Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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MY REVIEW OF The War for the Planet of the Apes

War for the Planet of the Apes, rated PG-13
***

Final Film in the “Caesar Trilogy” Raises Questions about the Message.

**SPOILER WARNING!**

In the final film in the new Planet of the Apes trilogy, “The Colonel”, played by two-time Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson, raids the camp of the apes. During the raid, the wife and eldest son of Caesar (Andy Serkis, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit), the leader of the apes, is killed. This leads Caesar, to seek revenge.  The movie follows Caesar, and a few of those closest to him, as they start on a long journey that will lead them to the human camp and the Colonel’s highly trained soldiers. Along the way they meet Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), the lone survivor from a zoo, and a young mute girl, who they name Nova (Amiah Miller).
As David Sims states in his review of the film in The Atlantic, “In Dawn, the story’s darkness made more sense because there were heroes and villains on both sides of the human-ape divide; in War, we’re just watching the final death throes of our own species.” The Colonel (and the humans in general) are portrayed as the villains in this film, while the apes are insistently shown to be the ones with compassion. We see the Colonel using apes, they call donkeys, as slave labor to build a defensive wall in the camp. The group that the Colonel leads is Alpha and Omega, which according to the writer, is a reference to the bomb the mutants worshiped in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. (Jesus Christ also referred to Himself as The Alpha and Omega – the beginning and the end.)  The Colonel wraps himself in a perverse distortion of both nationalist and religious symbolism.  We also see graffiti reading “APE-OCALYPSE NOW”, pointing out the similarities of the Colonel to Marlon Brando’s character Colonel Kurtz in the 1979 film Apocalypse Now.  
The film is directed by Matt Reeves, who also directed 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The film is written by Reeves with Mark Bomback and had a budget of approximately $150 million. Since its release, the film has already made in excess of $133 million in the U.S. alone. The CGI (computer generated imagery) used in the film is amazing. Kudos also go to cinematographer Michael Seresin (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and composer Michael Giacchino for the film’s soundtrack.
Steve Zahn is a welcome newcomer and provides some comedic relief as the likeable Bad Ape. Terry Notary returns as Rocket, a chimp who is now one of Caesar’s most trusted followers. Karin Konoval also returns as Maurice, an orangutan that is another of Caesar’s most faithful advisors.
The film contains a lot of references to the Bible. What they are intended to mean is another question for discerning viewers. For example, Caesar is the ape “savior”, and there are points in the film when there are clear comparisons of him with Jesus. Caesar frees the apes from being slaves, is flogged and hangs on a cross.  He guides the apes to a new “promised land” but dies before entering it, which certainly brings to mind Moses. The Colonel says that he sacrificed his son to save humankind. He wears a crucifix and there is one displayed in his office. We see him make a Catholic sign of the cross over his men in a ‘blessing’. Are the filmmakers mocking Christianity?
Andy Serkies is amazing as Caesar, who has clearly aged by the time we get to this film.  There is some talk of him receiving an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the conflicted (revenge or mercy?) leader of the apes.
Themes in the film include war, hatred, family, self-sacrifice, bravery, revenge and mercy.  It is worth seeing for amazing CGI, great acting and cinematography; just be mindful of the worldview presented.
The film definitely went too long and moved along very slowly. It could have definitely been shortened 45 minutes from its 140- minute running time.


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My Review of Dunkirk

Dunkirk, rated PG-13
****

Christopher Nolan’s tense and inspirational World War II film Dunkirk is my top movie of 2017 thus far.
This film, with an estimated budget of $150 million and clocking in at just 106 minutes, is written and directed by acclaimed three-time Oscar nominee Christopher Nolan (Inception, Interstellar, Memento (which I re-watched this past week), The Dark Knight Batman trilogy, The Prestige). This is the tenth feature film he has directed, and his second shortest.
This time Nolan takes us to the beaches of Dunkirk, a small coastal town in France in May and June, 1940, for a decisive moment in World War II. The coast of England was nearly visible from Dunkirk, just 26 miles across the English Channel. More than 300,000 Allied troops (British, French and Belgium) were trapped on the beach by the Germans. The harbor was so shallow, that a water rescue with large British ships wasn’t possible. Nolan puts the viewer in the center of the battle from a British point of view.

This is a very “visual” film, as Nolan uses a minimum of dialogue. That’s probably not a bad thing, as the dialogue and accents are difficult to understand. Credit goes here to cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, who worked with Nolan on Interstellar. It appears that very little of the film was computer enhanced. We didn’t see the film in IMAX, but this is a film that you would probably want to see in IMAX, if possible.
The action takes center stage over character development. Nolan tells the story of what Winston Churchill called Operation Dynamo – an all-hands call to civilian sailors, asking that they steer any vessel they can across the English Channel to rescue as many of the stranded soldiers as possible – through three interlocking stories, timelines and perspectives – land, sea and air, complete with flashbacks and revisits. He introduces each story with title cards. “The Mole” (land) takes place over a week. The “mole” is actually an 8-foot-wide, half-mile-long breakwater wall, extended off the beaches of Dunkirk, France, that served as a makeshift dock for British leaders trying to evacuate the troops. Five-time Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh, portrays Commander Bolton, the highest ranking British naval officer on the beach. He is worried about getting his men home. We see Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) grab the stretcher of a wounded man, pretending to be medics in the hope of getting on a ship and saving themselves. They encounter Alex (Harry Styles from the band One Direction in his acting debut).  “The Sea” takes place in a single day and features Oscar winner (Bridge of Spies) Mark Rylance as Mr. Dawson, a civilian entering into the rescue effort with his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and his best friend George (Barry Keoghan). The third story, “The Air”, takes place in a single hour. Oscar nominee (The Revenant) Tom Hardy portrays Farrier and Jack Lowden portrays Collins. They are Royal Air Force Spitfire pilots engaged in a tense battle with German planes.
Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack (in his sixth collaboration with Nolan), plays an important role in the tense film, mixing music and sound effects (ticking clock sound using Nolan’s pocket watch). The film is intense from beginning to end. It is rated PG-13 for intense war scenes and some adult language, including the abuse of Jesus’ name.
Themes in this inspirational film include sacrifice, heroism, courage and fear.
A final note. Despite this being an excellent film, it’s a disappointment that the crucial National Day of Prayer for Dunkirk was completely left out of the film. Read about it here.


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My Review of Baby Driver

Baby Driver, rated R 
***

Baby Driver is a creative, high energy and exciting summer film that has some content issues.
This film, which takes its name from the catchy 1970 Simon and Garfunkel song and is set in Atlanta, is directed and written by Edgar Wright (Ant-Man). It features a strong cast, including Oscar winners Kevin Spacey (American Beauty and The Usual Suspects) and Jamie Foxx (Ray). This is one of the highest rated major films of the year with an impressive 97 rating from critics on RottenTomatoes.com.
Baby is played by Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our StarsDivergent). He was in a bad car accident as a child, in which his parents were killed. He now lives with his foster father, Joseph (CJ Jones), who is deaf. The car accident left Baby with continuous ringing in his ears. He almost always is listening to music to drown out the tinnitus. In fact, how director Wright uses music is an important part of this film, synchronizing the action of the film with the music.
We are told that Baby had stolen one of Doc’s (Kevin Spacey) Mercedes. Doc is a mastermind thief. He is having Baby pay off his debt by serving as his getaway driver on his jobs. And make no mistake about it – Baby can drive, and we see plenty of his driving through the streets of Atlanta in the film.
Baby has one more job to work for Doc before his debt is paid off. He plans to end his work with Doc at that time. He meets a waitress named Debora (Lily James, Cinderella) and they plan to start a new life together, away from crime.
For Baby’s last job Doc hires an ex-con, Bats (Jamie Foxx), who doesn’t trust Baby. Bats joins married couple Buddy (Jon Hamm, Mad Men) and Darling (Eliza Gonzalez) as part of the team.
I enjoyed the first half (four stars) of the film better. It was more creative. We get to see Baby’s relationship with Joe, dancing to music, etc. The latter half (two stars) descended into more pedestrian car chases and gun fights.
As far as content issues, the film contains a significant amount of adult language, including the abuse of God’s name, and strong violence (gunfights and car chases). Those concerns may keep many from this well-acted and directed film.


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My Review of Despicable Me 3

Despicable Me 3, rated PG
** ½

Despicable Me 3 is a fast-paced, fun summer film that the family can enjoy.
The gang (Gru, Minions, Lucy, etc.) from the previous two Despicable Me films, which have grossed more than $1.5 billion worldwide, returns for a third film. This fast-paced film, which clocks in at just about 90 minutes, is co-directed by Pierre Coffin (who also voices the Minions) and Kyle Balda, and co-written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul.
In the previous film, Gru (Steve Carell) and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) had made a happy with their three daughters – Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel).  Agnes is obsessed with finding a real unicorn in this film. But now they are fired by the Anti-Villain League’s new boss Valerie Da Vinci (Jenny Slate) when they fail to capture the new arch villain Balthazer Bratt (South Park co-creator Trey Parker), who is trying to steal the world’s largest diamond.
Bratt is physically hilarious, but became annoying. He is a former 1980’s child star who is still stuck in that era (clothing, hair style, music), obsessed with the character that he played in the ’80s.
Gru, who is facing an identity crisis, finds that he has a long-lost twin brother Dru (also voiced by Carell), who is successful and cheerful and quite different from Gru, including the fact that he has a head full of hair. We see a sibling rivalry between them at first and then they team together to go after Bratt. Dru tells Gru that he wants to be a criminal like his brother was. Their mother, voiced by Julie Andrews, appears in a short scene early in the film.
The Minions, who are just silly but I find to be funny, provide some excellent comic relief that pretty much doesn’t have anything to do with the plot of the film. They do leave Dru and go looking for another villain to serve.
Pharrell Williams (“Happy”), contributes new songs for the film. They are blended with songs from the 80’s by artists such as Michael Jackson and Madonna.
I enjoyed this film and found it to be a lot of fun. I would say that it is family friendly, with some good messages about the importance of family, but we did not hear much laughing from the children in the theatre.


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My Review of the Movie MEGAN LEAVEY

Megan Leavey, rated PG-13
** ½

This film tells the true story of two war heroes: a young marine corporal and her military combat dog.
It is directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Blackfish) and written by Oscar nominee Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids), Pamela Gray and Tim Lovestedt. When we first meet Megan Leavey (Kate Mara, House of Cards, Captive) she is without purpose. Living at her Mom’s home, she sleeps in late, drinks a lot, and has a contentious relationship with her mother Jackie (Edie Falco, The Sopranos), and her boyfriend Jim (Will Patton). Jackie had an affair with Megan’s father Bob’s (Bradley Whitford, The West Wing) best friend, which broke up their marriage. We also hear of Megan’s best friend who died of an overdose when she and Megan drank and took drugs, which may have contributed significantly to Megan’s lack of purpose.   
After Megan is fired from a job in 2001, she decides on a whim to enroll in the Marines. Soon, she is off to Boot Camp. After getting drunk one night with two other female recruits, she is disciplined by being assigned to clean up the K-9 Unit cages.  It is there she first encounters Rex, a ferocious German Shepherd.  As she watches the handlers working with their dogs she decides she would like to be assigned that work and expresses that to her commanding officer Gunny Martin (Oscar winner Common, Selma). When Rex bites his handler, breaking multiple bones in his hand, Megan gets her chance. Andrew Dean (Tom Felton, Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter films), is her K-9 trainer. We see Megan and Rex slowly begin to bond, and Megan finding purpose.
Megan is told that female dog handlers aren’t usually sent into combat situations, but she is soon sent to Iraq and into danger with Rex to sniff out and identify bombs, eventually serving together on more than 100 missions. Megan develops a relationship with a fellow dog handler, the likeable Matt Morales (Ramon Rodriguez). Matt makes it clear that he desires the relationship to become more than a friendship.
We see intense battle scenes in Iraq and Megan and Rex being injured.  As she returns from the war and ends her time in the Marines we see her struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Though she is hailed as a war hero, we see her life going back to the way it was before she enrolled in the Marines, without purpose. Although it appears she has a good relationship with her father, the only one that she truly connects to is Rex. And she misses him badly.
The film contains a significant amount of adult language and God’s and Jesus’ names are abused several times. It contains some intense war violence and an implied sexual relationship, though nothing is seen.
Although Megan’ and Rex’s true story is an inspiring one, even as a dog lover I didn’t feel that the film measured up to their story. I believe I’m in the minority here as the film is receiving strong reviews from critics and viewers; that’s the reason I went to see it. The film moves along slowly and felt just a step above a paint by the numbers Hallmark movie to me and my wife.
Mara is good in her role, but Megan is not a very likeable character, who finds it hard to connect with anyone other than Rex. The supporting cast is solid, but there is little tension in the film except the conclusion which I’m not sharing here, as to not spoil it for you.  It’s definitely a renter.


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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.
************************
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 Gifted

Gifted, rated PG-13
***

Gifted is a pleasing film about self-sacrifice and the importance of family.
This film is directed by Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2), and written by Tom Flynn. It features a solid cast and some strong performances. Although set in Florida, it was actually filmed mostly on Bull Street in Savannah, Georgia.
Frank Adler (played by Chris Evans of Captain America films), is a former university professor who now repairs boats in Florida. When his sister, a genius mathematician, took her life seven years ago Frank took the responsibility to raise her infant daughter Mary (Mckenna Grace). The two have a great relationship, living in a small home with their one-eyed cat Fred. In one touching scene, Mary asks Frank if there is a God and whether Jesus is God.
But Mary isn’t happy at all that Frank is making her go to public school (first grade) after home schooling her. Mary also has an excellent relationship with their neighbor Roberta (Oscar winner Octavia Spencer).
It doesn’t take Mary’s teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) long to realize that, like her mother, Mary is extremely gifted in mathematics. The school principal offers Frank a scholarship for Mary to go to a school where Mary would be challenged, but Frank refuses, saying that he only wants Mary to have a normal life.
Then Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan, Sherlock) Frank’s manipulative mother, shows up from Boston. Frank and Evelyn are not particularly close and we hear about Evelyn’s contentious relationship with his sister. This all leads to a custody battle between the two over Mary.
I enjoyed this well-acted film. There were strong performances from Evans, Grace and Duncan; Spencer delivered her usual solid performance in a small role.
The film does include some adult language, including the abuse of God’s name. Frank and Bonnie have a relationship, and it is inferred that they have sex (nothing explicit is shown).