Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, rated PG-13
***

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, an exciting action-packed and at times terrifying film, is the sequel to 2015’s Jurassic World and the fifth film in the overall Jurassic Park series. It is the second film in a planned Jurassic World trilogy. The film is directed by J.A. Bayona (The Impossible, A Monster Calls), and is written by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, who also wrote Jurassic World. Trevorrow also directed Jurassic World.  The film had a budget of approximately $170 million and has already made in excess of $372 million in foreign markets.
The film picks up three years after the events that took place in Jurassic World. The Jurassic World theme park on the island of Isla Nublar, located 120 miles from Costa Rica, has been abandoned by humans. A volcano is about to erupt, which will kill off all of the dinosaurs that now live freely on the island.
Dr. Ian Malcolm, the mathematician, again played by Oscar nominee Jeff Goldblum (Little Surprises) is speaking to a congressional committee that is debating whether man should save the dinosaurs or allow them to be killed by the volcano.  Dr. Malcolm advocates for letting the dinosaurs die off naturally.
Claire Dearing, again played by Golden Globe nominee Bryce Dallas Howard (As You Like It) is now running an organization to save the dinosaurs. But the government refuses to intervene to save them.
Claire is then contacted by Eli Mills, played by Rafe Spall (The Big Short, Life of Pi) of the Lockwood Foundation to come to California to meet Benjamin Lockwood, played by Oscar nominee James Cromwell (Babe). Clair is told that John Hammond had begun his experiments to bring dinosaurs back to life in the basement of the estate they are meeting in. The Lockwood Foundation wants to carry on Hammonds work, save the dinosaurs from the volcano and bring them to a new sanctuary that has been created for them.
Mills has a particular interest in Blue, the raptor that Owen Grady had trained. They need Claire to return to the island to help them save the dinosaurs and return them to the sanctuary. She agrees to do so.
Claire finds dinosaur trainer Grady, again played by Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers), and together with newcomers dinosaur veterinarian Zia Rodriguez, played by Daniella Pineda (The Detour, American Odyssey) and the often frightened computer nerd Franklin Webb, played by Justice Smith (The Get Down) they head to the island. Once on the island, they work with Ken Wheatley, played by Ted Levine (The Silence of the Lambs, Monk), and his men who are trying to round up the dinosaurs and remove them from the island. Things get pretty hectic on there as the volcano erupts and the dinosaurs try to evade the lava. Will Clair, Owen and their team be able to safely escape from the island before it is covered in lava? Will they be able to save Blue? And what is the real motivation of Wheatley?
The film gives you about what you would expect – some amazing computer-generated dinosaurs and some stunning action scenes. The film features more dinosaurs than any previous film in the series. Five animatronics were used to depict many of the dinosaurs. The music by Oscar winner Michael Giacchino (Up) is excellent. Isabella Sermon portrays Masie, Lockwood’s granddaughter, and plays a key role in the film.
Themes include teamwork, greed, technology outpacing ethics, animal rights, dishonesty and deception.
Content concerns include a good deal of dinosaur violence, which will be too scary for small children, some adult language, including an abuse of Jesus’ name.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is an exciting, action-packed film with some amazing CGI, a solid cast including the two newcomers, and some humor thrown in for good measure. And don’t forget to sit through the ending credits for a short scene.

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THIS & THAT: A Weekly Roundup of Favorite Articles, Cartoons & Quotes

  • Starling Murmurations. On a winter evening in England a flock of 200,000 European starlings congregate to soar in breathtaking formations before roosting for the night. These incredible displays of aerial precision are truly a wonder of creation.
  • Parenting and the Cultural Pressure to Conform. Albert Mohler writes “God is up to this. I’m not saying we’re up to this, but God is up to this.”
  • Toward a Theology of Apology. Kevin DeYoung writes “We need more work in the years ahead—exegetical, historical, and doctrinal—on our theology of apology.”
  • Finding God at the End of Ourselves. Randy Alcorn writes “In our spiritual lives, as in our professional lives, and in sports and hobbies, we improve and excel by handling failure and learning from it. Only in cultivating discipline, endurance, and patience do we find satisfaction and reward. And those qualities are most developed through some form of suffering.”
  • We Are Not Meant to Be Awesome. Scott Sauls writes “God has not called you to be awesome. Rather, he has called you to be humble, faithful, forgiven, and free. We can all leave the awesome to Jesus. When we do, we will also become the best version of ourselves. But without the pressure.”
  • Psalms for Men Who are Struggling. Scott Slayton writes “If you are a man who struggles in silence, turn to the Psalms. In them, you find strong men revealing their weaknesses and showing you where you can turn to for help. There are three Psalms in particular that give you grace for the difficult situations you face.”

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FAITH AND WORK: Connecting Sunday to Monday

Faith and Work News ~ Links to Interesting Articles

  • Six Ways God’s Presence Impacts Our Work. Russell Gehrlein writes “My desire is that many Christians will learn to practice the presence of God at work and experience the same joy that Brother Lawrence had.”
  • Facing Our Fear of Failure. Justin Poythress writes “One of the best ways to develop the next generation of leaders in the church is to create a culture which allows the freedom to fail.
  • Your Best Years Are Not Behind You. Patricia Raybon writes “That’s the biggest surprise to me about getting older: God doesn’t worry about age. He needs willing workers.”
  • 3 Things Your Calling is Not. Ivan Mesa writes “Maybe you’re not like me and have never experienced dark nights of the soul because of calling confusion. But I know if you’re a child of God and trusting in Christ, he has called you to himself and to others. So, serve people and God by pressing into the ordinary fullness of life.”
  • Faith and Work for the “Rest of Us”. Charlie Self writes “Welcoming and empowering retirees may compel a cynical world to take notice and glorify our Father in heaven as we ascribe dignity and worth to all work. Perhaps these steps of hospitality and thoughtfulness for the “rest of us” are providential conditions for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.”

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:
 More interesting article links
 The Top 10 Faith and Work Quotes of the Week
 My Review of Immanuel Labor—God’s Presence in Our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work by Russell E. Gehrlein
 Snippets from the book ‘The Economics of Neighborly Love’

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My Review of FIRST REFORMED

First Reformed, rated R
**

First Reformed is about a pastor in crisis. This dialogue driven film features an excellent performance by Ethan Hawke as Reverend Ernst Toller and other strong supporting performances. However, the film deals with some difficult themes, has a disappointing last third, and will certainly not appeal to a broad audience. The film is directed and written by two-time Golden Globe nominee Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull).  Schrader himself was brought up in the Christian Reformed Church and graduated from Calvin College. The musical score by Brian Williams is effective and ominous.
Four-time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke (Boyhood, Training Day, Before Midnight, Before Sunset) portrays Reverend Ernst Toller the pastor of First Reformed Church, a tiny Dutch Reformed church in upstate New York that was built in 1767. The church, which is about to celebrate its 250th anniversary, now has only a handful of attendees each Sunday. It exists now mainly as a tourist attraction, as Toller shows visitors the trapdoor that led to a shelter for the Underground Railroad and encourages them to make a souvenir purchase. The church is owned by the megachurch Abundant Life Ministries, led by Pastor Joel Jeffers, played well by Cedric Kyles, better known as Cedric the Entertainer.
We see Toller writing his confessions, doubts and prayers in his journal each evening, while drinking heavily. He has decided to keep the journal for one year and then destroy it. He enjoys the writings of Thomas Merton.
Toller was once a military chaplain and married with a son. He encouraged his son to serve in the Iraq War, where he was killed. His son’s death was the primary cause for his marriage failing. He is also not well physically, as we see blood when he goes to the bathroom.
About a year ago, he had a relationship with Esther, the Choir Director at Abundant Life, played by Victoria Hill. She still has feelings for Toller, but he doesn’t have any feelings for her anymore.
Toller is contacted by Mary, played by Amanda Seyfried (Les Miserables). Mary is a member of his church and pregnant.  However, her husband Michael, played by Philip Ettinger, is a radical environmentalist and doesn’t want to bring a child into this world but instead wants Mary to have an abortion. Mary asks the pastor to meet with Michael, which he does, in the best scene in the film, as Toller talks to Michael about hope in the midst of despair.
The environment becomes an important theme in this film. Later, Toller will have an encounter with Edward Balq, played by Michael Gaston, the largest donor at Abundant Life, a petroleum executive and one of the worst polluters in the nation.
The film is rated “R” for some adult language and adult themes, which include abortion, health issues, politics, radical environmentalism, mental illness, hope, despair and alcoholism.
First Reformed is a well-acted, dark and disturbing film that deals with some serious issues. Toller’s journey into the dark night of the soul deepens over the course of the film.  Toller paraphrases Merton at one point in the film: “Despair is a development of pride so great that it chooses someone’s certitude rather than admit that God is more creative than we are.”
Merton also said, “Despair is the absolute extreme of self-love. It is reached when a man deliberately turns his back on all help from anyone else in order to taste the rotten luxury of knowing himself to be lost.”
Although well-acted (Hawke may have earned his fifth Oscar nomination), written and directed, this will not be a film for everyone. And the last third of the film was certainly disappointing.


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My Review of INCREDIBLES 2

Incredibles 2, rated PG
*** ½

Incredibles 2, released fourteen years after The Incredibles, is a family friendly treat. It is action-packed, visually stunning and very funny. There were more laughs in the theatre for this film than I can remember for quite some time. The film is once again directed and written by two-time Oscar winner Brad Bird (Ratatouille, The Incredibles). The delightful musical score is by Oscar winner Michael Giacchino (Up), the seventh Pixar film he has scored. The animation is excellent, as you would expect from a Pixar film. At nearly two hours in length, this is the longest Pixar film to date.
The film picks up right where the 2004 film left off, with the Incredibles battling the Underminer, voiced by two-time Emmy nominee John Ratzenberger (Cheers).  Soon, the Incredibles are back to living their lives under the superhero relocation program in the Safari Court Motel. The family is led by Mr. Incredible/Bob Parr, voiced by four-time Golden Globe nominee Craig T. Nelson (Coach) and Helen Parr/Elastigirl, voiced by Oscar winner Holly Hunter (The Piano). The rest of the family is made up of 14-year-old daughter Violet, voiced by Sarah Vowell (The Incredibles), 10-year-old son Dash, voiced by Huck Milner, and infant Jack-Jack, voiced with archival recordings by Eli Fucile (The Incredibles), who is starting to display some superhero powers.
The government ban on superhero activities continues. Winston Deavor, CEO of the Telecommunications giant DevTech, voiced by three-time Golden Globe nominee Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul), is a superhero fan. He and his scientist sister Evelyn, voiced by two-time Oscar nominee Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich, Capote), want to change the public’s perception of superheroes. Winston meets with the Incredibles and Frozone, voiced by Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction). He chooses Elastigirl, rather than Mr. Incredible, to be their public face, and so with a new costume and the use of a body cam to record her good deeds, they are off with their plan.
Meanwhile, Mr. Incredible takes over the stay at home Dad duties, which leads to some funny moments, as he deals with Violet’s dating life, Dash’s math homework and Jack Jack’s newly developed super powers. There is no doubt that Jack Jack was the favorite of those in attendance.
Edna Mode, voiced by Brad Bird returns from the first film. A new cyber villain is Screenslaver, voiced by Bill Wise. Screenslaver hypnotizes digital screen users to do whatever he says.
Themes include family, parenting, supporting each other, doing the right thing and fighting evil.
Content issues include superhero action violence and is the first Pixar film to contain some light profanity.
Although an animated children’s film, the movie does include messages about women, technology, and law enforcement (body cams).
Incredibles 2 is a family friendly film that is well-written, action packed, visually stunning and very funny.


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


Wide Open – Michael McDonald
****

Wide Open is 65-year old Michael McDonald’s (Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan), first new studio album in more than nine years, and first album of original material in seventeen years, following Blue Obsession in 2000. It follows three R&B/Soul cover albums for Motown, the most recent being Soul Speak, released in 2008. He has also released a few Christmas albums during this time.
The 71-minute album of keyboard-heavy soul and blues ballads was written over several years and recorded at McDonald’s Nashville studio, along with drummer Shannon Forrest (Toto), and session players from Nashville. The album features collaborations with guitarist-singer Warren Haynes, guitarist Robben Ford, bassist Marcus Miller and saxophonist Branford Marsalis.
McDonald has said that most of the songs on the album have to do with sobriety, the journey in his life of getting sober, which he has been since 1986. It is a kind of wide open conversation of many different subjects, both musically and lyrically.
McDonald’s signature voice still sounds great. If I had any criticism of the album, it would just be that a few of the songs go too long, with only one song coming in at under four minutes.

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  • More of this review
  • Music News
  • Music Quotes
  • Song of the Week

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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

BOOK REVIEWS:
When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. Moody Publishers. Originally published in 2009. 288 pages.
****

I’d been wanting to read this book for some time now. I don’t know if you are like me, but I always struggle about what to do when I see people begging on the street or sidewalk. Should I give them a handout? Will they use it for food or alcohol? Does it matter?
The authors present their thoughts in a well-organized manner, from the theoretical to application, in this practical and helpful book directed primarily at North American Christians. They begin with foundational concepts for helping the poor, and then build on those with principles and strategies, as they offer solid, practical and biblical advice on an important subject.
The authors state that there has been a growing interest by North American Christians and churches to help the poor. However, they write that in many instances those good intentions can actually make things worse for those in poverty, and hinder the work of alleviating poverty.
The authors assert that:

  1. North American Christians are not doing enough.
  2. When North American Christians do attend to poverty alleviation, it often does harm.

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for more of this book review and:
BOOK REVIEW ~ Through My Father’s Eyes by Franklin Graham
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution by Albert Mohler
I’M CURRENTLY READING…. Continue reading