Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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Black Panther, rated PG-13

Black Panther, the latest film from Marvel, is a triumph and an exciting, well-acted and directed introduction to a new super hero. The film is directed by 31-year-old Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) and written by Coogler and Emmy nominee Joe Robert Cole (American Crime Story). Coogler uses cinematographer Oscar nominee Rachel Morrison (Mudbound), production designer Emmy nominee Hannah Beachler (Beyonce: Lemonade), and composer Ludwig Goransson, all who worked with him on 2013’s excellent Fruitvale Station. Two-time Oscar nominee Ruth E. Carter (Amistad, Malcolm X) handled the costume design.
The film has an all-star cast, and an estimated budget of $200 million. This is the eighteenth film released by Marvel Studios for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This one is different from other Marvel films however, in that it is a pretty much self-contained world, though we did hear about the death of the King of Wakanda in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.
T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman (Marshall, 42) is the son of the king. After the death of his father, he returns to the mysterious land of Wakanda to take his place as king. Wakanda is a beautiful African nation that has never been colonized by White settlers that hides its riches and technology, powered by the rare and extremely valuable blue metal vibranium, from the rest of the world. Vibranium has many valuable uses.
T’Challa assumes the title Black Panther, with an impenetrable black battle suit, developed by his sister Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, who also provides the vibranium-based weapons. Okoye, played by Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead) leads Wakanda’s elite female warriors. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) plays Nakia, T’Challa’s former girlfriend that he still has feelings for.
For centuries Wakanda has kept its great wealth to itself and T’Challa wants to keep Wakanda isolated from the rest of the world. But Nakia sees how Wakanda can help other nations with their vast resources.
A challenger to T’Challa and the throne of Wakanda is Erik Killmonger, a soldier played by Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station, Creed).  Because of an event that occurred in his childhood, Killmonger has motivation to destroy T’Challa. Killmonger also wants to steal the technology of Wakanda and use it for evil purposes. Ulysses Klaue is a South African arms dealer, played by Andy Serkis (Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings) and is a partner in crime with Killmonger.
The all-star cast also includes Oscar winner Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland), Oscar nominee Angela Bassett (What’s Love Got To Do With It), Golden Globe nominee Martin Freeman (Fargo, The Hobbit, Sherlock), Golden Globe and Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown (This is Us, Marshall) and Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out).
Coogler used experts in African history and politics as consultants on the film to work on defining Wakanda, a nation where three out of every five people go barefoot. The fighting in the film is based on African martial arts. The powerful musical score is by Ludwig Goransson and features new original songs from Kendrick Lamar.
Themes in the film include loyalty and tradition, and transitioning from barriers to bridges.  The film is visually stunning, particularly the costumes and how the African nation of Wakanda is portrayed. Parts of the closing battle scene will also remind you of Star Wars.
Content concerns include a significant amount of intense superhero violence, as is expected with any Marvel film. There is also some adult language. The king’s power is said to come from the panther god, Bast by way of a glowing flower. We hear people pray to ancestors and to Bast.
Black Panther is an achievement not only as a very entertaining film with a good story, but also culturally. It features strong women in key roles. The Black Panther is Marvel’s first African American super hero and the cast, director and supporting crew is largely African American.
Reminder: as with all Marvel films, don’t forget to wait through all of the ending credits.


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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 The War for the Planet of the Apes

War for the Planet of the Apes, rated PG-13

Final Film in the “Caesar Trilogy” Raises Questions about the Message.


In the final film in the new Planet of the Apes trilogy, “The Colonel”, played by two-time Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson, raids the camp of the apes. During the raid, the wife and eldest son of Caesar (Andy Serkis, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit), the leader of the apes, is killed. This leads Caesar, to seek revenge.  The movie follows Caesar, and a few of those closest to him, as they start on a long journey that will lead them to the human camp and the Colonel’s highly trained soldiers. Along the way they meet Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), the lone survivor from a zoo, and a young mute girl, who they name Nova (Amiah Miller).
As David Sims states in his review of the film in The Atlantic, “In Dawn, the story’s darkness made more sense because there were heroes and villains on both sides of the human-ape divide; in War, we’re just watching the final death throes of our own species.” The Colonel (and the humans in general) are portrayed as the villains in this film, while the apes are insistently shown to be the ones with compassion. We see the Colonel using apes, they call donkeys, as slave labor to build a defensive wall in the camp. The group that the Colonel leads is Alpha and Omega, which according to the writer, is a reference to the bomb the mutants worshiped in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. (Jesus Christ also referred to Himself as The Alpha and Omega – the beginning and the end.)  The Colonel wraps himself in a perverse distortion of both nationalist and religious symbolism.  We also see graffiti reading “APE-OCALYPSE NOW”, pointing out the similarities of the Colonel to Marlon Brando’s character Colonel Kurtz in the 1979 film Apocalypse Now.  
The film is directed by Matt Reeves, who also directed 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The film is written by Reeves with Mark Bomback and had a budget of approximately $150 million. Since its release, the film has already made in excess of $133 million in the U.S. alone. The CGI (computer generated imagery) used in the film is amazing. Kudos also go to cinematographer Michael Seresin (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and composer Michael Giacchino for the film’s soundtrack.
Steve Zahn is a welcome newcomer and provides some comedic relief as the likeable Bad Ape. Terry Notary returns as Rocket, a chimp who is now one of Caesar’s most trusted followers. Karin Konoval also returns as Maurice, an orangutan that is another of Caesar’s most faithful advisors.
The film contains a lot of references to the Bible. What they are intended to mean is another question for discerning viewers. For example, Caesar is the ape “savior”, and there are points in the film when there are clear comparisons of him with Jesus. Caesar frees the apes from being slaves, is flogged and hangs on a cross.  He guides the apes to a new “promised land” but dies before entering it, which certainly brings to mind Moses. The Colonel says that he sacrificed his son to save humankind. He wears a crucifix and there is one displayed in his office. We see him make a Catholic sign of the cross over his men in a ‘blessing’. Are the filmmakers mocking Christianity?
Andy Serkies is amazing as Caesar, who has clearly aged by the time we get to this film.  There is some talk of him receiving an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the conflicted (revenge or mercy?) leader of the apes.
Themes in the film include war, hatred, family, self-sacrifice, bravery, revenge and mercy.  It is worth seeing for amazing CGI, great acting and cinematography; just be mindful of the worldview presented.
The film definitely went too long and moved along very slowly. It could have definitely been shortened 45 minutes from its 140- minute running time.