Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of MULLY

Mully (not rated)
****

Mully is a well-made documentary style film telling the incredible true story of Charles Mully, a Kenyan orphan, who was used by God to save more than 12,000 orphans.
Scott Haze writes and directs this film, which also includes some dramatic reenactments from Mully’s life, some of which would be too intense for small children. The film is narrated by Charles along with his wife, seven children and his parents.
Charles’ father was an alcoholic who would brutally beat his mother. When Charles was just 6 years old, he woke up one morning to find that his parents and siblings had abandoned him. This led to a life of begging. He was bitter and depressed and wanted to take his own life. He resisted that temptation and soon after he was invited to church where his life was changed spiritually and he became hopeful for the future.
But he was still poor, so he decided to make the 50 mile walk to Nairobi to look for a job. Finally on his third day in the city a wealthy Indian woman took him in and offered him a position as a dishwasher and gardener. He did a good job and is later promoted to be manager over 800 farm workers, one of which was Esther, a beautiful young woman who would become his wife.
Charles then decides to start his own taxi/bus business. That business is successful, and then he launches business after business, all very successful. He is a millionaire, and he and his family live in a large home, host parties and live the good life.
Then one day in 1989, Charles is confronted by three homeless teens, who ask for payment in return for watching his car. He refuses and when he comes back his car is gone – he has to take his own bus home. Charles is moved by the homeless teens and later we see him drive many miles away from Nairobi, deep in thought and prayer.  He is wrestling with God over God’s call on his life to help orphans and ultimately, he bows his knee in obedience. He stuns his well-to-do family that night at dinner, telling them he is going to sell his businesses and instead provide care to the orphans on the streets. They think he is crazy.
He not only wants to provide food, shelter and an education, Charles wants these children to be part of a family and to be loved.  Within a week, the first three children show up at the Mully home. We then see Mully walk the streets of Nairobi and bring orphans home to live in the Mully mansion, which would become known as the Mully Children’s Family (MCF). Mully’s children are interviewed and they are honest in saying that they were not initially on board with their father’s plan and were resentful.
Mully would face many challenges along the way, but God provided for the growing ministry to orphans. God brought them very low, to the point of not having food for the children, only to see their need provided by the hand of God.  Quite the lesson in relying upon God’s provision.  We see MCF becoming self-sustaining, moving into farming and other sources of income. Since 1989, MCF has become the largest children’s rescue, rehabilitation and development organization Africa. This is an incredibly inspiring true story; all of this started with Mully asking God to use him.  More than that, after watching it, each of us can ask, “What is God calling me to do?” “How can God use us to serve him and his people?”
This film would probably be rated PG for some scenes of violence.  Prior to the film, Jon Foreman of Switchfoot and Lauren Daigle perform a moving acoustic version of Switchfoot’s song “I Won’t Let You Go”, a song about unconditional love.
After a three-night run in theatres, the film will be available on DVD. You can order it here.
You might also be interested in Mully’s book My Journey Of Faith: An Encounter with Christ: And How He Used Me to Spread His Love to the Poor. You can order it here.

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My Review of AMERICAN MADE

American Made, rated R
***

“Doing it for the good guys”, Tom Cruise shines as Barry Seal in a film based on true events that has some significant content issues for discerning viewers.
This film, based perhaps loosely on true events from 1978 to 1986, is a “truth is stranger than fiction” story, containing elements of true crime, comedy and thriller. Three-time Oscar nominee Tom Cruise portrays Barry Seal, a one-time star pilot, in fact the youngest airline pilot in TWA history. But when we meet Seal, he is bored with the routine life of an airline pilot, even with his Cuban cigar smuggling business on the side.
Seal’s incredible story begins when he is approached by CIA agent Schafer, (Domhnall Gleeson, Ex Machina, Brooklyn, Star Wars: The Force Awakens). He uses his knowledge of Seal’s smuggling as leverage to get him to fly covert missions for the government over Latin America countries such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Columbia to take spy photos from a fast, twin-engine plane. Soon, we see him engaged with the dangerous Medellin cartel, making buckets of money smuggling drugs into the U.S. Later we see him carrying Russian AK-47’s to the Contra rebels in Nicaraguan for the U.S. government.
Barry lives with wife Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen) and their three children on 2,000 acres the CIA provides them in Mena, Arkansas, complete with its own airport. That property will become a military training ground for some of the Contras he brings back with him. Soon, Barry and Lucy have more money than they know what to do with. In fact, they run out of places to hide it. Lucy may not know all of the details of Barry’s drug smuggling work, but we see her fully enjoying the fruits of it.
The film includes a series of videotaped confessions Seal made from motels in the mid-1980’s. In addition, there is news footage of Presidents Carter and Reagan along with Oliver Stone and others included.
Seal is not a very likeable character. He makes a lot of money and his greed comes through. He apparently will do just about anything for money. Let’s just say he doesn’t have a very good moral compass, though he does love his wife and children. Actually, the film does not portray any characters that viewers will care about.
This is a role that is seemingly made for Cruise, as he flashes his signature smile and is almost always seen with his aviator sunglasses. He also does his own stunts and flies a plane.
Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) reunites with Tom Cruise, who he worked with on 2014’s excellent Edge of Tomorrow. Liman’s father Arthur was the Chief Counsel for the Senate investigation of the Iran-Contra scandal and questioned Colonel Oliver North during the public hearings.
The screenplay is by Gary Spinelli. Cesar Charlone handles the cinematography, using a bouncing, shaky camera style. We see some excellent scenes of planes flying over jungles and the ocean. The film’s soundtrack includes a number of top 40 songs from the 1970’s and 1980’s, including songs by George Harrison, Linda Ronstadt and Charlie Rich. We also see items of a bygone era such as pay phones and pagers. The film had an estimated budget of $80 million.
The film is rated “R” for a significant amount of adult language, including several abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names, sexuality (between Seal and wife Lucy), and some nudity, which is played for laughs. It is Cruise’s first “R-rated” film since 2008’s Tropic Thunder. It features some excellent stunts and action from beginning to end.
The film is well-made and entertaining, though most likely a highly fictionalized and perhaps controversial version of actual events. The film implicates both Republicans and Democrats along the way. Unfortunately, the film also contains significant adult language and sexuality, and that may be enough to keep some discerning viewers away from this one.


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My Review of WIND RIVER

Wind River, rated R
** ½

Wind River is a well written, directed and acted murder mystery, but due to the subject matter and content issues, it is not necessarily one you will want to see.
This film, based on actual events involving the Wind River Indian Reservation, was written and directed by Oscar nominated screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water). The movie was filmed on location in Park City, Utah over 40 days in blizzard conditions. The Wind River Indian Reservation, located in Wyoming, is the seventh-largest Indian reservation in the United States, and larger geographically than the state of Rhode Island.
Cory Lambert, played by two-time Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner (The Town, Hurt Locker), is an agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He is known for his expertise as a hunter and tracker. On one of his hunting expeditions, Lambert comes across the frozen corpse of a young woman. Lambert knows who the girl is, Natalie (Kelsey Asbille). Natalie was the best friend of Cory’s own daughter, Emily, who was murdered three years earlier. That tragedy ended his marriage to Wilma (Julia Jones), with whom he shares a son, Casey (Teo Briones). Some reports show that up to 80 percent of marriages end in divorce when there is the death of a child.
Cory contacts Ben, the Tribal Police Chief, played by Oscar nominee Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves). Since a murder is involved, the FBI is called in. New FBI Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olson, Captain America: Civil War,
Avengers: Age of Ultron
), is called in from Las Vegas. She is not equipped for the blizzard conditions, which are well depicted by cinematographer Ben Richardson, and asks Cory to partner with her on the case.
Gil Birmingham (Hell or High Water) portrays Martin, Natalie’s grief-stricken father. The film includes some powerful scenes between Cory and Martin, two fathers who have tragically lost teenage daughters who were themselves best friends. Cory wants justice for Martin and his wife, and in a way, for himself as well. He and Jane relentlessly pursue leads in an attempt to solve the murder.
The film contains a significant amount of adult language, include the abuse of God’s and Jesus’ names. In addition, the film includes a lot of violence, including a brutal rape scene. Read this article about why Christians should avoid watching rape scenes.  The film is difficult to watch as it depicts the overwhelming hopelessness at Wind River – poverty, crime, alcohol and drug abuse and a significant amount of violence.
Again, based on a true story, Wind River is a well-made film with a strong cast. However, the subject matter and content issues may make this film one you will want to stay away from.    We went to go see it because it was getting outstanding reviews from both critics and viewers alike – not sure why it received such glowing reviews.  The movie was paced to move very slowly and the characters didn’t draw you in.


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My Review of ALL SAINTS

All Saints, rated PG
***

All Saints is one of the best faith-based films I’ve seen. Based on a true story, it is an inspirational film that is well-directed, written and acted.
The film is directed by Steve Gomer and written by Steve Armour. It tells the story of the All Saints Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee, located near Nashville. As a bonus, the movie is filmed at the actual All Saints Church and includes several actual church members portraying themselves.
Golden Globe nominee John Corbett (Northern Exposure, Sex and the City) turns in a strong performance as the likeable Michael Spurlock. He is a former paper salesman, who is a newly ordained pastor. His first assignment is to shut down All Saints Church, which now has just a few members and a large mortgage. The contents and land will bring a lot of money to the diocese when sold to a big box store.
Gregory Alan Williams stars as Pastor Spurlock’s kind but firm supervisor Bishop Eldon Thompson. He tells him to just do his job of closing down the church and he and his family – wife Aimee (Cara Buono, Stranger Things) and son Atticus (Myles Moore) – can move on to their next assignment in a few months.
Pastor Spurlock is not exactly greeted with open arms by the few remaining church members, particularly cranky Vietnam war veteran Forrest (Barry Corbin, Northern Exposure), who has recently lost his wife. They know why he is there, the inevitable closing down and sale of their church.  In the meantime, Aimee decides to start a choir at the church.
A week before it is to be demolished, several Karen State refugees from war-torn Myanmar (formerly Burma) arrive at the church. Led by Ye Win (Nelson Lee), one of the few who speaks English, the refugees are Anglican believers and farmers.  Pastor Spurlock’s heart goes out to them, but the church is broke and can’t really help them. But one night he believes that God speaks to him about letting the refugees farm the land around the church. The crops would feed the refugees, support them financially and pay the church mortgage. Spurlock will have to convince Bishop Thompson and the church council, who have been counting on the proceeds from the sale of the church property. But is this really God’s will, or the former salesman’s? And if they were to go for it, just how will they do it? The church is strapped financially, and doesn’t have any equipment to plant, plow and water the fields.
John Corbett is excellent in the role of Pastor Spurlock. It was refreshing that he was not portrayed as the perfect man or pastor.  He has good chemistry with fellow Northern Exposure cast member Barry Corbin and Nelson Lee, the self-sacrificing leader of the refugees.
This is the rare faith-based film that is well-made – directing, writing and acting –  that it is based on a true story makes it all the better. It is a story of self-sacrifice, building community and loving your neighbor.  Highly recommended!


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MY REVIEW OF The Glass Castle 

The Glass Castle, rated PG-13
*** 

The Glass Castle is a well-acted film based on a popular book that tells the story of a daughter’s life-long relationship with her troubled father.
This film is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12), who also writes the screenplay with Andrew Lanham, and is based on Jeannette Walls’ best-selling 2005 book The Glass Castle: A Memoir. Told from Jeannette’s perspective, this is the true story about her family on the run from the government and bill collectors, and often hiding in small towns and living in poverty.  The book has had a profound impact on readers, with in excess of 6,000 user reviews on Amazon, and as I write this, it is the sixth best-selling book on the Amazon Non-Fiction chart. I recently heard of someone who re-read the book twice in one day before seeing the film.  As I went into the movie, I wondered why a book and film about family dysfunction had resonated so much with people.
The film stars Oscar winner Brie Larson (Room) as the adult Jeannette Walls.  Younger versions of Jeannette are portrayed by Chandler Head and Ella Anderson. Jeannette’s siblings are portrayed by Lori (Sara Snook), Brian (Josh Caras) and Maureen (Bridgette Lundy-Paine). Two-time Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson powerfully portrays Jeannette’s alcoholic father Rex, and two-time Oscar nominee Naomi Watts stars as Jeannette’s mother Rose Mary. The film’s title refers to the dream house that Rex was always promising to build for his family, with hopes for a better life.   
The film is told from Jeannette’s perspective, and focuses on her relationship with her father. As the film begins, we see her as a successful New York gossip columnist who is engaged to David (Max Greenfield), a successful financial advisor. The film moves back and forth between her childhood memories of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and her life in New York in 1989. We see her shame and resentment for how she was raised. Much of the blame is given to her father, but her mother was no innocent party to the dysfunction.    Everyone in the film seems to be wounded and broken.
Rex has strong opinions on racism, hypocrisy, capitalism, etc. We see how his alcoholism hurts his children. Rose Mary is a free-spirit, who is consumed with her painting. Rex and Rose Mary care deeply about independence and freedom, and are not very good parents, though in their own way they do love their children. Some pleasant times are depicted. However, they don’t provide the children a formal education, at times the children go days without food, and perhaps their biggest sin is exposing their children to Rex’s mother, their horrid grandmother Erma, played Robin Bartlett.
Harrelson delivers a powerful performance as Rex. He is depicted at times as brilliant, and other times as delusional, deceptive and mean, breaking his promises to his children, in particular Jeannette. He is always searching for the demon out there, but too late realizes that the demon is actually within himself.  Larson is outstanding as the older Jeannette, who as an adult is trying to distance herself from her parents and her upbringing, making a new life in New York City.  Anderson delivers a powerful performance as the young Jeannette, who loves her father, but is disappointed when he can’t overcome his alcoholism and the devastating impact it has on their family.
This is a well-acted film, but not an easy one to watch. If you are looking for a “feel good” film, this is not the one for you. Themes in the film include love, family dysfunction, sexual and other forms of abuse, alcoholism and broken promises. The film includes some violence, adult language, some swear words, abuses of God’s name, and sexuality, though nothing explicit is shown. The film may resonate with those who have also experienced dysfunctional family relationships, in particular women with their fathers, and is a story of children able to “rise above their raising”.


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My Review of LOGAN LUCKY 

Logan Lucky, rated PG-13
**

Logan Lucky is an off-beat heist comedy that is slow and has too few memorable moments.
This film is directed by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) who also directed the Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen films. The writing is credited to Rebecca Blunt, who is actually suspected to be Soderbergh’s wife Julie Asner, who is from West Virginia, a location central to this story, as is a certain John Denver song.
The film is about the Logan family from West Virginia – brothers Jimmy (Channing Tatum, Magic Mike, Foxcatcher), and Clyde (Adam Driver, Star Wars, Silence, Paterson) as well as their sister Mellie Logan (Riley Keough, the eldest grandchild of Elvis Presley). The family is known for their bad luck, and some feel that they are cursed. Jimmy was a football star and homecoming king in high school, but a leg injury changed that. Now he walks with a limp and is divorced with a young daughter; Clyde lost his arm in the war in Iraq. He has a prosthetic hand and wrist, and now tends bar where Jimmy is a regular.
Jimmy works a construction job beneath the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. The speedway has a sinkhole problem and he is part of a team of ex-coal miners brought in to fix it. He needs the job to pay alimony to his ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) and provide child support for his daughter Sadie (Farrah MacKenzie). Sadie is preparing for a Little Miss West Virginia beauty pageant, and Jimmy has promised her that he will be there for her pageant.
But when management sees Jimmy limping, they fire him because he didn’t disclose the injury on his employment application. Jimmy then comes up with a plan to change the family’s luck. He and Clyde used to pull small heist jobs years ago. From his work at the speedway, Jimmy has knowledge of a series of underground tubes that run from the speedway’s concession stands to a central bank vault. He sets up a plan to rob the speedway. But he and Clyde need the help of safe cracker and explosives expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, James Bond) and Joe’s two brothers, Sam (Brian Gleeson) and Fish (Jack Quaid). But there’s just one small problem: Joe is in prison.
Adam Driver and Channing Tatum are effective in their roles as the Logan brothers, and have good chemistry. Daniel Craig was excellent playing the blue-collar criminal Joe Bang.  Other notables in small roles include Dwight Yoakum as the incompetent prison warden Burns, two-time Oscar winner Hillary Swank as FBI Special Agent Sarah Grayson, Seth MacFarlane (Ted) as Max Chilblain and Katherine Waterston as Sylvia Harrison, who knew Jimmy from high school.
The film pokes fun of the hillbilly culture of West Virginia. But we didn’t find the film very funny, and didn’t hear many “laugh out louds” in the theatre. There were some parts of the film – particularly the carrying out of Jimmy’s plan – that were creative, featuring excellent writing. But those parts were a relatively small part of the film, and for the most part, the film dragged.
The film included some adult language and abuse of God’s name. The product placements in this movie were as prevalent and prolific as a NASCAR driver’s uniform.   A positive aspect of the film was the positive relationship Jimmy had with daughter Sadie.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPzvKH8AVf0 


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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.