Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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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


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My Review of THE COURIER

The Courier, rated PG-13
*** ½

This excellent film, based on true events, features a strong acting performance from Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) as Greville Wynne, a British salesman who was asked to help his country and the U.S. by obtaining secrets from a willing Soviet Union accomplice during the Cold War in the time leading up to what would become known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The film is directed by Dominic Cooke, and written by Tom O’Connor (The Hitman’s Bodyguard).
In 1960, Wynne, an ordinary salesman, is contacted by MI6 Agent Dick Franks, played by Angus Wright (The Iron Lady), and CIA Agent Emily Donovan, played by two-time Golden Globe winner Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), to be a spy. Under the guise of doing business in Moscow, Wynne is to obtain intelligence about a nuclear missile attack that’s being plotted from Oleg Penkovsky, a colonel in GRU, the main intelligence agency of the Soviet Union. Penkovsky, played by Merab Ninidze, is concerned about a possible nuclear war and also wants to defect from the Soviet Union. Continue reading


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My Review of NEWS OF THE WORLD

News of the World, rated PG-13
** ½

News of the World is a slow moving, though beautifully filmed western, which features solid acting performances by Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel. Though the film received four Oscar nominations (sound, production design, original score and cinematography), I found it to be too slow and predictable to recommend.
The film was directed by Oscar nominee Paul Greengrass (United 93), who worked with lead actor Hanks in Captain Phillips. The screenplay is by Oscar nominee Luke Davies (Lion), and is based on the 2016 novel by Paulette Jiles.
The film is set in 1870, a few years after the Civil War. Captain Jefferson Kyle Tidd, played by two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia), is a veteran of three wars, including the Civil War. He is a decent, but lonely man. He speaks of a wife in San Antonio. He rides in a wagon from town to town in Texas dramatically reading from newspapers the latest news of the day to gatherings of people who are willing to pay a dime to hear it.
As he is in transit between towns, he comes across a wagon on its side. He sees a man who has been hung, and he notices a blonde-haired girl running away. Continue reading


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My Review of American Gospel: Christ Crucified

American Gospel: Christ Crucified (unrated)
****

American Gospel: Christ Crucified follows writer and director Brandon Kimber’s 2018 American Gospel: Christ Alone film. Here is my review of that film. Whereas the first film compared and contrasted biblical Christianity with what is referred to as the “prosperity gospel”, the second film looks at biblical Christianity and progressive Christianity.
Like the first film, the second film features interviews (most recorded specifically for the film), as well as video clips of proponents of both biblical Christianity and progressive Christianity. The film effectively uses graphics of scripture passages in particular, to illustrate the issues being discussed. The film touches on a number of topics, with a key one being the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus. Those who support this doctrine point to scripture texts to show that this is a biblical doctrine. Those that oppose the substitutionary atonement of Jesus refer to the doctrine as a form of “cosmic child abuse”. Continue reading


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My Review of NOMADLAND

Nomadland, rated R 
** ½

This film recently won Golden Globe awards for Best Motion Picture Drama and Chloé Zhao (The Rider), won for Best Director-Motion Picture. The film features an outstanding performance by two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Fargo). The film also features some wonderful cinematography, with multiple landscape scenes of the American West by Joshua James Richards (The Rider), and a memorable musical score by Ludovico Einaudi.
The film is based on the 2017 non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder. Many of the characters in the film are non-actors who live on the road. Some of those who are in the book show up in the film as well, playing themselves.
We learn that the USG sheetrock plant in Empire, Nevada went out of business in early 2011, after 88 years. At the time, USG employed about 100 of the 300 residents of Empire. In a scene late in the film, Fern returns to Empire, walking through her former home and the abandoned plant. Within seven months of the plant closing, the town had lost its zip code. Both Fern (Frances McDormand, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama for her performance), and her husband, who died of cancer, had worked at the plant. Fern has now lost her home. The film begins and ends during the holidays, with Fern singing “What Child is This?” and wishing people a happy new year. Fern takes off in her van to work a temporary position at an Amazon plant. While there, Fern is living in her van, which she will do during the entire film. She prefers to refer to herself as “houseless”, rather than “homeless”. At Amazon, Fern meets the likeable ponytailed Linda May (who plays herself), who tells her of a community of older van-dwellers led by Bob Wells (who plays himself). Fern then heads to the Arizona community. Continue reading


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My Review of FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS

Fisherman’s Friends, rated PG-13
***

This delightful 2019 film, available on Netflix, is based on the true story of a group of English fishermen who love to sing together. Scotty Smith mentioned the film in a recent sermon, and my wife and I decided to watch it later that evening – and we were glad that we did.
The film is set in Port Isaac, Cornwall (which is changed to Portwenn in the popular television series Doc Martin, which is filmed there). We visited Port Isaac in July 2019 on a family vacation and really enjoyed the scenery captured so well in this film by cinematographer Simon Tindall. The film was directed by Chris Foggin, and was written by Piers Ashworth, Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft.
The film begins with four music industry executives from London throwing a stag weekend for a colleague in Port Isaac. While there, the men see a group of ten men singing sea shanty songs, which they find humorous. As a gag, the boss Troy (Noel Clarke) tells Danny (Daniel Mays) a snobby music manager, to sign the men to a recording contract. Then, the others leave in their car for London laughing, leaving Port Isaac, and the unsuspecting Danny behind. Continue reading


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My Review of UNHINGED

Unhinged, rated R
*

Unhinged is an intense, but disappointing B-grade thriller, that doesn’t allow its Oscar winning lead actor to do much more than grunt. The film, directed by Derrick Borte, with the script written by Carl Ellsworth, also includes a significant amount of violence and adult language.
The film begins with a bloated Russell Crowe, Oscar winner for Best Actor in Gladiator and also nominated for A Beautiful Mind and The Insider), portraying “The Man”, sitting in his pickup truck in the rain outside of a home with a “For Sale” sign in the front yard. He is sweating and gulping down prescription meds like they were candy, something he does throughout the film. We see him take off his wedding ring. We assume that his ex-wife, and possibly others, are inside the house. Eventually, he gets out of the car, kills all inside and sets the house on fire.
The next morning, we see Rachel, a hairdresser played by Caren Pistorius, being awakened by a phone call from her best friend and attorney Andy, played by Emmy nominee Jimmi Simpson (Westworld), who is helping her through a divorce. She is the mother of a young son, Kyle, played by Gabriel Bateman (Child’s Play). Rachel’s brother Fred, played by Austin P. McKenzie, and his girlfriend Mary, played by Juliene Joyner, also are temporarily living in her home. By oversleeping, Rachel misses an appointment with an important client, who then fires her. She also makes Kyle late for school – we assume not for the first time – which will earn him a detention. Continue reading


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My Review of HAMILTON

Hamilton, rated PG-13
****

Hamilton, showing exclusively on the Disney+ network (which paid $75 million for the worldwide rights to the film), is a live taping of the award-winning stage production (11 Tony Awards, Grammy Award and Pulitzer Prize for Drama). The musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of our Founding Fathers, was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was inspired by Ron Chernow’s book Alexander Hamilton.
My wife and I saw the musical a few years ago in Chicago. The film version adds to that experience with excellent cinematography and sound quality. The film provides close ups that you couldn’t experience in the theatre, unless you had (very expensive) seats close to the stage.
Two things I highly recommend before watching the film are:

  1. Become familiar with Alexander Hamilton’s incredible life story. You can do that by reading my review of Chernow’s book here.
  2. Listen to the Original Broadway Cast recording of the musical. The story is told almost entirely in song. Miranda uses a variety of musical styles, mostly rap, and the lyrics come very fast. It will help you to enjoy the film if you are somewhat familiar with the songs.

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