Bible Quiz (2013)  PICK

Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011)  PICK

The past dozen years have seen a number of worthwhile documentaries about kids’ competitions, from Spellbound (spelling bees) to Mad Hot Ballroom and First Position (dancing) and Racing Dreams (kart racing) to Please Vote for Me (a student election in China).

Among these, the award-winning new documentary Bible Quiz, now on home video, holds a special place for me, since, as a then-evangelical high-school student, I competed in Bible quizzing for two years.

Director Nicole Teeny, who grew up in evangelicalism, offers an empathic, neutral look at this world and its inhabitants, giving Bible Quiz a universal appeal transcending its religious milieu.

This is a world in which teenagers are proud not only of their virginity, but of what one girl calls her “lipginity” and “footginity” (no kissing or footsie — though she’s unsure about her “handginity,” having once held hands with a boy she liked while praying).

There is something both refreshingly wholesome yet also somewhat repressed or Manichaean about the way these kids talk; Catholic viewers will be aware of the gap between the evangelical purity culture and the Catholic theology of the body teaching.

The film follows a team from Life Center Church in Tacoma, Wash., focusing particularly on 17-year-old Mikayla, who is somewhat overawed by star captain J.P., her inspiration and, though she can’t admit it to him, the object of her unrequited affection.

Mikayla’s background is not the evangelical norm: Her dad is absent, her mother is an alcoholic, and her church community is a kind of surrogate family where she doesn’t quite fit in. Mikayla desperately doesn’t want to let down the team, particularly J.P.; but as hard as she studies, she’s ambivalent about the whole Bible-quiz enterprise.

Over a fairly short period, we watch Mikayla grow significantly in self-confidence, maturity and perspective, as she grapples with her faith and growing up. It’s a journey well worth taking with her.

Among other new releases, if you don’t have Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, a cheap, new Blu-ray/DVD/digital-copy edition (under $10 at Amazon) is well worth picking up. Directed by Brad Bird (The Incredibles), it’s the best of the M:I films, with a perfect blend of action and humor, both highlighted in the standout set piece at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Caveat Spectator: Bible Quiz: Brief references to kissing, drinking, alcoholism, etc.; brief anti-religious remarks. Fine family viewing. Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol: Much intense action violence; brief, unclear reference to killings in a heroic character’s past; some suggestive content; a few instances of profanity and some crass language.