Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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My Review of Surprised by Oxford

Surprised by Oxford, rated PG-13
** ½

This film, based on the 2013 book Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir, is the true story of Caro Drake, a young American woman who earns a scholarship to the University of Oxford for her postgraduate studies. Her goal is to earn her PhD in Romantic-era literature. Ryan Whitaker (son of the Christian music artist Michael W. Smith) directs the film. The film opened with a brief interview with the author (who appears in the film), and author and podcaster Annie Downs.
Caro, played by Rose Reid, has grown up without any religious faith. Her Mom is a Roman Catholic, and her father was arrested by the FBI when she was only eight. Early on at Oxford while with her friends, she meets Kent Weber, a Christian, played by Ruairi O’Connor, and misinterprets a message she sees pop up on his phone. After that, she wants nothing to do with him, though he continues to pursue a friendship with her. She has unmet longings and eventually agrees to his request to read C.S. Lewis’ book Surprised by Joy; we then see their relationship budding.  But between the growing relationship and her contemplation of the Christian faith, she is distracted from her studies and faces the possible loss of her scholarship. She dives back into her studies, but wisely accepts the counsel of Provost Regina Knight, played by Phyllis Logan (Downton Abbey).
The film includes beautiful scenery of Oxford and the Cotwolds, both of which we visited in 2019. It is part love story and part Christian conversion story, though the film never really fleshes out her actual conversion. Most of the film moves along slowly, but then the film ends abruptly. It is well made and acted. Caro’s story has been compared to C.S. Lewis’ famous conversion nearly a century ago at Oxford. The film includes some PG-13 adult language and talk about sex.
The film was in the theaters for just two days. Hopefully it will be available on streaming soon.


My Review of the Movie ~ The Essential Church

The Essential Church, rated PG-13

This documentary follows three pastors – John MacArthur from Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, and James Coates and Tim Stephens from Canada – as they refuse to suspend worship services during the COVID pandemic, and as a result face consequences from their respective governments (fines, imprisonment, legal action). The film was written and directed by Shannon Halliday.
The film shows that God, not the state (King, etc.) is the head of the church. It shows the hypocrisy of state and local officials ordering houses of worship to shut their doors while permitting – and at times participating in – destructive riots to sweep through major cities unchecked.
The film focuses on why Grace Community Church initially complied with the restrictions, and how Martyn-Lloyd Jones’ commentary on Romans 13 helped lead the elders to change course, and re-open. It follows the lawsuits leading to the church’s ultimate legal vindication. The film explores the struggle between the church and government throughout history, such as the Scottish Covenanters of the 17th century and the Great Ejection of 1662), and some of the people who sacrificed their lives for what they believed in. Continue reading

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My Review of The Miracle Club Movie

The Miracle Club, rated PG-13

The Miracle Club is the story of three women that share an unhappy past, with secrets and regrets that go back forty years. The acting performances are strong, but overall, the film is heavy with sadness.
The film is directed by Emmy nominee Thaddeus O’Sullivan (Into the Storm, Shetland, Vera), and written by three-time Emmy nominee Joshua Maurer (Georgia O’Keeffe, And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge), Timothy Prager, and Jimmy Smallhorne.
The film is set in Dublin, Ireland in 1967. Two-time Oscar winner Maggie Smith (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, California Suite) portrays Lily. She still mourns the death of her nineteen-year-old son Declan, who drowned in the sea forty years ago. Lily and Eileen, played by Oscar winner Kathy Bates (Misery), are lifelong friends. They live in a close-knit neighborhood with their husbands. Continue reading

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My Review of Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One

Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One, rated PG-13

In the seventh, and latest installment of the Mission Impossible film series, based on the popular television series that originally aired from 1966 – 1973, Ethan Hunt, played by four-time Oscar nominee Tom Cruise (Top Gun: Maverick, Magnolia, Jerry McGuire, Born on the Fourth of July), and his team have the mission of saving the world from an artificial superintelligence known as The Entity. This action thriller, though a little long at two hours and forty-three minutes, was nonetheless exciting from beginning to end. It’s my favorite film of 2023 thus far. However, we won’t know just how everything ends until Part 2 arrives in theaters June 28, 2024.
The film is directed by Oscar winner Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, Top Gun: Maverick) and written by McQuarrie and Emmy winner Erik Jendresen (Band of Brothers). The film’s release was delayed multiple times, ballooning the cost of the film to an estimated $290 million.
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My Review of the Movie ~ Sound of Freedom

Sound of Freedom, rated PG-13

Sound of Freedom is based on a true story, and helps to grow awareness about the reality of the global sex trafficking industry. The film was directed by Alejandro Monteverde and written by Monteverde and Rod Barr.
The film is based on the true story of a Homeland Security agent Tim Ballard, played by Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ), and Founder and CEO of Operation Underground Railroad. Ballard, a father and husband, leaves his job at Homeland Security just ten months before earning a pension. Instead of catching pedophiles, as he has done 288 times before, he pursues a little brother Miquel, played by Lucás Ávila, and his sister Rocio, played by Cristal Aparicio, who have been trafficked, traveling to Mexico and Colombia.
Ballard is helped by Vampiro, a former cartel leader, played by Emmy nominee Bill Camp (The Night Of). Mira Sorvino plays Ballard’s wife Catherine.
Themes in the film include sacrifice, sexual abuse, sex trafficking, and hope.
Content concerns include a small amount of adult language, violence, and sexual situations (though nothing blatant is shown). Continue reading

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My Review of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, rated PG-13
** ½

The fifth and final film in the Indiana Jones series, the first in fifteen years, and the first not directed by Steven Spielberg, features the soon to be 81-year-old Oscar nominee Harrison Ford (Witness), reprising his iconic role. The film was enjoyable, but lacked the spark to be more than just “OK”. The film was overly long at two hours and thirty-four minutes, and featured too many chase scenes that frankly began to get boring.
The film was directed by two-time Oscar nominee James Mangold (Ford v. Ferrari, Logan), and written by Jez Butterworth (Ford v. Ferrari, Spectre), John-Henry Butterworth (Ford v. Ferrari), David Koepp (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) and Mangold (Logan, Walk the Line). The movie looked great, and cost approximately $295 million to make. Continue reading

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My Review of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 – Rated PG-13

The third, and possibly final Guardians of the Galaxy film is an entertaining and exciting film about friends willing to risk their lives to save one of their own. The film, which cost $250 million, is once again written and directed by James Gunn, who has left Marvel and is now running DC Comics.
Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper is the key figure in this film. We hear a lot about his origin story. As a baby, Rocket is a test subject for the High Evolutionary, played by Chukwudi Iwuji, who sees himself as a god-like figure who aims to create a perfect species to live in a perfect society called Counter-Earth. Rocket displays intelligence and aptitude beyond the other animals that have been created and the High Evolutionary wants him back.
The Guardians have established their headquarters on a rebuilt Knowhere. However, they are attacked by Adam Warlock, played by Will Poulter, a genetically-engineered super-being. During the attack, Rocket is seriously injured. He will soon die due to a kill switch that was embedded in him by the High Evolutionary. The Guardians decide that they have to travel to the Orgoscope, headquarters of the High Evolutionary’s company Orgocorp, in hopes of finding an override code to save Rocket. Continue reading

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My Review of Jesus Revolution

Jesus Revolution, rated PG-13

On June 21, 1971, TIME magazine published a cover story titled “The Jesus Revolution,” chronicling the rise of Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel church in the early years of that decade. This excellent film shows the reporter of the TIME article, Josiah, played by DeVon Franklin, covering the beginning of a national spiritual awakening that started within a community of teenage hippies in Southern California and then spread across the country. Continue reading

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My Review of The Fabelmans

The Fabelmans, rated PG-13

The Fabelmans is a well-made and acted film that is a fictionalized version of Steven Spielberg’s life story through his time in college, as he grew up in New Jersey, Arizona and California. The film is directed by three-time Oscar winner Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List) and written by him and two-time Oscar nominee Tony Kushner (Lincoln, Munich).
The film, which features an excellent cast who deliver strong performances, focuses on Sammy’s love of filming, the dynamics of his family, and the antisemitism he encounters at a high school in California.
In 1952, Sammy’s parents Burt, a scientist, played by Emmy nominee Paul Dano (Escape at Dannemora, Love & Mercy), and Mitzi, a pianist, played by four-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine, My Week with Marilyn, Manchester by the Sea), take six-year-old Sammy, played by Mateo Zoryan, to his first film The Greatest Show on Earth. Sammy is obsessed by a train crash that is depicted in the film. He asks for a train set for Christmas so that he can recreate and film the crash with his father’s movie camera, thus beginning his love of filmmaking. Continue reading

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My Review of BREAKING

Breaking, rated PG-13

Breaking is an intense film based on true events that took place in 2017 about a veteran, who feeling that he is out of options and at his breaking point, goes to a Wells Fargo bank in Atlanta with a bomb. The film features a solid cast and a powerful acting performance by John Boyega (Star Wars films), who portrays Brian Brown-Easley.
The film was written and directed by Abi Damaris Corbin and co-written by Kwame Kwei-Armah. It is based on the 2018 article “They Didn’t Have to Kill Him” by Aaron Gell.
Brian Brown-Easley is an honorably discharged Marine veteran who has fallen on tough times. He is living in a cheap motel and separated from his wife, but stays in touch with his young daughter when he has enough money to buy minutes for his phone. We don’t know what has led him to this situation, but it appears he is suffering from PTSD, and does not have money for the medicine he needs. Continue reading