Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, rated PG-13
***

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, an exciting action-packed and at times terrifying film, is the sequel to 2015’s Jurassic World and the fifth film in the overall Jurassic Park series. It is the second film in a planned Jurassic World trilogy. The film is directed by J.A. Bayona (The Impossible, A Monster Calls), and is written by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, who also wrote Jurassic World. Trevorrow also directed Jurassic World.  The film had a budget of approximately $170 million and has already made in excess of $372 million in foreign markets.
The film picks up three years after the events that took place in Jurassic World. The Jurassic World theme park on the island of Isla Nublar, located 120 miles from Costa Rica, has been abandoned by humans. A volcano is about to erupt, which will kill off all of the dinosaurs that now live freely on the island.
Dr. Ian Malcolm, the mathematician, again played by Oscar nominee Jeff Goldblum (Little Surprises) is speaking to a congressional committee that is debating whether man should save the dinosaurs or allow them to be killed by the volcano.  Dr. Malcolm advocates for letting the dinosaurs die off naturally.
Claire Dearing, again played by Golden Globe nominee Bryce Dallas Howard (As You Like It) is now running an organization to save the dinosaurs. But the government refuses to intervene to save them.
Claire is then contacted by Eli Mills, played by Rafe Spall (The Big Short, Life of Pi) of the Lockwood Foundation to come to California to meet Benjamin Lockwood, played by Oscar nominee James Cromwell (Babe). Clair is told that John Hammond had begun his experiments to bring dinosaurs back to life in the basement of the estate they are meeting in. The Lockwood Foundation wants to carry on Hammonds work, save the dinosaurs from the volcano and bring them to a new sanctuary that has been created for them.
Mills has a particular interest in Blue, the raptor that Owen Grady had trained. They need Claire to return to the island to help them save the dinosaurs and return them to the sanctuary. She agrees to do so.
Claire finds dinosaur trainer Grady, again played by Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers), and together with newcomers dinosaur veterinarian Zia Rodriguez, played by Daniella Pineda (The Detour, American Odyssey) and the often frightened computer nerd Franklin Webb, played by Justice Smith (The Get Down) they head to the island. Once on the island, they work with Ken Wheatley, played by Ted Levine (The Silence of the Lambs, Monk), and his men who are trying to round up the dinosaurs and remove them from the island. Things get pretty hectic on there as the volcano erupts and the dinosaurs try to evade the lava. Will Clair, Owen and their team be able to safely escape from the island before it is covered in lava? Will they be able to save Blue? And what is the real motivation of Wheatley?
The film gives you about what you would expect – some amazing computer-generated dinosaurs and some stunning action scenes. The film features more dinosaurs than any previous film in the series. Five animatronics were used to depict many of the dinosaurs. The music by Oscar winner Michael Giacchino (Up) is excellent. Isabella Sermon portrays Masie, Lockwood’s granddaughter, and plays a key role in the film.
Themes include teamwork, greed, technology outpacing ethics, animal rights, dishonesty and deception.
Content concerns include a good deal of dinosaur violence, which will be too scary for small children, some adult language, including an abuse of Jesus’ name.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is an exciting, action-packed film with some amazing CGI, a solid cast including the two newcomers, and some humor thrown in for good measure. And don’t forget to sit through the ending credits for a short scene.


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My Review of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

Avengers: Infinity War, rated PG-13
***

Avengers: Infinity War is a movie that has been ten years in the making. This is a big movie in every way, being released on the franchise’s tenth anniversary of the first film, 2008’s Iron Man. The nineteenth film from the Marvel Universe comes with a budget of approximately $300 million, is about 160 minutes long, includes about 64 main characters, and has multiple plotlines. Although the film is well made and entertaining, with a good deal of humor, there is almost too much going on here. We lose some character development to the almost constant action violence battle scenes.
The film is co-directed by Emmy winners Joe Russo and Anthony Russo (Arrested Development, Captain America: Civil War, Captain America: The Winter Soldier).  The film is co-written by Emmy winners Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Captain America: Civil War, Captain America: The Winter Soldier).
The villain in the film is the formidable Thanos from the planet Titan, played by Oscar nominee Josh Brolin (Milk). Thanos is the step-father of Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana (Avatar), one of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Thanos towers over his enemies. He believes that the universe is suffering from over-population. His goal is to destroy half of life in the universe. To do this, he needs to obtain six powerful Infinity Stones, and place them in his large glove. With each stone he gets, he will become more powerful.  If Thanos gets all the stones he will be unstoppable. Thanos is assisted by Ebony Maw, played by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor. The film is about the Avengers trying to keep Thanos from obtaining those stones.
The film includes the Marvel superheroes we’ve been introduced to over the past ten years, as well as some new characters; from Iron Man, played by two-time Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr. (Trophic Thunder, Chaplin) to Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman (Marshall, 42).
The film includes some excellent humor – for example from Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth (12 Strong), continuing to call Rocket Raccoon, voiced by four-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper (American Sniper, American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook), a rabbit, and a great exchange between Thor and Star-Lord, played by Chris Pratt (Jurassic World).
Content issues include a small amount of adult language and like all Marvel films, several intense battles scenes. Themes in the film include the abuse of power, self-sacrifice, perseverance, teamwork, courage, love and friendship.
Avengers: Infinity Wars is a well-made entertaining and intense film that also includes some well-placed humor. The ending may disappoint some viewers, who will have to wait for the next Avengers film, shot at the same time, which will be out in 2019. And with all Marvel films, don’t forget to stay in your seats all the way through the ending credits for a final scene.


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My Review of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, rated PG-13
*** ½

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is visually stunning, funny, surprisingly emotional, and has some great messages about the importance of family. Oh yeah, it has some good action scenes and music as well.  Overall, it’s a lot of fun.
I was pleasantly surprised and really enjoyed the first movie in this Marvel series. If you enjoyed that film you will enjoy this one as well. It is directed by James Gunn, who also directed the first film in 2014. Gunn shares the writing credits with Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, who also wrote the first film. We saw the film in IMAX 3-D so the film was visually spectacular thanks to cinematographer Henry Braham. The IMAX sound system was helpful as the film includes a lot of 1970’s music from Fleetwood Mac, Cat Stevens, Sam Cooke, George Harrison and others.
Filmed in the Atlanta, Georgia area, the film had a budget of about $200 million, and is projected to open this weekend at more than $140 million in the U.S. alone. A third film has already been announced.
The film takes place three months after the end of the first film. As the opening credits roll, Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel, Fate of the Furious) is dancing to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” from the Awesome Mix Part 2, seemingly unaware of the space battle going on behind him. That battle has Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World), and the other Guardians – Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Avatar), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket Racoon (voiced by four-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper) – defending valuable batteries from a monster called the Abilisk for people known as the Sovereign, led by a golden woman Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki, The Night Manager). Their payment is Gamora’s evil sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), who the Guardians plan to turn in for a substantial bounty.
After the Guardians successfully complete their mission, Rocket decides to steal some of the batteries from the Sovereign. Ayesha hires the blue-skinned Ravager Yondu (Michael Rooker), who had abducted Peter from Earth as a child and raised him, to pursue the Guardians and bring them back for punishment.
The Guardians escape, but their ship is badly damaged when they have a crash landing. There they meet Ego (Golden Globe nominee Kurt Russell) who tells Peter that he is his real father, and has been looking for him for years. In ancient Greek “Ego eimi” means “I am”, which is how God identified Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14: God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And He said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
***SPOILER ALERT ***
Ego identifies himself as a god with a “small g”, a celestial. He has his own planet, that he created over millions of years. Peter, Drax and Gamora decide to go with Ego to visit his planet. There they meet Ego’s assistant/companion Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Mantis can read the emotions of others and is even able to change them. She is able to help Ego sleep.
We see Yondu shunned by Stakar Ogord (three-time Oscar nominee Sylvester Stallone), who appears in the film in two brief scenes. Stakar tells Yondu that he has betrayed his people. Then, Yondu’s men rebel against him when they complain that he has gone too easy on Peter. He is imprisoned along with Rocket while they try to get Baby Groot to rescue them. Meanwhile, Ayesha hires Yondu’s men to go after Peter, Drax and Gamora, to kill them. There is a lot going on. To tell you more would reveal spoilers.
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I really enjoyed the characters in this film, how they are developed and interact with each other. The film includes some excellent humor and a lot of fun. The music from the 1970’s is used well, as it was in the first film. Mostly, the film is about family – Peter dealing with two fathers – his biological father Ego, and Yondu, the one who raised him. Then there is the relationship between sisters Gamora and Nebula, and Nebula’s own father issues. And mostly, it shows the Guardians, though they had originally come together by accident, are their own type of family.
I felt that the first half of the film was superior to the second, primarily because the ending scene went on for way too long.  This is certainly not a children’s film, though I did see some young children in the theatre. It includes some adult language, some of which is of a sexual nature, and some of which abuses God’s name. There is a good deal of violence in the space battles as well, which is to be expected.
And, as with all Marvel films, don’t forget to sit all the way through the closing credits, as there are five scenes included throughout the lengthy credits.
The Guardians of the Galaxy will return in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duGqrYw4usE


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My Review of Passengers

passengersPassengers, rated PG-13
** ½  

Though mildly entertaining, and featuring some solid acting performances and visuals, Passengers doesn’t quite live up to the high expectations I had for this film. My recommendation is to save your money on seeing this film in the theatre, and wait for it to come out on video/streaming.

Passengers is directed by Oscar nominee (The Imitation Game) Morten Tyldum and written by Jon Spaihts (Doctor Strange). It features star power in Oscar winner (Silver Linings Playbook) Jennifer Lawrence as the writer Aurora Lane and Chris Pratt (Jurassic World, Guardians of the Galaxy) as the mechanical engineer Jim Preston. The film had an estimated budget of $110 million. Of that, Lawrence reportedly was paid $20 million and Pratt $12 million. However, reports were that reshoots for the film were scheduled as late as October, just two months before release, to correct story elements that were not working.

**SPOILER ALERT**

The film tells us about the Starship Avalon, which is transporting 5,259 people (5,000 passengers and 259 crew members), on a 120-year voyage from an overcrowded Earth to a distant planet known as the Homestead Colony. As the ship goes through a severe meteor shower just 30 years into the voyage, the ship is jarred and Preston’s hibernation pod is opened. (Note: the hibernation pods reminded me of those featured in the television series Wayward Pines).  We see Jim awake, and slowly realize that something has gone terribly wrong. He is the only one on the ship who is awake, and he has awoken nearly 90 years too early. We can feel his utter loneliness and helplessness as he wanders around the ship and even outside of it for more than a year, at one point contemplating suicide, as he realizes he will not be alive when the ship reaches its destination. We see his appearance deteriorate. His only companion is Arthur, an android bartender, my favorite character in the film, played by Michael Sheen (The Queen).

Jim then notices the beautiful Aurora asleep in her pod. As he begins to find out more about her by watching her videos, he longs to spend time with her. He is so lonely that he contemplates waking her up. He knows exactly what that would mean to her, and he seriously battles with that moral dilemma. But then we see him give in to the loneliness, and make the decision to wake her up.

But Jim isn’t honest with Aurora about why she woke up. We see their relationship grow, inevitably leading to them having sex a few times. We also see them work together to address mechanical issues that arise on the ship. The only other human that wakes up is Gus Mancuso, Oscar nominee (What’s Love Got to Do With It) Lawrence Fishburne.

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The film included some good, though not great visuals, especially the exterior views of the ship as it continued on its 120 year journey to the Homestead Colony. We saw the film in 3D, and though I didn’t feel it added much to the experience (except the additional $3 to the ticket price), there was one very impressive scene with a swimming pool when gravity was suspended.

The acting in the film was good. Pratt did an excellent job of portraying loneliness and hopelessness. It shows what Genesis 2:18 states “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

Lawrence, already a four-time Oscar nominee at age 26, brought her usual strong performance. The film includes some nudity (Pratt, when he is alone on the ship), and some sexual content. There is minimal adult language included, which was refreshing for a PG-13 film. The film in addition to the themes of loneliness, helplessness and disappointment, also shows self-sacrifice, courage and love.


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THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

the-magnificent-sevenThe Magnificent Seven, rated PG-13
** ½

This film is a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1960 film starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, which was actually a remake of Kurosawa’s 1954 film Seven Samurai. This version is directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer), and written by Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk. It features a new rendition of the familiar Elmer Bernstein theme music as the closing credits roll. This was two-time Oscar winner James Horner’s (Titanic) final score before his death in June, 2015.

The film is set in the western town of Rose Creek in 1879. This was a time when the local church was still a prominent place in town. The film contains a surprising amount of Christian content (church, preacher, dialogue).

Corrupt industrialist Bartholomew Bogue, (well-played by Peter Sarsgaard) is wanting to take over Rose Creek because of the valuable mines located in the town, and is only offering the townspeople pennies on the dollar for their land. As the film opens, we see him burn down the church and murder several people, including the husband of Emma Cullen (played by Haley Bennett). Cullen is looking to avenge her husband’s death and save Rose Creek, so with her life’s savings she seeks out Sam Chisolm (played by two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington in his first western film).  Chisolm is a man of justice, a bounty hunter, who dresses all in black and rides a black horse.

Chisolm then recruits six others to help defend Rose Creek from Bogue and his men. He first recruits Josh Faraday, (played by Chris Pratt of Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World). His repeated line in the film “So far, so good”, was also used by Steve McQueen’s character in the 1960 film.

We then meet sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheauz (played by four-time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke), who suffers from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, and his right-hand man Billy Rocks (played by Byung-hun Lee), who is deadly with blades. Chisolm lets Mexican outlaw Vasquez (played by Manuel Garcia-Fulfo) live, and he becomes one of the seven. Next, Chisolm adds Comanche warrior Red Harvest (played by Martin Sensmeier) who is deadly accurate with a bow and arrow. The final member of the Magnificent Seven is the bear-like trapper Jack Horne (played by Vincent D’Onofrio), who has a bible verse for each new victim he kills.

The Seven know that the odds are against them, as Bogue will bring many more fighting men than they have. They try their best to train the townspeople how to shoot rifles and use warfare tactics which leads to some humorous results. One of my favorite parts of the film was seeing the strategic steps the Seven take to protect their undermanned town.

But there is little character development in this film, as the emphasis is on gun-fighting. Washington, one of our finest actors and long one of my favorites, is under-utilized in this role. The emphasis on action and lack of character development reminded me of this summer’s Jason Bourne starring Matt Damon. I would have liked Fuqua to give us the back-story of each of the characters and more character interaction and a little less of the gun-fighting scenes.

The film is rated PG-13 for extreme gun-fighting violence with dozens killed, and some adult language including several abuses of God’s name. It had a budget of about $95 million and took the top spot domestically with $35 million in its opening weekend. Overall, I felt that the film was entertaining, but nothing special considering the cast assembled, and also a bit long at 132 minutes.