Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

Movie Reviews ~ Woman in Gold and Alive Inside

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Woman in Gold movieWoman in Gold, rated PG-13

This film is based on a true events and will remind you of George Clooney’s 2014 film The Monuments Men, in that it revolves around valuable artwork that was stolen by the Nazis. Academy Award winner Helen Mirren (Best Actress for 2007’s The Queen), stars as Maria Altmann, a Jewish refugee who with her husband, left her family for the United States in 1938.

The film opens in 1998, with Maria living in Los Angeles. Her sister has just died. After her death, Maria becomes aware of the family’s artwork (her father was a talented musician and a collector of art), that had been stolen by the Nazi’s during the invasion of Austria sixty years prior, including paintings from famed Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. The paintings include one of Maria’s aunt Adele, who was like a second mother to her; Adele and her husband did not have any children and lived with Maria’s family. The painting (now known as “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer”) entitled the “Woman in Gold” is hanging in an Austrian gallery and is considered to be the “Mona Lisa of Austria”.

Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) is a family friend, grandson of famous Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, and a young attorney who has just failed in his attempt to run his own law firm; as a result he has taken a position with a large Los Angeles law firm. Katie Holmes portrays Randol’s wife in a small role.

Maria contacts Randol to assist her in reclaiming the artwork that rightfully belongs to her family. Although initially reluctant to assist, Randol changes his mind when he reads online that the “Woman in Gold” is valued at in excess of $100 million. For Maria, the quest to return the paintings to her family is about justice, not money.Gustav Klimt Woman in Gold

Randol and Maria will face the task of travelling to Vienna to ask the Austrians to return the “Woman in Gold”, now a treasured piece of Austrian art. This is very difficult for Maria as she never planned to return to a place that caused her and her family such pain.

The young Schoenberg seems to be under-qualified for such a task.   Maria and Randol are assisted in Austria by Hubertus Czernin, a young Austrian journalist likeably played by Daniel Bruhl. The battle to reclaim the paintings goes back and forth between Vienna (where we see beautiful scenery and architecture) and America.

The film is directed by Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn). Curtis’s wife Elizabeth McGovern, Lady Grantham from the popular television series Downton Abbey, appears in a cameo as a federal judge. Jonathan Pryce is excellent in his brief portrayal of Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Much of the film is told in flashbacks, with Tatiana Maslany starring as the young Maria and Max Irons as her husband Fritz. The film strangely never tells us what happens to Fritz or that the couple had four children.   It actually could have been rated PG if not for a brief scene in which an angry Randol uses profanity. There are also a few unfortunate instances of the abuse of God’s name.

I thoroughly enjoyed this well acted film, which was much better than Clooney’s disappointing The Monument’s Men.

Alive Inside movieAlive Inside, unrated

This documentary introduces us to social worker Dan Cohen and his nonprofit Music and Memory organization. The film is directed by first time director Michael Rossato-Bennett.

The film shows how iPods loaded with personalized playlists of songs that dementia/Alzheimer’s patients (and others in nursing homes) loved from their past have an amazingly positive effect on them. The film tells us that there are currently five million Americans who suffer from dementia and the number is expected to double in the next ten years. Cohen’s goal is to get his iPod program into each of the 16,000 nursing homes in the United States. Currently, the program is in about 650 of them. The film shows examples of the resistance he encounters in trying to do so. For example, a rheumatologist said that it’s no problem getting approval for a medication that costs $1,000/month, but difficult to get approval for a $50 iPod.

We are introduced to John, an Army vet who comes alive to the music of the Andrews Sisters. Denise is a bipolar schizophrenic who pushes away the walker she’s been using for two years and begins to dance as she hears Beatles music. Henry is a 92 year old who isn’t able to communicate with his children. He loves Cab Calloway’s music and we see him come alive and begin singing his favorite song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”. We also see a multiple sclerosis patient come alive when the headphones are placed on his head. The film made us laugh when it showed a 3 year old up on a pedestal conducting classical music.

The film portrayed the various ways that music impacts every culture, and the connection between music, the brain and memory. It includes interviews with neurologist Oliver Sacks and others who talk about how music affects the human brain. The film does not tell us what percentage of patients this music therapy helps, but the examples we do see are nothing short of incredible and may bring you to tears as you see them.

The movie does its fair share of criticizing nursing homes as they are today (who wouldn’t like to see nursing homes improved?), but overall it makes the case for Cohen’s Music and Memory project. At the end of the film we are given information on how to contribute to the project at

We saw the film via Amazon’s Instant Video for just $3.95. Here’s Amazon’s description: “Alive Inside is a joyous cinematic exploration of music’s capability to reawaken our souls and uncover the deepest parts of our humanity. Filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett chronicles the astonishing experiences of individuals around the country whose minds have been revitalized and awakened by the simple act of listening to the music of their youth.

Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence – married to my best friend Tammy, a graduate of Covenant Seminary, St. Louis Cardinals fan, formerly a manager at a Fortune 50 organization, and in leadership at my local church. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people develop, and to use their strengths to their fullest potential. I am an INTJ on Myers-Briggs, 3 on the Enneagram, my top five Strengthsfinder themes are: Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony, and Achiever, and my two StandOut strength roles are Creator and Equalizer. My favorite book is the Bible, with Romans my favorite book of the Bible, and Colossians 3:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 being my favorite verses. Some of my other favorite books are The Holiness of God and Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul, and Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. I enjoy music in a variety of genres, including modern hymns, Christian hip-hop and classic rock. My book Called to Lead: Living and Leading for Jesus in the Workplace and Tammy’s book Study, Savor and Share Scripture: Becoming What We Behold are available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

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