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FIRST-PERSON: A few (clean) movies worth watching

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–We followers of Christ pretty much have to settle for a secular view of life whenever we go to the movies. This leads me to believe that perhaps it is us conservative Christians who are the true liberals. Christians know that most of Hollywood’s establishment don’t agree with our political, social or religious views, yet we lay down our money in support of them weekend after weekend. Wonder if they’d do the same for us?

Though I suspect the direction of Hollywood will remain undeterred, believers are commanded scripturally to go down a different path. The Word of God lays out a map for our spiritual travels, guiding us through the valley of the shadow and leading us beside the still waters. His Word reminds us to hold on to the good and to avoid every kind of evil. This raises the questions: Are movies inherently evil, and should we avoid them?

Admittedly, they are few and far between, but every once in a while I find themes in films that teach me something about myself, others and even God. Sadly, there have been movie-going times when I’ve put imagery in my mind and corruption in my spirit that I ought not. Have you done the same? So, how do we avoid the evil when choosing movies?

While this may seem self-serving, me being a film critic, I can’t imagine Christians attending a movie before reading a review. I hear this all the time: “I wish I would have read your review.” Certainly, it isn’t the critic’s opinion alone that should make your film-going choices. But you’re actually going to today’s movies without first getting the reason for the rating? Why?

For each new screen release, with its unbridled use of today’s excesses, there is an alternative (and I don’t just mean old movies).

If you felt Bill Maher’s “Religulous” last year was unfair and unfruitful, there’s now a more truthful documentary. “Lord Save Us From Your Followers” (PG-13) is a documentary by Christian Dan Merchant examining the question, “Why is the Gospel of love dividing America?” (It opened Sept. 25.) The resentment I was feeling at its beginning for those hostile to Christians was replaced by film’s end with Christ’s compassion for them. This film presented examples that reminded me about putting faith into action. Indeed, it reminds us of Christ’s command to love one another — and the powerful effect when that command is obeyed.

Searching for sci-facts rather than sci-fi? Then try “The Star of Bethlehem.” A revelatory documentary concerning history’s most famous star, this DVD from Mpower Pictures explores the scriptural and scientific documentation of, well, the title pretty much tells it all. Hosted by Rick Larson, a lawyer who meticulously walks us through biblical and historical clues that reveal the significance of this celestial event, the 65-minute presentation is fascinating, absorbing and spiritually uplifting.

Looking for a theatrical release this week about family relationships? Good luck with that. But the PG-rated DVD “Every Second Counts” from Hallmark Channel could fit the bill. It concerns a teen cowgirl coping with her family’s financial difficulties and her desire to go to college. Set in beautiful rural Washington state, the girl and her father are rodeo champions. Now with a lame leg, the father pushes his daughter to be all she can be in the rodeo ring. Starring Stephen Collins (“7TH Heaven”) and newcomer Magda Apanowicz, it deals with dreams and setbacks, guilt and character-testing. Though we’ve basically seen the same storyline in every girl-and-her-horse melodrama, the cast is sincere, the locations breathtaking, the story engrossing and the message sound.

Or you could rent “The Lost and Found Family.” Its story concerns a high society wife (Ellen Bry) whose life is turned upside-down when her husband dies and she is left with nothing except a house in rural Georgia. With the house being used as a foster home, the woman moves in with the intention of selling it, but soon she becomes aware of the kindness of the foster parents, and ends up helping to care for the rebellious two teenagers and three other young children. Through her faith and prayers, she finds new meaning and a purpose for her life. Rated PG for drug material and thematic elements, it is available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

See where I’m going with this? There is no easy fix. If desiring of entertainment choices that feed the soul, they are few and you must search for them. Want something that tempts the baser instincts? They abound.

Following are a few more movies and documentaries worth watching:

— “As We Forgive.” From Mpower Pictures and Image Bearer Pictures is a powerful documentary narrated by Mia Farrow and will be released on DVD in October 2009. It concerns two Rwandan women who come face to face with the men who slaughtered their families and attempted to murder them during the 1994 genocide. Unrated at time of screening, it is not for children. It contains descriptions of murders, views of dead bodies and shots of body remains. That said, nothing is shown to be exploitive, but rather to visualize man’s cruelty when he gives in to Satan’s lies.

— “The Perfect Gift,” coming to DVD Oct. 17, is a faith-based Christmas story aimed at the family. A spoiled schoolgirl (Christina Fougnie), her overworked executive mother, and a disillusioned young minister each is affected by a mysterious drifter (Jefferson Moore). The release from CMG Distribution has an uplifting message about friendship and commitment. Not rated, I found nothing objectionable in the content. Rather, it features a clear telling of Jesus’ birth and reminds us to be vigilant concerning our religious freedoms, which seem to be eroding before our eyes.

— “Clancy,” to be released via DVD Oct. 20, also from CMG Distribution, this faith-based drama focuses on Clancy Miller (again, Christina Dawn Fougnie), an abused 12-year-old who runs away to keep from getting taken away by social workers. Jefferson Moore has made a moving tale, one that touches the spirit and reminds us to love the unloved. The writer/director also stars in this low-budget film and unflinchingly signals the need for faith. Unrated, the film contains themes of child abuse and some violence, but the filmmaker handles the subject matter with discretion. Though suitable for the entire family, parents may have to explain some things to little ones, and they may be upset by the death of a child.

— “Thou Shalt Laugh 4.” In an era when the grosser the comedy, the bigger the box office grosses, here came a refreshing and, I’m glad to add, funny alternative. Master of ceremony John Tesh introduces Dana Daniels, Rex Havens, Taylor Mason, Michael Jr., Isaac Witty and Joe Wong. Focusing on the human condition, the routines spotlight marriage, the difference between men and women, the trouble with youth, our culture and racism. There’s a magician, a puppeteer and even a boogie-woogie-playing pianist. Lively, witty and perceptive, each comedian arouses smiles, giggles and even guffaws. Available Nov. 3.

— “Kabul 24” is a documentary about several Western aid workers accused of spreading Christianity in Kabul, Afghanistan. Arrested by the Taliban in 2001 just before Sept. 11, their trial drew international outrage and debate. Alarming, gripping and ultimately satisfying, it is a production that needs to be seen.
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective and is the author of “Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad.” For details on the book, visit previewonline.org.

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  • Phil Boatwright