Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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My Review of ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ.

Roman J. Israel, Esq., rated PG-13
**

Denzel Washington’s latest film is a flawed film that focuses on the main character’s values and moral failure.
The film, featuring a strong cast, is written and directed by Oscar nominee Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler). Cinematography is by Oscar winner Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood). After the film’s premiere at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival, 13 minutes were cut from the film and a key scene was moved up earlier in the film.
The film is set in downtown Los Angeles, which is where Roman J. Israel lives and works; he is played by Washington, seven-time Oscar nominee and two-time winner (Training Day, Glory). His appearance is stunning; he wears outdated clothes, outdated glasses and an outdated hairstyle. He has a gap between his two front teeth, carries a heavy briefcase and always has a pair of headphones on to listen to his iPod. The ringtone on his flip-phone is Eddie Hendricks’ 1973 hit “Keep on Truckin’”. The man is definitely stuck in the 70’s.
Roman is a lawyer in a two-man criminal defense law firm that handles cases for the downtrodden and underprivileged. The firm has never made much money and is in debt. Roman lives in a modest apartment and often eats peanut butter. The owner of the firm, William Jackson, is the public face of the firm. He argues the cases in court and meets with clients, while Roman does the behind the scenes work (research, etc.). Roman may be a savant or has Asperger’s Syndrome. He has remarkable legal knowledge, but is very uncomfortable socially.

***SPOILER ALERT ***
When Jackson has a heart attack, the Jackson family decides to let Roman go. They hire George Pierce, a rich corporate defense attorney played by Golden Globe winner Colin Farrell (In Bruges) to close the firm down. Eventually Pierce in turn hires Roman at his firm. Roman, who believes in fighting for the underprivileged and has a strong sense of justice, tells George that he is all about the money and not justice.
A key point in the film is a bad decision that Roman makes. The decision was out of character for the principled Roman, and it is not really explained as to why he did what he did, though we know that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Carmen Ejogo (Selma), plays Maya Alston, a young legal activist, who develops a romantic relationship with Roman. Again, why she is so enamored with the not very likeable Roman is never explained.
********************

Washington delivers his usual strong performance as Roman.  Farrell does a good job portraying the arrogant owner of a high-priced law firm. We see him changing, adopting Roman’s values as the film progresses. This is not really explained either, as Roman is seen moving away from those very values.
The film is rated PG-13 for some adult language, including the abuse of God’s and Jesus’ names. Themes in the film include justice, sin, judgement.
Although there are things to like in this film, particularly Washington’s acting performance, there were just too many holes in the script by Gilroy for me to give this film a good recommendation.


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Book Reviews

Trouble In Mind: Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years – What Really Happened by Clinton Heylin. Lesser Gods. 320 pages. 2017
****

The author writes that this book is very much about Dylan’s own response to both his newfound religious beliefs and the reaction it engendered by a cynical media. It serves as an excellent companion to Dylan’s recently released eight-disc edition of Trouble No More: The Gospel Years (The Bootleg Series Vol. 13). I enjoyed listening to the 102 songs on the box set as I read this book.
I had only been a Dylan fan for only a few years, and not yet a Christian, when Slow Training Coming was released in 1979. Dylan would follow that album with the poorly recorded Saved in 1979 and Shot of Love in 1981, in what has become known as his controversial “Gospel Period”. I saw two of the Midwest shows on his 1981 tour.
The author provides a detailed look at this fascinating period, detailing these three recordings, and the various other songs that Dylan wrote and recorded, many of which have just now been released. He also provides a very interesting look at Dylan in concert, from the early shows in which he only performed his new Christian songs and none of his older songs.
So, what really happened? The author states that Dylan, through the ministry of the Vineyard, accepted Christ as his Savior and was baptized. He then attended an intense three-and-a-half-month course studying about the life of Jesus and principles of the faith. Hal Lindsey’s best-selling book Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth seems to have been a significant influential part of Dylan’s discipleship. This was a particularly prolific time of songwriting for Dylan.
The author tells us that the reaction from the fans and critics on the first night in San Francisco when he played only his Christian songs, would set the tone for six months of shows and define the likely critical reception when Slow Train Coming’s follow-up album, Saved, was released the following June. For that album, for the first time in his career, Dylan planned to go straight from the road to the studio. Although the album had some very good songs on it, the official release was poorly recorded, with little of the passion the songs had in concert. It was also a critical and commercial failure, and included cover art that Dylan’s label wasn’t happy with. The cover art was later replaced. Continue reading


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THIS & THAT and Favorite Quotes of the Week

  • What Does Washington Have to Do with Jerusalem? In this thirty-six minute video from the Gospel Coalition’s 2017 National Conference, Senator Ben Sasse speaks about humble politics.
  • Halladay Was Everybody’s Hero. Joe Posnanski offers a tribute to future Major League Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Ray Halladay, who died recently in a plane accident.
  • 4 Reasons You Should Visit the Museum of the Bible. Joe Carter writes “The Museum of the Bible (MOTB) is a new 430,000-square-foot museum located near the National Mall and the nations’ Capitol in Washington, D.C. that officially opened to the public yesterday (November 17).”
  • Two Things That Should Be Obvious. Kevin DeYoung writes “First, men should honor women, not harass them; treat them as fellow image bearers, not sexual fantasies; and protect them, not perpetrate disgusting advances against them. Second, character cannot be compartmentalized.”

COURTESY OF WORLD MAGAZINE

CHURCH NEWS:

  • Pastor Monday Morning Press Conference. Pastor Trent talks about his performance and statistics from Sunday morning’s service and talks about how he can Improve.
  • The Nashville “Megachurch” That Embraced Gay Marriage Two Years Ago Has Cratered. Denny Burk writes “This is a sad but predictable result of a pastor who leads a church to apostatize from the Christian faith.”
  • Who Are the “Broken Wolves” in the Evangelical Community Today? Randy Alcorn writes “While I don’t feel comfortable naming names, there are quite a few people out there who talk about the personal difficulties they’ve experienced in life, including abuse, often abuse at the hands of church people. They tend to look at certain doctrines of the faith with great suspicion or even abhorrence. Among those is the substitutionary atonement of Christ. They say that if God’s wrath was poured out on Jesus for our sin, then that means that God’s redemptive plan is centered on an act of ‘divine child abuse.’”

  • No Epidural Strong Enough for Pain in Parenting. Nancy Guthrie writes “In one of the Bible’s most significant understatements, God said to the first mom: “In pain you shall bring forth children.” Surely no one who has ever been a parent would argue with it. Of course, it’s not referring merely to the physical pain of labor and delivery. At that point, the pain is just getting started.”
  • Becoming a Titus 2 Woman. Susan Hunt writes “Now, at age seventy-seven, I still wonder—have I become a Titus 2 woman yet? My inclination is to answer by evaluating my performance. Invariably, this leads to despair or arrogance depending on the numbers. Then the Spirit renews my mind as I read God’s Word. He shows me markers to help me think biblically.”
  • Don’t Be That Guy. Tony Reinke writes “In these dozens of ways, Paul paints the contours of the Christian life with darkened shadows of opposites — teaching us what to beby warning us what not to be. Again, the point of the list is not to find our Christian identity in what we’re not. Rather, our identity is rooted in what we are: united to our glorious Savior. Out of his work and power can we be told, “Don’t be that guy.” “Don’t be that gal.””
  • 8 Lies Christians Believe About Success. Emily T. Wierenga writes “I have spent my whole life trying to be successful. I thought it was what we were supposed to do. Worse than that, I thought success was the mark of a blessed Christian.”
  • When You Want to Change Your Husband. In this ten-minute video, Jackie Hill Perry, Jen Wilkin, and Nancy Guthrie discuss what a married woman should do when she wants to change her husband’s behavior.
  • Why Does Gossip Feel So Good? In this episode of the “Ask Pastor John” podcast, John Piper answers “I’m wondering how God defines gossip. What’s the difference between gossip and simply sharing information about another person? And how do I avoid becoming a gossiper?”

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My Review of THE STAR

The Star, rated PG
***

The Star is a funny, family friendly animated film that provides a unique perspective on the Christmas story, but still stays true to the main points of the biblical account. The film is directed by Oscar nominee Timothy Reckart (Head Over Heels), and includes voicing by a number of stars. The film is written by Carlos Kotkin and Simon Moore.
Abby is a small mouse voiced by Emmy winner Kristen Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies). She is present when the angel comes to Mary to tell her that she will have the Son of God. Once Mary is told this news, a bright star appears in the sky.
Bo is a donkey, voiced by Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead), who has dreams of joining the royal parade. He is encouraged by his best friend Dave, a dove, voiced by Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele). Unfortunately, Bo is confined to the life of a working donkey, every day going around and around, over and over, crushing grain in the village mill. But then his older co-worker, voiced by Kris Kristofferson, helps him escape to pursue his dreams. Bo injures his leg in the escape and hides at the home of Mary, voiced by Golden Globe winner Gina Rodriquez (Jane the Virgin), and Joseph Zachary Levi (Tangled), who have just celebrated their wedding. Mary takes a liking to Bo, but Joseph not so much. Mary takes Bo in and nurses him back to health.
Meanwhile, the three magi go to see Herod, riding on three camels – Felix, voiced by Tracy Morgan, Cyrus, voiced by Tyler Perry, and Deborah, voiced by Oprah Winfrey. They ask Herod about the king to be born. When Herod, voiced by Oscar winner Christopher Plummer (The Beginners), hears this, he orders a census with the purpose of finding the prophesied Messiah. Mary and Joseph leave Bo behind and make the trip to Bethlehem. Herod sends a large, mean soldier with two vicious dogs Thaddeus, voiced by Golden Globe winner Ving Rhames (Don King: Only in America) and Rufus, voiced by Gabriel Iglesias, out to find Mary and the unborn child. The ferocious dogs could be too scary for very small children. When the soldier and dogs go to Mary and Joseph’s home, Bo knows that he and Dave must go and warn Mary and Joseph. Along the way they meet a helpful sheep named Ruth, voiced by Aidy Bryant.
The film tells the story of Jesus’ birth from the perspective of a donkey named Bo. This has similarities to theologian R.C. Sproul’s children’s book The Donkey Who Carried a King, which offers a unique perspective on the events of Jesus’ Passion week.
The film features some excellent Christmas music, by artists such as Mariah Carey, Take 6 and Kirk Franklin.  The Star is family friendly, with minimal content issues and humor. Those humorous moments are from Dave the dove – shaking his bottom, getting a laugh from the many children in the theatre, and making reference to dropping a “well-placed ‘number 2’”.
This would be an excellent film to enjoy with your family this Christmas season.


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FAITH AND WORK: Connecting Sunday to Monday

  • Pastor, Visit Their Workplace. Justin Buzzard writes “Because God designed people to work, my congregants spend most of the week at their workplace. I realized years ago that a powerful way to know and love my church members is to visit them there. I want to know this massive part of their lives. There’s a connection that can happen in the workplace that’s more holistic than a conversation in the pews or at a coffee shop.”
  • Community and the Cubicle. The High Calling blog writes “What would it look like to extend the community-cultivating power of the gospel into our cities, into our workplaces, into our churches? How would the workplace change?”

REAL-LIFE EXAMPLES:

  • Astros Chaplain: Play for God and Pray to Win Kate Shellnutt interviews the Houston Astros Chaplain Juan Jesus Alaniz. Alaniz states “We try to get them to that higher-level perspective, instead of just “I’m playing for my country. I’m playing for my family. I’m playing for my Astros fans.” No, you’re playing for the Lord. The Word of the Lord never comes back empty, so we keep sharing those things with them. It’s nice to see them respond.”
  • World Series Winning Baseball Player Shares His Faith in God. Kristen Undset writes about World Series Champion Jose Altuve, who states ““We need to not just ask God but thank Him for everything like our health, our family. And ask Him to bless our homes and to always be present in our daily lives. And to keep us safe is most important.”
  • Faith at Work. Russell Shorto writes “Chuck Ripka is a money lender – that is to say a mortgage banker – and his institution, the Riverview Community Bank in Otsego, Minnesota, is a way station for Christ.”
  • Building Houses for God’s Glory | Merle and Dave Stoltzfus. Bill Peel writes “David and Merle Stoltzfus take Psalm 127 very personally as residential developers in eastern Pennsylvania. But they don’t just build structures, they build communities. Because they believe that God is in their work, the Stoltzfus brothers take Jesus’ command to love our neighbor seriously.”
  • The Kind of Leader Worth Following. Scott Sauls writes this tribute to Tim Keller.

YOUR WORK MATTERS TO GOD:

  • The Value of Our Work. Listen to this interview with Bryan Chapell about how God values our work.
  • How the Reformation Revolutionized Diaper Changing. Greg Forster writes “Luther wasn’t the first to see this calling to serve God in all of life, which theologians call the doctrine of vocation. And those who came after him have contributed significantly to our understanding of it. But Luther was one of the most important champions of this doctrine in history.”
  • Why Dishwashing Matters in God’s Kingdom. Hugh Whelchel writes “Even though our work has eternal meaning, it doesn’t mean it will be easy. But it does mean that we can live a fully integrated life, where there is no division between the sacred and the secular, where our Christian faith infiltrates all of who we are and what we do, not just on Sundays, but on Mondays, too.”

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My Review of WONDER

Wonder, rated PG
***

Wonder is a heart-warming, family friendly film with good messages, based on the best-selling novel that features a strong cast. Stephen Chbosky, who directed the film version of his own novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, directs this version of R.J. Palacio’s 2012 young-adult best-selling novel, which may remind some of the 1985 Oscar winning film Mask, about a teenager with craniofacial deformities.  Chbosky writes the screenplay along with Steven Conrad and Jack Thorne. The story is told from the perspective of multiple characters.
The film is about one year in the life of ten-year old Auggie Pullman, played by Jacob Tremblay, who was wonderful in the 2015 film Room. A congenital disorder (mandibulofacial dystosis, which is known as Treacher Collins Syndrome (TCS),has badly deformed Auggie’s face.  (Note: it actually took 90 minutes each day during filming to apply the facial prosthetics he wore for the role.) The disfiguration was so severe, that even after 27 surgeries, Auggie’s face is still badly deformed to the point that when he ventures out of his home he wears a large astronaut helmet on his head to hide his face from others.
Auggie lives in New York with his overprotective parents, father Nate, played by Oscar nominee Owen Wilson (The Royal Tenenbaums), and mother Isabel, played by Oscar winner Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich), along with sister Via, short for Olivia (Izabela Vidovic), who is neglected by her parents as they focus all of their attention on Auggie. Auggie has been home-schooled by his mother, but as he is to enter the fifth grade, they decide to send him to Beecher Prep School, where Mr. Tushman (played by three-time Golden Globe nominee Mandy Patinkin) is the kind principal.
The film follows Auggie, who displays a good sense of humor, during his first year at Beech, where we see him bullied and teased, make friends, etc. But the film is also about Via and how she deals with being neglected by her parents.
The film is told from the perspectives of Auggie, Via, Via’s best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), and Auggie’s classmates Julia (Bryce Gheisar) and Jack (Noah Jupe).  Three-time Golden Globe nominee Sonia Braga portrays Grans, Via’s and Wonder’s grandmother, in a small role.
The film is well-acted, and Wilson and Roberts have good chemistry on-screen. I really enjoyed Mandy Patinkin’s portrayal of the wise and kind principal, Mr. Tushman. The top performance though has to be by 11-year-old Jacob Tremblay, who follows his excellent performance in Room with another strong performance asAuggie.
Themes include acceptance, bullying, friendship and family.  My wife loved the father’s strength that was portrayed.  Mom wants to protect Auggie and keep him in her ‘nest’, while Dad wisely boots the little ‘eaglet’ out of the nest to teach him to fly.  The film is truly family friendly, with no objectionable content, which is really refreshing these days. And oh yes, you might want to bring a Kleenex with you to the theatre for this heart-warming film.