Saturday, August 20, 2016

Movie Review of God's Not Dead 2

Own it on DVD and Blu-ray and Digital NOW!

Drawing from today's headlines, the thought-provoking sequel to the Christian blockbuster God's Not Dead examines the high cost of taking a stand for religious freedom. Stars Melissa Joan Hart, Jessie Metcalfe, David A. R. White, Sadie Robertson, and the Newsboys.​

When high school history teacher Grace Wesley is asked a question about Jesus in class, her reasoned response lands her in deep trouble. The ensuing court case could expel God from the classroom and the public square once and for all.

If you didn't have a chance to see God's Not Dead 2 in the theaters, you can do so in your own home. It is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital. If you are still not sure, let me tell what I thought of the movie.

I need to begin with this statement ... God's Not Dead 2 is much better than its predecessor. I wrote an unofficial review of the first movie that you can read. However the producers of the sequel took some of the issues from the first film and fixed them. Thankfully.

First, let's address the story line. Following current and real trends of Christian professionals being targeted for their faith, God's Not dead 2 focuses on a high school teacher, Grace who answers a student's question in a history class. The question seems innocent enough, as the student inquires about the non-violence teachings of Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. in comparison to Jesus' teaching in the Bible. The teacher does her best to answer the question as honestly and as generically as she can, despite her firm Christian beliefs. Soon, like a wildfire, news spreads of her mention of scripture in the classroom and everything snowballs from there. The movie moves logically through the process as the teacher decides not to bow down and "confess" she made a mistake by mentioning Jesus. She is assigned a lawyer who admits he drew the shortest straw and no one else wants to touch her case. But on the bright side, he doesn't like to lose. 

Soon we see that the lawyer, Tom doesn't share her faith but is sympathetic to her situation. Although he doesn't have a plan, he is determined to believe they have a chance - if the other lawyer screws up. And so the story goes, moving through court testimonies of real life individuals such as Lee Strobel and James Warner Wallace to prove the historical truth of Jesus.

Things look good until the student who asked the question in the first place storms the court room determined not to be silenced any longer and to fight for her favorite teacher. This is where all the threads unravel. Even Tom, the lawyer gives up.

But, back to the real reason we are here ... God is not dead! Even when all our human efforts fail, He is still at work. I enjoyed the ending. It wasn't predictable and cheesy. It was moving and satisfying. I won't add any more than that to avoid any spoilers. 

The previous movie had me groaning through most of the characters. They were flat and stereotypical. That is not the case this time. The main characters are fleshed out more and respond realistically. Gone are the obvious black and white lines between the good guys versus the bad guys. 

There are some returning characters from the first movie - Pastor Dave and his friend, who this time around play a key role in the plot. We also get to see some widening of Pastor Dave as he has to grapple with his own legal issues. (Be sure to watch through the credits at the end to catch a glimpse of his story line, and what may be a bread crumb for a third installment.) We also see Martin, the college student from the previous movie who converts to Christianity despite his angry and abusive father's threats. In GND2 we see the continuation of his story line and all that it costs him to follow Christ.

Returning also, is Amy the reporter, who in the first movie was determined to destroy the "Christians" in her writings, only to be diagnosed with cancer and then say the sinner's prayer - out of her fear of dying (?). Amy's story continues on and starts out with another unbelievable twist - she is now in remission. At first I groaned. However then I changed my mind. Amy had to grapple with her faith from a different angle - if there is no cancer, does she still need God? That, to me is a very legitimate question. She tags along with the court proceedings to help her find her own answers.

And of course, we have the Newsboys! Their hit song God's Not Dead closes out the film once again. However we also have a wonderful concert performance of their newest hit, Guilty. Great song!

So, check out God's Not Dead 2 - even if you didn't enjoy the first one. I think it is definitely worth your time. 

Here are some links you might like:
God's Not Dead website - movie trailer and ordering options

PureFlix - other Christian movie titles

Pluggedin(dot)com - movie review, parent cautions, etc

"Movie has been provided courtesy of Sony Home Entertainment Canada and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Movie Review of Miracles From Heaven

It's out on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital now and if you haven't seen Miracles From Heaven you should!

This is a thought-provoking and inspiring movie based on a true story. It will move you!

Miracles From Heaven
Miracles From Heaven follows the real life story of a young girl, Anna Beam and her family. Anna is diagnosed with a rare digestive track disease. Her family and in particular her mother, Christy Beam fight tirelessly to help find answers for Anna's condition until one day she is miraculously healed after falling from a tree.

This is a movie of faith and family that challenges you to find the miracles around you. Often times it is in hindsight we see the fingerprints of God on our situations. My favorite scene in the movie is when Christy Beam is explaining to her congregation and to the world about the miracle. There is a small montage of scenes that plays recounting all the places in the journey where a miracle happened.

Miracles aren't just in the form of healings and visits to heaven. The people we encounter, the opportunities we are given ... these are all miracles.Just look for them.

I enjoyed this movie. It is very moving - you will probably cry. The scenery is beautiful, the characters are well portrayed, giving a huge nod to Jennifer Garner's exceptional job of the role of mother, Christy Beam.

A few other characters helped make the movie a delight, including Kylie Rogers who plays the sick daughter, Anna. Queen Latifah joins the cast as Angela, a comic relief waitress the mother and daughter duo meet in Boston. But the most fun for me was the specialist, Dr. Nurvo, played by Eugenio Derbez - a similar character to Patch Adams, but much more family-friendly. All of the acting is superb, there are no weak links.

Overall, there are no surprises to the plot in this movie if you watched the trailer. However, knowing the ending did not deter from the dramatic tension and wonderfully portrayed issues of faith. This movie isn't preachy - there are no altar call scenes or tug at your heart "accept Jesus now' moments. Instead this movie plays into that all-encompassing question of why. Why does God allow beautiful, vibrant young girls suffer? Why is this happening?

The story is primarily the mother's journey from a strong faith to a choked out, barely breathing faith and back again. It is a journey worth watching.

From the family friendly side of things I would agree with the movie's PG rating. The themes tackled in the film are impactful for young viewers. In particular, there are scenes that talk about death and wanting to die. There are invasive medical scenes and a traumatic drawn out scene when a child falls into a hollowed out tree. As well, there is a young girl who dies in the film, even though it isn't seen or known till the end. Be prepared to talk to your young viewers about these topics. Check out Focus on the Family's plugged in (dot) com review for more specifics.

Also, there is a resource for parents, pastors to facilitate some discussion around the movie themes. There is a section part way through for parents who watch movie without their children but want to discuss it and also questions guided towards parents and kids who watch the movie together. An excellent family resource.

Check out the Miracles From Heaven website for purchase options, trailers and more!

I recommend this movie!

Let me know in the comments if you've seen it and what you thought.

"Movie has been provided courtesy of Sony Entertainment Canada and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Book Review of Loving My Actual Life by Alexandra Kuykendall

The great "what if...".

What if my life looked like this? What if my job was this?  And so on ... we all inevitably question where we are at and what that means for us down the road.

What if you could actually love the life you are living right now?
In life, there is the ideal: fulfilling work, thriving relationships, financial security. Not to mention an orderly and beautiful home and children who never misbehave. And then there's reality: frustrations, illness, feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. We can wait around for our circumstances to change and in the process miss the goodness right in front of us. Or we can choose to love our actual lives, right here and now.

In this entertaining and insightful book, Alexandra Kuykendall chronicles her nine-month experiment to rekindle her love of her ordinary, actual life. After wiping her calendar as clean as a mother of four can, Kuykendall focuses on one aspect of her life each month, searching for ways to more fully enjoy her current season. By intentionally adding one thing each month that will make her jump for joy, she provides a practical challenge you can easily replicate in your life. With humor, poignancy, and plenty of personal stories, she shows how a few small changes can make this crazy-busy life one of holy contentment.

Loving My Actual Life was a fun, easy read. Each chapter is broken down into an area of life that Alexandra Kuykendall spent a month focusing on with great intention. For example, chapter two is the morning routine and chapter four is health and chapter nine is passions. Once in the chapter she explains the need, the experimented approach and followed by a diary dialogue of the good, the bad and everything in between from that month. The chapters close with what was learned, things that she'll keep in her life after and finally questions for reflection. The end of the book wraps up with thoughts and suggestions to lead the reader in implementing their own experiment. Very valuable.

It is a great set-up for group study or discussion as well as personal growth. There are also quotes and scriptures throughout.

Kuykendall has a lighthearted, companionable voice. Her life feels connectable and real. Even though I am way out of the young children/mothering stage I remember those days well. The beauty often lost in the doubts and fears. The creativity and simplicity often lost in the chaos. The author portrays this well. No matter how diligent she is in her new assignment, somewhere along the way life happens to derail her. A friend is in need. A child is sick. But the key to her progress was having a plan to fall back onto as soon the days straightened out again. I think in our lives that's where we fail. Without an intentional plan we succumb to the waves and torrents of life. That is true of anyone - mother or not. Woman or not.

Although, I feel it safe to say that the targeted audience for this book is definitely women.

I found, even though I am not a young mom, there were a lot of truths I could pull into my own life. She challenged me to re-evaluate my relationships, my health and my sense of adventure. There was tremendous value in this book. A definite recommendation. It would make an excellent gift too. The cover is beautiful. The content is light and easy to follow, with great nuggets of depth. And the message is timeless.
Bloom where you are planted.

Pick up a copy for yourself or for a mom you know. You won't regret it.

A pdf excerpt from the book is available on the Baker Publishing's page.

Alexandra Kuykendall  is involved with MOPS International, Mothers With Preschoolers. She is an author and editor to MomSense Magazine, Connections Magazine and the MOPS blog. As the mother of four young children, she continues to refine her mothering identity. She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband, Derek, and their daughters.
Also check her out at her blog, For Every Mom.
Book available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Christianbooks, Chapters and other fine retailers.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."