty dark psychological thriller, but a tea drinking, well dressed attractive woman with a genial personality. In GSM there’s always lots of light and sunlight and bright colors in most every scene. The main character is in a happy, stable marriage with a movie-perfect husband and two movie-perfect teenage children. She is a good mom.  The children usually have some kind of sub-story.

Somehow, the way the movie is written, and despite the fact that a murder does occur and Jennifer is usually in life-threatening peril by the climax, the atmosphere isn’t heart-rending or dark. The writers maintain in Jennifer a hopeful innocence with a razor-sharp mind and a high-level ability to observe and remember. As a matter of fact, the last shot of each movie shows Jennifer in a close-up with a big smile. This is an enjoyable way to conclude a movie. The relationship Jennifer has with the co-owner of her store is a good one, always pleasant. No harsh words are spoken, even when Jennifer confronts the murderer. It’s a relief to watch a movie where all the interpersonal interactions are warm and polite.

It is a ‘cozy mystery’ to a Tee.

What I find amusing is that despite the fact that Jennifer seems to stumble on a dead body seemingly every time she leaves her house, the series avoids the claustrophobic feeling of the Cabot Cove Syndrome. This is a TV Trope named after the location in which fictional character Jessica Fletcher of the television series Murder, She Wrote lived. The television series aired for 12 seasons with 264 episodes from 1984 to 1996 on CBS. Angela Lansbury was the main character, and “murder occurred with such regularity in her vicinity that the term “Cabot Cove syndrome” was coined to describe the constant appearance of dead bodies in remote locations. Indeed, if Cabot Cove existed in real life, it would top the FBI’s national crime statistics in numerous categories, with some analysis suggesting that the homicide rate in Cabot Cove exceeds even that of the real-life murder capital of the world” (Wikipedia). The UK Daily Mail has more-

The most dangerous place on Earth is revealed to be… the fictional setting for TV series Murder, She Wrote

The idyllic seaside town of Cabot Cove looks at first glance like a pleasant and relaxing place to live.

In fact, it is the murder capital of the world and far more dangerous than the most violent parts of the globe, including Honduras in Central America. Thankfully, it is just the fictional New England setting for popular TV series Murder, She Wrote. Amateur detective Jessica Fletcher, played by Angela Lansbury, encountered a total of 274 killings in the small town in Maine, despite it having a population of just 3,500. This gives it an annual murder rate of 1,490 per million — more than 50 per cent higher than Honduras, where it is 910 per million.

The British mystery series, Agatha Raisin based on the books by M.C. Beaton, is another series that in my opinion suffered terribly from Cabot Cove Syndrome. There were several issues with the single-season series, and one of them was that the series is set in the British area of the Cotswolds. This is an area of outstanding natural beauty and much of it is protected, but the villages dotting the aforementioned beautiful hills are small. Very small. By the end of the one season that was broadcast, I surmise that the fictional death rate was even higher than in Cabot Cove.

Anyway, the confined feeling I got from Murder, She Wrote and Agatha Raisin is absent in Garage Sale Mystery. The series presents an aura that is expansive enough not to be claustrophobic but small enough to maintain the cozy atmosphere so important in this genre.

I also enjoy the garage sale aspect. I like a good hunt myself for just the perfect item that has a history behind it and is also a good deal!

I recommend the Garage Sale Mystery series. They’re clean. It can be seen on on Hallmark, Sling TV, an occasional older movie on Youtube, and elsewhere.


Further reading

Finding Wonderland, Review: The Deadly Room

Dove review: Garage Sale Mystery

Amazon Customer reviews: 215 reviews of this series (92% are 4 & 5-star)

Posted in movie review, Uncategorized

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect

Do you like sweet movies, maybe with a little music or dance, with a tried-and-true simple plot, featuring adult teens and twentysomethings, all innocent? I do too! So I watched the movie Pitch Perfect because I’d heard it was all of the above! It wasn’t!

Pitch Perfect was released in 2012, so I am very late to the party. The movie follows disaffected Beca Mitchell, just arrived at Barden College, dismissing her newly divorced father’s persistent advice to get more involved in college life. Loner Beca drifts until she becomes inadvertently involved with the Barden Bellas, an all-female a Cappella competitive singing group. The Bellas made it to the finals of a nationwide singing competition last year but an unfortunate incident involving the lead singer during their finals performance caused great humiliation and their loss. The leader of the group wants redemption.

Redemption won’t come however, as their tired and decades-old routines are consistently outshone by other groups who sing and dance with fresher approaches. Beca has some great ideas, but she is shot down by the leader who insists that tradition will get them the win. As the Bellas make their way through the quarterfinals and semi finals, with the finals looming, will the Bellas eventually embrace change and try a new approach? Will Beca, only barely hanging in with little commitment, stay with the group to the end?

The singing was good and so were the dances. The storyline, though recycled from a million other competition movies before it, was absorbing enough. However, the movie featured promiscuous sex (nothing shown, only referenced), drinking, vomiting from drinking, language, and lesbianism. Most of the dances were suggestive in the extreme. During the final performance one of the singer-dancers performed a lascivious move I wish I could unsee.

The review at Common Sense media was generous, but the Parent Reviews on the same website were not generous at all. The parent reviews in my opinion displayed more common sense.

common sense
Common Sense Media’s review/rating
User reviews by parents at CSM, most reviews were of this vein

Then movie was not wholesome, despite its rating of PG-13. I have fewer objections to R-rated movies, because with them at least you know what you’re getting. This one, advertised as sweet and appropriate for ten-year-olds, left me wanting to take a shower.

Not recommended.

Posted in movie review, Uncategorized

Movie Review: The Great Gilly Hopkins

Summer time means movie time, but for the discerning Christian that often means spending more time looking for a suitable movie to view than actually getting to settle down and watch one. In my opinion, The Great Gilly Hopkins is an excellent movie for the entire family.

The IMDB synopsis of the movie:

A feisty foster kid’s outrageous scheme to be reunited with her birth mother has unintended consequences in The Great Gilly Hopkins, an entertaining film for the entire family. Gilly Hopkins (Sophie Nélisse) has seen more than her share of foster homes and has outwitted every family she has lived with. In an effort to escape her new foster mother Maime Trotter’s (Kathy Bates) endless loving care, Gilly concocts a plan that she believes will bring her mother running to her rescue. But when the ploy blows up in Gilly’s face it threatens to ruin the only chance she’s ever had to be part of a real family. Based on the award-winning young-adult novel by Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia)

The cast includes Sophie Nélisse as Gilly, in an excellent performance. Her face can carry a series of nuanced emotions that many actors of her age only dream of being able to convey. Also starring are Kathy Bates, Glenn Close, Bill Cobbs, Octavia Spencer, and others you’ll recognize.

I have a huge bias toward kid movies, not just movies for kids like Minions, ToyStory or Monsters Inc, but movies starring kids or about kids. Previously on my link to family-friendly movie reviews I’d reviewed Camp, Raising Izzie, The Blind Side, Walking Across Egypt, The Queen of Katwe, On The Way to School, and others, featuring various childrens’ plights.

Gilly Hopkins is one of the very best of this genre, and with a stellar cast and good production values it lived up to its potential. Gilly has been rejected, marginalized, and shuttled from foster home to foster home, though she has a distant living mother who simply doesn’t want her. This is a fact that Gilly understands deep down but refuses to accept, thus, her repeated attempts to contact and reunite with her mother are sprinkled throughout the film as its thread. In the meantime, Gilly’s barely submerged anger over her maternal rejection rebuffs all who try to get close to her, and Maime’s foster home is threatened to be the last stop before juvie.

Foster mother Bates has one other charge under her care and with the addition of Gilly their placid and loving home life is disrupted immediately. Gilly sneaks, provokes, steals, and eventually lashes out as Bates’ character Maime prays, loves, patiently and tirelessly attempts to show Gilly she has nothing to fear by accepting love.

Glenn Close makes her entrance as Gilly’s Grandmother after recently learning of Gilly’s existence. A custody tussle emerges and presents the vehicle for the climax of the movie.

Other reviewers say that the movie closely follows the book. In order to demonstrate Gilly’s character there are a couple of swear words, rebellion, and some theft, but there is no violence, immodesty, sex, or nudity in this movie. Though Christianity is mentioned, and Maime is seen praying, religion is not a major part of the overt script but patient love as an underlying aspect comes through clearly. It is a good movie for the entire family.

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Movie Review: Autistic Driving School

I published this on The Quiet Life, my personal blog, earlier. But with so much negative news out there, such ugly discernment fighting, so much false teaching, dispiriting politics, and just general hate, I thought a breath of fresh air was needed, and I’d post this here too. Because it’s positive, inspiring, and heartfelt.

Autistic Driving School is a 2010 one-hour documentary on Netflix (and perhaps other places too) highlighting Julia Malkin’s founding of a UK driving school that caters to teaching autistic people how to drive. Malkin is autistic herself.

With a driving license comes freedom, something most people want. For autistic teens and young adults however, the challenges of learning to drive safely can seem insurmountable, especially if receiving an instructor with no knowledge of how to teach to their special needs. As was stated in the movie, Autistic people are literal, so there’s no saying ‘take the next left’ because they’re likely to wind up in someone’s garden. Some autistic people do not take instruction or correction well. While some can become excessively distracted, following anything and everything that interests them like a rabbit, others hardly notice anything around them, both of which are a problem when driving. The possibility of becoming overwhelmed and having a meltdown while driving is real. And more.

In comes Julia Malkin.

A woman with autism herself, Julia suffered through years of bullying in school, attempted suicide twice, one at age 16 and another at age 18, suffered through a nervous breakdown at 18, and lived as an adult by subsisting on dead end jobs…until….

Her diagnosis at age 40.

Since then, following her diagnosis of Asperger syndrome, Julia started up Excel Driver and Instructor Academy, which expanded rapidly and now helps people with autism learn to drive, provides education support and offers counselling, is still the only one of its kind in the UK.

She has achieved highest honors for her profession as the safest driver in England, earning an OBE, which is “The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is a British order of chivalry; rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations, and public service outside the Civil Service.”

According to the information given at the link, Julia attained four degrees in six years at two separate universities between 2008 and 2015 and became a Doctor of Philosophy, and founded another course of training to train Driving Instructors to teach autistic clients. The UK National Autistic Society shortlisted her as one of three finalists for the National Autistic Society’s award for outstanding achievement by a professional with an autism spectrum disorder.


If you listen to Julia on the documentary it’s obvious she is brilliant. She is articulate, passionate, and her powers of observation are astounding. At one point during the movie, she’d been asked to speak out loud what goes through her mind as she drives down the road…her observations of her surroundings combined with lightning fast sifting of that information was remarkable.

The documentary wasn’t about Julia directly though. With sensitivity and compassion, several youths were featured in their process of the two-pronged driving training they must go through to attain a license. There is the book test and the on the road test. Several candidates were followed. Each student spoke of the special challenges unique to autistic drivers, according to the student him or herself, or according to their parents. One young main has set a goal for himself to become a Military Transport driver, so of course passing his first license test was important. But a wrinkle to his story is that his doctor had recommended taking a certain prescription medication for his OCD, but if one is on or has ever taken such a drug, it would immediately disqualify him for ever entering the military in the UK. He had a dilemma. He decided to forego the medication, but the result was he’d have to work even harder to manage his condition while he was on the road.

A 22 year old mother had earned her licence a few years prior, but had lost her nerve to drive. Another, a set of twins, create crafts and wanted to found a business of traveling town to town to fairs and such, selling them.

They all wanted freedom and independence that a driving license would provide.

I found the documentary instructive and interesting. It was produced and edited in such a way that you pull for the students and cheer the inspiring story of Julia. With so little attention paid to adults with Autism, and with so few generally inspiring stories around, this was a documentary I’d recommend as a DON’T MISS!

This is part of the documentary, ‘Autistic Driving School’ which was broadcast on BBC3. It tells the story of Julia Malkin, the most qualified driving instructor in the UK. It shows her battle with autism and her mission of inclusion in education both inside and outside the driver training industry.

Posted in movie review, Uncategorized

The River Thief: A movie review


A new movie starring Joel Courtney, Raleigh Cain, and Tommy Cash, (Johnny’s brother), called The River Thief is out in selected theaters. It is being billed as a faith based movie, or a Christian movie.

For what is being said is a faith movie, it’s an unusual one, to be sure. However in my opinion it is far from being anything remotely Christian. It’s more of a freshman entry of an action movie from writer/director ND Wilson than it is anything faith-based.

The film focuses on a youth named Diz (Courtney) who drifts from town to town along the Snake River in Idaho, stealing to survive and also just for the fun of it because he’s good at it. He calls himself Diz, and though it’s never explicitly stated, we surmise the namesake is from St. Dismas. In Catholic tradition, St. Dismas was the name of the Penitent Thief on the Cross. Diz is a motherless boy turned drifter and thief whose father left before he was born. He is on his own, great at stealing, but now wanting a change in his life and haphazardly trying to find his long-lost dad as he goes from town to town.

Diz slows down and remains in and around one particular nameless town along the river, struck by the waitress in the local diner. Diz had racked up a $30 bill and snuck out without paying, the spitfire waitress named Selah (Raeleigh) chases after him and gives him a piece of her mind. Her granddad Marty (Cash) reaches out to Diz, paying his bill and inviting him to dinner at the house he shares with Selah.

During the course of events, Diz also unfortunately steals a million dollars in drug money from two men, one the town’s bad cop, the other named Clyde, who works for the Sinaloa Cartel. Diz clumsily attempts to woo Selah, fend off vague spiritual approaches by Marty, and survive the vicious intent of the bad guys to catch and skin Diz for making off with their million dollars. It all comes to a surprising conclusion and the credits roll with a voiceover.

First, the pros:

Lead actor Joel Courtney is a wonderful, natural actor. He was in Super 8 and his acting was well-received. Tommy Cash is the grandfather who is a little less a natural actor but is warm and sincere and generally seen as a good man by even the evil men. Marty rings true in the movie. Selah is spunky, bordering on angry-bitter. While her character is less developed and more perplexing, she has flashes of natural acting in several scenes as well.

The cinematography is stunning. The look of this movie is a stark beauty which bespeaks hopelessness and hope both at the same time. The aerial shots as well as the scenes by the river are tremendous. The opening scenes with cat burgling Diz deftly lifting valuables from one and all along the river, even boats anchored in the middle of it, are tense and well executed. Just the opening scenes with little to no voice acting give insight into the thieving character that promises to plumb depths … which are sadly never attained.


For a “Christian” movie, there is a high body count. Six people are killed at point blank range in the film, quite a lot for an 87 minute movie. There is also profanity, light and sparsely uttered, but it’s there.

The grandfather, Marty, sings a few verses of Will the Circle be Unbroken, but there are no church scenes, church is not mentioned, and either is prayer mentioned or seen. Jesus is only mentioned once, when Marty said “Jesus gave me a thief…” . The Gospel is not given. Once Marty said to the bad guy, “you picked the wrong side”. There are no bible verses spoken that I can remember, but instead, homilies imbued with a sense of importance as if they were verses. There are only vague references to Someone who created Diz, (Who gave you those hands? Those eyes?). The boy wants a change in his thieving life and the best the grandfather can say is that it is “gratitude that sets you free.”

No. It is not. Repentance and faith in Jesus is what sets you free.

The climactic scene in which we would expect the Gospel to be given, instead is a disappointment. All the Grandfather said was “Can you hear the angels singing?” as he looks beatifically at the ceiling.

One reviewer on IMDB said,

This movie is advertised as a Christian movie, but, other than some random Bible verses quoted a few times by one of the older gentlemen in the movie, there wasn’t much to identify it as such.

Lol, and they weren’t even Bible verses, but platitudes, delivered with solemn gravity to make them seem Bible-ish.

The initial promise of the film to be a gritty action film are never realized as the film lurches from interesting scene to interesting scene with halts and perplexing segues in between. The initial promise of the film to be a redemptive character study within the context of the Christian faith are also sadly never realized either.

This reviewer said it well: (SPOILERS!)

One of the great virtues of The River Thief is an atmosphere of deeper significance which attends one scene after another— or, what poet Robert Wrigley referred to as the “air of meaning more” in a class I took from him back in college. The “air of meaning more” is that hard-to-pin-down quality of ineffable suggestiveness which emerges from referencing the right objects, the right names, the right places, and using the right words. The “air of meaning more” is the sensation that there is something behind a closed door, even if it is never opened…. However, a few moments later, as a dead Diz speaks to us from the Resurrection of the Righteous, I had to wonder whence came the salvation of this character?

Simply using a voiceover with lyrical scenes of a stark landscape do not make the Gospel. The Gospel makes the Gospel clear. The ‘air of meaning more’ in the end lets us down and the whole movie means less than it ought.

I do not recommend it.