Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of SKYSCRAPER

Skyscraper, rated PG-13
** ½

Skyscraper is an action packed, intense and entertaining summer film that will remind some of The Towering Inferno and Die Hard. It features a father who will do anything to save his family. The film is written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball) and had a budget of approximately $125 million.
The film begins with a flashback from ten years ago. Will Sawyer, played by Dwayne Johnson (Jumanji), is a Marine and a member of the FBI Hostage Rescue Team. We see a hostage negotiation that goes badly, resulting in Will losing his left leg below the knee. Ten years later Will, who wears a prosthetic leg, is happily married to Sarah, played by Neve Campbell (Scream films). Sarah is a combat trained surgeon who has done a few tours in Afghanistan. She can also speak multiple languages. The couple has twins: Georgia, played by McKenna Grace and Henry, played by Noah Cottrell. Will started a small security firm run out of his garage.
A former FBI teammate has given him an opportunity that may turn things around for his small firm. He connects him with Chinese billionaire Zhao Long Ji, played by Chin Han, who has built the world’s largest building in Hong Kong. The high-tech building, named the Pearl, is three times the size of New York’s Empire State Building.  Only the first 90 stories are occupied, but after getting Will’s security review and the necessary insurance, the remaining floors will open. Will knows more about the security features of the Pearl than anyone. So, Will and his family head to Hong Kong, and he makes a pitch to Long Ji for the security consultant business.
What Will doesn’t know is that Long Ji has something that three crime syndicates want. And they, led by Kores Botha, played by Roland Moller, are willing to burn the $6.5 billion-dollar structure down to get it from Long Ji. Unfortunately, they set the 96th story on fire not knowing that Sarah and the children are in the building. The rest of the film is a battle for the villains to get what they want from Long Ji while Will fights against time to save his family trapped in the burning structure and avoid the police who are pursuing him thinking he set the fire.
The film is intense. The stunts performed by Johnson are incredible and the CGI (computer-generated imagery) of the building on fire are well done. I especially appreciated Neve Campbell’s portrayal of Sarah as a strong woman.
Content concerns include a significant amount of violence and some completely unnecessary adult language, including an abuse of Jesus’ name.
Themes include courage and doing anything, including sacrificing your own life for your family.
Skyscraper is an intense, thrilling and action-packed film. Sure, the stunts aren’t very realistic, and it’s not a great movie by any means (don’t look too closely at the plot details), but it makes for a fun time at the theatre.

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My Review of ANT-MAN AND THE WASP

Ant-Man and the Wasp, rated PG-13
*** ½

Ant-Man and the Wasp, the twentieth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is an exciting, action-packed summer film with plenty of humor. It is the sequel to 2015’s Ant-Man. The film is directed by Payton Reed (Ant-Man). It is written by Paul Rudd (Ant-Man), Chris McKenna, (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle; Spider-Man: Homecoming) Erik Sommers (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle; Spider-Man: Homecoming), Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari. Christophe Beck, who composed the music for Ant-Man, again handles the music. The cost of the film was approximately $150 million.
Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) returns as ex-con Scott Lang. He is starting his own security business in San Francisco and is under monitored house arrest by FBI agent Jimmy Woo, played by Randall Park, for secretly helping Captain America in Captain America: Civil War. The creator of the Ant-Man suit Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas (Oscar winning producer for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and best actor in Wall Street), and his daughter Hope, played by Evangeline Lilly (Ant-Man, The Hobbit, Lost) have gone into hiding from the FBI, and are using an office building as their secret lab.
For thirty years, Pym’s wife Janet, played by three-time Oscar nominee Michelle Pfeiffer (The Fabulous Baker Boys, Dangerous Liaisons, Love Field) has been lost in the Quantum Realm. Hank raised his daughter Hope with the assumption that Janet was dead. But when Scott receives a message from Janet in a dream, there is hope that she is actually alive.
Meanwhile, Scott is trying hard to balance his responsibilities as father to Cassie, played by the adorable Abby Ryder Fortson (Ant-Man), with that of being a super hero. His ex is Maggie, played by Judy Greer (Ant-Man), who is married to Paxton, played by two-time Emmy winner Bobby Cannavale (Will & Grace, Boardwalk Empire).
Hope needs a part to complete the tunnel needed to reach Janet. She agrees to buy it from Black Market technology dealer Sonny Burch, played by Emmy nominee Walton Goggins (Justified). But Burch double-crosses her and wants to sell Hank’s lab.  Ava/Ghost, played by Hannah John-Kamen (Black Mirror), also wants to steal the lab as a cure to relieve her constant pain resulting from a childhood accident.
Oscar nominee Laurence Fishburne (What’s Love Got to Do With It?)  plays Dr. Bill Foster, Hanks’s estranged former S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague. Lang’s “X-Con” security crew team Kurt, played by David Dastmalchian (Ant-Man), Dave, played by T.I. (Ant-Man), and Luis, played by the hilarious Michael Pena (Ant-Man), provide comic relief.
The film is visually appealing, especially with the size changes of the Ant-Man, Wasp and secret lab. This leads to some good laughs as well. There are some exciting car chases, which feature excellent scenes of San Francisco.
A key theme in this film is the importance of family. We see that with Scott and Cassie, and also with Hank, Hope and Janet.
Content concerns include some completely unnecessary adult language, including the abuse of God’s and Jesus’ names, as well as some super-hero violence.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is a pretty-much self-contained Marvel film. After the depressing ending of Avengers: Infinity War, I found this film to be a fun and exciting experience.
As with all Marvel films, don’t forget to sit through the ending credits.


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My Review of WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? rated PG-13
****

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a heart-warming and well-made documentary about the ministry of Fred McFeely Rogers. Ministry? Indeed. Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister in Pittsburgh, but chose to minister not within the church, but through his long-running PBS program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Our vocations are serving God and also serving other people. The purpose of vocation is to love and serve our neighbor. Wearing his trademark cardigan sweater and tennis shoes, Rogers was an excellent example of integrating his faith with his work through his vocation.
The film is directed by Oscar winner Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet From Stardom) and was released a few months after the 50th anniversary of the debut of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Although I never saw an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, I found this to be one of the best movies I’ve seen this year, and one that families with children ten and above could watch together and appreciate.
Rogers, who died in 2003, talked and sang to children, teaching them important lessons. What surprised me was that he addressed important and timely issues of the day on his program such as the Vietnam war, the assassination of RFK, divorce and discrimination. Francois Clemmons (Officer Clemmons on the program) talks about how Rogers addressed his race and homosexuality. The film also shows Rogers coming out of retirement (the show ended in 2001) to film a Public Service message after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The film includes helpful and interesting interviews with Rogers’ widow Joanne, his two sons, co-stars including Betty Aberlin, Joe Negri, Betty Seamans, Francois Clemmons, producer Margaret Whitmer and guest Yo Yo Ma. Footage from the program shows Lady Aberlin and Daniel Tiger. We are told that Daniel most modeled the personality of Rogers.
The film is rated PG-13 for some adult language, plus a funny photo of a crew member’s back end.
Themes included children, love, respect, kindness, diversity, and that you are loved just as you are.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is just the type of film we need today in our deeply divided country. Rogers is portrayed as a man who lived out his faith, showing respect for all, even those he disagreed with. We are often disappointed when our heroes are tainted when stories about their private lives become public. In this instance, it appears that Fred Rogers was the real deal. From the interviews with his sons it appears that the Rogers we saw on the program was just how he was in real life.
In his work with children, he demonstrated well what Jesus taught about loving our neighbor in The Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 25-37. We can all learn a lot from his example. Highly recommended!


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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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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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My Review of OCEAN’S 8

Ocean’s 8, rated PG-13
***

Ocean’s 8 is an entertaining, all-women sequel to the Ocean’s trilogy that was launched in 2001, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starred George Clooney as Danny Ocean. Those Ocean’s films were actually a remake of the 1960 Ocean’s 11 film starring the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., etc.).  Soderbergh serves as producer for this film. The film, which features an all-star cast, is directed by four-time Oscar nominee Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, Dave, Big), and written by Ross and Olivia Milch.
Oscar winner (The Blind Side) Sandra Bullock stars as Debbie Ocean, the estranged younger sister of Danny. The film begins as Debbie is finishing a five-year prison sentence. Although she convincingly assures the parole board that she is looking forward to the simple life, in reality, she has spent the past five years, eight months and 12 days planning her next big heist. Immediately after being released from prison she cons her way through a department store and into a high-end Manhattan hotel room. So much for the simple life.
Shortly after that Debbie contacts her best friend and nightclub owner Lou, played by two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine, The Aviator), to tell her of her plan to steal a large diamond. The $150 million diamond necklace, weighing in excess of six pounds, is locked in an underground Cartier vault, and only removed for special occasions.  One such event is the Met Gala, the annual fashion extravaganza at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it will be worn by the famous actress Daphne Kluger, played by Oscar winner Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables).
Debbie and Lou then go about putting together their dream team to carry out their audacious plan. Their team will be comprised of all women, because as Debbie says “A ‘him’ gets noticed. A ‘her’ gets ignored. And for once, we want to be ignored.” Each of the women will bring a specific talent to the team.
Their team is comprised of singer Rihanna as the hacker Nine Ball, two-time Oscar nominee Helena Bonham Carter (The Wings of the Dove, The King’s Speech) as Rose Weil, a struggling high-end fashion designer, Golden Globe winner Sarah Paulson (American Crime Story), as Tammy, a former fence (middleman), who is trying to live a quiet life as a mom in the suburbs, rapper-comedian Awkwafina as the pickpocket Constance, and six-time Emmy nominee Mindy Kaling (The Office) as the jeweler Amita.
Fashion plays a big part in this film. Costume design is by Sarah Edwards. She not only outfits Ocean’s gang, but we also see incredible fashion on display at the Met Gala. We see Vogue magazine editor Anna Wintour, as well as a number of celebrities at the Gala.
How Ocean’s 8 carry out the heist with the tremendous amount of security around the diamond necklace was entertaining, and includes some plot twists, though the lead up to that was a bit slow.
There is also a subplot of revenge involving one of Debbie’s former lovers, Claude Becker, the art dealer played by Richard Armitage (The Hobbit films, Hannibal). Four-time Emmy winner James Corden (The Late Late Show with James Corden, The Late Late Show Carpool Karaoke Primetime Special, The 70th Annual Tony Awards) plays the excitable insurance investigator John Frazier.
The film gets its “PG-13” rating for adult language, including at least one abuse of Jesus’ name. Themes include theft, revenge and deception.
Ocean’s 8 is an entertaining twist on the Oceans films, this time using an all-female crew. The performances by Bullock and Cate Blanchett lead the way for this strong cast.