Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot

Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot

Posted on July 3, 2024 at 9:00 am

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving child abuse, some violence, language and brief suggestive material
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: References to addiction and forcing a child to smoke and drink
Violence/ Scariness: References to child abuse, depiction of spousal abuse, offscreen gunshots
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 4, 2024
Copyright 2024 Angel

The members of a church in a tiny Texas town called Possum Trot (population around 700) decided they would adopt every child available for adoption in the local foster care system. Led by Bishop W.C. Martin and his wife, Donna, known as the First Lady, 22 families adopted 77 children. The story was featured in People Magazine and on Oprah, and it is now a faith-based feature film, with footage at the end showing the real-life characters (the children in the story have grown up and many have children of their own), and with W.C. and Donna Martin urging the audience to take in the 100,000 children currently waiting to be adopted.

As you might expect, it is preachy. But it is genuinely inspiring to see faith put into action with open-hearted generosity and empathy. As you also might expect for a movie about children who have been abused finding unconditional love and home, it is also very touching. “Euphoria’s” Nika King is luminous as First Lady Donna, whose faith is unwavering. She is the heart of the film, and her scenes with the traumatized children she refuses to give up on are heartwarming.

The Martins and their church are the center of the small community, mostly middle-class Black families, though with around 15 percent living below the poverty line. Donna feels content and fully occupied as the mother of two children, one with special needs, and her work with the church. When her adored mother died, though, she was devastated. As she mourned the idea of adopting children from the foster system came to her and her husband, initially reluctant, became just as committed.

They developed a close friendship with Susan Ramsey (Elizabeth Mitchell), the social worker in charge of placing children in the foster system. At first, she believes that the Martins are not prepared for what they have ahead of them. But as she sees how patient and committed they are, she is persuaded to work with the members of the church.

She warns them, though, not to try to take Terri (Diaana Babnicova), an angry and disturbed 12-year-old who was horrifically abused by her drug-addicted mother. The First Lady insists. Terri tests the Martins more than they ever anticipated. But as the First Lady says, God does not promise you will be free of trouble, only that He will be there with you.

Angel Studios, joining here with ultra-conservative Daily Wire, tries hard to make faith-based movies that meet the highest standards of mainstream theatrical releases in production qualities: actors, screenplay, cinematography, music, editing. This is not a great film by any standard. It never allows its characters to question their faith or even lose patience under the most stressful conditions. It glosses over the challenges of raising severely traumatized children and the professional support they need to process abuse, abandonment, and betrayal. But it is a sincere, thoughtful effort that could get an audience beyond the core faith community.

Parents should know that this film portrays some scenes of domestic abuse and includes references to physical and emotional abuse include rape and murder of children.

Family discussion: Why did the Martins want to take the children no one else wanted? Why was it hard for Terri to trust them? What made her change her mind? What can you do to help?

If you like this, try: “Room for One More” with Cary Grant, also based on the true story of adoptive parents.

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Posted on March 5, 2024 at 9:41 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material, some violence, language and smoking
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and alcoholism, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and violence including a fire, reference to suicide, dire poverty, loss of parents, serious illness
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie

Frances Xavier Cabrini was an Italian nun who became the first US citizen to be canonized as a saint. Sent to the US by the Pope in 1889, she established an order called the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and, despite poor health, she fought poverty, misogyny, and bigotry against Italian immigrants to establish schools, hospitals, orphans’ homes, and support services in several cities and countries.

This lush, respectful film stars Cristiana Dell’Anna as Mother Cabrini, David Morse as the Archbishop who sees her as a distraction who wants to divert his sources of funding, John Lithgow as the major of New York City who tries to stop her, and Giancarlo Giannini as the Pope who responds to her request to send her to do relief work in Africa by telling her she must go “not to the East but to the West.” He knows there is tremendous prejudice against the Italian immigrants in the US and no established welfare system for the poor or for children without parents.

Director and co-writer Alejandro Monteverde (“The Sound of Freedom”) has described the film as “a painting” of Cabrini’s life, and the sumptuous production values are breathtaking. Director of Cinematography Gorka Gómez Andreu makes every shot glow with light and life and production designer Carlos Lagunas creates 19th century Italy and New York so vibrantly we are utterly immersed in Mother Cabrini’s world. No expense was spared, no corners were cut, and so all of the many different locations are filled with fascinating detail.

The storyline is simple. People try to stop Mother Cabrini from helping her community and she does not give up. There are terrible setbacks — corruption, fire, her own physical frailty. There is prejudice, even contempt, for Italian immigrants. But she never loses faith and she never lessens her determination and resilience. Dell’Anna’s eyes are wonderfully expressive, and she makes the small woman in the severe habit a vital, moving presence.

Parents should know that this film includes dire poverty, bigotry, orphaned children, a reference to suicide, serious illness, and a fire.

Family discussion: Nuns are normally required to show humility and obedience. Why was Mother Cabrini different? What made her effective?

If you like this, try: “Mother Teresa: No Greater Love” and “The Two Popes”

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Easter 2022!

Easter 2022!

Posted on April 16, 2022 at 8:00 am

Have a blessed Easter!

Some of the best Easter movies for families:

Copyright MGM 1959

Ben Hur: The heart-pounding chariot race is a classic in this stirring film with Charlton Heston as a proud prince turned slave whose life is transformed by an encounter with Jesus. The remake with Jack Huston is also very good.

The Passion of the Christ: Mel Gibson’s record-breaking blockbuster created a lot of controversy for its intense violence and charges of anti-Semitism and Gibson’s decision to have the cast speak in Aramaic. But it succeeds as a personal statement about the suffering Jesus endured in the last hours of his life as a demonstration of his divinity and his sacrifice in taking on the sins of the world.

The Gospel According to St. Matthew: This intimate, poetic, humble, and moving portrayal of the life of Jesus from Italian director Pier Paolo Passolini features young, local performers.

Godspell: This tuneful musical has Broadway star Victor Garber as Jesus, singing and dancing through urban environments to put the story into a contemporary context.

Easter Parade: Fred Astaire and Judy Garland star in a musical that has little to do with the holiday other than the unforgettable title tune, but the story of a successful performer who needs a new partner is a lot of fun.

Jesus Christ Superstar: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock musical about the life of Jesus includes the beautiful songs “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and “Hosanna.” The live television broadcast with John Legend was sensational.

Veggie Tales: An Easter Carol — Our veggie friends Larry and Bob present a gentle and witty kid-friendly reminder that Easter is about more than eggs and candy.

The Gospel of John: A sincere, reverent, and dignified presentation of the life of Jesus stars Henry Ian Cusick, who portrays Jesus with a warmth, wisdom, and sadness that add a great deal to the story.

The Robe: Richard Burton plays a tribune who is in charge of the crucification of Jesus who wins Jesus’ robe with a role of dice. Being touched by the robe changes his life and he goes on a journey to try to learn more about the man he killed.

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Happy Passover 2022/5782

Happy Passover 2022/5782

Posted on April 15, 2022 at 8:42 am

Have a blessed Passover!  Whether you’re on Zoom or socially distant in person, enjoy the holiday devoted to family, freedom, and courage. Dayanu!

The story of the exodus to freedom is for all ages.

For family viewing: try It’s Passover Grover!, The Prince of Egypt, Rugrats Passover,  and The Ten Commandments


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Posted on August 12, 2021 at 5:10 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, strong language including racial epithets, violence, suggestive material, and smoking
Profanity: Some strong and racist language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and alcohol abuse, drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Domestic abuse, scuffles, sad death of a parent, murder of Martin Luther King
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: August 13, 2021

Copyright MGM 2021
Let’s stipulate two incontrovertible truths: First, as dazzling as Jennifer Hudson is, she is not the once-to-a-planet gift that was Aretha Franklin, whose songs are so deeply embedded in our collective unconscious that we cannot help but hear it in our head and accept no substitutes. Long past her prime but every inch a diva of raise-the-rafters soul singing, the clip over the credits of Franklin singing “Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center Honors tribute to songwriter Carole King (Franklin won her own Honor 21 years before), is breathtakingly thrilling. We see her bringing King and President Obama to tears, and I expect most will see that through their own.

Second, there are a lot of movies, many fact-based, with the theme: good woman, great songs, bad, bad men. For example: “Love Me or Leave Me,” “Piaf,” “Judy,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “The US vs. Billie Holiday”/”Lady Sings the Blues,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “A Song is Born,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” It is a challenge to make that story new, especially after the take-down of the inevitable cliches of singer biopics that is the excellent “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.”

Despite these obstacles and a 2 1/2 hour running time, the Aretha Franklin story simply titled “Respect” is absorbing and entertaining. Hudson may not sing Aretha’s songs as well as she did, but the Oscar she got for her very first movie role in “Dreamgirls” was an accurate assessment of her acting skills and screen charisma. Director Liesel Tommy and writers Tracey Scott Wilson and Callie Khouri have skillfully shaped a complex, even epic story to skip over many relationships and crises to focus on two key themes, the songs and their depiction of Franklin’s evolving voice, first in music, then in activism, then on her own behalf, and finally and most fulfillingly, to connect to God.

We first see her as a young girl, living with her father (Forest Whitaker), a prominent preacher, her grandmother (Kimberly Scott), and her sisters and brother. She is used to being awakened to sing at her father’s parties, which include prominent activists and performers. Her parents are divorced and she wishes she could spend more time with her adored mother (Audra McDonald), but overall she is happy and secure. In a wonderful scene, her mother gets her to express her feelings by singing them.

And then two cataclysmic events literally strike her silent. She is molested and gives birth to a son at age 12 and another one two years later. And her mother died.

Music is what literally gives her voice back to her. She sings, and that leads her first to tour churches with her father and then to make her first record deal, with a label that wants her to be a jazz singer. She marries Ted White (Marlon Wayans), who is threatened by anyone she wants to work with and hits her. She works with Martin Luther King. And then she starts to get the hits she has wanted.

Hudson is never less than dazzling and the film manages to give a sense of the scope of the story without getting caught up in details like the husband it just skips over. The film is ultimately, yes, respectful, just as Miss Franklin hoped.

Parents should know that this film includes domestic abuse and child molestation, sexual references and non-explicit situations, substance abuse, very strong and racist language, and some violence.

Family discussion: Who treated Aretha Franklin well? Why were hits so important to her? What made her able to start standing up for herself?

If you like this, try: “Amazing Grace,” the documentary we see being filmed at the end of this movie, the documentary “Muscle Shoals,” and of course listen to Ms. Franklin’s music

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