Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of APOLLO 11

Apollo 11, rated G
****

Apollo 11 is an amazing documentary about the eight-day mission to land two men on the moon that took place nearly fifty years ago. The film is comprised primarily of restored color footage, much of which has never been seen before. It takes us from about three hours before liftoff on July 16, 1969 through the safe return of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and their subsequent eighteen days of quarantine.
The film is superbly directed and edited by Todd Douglas Miller. He uses never before seen full color footage from the NASA archives that was shot for a documentary that was ultimately abandoned. Much of the footage looks so good that it appears that it could have been shot yesterday. There are no actors, reenactments, narration, voice-over or interviews included. Instead, Miller tells the story of the mission in the present tense using the communications that actually took place between the astronauts and the supervisors, engineers and technicians speaking into headsets at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and NASA Mission Control in Houston, along with a few comments from Walter Cronkite, and an excerpt from a 1961 speech about putting a man on the moon by President John F. Kennedy. He effectively uses narrative titles, countdown clocks and a small amount of animation that are helpful in showing the viewer the various mind-boggling maneuvers the mission will need to undergo in order to be successful. Continue reading

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My Review of US

Us, rated R
**

Us, is the follow-up to Jordan Peele’s surprise 2017 hit Get Out. It is a horror film that has significant content issues, particularly an extreme amount of violence and adult language. The film is written, directed and produced by Oscar winner Peele (Get Out). While the messages in Get Out were obvious, what Peele is wanting to communicate with Us is more of a head scratcher. Some reviewers have pointed to Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining as an influence, and that viewers will get more out of the film after each repeated viewing, something I don’t plan to invest the time nor money in.
As the film opens, we read a few sentences on the screen about the miles and miles of tunnels underneath the surface of America, many of which have “no known purpose at all.” We are taken back to 1986, where we see an ad on television for the “Hands Across America” event. Young Adelaide, played by Madison Curry, is at a Santa Cruz amusement park along the beach with her parents. Her father has won her a Michael Jackson Thriller t-shirt which is much too big for the little girl. When her mother goes to the restroom, her father is to watch her, but he is consumed with playing a whack-a-mole game, so Adelaide wanders off along the boardwalk toward the beach.  Along the way she sees a homeless man holding up a sign reading “Jeremiah 11:11” (“Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them”). That man and verse will show up later in the film.  Adelaide wanders into what appears to be an abandoned house of mirrors attraction named Shaman Vision Quest which has a sign on the outside indicating that you will find yourself inside. Adelaide soon wants to leave, but when she heads to the “Exit” sign, she just runs into a mirror. It is then she sees her exact double (a doppelgänger), who is even dressed just like her. She is terrified.
The film then moves to the present day. The Wilson family – Adelaide, played by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), her husband Gabe, played by Winston Duke (Black Panther), daughter Zora, played by Shahadi Wright Joseph and young son Jason, played by Evan Alex are heading for a vacation at their lake house, Adelaide’s childhood home, located not far from the Santa Cruz beach where the terrifying incident took place. When Gabe suggests that they meet friends Josh Tyler, played by Tim Heidecker, his wife Kitty, played by two-time Golden Globe winner Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale), and their twin daughters at the Santa Cruz beach, Adelaide is visibly upset. On the beach, we see Jason, who Adelaide is especially protective of, wander off and head toward the same house of mirrors attraction (now named Merlin’s Enchanted Forest).
That night back at the lake home, Adelaide tells Gabe about her terrifying childhood experience for the first time. She tells him that she wants to go home. Then the power goes out and everything is dark. They notice that there are four people standing motionless at the end of their driveway. They won’t respond to Gabe, who initially is friendly. Eventually they charge the home and despite Gabe’s efforts, they enter. What the Wilson family sees is stunning – the people on the driveway are their doubles, just like the little girl was that Adelaide saw back in the house of mirrors in 1986. Although they look similar, these doubles have difficulty communicating, some grotesque features, wear red jump suits and even worse, hold large scissors as weapons. Only Adelaide’s double speaks, and then only in a labored manner. It’s clear that this is not a social visit.
Who are these people, who are known as the Tethered, and why do they want to harm the Wilson family?
Content concerns in the film include a significant amount of adult language, much of it during a rap song about the police by N.W.A. God’s and Jesus’ names are both abused several times. There is a significant amount of violence and blood in the film, which turns into a disappointing survival slasher film, after a promising beginning. Themes include caring for others, fear, and deception.
The film includes some humor, especially from Gabe, who comes across as a likeable dorky father. The musical score by Michael Abels (Get Out) is effective in building suspense. Cinematography is by Mike Gioulakis (It Follows).
As you would expect, the Wilson’s doppelgängers are played by the same actors/actresses that play the Wilsons. Of particular note is the outstanding performance of Nyong’o as Adelaide and Red.
After a promising beginning, Us turns into a common slasher survival film with significant content concerns. The film is getting excellent reviews from the critics, and I’m sure Peele had messages he wanted to convey, but they were lost on me. If you see the film and think differently about it, please let me know.


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My Review of FIVE FEET APART

Five Feet Apart, rated PG-13
** ½

Five Feet Apart is an emotional film about two teens with cystic fibrosis who fall in love. The film has some content issues, but also has many positive elements. The film is directed by Justin Baldoni (My Last Days) based on the young adult novel written by Rachael Lippincott, Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis, the latter two of which also wrote the film’s screenplay.
Stella, played by Haley Lu Richardson (Columbus) was born with cystic fibrosis (CF). As the film begins, she is checking into St. Grace Regional Hospital to deal with an infection, and not able to go on vacation with her friends. At St. Grace she is treated well by the compassionate nurse Barb, played by Kimberly Hebert Gregory, who is skilled in treating Stella and the other CF patients on the floor, including Stella’s best friend Poe, played by Moises Arias.  Stella is very well-organized, sticking to her medical routines and exercise. She maintains a “To Do” list, and loves crossing items off of it. One of the items on her list is to study about the afterlife. She has her own YouTube channel, through which she shares her journey with others. Still, she tries to maintain a positive attitude as she waits for a lung transplant, which will buy her another five years.
Will, played by Cole Sprouse (Riverdale), is another teenage CF patient in the hospital. He is entering an experimental drug program, but even if it is successful, he is not a candidate for a lung transplant. As a result, he has lost hope and is not faithful in following his treatment program. Stella encourages him to stick with his treatment. Will begins to fall for Stella, and she agrees to spend time with him, and to let him draw her as he requests, if he will follow a prescribed routine that she organizes for him.
As CF patients are vulnerable to infection, Will and Stella are not allowed to touch. In addition, they must stay at a distance of six feet apart. One of the ways they stay in touch is by Face Timing with each other while in their rooms doing their treatments. As their relationship grows, Stella decides that CF has taken enough from she and Will. As a result, she takes one foot back, and uses a five-foot pool cue to measure the distance that she and Will have to stay apart. The two fall in love, knowing that the odds are against their relationship. How will things turn out?  Will Stella get a lung transplant? Will the experimental treatment help Will?
The acting performances from the four leading characters are all solid and realistic. Themes in the film include risk, love, death and dying, responsibility, caring for others, hope, human touch and forgiveness.  Content concerns include some adult language, including the abuse of God’s name, and some language of a sexual nature. Poe is a homosexual, who talks about his multiple sexual partners and his love for his boyfriend. It seems that relationships with parents are not close and loving.  Though one of the items on Stella’s “To Do” list is the afterlife, there is no mention of God.  We only see a Hari Krishna symbol on Stella’s hospital room wall and see her meditating.
Five Feet Apart is an emotional film that has some content issues but also many positive elements.  With so many people in the audience under the age of 25, it was refreshing to see love, friendship and intimacy being portrayed without a sexual relationship.   To see Will delight in Stella because of who she is and not her appearance was great.
So… for those of you who have read the book, was the book better than the film?


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My Review of RUN THE RACE

Run the Race, rated PG
***

Run the Race is a sports-themed faith-based film, for which Tim Tebow and his brother Robby served as executive producers. The brothers appear briefly in the film. The film is directed by Chris Dowling (Priceless), who wrote the film with Jake McEntire and Jason Baumgardner (Samson).
Dave Truett, played by Evan Hofer and his brother Zach, played by Tanner Stine (Indivisible), are high school seniors in Bessemer, Florida. Their mother died from cancer two years ago.  After that, their father Mike played by Kristoffer Polaha (Get Shorty, Castle) abandoned the boys and turned to alcohol to deal with his pain. The boys are very close and deeply care for each other. They live alone in a rundown home in their depressed town, but are cared for by their godmother Nanny, played by Frances Fischer (Unforgiven, Titanic).
Dave is recovering from a bad football injury, though still experiencing occasional seizures, and is a strong Christian. We see him going to church on a few occasions, where Mario Van Peebles (Heartbreak Ridge), portrays Pastor Baker.
Zach is a popular and good-looking All-State running back on the football team.  He is hoping for a college scholarship to the University of Florida (where Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy and was a two-time national champion), and take Dave with him to get out of Bessemer. Former Tennessee Titans star Eddie George plays a small role as a recruiter from the University of Florida. Continue reading


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My Review of FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY

Fighting with My Family, rated PG-13
***

Fighting with My Family is based on the true story of professional wrestler Saraya “Paige” Bevis and her family from England. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Jumanji) was in England filming a movie when he saw a documentary about Paige and her family on television a few years ago. He was attracted to the “underdog” aspect of the story, and contracted Emmy winner Stephen Merchant (Lip Sync Battle, The Office, The Ricky Gervais Show) about making a full-length feature film about the family.  Merchant wrote and directed the film, as well as playing a small role.  Johnson served as executive producer and also appears in a few scenes as himself. Continue reading


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My Review of CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Rated R
** ½

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is now available on home video, and is based on the true story of New York writer Lee Israel; it’s driven by strong acting performances by the two lead characters. The film has received three Oscar nominations, but does have some content concerns.
The film is directed by Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl). It is written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty who both received Oscar nominations for the film, which is based on the 2008 book Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger by Lee Israel, who died in 2014.
As the film begins in 1991, Lee, played by Melissa McCarthy (St. Vincent, Bridesmaids), is drinking at her desk at work and after two younger women walk by and make a derisive comment to her, she becomes verbally abusive to co-workers and her boss. She is promptly fired. Her life is a mess. She is now without a job, three months behind on her rent, and can’t get her cat the treatment it needs because she has an overdue balance at the veterinarian’s office which she can’t pay. She is an author of biographies that don’t sell, notably of Fanny Brice. Marjorie, her literary agent, played by Golden Globe nominee Jane Curtin (Kate and Allie, Saturday Night Live), won’t even return her calls. When Lee attends a party that Marjorie is hosting just so that she could talk to her, Lee ends up stealing another party goer’s coat on the way out.   Yep, she’s a real charmer. Continue reading


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My Review of THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD

They Shall Not Grow Old, rated R
****

They Shall Not Grow Old is an amazing documentary made to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day (November 11, 1918), which ended the fighting in World War I. The film is directed by three-time Oscar winner Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) who did not take a fee for the making of the film. Jackson dedicated the film to his grandfather who fought, and was injured, in the war.
The theatre presentation of the film begins with Jackson making a few brief comments to the audience, telling them that he will be back after the ending credits to talk about how the film was made. I would highly recommend you stay for that portion of the presentation as it added a lot to the entire experience as he talks about the film’s scope, approach, sound, colorization, music and purpose.
In the film, Jackson focuses on the life of the ordinary British foot soldier. He chose not to use a narrator, as is common for a documentary, but instead to use the actual voices of British soldiers who took part in the war from decades old BBC recordings of war veterans recounting their actual experiences in the trenches on the Western Front. Continue reading