Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Learning to Understand Autistic Life Animated

We have someone attending our Sunday school class who appears normal…unless you try to talk to him. Sometimes I see him look my way, like he’d like to talk, but if I approach him or try to engage him, even in light conversation, he doesn’t respond and will look away. I assume he’s autistic, and I’m still trying to figure out how to connect with him, but after a year, I haven’t broken through. Do you have anyone in your life space like this? If you do, and you’ve been able to connect, please share any advice!! For one thing, when our class starts up again for the fall semester this Sunday, I’m going to try something new I just learned about this summer!          Recently, I saw a really inspiring docudrama about Owen Suskind.        Life Animated (2016, PG, IMDb 7.5) shares the Suskind family’s story.                      Their father was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal       and Owen was the second son born into a warm and wonderful home. Owen seemed normal for the first couple of years, but then suddenly he began to regress, stopped communicating, and developed strange behavior patterns. The Suskind’s ideal home was turned upside down in a heartbreaking search for understanding what had happened. Owen was eventually diagnosed as autistic. The rest of the movie traces the heartaches and challenges of trying to learn how to communicate with their son.                              Probably every child’s journey is quite unique,                             but Owen loved Disney animated classics,  and the family eventually learned how to use pictures of scenes from the movies to communicate emotions… love, joy, grief, kindness, and kinship.                    Life Animated follows Owen’s journey from childhood to adulthood,  educational achievements, and even touching on the topics of romance, hoped-for marriage, and learning how to cope with the limitations and disappointments of autism. In many ways, Owen’s story is a wonderful story of success and triumph over trials. Today, Owen is able to give lectures and offer suggestions and ideas for other autistic young people.                                   Life Animated made me cry and rejoice.  Why can’t Owen (and millions of people for so many different reasons) just enjoy a normal life like the rest of us? Why do so many people suffer and have to live with broken dreams? In all the heartaches of life, I console myself by remembering that life on earth is not the end, it’s only the beginning…a place to develop character and find grace. To find the end of ourselves and the beginning of God. To lose our lives so we’ll find eternal life. God is good. He can be trusted.

As Karla Akins says, “Autism isn’t forever, but love is.”

For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

The Struggle for A United Kingdom

A United Kingdom is the current retelling of a true story from 70 years ago, although I’d never heard it before. I totally agree with Rotten Tomatoes’ 83% rating and commentary: “Well-acted, solidly crafted, and all-around worthy, A United Kingdom presents an absorbing look at a singular true-life love story.”  If you, like me, weren’t around in 1947, you may not have heard the story before either, but it is a powerful testament to the enduring character of love. Sir  Seretse Khama was the heir to the throne of Botswana (then called Bechuanaland), Africa.  His parents died when he was only three, and Seretse became king at age four, although his uncle served as regent and brought him up like a son, sending him to the best schools, and eventually to Oxford and law school in England, where he became a barrister.     During this time (1947) he fell in love with a British woman, Ruth Williams, whom he married, despite extremely strong opposition from both sides of the family.  Their marriage and subsequent return to Bechuanaland sparked a furor among people on both continents,  because everyone assumed he would marry a woman from his tribe, the Bamangwato people.    A United Kingdom tells the story of the fierce love between Seretse and Ruth,              their unwillingness to bend for tradition or current cultural mores,                  and how they eventually won the hearts of their people. It also exposes the racism that was rampant in the Union of South Africa at that time, and the British weakness in failing to honor their word in order to curry favor with South Africa.  Although the events were compressed in the movie (it seemed like just a few years, when really the struggles lasted about 20 years), A United Kingdom gives a sober look into the economically-driven politics and racial tensions that have existed far too long (and into the present) between the continents and the races…and the fact that true love can (at least sometimes) “conquer all!” In order to protect his country and his marriage, King Khama gave up his right to be king, although he and Ruth returned to Bechuanaland where they eventually organized the Bechuanaland Democratic Party.  The movie is more about their love and early struggles, but I want to share just a little bit about their huge later success. Khama was the leadership and driving force in Bechuanaland’s independence from England, which was finally won in 1966. At that time, Bechuanaland was renamed Botswana. It was the third poorest country in the world, with virtually no infrastructure (7.5 miles of paved roads), and only 22 college graduates (worse, only 100 high school graduates!). Thanks to Khama’s integrity and brilliant leadership, he was elected as their first president and won every election until 1980, when he died suddenly of pancreatic cancer. During his tenure in office, Botswana became the fastest-growing economy in the world! The government negotiated the diamond mining businesses so that they retained 50% of the profits, which they poured into infrastructure, education, and health care. (Of course, if you’ve read The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, you’ll believe that more of that money should have been given to the workers; at least, I do.)   After Khama’s death, Vice President Quett Masire succeeded him in office,     but in 2008, Seretse’s oldest son Ian, was elected president of Botswana.  He and his (one and only) wife, Ruth, worked side by side until his death, and they are buried together in the Royal Cemetery in Serowe, Botswana.  Seretse Khama’s people loved him and compared to Nelson Mandela (although he didn’t receive such international acclaim). A United Kingdom is a beautiful story of love, honor, and courage, and a fitting example for each of us in our quest for following God in his promise to one day provide a united kingdom—not only in Botswana, but for the entire world!

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness;
and all these things shall be added unto you
” (Matthew 6:33).

And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation,
and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ
” (Revelation 12:10).

(I took most of the photos while watching the movie; others are from Wiki)

Praise God for The Zookeeper’s Wife

If you haven’t seen The Zookeeper’s Wife  and aren’t totally over traumatized by studying World War 2,
please consider watching it. It’s the true story of Antonina and Jan Żabiński,
who were keepers of the Warsaw Zoo  and lived lives of incredibly risky heroism
to save Jewish people during Hitler’s regime.  Alan and I first discovered The Zookeeper’s Wife when it came out
as an audio book (from our public library, about ten years ago),  but it’s come to life in 2017 in an even more profound way
as a PG-13 historical drama. Often if you’ve already read the book, the movie isn’t very compelling
because it’s too changed from its original content,  but I felt like the movie version of The Zookeeper’s Wife
retained the authentic story line.  In the Holocaust Museum in Poland, the Żabińskis are listed
as some of the “righteous among the nations”  because they protected hundreds of Jewish people, using their home
as a safe house until safer housing could be found.  The role of Antonina is played by Jessica Chastain,
who’s been nominated twice for an Academy Award.  In one interview, I heard her say that ultimately, the story is “about hope,
about family, and about love. Love will always be there and you can find it.”

I praise God for the incredible bravery of those who will protect the innocent                                          in the unending fight for good over evil.        “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

(Photo Credits: Images 1, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 15 are from various internet sources [some of which are listed or inscribed on the images]. The rest are mine, taken while watching the movie. There is one scene with gratuitous nudity in the context of the couple’s marriage, but it can be fast-forwarded without losing any critical dialogue.)

Did You Know We’ve All Been Born to Win?

I’ve spent this entire week discussing genealogies, but today I want to share  a wonderful (and at times heartbreaking) true story about a little boy who  was abandoned by his parents in South Africa and was taken in
by a very brave and godly black woman.  He had no clue what his genealogy was, but over the years,  he learned that every last one of us has been born to win!  Born to Win (the 2014 version from Union of South Africa)  shares what it’s like to grow up without parents,
trying to survive in a harsh world during the Apartheid,  when the police would rather a white child be an orphan
than grow up in a loving black family. While all his teammates were out having fun in college,
Leon was shoveling coal on a train to pay his way. Although Leon eventually married a beautiful model, he felt like such a loser on the inside that he almost ruined his marriage through alcohol abuse and neglect. Desperate for answers, his wife and daughter found help, but Leon was resistant. However, something terrible happened  that changed his life forever. Today, he’s doing something awesome. Wouldn’t you like to know what??! As it says on IMDb: Born to Win is “A true story of how God turns the hurt, frustration and emptiness of a man into hope, faith and victory
to inspire many to be the winners they were born to be.”  Do you ever feel like a loser? No pedigree; no special gifts or talents?
Terrible background or present circumstances that make your future seem dark? Take heart! God has a good plan for you! It may not be what you’d like, but it will bring honor and glory to God, and in the end, it will bring you joy as well!I’m sure Leon wouldn’t have chosen to have been abandoned by his parents, but he wouldn’t be where he’s at today
if he hadn’t come from where he’s come from. God has a special path and plan for each of us which is good, even though
much of the time we may feel confused and unsure about what’s happening.
TRUST HIM!But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.
(Matthew 19:30).

Know ye not that they which run in a race run all,
but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain
” (1 Corinthians 19:24).

Rain, Rumble, Rockin’ the Coast, and Rockin’ the Boat

Usually when Alan and I get up early and read our Bibles together, we can hear birds serenading the rising sun, but a couple of weeks ago, our background melody was the rumble of thunder and the drum of heavy rains. I didn’t think much of it—other than to enjoy it— but when it stopped, I could hear a singular bird caroling again.

Similarly, last weekend Alan and I spent Friday night at Grand Haven State Park, and the next morning as we were strolling along the boardwalk,  we were mesmerized by the deep, throaty roar of engines.   Three fleets of power boats, each led by a flag ship  (red, yellow, and the last green),  came out the channel of the Grand River like an armada off to war.   It touched something deep inside me, and I felt like crying.  It made me think of war, and I remembered Dunkirk.   We had no clue what was going on, but it was obviously a regatta of some kind, because when they got to the end of the Grand River channel,  they opened up their engines and went flying down the coast of Lake Michigan.  Have you seen Dunkirk yet? It’s gotten an 8.6 rating on IMDb,
and I think it must be be a stellar movie.  At least, when we visited the Normandy Coast of France last year,  I was totally overwhelmed by the heroism of the everyday Englishmen
who saved so many of the troops!   At any rate, I took videos of the three fleets as they roared off,  and what I noticed afterward
was the sound of a little cricket chirping in the grass beside me… something I’d been oblivious to while my attention was absorbed by the regatta.  Not long after the boaters were off,
we heard the wail of Coast Guard sirens and saw a helicopter.  One of the couples in the race was badly injured when they hit a big wave
on their way to Holland for what I learned was the “Rock the Coast” race.  I haven’t heard the end of the story,
but I know the wife was airlifted to Spectrum Hospital’s intensive care unit.  Probably very few of us ever enjoy the thrill of racing a power boat, but all of us experience  the race of life and hit heavy seas at times that rock our boats. Although we often fail to hear those quiet sounds until after the rumble of thunder, the roar of our engines, and we’ve gotten knocked around and injured, there is a voice that can be heard if we’re listening… the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit, wooing us to Himself…offering to help us figure out our lives.  Are you listening? Are you willing?

And he said, ‘Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.  And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?‘”  (1 Kings 19:11-13, ESV)

(Photo credits: I took the photos of the Rock the Coast Race last weekend in Grand Haven [except for the one of me, which my husband took], but I took the three of the Normandy Coast in the spring of 2016. The B&W photo of Dunkirk is from the Australian War Memorial [Wiki], and the other is a poster for the 2017 movie, Dunkirk, which is showing in theaters right now.)