Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of BELFAST

Belfast, rated PG-13
***

Belfast is a well-made film about a family living happily in a mixed (Protestant and Catholic) working class neighborhood in Belfast, Ireland during the late 1960’s. When a violent Protestant mob attempts to drive the Catholics out of the neighborhood, it threatens the family’s peaceful existence.
The film was written and directed by five-time Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn, Henry V, Hamlet and Swan Song), and depicts a coming-of-age story based on his own life in Northern Ireland in the 1960s. His childhood coincided with the beginning of a violent period known as the Troubles, which lasted for decades.
The film is beautifully shot in black and white by cinematographer Haris Zambarlouskos, and features an excellent cast. The film captures the working-class neighborhood where children could once safely play in the streets. At the center of the film is family struggling financially, due in part to Pa having to pay significant back taxes, and trying to decide whether they should leave the country amidst the conflict.

At the center of the film is the likeable nine-year-old Buddy, played by Jude Hill. Buddy lives with his older brother Will, played by Lewis McAskie. We see Buddy playing in the street, watching television, going to the movies and church, and having a crush on a pretty Catholic girl in his class that he plans to marry one day. Buddy’s parents Ma and Pa are played by Caitriona Balfe (Outlander), and Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Grey). Pa works in England as a carpenter, and only comes home every few weekends, while Ma raises Buddy and Will, and tries to make ends meet. Buddy’s grandparents are wonderfully played by Ciaran Hinds (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), and Oscar winner Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love).
Hanging over the film is the big question the family is facing. Do they remain in this increasingly dangerous neighborhood where they’ve lived their entire lives, where extended family lives, where everyone knows everyone, or do they move somewhere safer, like England, Sydney or Vancouver, where nobody knows them, and start all over?
The musical soundtrack by Belfast native Van Morrison is a treat, and features several of his songs. The film does include some adult language and violence.
Belfast is a well-made film based on a true story.


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My Review of American Underdog

American Underdog, rated PG
*** ½

American Underdog tells the incredible story of Kurt Warner, from backup quarterback at Northern Iowa University to the Most Valuable Player in the Super Bowl. The film is directed by Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin (I Can Only Imagine, I Still Believe, Mom’s Night Out). The screenplay is written by David Aaron Cohen (Friday Night Lights) and Michael Silver and is based on Warner’s 2000 book All Things Possible.
The film shows how Warner, played by Zachary Levi (Shazam!), begged Coach Allen, played by Adam Baldwin, his Northern Iowa University coach, to give him a chance. Despite doing well when he got his chance, he was not drafted in the National Football League (NFL). Later, he was signed to the Green Bay Packers, but was quickly released.
While at Northern Illinois University, Warner meets Brenda, played by Oscar winner Anna Paquin (The Piano), a divorced mom of two, at a country music bar. Brenda, a Christian, has trust issues, as her husband had cheated on her when she was pregnant with their second child. Brenda’s son Zach, played by Hayden Zaller, is disabled and nearly blind, because of an accident.
The film takes time to show how Kurt’s relationship builds with Brenda, her children and her parents. The love story between Kurt and Brenda and her children is a major element of the film, while his faith in Christ is not emphasized.
Not hearing from any NFL teams, and needing to make money to support Brenda and the children, Kurt takes a job stocking shelves at the local Hy-Vee. He is then approached by the Arena Football League’s Iowa Barnstormers Coach Jim Foster, played by Bruce McGill (Lincoln, Waiting Game). After leading the Barnstormers to the Arena Bowl, Warner was signed by the St. Louis Rams of the NFL. The film shows how Rams head coach Dick Vermeil, played by Dennis Quaid (The Rookie, I Can Only Imagine) believed in him, even if offensive coordinator Mike Martz, played by Chance Kelly, didn’t.
This is a well-made film that blends some scenes of Warner’s real-life football highlights with football scenes filmed for the movie. Warner was my all-time favorite football player, and it was a joy to watch this inspirational film based on his life story that everyone can enjoy.


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My Review of West Side Story

West Side Story, rated PG-13
*** ½

Sixty years after the original 1961 film, which won 10 Oscars, three-time Oscar winning Director Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List), gives us a new version of the musical West Side Story. I never saw the original film, but recognized several songs (“America”, “Tonight”, “Maria”, “I Feel Pretty”), from my parents playing the soundtrack when I was young. The film, which was delayed a year due to COVID-19, is set in the late 1950’s, and shows two rival gangs – the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks – battling for control of the streets in a decaying section of New York City.
The film was written by two-time Oscar nominee Tony Kushner (Lincoln, Munich), based on the book and 1957 musical by two-time Oscar nominee Arthur Laurents (The Turning Point). The music was composed by Oscar nominee Leonard Bernstein (On the Waterfront), and the lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, who died on November 26. Continue reading


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


Acoustic Sketches 3 – Phil Keaggy
****

I’ve long appreciated the music, both instrumental and vocal, of Phil Keaggy. His album Acoustic Sketches was released in 1996, and Freehand: Acoustic Sketches 2 was released in 2003. I would often enjoy these CDs quietly in my office at work, and continue to enjoy them when sitting at our desk at home.
Keaggy began working on what would become Acoustic Sketches 3 in February of this year. He wrote all 23 of the songs, as well as producing the album.
This acoustic instrumental album features Keaggy playing a number of different instruments. For example, on the album cover (from left to right) are the following instruments: Skinner Sunburst Acoustic (L’il Hoss), Brunner Compact Guitar, Oceana Ukulele, Brunner Pocket Guitar, Olson SJ Acoustic Guitar and Langejans Classical Guitar. As the title Sketches implies, at times these are rather short songs, with 5 of them clocking in at less than 2 minutes.
If you enjoy instrumental guitar music, you will enjoy the beautiful music of Acoustic Sketches 3 from Phil Keaggy.


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My Review of The Beatles: Get Back

The Beatles: Get Back
****

In January, 1969, the Beatles went into the studio to record a new album, the follow-up to their classic The Beatles (White Album) and single “Hey Jude”. Cameras and microphones were allowed to follow their progress, which originally was to result in a television special followed by a live concert (location to be determined), their first live performance since stopping touring in August, 1966.
In 1970, the film Let It Be was released, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. I remember the film, which I saw with my Dad, as depressing, as it appeared to show the Beatles as they were breaking up, as it was indeed released right after the band broke up.
We now know that there was more than 60 hours of video and 150 hours of audio that had never been seen or heard. Three-time Oscar winning director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit), reviewed the unused material, beautifully digitally restored the video and synced up the audio to produce a three-part docuseries that debuted on November 25, exclusively available on Disney+, that runs nearly 8 hours.
I have been a Beatles fan since watching them on the Ed Sullivan Show in the early 1960’s at my grandparent’s home. I remember listening to a bootleg recording of these sessions at a friend’s home, as the Let It Be album was delayed (that’s another story), not being released until 1970, which was after the band’s last recorded album Abbey Road was released. Continue reading


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My Review of NO TIME TO DIE

No Time to Die, rated PG-13 
***

No Time to Die is the pandemic delayed 25th film in the James Bond series, and the fifth and final film with Daniel Craig starring as 007 James Bond since 2006’s Casino Royale. My all-time favorite actor playing Bond is Sean Connery, but Craig is a close second. The film was directed by Emmy winner Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective) and written by Fukunaga, Neal Purvis (Spectre, Skyfall, Quantum of Solace, The World is Not Enough, and Casino Royale), Robert Wade (Spectre, Skyfall, Quantum of Solace, The World is Not Enough, and Casino Royale), and Emmy winner Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag), based on characters developed by Ian Fleming. The film, which features exotic locales, great cars (especially the Aston Martin DBS Superleggera), car chases and gun fight battles, as well as numerous nods to previous Bond films, was entertaining, but did seem long at 163 minutes.
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My Review of CRY MACHO

Cry Macho  rated PG-13
*

Cry Macho stars and is directed by four-time Oscar winner Clint Eastwood (Mystic River, Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby). It was written by Nick Schenk, who also worked with Eastwood on Mule and Gran Torino, and is based on the 1975 novel by N. Richard Nash.
The 91-year-old Eastwood plays Mike Milo, a former rodeo star who was injured when thrown by a horse, and is now a horse breeder, shows up late to work. We get the impression it’s not the first time, and there is reference to him no longer being an effective horse trainer and perhaps alcohol and pills having been a contributing factor. As a result, his boss, Howard Polk, played by Dwight Yoakam, fires him.
The story then moves forward a year, and Polk, who we find out has looked after Milo since Mike lost his wife and daughter in a car accident, asks Mike to do a job for him. He asks him to go to Mexico and kidnap his now teenage son, who he hasn’t seen for years, from his ex-wife Leta, played by Fernanda Urrejola, and bring him back to live with him. But why does Polk want the boy back after all these years?

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My Review of JUNGLE CRUISE

Jungle Cruise, rated PG-13
***

Jungle Cruise, the latest Disney film to be inspired by one of their theme park attractions, is an entertaining action/adventure film, that includes a lot of humor, though may be too dark and scary for very young children. The film, which had a budget of approximately $200 million, was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (The Commuter, Non-Stop), and had a team of five writers.
The film opens in 1916, with MacGregor Houghton, played by British comedian Jack Whitehall, trying to convince the Royal Academy in London to finance an expedition into the Amazon to find the Tears of the Moon tree, the petals of which are said to have healing powers. While he is speaking, his sister, Lily, played by Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place), sneaks into the archives of the Academy and steals an arrowhead from the last Amazon expedition, which is key to unlocking the location of the tree. Lily steals the arrowhead just as German Joachim, played by two-time Emmy nominee Jesse Plemons (Fargo, Black Mirror) is set to collect it after making a large donation to the Academy. Continue reading


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My Review of the movie IN THE HEIGHTS

In The Heights, rated PG-13
*** ½

In The Heights, the first film we have seen in the theatre since early March 2020, is the film version of the popular Broadway musical written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Hamilton. It is about a block in the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York City. I really enjoyed this film, and especially the sense of community and the song and dance scenes.
The film was directed by Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians). The screenplay was written by Quiara Alegría Hudes, based on the Broadway musical by Oscar nominee Lin-Manuel Miranda (Moana). The choreography was by three-time Emmy nominee Christopher Scott (So You Think You Can Dance).
Although we meet a lot of characters from the neighborhood, the film primarily follows the stories of three characters and their dreams. Usnavi, played by Anthony Ramos, who plays the role Miranda did on Broadway, is the owner of a bodega, who dreams of going back to the Dominican Republic to run his father’s beachfront bar. He is close to his dear Abuela, a grandmother figure played by Olga Merediz (who also played the role in the Broadway musical, for which she received a Tony Award nomination). Usnavi employs and mentors Sonny, played by Gregory Diaz IV, who is a “Dreamer”, the son of illegal immigrant parents. Usnavi likes Vanessa, played by Melissa Barrera, who works in a hair and nail salon who dreams of moving downtown to fully pursue her dream of being a fashion designer. Continue reading


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My Review of TOM CLANCY’S WITHOUT REMORSE

Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, rated R
** ½

Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse is a military thriller about a Navy Seal out to avenge the murder of his pregnant wife in the origin story of action hero John Clark. Although entertaining, the film is extremely violent, and at times confusing and unrealistic.
The film is directed by Stefano Sollima, and the screenplay is written by Oscar nominee Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water), and Will Staples, loosely based on a 1993 novel by Tom Clancy.
The film begins with a team of Navy Seals, led by Lt. Commander Karen Greer, played by Jodie Turner-Smith (Queen and Slim), being sent to rescue a CIA operative being held captive in Aleppo, Syria. However, when they get there, the Seals find that it is actually Russian troops holding the man hostage. The extraction proves difficult, but they manage to accomplish it, though not without some Russian soldiers being killed. One of the Seals, John Kelly, played by Emmy nominee Michael B. Jordan (Fahrenheit 451, Fruitvale Station, Creed films, Black Panther), is angry with the hostage’s CIA handler, Robert Ritter, played by Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), who lied to them about the mission. From that point on in the film, you don’t know if Ritter can be trusted, or why he is doing certain things.
Three months later, Kelly is ready to retire from the military and take a security job so that he can spend more time at home. Continue reading