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The Good Lie

Thank you to Alcon Entertainment for sending us this film to review!

I knew nothing about this film when I sat down to watch it, other than the title, which intrigued me.  Telling a lie is rarely a good thing.  Depending on the circumstances a single lie can contain the power to completely destroy your life, not to mention collateral damage caused to others.  Other lies, commonly referred to as "white lies" are generally considered unharmful, focusing on keeping social interactions civil or inoffensive.  "Does this dress make my bum look too big?"  {Slight pause - often without even looking at said dress or it's effect on one's spouse's bum} "NO! Of COURSE not!  You look great!"  The repercussions of a "white lie" may be minor (like having an annoyed spouse for an evening), but that does not mean telling one is "good."

So what kind of lie is a good one?  The film answers this question brilliantly: The kind that saves other people's lives at the risk of your own.  A couple of biblical references to this come to mind immediately.  The most notable is in Exodus Chapter 1 where Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt sees his slave population growing more numerous than his ability to effectively control.  His solution: infanticide.  All baby boys of the Hebrews are sentenced to death by exposure.  Well, the midwives (ladies who are in charge of overseeing births, like Lamaze coaches and nurses combined) take issue with Pharaoh's solution.  But what's a powerless midwife to do when faced with the choice between disobeying the ruler, who will execute you for disobedience as callously as he kills babies, and doing what they know to be the righteous thing?  You lie.  The midwives tell Pharaoh that the Hebrew ladies are so tough that they pop those baby boys out before they even get there.

Woman, "Honey, my water just broke!"

Man, "What do I do?"

Woman, "GET THE MIDWIFE!"

Man, "But... if it's a boy, Pharaoh said,"

Woman, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWW!"

Man, "Alright! Be right back! Hang on dear!"

Man runs down the street, frantic, to his Lamaze coach's house, retrieves her, and they run back.  He is gone a total of fifteen minutes.

Man, "Honey, the midwife is here!"

Woman, "You lazy bum!  You took too long!  I had to push this little guy out all by myself!  It was ten whole minutes of agony!"

Man,"Sorry Lamaze, but I guess we don't need your help today.  Sorry for waking you up at two in the morning."

So, the midwives tell Pharaoh a reasonably obvious lie, one which is almost unbelievable.  But, the Bible says that Pharaoh was duped by this story, and that God BLESSED the midwives for lying... or rather for telling a good lie.  Not good as in believable, effective, or clever, but good in intent.  A lie intended to save the lives of the Hebrew baby boys, at the risk of their own lives.

Many other examples of such lies could be made.  Examples of this are plentiful during the Holocaust for instance.  "The Good Lie," tells a story of one such event during the Second Sudanese Civil War.

In this story, several Sudanese children are orphaned after their village is massacred. They are Theo, the oldest and their leader, his younger brother Mamere, their sister Abital, and two other villagers Paul and Jeremiah.  They band together and make a long journey through the desert enduring hardship, dodging the rebel forces, and nearly dying until they reach safety in a refugee camp in Kenya.  Along the way Theo tells a good lie.  They are stumbled upon by the enemy soldiers while the group was sleeping in the plain.  The leader's younger brother Mamere is seen briefly before he hides in the grass.  In order to save his younger brother, Theo stands up and surrenders to the soldiers.  He is hauled off by them, and presumed killed, but the soldiers don't find the rest of his group because he lied and told them he was alone.

Years later, these youths are among 3,600 refugees selected for resettlement in America.  The four remaining survivors of their village petition to have them all stay together since they are basically family.  Once in America, they are told that they have to split up and their sister Abital is sent to Boston, while the three surviving boys must make a new life in Kansas City. 

Together, Mamere, Paul, and Jeremiah must adjust to a new and different culture, go to school, get jobs, and try to reconnect with their sister even as the emotional pain of losing Theo haunts them.  Mamere, who feels responsible for his brother's presumed death learns of a good lie in school from a literature class studying "Huckleberry Finn."  In that instance, Huck tells a lie to save Jim from slave hunters.  This example of a good lie inspires Mamere and helps him realize that the guilt he is feeling is not right.  It was not his choice, it was his brother Theo's.  The lie that Theo told to save him and the rest of his group was a good one to tell.

Overall, the film was moving, gave the viewer an emotional connection to the characters, and presented the historical atrocities of the Sudanese Civil War in honest terms.  The actors who portray the Sudanese refugees are all actually Sudanese refugees who became actors (as opposed to the machinists and grocery store clerks they become in the film).  The American actors are Reese Witherspoon who plays Carrie Davis, the boys' job placement agent and Corey Stole who plays Jack, Carrie's boss.  Both of these characters are initially apathetic to the plight of the Sudanese refugees, but eventually help them adjust to American culture and by the end of the film they adopt a sympathetic posture towards their situation.  

Carrie's change is the most abrupt.  When first introduced to her, she is abrasive and unlikable, selfish, and easily put-off by anything that remotely inconveniences her.  By the end of the film she orchestrates reuniting the boys with their sister Abital by sponsoring Abital to live in her own home.  The self-sacrifice she makes in order to help those three boys was extremely uncharacteristic of her early character and clearly represents the change that occurred in her heart to cause her to help the people that were previously just an annoyance to her.

The film is rated PG-13 for violence, language and drug use.  I would concur that it deserves a PG-13 rating based on those factors.

I enjoyed the film a lot, and would recommend it if you like dramas, or movies with a positive message of self-sacrificial love.


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thomasccreech
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Friday, 22 May 2015 04:57
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H.O.P.E.

Thank you Romans 12LLC for sending us a sling backpack!

Romans 12:12 says "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer"

That's an awesome verse worth  memorizing and living by.  Romans 12 LLC aims to uplift and remind Christians to Hang On Pray Everyday® with useful products and attire.    On their website HopeinaBox.com you can purchase t-shirts, hats, backpacks, mugs, greeting cards, and blankets.  The prices are very reasonable too.  You can purchase a bookmark for 99 cents and red t-shirts are on sale for $4.99.  There are various styles of baseball caps  from $15 to $26.  

It's safe to say that they have something for everyone available on their website.  The sling backpack I was sent seems to be of good quality.  Apparently it's kid approved as my daughter has claimed the backpack as her own.  There are various H.O.P.E. in a box bundles available that range from $20 to $50.  The shipping rates are from USPS and go up if you need it sent priority or express.  

If you're looking for uplifting attire and iPad covers check out HopeinaBox.com.  Not only will the items remind you to pray daily, they also support other hope giving ministries.  In the spirit of spreading H.O.P.E. to others, 25% of all profits go to life, marriage, and family affirming ministries.

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Alvirithian Archives: The Rogue Knight

Written by: Benjamin K. Corum
Published by: Tate Publishing and Enterprises, LLC
Released: February 10, 2015
Price: $21.99

Thank you, Benjamin Corum, for sending us this book to review!

As an aspiring writer, I've spent quite a bit of time looking into the publishing industry and what it takes to get a novel published. One of the things I have learned from well-established authors is that publishers will pay you for your works. If you write it and write it well, then a publisher would publish it. Or it's possible that you can submit it to an agent, and they will find a publisher for you.

Although rewarding, this can be a difficult and challenging road to take. Publishers – especially those that take submissions from authors themselves, without an agent – receive thousands of submissions a year. Some submissions never even get read. 

In these days of the Internet, though, it is possible to publish a novel without a publisher. Companies like Amazon's CreateSpace or Lulu give an author the power to present their books to the digital marketplace for anyone to purchase. However, not all of these books will be of quality. Without the filter of agents or publishers, anything could be listed, and if there's any truth to Sturgeon's Law, 90% of it will barely be worth your time. 

But then there are some publishers that are a bit dodgy in their practices. They offer authors a chance to get their works edited, published and even advertised... for a price. Sometimes a very steep price. They aren't looking to actually sell books or help authors – merely trying to get as much as they can out of people desperate to have their names on a published book. These scammers provide about as much quality control as the self-publishing route, but unfortunately fleece the aspiring author in the process. 

While I'm not saying Tate Publishing falls into the latter category, it's one of the few reasons I can find as to why an established publisher would release a book of such poor quality as “The Rogue Knight.”

The novel details the adventures of a young princess named Sara. Her abusive fiancee seems to be controlling her father, the king. With the help of a mysterious rogue assassin named Johnathan Black, she travels to several other kingdoms to try and build an army to battle her father's forces. She meets other allies and trainers, learns how to use her mysterious magical powers, and takes lots of baths. The overused plot of the guarded princess falling in love with her bodyguard is here as well. The only unpredictable aspect would be determining if they will live happily ever after, or if Johnathan will die at the end, trying feebly to make it a tragic romance. I'll leave the ending a surprise for anyone who wants to try to suffer through the novel.

The book is filled with grammatical errors, typos, plot holes and more tired cliches than you can shake a stick at. (Yes, that was intentional.) The writing style is amateurish at best. This feels more like a second or third draft of a novel, rather than a finished work. If the author or the publisher paid for an editor, they may want to get their money back. If it wasn't for my desire to make the review as comprehensive as possible, I would have stopped reading after the second or third chapter. 

There is some merit to the novel, though. It's clear that the author loves the setting he created, and it is an imaginative approach combining ancient technological beings known as “synthetics” with a standard fantasy setting of forest-dwelling elves, underground-dwelling dwarves, and expansive humans. The theological system that Corum uses is a monotheistic one, with obvious influence from Christianity. Although some of it does feel shoehorned in – such as the communion-style opening to the elven feast – it's a nice attempt to create a fantasy setting that doesn't focus on polytheism. For the most part, the book is actually pretty good in terms of moral considerations. There is some graphic violence as many characters get killed in a variety of gruesome – but quick – ways. But there are no language issues, and no “adult situations.” This is a valiant attempt to make a “clean” fantasy novel that wouldn't meet very many objections in terms of amoral content.

Overall, though, the attempt fails due to the clumsy writing style. While some of the errors in the book do make the novel humorous (for example, when two of the characters battle at the end of the book, one decides to time his strike during his opponent's “most venerable time” (p. 286)), the humor is clearly unintentional, and doesn't make up for the sheer amount of other flaws. 

Many outside the Christian faith tend to look down on Christian media, viewing it as subpar with secular works. “Alvirithian Archives: The Rogue Knight” actually helps to reinforce this sentiment, because this work definitely qualifies as “shoddy.” It's a valiant attempt on the author's part, but the book is in serious need of an editor, and never should have gotten to the point where it was published. In short, if you're looking for an entertaining fantasy novel to read, your time would be better spent looking elsewhere.

One final word of advice for the author – if you intend to continue this series, invest the money into a solid editor instead, and listen to his or her advice. Then use CreateSpace or Lulu to upload the book and sell it. You'll find that to be a much better use of your funds, and it may help you become a better author. Because if you intend this to be your chosen career, you'll really need more help.


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Putting Tradition on Trial

Thank you Bohlsen Group for sending us this book to review!

Many Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25th and Easter on a Sunday in late March or Early April.  What if our traditions were proven to be wrong?  Patrick Cavanagh is Putting Tradition on Trial using astronomy and ancient Greek texts as evidence against an Easter Sunday resurrection.

I recently did (and highly recommend) a Bible Study called The Life of Jesus Christ Love. Life. Message. Mission. with my small group at church.    It's a great study that's easy to read and one of the chapters had a nice day by day break down of the last week of Jesus' life on earth.   Most Christians accept that the Last Supper was on a Thursday and that he was captured later that night and put on trial and to death on Friday.   Traditionally, Christians believe and celebrate Jesus' resurrection on Easter Sunday.  

While united in celebrating Easter, Christians have often contemplated the year of Christ's death. Many believe it's either 30, 31, or 33 CE.    Using astronomical calculations of the full moon in 14 Nisan, Patrick Cavanagh suggests that Christ died on Tuesday, April 15th in 32 CE and that by late Friday (approximately 72 hours), the women were informed that He had risen.  These are some pretty bold statements and the author makes a compelling case for them by providing Greek text and the works of Josephus to analyze key dates and how they all piece together.  

Putting Tradition on Trial continues to assimilate other historical events like the births of John the Baptist and Jesus in 3 BCE and Herod's death in 1 BCE.  Most people believe that Herod died in 4 BCE.  The book also mentions how the former pope Benedict stated his beliefs that Jesus birth had to be sooner than the currently believed timeframe of 5 or 6 BCE.  Since I'm not Catholic, I usually take statements from the pope with a grain of salt.  

After the case for a non-Sunday resurrection is made, the author states the importance of not celebrating it and puts Christians in two camps, the Sunday keepers and the Sabbath keepers. Verses used in defending the Sabbath include Exodus 19:8, Matt 12:7-8,  24:15-21, Luke 6:5 and Isaiah 66:22-23.  

At the end of the book the author delves into current affairs and shares his thoughts on the end times and on abortion.  And yes, he believes that we are living in the end times and that abortion is indeed murder.  

Putting Tradition on Trial is not an easy or a light read, I've had to read it in small doses to absorb all of the evidence being brought forth.  Thankfully the chapters are relatively short at a few pages apiece.  In total this book has 163 pages and 20 chapters.  The paperback is relatively pricey at over $30 and the hard cover is over $47 on Amazon.  If you have a kindle and are interested in reading it, it's more reasonably priced at $4.99.


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Finding Jesus: Fact. Faith. Forgery.

Thank you St. Martin's press for sending us a review copy of this book!

CNN is doing a six-part series titled Finding Jesus and it discusses prominent figures and relics associated with Jesus and Christianity.  Finding Jesus: Fact. Faith. Forgery. is the companion book written by David Gibson and Michael McKinley.  The book covers John the Baptist's role and remains, The James Ossuary, Mary Magdalene's roles and remains,  the Gospel of Judas, the True Cross, and the Shroud and Sudarium.  

Each chapter discusses the relic or person's history, significance and authenticity.  According to the book, early churches were required to possess a relic in order to be considered credible.   The black market for Christian relics thrived then and it's still alive and well in the twenty-first century.  There are many verified hoaxes when it comes to bones of supposed prophets.  While some churches unknowingly acquired pig bones, other churches like one in Bulgaria, has a bone  from a Middle Eastern man.  Could it really be from John the Baptist?

The James Ossuary is another hot topic for several reasons.  Since Catholics believe that Mary remained a virgin, how could Jesus have a brother named James as the ossuary claims? The Catholic author(s?) suggests that Jesus had step brothers from a possible previous marriage of Joseph's.  The relic itself is a bit questionable since the inscription has two different authors and writing styles.   While the ossuary is genuine, the inscription on it could very well be fake.  The forgery was taken to court, but the accused forger was acquitted.

The gnostic gospels are brought up on two occasions with the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Jesus' Wife.  The Gospel of Judas paints the relationship of Jesus and Judas in a different light and shows them working together on the betrayal instead of it being one-sided as the other gospels proclaim.  The gospel claiming that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' wife is just as sketchy with many words and context missing from the text used to base this argument on.   While that argument isn't very convincing, the book suggests that Mary Magdalene could have been the woman who had demons expelled from her, and possibly the adulterer that Jesus pardoned.  

The last chapter of the book discusses the mysterious Shroud of Turin and it's accompanying Sudarium from Oviedo.  Both of these burial clothes are cherished relics and believed to be used on Jesus's body.  The Shroud of Turin has a faint image of a bearded man with blood markings matching the wounds of the crucifixion and piercings from scripture.  When combined with the Sudarium from Oviedo, the blood markings match up perfectly.  Forensically, the Shroud of Turin hits a homerun, but when it comes to the carbon dating it's inconclusive.  Some of the carbon dating results show the samples to be from the renaissance.  This can be attributed to mishandling or repairs made to it after it nearly got destroyed in a fire.  One thing that the Shroud of Turin is not, is a photograph or a painting because of the 3D impression left on it.  

Finding Jesus: Fact. Faith. Forgery. is a fascinating read regardless if you have seen the CNN special or not.  I haven't seen it, but i have thoroughly enjoyed this book.  The hard cover edition lists for $26.99 but I have seen it for less than $20 online and even cheaper digitally.


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WWJD: The Journey Continues

Thank you Bender/Helper/Impact for sending us this movie to review!

When I was growing up, I used to watch a show called The Hitchhiker which featured a hitchhiker (gasp!) who opened and closed each show, but did not star in the random thriller story in between.  The shows often revolved upon mankind's depravity and sometimes had supernatural plots.  Since I have not seen the original WWJD movie, The Hitchhiker television show is the closest comparison I can make.  

WWJD: The Journey Continues has the same drifter from the original movie, but the main story is completely different this time around.     The movie begins with the drifter catching a ride to a random location.   Meanwhile a young man promises his mother in her final moments that he would take care of his brother.   His adopted brother's prison sentence is nearly finished. Later that night, a church in the midst of being renovated in a rough neighborhood gets robbed.  The pastor, fearing for the lives of himself and his wife, abandons the church and  suggests they hire a pastor with no family to worry about.  Cue in the young man who happens to be a pastor and his parolee brother.  As luck would have it, the pastor's brother is  a carpenter when he's not breaking the law. 

The pastor's brother is not saved and it shows with his quick temper and wanting to pick fights with some trouble-making brothers who vandalize the church. The young pastor has a tight deadline to get the church up and running and financially stable.  Everything is on track until there is a robbery in the church and the pastor's brother pays the ultimate price.  Fortunately, he accepted Christ in his last moments of life.  

The pastor grows bitter and the townspeople take notice.  How can he bring people to the Lord when his faith is shattered?  The drifter comes to town and doesn't get a warm welcome and finds himself chased off by the pastor and the trouble making boys.  He keeps coming back and asking people "What would Jesus do?"  Some townspeople get the message while others take a little more time.

Besides the main message of trusting God, there are many instances of forgiveness. The movie also takes some time to discourage premarital sex.  While WWJD: The Journey Continues is not rated, I would recommend it for teens and older because of the violence and mature themes.  The story is predictable at times but decent.  If you like heartwarming Christian movies, WWJD: The Journey Continues has you covered.


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The Happy Christian

Thank you Thomas Nelson for sending us this book to review!

The world can be a pretty depressing place with natural disasters, murders and needless deaths occurring everywhere on a daily basis.  Turning on the evening news shows more bad news than good.  It doesn't take much for anybody, Christian or not, to lose heart with all of the negative media we're bombarded with.  

Dr. David Murray writes about ten ways Christians can be a joyful believer in a gloomy world.  To back up his claims he provides both Biblical and scientific anecdotes.    The foundation verse of this book is Nehemiah 8:10: "...for the joy of the LORD is your strength." No matter how down in the dumps we are, we can always call upon the Lord's strength.   Another verse referenced is Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."   How true is that verse?  Dr. David Murray suggests that Christians meditate on it daily.  I agree with him.  Not only can it improve our outlook on life, it can strengthen our bond with God and improve our physical and mental health. After all, happiness is 10% circumstance, 50% genetic and 40% choice.

Other suggestions from the book include forgetting the negative things and focusing on the positive influences in our lives.   No matter where we are: at church, at home, or at work.  We are to be biblical examples of being thankful, forgiving, praying, and celebrating diversity.  There is no sense in constantly reflecting on past mistakes, we are to live in the here and now and make the best of it.   The Happy Christian also tells us that we should actively praise people and to pray before criticizing people.  The healthiest balance of criticism to praise ratio is 1:5.  This is especially true in marriages and in the work place.  Positive workers have proven to be better performers.  Marriages last longer if spouses know that they are loved more than they are criticized.

Even though I consider myself pretty happy and laid back in general, I enjoyed my time in this book and learned a lot from it.  The Happy Christian is a great book for any believer who can use a little morale boost.


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Uncle Grandpa Good Mornin' DVD review

Thank you Cartoon Network for sending us this DVD to review!

As the name suggests, Uncle Grandpa is a very odd show.  I'm not even sure how to describe it other than it being "face palm" funny.  The main character, Uncle Grandpa, helps kids by taking them on adventures to solve their problems.  While he does have the ability to replicate himself and conjure up items from thin air, he often makes things harder on himself than necessary.  

Uncle Grandpa is often accompanied by his friends Belly Bag (his fanny pack), Pizza Steve, Mister Gus, and Giant Realistic Flying Tiger.  Whenever Uncle Grandpa's  RV needs that extra boost, Giant Realistic Flying Tiger happily helps out with his rainbow flatulence.  

The Good Mornin' DVD collection features twelve episodes and runs for 132 minutes.  Here's a list of the episodes in this collection:

  • Brain Game - Pizza Steve claims to be the best gamer ever - can he put his skills on the line to help out a kid?
  • Moustache Cream - Uncle Grandpa needs some moustache cream in a hurry; can he get it in time?
  • Nickname - All of the kids but one have nicknames, so Uncle Grandpa helps that kid earn his. 
  • Locked Out - Uncle Grandpa gets locked out of his RV; how will he get back in?
  • Mystery Noise - During a sleep over Uncle Grandpa and friends cannot fall asleep due to a weird noise.  They tear apart the RV looking for it.  Can they find the source of it?
  • Bad Morning - Uncle Grandpa is miserable when he wakes up on the wrong side of his bed.  His friends attempt to correct the problem.  
  • Bezt Friends - Everyone but Pizza Steve agrees to be Uncle Grandpa's best friend.  Will Pizza Steve reconsider? 
  • Hide and Seek - Uncle Grandpa is afraid to play hide and seek after never finding one of his friends.  Will he overcome his fear and join in the fun?  
  • The History of Wrestling - Uncle Grandpa and Mister Gus show people how real wrestling is done.
  • Vacation - Uncle Grandpa needs to take a vacation from helping people.  After arriving at a remote island he finds out he's their only hope from stopping a devastating volcanic eruption.   Will he help them? 
  • Aunt Grandma - Uncle Grandpa is  being upstaged by a new person helping kids in need.  There's not enough room for both of them.   
  • Grounded - Uncle Grandpa unwittingly helps a kids escape from being grounded.  Now he must outsmart this kid to get back into his room.  


All of the episodes are wacky and my kids are now fans of the show.  Like most cartoons out there, you can expect to find cartoon violence and potty humor.  If that doesn't bother you, this DVD is worth owning for its $10 price tag.


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Confessions of a Prodigal Son

Thank you Bender/Helper Impact for sending us a DVD of this movie to review!

Confessions of a Prodigal Son was successfully Kickstarted in the spring of 2013.  The fundraising goal was a meager ten thousand dollars and Nathan Clarkson, the lead actor and project lead, raised $13,835.00 to make it a reality.  While the low budget aspect is hard to hide, the story told is timeliness and teaches about God's love, forgiveness, and redemption.  

Many college age kids are tired of being told what to do by their parents.  As a preacher's kid, Sean wanted to escape from his father's (Kevin Sorbo) shadow. Instead of attending a Christian college to become a pastor, he desired to go to a public college and do his own thing.  Sean's parents relented and paid for two years of college and promised to pay the other half if he didn't squander the funds and keep a grade A average.

Getting an A in his English class will be no easy task as his teacher is very strict and not very tolerant of Sean's chronic tardiness.  Sean is going to have to get his partying under control and figure out what he wants in life and what his goals are.  Not only does he need to do this for his own good, but he has to write a paper about his life story.  He still doesn't know what his is, all he does know is that he wants to be free and not told what to do by anyone else.   

Unfortunately, I couldn't relate with Sean's character and found him to be more shallow than lost.  Why the drastic rebellion?  There's not much of a back story with him and his parents other than him being a preacher's kid.  Sean's best friend in the movie is a womanizer who doesn't have much going for him other than partying and popping pills.  The most complex character in the movie is Sean's love interest (Rachael Lee) whose dad left her when she was just a toddler and is trying to forgive her father.   She turns to God for strength and encourages Sean to re-consider his relationship with God.

While the story is modernized from the Biblical parable, I feel that it could have been better.  The characters didn't click with me and there were too many holes in the story it was trying to tell.  Even though I'm impressed with what was accomplished with limited funding, I think that it could have benefited from more seasoned writers and acting talent.


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Final Symphony

Thank you Shore Fire Media for sending us a digital copy of this symphony!

Nobuo Uematsu is a world renowned composer who is best known for his compositions for Final Fantasy I-IX.  He has worked alongside others in arranging music for Final Fantasy X, XI, XII, and Chrono Trigger.  In his band Earthbound Papas (and The Black Mages before that), he puts a heavy metal spin on his songs.  For a more classical touch, the Distant Worlds CDs give an orchestral rendition of his Final Fantasy works.  A majority of the songs don't stray from the game soundtracks, but there are a few medleys and a playful swing rendition of the chocobo theme. 

Final Symphony combines endearing medleys from Final Fantasy VI, VII, and X and weaves them into an original symphony that spans an hour and thirty five minutes in length.  There are eleven tracks ranging from three to eighteen minutes long.  The digital album is available on iTunes for $9.99 , and only the seven tracks that are less than ten minutes in length can be purchased individually.  Because it exceeds the physical CD length limit, the digital format is convenient.  Tragically, a lossless FLAC option is not available at this point in time.  I sincerely hope they offer it in a lossless format in the future, as the quality of the recording is quite high, and would really benefit from this.

Even in the inferior mp4 format, this symphony sounds very good.  The London Symphony Orchestra provided the musical talent and the recording was done in the famous Abbey Road recording studio.  The music was inspired by compositions from Nobuo Uematsu and Masashi Hamauzu and re-arranged by Jonne Valtonen and Roger Wanamo.  The recording is done in a way that clearly works to the strengths of the classical format, and is fitting to an audiophile audience.  The dynamic range is very good, even dramatically so at times.  This is best listened to in a quiet setting, as the dynamics can sneak up on you if you are playing it too loudly to overcome background noises.

While the lossy, compressed transfer was very well done, I can't help but think how much better this could sound on high end audio equipment with a lossless transfer.  This kind of music is also quite well suited to it.  I recently purchased another great Final Fantasy inspired music set, called 'A New World: intimate music from FINAL FANTASY', in 24-bit/96KHz FLAC, and it sounds absolutely incredible.  I wish that this recording offered similar audio quality; this music deserves it.

Final Symphony starts off with a four minute long overture that then leads into Final Fantasy VI's beloved opera scene and features tidbits from "Terra's Theme" and the "Decisive Battle".  Next comes the three part tribute plus an encore inspired by Final Fantasy X.  Fans of that game will recognize melodies from the songs "Zanarkland" and "Suteki Da Ne". The last few tracks are dedicated to Final Fantasy VII and features fragments from "Cosmo Canyon", "Aerith's Theme", "Battle Music" and "One Winged Angel" in all of its glory.

Unlike other Final Fantasy inspired music, this is not one 'song' at a time, but rather movements that tell a story, and flows from one recognizable theme to the next.  It's a very well done piece, and one that deserves attentive listening.  This arrangement is excellent; they should be proud.

Fans of Final Fantasy VI, VII, and/or X should check out this compilation.  Even classical music lovers who are not familiar with the video game source material can appreciate the talent of the composers and the London Symphony Orchestra.  The price is reasonable and hopefully it will be available in physical or lossless formats soon.


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Tinkerbell and the Legend of the NeverBeast

Thank you Disney for sending us a copy of the movie to review!

Even though Tinkerbell is in the title of this movie, she isn't the main character.  She does make a few appearances though.  Tinkerbell and the Legend of the NeverBeast focuses on a fairy named Fawn, an animal fairy who specializes in  the wildlife surrounding Pixie Hollow.  Because of her love for animals, Fawn often gets reprimanded for bringing potentially dangerous strays into the fairy village.

After a recent scolding from the queen fairy, Fawn stumbles onto a unique creature that she has never seen before.  Vowing to think with her head and not her heart this time, she studies this unusual animal that likes to make rock towers.  She wins its trust when she helps remove a thorn from its foot and a friendship between them is born.      

While Fawn fully trusts this unusual creature, the guardian fairies wish to send it away because of a legend about its involvement in a deadly storm that is starting to brew.  Is this creature the source of the problem or the solution?  Can the fairies come to an agreement and work together?  You'll have to watch the movie to find out since I don't want to spoil it for you.

My husband, daughters, and I enjoyed this G rated 76 minute long film.  Keep some tissues handy for the ending as our eyes were all watering towards the end.   Amazon sells the Blu-ray/DVD combo for $23 and for that price, I recommend adding it to your movie library.


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Jasper: Journey To The End Of The World

Thank you Shout Factory for sending us this DVD to review!

Penguins live a simple life, believe the world is flat and nothing exists beyond the icebergs surrounding them. Jasper is a young penguin that doesn't conform to their beliefs. One day he sees a huge cruise ship which disproves the theory that only penguins exist. Jasper, unfortunately, does not succeed in his attempt to show this to the other penguins. In doing so, he is shunned.

While being tasked to watch his brother, Junior, Jasper loses sight of him. He later finds him making his way towards the cruise ship. Junior boards it followed by Jasper. While onboard, they meet nine-year old Emma and a cat named Lucifer. Together, they all vow to help the Kakapo parrot retrieve his stolen eggs from a passenger named Doctor Block and his helper Rolf. Can these four misfits work together to save the eggs from harm? Can the penguin brothers and Emma each earn their parent's respect? You'll have to watch the eighty minute DVD to find out.

While Jasper: Journey To The End Of The World is family friendly and earns its "Family Approved" seal on the front of its case, I did notice a couple of issues.  There is a scene where the Kakapo parrot falls down a laundry chute and into a washing machine.  Emma shouts OMG, spelled out.  In another incident the parrot says "Oh ca ca."  Last but not least, there's a margarita reference in the end.

Overall my kids enjoyed Jasper: Journey To The End Of The World.  There's plenty of humor and my kids laughed throughout the entire movie.  The price is a reasonable $10 on Amazon and any penguin lover should consider adding it to their DVD collection.


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Ruby Wizardry

Thank you No Starch Press for sending us this book to review!

After our ten year old finished JavaScript For Kids (highly recommend this book BTW!), our seven year old wanted to try Ruby Wizardry.  Not only is the programming language completely different, the formatting is as well.  This book is laid out like a story with snippets of code and complete ruby scripts woven throughout.

Ruby Wizardry teaches the basics such as variables, symbols, arrays, strings, loops, conditionals, case statements, opening/writing/adding to files,  and more.  The first chapter is dedicated to downloading and configuring the Ruby interpreter to correctly associate .rb files.  

Some of the code will need to be typed beforehand in notepad (or notepad++) and renamed as a .rb file while other bits of code will  need to be executed directly in IRB (command line interpreter).  My son got confused at times and occasionally typed code in the wrong program.

Adult supervision is strongly advised for younger kids to make sure they are "getting it."  Many scripts are playful including a text maze game, a monkey counting script, and a password checker.  Like all programming languages, a single typo can break the whole program.  A second set of eyes may be needed when helping your kids debug their programs.  A computer science degree isn't required to help locate spelling errors and the book's code examples are easy to understand.

If your child is not good at typing, there may be difficulty. You may want to address this before getting started.  Typing code was my son's least favorite part of learning Ruby.  Another disappointment for him was that the programs he made were not graphical and interactive like the snake game his sister made using JavaScript. 

Ruby Wizardy provides a playful introduction to learning Ruby.  While my son may have been too young for it and had the wrong expectations,  a little encouragement went a long way.  Our son felt proud of his accomplishments when the whole family tested his programs.  Make sure your kids like typing and appreciate text-based interactive scripts before buying this book.  It sells on Amazon for $22 which is much cheaper than a college course.  

 

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My Little Pony: Adventures of the Cutie Mark Crusaders

Thank you Shout Factory for sending us this DVD to review!

Have you ever wondered how ponies in Equestria get their unique markings on their flanks?  My Little Pony: Adventures of the Cutie Mark Crusaders explains the whole process.  Ponies are not born with their "cutie marks" - they are obtained when discovering their unique talent or characteristic about themselves.  It's a rite of passage that every young pony strives to achieve.  

Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, and Apple Bloom are three young ponies with one thing in common:  they are all lacking their cutie marks.  They form a friendship and call themselves the "Cutie Mark Crusaders."  This DVD collection contains five episodes and spans 110 minutes in length.

Here's a breakdown of each episode:

  • The Cutie Mark Chronicles - The Cutie Mark Crusaders want to find out how Rainbow Dash got her cutie mark so they ask her and learn her story along with several others.  Coincidentally, many of the Mane Six ponies got their marks as a result of Rainbow Dash's.
  • The Cutie Pox - Apple Bloom steals some potion ingredients from Zecora in order to speed up her cutie mark process.  Instead of one cutie mark, Apple Bloom gets several along with new abilities that she must perform constantly.  After missing out on valuable sleep and realizing her wrong doing, Apple Bloom must confess the truth and learn patience.  
  • Flight To The Finish -   The Cutie Mark Crusaders wish to carry the Ponyville flag to the Equestria games.  Can they agree on a routine?  Their friendship will be tested as they learn and cope with the strengths and shortcomings of the trio.
  • Pinkie Pride - Pinkie Pie wants to be in charge of planning Rainbow Dash's birth-iversary party.  However the job is given to a visiting pony named Cheese Sandwich who is voice acted by "Weird Al" Yankovic.  They challenge each other to a goof off to see who is best suited for the job.  
  • Twilight Time -   Twilight Sparkle is kind enough to privately tutor the Cutie Mark Crusaders but word quickly spreads and all of their friends want to spend time with Twilight Sparkle too.  How can they keep everyone happy?

All episodes were great and taught valuable lessons on telling the truth, keeping promises, and valuing friendship.  My favorite episode was Pinkie Pride because I totally did not expect to see "Weird Al" in this show.  All of my kids enjoyed were pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the whole disc.  I highly recommend this collection to any My Little Pony or "Weird Al" fan.


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Adventure Time: Frost & Fire

Thank you Cartoon Network for sending us this DVD to review!

Adventure Time: Frost & Fire is a collection of sixteen episodes from seasons one, three, four, five, and six.  The title episode begins with Finn and the Flame Princess on a date and the Ice King gets in the way. Hilarity ensues when the Ice King and the Flame Princess duke it out.  Not only was this fight entertaining to watch, Finn experienced a pleasant dream that he wanted to experience again.  To make that happen he sends fake letters to both parties and waits for the battle to take place.  While he gets to see them fight again, and experiences a variation of his original dream, Finn regrets his actions and attempts to make things right. 

Other than the title episode some of my favorites include Jake the Brick where Jake wants to experience the collapse of an old beat up shack, by being one of its bricks.  Since being a brick is pretty boring, he entertains himself by narrating the nature around him.  Little does he know that Finn is broadcasting his rambling across Candy Kingdom with the help of a walkie-talkie.

I was pleasantly surprised to find another gender reversing episode  with Fiona and Cake in The Prince Who Wanted Everything.  Lumpy Space Prince takes the lead role in that episode.  Since season five or six have not come out on Blu-Ray or DVD yet, many of these episodes were new to us.  There are some classics thrown in like Memories of Boom Boom Mountain that explain how Finn and Jake met.  

While the list price is under $20, it can be yours for less than twelve dollars on Amazon.   There is close to three hours of entertainment (176 minutes) to be had in this DVD collection.   While this DVD can provide hours of entertainment for people of all ages, make sure you're okay with fart jokes before letting youngsters watch this show.    Despite the juvenile potty humor, there are redeeming qualities and good lessons to be learned from this series. 

Here's the episode list:

  1. Frost & Fire
  2. Earth & Water
  3. Jake the Brick
  4. The Prince Who Wanted Everything
  5. Something Big
  6. Return to the Nightosphere
  7. Daddy's Little Monster
  8. Joshua and Margaret Investigations
  9. Davey
  10. The Pit
  11. Freak City
  12. Memories of Boom Boom Mountain
  13. James
  14. Time Sandwich
  15. Apple Thief
  16. Thanks for the Crabapples, Giuseppe

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My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Season5

My Little Pony has been on TV for a very long time. Ever since it started back in the 80's, My Little Pony has been adored and loved by fans from the beginning. From then to now, fandoms have been hoping that the show will bring some excitement. They still are hoping with their hands folded as we speak. The show will always be respected and remembered as a loved classic and will always be in our hearts.

But now, we enter into the the new series of My Little Pony. It has been titled "Friendship is Magic". I'm sure you all have heard of it. And with this new show comes the dawn of the Bronies. Bronies are the strangely adult fans of My Little Pony. Some people think that the show needs Bronies to continue the show. And now that the new show has come out, there are more Bronies then ever, even with all the Bronies from the past combined.

Now Bronies are grinding their teeth and folding their hands for the next season of My Little Pony : Friendship is Magic to come out on TV. It is now going for a fifth season and probably will continue after that. This next season is probably going to be about Twilight Sparkle and her pony friends having a whole bunch of adventures, as we have grown to excpect from the other seasons.

If you haven't seen the Teaser Trailer for the next season, then you can watch it now. Enjoy!

Season 5 will be the best season yet. You watch. No, seriously, watch the season when it premieres.

Thank you for reading my first blog. I hope it was okay and that you enjoyed it.

by CRCBrony

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The Song review

 

My wife and I, a few scant days prior to V-day, sat down and watched a film that is new on DVD called, "The Song."  It is produced by AFFIRM Films, a subsidiary of Sony Entertainment and I believe it was released straight to DVD and digital download.  It was newly released, coming out on the 10th of February.

So, what were my expectations going in to what I predicted to be a Christian-themed "chick-flick" almost strong-armed upon me by my wife?  Well, I expected a cookie-cutter predicable plot with cliche-ridden sappy dialogue; or the usual experience of such films as "the Notebook," "Sleepless in Seattle", or even (heaven help me) "The Proposal."  Thankfully, I was quite surprised.

"The Song" may be a comedy in the literary sense, but it is not a "romantic comedy" in the vein of "The Proposal" (or any other Sandra Bullock film), "50 First Dates" (or any other Adam Sandler film), or "Runaway Bride" (or any other Julia Roberts film).  Instead, the closest film I could compare it to would be "Walk the Line."  It's much more dramatic than any romantic comedy I've ever seen, with a depth of character that isn't really found in most rom-coms.

This movie is essentially a dramatization of a modern-day King Solomon.  The title of the movie, "The Song" intends to invoke "the Song of Songs" or "The Song of Solomon" from the Bible.  Throughout the movie there is a monologue narration of scripture passages from Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon that pertain to what is happening in the story.  

In "The Song", the main protagonist is a man named Jedidiah (Jed) King, who is a struggling country singer/songwriter trying to escape the shadow of his famous father.  The film features several biblically-themed love songs which are performed by the actors and are very catchy.  The relationship between Jed and his love interest - the local vineyard owner's daughter Rose Jordan - is initially sweet, believable, and came across as genuine.  The genuine feel remains even as their relationship begins to deteriorate due to his long absences while touring and his eventual infidelity.  While Jed does try to restore their relationship in the end, it is clear in the movie that the pain he inflicted on Rose did not fully go away, and was not healed magically at the end, adding an element of realism to the film that I appreciated.

At times, the film was predictable.  There were not many surprises in the plot, but the writing was not corny and the performances were believable.  One complaint my wife has is that much of the movie is spent on Jed's failures and his descent into adultery and drug use, and the restoration of their relationship felt rushed.  

The main themes in the movie are the corrupting influence of fame and money, the pain that infidelity causes in marriage, and the power of forgiveness.  I ended up enjoying the experience and felt that as a film it accomplished the goal it set and that it told a compelling love story.

The film is rated PG-13.  I believe this is an appropriate rating.  While this film does not riddle us with scantily dressed teenagers or have any foul language, it does have some drug and alcohol use as well as some suggested philandering.  I would recommend "The Song" to folks who are over 12.

The film came with a soundtrack, which features the original songs from the film, as well as a workbook written by the producer Kyle Idleman which is a 6-week couple's bible study focused on journeying through marriage together.  It's called "Awaken Love."  My wife and I have not yet gone through it, but it is an added resource that may help people build a stronger marriage.

Thanks to AFFIRM Films for sending us this film to review!  My wife and I enjoyed it, me more than I was expecting to at the start.


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LeapTrade Review

Disclaimers:

Thank you Leap Trade for providing us with credit on your website to trade/purchase a game!
Although Leap Trade does advertise with us, it does not influence this review of their service in any way. 

Many of us have games laying around that we no longer play or want anymore.  While GameStop is convenient for trading them in, they give you very little money for them.    If you're not in a rush to sell your games, Leap Trade will give you  more credit for them than Game Stop and Amazon.

There is no cost to join the site and after joining,  you can buy Leap Trade credit at a reduced price for a limited time. The game prices are competitive and updated every couple of weeks.  There is a forum to suggest pricing changes if needed. 

The game price is the final price to your door as shipping is included.  The United States Postal Service shipping labels are paid for by the seller and it's very reasonably priced at $3.50.   Tracking is included and easily accessible via Leap Trade's website.

Buying a game is pretty easy to do.  Their site is easy to navigate by console platform.    All the current consoles are represented along with classic systems like the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis.  Many recent and popular games are available to buy or put yourself down on a waitlist to trade for when it becomes available.    There are plenty of copies of Destiny available, but the game I was the most interested in, Hyrule Warriors, was not immediately available.

There are two forms of trading.  You can trade for credit or do a game swap.  For the sake of this review, I traded in credit for Destiny on the Play Station 4.  The first seller I was matched up with had zero feedback which made me a little nervous.  Sure enough, they never confirmed the trade and after a couple of days the site transferred my trade request to the next seller in line.  That user had positive feedback and shipped the game out to me quickly. I had it in my possession within a couple of days. 

Unfortunately,  they didn't use a padded envelope and the game's case got cracked in transit.  Thankfully the game was in working order (after wiping off some fingerprints).    I left positive feedback regardless.  Had there been a problem, it's comforting to know that Leap Trade 100% guarantees their trades and works with both parties to ensure that the buyer is satisfied. 

Since the game I have listed hasn't sold yet, I can't comment on the shipping label process.  Listing my game took a little bit of effort.  My copy of Just Dance Kids 2014 on the Wii U wasn't available as a sellable title, so they had to be contacted via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to list the game.   If it sells I'll get $20 in Leap Trade credit for it which is very fair.  When listing a game to sell you'll be notified of your selling position.  Not surprisingly, I'm the first in line to sell Just Dance Kids 2014.  

Between  the two adults and three kids in my household, there aren't too many games we like to part with.  There are always exceptions,  and if there's a game we can agree to trade in, we'll do it though Leap Trade in the future.  Besides earning credits for trading games you can earn $5 in credit for every friend that registers and sells a game through your referral link.  Here's mine, if you care to try it out.

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Do You Believe? Movie Review

"Do you Believe" is a film from Pure Flix, the creators of "God's Not Dead," about how 12 people's lives are changed and impacted by a small number of people truly living out their faith.  This was a very ambitious story which took at least 6 different story lines and wove them together.  The result was an impressive and inspirational film that I genuinely enjoyed.  

It's set in Chicago, with many areas of the city clearly recognizable to those of us who have lived there.  The film opens with a man wheeling a wooden cross down the street asking people he meets if they believe in the cross of Christ.  This man is unnamed, and never seen again until after the resolution of the movie, but it is ultimately his action that sparks the chain reaction in the various stories through the movie.

There are 12 main characters in this movie, but its easier to think of them as groups of two or three or four.  These groupings form the heart of the story, since all the groupings are based on the needs that the group exhibits.  These needs are then met at the end as a result of the active faith of the members within the group.

This movie deals with issues of illness, barrenness, the loss of a child, abortion, adoption, homelessness, crime, murder, suicide, PTSD, and workplace evangelism in the lives of the characters.  It does a very good job of making these issues real for the people involved, and reveals the miraculous handiwork of God in resolving those issues.  Not all of the issues are resolved at the end.  The movie makes it clear that faith is not a cure-all for every circumstance in life, but it can empower you to live your life not as a victim, but as a faithful believer.

I have just a couple of criticisms about the movie in general.  The first is that I feel as though the movie didn't have time to adequately present all the characters to me.  For example: After the movie I only knew the names of about two-thirds of the characters.  I had to look up their names on IMDB afterwards because the film didn't really do a great job of introducing all the characters they are dealing with.  

Secondly, a couple of the issues in the lives of the characters that they need to resolve are told to the audience and not shown.  In a visual medium such as a film it would be more impacting to show the audience the things that occur in the character's life that make them who they are.  For example, in the movie the marine's friend lost his life because he came to save him.  So instead of having a scene where the marine is under fire, with a helicopter swooping in to save him only to be shot out of the sky by an RPG, that story is simply told to us in his dialogue with another character.  

I do not fully understand why they decided to go this route with him, since the film did not actively try to avoid violence.  There is at least one instance of off-screen gun fire, and one protracted gunfight/chase which directly results in an on-screen murder.  They easily could have worked in a scene of the marine's experience and fleshed out his character a little more, making his PTSD more understandable, and making his story more compelling.  They may not have had time or budget to allow for this, but I felt that it short-changed his character and made him more of a side character as opposed to a main influence on the story.

The movie is still unrated.  The Pure Flix representative said it will probably get a PG-13 rating.  I would concur with that assessment myself.  It definitely deals with issues like suicide, and there is a murder on screen that young children probably should not see, as well as an intense multi-vehicle pile-up.

Overall I enjoyed the movie.  It was moving, ambitious, and dealt with hard real-life issues head-on.  I would recommend seeing it if you are a believer, or bringing an un-churched or de-churched friend to see it.  The movie opens in select theaters on March 20th, 2015.  Their website is doyoubelieve.com.  You can find theaters showing the film there, as well as buy a theater or showtime if your group or church is interested.

Thanks to Pure Flix for extending us an advance-screening invite!  Overall, I think you made an excellent film that deals with hard issues responsibly and biblically.

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Idiot's Guides: The Bible

Thank you Alpha for sending us this book to review!

Having read many translations of the Bible cover to cover, I'm still amazed by how much I have yet to learn from this divine book.  The Idiot's Guides: The Bible gives the back-story of each book of the Bible including its author, origin,  location, key verses, and characters.    This book is 346 pages and is broken down into five parts: Understanding The Bible, The Old Testament, History Between The Old and New Testaments, The New Testament, The Apocrypha.  

This book isn't meant to be a replacement for the Bible, but it is a nice compliment and it tells you the key verses and themes in each book. You won't find heavy theological breakdowns as the commentary in Ezekiel doesn't begin until chapter three.  This is an Idiot's Guides book after all.  ;)  I did find the play by play break down of Song of Solomon insightful though.  

There are colorful illustrations for all of the books and many of them have helpful maps too.  Each book has a highlighted verse quoted from the HCSB translation; you'll have to crack open your own Bible to read the rest of the key verses though.  

I appreciate the explanation and history of the Bible, its canonization and the Apocrypha's account.   There are helpful timelines for the chronological order of the Old and New testament books.  I may try reading the Bible in chronological order next time!

After reading this book I'm left with more questions than answers.  It was discouraging to see claims that many of the New Testament books like ( 1&2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, James, 1&2 Peter, Revelation ) are considered "pious forgeries".  Since no sources were cited , I'll have to do my own leg work on this one.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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