Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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Jungle Cruise, rated PG-13

Jungle Cruise, the latest Disney film to be inspired by one of their theme park attractions, is an entertaining action/adventure film, that includes a lot of humor, though may be too dark and scary for very young children. The film, which had a budget of approximately $200 million, was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (The Commuter, Non-Stop), and had a team of five writers.
The film opens in 1916, with MacGregor Houghton, played by British comedian Jack Whitehall, trying to convince the Royal Academy in London to finance an expedition into the Amazon to find the Tears of the Moon tree, the petals of which are said to have healing powers. While he is speaking, his sister, Lily, played by Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place), sneaks into the archives of the Academy and steals an arrowhead from the last Amazon expedition, which is key to unlocking the location of the tree. Lily steals the arrowhead just as German Joachim, played by two-time Emmy nominee Jesse Plemons (Fargo, Black Mirror) is set to collect it after making a large donation to the Academy. Continue reading

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Jumanji: The Next Level, rated PG-13
** ½

Jumanji: The Next Level picks up two years after Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which grossed more than $400 million in the U.S. It is an entertaining film, but is marred by a lot of unnecessary adult language, including several abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names.
The film is directed by Golden Globe nominee Jake Kasdan (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story), and written by Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), and Scott Rosenberg (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle). The film had a budget of approximately $125 million, and grossed in excess of $60 million in the U.S. its opening weekend.
The stars of the first film are now college age. They’ve all pretty much gone their separate ways the past two years. Spencer, played by Alex Wolff, now a freshman at New York University, returns home for Christmas break. It has been difficult maintaining a long-distance relationship with Martha, played by Morgan Turner, and they have drifted apart as of late. Spencer’s grandfather Eddie, played by Oscar nominee Danny DeVito (Erin Brockovich), is recovering from hip surgery, so he is staying at Spencer’s parents’ home, and they have to share a room for a few weeks.
Milo, played by four-time Emmy nominee Danny Glover (Freedom Song, Fallen Angels, Lonesome Dove, Mandela), is Eddie’s former best friend, and they had owned a restaurant together before they had a falling out. Milo comes to the house to reconcile with Eddie after a number of years, but Eddie is not interested in patching things up.
Spencer misses the confidence he felt when he was Dr. Smolder Bravestone, played by Dwayne Johnson in the first film. Despite the danger that he and the others experienced in the video game, Spencer decides to go back into the video game. Continue reading

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Skyscraper, rated PG-13
** ½

Skyscraper is an action packed, intense and entertaining summer film that will remind some of The Towering Inferno and Die Hard. It features a father who will do anything to save his family. The film is written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball) and had a budget of approximately $125 million.
The film begins with a flashback from ten years ago. Will Sawyer, played by Dwayne Johnson (Jumanji), is a Marine and a member of the FBI Hostage Rescue Team. We see a hostage negotiation that goes badly, resulting in Will losing his left leg below the knee. Ten years later Will, who wears a prosthetic leg, is happily married to Sarah, played by Neve Campbell (Scream films). Sarah is a combat trained surgeon who has done a few tours in Afghanistan. She can also speak multiple languages. The couple has twins: Georgia, played by McKenna Grace and Henry, played by Noah Cottrell. Will started a small security firm run out of his garage.
A former FBI teammate has given him an opportunity that may turn things around for his small firm. He connects him with Chinese billionaire Zhao Long Ji, played by Chin Han, who has built the world’s largest building in Hong Kong. The high-tech building, named the Pearl, is three times the size of New York’s Empire State Building.  Only the first 90 stories are occupied, but after getting Will’s security review and the necessary insurance, the remaining floors will open. Will knows more about the security features of the Pearl than anyone. So, Will and his family head to Hong Kong, and he makes a pitch to Long Ji for the security consultant business.
What Will doesn’t know is that Long Ji has something that three crime syndicates want. And they, led by Kores Botha, played by Roland Moller, are willing to burn the $6.5 billion-dollar structure down to get it from Long Ji. Unfortunately, they set the 96th story on fire not knowing that Sarah and the children are in the building. The rest of the film is a battle for the villains to get what they want from Long Ji while Will fights against time to save his family trapped in the burning structure and avoid the police who are pursuing him thinking he set the fire.
The film is intense. The stunts performed by Johnson are incredible and the CGI (computer-generated imagery) of the building on fire are well done. I especially appreciated Neve Campbell’s portrayal of Sarah as a strong woman.
Content concerns include a significant amount of violence and some completely unnecessary adult language, including an abuse of Jesus’ name.
Themes include courage and doing anything, including sacrificing your own life for your family.
Skyscraper is an intense, thrilling and action-packed film. Sure, the stunts aren’t very realistic, and it’s not a great movie by any means (don’t look too closely at the plot details), but it makes for a fun time at the theatre.

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My Review of JUMANJI: Welcome to the Jungle

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, rated PG-13

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is an action comedy that is very entertaining, but has some mild content concerns, and will be too scary for very young viewers. The film is directed by Golden Globe nominee Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story), and the screenplay is written by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg. The film is considered a sequel to the 1995 film starring Robin Williams.
The film opens in 1996. A man finds a Jumanji board game on the beach. He takes it home to his teenage son and overnight the board game turns into a video game version. The movie then fast-forwards twenty years. Four teens, two boys and two girls are serving detention after school in a Bratford, New Hampshire high school. The school principal instructs them to clean up a storage room. As they begin to do so they come upon the Jumanji video game, and they plug it in. Rather than cleaning the room, the teens decide to play the game, with each picking one of the game’s avatars. Instantly, they find themselves transported to the Jumanji jungle (the jungle scenes were filmed in Hawaii), where they show up as the avatar they chose.
This is all played for laughs as the nerdy Spencer is now in the muscular body of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Dr. Smolder Bravestone; the female Instagram loving Bethany is now in the body of Jack Black as Professor Shelly Oberon; the muscular football player Fridge finds himself in the body of Kevin Hart as Franklin Finbar; and the smart non-fun-loving Martha becomes Ruby Roundhouse, a commando in the body of Karen Gillan.  One of the game’s characters is not available since there are just the four teens.  Will it be used later?  You’ll have to watch and see.
The objective of the game that has come to life is that the four teens are to find a giant glowing emerald that has been stolen, and return it to the forehead of a huge jaguar that has been carved out of a mountain. This would free Jumanji of a curse.
To accomplish this, the four have to work as a team and finish the game if they have any chance of getting back home. To do so, they have to overcome a number of obstacles (snakes, vicious men on motorcycles, hippos, etc.) put in their path by villain Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale). Each of the characters has three bars tattooed on their wrists, signifying that they have three lives. Each of the characters also has special powers. However, all but one of the characters also has a weakness.
I found this film to be extremely funny, especially as you see the actors playing against their own type. Jack Black had to be my favorite character, as Bethany transformed into a fat middle-aged man.
There are some concerns however. There are a number of profanities that are certainly not needed, almost all of them coming from Kevin Hart’s character, along with an abuse of Jesus’ name. It also has some anatomical humor and sexuality played for laughs.  Themes include courage, working as a team and sacrifice.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is very entertaining, but not quite family friendly.

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My Review of the Movie MOANA

moanaMoana, rated PG

It is rare that I’ll see a film after it’s been in the theatres for a few weeks. Usually I’ll see a film its opening weekend; Moana is an exception. I really had no interest in seeing the film when it first came out, even after seeing the previews. However, due to word of mouth from family and friends, strong positive reviews from critics and viewers, and a lack of other good options, I decided to check out the film that has now topped the box office all three weeks since its release, with an accumulated total of more than $145 million in ticket sales.

This animated film from Disney is funny, visually stunning, features excellent animation, has catchy songs (from Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, as well as co-writers Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i), good writing, and overall positive messages. There are also a few concerns which I’ll address later.

The film is directed by two-time Oscar nominee Ron Clements and Oscar nominee John Musker, with co-directors being Oscar winner Don Hall and Oscar winner Chris Williams. The screenplay is by Jared Bush, who also wrote Zootopia, one of my favorite films of the year. The film had a budget of approximately $150 million.        

We first meet the young Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), the only daughter of Chief Tu (Temuera Morrison), as a toddler, living with her family on a peaceful Polynesian island about 2,000 years ago. (“Moana” is the Polynesian word for ocean or sea. It is also a common Polynesian word for the color blue.). As she hears stories being told by her Gramma Tala (Rachel House), Moana is immediately captivated, while we see other toddlers cry.

The film begins with “in the beginning”, but it’s not the “In the beginning” that we would know from Genesis 1. In this beginning the earth was all water until Te Fiti, a beautiful island rose up. At the heart of the island was a stone that was believed to give the ability to create life. However, one day a demigod name Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) stole the stone. As he does so, Te Ka, a giant, evil lava monster (who could be scary for young viewers), confronts Maui and he loses the stone and his magical hook.  The hook allows him to transform himself into a large hawk, as well as other animals.

Even at a young age Moana feels called to the ocean though her father prohibits it; she is never to go beyond the reef. She later finds out more about her people’s background which explains why she’s so drawn to the sea. Her grandmother tells Moana, who is preparing to one day be the leader of her people, that unless someone can return the stone to the heart of Te Fiti, their island will be destroyed. We hear that the fishermen can no longer find fish around the island and we see diseased coconuts. Something must be done. Gramma tells Moana that the ocean has chosen Moana to be the one to save her people. So, Moana, along with a hilarious chicken, sets out beyond the reef to enlist the demigod Maui to save her people.

When Moana is shipwrecked on an island, it turns out to be the island where Maui is living. And he is very full of himself with tattoos covering his body that he talks to, and they respond back. (Although this is a computer animated film, Maui’s tattoos are actually hand-drawn animation). Maui thinks everyone should be grateful for and to him, for all he has done as a demigod. He evens signs an autograph for Moana on her oar. Although he initially refuses to go with Moana, and he certainly doesn’t want to face Te Ka again, he eventually reluctantly agrees.

Moana shows courage as she seeks to save her people and their island. As they begin their journey Maui several times tries to throw Moana into the ocean, only to have the ocean, which is a living character in this film, put her right back on the boat. On their way to the lava monster, they have to recover Maui’s magical hook from Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement), a crab living well under the ocean’s surface.

The film is based on stories from Polynesian mythology. We hear of demigods, reincarnation and see Moana speaking to a spirit. The film is fun to watch and the songs are catchy. It will also give Christian parents an opportunity to compare this fictional story with the Biblical story of creation and the true savior.