Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of UNPLANNED

Unplanned, rated R
***

Unplanned is the true story of Abby Johnson, the one-time director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas. It is the first film from Pure Flix to be given an “R” rating from the MPAA, which will undoubtedly limit the audience for the film. The film was written and directed by Chuck Konzelman (God’s Not Dead, God’s Not Dead 2) and Cary Solomon (God’s Not Dead, God’s Not Dead 2) and is based on Abby Johnson’s book Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line. Konzelman and Solomon have been best friends since growing up next door to one another in New Jersey. Both are Roman Catholic, and live in Los Angeles. The film had a budget of approximately $6 million ($1 million of which was donated by Michael Lindell, inventor of My Pillow and CEO of My Pillow Inc.). Continue reading


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


Never Fold by Tedashii
****

Never Fold is the fifth studio album from Tedashii. The 17-song, 54-minute album is his follow-up to his excellent 2016 EP This Time Around and is his first full-length album since 2014’s Below Paradise. He did release a few songs in 2017 and 2018 that are not included here (“Way Up”, “Messenger” and “Splash”, though a revised version of the latter song is included), and two that are, “Gotta Live” (featuring Jordan Feliz) and “Smile”. It’s been way too long since we got a new full-length album from Tedashii, but the wait has definitely been worth it. The album features a number of special guests, among them Lecrae, Trip Lee and Crowder, and he uses multiple songwriters and producers. Never fold and the pain of losing his son Chase are themes that show up throughout the album.
My favorite songs are “God Flex”, “Get Out My Way” and “Gotta Live”. Here are a few comments about each song on the album.

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:

  • More of this review; a review of AWAKEN: The Surrounded Experience by Michael W. Smith and Holy Roar: Live from Church by Chris Tomlin
  • Music News
  • Music Quotes
  • Song of the Week Lyrics

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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS


Paul Simon: The Life by Robert Hillburn. Simon and Schuster. 449 pages. 2018
****

I’m a long-time fan of Paul Simon and was excited to see this major new biography of him by respected rock music writer Robert Hillburn. Unlike the recent new biography of Tiger Woods, Simon fully participated with the author via more than a hundred hours of interviews and did not insist on editorial control. The well-researched book saw the author interview Simon’s friends, family and colleagues.  The result is a fascinating look at one of America’s greatest songwriters
Simon was born in 1941 to Lou, a musician and Belle, a teacher.  He played baseball through high school and is a die-hard New York Yankees fan. The family was Jewish, but not very religious, nor is Simon, though references to the Bible have appeared in some of his more recent music, and he has written about science and faith.
Early musical influences for Simon were doo-wop music, Elvis Presley, the Everly Brother and folk music. Simon met Art Garfunkel in the 6th grade. They had some early success as Tom and Jerry, even appearing on American Bandstand.  Paul would write some of the songs they played and his father tended to be judgmental of them.

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:
BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review…and reviews of Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock by Gregory Thornbury; Who is Jesus? by R.C. Sproul; Anchored in Hope: Security in the Storm by Donna Marie England
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age by Jonathan Leeman
I’M CURRENTLY READING…. Continue reading


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Reflections from the 2019 Ligonier National Conference

My wife Tammy and I recently attended the 32nd annual Ligonier National Conference in Orlando. We’ve been attending the conference on a regular basis since 1997, leaving the winter of the Midwest for sunny Florida, and it’s one of my highlights each year. The conference, which is described as a “family reunion” (because you often run into some of the same friends each year) was held at the impressive facilities at the First Baptist Church Orlando, the annual host of the conference. This was the second National conference held since the death of Ligonier founder R.C. Sproul 16 months ago. It was also the third consecutive conference that sold out.

James Brown, Director of Worship and Music Ministries at Independent Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee, returned after several years, to lead the 5,000 attendees in singing, always a highlight for Tammy. In addition to the Ligonier Teaching Fellows (Sinclair Ferguson, Albert Mohler, Steven Lawson, Robert Godfrey, Stephen Nichols, Derek Thomas and Burk Parsons), other main session speakers included Michael Reeves and Ligon Duncan. There were a number of optional sessions during meal breaks and recordings of the radio program Renewing Your Mind. Continue reading


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My Review of APOLLO 11

Apollo 11, rated G
****

Apollo 11 is an amazing documentary about the eight-day mission to land two men on the moon that took place nearly fifty years ago. The film is comprised primarily of restored color footage, much of which has never been seen before. It takes us from about three hours before liftoff on July 16, 1969 through the safe return of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and their subsequent eighteen days of quarantine.
The film is superbly directed and edited by Todd Douglas Miller. He uses never before seen full color footage from the NASA archives that was shot for a documentary that was ultimately abandoned. Much of the footage looks so good that it appears that it could have been shot yesterday. There are no actors, reenactments, narration, voice-over or interviews included. Instead, Miller tells the story of the mission in the present tense using the communications that actually took place between the astronauts and the supervisors, engineers and technicians speaking into headsets at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and NASA Mission Control in Houston, along with a few comments from Walter Cronkite, and an excerpt from a 1961 speech about putting a man on the moon by President John F. Kennedy. He effectively uses narrative titles, countdown clocks and a small amount of animation that are helpful in showing the viewer the various mind-boggling maneuvers the mission will need to undergo in order to be successful. Continue reading


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My Review of US

Us, rated R
**

Us, is the follow-up to Jordan Peele’s surprise 2017 hit Get Out. It is a horror film that has significant content issues, particularly an extreme amount of violence and adult language. The film is written, directed and produced by Oscar winner Peele (Get Out). While the messages in Get Out were obvious, what Peele is wanting to communicate with Us is more of a head scratcher. Some reviewers have pointed to Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining as an influence, and that viewers will get more out of the film after each repeated viewing, something I don’t plan to invest the time nor money in.
As the film opens, we read a few sentences on the screen about the miles and miles of tunnels underneath the surface of America, many of which have “no known purpose at all.” We are taken back to 1986, where we see an ad on television for the “Hands Across America” event. Young Adelaide, played by Madison Curry, is at a Santa Cruz amusement park along the beach with her parents. Her father has won her a Michael Jackson Thriller t-shirt which is much too big for the little girl. When her mother goes to the restroom, her father is to watch her, but he is consumed with playing a whack-a-mole game, so Adelaide wanders off along the boardwalk toward the beach.  Along the way she sees a homeless man holding up a sign reading “Jeremiah 11:11” (“Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them”). That man and verse will show up later in the film.  Adelaide wanders into what appears to be an abandoned house of mirrors attraction named Shaman Vision Quest which has a sign on the outside indicating that you will find yourself inside. Adelaide soon wants to leave, but when she heads to the “Exit” sign, she just runs into a mirror. It is then she sees her exact double (a doppelgänger), who is even dressed just like her. She is terrified.
The film then moves to the present day. The Wilson family – Adelaide, played by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), her husband Gabe, played by Winston Duke (Black Panther), daughter Zora, played by Shahadi Wright Joseph and young son Jason, played by Evan Alex are heading for a vacation at their lake house, Adelaide’s childhood home, located not far from the Santa Cruz beach where the terrifying incident took place. When Gabe suggests that they meet friends Josh Tyler, played by Tim Heidecker, his wife Kitty, played by two-time Golden Globe winner Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale), and their twin daughters at the Santa Cruz beach, Adelaide is visibly upset. On the beach, we see Jason, who Adelaide is especially protective of, wander off and head toward the same house of mirrors attraction (now named Merlin’s Enchanted Forest).
That night back at the lake home, Adelaide tells Gabe about her terrifying childhood experience for the first time. She tells him that she wants to go home. Then the power goes out and everything is dark. They notice that there are four people standing motionless at the end of their driveway. They won’t respond to Gabe, who initially is friendly. Eventually they charge the home and despite Gabe’s efforts, they enter. What the Wilson family sees is stunning – the people on the driveway are their doubles, just like the little girl was that Adelaide saw back in the house of mirrors in 1986. Although they look similar, these doubles have difficulty communicating, some grotesque features, wear red jump suits and even worse, hold large scissors as weapons. Only Adelaide’s double speaks, and then only in a labored manner. It’s clear that this is not a social visit.
Who are these people, who are known as the Tethered, and why do they want to harm the Wilson family?
Content concerns in the film include a significant amount of adult language, much of it during a rap song about the police by N.W.A. God’s and Jesus’ names are both abused several times. There is a significant amount of violence and blood in the film, which turns into a disappointing survival slasher film, after a promising beginning. Themes include caring for others, fear, and deception.
The film includes some humor, especially from Gabe, who comes across as a likeable dorky father. The musical score by Michael Abels (Get Out) is effective in building suspense. Cinematography is by Mike Gioulakis (It Follows).
As you would expect, the Wilson’s doppelgängers are played by the same actors/actresses that play the Wilsons. Of particular note is the outstanding performance of Nyong’o as Adelaide and Red.
After a promising beginning, Us turns into a common slasher survival film with significant content concerns. The film is getting excellent reviews from the critics, and I’m sure Peele had messages he wanted to convey, but they were lost on me. If you see the film and think differently about it, please let me know.


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My Review of FIVE FEET APART

Five Feet Apart, rated PG-13
** ½

Five Feet Apart is an emotional film about two teens with cystic fibrosis who fall in love. The film has some content issues, but also has many positive elements. The film is directed by Justin Baldoni (My Last Days) based on the young adult novel written by Rachael Lippincott, Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis, the latter two of which also wrote the film’s screenplay.
Stella, played by Haley Lu Richardson (Columbus) was born with cystic fibrosis (CF). As the film begins, she is checking into St. Grace Regional Hospital to deal with an infection, and not able to go on vacation with her friends. At St. Grace she is treated well by the compassionate nurse Barb, played by Kimberly Hebert Gregory, who is skilled in treating Stella and the other CF patients on the floor, including Stella’s best friend Poe, played by Moises Arias.  Stella is very well-organized, sticking to her medical routines and exercise. She maintains a “To Do” list, and loves crossing items off of it. One of the items on her list is to study about the afterlife. She has her own YouTube channel, through which she shares her journey with others. Still, she tries to maintain a positive attitude as she waits for a lung transplant, which will buy her another five years.
Will, played by Cole Sprouse (Riverdale), is another teenage CF patient in the hospital. He is entering an experimental drug program, but even if it is successful, he is not a candidate for a lung transplant. As a result, he has lost hope and is not faithful in following his treatment program. Stella encourages him to stick with his treatment. Will begins to fall for Stella, and she agrees to spend time with him, and to let him draw her as he requests, if he will follow a prescribed routine that she organizes for him.
As CF patients are vulnerable to infection, Will and Stella are not allowed to touch. In addition, they must stay at a distance of six feet apart. One of the ways they stay in touch is by Face Timing with each other while in their rooms doing their treatments. As their relationship grows, Stella decides that CF has taken enough from she and Will. As a result, she takes one foot back, and uses a five-foot pool cue to measure the distance that she and Will have to stay apart. The two fall in love, knowing that the odds are against their relationship. How will things turn out?  Will Stella get a lung transplant? Will the experimental treatment help Will?
The acting performances from the four leading characters are all solid and realistic. Themes in the film include risk, love, death and dying, responsibility, caring for others, hope, human touch and forgiveness.  Content concerns include some adult language, including the abuse of God’s name, and some language of a sexual nature. Poe is a homosexual, who talks about his multiple sexual partners and his love for his boyfriend. It seems that relationships with parents are not close and loving.  Though one of the items on Stella’s “To Do” list is the afterlife, there is no mention of God.  We only see a Hari Krishna symbol on Stella’s hospital room wall and see her meditating.
Five Feet Apart is an emotional film that has some content issues but also many positive elements.  With so many people in the audience under the age of 25, it was refreshing to see love, friendship and intimacy being portrayed without a sexual relationship.   To see Will delight in Stella because of who she is and not her appearance was great.
So… for those of you who have read the book, was the book better than the film?