Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


Leave a comment

My Review of FERDINAND

Ferdinand, rated PG
***

This Golden Globe nominated animated film is a family-friendly treat that includes some positive messages. It is directed by Oscar nominee Carlos Saldanha (Gone Nutty, Rio, Ice Age), and is based the classic 1936 picture book The Story of Ferdinand, written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson. Both Adolf Hitler and Francisco Franco banned the book about a bull who doesn’t want to fight, while Gandhi and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt admired it. Walt Disney produced a short film version in 1938.
The new film has already received Golden Globe nominations for best animated picture and best original song.
As a young calf in Spain, Ferdinand (voiced by Colin H. Murphy), is different from the others. He doesn’t participate in the games that the rest of his peers do. He doesn’t want to grow up to be a fighting bull. Instead, he just loves to smell flowers, his favorite being red carnations. Then, when his father doesn’t return after being chosen to fight against a matador, Ferdinand realizes he has been killed. He then escapes from the bull ranch, eluding his pursuers. He eventually finds himself at a flower farm. Nina (young Nina voice by Julia Scarpa Saldanha and older Nina voiced by Lily Day), a young girl and her father adopt him as a pet. We see him sleeping in Nina’s bed and eventually grows into a large, but loving, bull. Although people are frightened of him, Ferdinand is in reality just a very nice bull, a gentle giant with a big heart.
One day Ferdinand goes to the local flower festival with Nina. While there however, he gets stung by a bee and as he reacts, he does an incredible amount of damage to the flower festival and the town in general. Because he is a large bull, he is mistaken as a dangerous beast, and as a result, he is returned to the same bull-fighting training ranch in Madrid that he had escaped from.
Ferdinand is voiced by wrestling star John Cena. Lupe, an ugly and funny goat voiced by Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live), designates herself as his trainer on how to fight as a bull. But Ferdinand has no interest in fighting, even though that is what is expected of a bull. Ferdinand’s bull peers are Valiente (Bobby Cannavale), Bones (Anthony Anderson), Guapo (Peyton Manning, future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback), and a Scottish Highland bull Angus (David Tennant, Dr. Who, Broadchurch).
Ferdinand realizes that if he doesn’t escape back to his family, he will either die in the arena or be sent to the chop house (slaughterhouse). So, he decides to put together a team to help him escape led by three hedgehogs voiced by Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs and Gabriel Iglesias.
John Powell (Ice Age, Rio, Horton Hears a Who!), provides the music for the film.
This funny film includes a lot of positive messages about respect, kindness, teamwork and staying true to yourself.
Listen to Golden Globe nominated song “Home” in this trailer for the film:

Advertisements


Leave a comment

My Review of LAST FLAG FLYING

Last Flag Flying, rated R
**

Last Flag Flying features a strong cast, an Oscar nominated director, and had great promise, but ultimately doesn’t deliver on that promise. It was extremely slow and has a significant amount of adult language. It was a HUGE missed opportunity for it to be a great film.  The film was directed by five-time Oscar nominee Richard Linklater (Boyhood). Linklater and Golden Globe nominee Darryl Ponicsan (Cinderella Liberty) wrote the screenplay based on Ponicsan’s novel, which was a sequel to his novel The Last Detail. The movie was filmed in and around the Pittsburgh area.
As the film begins, it is 2003.We see Larry “Doc” Shepherd, played by Oscar nominee Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) walk into Sal’s bar in Norfolk, Virginia,owned by Sal Nealon, played by Oscar nominee Bryan Cranston (Trumbo). The depressing bar is past its better days, and only has one customer. Nealon is an alcoholic and has a vulgar mouth, some of his language being of a sexual nature.  Sal doesn’t recognize Doc initially. The two served as Marines together thirty years earlier in Vietnam, but hadn’t seen each other since. These days, Doc works for the Navy. The next morning, Doc asks if they can take a drive, and they end up at a church, clearly not a destination that Sal is happy about, or familiar with. However when they enter, Sal is surprised to see that the pastor is his old Vietnam buddy Richard Mueller, played by Oscar nominee Laurence Fishburne (What’s Love Got to Do with It?).
The three old friends enjoy reminiscing over a meal at the Mueller home, prepared by Richard’s wife Ruth, played by Deanna Reed-Foster (Chicago Fire). It’s then that Doc, who lost his wife Mary to breast cancer earlier in the year, tells them he had just been notified that his 21-year old son Larry Jr., also a Marine, was killed in action in Baghdad, Iraq. He has sought them out so that they might travel with him to pick up his son’s body, which will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Sal immediately agrees to Doc’s request, but Richard, while fine with connecting with Doc and Sal, declines. Being with his former buddies reminds him of a dark and painful period in his life when he was known as Mueller the Mauler. He now walks with a cane due to a badly injured knee from the war and admits to being a recovering alcoholic. But his wife Ruth wisely tells him that he needs to go with Doc and Sal to support Doc during his time of need. Reluctantly, he agrees to go, which we’re glad for, because he’s a good Christian foil in this film.

***SPOILER ALERT***
We see the three drive initially to Arlington, but then realize that Doc’s son’s body will arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware; so off they go. Doc is told by Colonel Wilits, played by Yul Vazquez (American Gangster), that his son died as a hero, and with honor while serving his country. As he mourns, Sal and Richard find out the truth from Lance Corporal Washington, played by J. Quinton Johnson, Doc’s son’s best friend who had escorted the body home. Doc’s son didn’t actually die in battle. Rather, he was shot and killed at a public market by an Iraqi insurgent when they went to buy soft drinks during their mission of moving supplies for Iraqi schools.
Sal decides that Doc needs to know the truth. As a result, Doc decides that his son will not be buried at Arlington in his Marine uniform. Instead, he will take him back home to be buried, and he will wear his graduation suit. Eventually the body is loaded first into a rented van and then onto a train, and we follow the three reunited friends and Washington on the trip back home. On the way back to New Hampshire, they make a stop in Boston to visit with the mother of a former Marine. While on the train, we see a few moments of what we have expected, the former marines humorously reminiscing about their time thirty years earlier, though some of this is done in a crude and vulgar manner.
*************************

Understandingly, Doc is somber and soft-spoken during most of the film. The script doesn’t allow Carell much flexibility. Cranston’s Sal is consistently vulgar, but we see that he truly cares for Doc and also the mother of the former Marine. Fishburne’s Richard, never seems comfortable with his former Marine friends, and is always on the verge of heading back home. However, he does an excellent job representing a Christian pastor, especially when tempted to enter into his old ways by Sal.    J. Quinton Johnson is a pleasant surprise in his portrayal of Washington.
The film wants you to see the three friends from long ago bond together, but I never felt that fully developed. There are some regrets and guilt from their time in Vietnam, and we are told that Doc served two years in prison, but that is not fully explained even though it’s an important event.
The film is rated R for a significant amount of adult language, including many abuses of God’s and Jesus’s names, and much of the language being of a sexual nature. The film ends with Bob Dylan’s excellent “Not Dark Yet” playing over the ending credits. Themes in the film are regret, shame, guilt, honesty, faith and friendship.  We really enjoyed the humor in this film.
The film, with its fine cast and director, had great potential, but overall is one of missed opportunities. This emotional film is extremely slow, and overly long at 125 minutes. It never developed the characters – you really wanted to feel like you were tagging along on this journey of old friends reminiscing and talking about difficult subjects such as war, death, heaven and faith.  Instead you couldn’t wait to get off the train.  The foul language will keep many people of faith away, and the boring plodding of the film will keep others from even renting it.


Leave a comment

My Review of THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, rated R
***

This is a well-written and acted film featuring a strong cast, but has significant content issues. It is written and directed by Martin McDonagh, two-time Oscar nominee, and winner for the short film Six Shooter.
Frances McDormand, four-time Oscar nominee and winner for Fargo, portrays Mildred Hayes, a recently divorced mother whose teenage daughter was brutally raped and murdered seven months earlier. Mildred lives in Ebbing, Missouri (though the movie was actually filmed primarily in Sylva, a small mountain town in western North Carolina), with her teenage son Robbie, played by Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea). Her ex-husband Charlie, played by Oscar nominee John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone), now lives with a nineteen-year old girlfriend.
Mildred is furious with the local police for their lack of progress on her daughter’s case. She decides to rent three abandoned billboards on a rarely traveled road near her home on the outskirts of the town for the purpose of shaming popular Police Chief Willoughby, played by two-time Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson (The Messenger) and his staff, for what she perceives as their ineptness on her daughter’s case. She works with Red Welby, played by Caleb Landry Jones, at the local advertising agency to rent the billboards. Welby’s character will play a significant role in the film.
The billboards become a controversy in the town when the local television station does an interview with Mildred.  A Catholic priest named Father Montgomery, played by Nick Searcy, visits the Hayes home and tells Mildred that he has taken a poll and most folks in the town are against the billboards, and that she should remove the messages. Mildred responds with vitriol toward the priest, taking the opportunity to implicate him in covering up for all priests who abuse young boys.
Chief Willoughby is married to Anne (Abbie Cornish) and has two small children.  [Note:  Abbie Cornish is a strange choice for this role – her Australian accent keeps breaking through – you’re probably not going to find many Aussies in that part of Missouri.]  The billboards prompt him to reach out to Mildred. He tells her that all of the leads have dried up; he’s sorry, but sometimes cases take a long time to be solved.
Sam Rockwell (Moon) plays Dixon, Willoughby’s second in command. He is racist, emotionally immature, lives with his mother, played by Sandy Martin, is often drunk, and enjoys comic books. James, played by Golden Globe winner Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) plays a small but key role in the film.
The film depicts flawed characters. Both Mildred and Chief Willoughby wonder if there is a God, or if there is anything past this life. Even though some of the characters do some very bad things, they are not all bad. The film is rated R for a significant amount of adult language – lots of swear words, some of it of a sexual nature, and includes racist and discriminatory language, some played for laughs, and several abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names. These issues along with the violence may keep many people of faith from seeing this film.
Themes in the film include justice, vengeance, racism, and forgiveness. The film’s unique music score is provided by Carter Burwell and the cinematography is by Ben Davis.
This is a well-acted (especially McDormand, Harrelson and Rockwell), written (including a lot of humor), and directed film. However, with the significant content issues noted above, I can’t recommend it to people of faith.


2 Comments

My Review of THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS

The Man Who Invented Christmas, rated PG
****

The Man Who Invented Christmas is a heart-warming, family-friendly film about how Charles Dickens wrote his classic book A Christmas Carol, which helped change the way we celebrate Christmas. It could well become a new holiday classic, and is a contender for my favorite movie of the year. The film is directed by Bharat Nalluri, and the screenplay is written by Susan Coyne, based on the book by Les Standiford.
As the film opens in 1843, Dickens, well-played by Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, Beauty and the Beast), is 31 years old, and a well-known and wealthy author. His books Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist have brought him wealth, allowing him to live in a large home, with household staff and a nanny for his children.  But his last three books have flopped, and he is very concerned about finances, and that he will end in debtor’s prison like his father, played by Jonathan Pryce, when Charles was a young boy. Dickens has four children and a fifth on the way. The pressure is on to write another bestseller, but now he has a bad case of writer’s block and a house full of distractions, which include his mother and father, who still struggle financially even with assistance from their famous son.
The film focuses on six weeks in Dickens’ life as he struggles to overcome his writing block, and writes what will become the beloved novel A Christmas Carol, one of the best-selling books of all time. We see that he slowly begins to get inspiration from the people he runs into in his daily life in London. For example, there is an elderly waiter at a club named Marley. He hears the family nanny read the children a ghost story. And lastly, he observes a burial in which only one grumpy old man is there to pay his respects. That character will become motivation for Ebenezer Scrooge, who is marvelously played by Oscar winner Christopher Plummer (Beginners). And there may be more than a little bit of Dickens himself in Scrooge as well.
Despite help from his longtime friend and manager John Forster (Justin Edwards), Dickens’ publishers weren’t interested in a Christmas novel, as it was at that time considered to be just a minor holiday in England. As a result, Dickens decides to finance the book himself, despite being heavily in debt. That adds more pressure to him, and we see him frantically trying to complete the book in time for Christmas.
As he begins formulating the story, the characters come to life, and he begins interacting with them. I particularly enjoyed Scrooge feeling like he wasn’t being portrayed fairly and thus he wanted to tell his side of the story. Dickens also begins having nightmares, which include flashbacks to his childhood.
The film is well-acted and directed, and is a creative telling of how Dickens developed A Christmas Carol. Stevens is excellent as Dickens, as is Plummer as Scrooge. Anna Murphy portrays the house maid Tara, who gives Dickens some advice on the story, and Morfydd Clark plays Dickens’ loyal wife Catherine. I really enjoyed the costumes and set design from 19th century London.
There are not any content issues in this wonderful, family-friendly film. Highly recommended!


1 Comment

My Review of ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ.

Roman J. Israel, Esq., rated PG-13
**

Denzel Washington’s latest film is a flawed film that focuses on the main character’s values and moral failure.
The film, featuring a strong cast, is written and directed by Oscar nominee Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler). Cinematography is by Oscar winner Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood). After the film’s premiere at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival, 13 minutes were cut from the film and a key scene was moved up earlier in the film.
The film is set in downtown Los Angeles, which is where Roman J. Israel lives and works; he is played by Washington, seven-time Oscar nominee and two-time winner (Training Day, Glory). His appearance is stunning; he wears outdated clothes, outdated glasses and an outdated hairstyle. He has a gap between his two front teeth, carries a heavy briefcase and always has a pair of headphones on to listen to his iPod. The ringtone on his flip-phone is Eddie Hendricks’ 1973 hit “Keep on Truckin’”. The man is definitely stuck in the 70’s.
Roman is a lawyer in a two-man criminal defense law firm that handles cases for the downtrodden and underprivileged. The firm has never made much money and is in debt. Roman lives in a modest apartment and often eats peanut butter. The owner of the firm, William Jackson, is the public face of the firm. He argues the cases in court and meets with clients, while Roman does the behind the scenes work (research, etc.). Roman may be a savant or has Asperger’s Syndrome. He has remarkable legal knowledge, but is very uncomfortable socially.

***SPOILER ALERT ***
When Jackson has a heart attack, the Jackson family decides to let Roman go. They hire George Pierce, a rich corporate defense attorney played by Golden Globe winner Colin Farrell (In Bruges) to close the firm down. Eventually Pierce in turn hires Roman at his firm. Roman, who believes in fighting for the underprivileged and has a strong sense of justice, tells George that he is all about the money and not justice.
A key point in the film is a bad decision that Roman makes. The decision was out of character for the principled Roman, and it is not really explained as to why he did what he did, though we know that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Carmen Ejogo (Selma), plays Maya Alston, a young legal activist, who develops a romantic relationship with Roman. Again, why she is so enamored with the not very likeable Roman is never explained.
********************

Washington delivers his usual strong performance as Roman.  Farrell does a good job portraying the arrogant owner of a high-priced law firm. We see him changing, adopting Roman’s values as the film progresses. This is not really explained either, as Roman is seen moving away from those very values.
The film is rated PG-13 for some adult language, including the abuse of God’s and Jesus’ names. Themes in the film include justice, sin, judgement.
Although there are things to like in this film, particularly Washington’s acting performance, there were just too many holes in the script by Gilroy for me to give this film a good recommendation.


Leave a comment

My Review of THE STAR

The Star, rated PG
***

The Star is a funny, family friendly animated film that provides a unique perspective on the Christmas story, but still stays true to the main points of the biblical account. The film is directed by Oscar nominee Timothy Reckart (Head Over Heels), and includes voicing by a number of stars. The film is written by Carlos Kotkin and Simon Moore.
Abby is a small mouse voiced by Emmy winner Kristen Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies). She is present when the angel comes to Mary to tell her that she will have the Son of God. Once Mary is told this news, a bright star appears in the sky.
Bo is a donkey, voiced by Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead), who has dreams of joining the royal parade. He is encouraged by his best friend Dave, a dove, voiced by Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele). Unfortunately, Bo is confined to the life of a working donkey, every day going around and around, over and over, crushing grain in the village mill. But then his older co-worker, voiced by Kris Kristofferson, helps him escape to pursue his dreams. Bo injures his leg in the escape and hides at the home of Mary, voiced by Golden Globe winner Gina Rodriquez (Jane the Virgin), and Joseph Zachary Levi (Tangled), who have just celebrated their wedding. Mary takes a liking to Bo, but Joseph not so much. Mary takes Bo in and nurses him back to health.
Meanwhile, the three magi go to see Herod, riding on three camels – Felix, voiced by Tracy Morgan, Cyrus, voiced by Tyler Perry, and Deborah, voiced by Oprah Winfrey. They ask Herod about the king to be born. When Herod, voiced by Oscar winner Christopher Plummer (The Beginners), hears this, he orders a census with the purpose of finding the prophesied Messiah. Mary and Joseph leave Bo behind and make the trip to Bethlehem. Herod sends a large, mean soldier with two vicious dogs Thaddeus, voiced by Golden Globe winner Ving Rhames (Don King: Only in America) and Rufus, voiced by Gabriel Iglesias, out to find Mary and the unborn child. The ferocious dogs could be too scary for very small children. When the soldier and dogs go to Mary and Joseph’s home, Bo knows that he and Dave must go and warn Mary and Joseph. Along the way they meet a helpful sheep named Ruth, voiced by Aidy Bryant.
The film tells the story of Jesus’ birth from the perspective of a donkey named Bo. This has similarities to theologian R.C. Sproul’s children’s book The Donkey Who Carried a King, which offers a unique perspective on the events of Jesus’ Passion week.
The film features some excellent Christmas music, by artists such as Mariah Carey, Take 6 and Kirk Franklin.  The Star is family friendly, with minimal content issues and humor. Those humorous moments are from Dave the dove – shaking his bottom, getting a laugh from the many children in the theatre, and making reference to dropping a “well-placed ‘number 2’”.
This would be an excellent film to enjoy with your family this Christmas season.


2 Comments

My Review of WONDER

Wonder, rated PG
***

Wonder is a heart-warming, family friendly film with good messages, based on the best-selling novel that features a strong cast. Stephen Chbosky, who directed the film version of his own novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, directs this version of R.J. Palacio’s 2012 young-adult best-selling novel, which may remind some of the 1985 Oscar winning film Mask, about a teenager with craniofacial deformities.  Chbosky writes the screenplay along with Steven Conrad and Jack Thorne. The story is told from the perspective of multiple characters.
The film is about one year in the life of ten-year old Auggie Pullman, played by Jacob Tremblay, who was wonderful in the 2015 film Room. A congenital disorder (mandibulofacial dystosis, which is known as Treacher Collins Syndrome (TCS),has badly deformed Auggie’s face.  (Note: it actually took 90 minutes each day during filming to apply the facial prosthetics he wore for the role.) The disfiguration was so severe, that even after 27 surgeries, Auggie’s face is still badly deformed to the point that when he ventures out of his home he wears a large astronaut helmet on his head to hide his face from others.
Auggie lives in New York with his overprotective parents, father Nate, played by Oscar nominee Owen Wilson (The Royal Tenenbaums), and mother Isabel, played by Oscar winner Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich), along with sister Via, short for Olivia (Izabela Vidovic), who is neglected by her parents as they focus all of their attention on Auggie. Auggie has been home-schooled by his mother, but as he is to enter the fifth grade, they decide to send him to Beecher Prep School, where Mr. Tushman (played by three-time Golden Globe nominee Mandy Patinkin) is the kind principal.
The film follows Auggie, who displays a good sense of humor, during his first year at Beech, where we see him bullied and teased, make friends, etc. But the film is also about Via and how she deals with being neglected by her parents.
The film is told from the perspectives of Auggie, Via, Via’s best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), and Auggie’s classmates Julia (Bryce Gheisar) and Jack (Noah Jupe).  Three-time Golden Globe nominee Sonia Braga portrays Grans, Via’s and Wonder’s grandmother, in a small role.
The film is well-acted, and Wilson and Roberts have good chemistry on-screen. I really enjoyed Mandy Patinkin’s portrayal of the wise and kind principal, Mr. Tushman. The top performance though has to be by 11-year-old Jacob Tremblay, who follows his excellent performance in Room with another strong performance asAuggie.
Themes include acceptance, bullying, friendship and family.  My wife loved the father’s strength that was portrayed.  Mom wants to protect Auggie and keep him in her ‘nest’, while Dad wisely boots the little ‘eaglet’ out of the nest to teach him to fly.  The film is truly family friendly, with no objectionable content, which is really refreshing these days. And oh yes, you might want to bring a Kleenex with you to the theatre for this heart-warming film.