Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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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 MARSHALL

Marshall, rated PG-13
****

Marshall is a well-acted film inspired by true events. It primarily tells the story of a 1941 case that future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman, Black Panther, 42, Get on Up) tried for the NAACP. The film is directed by Oscar nominee Reginald Hudlin (Django Unchained) and written by the father/son screenwriting team of Michael and Jacob Koskoff.
Marshall is sent by the NAACP to Connecticut to defend Joseph Spell, played by Sterling K. Brown (This is Us). Brown is a chauffeur that has been accused of raping and attempting to kill his employer Eleanor Strubing, played by Oscar nominee Kate Hudson (Almost Famous). Because Marshall is from out of state, he asks Jewish insurance lawyer Sam Friedman, played by Josh Gad (Frozen), to take the case and have Marshall join the defense team. However, Judge Foster, played by Oscar nominee James Cromwell (Babe), has a personal relationship with the father of prosecuting attorney Loren Willis, played by Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey), and will not allow Marshall to speak in court, indicating that only lawyers licensed to practice law in Connecticut can argue in his courtroom. This unexpected turn of events results in Friedman, who has never tried a criminal case, having to do the work in the courtroom, with Marshall preparing him to argue before the all-white jury. Note: the real Friedman was an experienced criminal lawyer.
Marshall is not sure he believes Brown’s story, and tells him that he will not defend someone who is guilty. Brown has a checkered past to say the least, while the woman he is alleged to have attacked is a wealthy, respected, church going member of the community.
The film focuses a lot on the relationship between the black Marshall and the Jewish Friedman. I especially appreciated the scene in which Friedman quotes Scripture and realizes he’s acting as Aaron to Marshall’s Moses.
We see how Marshall’s important work as an attorney for the NAACP, which results in frequent absences from home, has an impact on Marshall’s wife Buster, played by Keesha Sharp.

The film is rated PG-13 for adult themes (rape), some adult language, including the “n-word”, and several abuses of God’s name. There is also some sexuality included, though nothing explicit is shown.
Marshall is a well-acted film about a small part of Thurgood Marshall’s life.  (Chadwick Boseman should receive an Academy Award!)  The film portrays that Marshall, who would go on to become the first Black Supreme Court justice, was friends with poet Langston Hughes and author Zora Neale Hurston.
Near the end of the film Marshall is sent to Mississippi to defend a 14-year-old boy accused of killing a policeman. At the train station he’s greeted by Z. Alexander Looby (Benjamin Crump), and the boy’s parents, played by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, Trayvon Martin’s parents. Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old boy, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in February 2012.


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My Review of Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast, rated PG
***

Despite some well-publicized content concerns, Disney’s new Beauty and the Beast is a treat overall.
Following the success of their recent animation to live action remakes of some of their classic films – Alice in Wonderland (2010), Cinderella (2015) and The Jungle Book (2016), Disney returns with a new version of Beauty and the Beast. The 1991 animated version received five Oscar nominations, winning two. The new film is directed by Oscar winner Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters), and written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos. It had an estimated budget of $160 million, but is expected to earn that back and more, with a projected worldwide opening this weekend of $215-245 million. The film features an outstanding cast and is visually stunning.
The film is set in the town of Villeneuve in France. Belle, played by Emma Watson (Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films) is a happy, independent, book-loving inventor who loves her father Maurice, played by Oscar winner Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda). Throughout the film Belle is pursued constantly by Gaston (Luke Evans, The Girl on the Train), who wants to marry her, but Belle has no interest in him. The one who does have interest in Gaston is the homosexual character LeFou, played by Josh Gad, who voiced Olaf in Disney’s Frozen.  The song “Gaston” has new lyrics that were written by the late Howard Ashman, but did not make it into the 1991 film as they were not considered appropriate for a children’s film.
As Maurice leaves on a trip, he promises to bring Belle back a rose. The rose he tries to bring her is growing on the land of the Beast, played by Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey). Maurice is then captured and put in a jail cell in the castle of the Beast. If you are familiar with the story, the Beast must find someone to love him before the final petal of a red rose kept under glass falls off. If he doesn’t, he is doomed to remain a beast forever, and the members of his household will remain clocks, cups, etc. forever.
As I mentioned, the film features a strong cast. In addition to Watson and Kline, Ewan McGregor portrays the candlestick Lumiere, two-time Oscar nominee Ian McKellen plays the mantle clock Cogsworth, two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility and Howard’s End) plays the teapot Mrs. Potts, and Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci plays Maestro Cadenza.
Alan Menken, who wrote the music for the 1991 film, returns to do the music for this film, which includes new recordings of his original songs such as “Be Our Guest”, along with new songs written by Menken and three-time Oscar winner Tim Rice (The Lion King, Aladdin, and Evita).  I loved the music and the costumes in the film. The computer generated imagery (CGI) – the castle, wolves, the face of the Beast, etc. were all well done.    My wife thought that the “Be Our Guest” scene was almost over done – maybe they were trying to have it be like a scene from Fantasia?
We attended the film on opening night; the theatre was filled with very small children. However, unlike the animated version, this is not a children’s film. It is dark and the scenes with wolves may well be too frightening for small children.
Leading up to the film there was controversy when the director made news in speaking about the film’s “exclusively gay moment”, which takes place near the end of the film. However, we saw LaFou’s homosexuality played out throughout the film, along with other things thrown in to make this film, as Condon has stated, as diverse as possible. He stated that “By representing same-sex attraction in this short but explicitly gay scene, the studio is sending out a message that this is normal and natural…” Chances are, small children will not even notice what Condon and Disney have put in this film, but discerning Christians will and they will find it in conflict with the Scripture (Romans 1:26-27). It’s not enough, in my opinion, to keep you from seeing the film, but it did impact our enjoyment and our overall rating of the film.  On the flip side, sacrificial love is portrayed well.