Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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My Review of FORD V. FERRARI

Ford v. Ferrari, rated PG-13

Ford v. Ferrari is the real-life story of the Ford Motor Company trying to revive their sagging sales by taking on Ferrari in the 24 Hours of Le Mans car race in France. The film is well-made, directed and acted, but has too much adult language to be considered family friendly. The film is directed by Oscar nominee James Mangold (Logan), and written by Jez Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow), John-Henry Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow), and Jason Keller. The film runs a lengthy 152 minutes (but doesn’t seem that long), and had a budget of nearly $100 million.
The sales at the Ford Motor Company are slipping in 1963. Marketing executive Lee Iacocca, played by John Bernthal, comes up with the idea of reviving the company and appealing to young drivers by winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans car race. To facilitate this, Ford attempts to buy out Enzo Ferrari, played by Remo Girone, and his company, which has won four of the past five 24 Hours of Le Mans races.  (SPOILER ALERT*** But just before the deal was to close, Enzo Ferrari pulls out, disagreeing with Ford’s demand to retain control. As a result, the bankrupt Ferrari was bought by Fiat. When the deal falls through, Henry Ford II, played by Tracy Letts (Lady Bird), decides to go to war with Ferrari, with a goal of winning the Le Mans race.***) Continue reading

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My Review of HOSTILES

Hostiles, rated R

Hostiles is a well-acted and beautifully filmed western about two enemies who unexpectedly find themselves on a long, dangerous and uncomfortable journey. Unfortunately, the film is painfully slow, overly long at 134 minutes, and features politically correct messages.
The film is directed by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Black Mass, Out of the Furnace). Cooper wrote the screenplay based on a manuscript by the late Oscar winner Donald E. Stewart (Missing). The landscapes of the west are beautifully captured in the cinematography of Masanobu Takayanagi. The film features a powerful musical score from Emmy nominee Max Richter (Taboo).
The film is set in 1892. United States Cavalry Captain Joseph J. Blocker, played by Oscar winner Christian Bale (The Fighter) has been fighting Comanche, Apache and Cheyenne natives for more than twenty years, and he has a deep hatred for them. But then he is ordered to escort one of his most despised enemies, Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk, played by Wes Studi (The Last of the Mohicans), and his family from New Mexico back to the Chief’s home territory, Valley of the Bears, in Montana. Chief Yellow Hawk is dying of cancer. The President of the United States has determined that he is to return to Montana to be buried, and then his family will be released to a nearby Indian reservation. Blocker initially refuses, but at the threat of a court martial and the loss of his Army pension, he reluctantly agrees.
Blocker sets off on the long journey with Chief Yellow Hawk and his family, as well as his longtime friends Master Sgt. Thomas Metz, played by Rory Cochrane (Argo), Corporal Henry Woodson, played by Jonathan Majors, and a few others. They soon come upon a farmhouse in New Mexico that has been raided by the Comanche, which we had seen in the film’s opening scene. The only survivor is mother/wife Rosalie Quaid, played by Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl). Rosalie joins the group on their journey. On the way, they are attacked numerous times by various enemies.
The film shows how Captain Blocker, Chief Yellow Hawk and the others have to work together to fend off the attacks. Along the way, the group receives a new assignment to pick up Sgt. Charles Wills, played by Ben Foster (Hell or High Water), and transport him to another town where he will be tried for murder.
Content concerns include extreme violence and bloodshed, and some adult language, including a few abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names. Themes include hatred, reconciliation, faith and injustice. Three of the characters in the film are shown to be Christians.
Bale, one of today’s best actors, is excellent as Blocker. Studi solidly portrays the ailing Chief Yellow Hawk and Rosamund Pike is superb as the surviving widow.
Hostiles is a well-acted and beautifully filmed movie that moves along at a painfully slow pace (think of the movie Nebraska). It serves as a “message movie” about how the Native Americans were mistreated.

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My Movie Reviews ~ ‘The Big Short’ and ‘Joy’

The Big ShortThe Big Short, rated R

This superb film is based on Michael Lewis’ (Moneyball) 2010 book and it is directed by Adam McKay, who usually directs comedies starring Will Ferrell (Anchorman, Anchorman 2, Talladega Nights, The Other Guys, etc.). The story is adapted for the screen by McKay and his co-screenwriter Charles Randolph. They could get an Oscar nomination for the script, which includes a good amount of humor in this otherwise serious, stressful and angry film.

The strong cast includes four Oscar winners: Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Marisa Tomei and Brad Pitt, and two Oscar nominees Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling.

The film looks at the 2008 financial crisis which had a $5 trillion impact in the U.S. alone, through the lens of four unorthodox moneymen or Wall Street outsiders – or weirdos as they are referred to – who predicted the consequences of the fraudulent mortgage-lending practices of large banks on Wall Street and made millions as a result. It uses three storylines, starting with Christian Bale, who stars as the socially uncomfortable Michael Burry M.D. (who listens to rock and roll music and goes barefoot in his office) who was one of the first to forecast the collapse of the credit bubble due to excessive subprime lending.

Steve Carell plays Mark Baum (based on Steve Eisman), a money manager who rose to fame after successfully betting against subprime mortgages. He wants to teach the banks and government a lesson. Marisa Tomei plays his wife Cynthia. Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro) are two young investors who are mentored by Ben Rickert, played by Brad Pitt.

The soundtrack includes rocks songs by (Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Guns N’ Roses). The score is by Nicholas Britell. The characters have hairstyles and clothes that attempt to match the period.

The film aims to show viewers that major banks (aided by the media and government), engaged in fraudulent activity and were bailed out by the U.S. government at the expense of the average citizen – and that it could happen again. You won’t find likeable characters in the film or anyone to cheer for as you will in most films. I can’t attest to the accuracy of the film, or how close it was to Lewis’ book, but the acting was superb and this is an overall excellent film, one of my favorites of the year.

The film earns it’s “R” rating for a significant amount of adult language, including several unfortunate abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names along with lots of f bombs, as well as nudity in a scene in a strip club.

The movie uses a lot of financial terminology that I wasn’t familiar with. To help us understand them, the film uses a few cameos (Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain), to address the audience with explanations of the terms. The article “5 Things You Should Know Before You See The Big Short by Ethan Wolff-Mann may also be helpful in explaining the terms.

JoyJoy, rated PG-13

This film, loosely based on the life of Long Island mother Joy Mangano (who is listed as an Executive Producer), stars 25 year-old actress, three time Oscar nominee and winner of Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence as Joy. It is directed by five-time Academy Award nominee David O. Russell (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle), who co-wrote the story with Annie Mumolo. Lawrence joins two-time Oscar winner Robert DeNiro and four-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper, who worked with Russell in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. The film begins with a dedication, a claim that it has been inspired “by stories of daring women everywhere”.

When Joy was a child she was very creative, and loved to make things. Her beloved grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) told her that she was going to have a great future. Indeed, as a teenager she created a fluorescent flea collar to keep pets safe. Joy would go on to become the valedictorian at her high school and was headed to college. That’s when life took a turn for the worse for Joy.

Her parents – Rudy (Robert DeNiro) and Terry (Virginia Madsen) – divorce, and Joy doesn’t go to college, instead staying home to care for her mother and do bookkeeping for her dad’s business. Joy gets married to Tony, who wants to be “the next Tom Jones”, played by Edgar Ramirez. They have two children but then divorce. They are better as friends than they were married, and Tom lives in Joy’s basement, while Terry pretty much stays in her room watching soap operas all day.

Joy works for an airline as a counter agent, and can’t quite make ends meet, as we see their phone service being turned off due to lack of payment. On top of that, Rudy is kicked out by his second wife and takes up residence in the basement, sharing the confined space with Tony, who he has despised since before he and Joy married. Joy also has a troubled relationships with half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm, who also appeared in American Hustle). Talk about a depressing dysfunction junction!

After Rudy meets Trudy (Isabella Rosselini) on a dating site for widows and widowers (he is neither), she takes him and the rest of the family on her husband’s sailboat. When red wine is spilled on the wood deck due to the high waves, Joy tries to clean up the spill amid the broken glass, cutting her hands. This gives her an idea, and leads her back to being the creative little girl, eventually creating a self-wringing mop (Miracle Mop).

Tony uses a past relationship to put her in connection with Neil (Bradley Cooper), an executive producer at QVC, a home shopping TV channel, which is Joy’s big break. But financial trouble and family and business relationships get even more difficult from here on. We see Joy’s perseverance, despite Rudy and Trudy telling her to just pack it in and give up on her dreams.  So did going from rags to riches give her joy? No, we won’t spoil it for you!

The film is rated PG-13 for one word uttered by Rudy. It also includes several unfortunate misuses of God’s name.

My wife Tammy really disliked this film, calling it long, plodding and boring. She said it had about enough material for a 30-minute Lifetime movie. She thought good acting and a good real-life story couldn’t ‘clean up’ how poorly this story was portrayed on film. I disagree. The film (as well as Lawrence), has been nominated for Best Film by the Golden Globes in the “Musical or Comedy” category (it is neither). The film isn’t great (as attested to the current Rotten Tomatoes ratings – 58% critics, 61% viewers), but I thought Lawrence’s performance and the incredible true story of Joy Mangano was worth the price of admission. If you see the film, please let us know what you think.

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Movie Review ~ Exodus: Gods and Kings

ExodusExodus: Gods and Kings, rated PG-13
** ½

How I look at this film has a lot to do with my expectations of it. The director of the film, the acclaimed Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Thelma and Louise, all of which he received Oscar nominations for) is an outspoken atheist. So I was certainly not expecting his portrayal of the Exodus story to be biblically accurate. On top of that, Christian Bale’s recent quote about Moses “I think the man was likely schizophrenic and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I ever read about in my life,” didn’t give me much confidence about how Moses would be portrayed. And much like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah from earlier this year, those expectations were met. Given that, how are believers to look at this film? We could choose to stay away from it, or we could see the film and then critically engage with it, knowing that it is not going to be biblically accurate.

First, what I did find was in many ways a well-made and entertaining Hollywood film with a strong cast, including Christian Bale as Moses and the always outstanding Ben Kingsley as Nun. We also see some outstanding special effects, especially around the plagues and the Red Sea scene (more of a low tide than a parting) that only a big budget film ($140 million) can provide. The overall story of the Exodus is in the film, which I would describe as being loosely based on the biblical account. The primary storyline of the film is not necessarily the exodus, but the relationship between Moses, who the Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro) raised as his adopted son, and his own biological son Ramses (Joel Edgerton).

What you may hear about, and also what most concerned me about the film is how our sovereign God was portrayed, beginning with the burning bush scene. In what reminded me of how God is portrayed as a large African American woman in The Shack by William P. Young, God (he is credited as Malak, a Semitic word for angel), is portrayed as a preteen British boy, played by 11 year old Isaac Andrews. Is Malak a messenger, or is he God? He either is God or speaks directly for Him. When asked who he is he responds “I AM”. The character, and thus God, is portrayed as “a self-centered brat” (Gabe Hughes’ review), “a petulant, willful child” (Paul Asay’ review), or as “an impish British schoolboy” (Christy Lemire’s review). Moses and Malak are portrayed as having a contentious relationship throughout the film.

At two and a half hours, the film is much shorter than Cecile B. DeMille’s four hour The Ten Commandments from 1956. As such, the film focuses on the events in the story at the expense of character development. The costumes, jewelry, architecture, etc. that Scott uses in the film were quite good. Scott dedicates the film to his late brother and fellow filmmaker Tony, who committed suicide in 2012.