Movie Review: The Judge

A good movie is hard to find. Bad writing, bad acting and even worse morals are the norm for much of what Hollywood is shoveling out these days. And more often than not, self-styled Important Films that Say Something wind up being thinly-disguised propaganda for the political left. Apparently, that rare breed of film that simply tells a story isn’t considered Important enough in and of itself.

While he has quietly voiced some conservative opinions, actor Robert Downey, Jr. seems like an unlikely candidate to lead a revival of substantial, thought-provoking movie-making. But the star who’s made millions in mainstream superhero flicks has surprised his fans by expressing a desire to do just that, with a production company he and his wife have co-founded themselves. The Judge is their debut project. And while the Hollywood establishment is wrinkling their noses at it, it appears that the majority of ordinary movie-watching Americans are giving it a thumbs up.

The film is billed as a courtroom drama, whose two main characters are a father (Robert Duvall) and son (Downey, Jr.) attempting to find reconciliation after decades of silence and bitterness. The father is the county judge, and the son, Hank, is an arrogant hotshot lawyer. (His tagline: “Innocent people can’t afford me.”) When their wife and mother dies, Hank’s return re-opens old family wounds. And just when it seems things couldn’t get worse, his father is involved in an accident that looks suspiciously like murder. What’s more, the Judge is suffering from memory loss and can’t recall any of it. There’s only one decent choice for Hank: Stay and defend his old man in court. But that may be easier said than done.

The father-son bonding premise intrigued me, and after watching this trailer, I was hooked by the acting and the writing (note: one crude slang term). I decided to see the film and give it my own verdict. My verdict is that The Judge is simultaneously the best and most frustrating movie I’ve seen all year.  Continue reading “Movie Review: The Judge”


Hudson Taylor on Weeping For the Lost

Some time ago I ran across a re-telling of this story from Hudson Taylor on the interwebs. While searching for something simple but substantial to post here, I tracked down the original in Taylor’s own words thanks to It’s a very compelling story about one particular man to whom he ministered physically and spiritually during his service in China.

Apparently, this fellow was a bit of a hard case. He had gangrene in his foot, and while he lived with a Christian family, he was violently hostile to any suggestion of Christianity. An attempt to bring a vicar to meet him ended with the man spitting on the vicar and yelling him out of the house. Eventually, his case was transferred to Hudson. For the first few days, Hudson reports that he concentrated solely on dressing the man’s foot properly. It was only after he had made progress and earned some gratitude from the man that he ventured to speak about Jesus. While the man didn’t react as violently as before, no doubt controlling himself because he still felt he owed something to Taylor, he wouldn’t budge either. All of Taylor’s attempts to share the gospel were met with sullen silence, as the man would literally turning his back on him at the end of each dressing session.

Thankfully, that was not the end of the story, and Taylor realized his words were indeed having an effect when he decided one day to give up, turning to go after wordlessly dressing the man’s wound. When he looked back before walking out the door, he saw the man staring at him in utter astonishment that he had broken the pattern. “He was never afterwards unwilling to be spoken to or prayed with, and within a few days he definitely accepted Christ as his Savior.” Though once convinced he would soon die, the man lived on for quite some time. In reflecting on the case, Hudson offers this meditation:

I have often thought since in connection with this case and the work of God generally of the words, ‘He that goes forth weeping, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. Perhaps if we had more of that intense distress for souls that leads to tears, we should more frequently see the results we desire.  Sometimes it may be that while we are complaining of the hardness of the hearts of those we are seeking to benefit, the hardness of our own hearts and our own feeble apprehension of the solemn reality of eternal things may be the true cause of our lack of success.

(Read the entire story in Taylor’s words from the 1911 biography In Early Years: The Growth of a Soul) here.

If I may add a closing thought, this story reminds me how much I detest it when atheists express discomfort or outright contempt for Christian doctor missionaries who preach the gospel in addition to offering medical care. They blather on about the insidiousness of preaching to “a captive audience.” Those Christian doctors, how dare they try to manipulate poor sick people at their most vulnerable!

It seems apparent that those who would voice such a sentiment are the truly poor and the truly sick. But, I’m sure that Hudson Taylor would have wept for them as well.

CD Review: Out On a Limb, by Wes Hampton

Out on a Limb (CD)Out On a Limb is a wide-release re-packaging of Gaither Vocal Band tenor Wes Hampton’s former table project Reality. It is his second solo effort, following 2011’s A Man Like Me, which I first reviewed at Southern Gospel Journal here. Blending Wes’s fresh, confident vocals with a batch of new songs from CCM hit-maker Sam Mizell and friends, it’s sure to satisfy most die-hard Hampton fans. But will it satisfy fans of great music and songwriting? Does it satisfy me as a fan of all of the above? And does anyone else think the cover looks like someone dropped a Land’s End photo shoot in the middle of a Gustav Dore engraving?

Continue reading “CD Review: Out On a Limb, by Wes Hampton”

Marriage in the Movies: Mrs. Doubtfire

Mrs. Doubtfire

“Once the father of your children is out of the picture, the only solution is total and lifelong celibacy. And if you violate that, heaven forgive you. Good luck!” — Mrs. Doubtfire


After watching this film for the first time in my little Robin Williams marathon of a couple months ago, I knew it was an important one to address if I ever did a series like this. So today, we’ll continue our series on Marriage in the Movies with Mrs. Doubtfire.

The movie tells the story of an eccentric actor named Daniel Hillard, who goes to extreme lengths to stay in touch with his children when his wife files for divorce. “Extreme,” in this case, means applying for and getting a job as their nanny…in disguise. His new persona is a gentle, twinkle-eyed Scottish grandma, whom he hastily christens “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

Turns out, “Mrs. Doubtfire” is Mrs. Hillard’s dream nanny—firm, kind, wonderful with the children, and constantly doling out little nuggets of life wisdom on a variety of topics, including marriage. But when another man enters the picture, things get very awkward very fast, and the question becomes not “whether” Daniel will lose his cover, but “when.”

The film, which became one of Williams’s most popular roles, is billed as a comedy. But it winds up feeling more like a tragedy, as the shattering effects of divorce are very convincingly presented. However, I wouldn’t mind so much if it stopped there. It may be depressing, but at least it’s truthful. What’s really pernicious about the thing is that by the end, it’s trying to sell audiences on the lie that maybe divorce isn’t so bad after all. That’s where it goes Importantly Wrong.

Continue reading “Marriage in the Movies: Mrs. Doubtfire”

If Your Life Has Purpose, You Are Busy

The other day, one of my professors greeted us all in his charming German accent and asked “How are you?” I replied, “Busy. Very busy.” He said, “Good, good. Then it means your life has purpose. If you have a purpose, you are busy.”

This semester has really been snowing me under with the combination of graduate-level courses and my new assistantship duties. My days are long and densely packed. Even when I’m not in class, I constantly have my head in the books, because with classes this hard you can’t afford not to. But my schedule means I don’t have the little luxuries I’ve enjoyed in other semesters. I have to turn in graded work without having an extra day to be extra sure I’m doing it right. I’m not able to memorize everything I’d like to memorize. I don’t have time to write rambling notes to myself unpacking every concept thoroughly. I sometimes have to let one course lag while I focus on a particular assignment in another, then resign myself to the fact that there’s probably something I’ll forget to review before the first course’s midterm. (Either that, or turn in an incomplete assignment and let the professor who gives too much homework accept the fact that I have other classes to attend to!)

But even while all this is mentally and physically taxing, there’s a certain sense in which I’m proud of it. Continue reading “If Your Life Has Purpose, You Are Busy”

The Definitive Hymns: Be Thou My Vision

While I was pondering which hymn to feature next, the decision was made for me when one of my favorite men’s quartets recorded the definitive version of it just the other day.

If I were to quote the lyrics of “Be Thou My Vision” as it was originally written, you wouldn’t understand a word of it, because it was originally written as an Old Irish poem. Its exact date and authorship is speculative, and some attribute it to a 6th century saint. However, the woman who translated and versified it in the English form known today was Eleanor Hull, in 1912. There were many more verses in the original Irish than you will hear in a single English version. Among English versions today, you’ll typically hear “the standard four,” but occasionally, a lesser-known verse shows up. Here’s one revived by Revelation Trio (a great version, though not the one I chose for The Definitive):

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;

Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;

Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:

Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

The tune is very simple and a bit repetitive, which might begin to try the patience if arranged without some variety from verse to verse. I personally find that it doesn’t really get old. The ancient prayer is perfectly translated and fits the tune like a glove. It cuts through all the kitsch and the price tags and the baggage that have glommed themselves onto Christianity over the years and strips everything down to the essential elements: father and son, son and father. Continue reading “The Definitive Hymns: Be Thou My Vision”

Marriage In the Movies: Fireproof

Welcome to the first installment of Marriage in the Movies: a new series wherein I survey what the art form of film can offer on this all-important topic. The movies I will feature stand out because marriage, as opposed to mere romantic affection, is absolutely central to the story. Without it, none of them would have a plot. Some may state their message clearly, others may let the story do the talking, but all of them have something to say about marriage.

That’s where I come in: First, I briefly explain the premise of each film, for those who may be unfamiliar with it. Then, I look at it from the perspective of a Christian who also loves movies, and I judge whether what they have to say is Importantly Right or Importantly Wrong—or perhaps, in interesting cases, some of each.

My first installment is an unapologetically Christian film that many of you have probably seen: Fireproof. (Most of my selections will be more mainstream, although many will still get a lot of things Importantly Right.) In this film, a fireman struggles with the pressures of work while waking up to the reality that his wife is ready to divorce him. While at first he is not a believer, his believing father and friend both challenge him to fight for his marriage. In the process, he discovers a faith of his own that sustains him even when it appears that his efforts aren’t bearing fruit.

I remember vividly when this film first came out. Actually, I remember vividly the year before it came out, when I was eagerly following every scrap of B-roll and production blog update as the finished product slowly came together. This was motivated partly by my enthusiasm for Sherwood Pictures’ faith-based film-making, partly by my rapidly growing and very spiritual interest in Kirk Cameron. Continue reading “Marriage In the Movies: Fireproof”

C. S. Lewis On Praising God

It’s always a delight to run across a bit of C. S. Lewis that I’ve never read before. The other day, I picked up a copy of a magazine on the snack table at church which excerpted Lewis on God’s worthiness of our praise. The selection is taken from A Reflection On the Psalms. As usual, Lewis expresses so well so many things I would like to say, but couldn’t say as well as he could. He begins by confessing that as a new Christian, he wrestled with this idea that God demands our constant worship. This rubbed him the wrong way, as if God were the divine equivalent of Brian Regan’s “me monster.”  It’s  still a rhetorical tactic that atheists and free-thinkers try to bamboozle Christians with today. But as Lewis grew in the faith, he developed a better understanding of what, precisely, it means for us to praise God, and what precisely we are lacking when we do not.

To describe this in simple human terms, Lewis pinpoints the universal delight we take in praising things we enjoy—be it our favorite pastimes, our favorite art, or our beloved family and friends. This rings very true for me, especially the part about how we feel our praise is incomplete unless we can find someone to share it with, some audience who can appreciate the thing we love as much as we do. Lewis then takes this instinctive human desire and brings it back to the One who is ultimately worthy of our eternal praise: Continue reading “C. S. Lewis On Praising God”

Monday Morning Humor: Praise & Worship Music in 45 Seconds

Although this is a secular comedian, he makes a very shrewd point here about the silliness of distancing oneself from “organized religion,” as if there is such a thing as “disorganized religion.” In the process, he also, perhaps unintentionally, provides a brilliant parody of many contemporary praise & worship songs.

“La-la-la-la-la… disorganized.”