Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of BlacKkKlansman

BlacKkKlansman, rated R
** ½

BlacKkKlansman is a well-acted film that is mostly based on an incredible true story. Unfortunately, demonstrating the subtlety of a Michael Moore film, the film tries too hard to connect former Grand Wizard David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) with President Donald Trump. The film is directed by two-time Oscar nominee Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, 4 Little Girls) and is based on the book Black Klansman: A Memoir by Ron Stallworth. The screenplay is written by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Lee.  The film had a budget of only $17 million.
Ron Stallworth, played superbly by John David Washington (The Book of Eli, Ballers), the real-life son of Denzel Washington, is the first African American police officer hired by the Colorado Springs Police Department. It is a police department in which racism is prevalent and tolerated.

SPOILER ALERT ***************
Initially placed in a boring position in the Records Department, Stallworth is then given an undercover opportunity in 1972 to attend a rally in which former Black Panther Kwame Ture (formerly known as Stokely Carmichael), played by Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton), is to speak. Outside the venue Stallworth meets Patrice, the President of the Black Student Union, an activist group, played by an Angela Davis look alike Laura Harrier (Spider-Man: Homecoming). Inside the venue, Stallworth, finds himself agreeing with some of what Ture is saying, as he encourages the crowd with chants of “Black Power”. After the meeting, Patrice and others are harassed by the police. Stallworth takes a liking to Patrice, but working undercover, tells her that he works in construction.
Stallworth is then given the assignment to infiltrate the local chapter of the KKK, which is led by Walter, played by Ryan Eggold (Blacklist). Stallworth arranges to meet with Walter, but since he is African American he needs to identify a white police officer to portray himself and meet with him instead. Flip Zimmerman, a Jewish officer played well by three-time Emmy nominee Adam Driver (Girls) is assigned to portray Stallworth. Zimmerman does the job well, earning the confidence of Walter. The KKK members are generally portrayed as cartoonish stereotypes by Lee. Eventually Stallworth, who can speak both “white” and “jive” is talking on the phone to KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, well played by Emmy winner Topher Grace (The Beauty Inside).
At the local level, Walter decides he needs to step down, and proposes that Stallworth, though new to the chapter, take his place. As Stallworth and Zimmerman continue their work together they become aware of a planned KKK attack.
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The film makes excellent use of music throughout, including a previously unleased live rehearsal recording of Prince singing “Mary, Don’t You Weep” over the closing credits. Despite the serious nature of the film, it also includes a lot of humor.
An interesting scene showed the juxtaposition of different groups shouting “Black Power” (Black Student Union) and “White Power” (KKK), reminded me of Black Lives Matter and White supremacist groups today.  Dialogue coming out of Duke’s mouth included lines very close to Trump’s making America great again and putting America first.
Content concerns include a significant amount of adult language, including several occurrences of the “F” and “N” words.  It would be appropriate for older teens and adults.
For the majority of the film, despite the quotes referenced above, the film, particularly the acting of Washington and Driver, was excellent. The film also includes a strong supporting cast. Oscar nominee Alec Baldwin (The Cooler) and 91-year-old Emmy winner Harry Belafonte (The Revlon Revue) appear in small roles. Lee includes some of his classic people-mover camera work in a scene with Washington and Harrier late in the film.
Unfortunately, the film’s ending insults the intelligence of the audience with its “paint by numbers” effort to try to connect Duke with President Trump, using graphic video footage of the 2017 tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia and quotes from President Trump.
BlacKkKlansman, based mostly on a true story, is a film that you may not agree with, but it is certainly thought-provoking. But it’s also not a film that will tend to bring our country together, unlike the film Won’t You Be My Neighbor? As I wrote in my review of that film, one of this year’s best, that film was just the type of film we need today in our divided country.

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My Review of STAR WARS:  THE LAST JEDI

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, rated PG-13
*** ½

The Last Jedi is an action-packed and exciting film, and though a little long, is one of the top movies of the year. It brought in $220 million, the second-best opening weekend ever in North America behind The Force Awakens.  It is directed and written by Rian Johnson (Looper) and based on characters created by George Lucas. The excellent music was composed by John Williams, with this being his eighth Star Wars film. The film is overly long at 152 minutes, making it the longest Star Wars film. It begins immediately after the events of The Force Awakens, and is set thirty years after the conclusion of the original Star Wars trilogy. Episode IX is scheduled to be released on December 20, 2019, which will complete the sequel trilogy.
The Force Awakens ended with Rey (Daisey Ridley) handing over a lightsaber to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in a scene filmed on the stunning Skellig Michael Island, off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland. The Last Jedi opens with the Resistance, led by General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher in her final film), trying to survive and escape an attack by the First Order, led by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) under the command of their Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, Planet of the Apes, Lord of the Rings). The damaged Resistance fleet is able to escape, but soon General Leia and her crew realize that the First Order has been able to track their ship. On top of that, they are quickly running out of fuel.
Rey goes to Ahch-To with Chewbacca and R2-D2 aboard the Millennium Falcon to meet with Luke Skywalker. She tries to convince him to teach her as a Jedi Master. Luke has no interest in that, indicating that he had come to the island to die. He has regrets about his failure to teach Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Silence, Paterson), Leia’s and Hans Solo’s son, and Darth Vader’s grandson, who has gone to the dark side. Luke shows Rey the Jedi religion holy books. He is unaware that Rey and Ren are communicating through visions, as Ren tries to lure Rey to the dark side. Luke eventually gives Rey a few lessons, teaching her about the Force. Rey has questions about her parents. Despite her pleadings, Luke refuses to come to the aid of the Resistance, so Rey leaves Ahch-To without Luke to confront Kylo Ren.
In another battle scene, we see that Kylo Ren hesitates to fire at the lead Resistance ship after sensing that his mother, General Leia, is on board. Leia is badly injured however, and as she recovers, Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) takes over command.
Reformed storm trooper Finn (John Boyega) who has just awoken, and mechanic Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) tell Captain Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) that they have a plan to dismantle the tracking device the First Order is using to track their ship. Poe tells Vice Admiral Holdo, but she has no interest in Poe’s plan. As a result, Finn and Rose head off on a secret mission to a Casino planet (which reminded me of Monte Carlo, along the French Riviera), to obtain the key element they need to destroy the tracking device.
I loved seeing some of the most beloved Star Wars characters in this film such as Chewbacca, R2-D2, Luke Skywalker, General Leia, C-3PO, as well as a surprise appearance by a much-loved character. I also enjoyed all of the animals included in the film. The scenes filmed on Ireland’s Skellig Michael Island were breath-taking.
Some Christians may be concerned about the role that the Force plays in the film. In this film, there is mention of the Jedi holy books, and Luke’s reference to the “Jedi religion”. However, as I watched the film I didn’t have the same concerns. This is a science fiction film after all, and the Force has been a major part of the Star Wars “good vs. evil” story for forty years now.
The film features a number of battle scenes, perhaps at the expense of character development. Johnson’s initial cut of the film exceeded three hours. He reduced it to two and a half hours, which I felt it could have been shortened even more, perhaps by shortening some of the battle scenes.
Overall, this is a well-acted and directed film, with good use of computer generated imagery (CGI), and humor. The characters, particularly those portrayed by Hamill, Ridley and Driver, turn in strong performances. I enjoyed the character portrayed by Benicio Del Toro and Kellie Marie Tran’s portrayal of Rose Tico.


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My Review of LOGAN LUCKY 

Logan Lucky, rated PG-13
**

Logan Lucky is an off-beat heist comedy that is slow and has too few memorable moments.
This film is directed by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) who also directed the Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen films. The writing is credited to Rebecca Blunt, who is actually suspected to be Soderbergh’s wife Julie Asner, who is from West Virginia, a location central to this story, as is a certain John Denver song.
The film is about the Logan family from West Virginia – brothers Jimmy (Channing Tatum, Magic Mike, Foxcatcher), and Clyde (Adam Driver, Star Wars, Silence, Paterson) as well as their sister Mellie Logan (Riley Keough, the eldest grandchild of Elvis Presley). The family is known for their bad luck, and some feel that they are cursed. Jimmy was a football star and homecoming king in high school, but a leg injury changed that. Now he walks with a limp and is divorced with a young daughter; Clyde lost his arm in the war in Iraq. He has a prosthetic hand and wrist, and now tends bar where Jimmy is a regular.
Jimmy works a construction job beneath the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. The speedway has a sinkhole problem and he is part of a team of ex-coal miners brought in to fix it. He needs the job to pay alimony to his ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) and provide child support for his daughter Sadie (Farrah MacKenzie). Sadie is preparing for a Little Miss West Virginia beauty pageant, and Jimmy has promised her that he will be there for her pageant.
But when management sees Jimmy limping, they fire him because he didn’t disclose the injury on his employment application. Jimmy then comes up with a plan to change the family’s luck. He and Clyde used to pull small heist jobs years ago. From his work at the speedway, Jimmy has knowledge of a series of underground tubes that run from the speedway’s concession stands to a central bank vault. He sets up a plan to rob the speedway. But he and Clyde need the help of safe cracker and explosives expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, James Bond) and Joe’s two brothers, Sam (Brian Gleeson) and Fish (Jack Quaid). But there’s just one small problem: Joe is in prison.
Adam Driver and Channing Tatum are effective in their roles as the Logan brothers, and have good chemistry. Daniel Craig was excellent playing the blue-collar criminal Joe Bang.  Other notables in small roles include Dwight Yoakum as the incompetent prison warden Burns, two-time Oscar winner Hillary Swank as FBI Special Agent Sarah Grayson, Seth MacFarlane (Ted) as Max Chilblain and Katherine Waterston as Sylvia Harrison, who knew Jimmy from high school.
The film pokes fun of the hillbilly culture of West Virginia. But we didn’t find the film very funny, and didn’t hear many “laugh out louds” in the theatre. There were some parts of the film – particularly the carrying out of Jimmy’s plan – that were creative, featuring excellent writing. But those parts were a relatively small part of the film, and for the most part, the film dragged.
The film included some adult language and abuse of God’s name. The product placements in this movie were as prevalent and prolific as a NASCAR driver’s uniform.   A positive aspect of the film was the positive relationship Jimmy had with daughter Sadie.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPzvKH8AVf0 


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My Review of the Movie ‘Paterson’

patersonPaterson, rated R
*** ½

Paterson is low-key, well-acted film that follows bus driver and poet Paterson and his creative wife Laura through a week of their lives.
The film is written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, who wrote a version of the film twenty years ago. The film follows Paterson (Adam Driver, who was excellent as Father Francisco Garrpe in the recent Silence), a bus driver and poet, his creative wife Laura (Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani) and their English Bulldog Marvin, through one week of their life in the rather depressed city of Paterson, New Jersey.  Driver actually went to bus driving school to prepare for this role, and got his license one week before filming began.
Paterson, who was named after the town he lives in, follows pretty much the same routine each day. He wakes up without an alarm at about 6:15am, picks up his folded clothes from a chair near the bed, eats Cheerios for breakfast and walks to the bus station. He doesn’t have a smartphone, thinking it would be like a leash. He drives his bus through the heart of Paterson where he overhears the conversations of his passengers, enjoys lunch surprises made by Laura as he writes poetry in the park near a beautiful waterfall, its beauty contrasting with the rest of the town we see. He walks home and grabs the mail out of the tilted mailbox post in front of his and Laura’s small home. After dinner, he walks Marvin, and stops at a neighborhood bar (where we get to know the regulars), to have one beer before heading back home to bed. His life is not unlike ours, in which we go through our routines each day.
Although Paterson’s job is as a bus driver, and he is dutiful in that job, his passion is writing poetry. We often see him inspired to write down lines of poetry in his secret notebook, and the lines of his poetry creatively appear on the screen. His favorite poet was William Carlos Williams, also from Paterson. Laura is constantly asking him to make copies of his poems, which he promises to do.
In many ways, Paterson and Laura, who are very much in love, are also very different. While Paterson’s life is relatively routine and predictable, Laura is just the opposite. She is obsessed with black and white patterns – in her painting (clothes, home decorating), in the cupcakes she bakes, etc. Paterson supports her in everything she does and wants to do, which includes wanting to order an expensive guitar so that she could be a country music singer like Tammy Wynette or Patsy Cline.
The acting from Driver and Farahani is excellent. They have wonderful chemistry on film.  Paterson is an introvert and doesn’t really share his emotions with others, while Laura is just the opposite, full of life, energy and dreams.  They support each other in their passions – Paterson’s poetry and Laura’s painting, guitar playing and baking.
There is not a lot going on in this film. It’s definitely slow moving, and may feel overly long at nearly two hours. While it will not appeal to everyone, I really enjoyed it. None of the characters we meet (Paterson, Laura, those on the bus, or in the bar), give us any indication of God being in their lives, so there is a feeling that they do not really live with purpose.
There is a good use of humor sprinkled throughout the film and after Laura tells him of a dream about twins early in the film, Paterson sees twins around town the rest of the film. Still, I came away enjoying the week I spent with Paterson, Laura, Marvin and Paterson’s friends in the bar.    The juxtaposition of the mundane and ordinary with the beautiful and passionate was an ongoing theme in this movie.  My wife thought Marvin should win best actor in this film.  : )
The film is rated “R” for a relatively small amount of adult language. It also includes a few abuses of God’s name. However, this does not seem like an “R- rated” film. Without the sparse language mentioned above this film could easily be rated “PG”, like the recent film Hidden Figures.


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My Review of Silence

silenceSilence, rated R
***

Silence is a well-acted film that deals with the subject of apostasy (denying the faith).
The film is directed by Oscar winning director Martin Scorsese (The Departed), and is based on a 1966 historical novel written by Shusaku Endo. Scorsese was given the book in 1988, and has been wanting to make a movie of it ever since. Jay Cocks co-wrote the screenplay with Scorsese.
The film is set in 17th century Japan. Father Cristovao Ferreira (Oscar nominee Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List) from Portugal, has gone missing while working as a Jesuit missionary in Japan. He hasn’t been heard from for years. Rumors are that he has committed apostasy (denied the faith). His former students Father Sebastiao Rodrigues (Oscar nominee Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge) and Father Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) fail to believe that their teacher and mentor has apostatized. They finally convince Father Valignano (Ciarán Hinds) to let them go to Japan to try to find Ferreira. They will be aided by a drunken Japanese guide named Kichijiro (Yoshi Oida). He is a complex character, not the simple “cut and dry” Judas to Rodrigues that he may appear.
As the priests arrive in Japan, they find a church that has gone underground or hidden, in the midst of persecution. Christianity has been outlawed in Japan, but there are those who remain faithful, despite the lack of priests. Those who are caught and suspected of being Christians are forced to trample on wooden figures of Jesus, called fumie. Those who refuse (and even some who do actually trample on the image of Jesus), are tortured to death. The film depicts Christians being tortured – boiling water poured on them, hung upside down in a pit, tied to stakes in the ocean, etc. That makes this film difficult to watch.
The film is well acted, particularly by Garfield, who deserved an Oscar nomination for his work here, but had already received a Best Actor nomination for Hacksaw Ridge, perhaps taking away his chances for a nomination here. The cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, particularly his depiction of the landscapes of Japan, is excellent, earning the film it’s only Oscar nomination. You can also feel the heat and the irritation of the insects of Japan, as the Japanese persecutors constantly fan themselves.
The film is extremely thought-provoking, as it deals with themes such as silence (of God particularly), faith, persecution, fear, apostasy, and doubt. You’ll be talking about the ending as you leave the theatre. But the theme of apostasy is the key one in the film. Jesus said “Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:33).
The film, which had its premiere at the Vatican, is overly long at 2 hours and 41 minutes, and for the most part is pretty slow. The film cost $40 million to make, and will most likely have a limited audience, but was well done and is thought-provoking.