May the Fourth Be with You:
11 Media-Wise Ways We Can Celebrate the USA and Its Values © Baehr, 2017
Often when we celebrate July the 4th, we can easily let the fireworks, BBQ and fun times with family and friends distract us from taking a minute to remember and appreciate those who sacrificed so much to create this great nation. In a sense, appreciating the fruits of freedom and the pursuit of happiness does exactly that. However, there’s a time to sit and reflect on principals the United States of America was founded upon, as well as the people founded it.
In honor of Independence Day, the Editorial Staff at Movieguide® has compiled 10 ways we can honor, celebrate and learn about our country and the values it stands through movies. Many of these you can watch with your whole family this holiday, but some require extreme caution even for older teenagers and adults because of some rough content.
1. Honor our Founding Fathers and the principles they fought for by watching JOHN ADAMS
JOHN ADAMS: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -1 – 2008: JOHN ADAMS is the acclaimed HBO TV miniseries on one of America’s most important founding fathers, and the second president of the United States, who led a glorious, mostly positive life of great influence. The acting, writing and direction are superb, and this miniseries is rich in political, philosophic and spiritual dialogue that recognizes Christian faith in every critical moment.
2. Honor the sacrifice of those who died by watching ACT OF VALOR
ACT OF VALOR: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -2 2012: ACT OF VALOR is a riveting, explosive war movie. Real Navy Seals play the key roles. Two Seal Team 7 leaders send their team to Latin America. The mission is to rescue a female CIA agent captured by a drug lord, in cahoots with a Muslim terrorist. The agent has information confirming the link. An intense firefight occurs at the drug lord’s secret jungle compound. The team barely gets away, though one soldiers loses an eye. The drug lord is connected to a Russian arms dealer. The dealer is childhood friends with the terrorist planning the attack on America. Can the Seals get to the terrorist and his gang before they enter the U.S.? ACT OF VALOR sizzles with action. The action scenes are among the best, most realistic scenes ever filmed. The movie isn’t all about the action, however. It’s also a heartfelt, patriotic parable about the emotional toll defending one’s country can take on soldiers and their families. That said, the war violence is very strong, with bloody scenes and pointblank shootings. There’s also plenty of strong foul language. ACT OF VALOR is designed for mature adults.
3. Celebrate the value of courage by watching THE PATRIOT
THE PATRIOT Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -2 2000: THE PATRIOT stars Mel Gibson as a family man named Benjamin Mark, who wrestles with his desire for revenge and the just cause of the American War for Independence in the late 1700s. The cruel British Colonel Tavington, played impeccably by Jason Isaacs, shoots Ben’s 15-year-old son, Thomas, as Ben’s oldest son, Gabriel, is led away captive. Thus, Ben’s fury is unleashed, and taking his two youngest boys, he goes into the woods to fight a guerilla war, slaughtering the British and rescuing Gabriel. Ben continues to wrestle with his sinful desire for vengeance and the worthiness of the Revolutionary cause. Eventually, he sees that he needs to stay the course, and he rejects vengeance to take up the flag. The violent battle scenes may concern older moviegoers, while younger moviegoers might chafe at the soul-searching, but the heart of this movie is faith. Prayer runs throughout the film, and the Cross of Jesus Christ is lifted up. THE PATRIOT is also a terrific, engrossing movie. One can only hope that this soul searching and pain will lead many to search for the God to whom Ben prays so often in this story.
4. Celebrate the importance of limited government by watching MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON
MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +3 – 1939: Another Frank Capra classic starring Jimmy Stewart, this movie demonstrates that the little guy can stand up to big government. A watershed movie for the common man, it serves as an example that Big Government will not crush the human spirit. It continues to sound a call for ethics, morality and integrity in our highest offices.
5. Learn about unsung American heroes by watching FIVE CAME BACK
FIVE CAME BACK, a three-part documentary series on Netflix, pays tribute to five famous screen directors, Frank Capra, John Ford, William Wyler, George Stevens, and John Huston, who sacrificed their booming careers in Hollywood to enlist in World War II. FIVE CAME BACK is a terrific, entertaining and educational series with a strong Christian, moral worldview, but caution is advised for some foul language, war violence and disturbing images.
6. Honor the early colonists who built America by watching DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK
DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +3 – 1939: Action, drama, sentiment, humor deftly woven into the best Christian movie ever made so far about America’s War for Independence. It also is a wonderful portrayal of the American pioneer spirit. John Ford creates another masterpiece here, capturing the flavor of Colonial life in this vigorous, courageous story of settlers defending their liberty in upstate N. Y. during the Revolutionary War.
7. Appreciate the values and convictions of veterans by watching SERGEANT YORK and HACKSAW RIDGE
SERGEANT YORK: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +4 – 1941: Based on the diary of Alvin York, the most decorated soldier in World War I, this moving story tells about a willful man, played by Oscar winner Gary Cooper, who comes to Jesus Christ and comes to terms with war. After his conversion, Alvin is deeply troubled about fighting in the war because he cannot reconcile the Bible’s teaching against killing with participating in a war to defend his country. Before making his final decision about filing for conscientious objector status, Alvin spends time reading the Bible and being alone with God on the mountain. There it becomes clear what God wants him to do. Sensitively directed by the quintessential masculine director, Howard Hawks, SERGEANT YORK is a great American movie; it’s also a great Christian movie.
HACKSAW RIDGE Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -2 2016: HACKSAW RIDGE is a great, powerful, emotive Christian war movie. Andrew Garfield stars as Desmond Doss. Desmond’s father is an abusive alcoholic because of the terrible things he experienced during World War I. When World War II breaks out, Desmond and his brother join the service. However, Desmond promised God he would never touch a weapon or take a life. So, he enlists as a conscientious objector medic. Eventually, the Army permits Desmond to go into battle without a weapon. Armed only with his faith, Desmond enters one of the most brutal battles in the war. Brilliantly directed by Mel Gibson, HACKSAW RIDGE is a captivating movie about uncompromising faith and miraculous courage. It will make you laugh and cry. It’s a story about not compromising one’s values, faith and commitment to God, and about standing firm when others try to force you to compromise. Eventually, Desmond’s courage and heroic commitment to Jesus Christ changes hearts and minds. HACKSAW RIDGE is truly a great movie, but there’s lots of strong, bloody violence and some foul language; so, strong caution is advised.
8. Honor veterans who suffer from PTSD by watching THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES
THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +1 – 1946: THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES opens with Fred, Homer, and Al catching a ride on a B-17 back to Boone City. Fred, a bombardier, has nightmares about friends going down in flames. Homer lost his hands, but has become adept at using hooks. Al returns from the Army to a promotion at the local bank and two grown-up children. The night he returns home, he takes his reserved wife and daughter “on the town” and gets stumbling drunk. When Fred has difficulty finding a good job, his spendthrift wife seeks a divorce. Homer rejects his family and his fiancée because he wants to be treated as a normal man. Al struggles at the bank with being too generous making loans to veterans. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES does a remarkable job capturing the issues confronting returning American servicemen after World War II. It’s a true masterpiece that’s compassionate, profound, and uplifting, with several amazing performances. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES is also very patriotic, with strong Christian elements in a wedding scene, but there is some smoking and alcohol abuse.
9. Celebrate the fact that America was founded on Christian principles by watching MEET JOHN DOE
MEET JOHN DOE: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +4 1941: Frank Capra’s classic movie, MEET JOHN DOE is a celebration of American populism and a refutation of fascism, seen from a very strong Christian perspective promoting the Spirit of Christmas and the Second Great Commandment, “Love thy neighbor.” In perhaps his best performance apart from SERGEANT YORK and HIGH NOON, Gary Cooper gives a wonderful patriotic speech based on that biblical, moral principle in the big turning point in the movie’s first act. And, the great character actor, James Gleason, follows it up with another patriotic speech in the third act about the Founding Fathers being “lighthouses” for the whole world to admire. Tying everything up with a beautiful bow is Barbara Stanwyck’s heartbreaking performance as the story’s catalyst, who tells a despondent, suicidal Gary Cooper at the end of the movie that he doesn’t need to die for the world because “someone already did that” 2000 years ago. Arrayed against these heroic characters is a fascist cabal of Big Labor and Big Government leaders led by a Big Journalism leader, and would-be dictator, played by Edward Arnold in one of the very best villain roles in movie history.
10. Celebrate the Biblical principle of “Love thy enemy” by watching GETTYSBURG
GETTYSBURG: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -1 1993: Ron Maxwell’s epic film GETTYSBURG, based on Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel THE KILLER ANGELS, dramatically depicts the three most courageous days in American history when North and South were arrayed against each other in the decisive battle fought on the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania plains. The scenes re-enacting Pickett’s charge are believed to be the largest period scale sequences filmed in North America since D.W. Griffith’s BIRTH OF A NATION. The movie overflows with positive references to God and prayer. Aside from some of the curses used by the soldiers, GETTYSBURG is a magnificent movie that every American should see.
11. Celebrate the positive ways in which popular entertainment can support America and its values by watching YANKEE DOODLE DANDY
YANKEE DOODLE DANDY: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +4 – 1942: This is a great family movie about the patriotic career of Broadway star and composer George M. Cohen, who is played brilliantly by James Cagney in one of the greatest performances ever captured on celluloid. We defy any viewer to hold back a tear when Cohen hears soldiers singing his World War I hit “Over There” while marching off to war to fight Hitler in World War II. The movie celebrates the ways in which Cohen used his musical talent to honor America and its basic values. Cagney’s unique interpretation of dance, which he showed off to great effect in 1933’s FOOTLIGHT PARADE, is also an awesome joy to behold.
Note: Some of these recent movies contain strong subject matter, so caution or even extreme caution is warranted, even for older teenagers and adults.
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