Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of TOLKIEN

Tolkien, rated PG-13
*** ½

Tolkien looks at the formative years of the beloved author J.R.R. Tolkien (The Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit). I thoroughly enjoyed this well-made film. It is directed by Finland director Dome Karukoski, in his first English language film, and written by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford (Pride). Of note, the estate and family of Tolkien issued a statement about the film indicating that they wanted to make clear that they did not approve of, authorize, or participate in the making of the film, and do not endorse the film or its content in any way.
The film opens in 1916 on the battlefield in World War I, during the Battle of the Somme in France. John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R.) Tolkien, played by Nicholas Hoult (The Favourite, About a Boy, X-Men films), has come down with a case of trench fever. The rest of the movie is told in flashbacks, with it occasionally coming back to the war, with Tolkien trying to find his friend Geoffrey Smith, played by Anthony Boyle. Continue reading

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My Review of AMAZING GRACE

Amazing Grace (not rated)
****

Amazing Grace is a joyful, uplifting film of Aretha Franklin singing gospel music over two nights in a California church in 1972, when she was 29 years old, and at the height of her popularity.  The resulting album Amazing Grace, would become her best-selling album, and is the overall best-selling gospel album of all time. For the album, Franklin added instruments in the studio and overdubbed some of her vocals. This film represents for the first time her original performances at the church.
The film is produced by two-time Oscar winner Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa) and Alan Elliot, and has an interesting history. When the concert was filmed, Pollack somehow failed to properly synchronize the video (captured with multiple cameras) with the sound through the use of a clapperboard, a common film device.  As a result, the film sat on the shelf, until Alan Elliot worked with a special technical team in 2008, who over a three-week period of time worked to get the approximate 20 hours of film properly synced. After that, another ten years of legal issues, Franklin’s resistance to the film being released, her declining health and eventual death in 2018, kept the film from seeing the light of day. We can be thankful that it has finally been released. Continue reading


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My Review of AVENGERS: ENDGAME

Avengers: Endgame, rated PG-13
****

Avengers: Endgame, a highly anticipated film, brings to an end the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) storyline that began with 2008’s Iron Man, and has continued now through 22 films and all of those mid and post-credits scenes that we have sat and waited for. The three-hour film will satisfy MCU fans, as it looks back on the previous films and characters, but it does contain some content concerns that you will want to be aware of.
The film is directed by brothers and Emmy winners Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Arrested Development) and written by Emmy winners Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers). While the film had an estimated budget of approximately $400 million, it made a record-setting $350 million in the U.S. opening weekend, and an incredible $1.2 billion worldwide.
2018’s Avengers: Infinity War ended somberly with the formidable villain Thanos, voiced by Oscar nominee Josh Brolin (Milk), finally possessing all of the six Infinity Stones that he had been seeking. Thanos, who says he is Inevitable, then used the power he gained from the stones to snap his fingers and wipe out half of all existence, including superheroes such as Black Panther, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and many more.
Avengers: Endgame opens with a family picnic scene in which the family of Clint Barton/Hawkeye, played by two-time Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner (The Town, The Hurt Locker), suddenly disappears due to the snap. The film then moves forward about three weeks after “the snap”. Continue reading


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My Review of THE MUSTANG

The Mustang, rated R
***

The Mustang is a well-made film about an angry and violent prisoner and his relationship with what was believed to be an unbreakable wild mustang. The film is directed by French actress Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre in her feature film directorial debut, and is based on her 2014 short film Rabbit.  She co-wrote the film with Mona Eastvold and Brock Norman Brock. Robert Redford was an executive producer for the film.
We are told that more than 100,000 wild horses roam across ten states in the U.S. A small percentage of the horses are taken to prisons in six states each year for training by inmates in an effort to get them ready for auction, in a program sponsored by the Bureau of Land Management.
Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts plays Roman Coleman. Roman is an angry, violent prisoner with a short fuse. He has a shaved head, is a physically powerful man, and one of few words. Roman tells the prison psychologist, played by two-time Golden Globe nominee Connie Britton (Nashville, Dirty John), that he’s not good with people. After 12 years in a maximum-security prison in Nevada, Roman is transferred to the general population and assigned to outdoor maintenance, shoveling horse manure. As he is doing his work, he hears a mustang violently kicking the walls of a small stall and considered untrainable. He foolishly opens the stall door, only to be told by Myles, played by two-time Oscar nominee, 82-year-old Bruce Dern (Nebraska, Coming Home), who runs the program, that he could have been injured badly by the horse. Shortly, Myles brings Roman into the program and assigns him to the horse that Roman names Marquis ( but pronounces it as Marcus). Henry, played by Jason Mitchell (Detroit, Mudbound, Straight Outta Compton), is an inmate that has been in the program for a while, and considered to be the best horse trainer. He mentors Roman on how to work with the horses, but Roman’s anger gets the best of him again and he is soon back in solitary confinement. When Roman helps to get the horses brought into safety before a thunderstorm, he earns another chance in the program. Will Roman be able to break Marquis? The comparison between the two is obvious, a wild horse and a violent prisoner. Roman has just four weeks to get Marquis ready before the auction. Continue reading


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My Review of BREAKTHROUGH

Breakthrough, rated PG
***

Breakthrough is a well-made inspirational film based on a true story. The film was directed by Roxann Dawson in her film directorial debut, and written by Grant Nieporte (Seven Pounds), based on the 2017 book Breakthrough: The Miraculous True Story of a Mother’s Faith and Her Child’s Resurrection by Joyce Smith and Ginger Kolbaba. The film is set in the St. Louis area, but was actually shot in Winnipeg, Manitoba. DeVon Franklin is a producer of the film and Golden State Warriors’ superstar Stephen Curry is an executive producer.
Fourteen-year-old John Smith, played by Marcel Ruiz (One Day at a Time) is the adopted son of Brian, played by Josh Lucas (A Beautiful Mind, Sweet Home Alabama), and Joyce, played by Chrissy Metz (This is Us). John doesn’t get along with his mother, doesn’t do his homework, and really only comes alive when he is playing basketball. He is also hurt because his birth mother abandoned him, leading the Smiths to adopt him at nine months of age from a Guatemalan orphanage.
Topher Grace (BlacKkKlansman) plays Pastor Jason Noble, the Smith’s new pastor from California. Pastor Nobel does a number of things that irritate Joyce:  kicking them out of a meeting room, bringing rap music into the church worship service (Lecrae appears in a cameo rapping along with Phil Wickham singing Wickham’s “This is Amazing Grace”) and using the television show “The Bachelor” as a sermon illustration. Joyce doesn’t even like the pastor’s haircut.
On a sunny Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, 2015, John and two of his friends are playing on the frozen surface of Lake Sainte Louise in St. Charles, Missouri. Suddenly, the boys fall through the thin ice, with John sinking all the way to the bottom of the lake in freezing water. The police are able to rescue John’s two friends, but as time goes on, the firefighters look to recover John’s body, rather than rescue him. Then Tommy, one of the firemen, played by Mike Colter (Luke Cage, The Defenders), thinks he hears his boss’s voice telling him to go back and look in a particular place under the ice. It’s there that he finds John, and they pull him to the surface. But it’s been fifteen minutes since John fell through the ice into the freezing water. When they bring John to the surface, they find that he does not have a pulse. For all intents and purposes, John is clinically dead. Still, he is rushed to a local hospital, where after John is worked on by medical personnel, they call in Joyce to say goodbye to her son.
In an emotional scene, Joyce cries out to Jesus and the Holy Spirit to breathe life into her son. Incredibly, John’s heart weakly begins to beat. John is then air-lifted to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. There, the world-renowned Dr. Garrett, played by Golden Globe nominee Dennis Haysbert (24) the physician heading up John’s case, tells Brian and Joyce that John is not expected to live through the night. But Joyce will not accept that.
Will John ever wake up? And if he does, will he suffer irreparable brain damage from his brain being deprived of oxygen for so long?
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My Review of THE BEST OF ENEMIES

The Best of Enemies, rated PG-13
*** 

The Best of Enemies is based on a true story about race relations and school integration in North Carolina. It is a well-acted film that includes a surprising amount of Christian content, but also includes some content issues. In his directorial debut, Robin Bissell, best known as a producer (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games) also wrote the script, which was inspired by Osha Gray Davidson’s 1996 book The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South.
This film is set in Durham, North Carolina in 1971. Durham is a city with much racism and segregation, seen clearly on the City Council, led by Carvie Oldham, played by Bruce McGill (Lincoln, Rizzoli & Isles). A fire damages the city’s black elementary school and the children are not permitted to attend the white school while theirs is being repaired, despite this being seventeen years after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision about the racial segregation of schools. The NAACP gets involved, resulting in a judge ordering a community forum, or charrette.
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My Review of HOTEL MUMBAI

Hotel Mumbai, rated R
***

Hotel Mumbai is an intense film about the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India that lasted four days. The film is well made and acted, but has a significant amount of violence and adult language (much of it appearing in subtitles). The film is directed by Anthony Maras, and written by Maras and John Collee (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Happy Feet). The film is based on hundreds of hours of interviews with survivors and witnesses of the attacks.
We see ten Lashkar-e-Taiba (a Pakistan based terrorist group) Muslim jihadists approach Mumbai in small boats. Armed with assault rifles, grenades and improvised explosive devices, the young men split up in taxis and begin to carry out their twelve planned shooting and bombing attacks across the city, that will eventually last three days. They get their direction via earpieces from their handlers in Pakistan and are told that Allah awaits them in paradise. The Mumbai police force is completely unprepared to deal with an attack of such magnitude, and backup forces are 800 miles and hours away in Delhi. Continue reading