Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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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 THE GRINCH

The Grinch, rated PG
** ½

The Grinch is a modernized version of Dr. Seuss’ much-loved tale of the Grinch who tried to steal Christmas. The film is directed by Emmy winner Yarrow Cheney (Dilbert) and Scott Mosier. The screenplay is written by Michael LeSieur (Keeping Up with the Joneses) and Tommy Swerdlow, based on the book by Dr. Seuss How The Grinch Stole Christmas.
This film takes quite a few liberties with the Dr. Seuss’ story that we are familiar with. The Grinch, voiced by Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game, Sherlock, Dr. Strange) is not as mean as the one we met in the classic 1966 television special How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  This Grinch is lonelier and sadder, than he is mean, though he certainly still has a mean streak in him. He lives with his under-appreciated dog Max inside a cave on Mount Crumpet, overlooking Whoville. I enjoyed the scenes of how each morning would start with Max making the Grinch’s coffee and bringing it up to his bedroom using the inventions and contraptions that the Grinch has built for his daily needs.
After running out of food because of his emotional over-eating, the Grinch and Max must go down the mountain to Whoville to pick up groceries. In the village he runs into the friendly Mr. Bricklebaum, voiced by Emmy winner Kenan Thompson (Saturday Night Live), who has the house with the most Christmas decorations. In fact, this year, the goal in Whoville is to make Christmas three times bigger than its ever been before, which aggravates the Grinch even more.
He also meets Cindy-Lou Who, voiced by Cameron Seely (The Greatest Showman), who is desperately trying to mail a letter that contains a very special request to Santa Claus.  The Grinch assumes this is for a gift for Cindy-Lou, but it is actually something for her hard-working single mom Donna, voiced by Emmy nominee Rashida Jones (Hot Girls Wanted).
While in Whoville, the Grinch passes by carolers singing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (well-sung by Pentatonix), which includes some very clear lines about Jesus, and the real meaning of Christmas: Continue reading

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THOR: RAGNAROK, the latest film from Marvel Studios and the third Thor film is an enjoyable action-packed Marvel film with a great cast that contains a lot of humor.
The film is directed by Oscar nominee Taika Waititi (Two Cars, One Night) and written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost. The film has a different feel than previous Thor films, more like a Guardians of the Galaxy film. It includes a lot of humor and some classic rock music by Led Zeppelin. The soundtrack is done by co-founder of the New Wave band Devo, Mark Mothersbaugh. The film has a loose feel, with an amazing 80% of the dialogue being improvised. The film had an estimated budget of $180 million and opened at $120 million in its first weekend in the U.S.
As the film opens, we see that Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth, known as the “God of Thunder”, has been captured by a large demon named Surtur, voiced by Clancy Brown. Thor steals the crown Surtur is wearing, which is the key to Ragnarok (an apocalyptic battle in Norse prophesy) being unleashed on Thor’s home Asgard, which will result in total destruction. As Thor returns to Asgard, he finds that his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been impersonating his father King Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins, four-time Oscar nominee and winner for Silence of the Lambs, who Loki has sent to Earth. Thor is furious with Loki, and the two go to Earth to find Odin. There they encounter Doctor Strange, played by Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) who directs them to Odin, who is in Norway and near death. Before he dies, he tells the brothers that they have an older sister, Hela, played by six-time Oscar nominee and two-time winner Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine, The Aviator). Hela is known as “The Goddess of Death”.  At one time she teamed with Odin before he became a man of peace and goodness. Odin tells his sons that upon his death, Hela will return to Asgard and take control; and that is just what she does. Blanchett is excellent as the villain Hela.
Skurge, played by Karl Urban (Star Trek, Lord of the Rings) joins Hela in the takeover of Asgard.
Thor is sent to a planet called Sakaar, where he is captured by Valkyrie, a former Asgardian warrior who is now a bounty hunter who drinks a lot, played by Tessa Thompson (Creed).  Valkyrie takes Thor to the Grandmaster, played well by Oscar nominee Jeff Goldblum (Little Surprises). The Grandmaster uses Thor to compete in his arena against his reigning champion, none other than the Hulk, played by three-time Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo, who also plays Bruce Banner. The Hulk has been on Sakaar for two years, and likes it there.
Can Thor, Hulk and Valkyrie get back to Asgard to save it from Hela and annihilation? They will be assisted by Heimdall, played by Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom).
Content issues include some totally unnecessary adult language, the expected Marvel action violence, and brief rear male nudity, which is played for laughs. The film includes themes of family, sacrifice, friendship and forgiveness.
I thoroughly enjoyed THOR: RAGNAROK. It was a fast-moving, well-acted, entertaining and funny film.

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dr-strangeDr. Strange, rated PG-13

Dr. Strange is the fourteenth film to be released by Marvel Studios for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is directed and co-written (with C. Robert Cargill) by Scott Derrickson. The film is based on the Marvel Comics character created in 1963 by Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko. The film had a budget of approximately $165 million. It’s designed as the Doctor Strange franchise-launcher, with sequels to follow.

Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) stars as the rich, egotistical New York City neurosurgeon Stephen Strange. Due to distracted driving, he gets into a terrible car accident that ruins his hands, and as a result, his career as a surgeon. He becomes even more cruel and withdrawn, lashing out at ex-lover and co-worker Christine Palmer (Oscar nominee Rachel McAdams).

Strange seeks healing for his hands. He is given a tip about a secret sect in Nepal led by a sorcerer referred to as the Ancient One (Best Actress Oscar winner Tilda SwInton). (Note: in the comic which debuted in 1963, the Ancient One is played by an older Tibetan male). The Ancient One opens Strange up to worlds he never believed existed as she introduces him to the spirit world. Previously, he only believed in a material world. Some of what you see may remind you of Inception and the Matrix films. Strange is exposed to the Mirror Dimension, in which the magic doesn’t affect people in the real world and the laws of physics don’t apply. We see Strange learn how to bend time and space.

Working with The Ancient One and mentoring Strange are Wong (Benedict Wong) and Karl Mordo (Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor).  The villain in the story is played by Kaecilus (Mads Mikkelsen), a former student of the Ancient One who steals pages out of an ancient book in the opening scene.

The film is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action throughout, and the intense crash scene. As far as content concerns for Christians, Cumberbatch has stated the spiritualism of Doctor Strange is what appealed to him the most about the role. Ted Baehr of, a site that I’ve consulted for years, has issued the below warning about the film:

Doctor Strange is a dangerous introduction to demonic occult deception….The Bible clearly warns against the kind of occult practices and sorcery the hero in this movie learns to do in Deuteronomy 18:9-12 and Galatians 5:20. Also, in the movie, the hero’s New Age occult guru teaches that there may be no afterlife, that death is truly the end, and that this is a good thing”.

Although I respect Dr. Baehr’s warning, I felt that the film did include some Christian themes of humility and sacrificing yourself for the good of others; it is basically a good vs. evil story. The evil offered eternal life, just as the serpent offered to Adam and Eve in the garden.  I saw the film in IMAX 3-D, and felt that it was worth the additional cost. The 3-D brought out the film’s excellent CGI (computer generated imagery). It is a visually stunning film and I would recommend you seeing it in 3-D.

I thought Cumberbatch was superb as Doctor Strange, and the supporting cast of Ejiofor, Wong, Swinton and McAdams solid. The film also includes some excellent humor and interesting details, such as a man on a bus reading The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley. First published in 1954, it details his experiences when taking mescaline.

I enjoyed the film’s costumes and Dr. Strange’s Cloak of Levitation. The musical score from Michael Giacchino also added to the enjoyment of the film.  I look forward to additional Dr. Strange films.

And with all Marvel films, don’t forget to wait after the movie. There are two end credits scenes.

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My Movie Review ~ Black Mass

Black MassBlack Mass, rated R

This film is based on the book Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil’s Deal by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. It is directed by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace), and written by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth (Spectre, Edge of Tomorrow). The film tells the true story of Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger, played by a heavily made up Johnny Depp, who has been nominated for Best Actor for his performance by the Screen Actors Guild.

The film begins in 1975; in South Boston, Jimmy’s empire includes drugs, prostitution and racketeering. His chief rival is Jerry Angiulo, who heads the Italian mafia, a prime target of the FBI. Jimmy Connolly, well played by Joel Edgerton, who wrote, directed and starred as Gordo in 2015’s excellent The Gift, is an FBI agent and childhood friend of Whitey. He owes Whitey for protecting him when they were kids. He proposes a secret arrangement that will benefit Whitey by allowing him to serve as an FBI informant on the Italian mafia, while they look the other way on his illegal activities. As Connolly gets in deeper and deeper with Whitey, we see him begin to dress, act and even walk differently, and have relationship difficulties with his boss (Kevin Bacon) and wife Marianne (Julianne Nicholson). Fellow-agent John Morris (David Harbour) works with Connelly on this arrangement for several years until he can take it no longer. Lead Prosecutor Fred Wyshak (Corey Stoll from House of Cards) can’t figure out why Bulger and his group continue to rule Boston right under the nose of the FBI.

The film is told in flashbacks as Bulger’s inner circle Kevin Weeks (Jesse Plemons), Steve Flemmi (Rory Cochrane) and John Martorano (W. Earl Brown), to lessen their sentences, years later provide the FBI with information about Whitey. Bulger is portrayed as a brutal monster, showing kindness only to his card-cheating mother, girlfriend (Dakota Johnson), his young son (Luke Ryan), and Massachusetts State Senator and University President brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, Imitation Game). This is an amazing true story.

Bulger would become number two (behind only Osama bin Laden) on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list during the 16 years he was in hiding before his capture in California in 2011.

The film is “R” for a significant amount of adult language (including several abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names and lots of f-bombs), and brutal violence (beatings and murders). It features a strong cast, led by Depp, who continues to show his versatility as an actor, and the multi-talented Edgerton, who builds on his critically acclaimed work in The Gift.

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Movie Review ~ The Imitation Game

The Imitation GameThe Imitation Game, rated PG-13
*** ½

This film is based on true events and the 1983 book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges. The film is directed by Norwegian director Morten Tyldum in his English language debut, and tells the story of the English mathematician Alan Turing, played superbly by Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch offers one of the strongest performances I’ve seen over the past year, and I believe is worthy of a Best Actor Oscar nomination.

The film features a lot of flipping back and forth through Turing’s life and can be confusing figuring out what time frame we are in. It opens in 1951 with an investigation into a burglary at Turing’s home where nothing was stolen. We then go back to 1928 where a young Turing is in boarding school. He is mistreated by most of the boys, and has only one friend, Christopher, who comes to his defense. We see the beginning of Turing’s homosexuality here.

The film then takes us to 1939 where Turing and other cryptographers are stationed in Bletchley Park, a secret location in England that was known to be a radio factory. There we see the socially awkward and incredibly arrogant Turing interview for a position with the stern Commander Denniston, played by Charles Dance. He is eventually selected as a member of the group of cryptographers that will attempt to break the Enigma code used by the Nazis to send messages to each other throughout World War II. Among the others selected were Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode, from The Good Wife) and John Cairncross (Allen Leech from Downton Abbey). Keira Knightley delivers a strong performance as Joan Clarke, the only female chosen to help break the code, and for a short time the fiancée of Turing.

The brilliant Turing envisions building a machine to break the code, rather than manually trying to break the code, which changes daily at midnight. His machine will turn out to be the forerunner of our modern day computers.

While Commander Denniston tries to shut down Turing’s work, Turing has a protector in Stewart Menzies, the head of intelligence. Eventually, the arrogant and hard to like Turing, also wins over the other members of his team as they stand up for him in a key spot in the story.

The story about building a machine to break the code, which Turing names “Christopher” after his boyhood friend, is fascinating. That story plays alongside the story of Turing’s homosexuality, which was illegal in England at that time.

We also hear the following quote three times in the film:

“Sometimes, it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one imagines.”

This is a very well made and acted film about important historical events I was not familiar with, perhaps in part because many of the details were kept classified for fifty years. You may be familiar with the “Turing Test”, a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.

In addition to the storyline of Turing’s homosexuality, God’s and Jesus’ names are abused several times.

There is a lot more to this film, but I don’t want to share any more spoilers. The film is worth seeing because of its historical relevance and Cumberbatch’s strong performance.