Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of The Big Sick

The Big Sick, rated R
***

The Big Sick is a well-written and acted true life love story that has both serious and funny moments, but also has some significant content issues.
This film is written by Kumail Nanjiani (HBO’s Silicon Valley), who plays himself, and Emily V. Gordon (his real-life wife), and is the true story of their meeting and early relationship. It is directed by Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name is Doris).
The film is set in Chicago. Kamail is Pakistan-born stand-up comedian. He is also working as an Uber driver to make ends meet. He lives with ***SPOILER ALERT***
Azmat and Sharmeen insist on arranging a marriage to a Pakistani girl for Kamail. Because of this, Kamail can’t tell his parents about the white woman that he is falling for. Eventually, the pressure gets to be too much for Kamail and he breaks up with Emily, breaking her heart. Then, Emily develops a rare lung infection and is hospitalized.
In the hospital Kamail meets Emily’s parents, Terry (Ray Romano, Everybody Loves Raymond) and Beth (Holly Hunter, four-time Oscar nominee and winner for The Piano) for the first time. I enjoyed watching their interactions as they dealt with Emily’s illness.
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The film features some strong acting performances by all of the main characters. Of special note was Ray Romano’s performance in a serious role.
The film is rated R for a significant amount of adult language, including repeated f-bombs and abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names. Some of the language is sexual in nature. That alone will keep many from considering this film. In addition, there is sex depicted outside of marriage (nothing graphic shown).
On the other hand, there are many positive aspects to this film. There is a good deal of humor, as well as sadness, in the film. The film also includes positive messages about marriage, family, forgiveness and reconciliation.


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My Review of Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming, rated PG-13
*** ½  

Spider-Man Homecoming is an action-packed, humor-filled Marvel film with a new Spider-Man that is enjoyable.
After two films in which Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge, Silence) played Spider-Man, we were introduced to the high-school age Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Tom Holland) in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Tony Stark/Iron Man, played by two-time Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder, Chaplin), had recruited him to help stop Captain America. This film picks up eight months after the action in that film.
Peter Parker is a 15-year old high school student from Queens. In addition to fighting minor crime in his neighborhood, he’s dealing with the usual high school issues. His best friend is the likeable Ned (Jacob Batalon), and he has a crush on Liz (Laura Harrier), a senior who is the captain of the High School Academic Decathlon. Peter lives with his Aunt May, played by Oscar winner Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny), from whom he hides his after-school Spider-Man activities. He tells her, and others, that he has an internship for Stark Industries.
The young Parker is a somewhat awkward superhero in training, and wears a suit that his mentor and father-figure Tony Stark has designed for him. He is in the process of figuring out his powers. He waits for a call from Happy Hogan, (Jon Lavreau, Chef), who plays Stark’s assistant, to take on the type of criminals that the Avengers do battle with.
The villain in the film is Adrian Toomes, played by Oscar nominated Michael Keaton (Birdman). Toomes is a disgruntled city contractor, who decides to sell stolen alien weapons on the black market. As a villain, he goes by the name of Vulture, and wears a costume with large wings. Peter encounters him and tells Tony Stark about him and is told not to get involved with the Vulture, but to concentrate on smaller crimes in his neighborhood. In other words, he is to be your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. But Peter doesn’t follow that direction.
The film is directed by Jon Watts, who also writes the film with five others (Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers). The film has an estimated budget of $175 million budget.
I enjoyed the humor in the film and thought Holland was excellent as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Downey Jr. was good in a small role and Keaton was good as the film’s villain.
The film has less violence than the usual Marvel film as it focuses just as much on Parker’s high school life as it does on him as a super hero. There is also a twist in the film that I didn’t see coming. In addition, the film includes some good music, both original score and other songs.
Unfortunately, the film includes some adult language that is completely unnecessary, in addition to some abuses of God’s name. Scenes that took place at the Washington Monument and on the Staten Island Ferry were excellent. I also enjoyed Spider-Man getting to know all of the features of the suit that Stark had made for him.
And of course, being a Marvel film, don’t forget to sit all the way through the ending credits.


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My Review of Baby Driver

Baby Driver, rated R 
***

Baby Driver is a creative, high energy and exciting summer film that has some content issues.
This film, which takes its name from the catchy 1970 Simon and Garfunkel song and is set in Atlanta, is directed and written by Edgar Wright (Ant-Man). It features a strong cast, including Oscar winners Kevin Spacey (American Beauty and The Usual Suspects) and Jamie Foxx (Ray). This is one of the highest rated major films of the year with an impressive 97 rating from critics on RottenTomatoes.com.
Baby is played by Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our StarsDivergent). He was in a bad car accident as a child, in which his parents were killed. He now lives with his foster father, Joseph (CJ Jones), who is deaf. The car accident left Baby with continuous ringing in his ears. He almost always is listening to music to drown out the tinnitus. In fact, how director Wright uses music is an important part of this film, synchronizing the action of the film with the music.
We are told that Baby had stolen one of Doc’s (Kevin Spacey) Mercedes. Doc is a mastermind thief. He is having Baby pay off his debt by serving as his getaway driver on his jobs. And make no mistake about it – Baby can drive, and we see plenty of his driving through the streets of Atlanta in the film.
Baby has one more job to work for Doc before his debt is paid off. He plans to end his work with Doc at that time. He meets a waitress named Debora (Lily James, Cinderella) and they plan to start a new life together, away from crime.
For Baby’s last job Doc hires an ex-con, Bats (Jamie Foxx), who doesn’t trust Baby. Bats joins married couple Buddy (Jon Hamm, Mad Men) and Darling (Eliza Gonzalez) as part of the team.
I enjoyed the first half (four stars) of the film better. It was more creative. We get to see Baby’s relationship with Joe, dancing to music, etc. The latter half (two stars) descended into more pedestrian car chases and gun fights.
As far as content issues, the film contains a significant amount of adult language, including the abuse of God’s name, and strong violence (gunfights and car chases). Those concerns may keep many from this well-acted and directed film.


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My Review of Despicable Me 3

Despicable Me 3, rated PG
** ½

Despicable Me 3 is a fast-paced, fun summer film that the family can enjoy.
The gang (Gru, Minions, Lucy, etc.) from the previous two Despicable Me films, which have grossed more than $1.5 billion worldwide, returns for a third film. This fast-paced film, which clocks in at just about 90 minutes, is co-directed by Pierre Coffin (who also voices the Minions) and Kyle Balda, and co-written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul.
In the previous film, Gru (Steve Carell) and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) had made a happy with their three daughters – Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel).  Agnes is obsessed with finding a real unicorn in this film. But now they are fired by the Anti-Villain League’s new boss Valerie Da Vinci (Jenny Slate) when they fail to capture the new arch villain Balthazer Bratt (South Park co-creator Trey Parker), who is trying to steal the world’s largest diamond.
Bratt is physically hilarious, but became annoying. He is a former 1980’s child star who is still stuck in that era (clothing, hair style, music), obsessed with the character that he played in the ’80s.
Gru, who is facing an identity crisis, finds that he has a long-lost twin brother Dru (also voiced by Carell), who is successful and cheerful and quite different from Gru, including the fact that he has a head full of hair. We see a sibling rivalry between them at first and then they team together to go after Bratt. Dru tells Gru that he wants to be a criminal like his brother was. Their mother, voiced by Julie Andrews, appears in a short scene early in the film.
The Minions, who are just silly but I find to be funny, provide some excellent comic relief that pretty much doesn’t have anything to do with the plot of the film. They do leave Dru and go looking for another villain to serve.
Pharrell Williams (“Happy”), contributes new songs for the film. They are blended with songs from the 80’s by artists such as Michael Jackson and Madonna.
I enjoyed this film and found it to be a lot of fun. I would say that it is family friendly, with some good messages about the importance of family, but we did not hear much laughing from the children in the theatre.


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My Review of the Movie MEGAN LEAVEY

Megan Leavey, rated PG-13
** ½

This film tells the true story of two war heroes: a young marine corporal and her military combat dog.
It is directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Blackfish) and written by Oscar nominee Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids), Pamela Gray and Tim Lovestedt. When we first meet Megan Leavey (Kate Mara, House of Cards, Captive) she is without purpose. Living at her Mom’s home, she sleeps in late, drinks a lot, and has a contentious relationship with her mother Jackie (Edie Falco, The Sopranos), and her boyfriend Jim (Will Patton). Jackie had an affair with Megan’s father Bob’s (Bradley Whitford, The West Wing) best friend, which broke up their marriage. We also hear of Megan’s best friend who died of an overdose when she and Megan drank and took drugs, which may have contributed significantly to Megan’s lack of purpose.   
After Megan is fired from a job in 2001, she decides on a whim to enroll in the Marines. Soon, she is off to Boot Camp. After getting drunk one night with two other female recruits, she is disciplined by being assigned to clean up the K-9 Unit cages.  It is there she first encounters Rex, a ferocious German Shepherd.  As she watches the handlers working with their dogs she decides she would like to be assigned that work and expresses that to her commanding officer Gunny Martin (Oscar winner Common, Selma). When Rex bites his handler, breaking multiple bones in his hand, Megan gets her chance. Andrew Dean (Tom Felton, Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter films), is her K-9 trainer. We see Megan and Rex slowly begin to bond, and Megan finding purpose.
Megan is told that female dog handlers aren’t usually sent into combat situations, but she is soon sent to Iraq and into danger with Rex to sniff out and identify bombs, eventually serving together on more than 100 missions. Megan develops a relationship with a fellow dog handler, the likeable Matt Morales (Ramon Rodriguez). Matt makes it clear that he desires the relationship to become more than a friendship.
We see intense battle scenes in Iraq and Megan and Rex being injured.  As she returns from the war and ends her time in the Marines we see her struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Though she is hailed as a war hero, we see her life going back to the way it was before she enrolled in the Marines, without purpose. Although it appears she has a good relationship with her father, the only one that she truly connects to is Rex. And she misses him badly.
The film contains a significant amount of adult language and God’s and Jesus’ names are abused several times. It contains some intense war violence and an implied sexual relationship, though nothing is seen.
Although Megan’ and Rex’s true story is an inspiring one, even as a dog lover I didn’t feel that the film measured up to their story. I believe I’m in the minority here as the film is receiving strong reviews from critics and viewers; that’s the reason I went to see it. The film moves along slowly and felt just a step above a paint by the numbers Hallmark movie to me and my wife.
Mara is good in her role, but Megan is not a very likeable character, who finds it hard to connect with anyone other than Rex. The supporting cast is solid, but there is little tension in the film except the conclusion which I’m not sharing here, as to not spoil it for you.  It’s definitely a renter.


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My Review of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, rated PG-13
***

Captain Jack Sparrow and the gang return in a pleasing fifth episode in the Pirates of the Caribbean series.
Six years after 2011’s On Stranger Tides, one of my favorite film series returns. Truth be told, Johnny Depp had me in from the very beginning as he cruised into shore, doing his best drunken Keith Richards’ impersonation in 2003’s The Curse of the Black Pearl, a role for which he received a “Best Actor” Oscar nomination.
The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is the twelfth highest grossing franchise ever, with more than $1 billion in sales in the U.S. alone and about $3.75 billion in ticket sales worldwide. Three-time Oscar nominee Johnny Depp returns as Captain Jack Sparrow, and leads an outstanding cast in this film directed by the Norwegian directing team of Joaquim Ronning and Espen Sandberg. The film was written by Jeffrey Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can).  The budget of the film has been estimated to be in excess of $350 million and is projected to gross about $80 million in the U.S. over the Memorial Day holiday.  The music is handled well by Geoff Zanelli.
Brenton Thwaites portrays Henry, the grown son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit films) and Elizabeth Swann (two-time Oscar nominee Keira Knightley), who briefly return after missing episode four in the series.  Henry partners with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scoderlario, The Maze Runner), an orphan astronomer who is accused of being a witch. Henry has been seeking the Trident of Poseidon, a magical object that supposedly holds power over the seas, so that he can free his father from the curse of the Flying Dutchman.  While looking for Captain Jack Sparrow to get his help in finding the trident, Henry ends up in the Devil’s Triangle, where he encounters the zombified Spanish Captain Salazar, portrayed by Oscar winner Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men). Salazar has a history with Captain Jack and is seeking revenge.
Henry eventually finds the down on his luck Captain Jack and his magical compass; Jack agrees to help him find the trident, thinking it will lead to a great treasure.  Carina has a book that she received from her father that has clues as to the location of the trident.
Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech) again portrays Captain Hector Barbossa. Paul McCartney portrays Captain Jack’s Uncle Jack in a brief scene. Uncle Jack is heard singing “Maggie Mae”, which was included on the Beatles final album, 1970’s Let It Be.
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. All of the main characters deliver and it is a good story. The film does include some intense (and scary for young children) violence. The dialogue was sometimes hard to hear, especially the drunken Captain Jack Sparrow. Disney throws everything but the kitchen sink into this film, and it was almost too much. The film features some excellent messages about the importance of fathers, and has the theme of sacrificial love.
DON’T FORGET TO WAIT UNTIL AFTER THE CREDITS FOR A SPECIAL SCENE!


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My Review of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, rated PG-13
*** ½

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is visually stunning, funny, surprisingly emotional, and has some great messages about the importance of family. Oh yeah, it has some good action scenes and music as well.  Overall, it’s a lot of fun.
I was pleasantly surprised and really enjoyed the first movie in this Marvel series. If you enjoyed that film you will enjoy this one as well. It is directed by James Gunn, who also directed the first film in 2014. Gunn shares the writing credits with Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, who also wrote the first film. We saw the film in IMAX 3-D so the film was visually spectacular thanks to cinematographer Henry Braham. The IMAX sound system was helpful as the film includes a lot of 1970’s music from Fleetwood Mac, Cat Stevens, Sam Cooke, George Harrison and others.
Filmed in the Atlanta, Georgia area, the film had a budget of about $200 million, and is projected to open this weekend at more than $140 million in the U.S. alone. A third film has already been announced.
The film takes place three months after the end of the first film. As the opening credits roll, Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel, Fate of the Furious) is dancing to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” from the Awesome Mix Part 2, seemingly unaware of the space battle going on behind him. That battle has Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World), and the other Guardians – Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Avatar), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket Racoon (voiced by four-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper) – defending valuable batteries from a monster called the Abilisk for people known as the Sovereign, led by a golden woman Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki, The Night Manager). Their payment is Gamora’s evil sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), who the Guardians plan to turn in for a substantial bounty.
After the Guardians successfully complete their mission, Rocket decides to steal some of the batteries from the Sovereign. Ayesha hires the blue-skinned Ravager Yondu (Michael Rooker), who had abducted Peter from Earth as a child and raised him, to pursue the Guardians and bring them back for punishment.
The Guardians escape, but their ship is badly damaged when they have a crash landing. There they meet Ego (Golden Globe nominee Kurt Russell) who tells Peter that he is his real father, and has been looking for him for years. In ancient Greek “Ego eimi” means “I am”, which is how God identified Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14: God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And He said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
***SPOILER ALERT ***
Ego identifies himself as a god with a “small g”, a celestial. He has his own planet, that he created over millions of years. Peter, Drax and Gamora decide to go with Ego to visit his planet. There they meet Ego’s assistant/companion Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Mantis can read the emotions of others and is even able to change them. She is able to help Ego sleep.
We see Yondu shunned by Stakar Ogord (three-time Oscar nominee Sylvester Stallone), who appears in the film in two brief scenes. Stakar tells Yondu that he has betrayed his people. Then, Yondu’s men rebel against him when they complain that he has gone too easy on Peter. He is imprisoned along with Rocket while they try to get Baby Groot to rescue them. Meanwhile, Ayesha hires Yondu’s men to go after Peter, Drax and Gamora, to kill them. There is a lot going on. To tell you more would reveal spoilers.
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I really enjoyed the characters in this film, how they are developed and interact with each other. The film includes some excellent humor and a lot of fun. The music from the 1970’s is used well, as it was in the first film. Mostly, the film is about family – Peter dealing with two fathers – his biological father Ego, and Yondu, the one who raised him. Then there is the relationship between sisters Gamora and Nebula, and Nebula’s own father issues. And mostly, it shows the Guardians, though they had originally come together by accident, are their own type of family.
I felt that the first half of the film was superior to the second, primarily because the ending scene went on for way too long.  This is certainly not a children’s film, though I did see some young children in the theatre. It includes some adult language, some of which is of a sexual nature, and some of which abuses God’s name. There is a good deal of violence in the space battles as well, which is to be expected.
And, as with all Marvel films, don’t forget to sit all the way through the closing credits, as there are five scenes included throughout the lengthy credits.
The Guardians of the Galaxy will return in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duGqrYw4usE