Play the Flute

A film review by Chet Tan, library volunteer

Writer and Director: Rich Christiano
– Production Company: Rich Christiano Film Group

The first part of Matthew 11:17, as rendered in the NIV, reads: “We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance…,” and this is where the film “Play the Flute,” gets its title. This movie centers on Brandon Cobb (Brett Varvel), a young pastor who defers career advancement in favor of returning to the church he grew up in to revitalize its ailing youth group. However, far from welcoming Brandon, the church youth group’s motley cast of misfits repeatedly challenge Brandon’s abilities, confidence and resolve as a pastor and teacher.

This film is very clear about the Christian messages it wants to convey, from the sovereignty of God to the immutability of the Gospel. Almost every scene is a teaching moment, whether it is Brandon’s discussions with the youth group, or more casual conversations that the students have with one another outside the classroom.

If there would be any area that needs improvement, it would be the script, which has some of the youth group members abruptly change and suddenly embrace the Gospel message, with seemingly little story-related impetus to do so. This results in the actors’ performances coming across as unnatural, when the real problem may have been the screenplay itself. Perhaps the filmmakers did not think that the movie’s 103-minute runtime was long enough to convey everything they wanted to say, and so eschewed, for the sake of brevity, any scenes that show how each of these characters embraced the Gospel. Unfortunately, this made the movie a bit jarring at times, and does not do the film’s pacing any favors.

Some might call this film preachy, but one could argue that it may actually have been intended to be more instructional than cinematic. Appreciated in this light, it is conceivable that Christian schools, Sunday school programs or, appropriately enough, church youth ministries could find this movie useful for teaching a substantial amount of doctrine in a format that may be more appealing to college or even high school-aged students, particularly visual learners. However, viewers must be mature enough to handle a conflict that arises later in the film, which serves as its turning point, and teachers presenting this movie to their students have to be ready to handle this sensitively.

Despite its rough edges, “Play the Flute” still provides an interesting peek into the more subtle, everyday challenges and issues that pastors and other ministry workers must deal with, as they share the Gospel, and shines a well-deserved spotlight on those whom God has called to “play the pipe.”

Different Drummers

A film review by Chet Tan, library volunteer

– Directors: Don Caron and Lyle Hatcher
– Distributor: Bridgestone Multimedia Group

Reviewing films based on true stories is a tricky proposition. When you consider the plot or the way characters behave, you are not just critiquing a screenwriter’s craft: you are giving commentary on someone’s life. Which brings us to Different Drummers, a movie about the real-life friendship between two fourth grade boys living in Spokane, Washington, U.S.A. in the 1960’s.

Lyle Hatcher (Brendan Tucker) is a typical boy of his age, always running around outdoors and playing with insects. He could not be more different from David Dahlke (Ethan Reed McKay), who is wheelchair-bound due to muscular dystrophy. And yet this unlikely duo forms a bond that is surprisingly mature for their age.

Lyle demonstrates a selfless determination to help David experience life unbound by his physical challenges, a far cry from your typical self-centered youth. It is this mission of Lyle’s that provides the central conflict for the film.

For his part, David exhibits remarkable perceptiveness and deep concern for Lyle, particularly when the latter is subjected to the 1960’s bizarre version of behavior management. David’s “condition” and what his family must go through may need to be explained to younger viewers.

To call Different Drummers a Christian film would be a stretch, as its themes come across as more generically moral rather than specifically Christian. The only mention of God comes with David’s belief that God actually talks to him, which leads to points in the story that suggest that David is somehow prescient.

The DVD comes with several insightful featurettes, with interviews of the key personnel involved, including none other than the real-life Lyle Hatcher, who served as a co-writer and co-director on the film. It is through these short documentaries that we learn of the journey to bring this movie from inspiration to fruition, and the attention to detail that the filmmakers exhibited, such as shooting in the actual house David lived in.

Since the film tells the story of real events, it would be unrealistic to expect a neat resolution to all the challenges its characters face. Life is not like that. Instead, we witness the odyssey of two friends who look out for each other in their own way, significantly impacting each other’s life for the better. The making of this very film and the telling of this story are the culmination of that odyssey.

A Matter of Faith

A film review by Chet Tan, library volunteer

Director: Kevan Otto
– Production Company: Silver Lining Entertainment

Not to be confused with Rich Christiano’s “A Matter of Faith” (2014), Kevan Otto’s “A Question of Faith” (2017) tells a poignant story of how so much hurt, anger, and pain can flower into so much faith, love, and forgiveness.

This film follows the trials of Pastor David Newman (Richard T. Jones), as his family is beset with a terrible tragedy. However, rather than get a chance to move on, David and his family find themselves face to face with the Danielson and Hernandez families, whose lives are inextricably linked to that same terrible loss that has befallen the Newmans. These encounters force the protagonists to wrestle with age-old questions about God’s plan, goodness, and forgiveness in the face of tragedy.

This is no doubt a Christian film, with a sound Bible-based central message emphasizing putting one’s faith in God, even when life gives you every reason not to. However, the propriety of what David does later in the film could be subject to interpretation, if not some debate. (Those who want to avoid spoilers should skip the next paragraph.)

Specifically, during the final scene when David is preaching, he actually calls Maria Hernandez (Karen Valero) to the front of his church and proceeds to “out” her in front of his congregation as the person responsible for his family’s loss. Ostensibly, it can be surmised that David did this to give Maria a chance to ask for forgiveness, and Maria seems to be onboard with this. Still, one cannot help wondering whether this whole exercise could have been handled more discreetly (Matthew 6:1-4). Doing all of this in public may have given David an opportunity to showcase his magnanimity, but it also comes across as a little self-indulgent.

For the most part, the movie was competently shot, acted, and scripted, with Christian doctrines and Bible quotes finding their way into the dialogue naturally. If one were to nitpick, it would be the seemingly sudden transformation of the once-toxic John Danielson midway through the film (C. Thomas Howell). Doubtless, people have been radically transformed by Jesus throughout history, but the change for John here comes across as unnatural rather than miraculous.

As one watches this movie, it will be a challenge to avoid cringing at each gut-wrenchingly painful situation that the Newman family must endure. Which makes the film’s more upbeat ending a welcome surprise, as it manages to coalesce the movie’s disparate characters and plot points into a rousing crescendo. So, yes, sitting through the heavy drama of “A Question of Faith” does payoff in the end.

The Fifth Quarter

A film review by Chet Tan, library volunteer

– Director: Rick Bieber
– Distributor: 20th Century Fox (2010)

The 5th Quarter is not your typical “Christian film.”  In fact, it is debatable whether it is a Christian film at all. Based on a true story, The 5th Quarter centers around the Abbate family of Powder Springs, Georgia, U.S.A., whose lives are turned upside down by the tragic death of youngest child Luke (Stefan Guy).

The film’s plot does not seem to adhere to the classical structure of Freytag’s Pyramid, as there is no single climactic point at which the audience can be satisfied that the protagonists have finally “triumphed.”  Instead, the story proceeds at a slow burn leading up to a beautifully poignant resolution. The film’s ending does not, and cannot, completely take away the pain of the Abbates’ loss, and yet the audience is left comforted with the hope that this family will eventually come to terms with it.

Among The 5th Quarter’s strengths is a veteran cast that turns in convincing performances. With Luke’s father Steven, portrayed by Aidan Quinn, viewers observe how a seemingly rock-solid father can crumble upon receiving the call that no parent ever wants to receive or seeing what no parent should ever see. Andie MacDowell, who plays Steven’s wife Maryanne, gives the audience a soberingly realistic portrayal of the profound grief and loss that only a mother could feel.

And then there is the older son, Jon (Ryan Merriman), a rising star of Wake Forest University’s football team who loses all interest in playing upon the death of his younger brother. Jon challenges the audience with the classic dilemma: “If God is so good, why does he let bad things happen to good people?,” but the film offers no clear-cut answer (and as Christians, we know not to expect one in this lifetime).  It is Jon’s journey from the darkness of his grief to a historic winning streak buoyed by the memory of his brother that becomes the central beat of the film.

An extra feature on the DVD is The Making of The 5th Quarter, a 6-minute documentary that goes behind the scenes of the production of the film and includes excerpts of interviews with actual members of the Abbate family. This short program lends to the authenticity of the film, strengthening the impact of its story.

The 5th Quarter does not appear to have been presented as a Christian movie. Instead, it sets out to share the real-life story of an actual Christian family and how they survive the tragic loss of a loved one, and the film accomplishes this without hitting the audience over the head with Bible verses and Christian teachings at every turn. This is not a drawback for the film, as its understated resolution gives its viewers the opportunity to draw their own conclusions, which should make for interesting discussions within an SDG or even with non-Christian viewers.

[i] https://www.baltimoresu

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

A review by Sophie Roque, Library Volunteer

The story of 12-year-old Christopher Boone is an unfolding mystery of a neighbor’s dog that soon pulls in all the biggest mysteries of his own life as well. Told from a first-person perspective, the reader gets full access to Christopher’s curious mind. Readers will be fascinated by his seemingly endless supply of obscure facts and astonishing mathematical skills. Christopher’s sharp memory also adds an amount of detail almost never seen in books, which is enhanced by the many graphics and illustrations included alongside the text.

Christopher’s narration fully displays unique way of thinking and seeing the world. While he may seem odd or eccentric, the novel endears us to him as he navigates the challenges sparked by the strange case. He must also learn to navigate the complicated relationships of the people around him in a way that he never had before. From the parts of his family life kept secret by his father, to the intricate connections he learns about in his own life, there are more mysteries in this book than the one in the title.

Christopher’s journey as a detective reveals parts of life that are messy, complex, and confusing, especially to his well-ordered and logical mind. These issues are usually the business of adults, like his patient father and various neighbors, but Christopher plunges headfirst into them as part of his investigation. The reader joins him as he gathers his courage and wit to unravel these tangled threads of life and finally set them straight.

Genre: Fiction, mystery
Content warning: Swearing, implied violence against an animal, death of an animal, vulgar reference to sex, mention of slurs against autistic people, mention of slurs against disabled people, mentions of infidelity, violence against children, mention of drugs, mention of porn Suitability for children: Suitable for older children and teens

Vintage Books div. of Random House Publishing: c2003, 226 p.
Pb., ISBN: 1-40007783-4.

A Matter of Faith

Film Review By Chet Tan, Library Volunteer

“A Matter of Faith” centers around the Whittakers, a Christian family whose daughter Rachel (Jordan Trovillon) is going off to college. However, Rachel gets the shock of her life when she realizes that her renowned biology instructor, Professor Kaman (Harry Anderson), teaches the theory of evolution. This leaves Rachel so shaken that she tells her father Stephen (Jay Pickett) about it, prompting him to confront Professor Kaman about the “lies” he is teaching his students. In response, Professor Kaman invites Stephen to a public debate on the subject, which Stephen accepts. And so begins the crusade of the Whittaker family to share the truth of the creation story, which builds up to the climactic night of the public debate at the university that doesn’t go down as expected.

Admittedly, this is a difficult film to watch. The protagonists are supposed to be Christians, and yet it is not easy to sympathize with them when their determination to stand by their convictions borders on intolerance. Stephen’s demands of what is presumably a secular university seem to fly in the face of academic freedom. There is a scene where Evan (Chandler Macocha), a fellow Christian student who befriends Rachel, walks up to another student he doesn’t even know and then proceeds to publicly dress him down for having different beliefs. These onscreen actions can lead one to ask: is this how uncompromising a Christian should be?

Thus, the film’s resolution, which puts forth the proposition that both sides of the story should be presented so that everyone can decide for themselves what the truth is, comes as a welcome surprise. This is a message that all Christians need to hear, as we, in our zeal, may sometimes substitute Christ’s humility with self-righteousness, forgetting that our words must “…always be full of grace, seasoned with salt….” (Colossians 4:6 NIV) It’s just that this film takes a rather haphazard path to get to this message.
There is also a plot thread involving Rachel and another student, but I had to re-watch their scenes to make sure I understood what was going on. Without giving too much away, it can only be assumed that, in an effort to make the film more family-friendly, some of the dialogue ended up being vague and may need to be sensitively explained to younger viewers.

Watching “A Matter of Faith” was challenging at times, just as its characters had to go through challenges for their faith. The film certainly takes a roundabout way of getting its message across, but the payoff is worth it.

Director: Rich Christiano
Distributor: Five & Two Pictures (2014)

For Love’s Sake

A Film Review by Chet Tan, Library Volunteer

The moment I heard the character of Peter Walker, played by Richard Brimblecombe, explain to his son, James, played by William Wenlock, that becoming a Christian is not about being good, but submitting to Jesus, I knew this film was going in the right direction. “For Love’s Sake” depicts the struggles of a Christian family that is persecuted for their beliefs. However, this is not a period piece about the martyrdom of the early Church, but a drama set in 1970’s England.

Our protagonist is Mary Walker, a recently widowed mother of two young boys. Right out of the gate, the challenges of her situation are obvious, and the viewer would not be faulted for expecting this movie to be about how our Christian hero struggles with single parenthood amidst tragic loss. Except this film is not about that, as Mary’s depression makes caring for her children impossible at the outset, and eventually leads to her sons being taken away from her. Her efforts to pick herself up and get her children back leads to a steady stream of opposition, some of which presents a unique challenge and an unexpected twist.

Admittedly, the film has a low-budget feel, but this did not detract from its impact. If anything, it drove home the real world feel of the movie, which is appropriate, since the DVD’s packaging indicates that it is based on a true story.

The acting is not spectacular, but then a spectacle would not have been appropriate. Claire Walkington’s portrayal of Mary is understated, as she slowly rouses from her helplessness to a restrained determination when she resolves to bring her children home. William Wenlock and Luke Foxall, the latter playing older son Paul Walker, subtly show us the simplicity of how children would cope with these kinds of trials, devoid of unrealistic hysterics or drama, but from two very different perspectives.

The Walker family’s refusal to compromise their beliefs is nothing short of heroic. If you have ever assumed that Christians in the developed world don’t suffer for their faith, then consider “For Love’s Sake.”

Director: Andrew Walkington
Distributor (Philippines): Heartshaper Video, c2016.

Making Peace with Your Past By H. Norman Wright

A review by Anna Jean Marie Bañas, Library Volunteer

Our inner child affects the way we live at present, and this child will continue to do so. The point made here is that our inner child may be the past we need to make peace with.

The book starts with a discussion of the different factors contributing to the development of the inner child. Naturally, there is emphasis on the treatment given by the immediate family, especially the parents and their attitudes, and how the individual as a child reacts to it. Terminologies are not overwhelming and could easily be followed. As that introduction to the inner child is done, challenges to changing are also addressed. Several examples are given as to how a past experience becomes manifest and how this manifestation affects everyone, even without them necessarily knowing where such patterns of belief and behavior come from. Possible methods on how to mitigate and solve the problem areas are given. God’s importance is not forgotten in all these, especially in how believers are supposed to address the (broken) inner child, and how healing from God can start.

Furthermore, resentment and rejection are addressed as they can indicate how our inner child is. In this, forgiveness is important as this changes the response we have. Also, guidance and strength from Jesus Christ help the individual. Another issue tackled is perfectionism in that it can ruin the way we interact in this world. Along with over coercion and overindulgence, which are all rooted in our childhood due to how our parents brought us up, these parental attitudes may find their way in how we deal with people, situations, and ourselves at present. Ways in how to break away from these patterns of acting or thinking are also explained. Questions to facilitate self-evaluation and steps to change the problem(s) stemming from our inner child, our past, are presented. 

Each section is properly explained in terms that are easily understood. The examples and situations given are relatable. The groundedness, trust and faith believers have to have in God cannot be overemphasized. It is not so much as a self-help book as it is a reminder that in all our past and present brokenness, God is there to restore us, especially when we allow him to. This book addresses many questions, presents explanations, and gives good examples, drawing from both experiences and Scripture.

Michigan: Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, c1985/ Manila: Lighthouse Inspirational Books & Gifts, Inc., c.2016. 201 p. ISBN 978-971-834-362-3.

The Ministry of Ordinary Places By Shannan Martin

A review by Anna Jean Marie Bañas, Library Volunteer

Does ministry always mean something grand and unattainable for the ordinary (untrained) person? This question might be more relevant today as we still experience the effects of this pandemic. Several commonplace situations might also be on the table. What if you are just “stuck” at home or live in a small town or village? Or what if the people you encounter are the same kinds of people for some time? What if you are the newcomer?

Finding one’s place and calling in the daily and mundane life of people living in urban and suburban spaces shows that an ordinary person can be “called” and used as an instrument of God.

Finding one’s place and calling in the daily and mundane life of people living in urban and suburban spaces shows that an ordinary person can be “called” and used as an instrument of God. Shannan’s light narrative is easy to follow, and as she walks us through her daily life, events and relationships in her community, we can see how opening one’s mind, heart and life to what God presents right in front of us has far reaching effects as well.

Relatable ways on how one could effectively and easily share God’s love through family, neighbors and other community members through simple deeds and actions are recounted. This further strengthens the truth that one’s mission field need not be far to reap souls for Christ. Shannan arranges her stories into smaller events and themes of daily life which makes for high relatability of the reader. A healthy sprinkle of Scripture reference neatly ties her experiences with Christ’s teaching to His followers. Readers can follow how her little actions lead to increasingly deeper connections with members of her community. They are also shown not to discriminate and devalue the seemingly simple people and events presented to them by God.

Shannan’s voice is of one who has given up her life to serve the Lord in every way possible. Her responses also teach that it takes discernment and training to be attuned to what God calls people out to do. Her heart is on building relationships with those around her, for Christ to be able to work through and in each individual’s lives. This gives another view on how people could further the Kingdom of God in the place where they are currently planted and be effective, nonetheless. All it takes is that willingness to allow God to work through and in their lives. Through all these, God will allow people to grow and develop, placing their roots deeper and allowing them to bloom where they are planted. Highly recommend.

About the Book Reviewer:
Anna Jean currently works from home teaching Korean students online. When times get better, she hopes to return to hiking as she loves the outdoors, and photography also complements this hobby of hers. She also enjoyed the adult education classes offered at church, where you would have seen her plying herself with coffee.

The Ministry of Ordinary Places By Shannan Martin. Thomas Nelson: Nashville c2018. 217 p. ISBN 978-0-7180-7749-5.

The Vision of His Glory: Finding Hope Through the Revelation of Jesus Christ

A review by Daisy J. Serrano, Library Member & Contributor

If you think that the Book of Revelation has no value to today’s Christian, Anne Graham Lotz’s book will change your mind. This well-written and informative book is a practical application of the Book of Revelation to daily living. Lotz shares what she learned through her personal study of the book of Revelation – that the true meaning of the revelation of God’s glory is to bring us hope for the present as well as the future. The Apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation after the Lord Jesus appeared to him in a vision in the penal island of Patmos. He describes the greatest events of all human history that are now being seen on the world in which we live. Most important, St. John wrote it to give hope not only to the early church when Christians were tortured and died for Jesus Christ but also for the present and coming generations who will experience severe distress and challenges in their lives. The Book of Revelation emphasizes the authenticity of Jesus Christ. This book shows you how to have a personal encounter with God and discover the wealth of hope under five different circumstances: when you are depressed, when you are deluded, when you are discouraged, when you are distressed, and when you are defeated. It culminates with the hope that ignites our hearts, the hope for eternal life. Written as stand-alone chapters, each circumstance could also serve as a personal devotional, study guide or workbook for small groups. It is an enjoyable read because it describes the end times in understandable terms. It clearly explains some of the puzzling and complicated symbolism and numbers in the Book of Revelation and emphasizes that God’s boundless love and enduring mercy is the source of real, life-changing hope. A Devotional Guide on the Book of Revelation at the back of the book contains worksheets designed to help you communicate and develop a personal relationship with God. In the process, you may be blessed with the vision of His glory. A must reading for Christians and to those who want to learn and understand more about the end times. Highly recommended.