Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of THE LAST FULL MEASURE

The Last Full Measure, rated R
***

This film is inspired (some of the characters and plotline are fictionalized), by the true story of a Vietnam War hero, and the years long quest to get him the prestigious Congressional Medal of Honor decoration for his actions, which saved as many as sixty lives, during what was known as “Operation Abilene”. The film, rated “R” for war violence and adult language, and featuring an all-star cast, was written and directed by Emmy winner Todd Robinson (The Legend of Billy the Kid). The film’s title is taken from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, where Lincoln talks about those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, “from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion.”
William Pitsenbarger, known as “Pits”, is played by Jeremy Irvine (War Horse). “Pits” was a U.S. Air Force pararescue medic. He flew more than 250 rescue missions during the Vietnam War. On April 11, 1966, his day off, he volunteered to board one of two Kaman HH-43F Huskie helicopters dispatched to extract a half-dozen or so wounded soldiers pinned down in a firefight near Cam My, a rural area of Vietnam located 35 miles east of Saigon. When his helicopter arrived over the battle during “Operation Abilene”, he was lowered through the trees to treat the men injured during the brutal attack on the ground. But rather than returning to the helicopter to leave the scene, he chose to stay, and was subsequently killed in the battle. Continue reading


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My Review of ARCTIC

Arctic, rated PG-13
***

With theatres closed and no new films to watch, my wife and I have taken the opportunity to watch some recent films that we had missed. One of those was Arctic, a film that focuses on a single character and includes minimal dialogue. The film is directed by Joe Penna in his feature film directorial debut, and written by Penna and Ryan Morrison. The film was shot in Iceland and had a budget of approximately $2 million.
Overgård, played by Mads Mikkleson (Hannibal), is stranded in the Arctic tundra after his Antonov An-2 plane crashed there. We don’t know the circumstances of the crash, nor how long he has been there. Living in his plane, Overgård has settled into a systematic daily routine – fishing for his food, creating and recreating (as the fierce winds cover it over) a large S.O.S. in the snow, and cranking a radio system to send a signal that would alert would-be rescuers. He stays on task with these activities by an alarm on his watch. Continue reading


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My Review of I STILL BELIEVE

I Still Believe
** ½

I Still Believe, new on home video, is based on the true story of Contemporary Christian Music artist Jeremy Camp’s relationship with Melissa Henning. It is a story of sacrificial love, disappointment, suffering, loss and hope. The film was directed by the Erwin Brothers, Andrew and Jon (I Can Only Imagine, Mom’s Night Out, October Baby). The film was written by Jon Erwin and Jon Gunn (The Case for Christ).
The film opens at the Camp home in Lafayette, Indiana. Jeremy, played by K.J. Apa (Riverdale) is getting ready to leave for college, leaving behind his parents Tom, a pastor who drives a Pizza King car played by Oscar nominee Gary Sinese (Forrest Gump), and Terry, played by country music artist Shania Twain and his two younger brothers. They give him a beautiful new guitar just before he boards the bus for his California college.
On Jeremy’s first night on campus he attends a concert by Jean-Luc, played by Nathan Parsons (General Hospital). Jeremy sneaks backstage before the concert and introduces himself to the artist, and asks him for advice on how to “make it” in the music industry. This leads Jean-Luc to ask him to tune his guitar. That night, when bringing a guitar on stage, Jeremy sees Melissa Henning, played by Britt Robertson (TomorrowlandThe Space Between Us) in the audience. He seeks her out after the show. Continue reading


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My Review of THE WAY BACK

The Way Back, rated R
** ½

The Way Back is about a former star athlete returning to his high school to coach the basketball team. The film, featuring a strong performance from Ben Affleck, deals with serious themes and contains a significant amount of adult language. The film is directed by Gavin O’Connor (The Accountant), and written by Brad Ingelsby (Out of the Furnace).
Jack Cunningham, played by two-time Oscar winner Ben Affleck (Good Will Hunting, Argo), works on a construction site. He pours alcohol into his coffee mug on the site and stops at a bar on the way home each night. His sister Beth, played by Michaela Watkins, is concerned with his drinking as we see him being often helped home by the same old man who used to carry his father home drunk from the same bar.
Jack was once a star basketball player at Bishop Hayes, leading his team to the state championship and being named player of the year 1993-1995. But he turned down a college scholarship, and hasn’t touched a basketball since.
Out of the blue, Jack gets a call from Father Edward Devine, played by John Aylward, the head priest at his alma mater. The basketball coach has had a heart attack, and will not be returning. Father Devine asks Jack if he would take over as the coach of a team that is quite frankly not very good. In fact, the last time the team made the playoffs was 25 years ago, when Jack was playing. Jack’s immediate response is to turn the priest down, but Father Devine asks him to think about it, and let him know in the morning as the team has a game in a few days. On a painful night to watch, we see Jack drink a 12 pack of beer as he repeatedly rehearses his call to Father Devine, but then surprisingly he accepts the position. Continue reading


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My Review of EMMA.

EMMA., rated PG
** ½

EMMA., newly available on home video, is the latest film adaptation of the last novel published by Jane Austen during her lifetime. Set in England in the 1800’s, the film features beautiful costumes, beautiful scenery, good production design and solid acting, but the two-hour film moves slowly, and doesn’t get interesting until the final thirty minutes. The film is directed by Autumn de Wilde in his feature film debut, and the screenplay is written by Eleanor Catton. Emma Woodhouse is played by Anya Taylor-Joy (Glass, Split). She lives with her wealthy father, played by Golden Globe winner Bill Nighy (Gideon’s Daughter, Love Actually, Pirates of the Caribbean), on a giant estate in the English countryside. Her lifelong friend George Knightly, played by Johnny Flynn, lives across a field and comes by the estate frequently. George knows Emma well, and is one of the only people in her life that can honestly speak to the selfish, arrogant and at times rude young woman. Emma doesn’t have much that she has to do, so she has taken to matchmaking, specifically with Harriet Smith, an orphaned girl of unknown parentage, living at a local girl’s school, played by Mia Goth. Harriet has taken a liking to Mr. Martin, a widowed farmer, played by Connor Swindells. Emma believes that Harriet can do better, and Harriet trusts her, so Emma convinces Harriet to turn down Mr. Martin’s proposal and instead tries to match her up with the local vicar, the unlikeable Mr. Elton, played by Josh O’Connor (The Crown). Continue reading


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My Review of A HIDDEN LIFE

A Hidden Life, rated PG-13
****

A Hidden Life, now available on home video, is a powerful film based on true events about a humble and devout Austrian farmer who refused to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler when called to serve for Germany in World War II. The film, which runs just under three hours and moves along slowly, is beautifully filmed, is thought-provoking, demonstrates the strong faith of the two lead characters, and is one of the best films I’ve seen in some time, though it was largely passed over during awards season. The film was written and directed by three-time Oscar nominee Terrence Mallick (The Tree of Life, The Thin Red Line). The title of the film comes from a line in George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch.
“..for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

The film is about Franz Jägerstätter, played by August Diehl (Inglorious Basterds), a Catholic Austrian farmer. Franz is married to Fani Jägerstätter played by Valerie Pachner. As the film begins, we see Franz serving in the German army, but he doesn’t see combat. During this time, he begins to believe that participation in the war would be a sin. He is allowed to return home, where he and Fani start a family that will grow to three young girls. We see them working hard on their farm, using scythes to cut wheat and bale hay, and raising livestock in the small Austrian village of St. Radegund, near the German border. Franz has a quiet but strong faith. He serves as a sexton at the local Catholic church, without pay. Franz’s mother Rosalia Jägerstätter, played by Karin Neuhäuser, and and Fani’s sister, Resie Schwaninger, played by Maria Simon, come to live with them.
When the war continues, there is fear that Franz will be called back to fight for the German army. His feelings about Hitler begin to spread when he refuses to return the Nazi salute of “Heil Hitler!” to those he passes by. As a result, he and his family begin to be ostracized by the members of the village. We feel the tension each time the bike bell rings with the rider carrying the summons to serve. Eventually, in 1943, Franz receives his notice. Continue reading


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My Review of CREATED EQUAL:  CLARENCE THOMAS IN HIS OWN WORDS
****

In this documentary, written and directed by Michael Pack, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas tells his life story, beginning with his birth in 1948 in Pin Point, Georgia, where his family spoke the creole language of Gullah. His mother would have four children by the time she was 20, and his father left the family early on. Later, after their home burned down, the family would move to Savannah, Georgia. Thomas speaks of the difference between rural poverty and urban poverty, indicating that the former was to be preferred. His mother, who worked as a maid, took Thomas and his brother to live with the boys’ grandparents, who lived in a nice area of Savannah.
Thomas’ grandfather was illiterate, but taught Thomas and his brother discipline and a good work ethic. Believing he was called to be a priest, Thomas enrolled at Conception Seminary College at age 16, where he was the only African American. He would leave he seminary after he heard a fellow student make an ugly comment about Martin Luther King Jr. after he was shot. When he returned to his grandparent’s home, his grandfather showed him the door, telling him he was no longer welcome there.
Thomas would enroll at the College of the Holy Cross, which was founded in 1843 by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Worcester, Massachusetts.  It was there that he helped found the Black Student Union and got involved with a group of Black Marxists. He went on to Yale Law School, got married and had a son. The marriage lasted only thirteen years before ending in divorce. Thomas was noticeably uncomfortable discussing his first marriage in the film. He would later marry Virginia Lamp, who appears in the film, in 1997. Continue reading


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My Review of JOJO RABBIT

Jojo Rabbit, rated PG-13
** ½

My wife Tammy and I love watching movies. But we’ve done something this year that we’ve never done before – we have watched all of the Oscar nominated films for Best Motion Picture. The last one we watched was Jojo Rabbit, which received six Oscar nominations and won for Best Adapted Screenplay.  The film was directed by Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok), who also won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and is based on the book Caging Skies: A Novel by Christine Leunens. Jojo Rabbit is a quirky satire set in Germany at the end of World War II.
Jojo Betzler, played by newcomer Roman Griffin Davis, is a 10-year-old boy who has completely bought into the beliefs of the Nazis. As such, he believes that Jews are monsters who have horns on their heads. He’s such a believer, his imaginary friend, who frequently gives him pep talks is none other than Adolph Hitler, played mostly for laughs by Waititi. Jojo lives with his mother Rosie, who references God a few times, played by two-time Oscar nominee Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit, Marriage Story). Jojo is told that his father is away in Italy fighting in the war.
Jojo heads off to a weekend Hitler Youth Camp, which teaches the boys how to fight and the girls how to care for wounds and have babies. The camp leaders include Captain Klenzendorf, a disabled German soldier with an injured right eye who drinks a lot, played by Oscar winner Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Fraulein Rahm, played by Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect), Finkel, played by Emmy nominee Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones) and Deertz, played by Emmy winner Stephen Merchant (The Office). Jojo’s best friend at camp is the lovable and plump, Yorki, played by Archie Yates. Continue reading


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My Review of THE CALL OF THE WILD

The Call of the Wild, rated PG
***

The Call of the Wild is a well-made, family friendly film (for ages 8 and above), is written by Oscar nominee Michael Green (Logan) and based on Jack London’s classic 1903 novel. The film is directed by three-time Oscar nominee Chris Sanders (How to Train Your Dragon, The Croods, Lilo & Stitch), and is the first live action film he has directed.  The film is narrated by Oscar nominee Harrison Ford (Witness, Indiana Jones and Star Wars films), who also plays John Thornton.  The film is set during the 1890’s Klondike Gold Rush.
Buck is a cross between a St. Bernard and a Scotch Shepherd, the same mixed breed as was in London’s book. He lives in a northern California community, where he is the spoiled pet on the farm of Judge Miller, played by three-time Golden Globe nominee Bradley Whitford (The West Wing). But Buck’s life changes when he is captured and taken to the Yukon during the Klondike gold rush, where sled dogs are needed. Continue reading


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My Review of JUDY

Judy, rated PG-13
** ½ 

Judy tells the story of singer Judy Garland as portrayed by Renee Zellweger, who recently won the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. The film was directed by Rupert Goold. The screenplay was written by Tom Edge (The Crown), based on the stage play End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter. Jeremy Woodhead (Stan & Ollie, Doctor Strange), received an Oscar nomination for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling.
The film does not look at Garland’s entire life, but instead chooses to tell her tragic lifestory story in two places, bookending her short life (she died at age 47). First, we see her in 1939, at the beginning of her career, (the young Judy is played by Darci Shaw), filming the classic The Wizard of Oz, in which she starred as Dorothy. Judy worked up to 18 hours a day, was not allowed to eat much and was given diet pills to maintain her weight, as well as pills to stay awake and to fall asleep. She is controlled, threatened and verbally abused by MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer, played by Richard Cordery (The Wife).
The film then takes us to the last year of her life, eventually leading to Garland, played by two-time Oscar winner Zellweger (Judy, Cold Mountain), performing five weeks of sold out concerts at the “Talk of the Town” nightclub in London in the winter of 1968. Continue reading