Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of DOLITTLE

Dolittle, rated PG
***

Dolittle, based on the children’s books of Hugh Lofting, is an enjoyable film, starring Robert Downey Jr. in his first non-Iron Man role since 2014’s The Judge. The film is directed by Oscar winner Stephen Gaghan (Traffic), who wrote the screenplay with Dan Gregor (How I Met Your Mother), Doug Mand (How I Met Your Mother) and Thomas Shepherd. The film had an estimated budget of $175 million. The film’s release date has been delayed a few times, and it had 21 days of expensive reshoots after poor test screenings. The film is getting pummeled by the critics (getting a score of “16” on Rotten Tomatoes.com as I write this), but we enjoyed the film.
The film begins with an animated prologue that gives us the backstory of Dr. John Dolittle, played by two-time Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man films, Tropic Thunder, Chaplin), and his beloved wife Lily, played by Kasia Smutniak in live-action flashbacks. They presided over Dolittle Manor, a large sanctuary in the English countryside where they cared for – and communicated with – animals. But one day Lily, a master explorer, went out on a voyage at sea while Dolittle cared for the animals, and her ship wrecked in a storm and she died. After Lily’s death, Dolittle closed the doors of the sanctuary and fell into a deep depression.
Seven years later, Dolittle is living as a recluse in Dolittle Manor, avoiding all contact with humans while surrounded by a small band of loyal animal friends: Continue reading


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My Review of THE AERONAUTS

The Aeronauts, rated PG
***

The Aeronauts is a beautifully filmed and well-acted movie inspired by true events (see “Spoiler Alert” below on the “true events” claim). Just out of the theatres, the movie is now showing for free on Amazon Prime.  The film is directed by Tom Harper. Harper wrote the film with Jack Thorne (Wonder).
The film is set in September, 1862 in England. James Glaisher, played by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything, The Danish Girl, Fantastic Beast films) is a scientist who believes that it is possible to predict the weather. For this claim, he is laughed and scoffed at by his peers. Amelia Wren, played by Oscar nominee Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) is a widowed balloon pilot.
The film uses flashbacks to flesh out the main character’s back stories. Glaisher and Wren eventually agree to team up to attempt to go higher than the previous 23,000-foot altitude record, and we see them take off in front of a large crowd.
The film, which includes a lot of CGI (computer generated imagery) would have best been seen on the big screen. We see amazing shots of London as the balloon climbs through the clouds. There is then a terrifying scene as the balloon is tossed violently as it goes through a thunderstorm. Continue reading


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My Review of 1917

1917, rated R
****

1917 is a powerful and intense film set in World War I. It is loosely based on a story the director’s grandfather told him as a child (Alfred H. Mendes served as a message runner with the British Army during WWI). The film is directed by Oscar and Golden Globe winner Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road). Mendes wrote the film with Krysty Wilson-Cairns.  The film recently won two Golden Globes: for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director for Mendes.  The film also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score – Motion Picture for fourteen-time Oscar nominee Thomas Newman (American Beauty, Little Women, Finding Nemo). The film had a budget of approximately $100 million.
The film takes place in April of 1917 during Operation Alberich in northern France at the height of World War I. With radio lines down, two young British soldiers Lance Corporal Blake, played by Dean-Charles Chapman, and Lance Corporal Schofield, played by George MacKay, are given an assignment by General Erinmore, played by Oscar winner Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), to make a dangerous trek on foot across No Man’s Land, the area separating British and German troops, to deliver a critical message. The message is to stand down on a planned British attack on a supposedly retreating Germany army. Intelligence has suggested that the retreat by the Germans is a trap, and the planned British attack could result in the deaths of 1,600 British soldiers, including Blake’s brother. With miles of enemy territory to cross and not much time, their mission to pass the message to another company to call off the next day’s attack seems more like a suicide mission.
Will Blake and Schofield be able to reach the British troops to deliver the letter to the British Colonel in time to stop the planned attack? Continue reading


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My Review of JUST MERCY

Just Mercy, rated PG-13
****

Just Mercy is a powerful and emotional film about the work of Bryan Stevenson, based on his book “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption”.  (I would highly recommend the book. Here is my review).
The film is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, The Glass Castle), who also wrote the film with Andrew Lanham (The Glass Castle, The Shack), based on Stevenson’s book.
Emmy nominee Michael B. Jordan (Fahrenheit 451, Black Panther, Fruitvale Station), portrays Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who has just graduated from Harvard Law School. Rather than taking a position with a large law firm, which is what his mother would have wanted, he has a desire to help the poor. He moves to Alabama in 1988 to start the Equal Justice Initiative, where he works with local advocate Eva Ansley, played by Oscar winner Brie Larson (Room, Captain Marvel, The Glass Castle, Short Term 12) in a relatively small role. Stevenson visits the Holman State Prison in Monroeville, Alabama, the home of Harper Lee, author of the book “To Kill a Mockingbird”. He meets six men on death row, one of whom is Walter “Johnny D” McMillian, played by Oscar winner Jamie Foxx (Ray, Collateral).  He was convicted of murdering a young white woman, even though there were two dozen witnesses who indicate that they were with him, or saw him, during the time of the murder, and thus he could not have been the killer. But Walter was found guilty by a jury of 11 white men and one black man, based on the testimony of convicted criminal Ralph Myers, played by Tim Blake Nelson (O, Brother, Where Art Thou?). Stevenson is interested in helping McMillian, but Walter is suspicious of lawyers who take the money his family pays them and are never seen again. Stevenson will have to first of all, win over Walter as well as his family. Then, he will have to work through the systemic racism and corruption he encounters in law enforcement and the justice system in Monroe County.
In the prison cells on either side of Walter on Death Row are Anthony Ray Hinton, played by O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Straight Outta Compton) and Herbert Richardson, played by Rob Morgan (Mudbound). Note: Hinton has written an excellent book “The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row”. Here is my review).
The film includes a significant amount of Christian content (prayer, a church scene, hymns). Themes in the film include injustice, racism, faith and faithfulness, corruption and mercy. Content concerns include some adult language, including language of a racist nature. The music in the film by Joel P. West (Short Term 12), is effective. The film features strong performances by Foxx and Jordan. The film moves along relatively slowly and is dialogue based, but that is not a criticism.
Just Mercy is a powerful film based on the true-life story of Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who specializes in defending people on Death Row. The film is emotional and at times heart breaking. This is an important film that you need to see.


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My Review of LITTLE WOMEN

Little Women, rated PG
****

Little Women, based on the much-loved novel by Louisa May Alcott (published in two parts in 1868 and 1869), is a delightful film, one of the best I’ve seen in 2019. The film about the Marsh sisters is set in 19th century New England, has an excellent cast, and is well acted and directed. The film is written and directed by two-time Oscar nominee Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), and has been nominated for two Golden Globe Awards – best actress for Saoirse Ronan and best original score by Alexandre Desplat.
Gerwig chooses to tell the story of the four March sisters switching from scenes between when they were younger women and more mature women. This approach takes a bit of time to adjust to. Much of the film is told through the eyes of Jo. The film begins seven years into the future with Jo (the Alcott character), played by three-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Roman (Brooklyn, Lady Bird, Atonement) residing in a boarding house in New York, pursuing her dreams of being a novelist. We see her meeting with publisher Mr. Dashwood, played by Tracy Letts (Lady Bird, August: Osage County, Ford v. Ferrari). It is in New York that she meets Professor Bhaer, played by French actor Louis Garrel. Sister Amy, played by Florence Pugh is in Paris learning how to paint with her Aunt March who is played by three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady, Sophie’s Choice, Kramer vs. Kramer).
Laurie (though Jo calls him Teddy), played by Oscar nominee Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name, Beautiful Boy, Lady Bird), is the grandson of the March’s wealthy neighbor Mr. Laurence, played by an unrecognizable Oscar winner Chris Cooper (Adaptation). Continue reading


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My Review of STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, rated PG-13
*** ½

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the ninth and concluding film in the   Skywalker saga, bringing together the original films, the prequels, and the sequels. In order to achieve that, the film has to address various plot holes and threads from previous films and resolve questions. The result is an entertaining conclusion, and one of my favorite films of the year. The film is directed by two-time Emmy winner J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, Westworld, Lost), who took over from Colin Trevorrow, who left after “creative differences”. The film was written by Abrams, Oscar winner Chris Terrio (Argo), Derek Connolly (Jurassic World films), and Trevorrow (Jurassic World films). The film had an estimated budget of $200 million. Continue reading


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My Review of JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL

Jumanji: The Next Level, rated PG-13
** ½

Jumanji: The Next Level picks up two years after Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which grossed more than $400 million in the U.S. It is an entertaining film, but is marred by a lot of unnecessary adult language, including several abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names.
The film is directed by Golden Globe nominee Jake Kasdan (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story), and written by Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), and Scott Rosenberg (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle). The film had a budget of approximately $125 million, and grossed in excess of $60 million in the U.S. its opening weekend.
The stars of the first film are now college age. They’ve all pretty much gone their separate ways the past two years. Spencer, played by Alex Wolff, now a freshman at New York University, returns home for Christmas break. It has been difficult maintaining a long-distance relationship with Martha, played by Morgan Turner, and they have drifted apart as of late. Spencer’s grandfather Eddie, played by Oscar nominee Danny DeVito (Erin Brockovich), is recovering from hip surgery, so he is staying at Spencer’s parents’ home, and they have to share a room for a few weeks.
Milo, played by four-time Emmy nominee Danny Glover (Freedom Song, Fallen Angels, Lonesome Dove, Mandela), is Eddie’s former best friend, and they had owned a restaurant together before they had a falling out. Milo comes to the house to reconcile with Eddie after a number of years, but Eddie is not interested in patching things up.
Spencer misses the confidence he felt when he was Dr. Smolder Bravestone, played by Dwayne Johnson in the first film. Despite the danger that he and the others experienced in the video game, Spencer decides to go back into the video game. Continue reading