Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of the movie IN THE HEIGHTS

In The Heights, rated PG-13
*** ½

In The Heights, the first film we have seen in the theatre since early March 2020, is the film version of the popular Broadway musical written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Hamilton. It is about a block in the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York City. I really enjoyed this film, and especially the sense of community and the song and dance scenes.
The film was directed by Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians). The screenplay was written by Quiara Alegría Hudes, based on the Broadway musical by Oscar nominee Lin-Manuel Miranda (Moana). The choreography was by three-time Emmy nominee Christopher Scott (So You Think You Can Dance).
Although we meet a lot of characters from the neighborhood, the film primarily follows the stories of three characters and their dreams. Usnavi, played by Anthony Ramos, who plays the role Miranda did on Broadway, is the owner of a bodega, who dreams of going back to the Dominican Republic to run his father’s beachfront bar. He is close to his dear Abuela, a grandmother figure played by Olga Merediz (who also played the role in the Broadway musical, for which she received a Tony Award nomination). Usnavi employs and mentors Sonny, played by Gregory Diaz IV, who is a “Dreamer”, the son of illegal immigrant parents. Usnavi likes Vanessa, played by Melissa Barrera, who works in a hair and nail salon who dreams of moving downtown to fully pursue her dream of being a fashion designer. Continue reading


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My Review of TOM CLANCY’S WITHOUT REMORSE

Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, rated R
** ½

Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse is a military thriller about a Navy Seal out to avenge the murder of his pregnant wife in the origin story of action hero John Clark. Although entertaining, the film is extremely violent, and at times confusing and unrealistic.
The film is directed by Stefano Sollima, and the screenplay is written by Oscar nominee Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water), and Will Staples, loosely based on a 1993 novel by Tom Clancy.
The film begins with a team of Navy Seals, led by Lt. Commander Karen Greer, played by Jodie Turner-Smith (Queen and Slim), being sent to rescue a CIA operative being held captive in Aleppo, Syria. However, when they get there, the Seals find that it is actually Russian troops holding the man hostage. The extraction proves difficult, but they manage to accomplish it, though not without some Russian soldiers being killed. One of the Seals, John Kelly, played by Emmy nominee Michael B. Jordan (Fahrenheit 451, Fruitvale Station, Creed films, Black Panther), is angry with the hostage’s CIA handler, Robert Ritter, played by Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), who lied to them about the mission. From that point on in the film, you don’t know if Ritter can be trusted, or why he is doing certain things.
Three months later, Kelly is ready to retire from the military and take a security job so that he can spend more time at home. Continue reading


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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 NEWS OF THE WORLD

News of the World, rated PG-13
** ½

News of the World is a slow moving, though beautifully filmed western, which features solid acting performances by Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel. Though the film received four Oscar nominations (sound, production design, original score and cinematography), I found it to be too slow and predictable to recommend.
The film was directed by Oscar nominee Paul Greengrass (United 93), who worked with lead actor Hanks in Captain Phillips. The screenplay is by Oscar nominee Luke Davies (Lion), and is based on the 2016 novel by Paulette Jiles.
The film is set in 1870, a few years after the Civil War. Captain Jefferson Kyle Tidd, played by two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia), is a veteran of three wars, including the Civil War. He is a decent, but lonely man. He speaks of a wife in San Antonio. He rides in a wagon from town to town in Texas dramatically reading from newspapers the latest news of the day to gatherings of people who are willing to pay a dime to hear it.
As he is in transit between towns, he comes across a wagon on its side. He sees a man who has been hung, and he notices a blonde-haired girl running away. Continue reading


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My Review of American Gospel: Christ Crucified

American Gospel: Christ Crucified (unrated)
****

American Gospel: Christ Crucified follows writer and director Brandon Kimber’s 2018 American Gospel: Christ Alone film. Here is my review of that film. Whereas the first film compared and contrasted biblical Christianity with what is referred to as the “prosperity gospel”, the second film looks at biblical Christianity and progressive Christianity.
Like the first film, the second film features interviews (most recorded specifically for the film), as well as video clips of proponents of both biblical Christianity and progressive Christianity. The film effectively uses graphics of scripture passages in particular, to illustrate the issues being discussed. The film touches on a number of topics, with a key one being the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus. Those who support this doctrine point to scripture texts to show that this is a biblical doctrine. Those that oppose the substitutionary atonement of Jesus refer to the doctrine as a form of “cosmic child abuse”. Continue reading


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My Review of NOMADLAND

Nomadland, rated R 
** ½

This film recently won Golden Globe awards for Best Motion Picture Drama and Chloé Zhao (The Rider), won for Best Director-Motion Picture. The film features an outstanding performance by two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Fargo). The film also features some wonderful cinematography, with multiple landscape scenes of the American West by Joshua James Richards (The Rider), and a memorable musical score by Ludovico Einaudi.
The film is based on the 2017 non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder. Many of the characters in the film are non-actors who live on the road. Some of those who are in the book show up in the film as well, playing themselves.
We learn that the USG sheetrock plant in Empire, Nevada went out of business in early 2011, after 88 years. At the time, USG employed about 100 of the 300 residents of Empire. In a scene late in the film, Fern returns to Empire, walking through her former home and the abandoned plant. Within seven months of the plant closing, the town had lost its zip code. Both Fern (Frances McDormand, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama for her performance), and her husband, who died of cancer, had worked at the plant. Fern has now lost her home. The film begins and ends during the holidays, with Fern singing “What Child is This?” and wishing people a happy new year. Fern takes off in her van to work a temporary position at an Amazon plant. While there, Fern is living in her van, which she will do during the entire film. She prefers to refer to herself as “houseless”, rather than “homeless”. At Amazon, Fern meets the likeable ponytailed Linda May (who plays herself), who tells her of a community of older van-dwellers led by Bob Wells (who plays himself). Fern then heads to the Arizona community. Continue reading


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My Review of UNHINGED

Unhinged, rated R
*

Unhinged is an intense, but disappointing B-grade thriller, that doesn’t allow its Oscar winning lead actor to do much more than grunt. The film, directed by Derrick Borte, with the script written by Carl Ellsworth, also includes a significant amount of violence and adult language.
The film begins with a bloated Russell Crowe, Oscar winner for Best Actor in Gladiator and also nominated for A Beautiful Mind and The Insider), portraying “The Man”, sitting in his pickup truck in the rain outside of a home with a “For Sale” sign in the front yard. He is sweating and gulping down prescription meds like they were candy, something he does throughout the film. We see him take off his wedding ring. We assume that his ex-wife, and possibly others, are inside the house. Eventually, he gets out of the car, kills all inside and sets the house on fire.
The next morning, we see Rachel, a hairdresser played by Caren Pistorius, being awakened by a phone call from her best friend and attorney Andy, played by Emmy nominee Jimmi Simpson (Westworld), who is helping her through a divorce. She is the mother of a young son, Kyle, played by Gabriel Bateman (Child’s Play). Rachel’s brother Fred, played by Austin P. McKenzie, and his girlfriend Mary, played by Juliene Joyner, also are temporarily living in her home. By oversleeping, Rachel misses an appointment with an important client, who then fires her. She also makes Kyle late for school – we assume not for the first time – which will earn him a detention. Continue reading


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My Review of THE LAST FULL MEASURE

The Last Full Measure, rated R
***

This film is inspired (some of the characters and plotline are fictionalized), by the true story of a Vietnam War hero, and the years long quest to get him the prestigious Congressional Medal of Honor decoration for his actions, which saved as many as sixty lives, during what was known as “Operation Abilene”. The film, rated “R” for war violence and adult language, and featuring an all-star cast, was written and directed by Emmy winner Todd Robinson (The Legend of Billy the Kid). The film’s title is taken from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, where Lincoln talks about those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, “from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion.”
William Pitsenbarger, known as “Pits”, is played by Jeremy Irvine (War Horse). “Pits” was a U.S. Air Force pararescue medic. He flew more than 250 rescue missions during the Vietnam War. On April 11, 1966, his day off, he volunteered to board one of two Kaman HH-43F Huskie helicopters dispatched to extract a half-dozen or so wounded soldiers pinned down in a firefight near Cam My, a rural area of Vietnam located 35 miles east of Saigon. When his helicopter arrived over the battle during “Operation Abilene”, he was lowered through the trees to treat the men injured during the brutal attack on the ground. But rather than returning to the helicopter to leave the scene, he chose to stay, and was subsequently killed in the battle. Continue reading


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My Review of ARCTIC

Arctic, rated PG-13
***

With theatres closed and no new films to watch, my wife and I have taken the opportunity to watch some recent films that we had missed. One of those was Arctic, a film that focuses on a single character and includes minimal dialogue. The film is directed by Joe Penna in his feature film directorial debut, and written by Penna and Ryan Morrison. The film was shot in Iceland and had a budget of approximately $2 million.
Overgård, played by Mads Mikkleson (Hannibal), is stranded in the Arctic tundra after his Antonov An-2 plane crashed there. We don’t know the circumstances of the crash, nor how long he has been there. Living in his plane, Overgård has settled into a systematic daily routine – fishing for his food, creating and recreating (as the fierce winds cover it over) a large S.O.S. in the snow, and cranking a radio system to send a signal that would alert would-be rescuers. He stays on task with these activities by an alarm on his watch. Continue reading


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My Review of I STILL BELIEVE

I Still Believe
** ½

I Still Believe, new on home video, is based on the true story of Contemporary Christian Music artist Jeremy Camp’s relationship with Melissa Henning. It is a story of sacrificial love, disappointment, suffering, loss and hope. The film was directed by the Erwin Brothers, Andrew and Jon (I Can Only Imagine, Mom’s Night Out, October Baby). The film was written by Jon Erwin and Jon Gunn (The Case for Christ).
The film opens at the Camp home in Lafayette, Indiana. Jeremy, played by K.J. Apa (Riverdale) is getting ready to leave for college, leaving behind his parents Tom, a pastor who drives a Pizza King car played by Oscar nominee Gary Sinese (Forrest Gump), and Terry, played by country music artist Shania Twain and his two younger brothers. They give him a beautiful new guitar just before he boards the bus for his California college.
On Jeremy’s first night on campus he attends a concert by Jean-Luc, played by Nathan Parsons (General Hospital). Jeremy sneaks backstage before the concert and introduces himself to the artist, and asks him for advice on how to “make it” in the music industry. This leads Jean-Luc to ask him to tune his guitar. That night, when bringing a guitar on stage, Jeremy sees Melissa Henning, played by Britt Robertson (TomorrowlandThe Space Between Us) in the audience. He seeks her out after the show. Continue reading