Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of JUST MERCY

Just Mercy, rated PG-13
****

Just Mercy is a powerful and emotional film about the work of Bryan Stevenson, based on his book “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption”.  (I would highly recommend the book. Here is my review).
The film is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, The Glass Castle), who also wrote the film with Andrew Lanham (The Glass Castle, The Shack), based on Stevenson’s book.
Emmy nominee Michael B. Jordan (Fahrenheit 451, Black Panther, Fruitvale Station), portrays Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who has just graduated from Harvard Law School. Rather than taking a position with a large law firm, which is what his mother would have wanted, he has a desire to help the poor. He moves to Alabama in 1988 to start the Equal Justice Initiative, where he works with local advocate Eva Ansley, played by Oscar winner Brie Larson (Room, Captain Marvel, The Glass Castle, Short Term 12) in a relatively small role. Stevenson visits the Holman State Prison in Monroeville, Alabama, the home of Harper Lee, author of the book “To Kill a Mockingbird”. He meets six men on death row, one of whom is Walter “Johnny D” McMillian, played by Oscar winner Jamie Foxx (Ray, Collateral).  He was convicted of murdering a young white woman, even though there were two dozen witnesses who indicate that they were with him, or saw him, during the time of the murder, and thus he could not have been the killer. But Walter was found guilty by a jury of 11 white men and one black man, based on the testimony of convicted criminal Ralph Myers, played by Tim Blake Nelson (O, Brother, Where Art Thou?). Stevenson is interested in helping McMillian, but Walter is suspicious of lawyers who take the money his family pays them and are never seen again. Stevenson will have to first of all, win over Walter as well as his family. Then, he will have to work through the systemic racism and corruption he encounters in law enforcement and the justice system in Monroe County.
In the prison cells on either side of Walter on Death Row are Anthony Ray Hinton, played by O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Straight Outta Compton) and Herbert Richardson, played by Rob Morgan (Mudbound). Note: Hinton has written an excellent book “The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row”. Here is my review).
The film includes a significant amount of Christian content (prayer, a church scene, hymns). Themes in the film include injustice, racism, faith and faithfulness, corruption and mercy. Content concerns include some adult language, including language of a racist nature. The music in the film by Joel P. West (Short Term 12), is effective. The film features strong performances by Foxx and Jordan. The film moves along relatively slowly and is dialogue based, but that is not a criticism.
Just Mercy is a powerful film based on the true-life story of Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who specializes in defending people on Death Row. The film is emotional and at times heart breaking. This is an important film that you need to see.


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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 Glass Castle 

The Glass Castle, rated PG-13
*** 

The Glass Castle is a well-acted film based on a popular book that tells the story of a daughter’s life-long relationship with her troubled father.
This film is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12), who also writes the screenplay with Andrew Lanham, and is based on Jeannette Walls’ best-selling 2005 book The Glass Castle: A Memoir. Told from Jeannette’s perspective, this is the true story about her family on the run from the government and bill collectors, and often hiding in small towns and living in poverty.  The book has had a profound impact on readers, with in excess of 6,000 user reviews on Amazon, and as I write this, it is the sixth best-selling book on the Amazon Non-Fiction chart. I recently heard of someone who re-read the book twice in one day before seeing the film.  As I went into the movie, I wondered why a book and film about family dysfunction had resonated so much with people.
The film stars Oscar winner Brie Larson (Room) as the adult Jeannette Walls.  Younger versions of Jeannette are portrayed by Chandler Head and Ella Anderson. Jeannette’s siblings are portrayed by Lori (Sara Snook), Brian (Josh Caras) and Maureen (Bridgette Lundy-Paine). Two-time Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson powerfully portrays Jeannette’s alcoholic father Rex, and two-time Oscar nominee Naomi Watts stars as Jeannette’s mother Rose Mary. The film’s title refers to the dream house that Rex was always promising to build for his family, with hopes for a better life.   
The film is told from Jeannette’s perspective, and focuses on her relationship with her father. As the film begins, we see her as a successful New York gossip columnist who is engaged to David (Max Greenfield), a successful financial advisor. The film moves back and forth between her childhood memories of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and her life in New York in 1989. We see her shame and resentment for how she was raised. Much of the blame is given to her father, but her mother was no innocent party to the dysfunction.    Everyone in the film seems to be wounded and broken.
Rex has strong opinions on racism, hypocrisy, capitalism, etc. We see how his alcoholism hurts his children. Rose Mary is a free-spirit, who is consumed with her painting. Rex and Rose Mary care deeply about independence and freedom, and are not very good parents, though in their own way they do love their children. Some pleasant times are depicted. However, they don’t provide the children a formal education, at times the children go days without food, and perhaps their biggest sin is exposing their children to Rex’s mother, their horrid grandmother Erma, played Robin Bartlett.
Harrelson delivers a powerful performance as Rex. He is depicted at times as brilliant, and other times as delusional, deceptive and mean, breaking his promises to his children, in particular Jeannette. He is always searching for the demon out there, but too late realizes that the demon is actually within himself.  Larson is outstanding as the older Jeannette, who as an adult is trying to distance herself from her parents and her upbringing, making a new life in New York City.  Anderson delivers a powerful performance as the young Jeannette, who loves her father, but is disappointed when he can’t overcome his alcoholism and the devastating impact it has on their family.
This is a well-acted film, but not an easy one to watch. If you are looking for a “feel good” film, this is not the one for you. Themes in the film include love, family dysfunction, sexual and other forms of abuse, alcoholism and broken promises. The film includes some violence, adult language, some swear words, abuses of God’s name, and sexuality, though nothing explicit is shown. The film may resonate with those who have also experienced dysfunctional family relationships, in particular women with their fathers, and is a story of children able to “rise above their raising”.


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Movie Review ~ Room

RoomRoom, rated R
****

This film is based on Emma Donoghue’s 2010 book Room: A Novel, which according to the author is not based on any specific real-life case. Donoghue also wrote the screenplay. In many ways, this is a story of a mother “Ma” (or Joy), played by Brie Larson, and her five year old son Jack, played by Jacob Tremblay.

The film is directed by Lenny Abrahamson and has been nominated for four Oscars (Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Writing and Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published), Larson has already won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama. This is one of the better films we have seen recently, right up there with The Big Short, Spotlight and The Martian.

Room is the story of “Ma” who was kidnapped at age 17 by “Old Nick” (which throughout history has at times been a name used for the devil), played by Sean Bridgers. Since then, she has been imprisoned in a small (about 11’ x 11’) shed on “Old Nick’s” property in suburban Ohio for seven years. Ma gave birth to Jack during this period and has tried to escape at least once. The film is seen primarily through Jack’s eyes.

As the film begins, Jack is celebrating his fifth birthday. In those five years, he has never been outside of “Room”. His only outside connection is with an old television set that gets poor reception and a small skylight. In Room we also see a few tables, a bathtub, bed, toilet, pictures and books. Ma has taught him how to read and about a world she wants him to know, not all of which is true. Ma still breastfeeds Jack. To Jack, Room is reality and TV is make believe. Despite their terrible circumstances, he seems genuinely happy (he knows no other life), and has a very close relationship with his mother.

“Old Nick” comes by in the evenings to bring them groceries and to rape Ma, while Jack hides in the closet, pretending to be asleep. We don’t see the rapes, and only slightly hear the bed creaking.

Jack has never seen “Old Nick”, but one night he comes out and looks at him sleeping in the bed with Ma. When “Old Nick” wakes up and wants to touch Jack, Ma starts screaming and lashing out at “Old Nick”, who then grabs her by the throat, badly bruising it. To punish her, he turns off the power to the shed, to the point that Jack can see his breath in the air.

Seeing that “Old Nick” is getting increasingly dangerous, Ma begins to think of how she can get Jack out of Room. She also begins to tell Jack more about the real world that he doesn’t know even exists. Jack struggles to understand and believe that there is a world outside of Room.

To tell you any more about the plot would ruin it for you. Suffice to say, Larson, and even more so the now 9 year old Tremblay, deliver incredible performances     here. I felt that this was an incredibly powerful film experience.

The film is rated “R” for adult language and themes included such as sexual slavery, depression, suicide and physical and psychological struggles. It includes abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names. Despite the themes included in the film, it is a touching story of a mother and her young son. Still, it is a film best suited for mature teens and adults.