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 ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD

All the Money in the World, rated R
****

Christopher Plummer and Michelle Williams shine in this tense film inspired by the kidnapping and demands for ransom of J. Paul Getty’s grandson. The film, which has been nominated for three Golden Globe Awards, is directed by 80-year old four-time Oscar nominee Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down, Gladiator). It is written by David Scarpa, based on John Pearson’s 1995 book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty. The film features a strong cast, but it is who is not in the film that is every bit as interesting as who is in the film.
Four-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea, My Week with Marilyn), stars as Gail Harris. Williams has been nominated for a Golden Globe award for her performance. Gail had been married to John Paul Getty II (Andrew Buchan, Broadchurch), the son of J. Paul Getty, played by Oscar winner Christopher Plummer (Beginners). Plummer has also been nominated for a Golden Globe award.
When John becomes desperate for a job, he reaches out to his father, who he really never knew, as his father focused on his business dealings, and is given a job in Rome, Italy. Unfortunately, John turns to drug and alcohol abuse and Gail decides to divorce him. In exchange for sole custody of the children, Gail agrees that she will not accept any money from the Getty family fortune.
In 1973, Gail’s son, John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer), who goes by Paul, is kidnapped by masked men and held for a ransom of $17 million. Gail has no money, and is forced to ask her former father-in-law to pay the ransom for his grandson. How J. Paul Getty, the richest man in the world at the time, responds to the ransom demands shows that he cares less about the torture and possible murder of his grandson than he does for his money and possessions. You’ll dislike J. Paul Getty’s character, but you’ll have to admit that Plummer delivers a strong, and perhaps an Oscar worthy performance.
Mark Wahlberg portrays Fletcher Chase, J. Paul Getty’s security advisor and ex-CIA operative. Getty instructs Chase to work with the police to find Paul so that he will not have to pay the ransom. Chase and Gail work closely together to try to get Paul home safely.
Oscar winner Timothy Hutton (Ordinary People) plays Oswald Hinge, J. Paul Getty’s chief attorney.  Romain Duris portrays Cinquanta, one of the kidnappers that shows kindness to Paul.
What is fascinating is that Christopher Plummer was not even supposed to be in this film. Instead, Kevin Spacey played the role of J. Paul Getty, in the film that was already finished when sexual abuse charges were first brought against him on October 29. On November 8, Scott decided to replace Spacey with 88-year-old Christopher Plummer, and he began to re-shoot key scenes on November 20, just over a month before the film was released on Christmas Day. In just nine days, twenty-two scenes were re-filmed at a cost of $10 million.
The film includes a significant amount of adult language and some graphic violence. Themes in the film include wealth, greed, drug abuse and family dysfunction.This is an extremely well-acted and directed film about the kidnapping of J. Paul Getty’s grandson and the surrounding family turmoil.
J. Paul Getty’s relentless, unfulfilled desire for money and possessions reminds me of two quotes:
“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made know through Jesus Christ.” Blaise Pascal
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jeremiah 2:13


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My Review of THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS

The Man Who Invented Christmas, rated PG
****

The Man Who Invented Christmas is a heart-warming, family-friendly film about how Charles Dickens wrote his classic book A Christmas Carol, which helped change the way we celebrate Christmas. It could well become a new holiday classic, and is a contender for my favorite movie of the year. The film is directed by Bharat Nalluri, and the screenplay is written by Susan Coyne, based on the book by Les Standiford.
As the film opens in 1843, Dickens, well-played by Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, Beauty and the Beast), is 31 years old, and a well-known and wealthy author. His books Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist have brought him wealth, allowing him to live in a large home, with household staff and a nanny for his children.  But his last three books have flopped, and he is very concerned about finances, and that he will end in debtor’s prison like his father, played by Jonathan Pryce, when Charles was a young boy. Dickens has four children and a fifth on the way. The pressure is on to write another bestseller, but now he has a bad case of writer’s block and a house full of distractions, which include his mother and father, who still struggle financially even with assistance from their famous son.
The film focuses on six weeks in Dickens’ life as he struggles to overcome his writing block, and writes what will become the beloved novel A Christmas Carol, one of the best-selling books of all time. We see that he slowly begins to get inspiration from the people he runs into in his daily life in London. For example, there is an elderly waiter at a club named Marley. He hears the family nanny read the children a ghost story. And lastly, he observes a burial in which only one grumpy old man is there to pay his respects. That character will become motivation for Ebenezer Scrooge, who is marvelously played by Oscar winner Christopher Plummer (Beginners). And there may be more than a little bit of Dickens himself in Scrooge as well.
Despite help from his longtime friend and manager John Forster (Justin Edwards), Dickens’ publishers weren’t interested in a Christmas novel, as it was at that time considered to be just a minor holiday in England. As a result, Dickens decides to finance the book himself, despite being heavily in debt. That adds more pressure to him, and we see him frantically trying to complete the book in time for Christmas.
As he begins formulating the story, the characters come to life, and he begins interacting with them. I particularly enjoyed Scrooge feeling like he wasn’t being portrayed fairly and thus he wanted to tell his side of the story. Dickens also begins having nightmares, which include flashbacks to his childhood.
The film is well-acted and directed, and is a creative telling of how Dickens developed A Christmas Carol. Stevens is excellent as Dickens, as is Plummer as Scrooge. Anna Murphy portrays the house maid Tara, who gives Dickens some advice on the story, and Morfydd Clark plays Dickens’ loyal wife Catherine. I really enjoyed the costumes and set design from 19th century London.
There are not any content issues in this wonderful, family-friendly film. Highly recommended!


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My Review of THE STAR

The Star, rated PG
***

The Star is a funny, family friendly animated film that provides a unique perspective on the Christmas story, but still stays true to the main points of the biblical account. The film is directed by Oscar nominee Timothy Reckart (Head Over Heels), and includes voicing by a number of stars. The film is written by Carlos Kotkin and Simon Moore.
Abby is a small mouse voiced by Emmy winner Kristen Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies). She is present when the angel comes to Mary to tell her that she will have the Son of God. Once Mary is told this news, a bright star appears in the sky.
Bo is a donkey, voiced by Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead), who has dreams of joining the royal parade. He is encouraged by his best friend Dave, a dove, voiced by Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele). Unfortunately, Bo is confined to the life of a working donkey, every day going around and around, over and over, crushing grain in the village mill. But then his older co-worker, voiced by Kris Kristofferson, helps him escape to pursue his dreams. Bo injures his leg in the escape and hides at the home of Mary, voiced by Golden Globe winner Gina Rodriquez (Jane the Virgin), and Joseph Zachary Levi (Tangled), who have just celebrated their wedding. Mary takes a liking to Bo, but Joseph not so much. Mary takes Bo in and nurses him back to health.
Meanwhile, the three magi go to see Herod, riding on three camels – Felix, voiced by Tracy Morgan, Cyrus, voiced by Tyler Perry, and Deborah, voiced by Oprah Winfrey. They ask Herod about the king to be born. When Herod, voiced by Oscar winner Christopher Plummer (The Beginners), hears this, he orders a census with the purpose of finding the prophesied Messiah. Mary and Joseph leave Bo behind and make the trip to Bethlehem. Herod sends a large, mean soldier with two vicious dogs Thaddeus, voiced by Golden Globe winner Ving Rhames (Don King: Only in America) and Rufus, voiced by Gabriel Iglesias, out to find Mary and the unborn child. The ferocious dogs could be too scary for very small children. When the soldier and dogs go to Mary and Joseph’s home, Bo knows that he and Dave must go and warn Mary and Joseph. Along the way they meet a helpful sheep named Ruth, voiced by Aidy Bryant.
The film tells the story of Jesus’ birth from the perspective of a donkey named Bo. This has similarities to theologian R.C. Sproul’s children’s book The Donkey Who Carried a King, which offers a unique perspective on the events of Jesus’ Passion week.
The film features some excellent Christmas music, by artists such as Mariah Carey, Take 6 and Kirk Franklin.  The Star is family friendly, with minimal content issues and humor. Those humorous moments are from Dave the dove – shaking his bottom, getting a laugh from the many children in the theatre, and making reference to dropping a “well-placed ‘number 2’”.
This would be an excellent film to enjoy with your family this Christmas season.