Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of SPIDER-MAN:  FAR FROM HOME

Spider-Man: Far from Home, rated PG-13
*** ½

Spider-Man: Far from Home is an entertaining sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming, and the 23rd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film includes comedy, romance and some of the usual Marvel action/violence, along with some relatively light adult language.
The film is directed by Jon Watts (Spider-Man: Homecoming), and written by Emmy nominee Chris McKenna (Community, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), and Emmy nominee Erik Sommers (American Dad!, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle). The film had a budget of approximately $160 million.
The film picks up after the end of Avengers: Endgame. Peter Parker, played by Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming) is mourning the loss of his mentor Tony Stark/Iron Man who died at the end of Avengers: Endgame. Peter’s aunt May, played by Oscar winner Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny) hosts a benefit for the those returning from “the Blip”, Thanos’ finger snap of destruction that eliminated half of the population. They have returned five years later, just as they were, but everyone else has aged five years.
Peter is hoping to just be your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man by night, and a normal high school student in Queens by day along with his best friend Ned, played by Jacob Batalon (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers). Peter is excited about a trip with his science class to Europe, where he plans to tell M.J., played by Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Greatest Showman) his feelings for her. Peter doesn’t even pack his Spider-Man suit for the trip. Continue reading

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My Review of YESTERDAY

Yesterday, rated PG-13
***

Yesterday is an entertaining summer romantic comedy, but it does include some content issues. The film is directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) and the screenplay is written by Oscar nominee Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and Funeral, Love Actually).
Jack, played by British actor Himesh Patel in his feature film debut, a former teacher, is a struggling musician when he’s not stocking shelves in a retail store.  He usually plays to very small audiences, and has just played his last concert, a disaster, in Suffolk, and is ready to give up on his career short of a miracle.  His manager when she’s not a high school teacher, longtime friend, roadie, and only fan is Ellie, played by Lily James (Downton Abbey, Cinderella, Mama Mia! Here We Go Again), tells him that miracles can happen.
On his way home that night, there is a 12 second worldwide blackout. During the global blackout, Jack on his bike is hit by a bus. He is injured and wakes up in the hospital, with his face bruised and cut and his two front teeth missing. Ellie tells him that the accident is a message from God.
When Jack plays the Beatles song “Yesterday” to Ellie and a few of their friends after he gets out of the hospital, they have never heard it before, and are amazed that Jack wrote it. Jack insists that it was written by the Beatles. Jack soon realizes that since the blackout nobody has any recollection of the Beatles (or Coke, Harry Potter or cigarettes for that matter). We see him search the internet and find no reference to the band, or John, Paul, George or Ringo. He decides to take advantage of this, and he fills his bedroom walls with Post-It notes of every Beatles song that he can remember, and frantically tries to remember as many lyrics as possible. Then, he begins to play the Beatles’ songs, taking credit for writing them. Continue reading


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My Review of TOY STORY 4

Toy Story 4, rated G
****

Nine years after the excellent Toy Story 3, the much-loved Toy Story series gets possibly its final chapter in this pleasing and heartfelt film, which is one of my favorite movies of the year thus far. I recommend the film for all ages, with the exception of very young children who could be frightened at times.
The film is directed by Oscar nominee Josh Cooley (Inside Out) in his directorial debut. The screenplay is written by two-time Oscar winner Andrew Stanton (WALL-E, Finding Nemo), and Stephany Folsom. There are many credits for the original story, including Oscar winner John Lasseter (Toy Story), in his last project with Pixar. The film had a budget of approximately $200 million.
The film opens 9 years ago, and we see how Bo Peep, voiced by Golden Globe nominee Annie Potts (Corvette Summer) became separated from the other toys. We then see Andy, voiced by John Morris, giving the rest of the toys to Bonnie, voiced by Madeleine McGraw. Woody, voiced by two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia) is dealing with the fact that he is no longer the top toy, as we see Bonnie playing more with the other toys. When Bonnie has her orientation day for kindergarten, Woody sneaks into her backpack to look after her. At school, we see Bonnie, with Woody’s help, create Forky, voiced by two-time Emmy winner Tony Hale (Veep). Forky is made out of a spork, with popsicle stick feet, pipe cleaner arms. He feels that he is trash and thus belongs in a trash can. Fortunately, Woody, looking for purpose, continually rescues him from the trash.
We then see Bonnie and her family leave in an RV for a one-week vacation between the orientation and the start of kindergarten. Again, Woody has to rescue Forky, who jumps out of the RV. As they walk along the road, Woody tells Forky about the responsibility and loyalty of toys to their owners, and that each toy has a purpose.
While they try to catch up with Bonnie and her parents, Woody and Forky pass an antique shop, and Woody sees Bo Peep’s lamp inside the window of the shop. They enter into the shop and encounter some ventriloquist dolls that will be frightening for young children. They also encounter Gabby Gabby, voiced by six-time Emmy nominee Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), resulting in Forky being captured. As Woody goes to get help, he runs into Bo Peep at an amusement park. Later, Buzz Lightyear, voiced by Emmy winner Tim Allen (Home Improvement), leaves the RV to go search for Woody.
Will Buzz be able to find Woody? Will Forky be rescued? What about Bo Peep? Continue reading


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My Review of THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM

The Biggest Little Farm, rated PG
****

The Biggest Little Farm is a delightful documentary from John Chester about his wife Molly’s dream to own and operate an environmentally friendly, traditional farm. Back in 2010, the Chesters lived in a small apartment in Santa Monica, California. John was a cameraman, working on documentary films, and Molly was a chef and organic food blogger. Molly had long dreamed of living on a farm and cooking what they grew on the farm. The Chesters adopted a rescue dog (Todd), but he barked all day long, resulting in complaints from neighbors, and eventually the Chesters being evicted from their apartment.
This was their opportunity to leave the urban life and buy a farm, but they had no money. They shared their vision with others, and eventually got investors, though the film does not tell us who they were or how much they funded the effort. It was enough for the Chesters to purchase and develop Apricot Lane Farms, a 200-acre farm, located in Moorpark, California, about an hour from Los Angeles.
What they found when they started to develop the farm however was that the soil was lacking in nutrients, and not conducive to building a thriving farm. They decided to hire an expert in this area, the rather eccentric, but likeable, Alan York. York told them that they needed to bring life back into the soil, with worms, cover crops, compost, etc. Then they needed to diversify what they planted on the farm, and they did, eventually ending up with about 10,000 orchard trees and over 200 different crops. The Chesters did not have any farming experience, but hired two men, one who had worked on the farm through five owners. In addition, many came to the farm to help from around the world in response to Molly’s internet pleas. Unfortunately, York, their mentor, died from cancer about halfway through their journey.
The film takes us year by year over eight years with the Chesters and the farm. We eventually see the land transformed from the dry barren farm we see in the beginning to a lush green thriving sustainable farm. In addition to Todd, we see many animals – chickens, Emma the pig and her best friend Mr. Greasy the rooster, sheep, sheep dogs, owls, etc. added to the farm, along with some unwanted animals – coyotes, snakes, starlings, gophers, etc. Interestingly, many of those animals that they believed to be hurting them, actually ended up helping them. We also see how the land is refreshed through death. Life (we see newborn piglets and sheep), coming through death is a theme in the film. Other themes are pursuing your dreams and hard work. Content concerns are minimal. We do see a number of dead animals, primarily chickens, as a result of disease and the coyotes.
We also see the Chesters deal with drought, California winds, wildfires and an 18-inch rain that washed away much of the good soil from their neighbors, but not theirs, due to their cover crops. The Chesters started out wanting to bring harmony to their lives and be in harmony with nature, and ended up in what they refer to is a comfortable disharmony with nature.
Today, Apricot Lane Farms is a successful business, supplying produce to some of Los Angeles’ finest restaurants. Their eggs sell out as soon as they are put on sale.
The documentary is beautifully filmed. For example, I enjoyed seeing close up slow-motion scenes of hummingbirds. It also includes some helpful animated sequences. The film, which includes some humor, is directed and narrated by Emmy winner John Chester (Super Soul Shorts), who wrote the film with Mark Monroe.
The Biggest Little Farm is a beautifully filmed documentary about John and Molly Chester’s environmentally friendly farm in California, and one of the best films I’ve seen this year.


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My Review of ALADDIN

Aladdin, rated PG
***

Aladdin is an enjoyable live action remake of the 1992 animated Disney film that starred Robin Williams as the Genie. The new film is directed by Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes), and the screenplay is written by Ritchie and John August (Big Fish). The film includes songs from the original version written by eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid), and two-time Oscar winner Howard Ashman (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid). The film had a budget of approximately $183 million, and runs two hours and eight minutes, or thirty-eight minutes longer than the original.
The film opens with Will Smith as a mariner on a boat in the ocean telling his two young children the story of Aladdin and the Genie. It then takes us to the city of Agrabah, where Aladdin, a poor “street rat” thief, played by Mena Massoud and his small monkey Abu, are walking through the marketplace looking for items to steal. Continue reading


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My Review of TOLKIEN

Tolkien, rated PG-13
*** ½

Tolkien looks at the formative years of the beloved author J.R.R. Tolkien (The Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit). I thoroughly enjoyed this well-made film. It is directed by Finland director Dome Karukoski, in his first English language film, and written by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford (Pride). Of note, the estate and family of Tolkien issued a statement about the film indicating that they wanted to make clear that they did not approve of, authorize, or participate in the making of the film, and do not endorse the film or its content in any way.
The film opens in 1916 on the battlefield in World War I, during the Battle of the Somme in France. John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R.) Tolkien, played by Nicholas Hoult (The Favourite, About a Boy, X-Men films), has come down with a case of trench fever. The rest of the movie is told in flashbacks, with it occasionally coming back to the war, with Tolkien trying to find his friend Geoffrey Smith, played by Anthony Boyle. Continue reading


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My Review of AMAZING GRACE

Amazing Grace (not rated)
****

Amazing Grace is a joyful, uplifting film of Aretha Franklin singing gospel music over two nights in a California church in 1972, when she was 29 years old, and at the height of her popularity.  The resulting album Amazing Grace, would become her best-selling album, and is the overall best-selling gospel album of all time. For the album, Franklin added instruments in the studio and overdubbed some of her vocals. This film represents for the first time her original performances at the church.
The film is produced by two-time Oscar winner Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa) and Alan Elliot, and has an interesting history. When the concert was filmed, Pollack somehow failed to properly synchronize the video (captured with multiple cameras) with the sound through the use of a clapperboard, a common film device.  As a result, the film sat on the shelf, until Alan Elliot worked with a special technical team in 2008, who over a three-week period of time worked to get the approximate 20 hours of film properly synced. After that, another ten years of legal issues, Franklin’s resistance to the film being released, her declining health and eventual death in 2018, kept the film from seeing the light of day. We can be thankful that it has finally been released. Continue reading